“Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, and 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 (has) come.”
These sentiments may sound like those expressed by U.S. President George Bush or British Prime Minister Tony Blair following the horrific terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre on Sept.11, but this was how a Hindu swami called Vivekanand condemned religious intolerance exactly on that date 108 years ago, in his opening remarks to a convention. Those remarks won the saffron-clad monk a standing ovation at the World Parliament of Religions held in Chicago in 1893. The 30-year-old sage had traveled from India to represent Hinduism.
In his presentation, Swami Vivekanand introduced Hinduism to North Americans and their religious leaders in its proper perspective. Extolling the virtues of religious tolerance and the universality of God, he said, “There is only one God whom people call with different names; the same Divine Spirit resides in the bosom of every living being on this earth; dedication and love for your own religion does not mean the hatred of other religions.”
He also explained to his multi-faith audience the major Hindu concepts of reincarnation, Karma, and the Vedanta philosophy. Reminding the world religious leaders in attendance of how Hindus had sheltered Jews and Zoroastrians (from Iran) who had came to India in ancient times to escape religious persecution and violence in their home countries, he said, “We believe not only in universal tolerance, we accept all religions as true.”
The address gleaned praise in the U.S. media. The New York Herald wrote of Swami Vivekanand as ” undoubtedly, the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions” and ” after hearing him, we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to this learned nation [India].”
Swami Vivekananda was born Narendra Nath Dutta, a member of an educated Bengal family. Naren Dutta, as he was then called, was the product of a Westernized system of education. During his university days, he was strongly influenced by the thoughts of Western scholars like Mill, Hume and Spenser, which made him skeptical of Hindu mythology and practices. He joined the Brahmo Samaj, an organization that promoted a simplified, almost Christianized form of Hinduism. This did not quench young Naren’s spiritual thirst – he sought a direct spiritual experience that would provide tangible proof of God’s existence.
He later came into contact with a renowned sage, Ramakrishn. Naren became Ramakrishn’s ardent disciple, renouncing the material world to become a sanyasi, a wandering ascetic renamed Vikekanand. When his guru died, Vikekanand took charge of his monastery and trained other monks to spread the Vedanta philosophy. He also established the Ramakrishna Mission, a community welfare society under the leadership of monks, to help the downtrodden of India.
After the Chicago convention, Swami Vikekanand embarked on a lecture tour across the United States, and then Europe. The swami, already a household name in India, won many Western followers in North America, including Canada, as well as in Europe. They established chapters of the Vedant Society on both continents. The Vedant Society of Toronto was established in 1968.
The word Vedanta means “the essence of the Vedas,” the ancient, primary Hindu scriptures. However, the Vedant Society is a spiritual forum that does not consider itself a Hindu organization. Since the Vedanta philosophy has a universal approach to God and spirituality, it attracts many non-Hindu adherents.
The modern New Age movement borrows heavily from Vedant philosophy, which promotes a belief in the potential divinity of man, and teaches that all religions lead to the same ultimate goal.
Vedanta recommends a fourfold path for the realization of God: selfless service to humanity, love and devotion to a personal God, intellectual perfection, and meditation. One need not be a Hindu to follow that path.
Book: Dharma, Karma and much more
Article By: Ajit Adhopia