Swami Vivekananda : The Speech, That Shook Us All

Swami Vivekananda : The Speech, That Shook Us All

vivekananda speech, parliament of religions speech, india and spirituality, spirituality and religion, meaning of religion, viviekananda

Vivekananda Chicago Speech In Parliament Of Religions

The year was 1893, the date was Sept 11, a young saint entered the stage with a slight apprehension with a huge crowd in front of him and was anxious as to how the response would be. As he uttered his first words, the crowd responded with a thundering applause which lasted longer and it felt like eternity! And the speech began. Yes! I am talking about the one and only Swami Vivekananda, his speech in Chicago, the parliament of religions. It was certainly one of the most exciting speeches ever made or so do the tenets say, much like the Martin Luther’s ‘I have a dream’ or the John F Kennedy speech which asked you ‘What you have done to the country’. It was the speech of his own kind which said “My Dear Brothers and Sisters in America”, an introduction which no one had expected, the voice which no one had anticipated and young saint with determination and immense knowledge who stood facing an enormous crowd in the parliament of religions and the rest of what happened is the history we love to talk about.

I have been a tremendous fan of Swami Vivekananda, not only for the achievements he has made but his views, the words he uses and the way he can make you move. “Stand up you sleeping Lions” or “Awake Arise, Stop Not” or “Weakness is Death”. There is a hell lot more which I can write and still feel inadequate talking about this man, but today I seem to have promised myself to talk about the speech and the speech alone which perhaps changed the way people look at spirituality in India.

Here are our best picks from The World Famous Chicago Speech which can be segregated into 6 streams


What better way to start a speech than the quote from the best management book the world has ever seen – Of course I am talking about Bhagawadgita, and I might be paraphrasing a couple of well known personalities like Wayne Dyer or the other management gurus when I talk about this, but here is a statement which Vivekananda started with :

“Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach them; all are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me”

This although looks like spirituality, and to an extent seems like preaching too, I would beg to differ on a certain point. The universality of this statement is that we all are going through our lives and at some point we all are struggling at some parts as well, there is a call for help, there is a call for rescue and we are in the hunt for a solution, and for the one who seeks, the help is always there. I am not much of a theological expert nor a believer, but I would certainly like to say that no matter what we are going through, there is always a solution out there, maybe in the most unexpected manner and form, but it is out there. It was in the form of industrialization to Japan which was going through the post world war crisis or the form of the independence which came to India. I do understand that it seems like fatalism when we talk that something is going to come through, but isn’t it the same hope Obama talked about? And if hope can get us somewhere strong and to a place where we can make a tremendous change, isn’t hope worth that chance?


“Nothing can be bigger than my well. There can be nothing bigger than this. This fellow is a liar, so turn him out.”

The second part of the speech was a story! Of course we all live in our own little worlds. I use the word little with a precaution here, not to be taken in the literal sense. Each of our own world is big for us, it is tremendous, we have so many things going on in our lives, so many things to feel happy, sad, excited, challenged, angry, enthused, dejected and so on.. And it is a big deal for us, which is absolutely perfect. But every person has his own world and it is a big deal for each one of them. The idea of tolerance is not just that we are better than someone else or that we are right and someone else is wrong. It is just the knowledge to appreciate that there is a different world outside of us and the more we can appreciate it, the better we can be at dealing with our own lives.


Oh yes! I can hear you laughing, I can listen to you looking at it with skepticism and I don’t blame you at all, in fact I would look at it the same way too. The idea of body not dying or someone being eternal doesn’t sound very reasonable to me cos I can’t see it and science has asked us to believe in what we see and what we cannot prove. But let us not debate the concept of birth and death and those things here. I shall try and conform myself to the beauty of the human mind. Forget the body, forget the soul, what is it that you would like to be known for when you are no more? What is that one thing which matters the most to you? What do you want people to talk about you? That is the single most important thing in your  life. The answer can be as simple as – ‘A kind Man’ or ‘A loving Woman’ or a ‘Helpful Soul’. Whatever the answer is, that leads you to the ultimate purpose of your life and your existence!


No! It is not!

I agree that we started this as a speech from the parliament of religions, and we are talking about something else taking the lime light? Indeed! For all those people who debated that Indian saints are theoretical and do not have an idea what they are talking about, for all those people who looked at Indian spirituality as hogwash, honestly – it is not! If you think it is, then you probably know only a part of it and you choose to think of it that way. Look at it a little deeper, there are saints and management gurus in other parts of the world who have been theoretical just like the ones in India were. But that doesn’t give the right for anyone to make a generic assumption about Indians or their spiritual view. We are practical too, and we did talk about this in 1853 in the parliament of religions which was a platform and an exchange of ideas about religion!


I am not a Christian, yet I am, I am not a Muslim, yet I am. There have been hundreds of definitions and classifications of religions in this world and each one of them have their own style of saying why they are great. Of course they are all great, there are so many people following it! But the honest truth is that there is no comparison between them. And the more you try and classify yourself into one, you miss out on the beauty of the other. Instead, why not be a universal person, like one of our poets said – why not be a universal religion, why not just take the best of what you feel like? Why not liberate yourself from the self imposed shackles?

Who are you anyway, more than a Human Being?


Well, we are not talking about the conversions here. We are just talking about the real spirit of humanity. None of us expect any conversion, heck we don’t even offer that as a choice. You are born into a culture and it has played a huge role in your upbringing and your life and has become an integral part of your identity. You don’t have to denounce it to accept something else. Similarly, who you are and what you are about is your individuality, your identity – you will be influenced by a thousand things around you and it will make you question yourself. But there is something in this world which trumps everything else – that is your own Individuality, your own definition of who you are and what you can be, that is the ultimate realization of YOUR BEING!

I am sorry if I have sounded a bit philosophical here, it was not the intention to start with. The speech and the man is someone who has thoroughly inspired me to this day and this was the best way I could pay some homage to this man remembering this day.

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: http://www.belurmath.org/swamivivekananda_works.htm

We would love to hear your point of view

    • Thank you Ana, I realized that it was quite a challenging idea when I started it cos I wanted to steer away from the theoretical debate or aspect of spirituality. And reading this comment, I really feel that I have done fair justice to this piece :).

      Happy to hear than you enjoyed this 🙂

    • Thank you Alok, I was quite edgy about this post since I didn’t to sound too philosophical or like someone who talks about spirituality, I am happy to know that it has reached its ideal goal :).. And much happier to know that you liked the post, I can certainly feel good about myself now 🙂

      • Hi again, Vinay and Alok 🙂
        Alok has rightly praised you for your post. You deserved even more for sharing some lines and thoughts from him.. He is my childhood ideal and while in college, I had swapped places with a senior, to be in ‘Vivekanand House’ to grab the chance to speak about his any one idea/ philosophy for 2 days.. My fav. line from him is ‘Uttishtha, jagrat, prapya, varannibodhat ‘ which you have also quoted in English as Arise, Awake….. just to read about him is an amazing experience…

        • Thank you Kokila :). I have always been a huge fan of him, right from the time I was about 3-4th std where I had started reading his small books – Thus spake Vivekananda and then it went on to bigger books and now he is a beacon for the thoughts and every time I think of inspiration, it somehow never feels complete without him.

          Aahh that is extremely cool! :). Infact awesome it is!!! True isn’t it? Every time I read something about him, there is a surge of energy within and it simply electrifies the body. I think my favourite is his definition of atheist –

          “He is an atheist who does not believe in himself. The old religions said that he was an atheist who did not believe in God. The new religion says that he is an atheist who does not believe in himself.”

          An amazing man indeed 🙂

  1. Sorry Vinay, your whole interpretation is against the spirit of the speech. The man devoted his whole life advocating abolishment of ego and your interpretation is about boosting ego.

    “THE BODY WILL DIE BUT I SHALL NOT DIE” This isn’t a laughing stock but a life changing statement.

    • Ravish, thank you for the thoughts.

      But I am afraid you are looking at it from a singular perspective. I don’t think Vivekananda advocated abolishing of one’s ego, he advocated transcending over one’s ego. The idea is about respecting one’s own self and trying to go beyond that, it meant respecting the thoughts of every individual and striving for personal actualization which in today’s management books is called self actualization.

      As for the quote – I had the skeptics in mind when I mentioned someone laughing. I agree that both philosophy and spirituality are very deep subjects and I would ideally refrain from them considering that I still have a long way to go before talking about those. The way I see it, an idea or a thought is like a wave and each one of us makes an interpretation of the thought. A purist would look at what exactly he meant and identify the details, someone like me would just try and look at how I can try and modify the advice and use it in my life – in other words, interpretation of any statement or an idea is an individual’s choice. And if that person is taking it in the right essence and making the best out of it, isn’t the purpose of the statement realized that way?

      • Vinay, may be I appear looking at from a singular perspective but I’d love to know other perspectives too.

        Exactly, Vivekananda advocated transcending over one’s ego. But there isn’t any difference between abolishment of ego and transcending over one’s ego. According to zen saying, one who longs to be everywhere must not be anywhere. One who wants to be all cannot afford to be anything. There is no congruity between all and something; they don’t go together. So the idea of respecting one’s own self and trying to go beyond that cannot go together. Hence I don’t think the man of that spiritual stature would muddle with basics.

        I don’t think the line, “what is it that you would like to be known for when you are no more?” is implying the message of transcending over one’s ego or is it?

        Vinay, I absolutely agree that interpretation of any statement or an idea is an individual’s choice. And being not a creative person, I often steal someone’s line and put my own meaning in it. But I always take care that my interpretation would not be considered as the original message of that line. I take extra caution when use lines of great personalities. I ain’t against modifying the advice and use it in own way but concerned about that the modified advice should not be implied as the original one.

        Hope you understand my concern 🙂

        • Ravish, thank you for the clarification. As for the zen ideas and connecting that to Vivekananda’s view, it is an objective view. I think the beauty of literature or humanities in general is that the way you can tune it to create meaning and idea to improve one’s quality of life. As for remembering someone after they pass on, it was the idea to reemphasize a point made earlier in that part of the passage. The idea was the meaning we would stand for or the ideas and personality essence we evoke which takes a larger stance compared to an individual.

          As for the ego and the way it transcends, there is a very thin line which makes that difference,if you are looking at the idea, then the person vanishes but not many would be inclined or motivated to do it for the idea alone which transcends the very motive of ego.

          As for the idea of originality of a message Ravish, I reread the phrase and nowhere have I mentioned that it was Vivekananda’s message for us or me, All we are saying here is that these are the top picks from the speech with a reasoning why. It would be wrong for me or anyone to break it out of context and convey it as an original message, I am completely with you on that and it is a very valid concern indeed. Like I said this speech and its interpretation is purely from an individual’s point of view conforming to the theme and idea of inspire99. Sorry if I have conveyed a different message that way, I don’t think I am there yet to reinterpret an original message, I am still trying to offer a very layman perspective to the speech..

  2. A reminder of Swami Vivekananda’s speed is like rejuvenating the soul and getting the lost inspiration and motivation back. Thanks Vinay for the quotes from his speech.

  3. You know I read this quite a years ago as there are few who can define spirituality in true sense…all through my growing up I followed some of his ideologies….thank you for putting this freshly in my perspective

    • Thank you Chaitali, I am very happy to know that you enjoyed it. I was quite unsure this post since I did not want to sound very theoretical and wasnt sure if I had done enough justice to it. It is a very nice feeling to see such a lovely response to it 🙂

  4. Nice to see that you’ve shared this Vinay… THANK YOU 🙂 ..have you read ” The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda” ..if not ..you should..it’s available on Amazon …I think everyone of us should know about this great man..the man who had thrown a new light to the concept of religion and spirituality …Thank you once again for this awesome post… 🙂

    • Thank you Maniparna, looks like this post is very much on the road to make my day a beautiful one. I have been an absolute fan of that book of his, I must have read his complete works atleast thrice, esp the one where he talks about Karmayoga and Bhagawadgita. I think that is the best interpretation I have read of Bhagawadgita and a very practical one too :).

      I am completely with you on this Maniparna, everyone should know about him and read more about him. He will always be one of THE MOST INFLUENTIAL PEOPLE 🙂

  5. Thank you Shahen. It sure is one of the most inspiring speeches ever and perhaps one of the best explanations about India, religion and spirituality. You can also find the audio of these speeches on youtube and of course wiki which is certainly a great source of knowledge 🙂

  6. The year was 1893… The DOB of swamiji is 12 th January 1863..your writing is completely flawless…but I am also another bhakt of swamiji..so just wanted to correct the year. Thanks..

    • Thanks much Aniket :). I hadn’t noticed that, I had written the date inadvertently. I have corrected it now, thanks to you :).

      Thank you for such kind words mate. Indeed he was one amazing man, a man of inspiration for generations to come. And he spoke all these at the age of 30 – imagine!! Phew, what does it take for a man to be so influential at such a young age.. Electrifying just to think about it! 🙂

  7. Pingback: Quotes from Swami Vivekananda - Inspire 99