Way back in 1893, the great Swami Vivekananda, an unknown monk from India, traveled to Chicago to participate in the Parliament of the World’s Religions, part of the Great Chicago World’s Fair, or “Colombian Exposition.”
After days of boring speeches in academic style, the Swami’s first five words led the entire audience to stand and give an ovation. What were those words?
“Sisters and Brothers of America!”
Instead of focusing on differences, the Swami greeted all who could hear him with words showing our ultimate connections. In fact, the Christian organizers of this event had pretty well been thinking that after all the “heathen” participants had been able to present their talks, the entire world was going to “see the light” and convert to Christianity. Instead, the Swami’s talk is practically the only one that is remembered today. And instead, the Swami ended up spending a lot of time in America, teaching the “wonderful doctrines” (a phrase from his speech) of Hinduism to eager Americans.
Of most interest and relevance today, are three sentences toward the end of the talk.
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often in human blood, destroyed civilizations, and sent whole nations to despair. Had it not been for these horrible demons, human society would be far more advanced than it is now.“
Swamiji closed his talk with the following, equally uplifting words:
“I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.“
Perhaps equally important to us today, is the end of the Swami’s closing talk.
If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world, it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written in spite of resistance: “Help and not fight,” “Assimilation and not Destruction,” “Harmony and Peace and not Dissension.”
I ask, when are the religious leaders of the world going to step up to the plate and do their part to make Swami Vivekananda’s hope a reality?
When are we going to demand that all of our leaders, religious and secular, renounce bigotry at all levels?
When are our leaders going to fan the warming flames of tolerance, if not universal acceptance, with the same fervor that some currently use to oxygenate antagonism to the point of mutual destruction?
When, at the very least is the United States of America going to stop giving tax exempt status to organizations that teach their pre-logical children that their fellow citizens are going to hell for calling the Divine by the wrong name?