Swami Vivekananda : The Speech, That Shook Us All
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
1) ALL PATHS LEAD TO ME – A SOLUTION?
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?
2) NOTHING CAN BE BIGGER THAN MY WELL : TOLERANCE?
“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.
3) THE BODY WILL DIE BUT I SHALL NOT DIE
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!
4) RELIGION IS NOT THE CRYING NEED FOR INDIA
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!
5) I AM NOT A BUDDHIST BUT YET I AM
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?
6) THE CHRISTIAN IS NOT TO BECOME A HINDU
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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