Swami Vivekananda gave at talk at the World Parliament of Religion’s opening session on September 11, 1893. His participation at the Parliament was considered an historic occasion in the history of Yoga in America. In this famous speech, Swami Vivekananda spoke of his vision for an end to violence and fanaticism in the name of religion.
Coincidence of dates:
Most of us involved in spiritual pursuits know of the many mysterious coincidences that seem to come from time to time. Occasionally, one of these so-called coincidences is so strong as to leave us momentarily speechless. Such a coincidence exists with the date of Swami Vivekananda’s message. In the East, the number 108 has been described as having great significance. This first message of Swami Vivekananda in America, often said to be a key point of the bridging of Eastern and Western spirituality, and the coming of Yoga to the West, was given on September 11, 1893, exactly 108 years, to the day, before the date September 11, 2001, the date of the bombing of the World Trade Center. Whether by coincidence or precognition, it calls out for a closer reading of Swami Vivekananda’s message and it’s appropriateness for our current times.
World Parliament of Religions in 1893: In recent history there have been great strides in bridging the spirituality of East and West. Notable among these was the message given by Swami Vivekananda at the World Parliament of Religions in 1893. The World Parliament of Religions was sponsored by the Unitarians and Universalists of the Free Religious Association, and was a part of the greater Columbian Exposition held for several months in 1893, in Chicago, which was attended by over 27 million people.
Swami Vivekananda’s standing ovation: Swami Vivekananda’s opening talk is a benchmark, in that he was one of the earlier teachers to come to America from the East, and the first swami to visit America. Most notably, this was his first talk in America. After the welcome address of the opening of the World Parliament of religions, Swami Vivekananda spoke, and started with these few words: “Sisters and Brothers of America.” The 7,000 people in the audience, immediately feeling the depth of his sincerity, rose to their feet and according to reports, “went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes.” He went on, “It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us…”
Call for the end to fanaticism:
Swami Vivekananda closed by speaking of humanity’s history of violence and his hopes for it’s end, “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 with human blood, destroyed civilization 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. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”
Swami Vivekananda’s message on September 11, 1893:
“Sisters and Brothers of America. [At this moment came the three minute standing ovation from the audience of 7,000] It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. I thank you in name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects.
“My thanks also to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.
“I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites who came to Southern India and took refuge with us in very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation.
“I will quote to you brethren a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest childhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: ‘As the different streams having their sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to Thee.’
“The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: ‘Whosoever comes to me, though whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me.’
“Sectarianism, bigotry, and it’s horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful Earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often and often with human blood, destroyed civilization, 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.
“But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons wending their way to the same goal.”