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Maj. Nalinakshan
Most literate Indians are aware of Vivekananda’s chicago speech, or at least its beginning: “Sisters and brothers of America”. Swami Vivekananda's words on religious harmony are still relevant. On the occasion of the celebrations of Swami Vivekananda's 150th birthday, here is the full text of Vivekananda's historic speeches, by my uncle-in-law Maj. Nalinakshan, who writes it by listening the sound track. Let us spread the message of the great scholar.



Swamy Vivekananda’s Speech in Chicago,
USA at the World Parliament of Religion In Sep 1893.
Sisters and brothers of America,
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 the 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 the platform who referring to the delegates from the orient , have told you that these men from far off nations may well claim the honour of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration. 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 refugee with us; in the very year in which, their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the Religion which taught the world religious tolerance and universal acceptance and has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote you brethren a few lines from a Hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is everyday repeated by millions of human beings. As the different streams having their sources in 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 itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of the wonderful doctrine preached in Gita “whosever comes to me through whatsoever form, I reach him, all men are struggling through paths which in the end leads to me “Sectarianism Bigotry, and it’s horrible descendent, 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 send whole nations to despair. Had it not been for those horrible demons, Human society would be far more advanced than it is now. But there time to come and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism of all persecutors with the sword or with the pen and of all uncharitable feelings between person wending their way to the same goal.

Why we disagree? I will tell you a little story. You have had the eloquent speaker who had just finished saying “Let us cease from abusing each other” and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance. But I think I should tell you a story which would illustrate cause of the variance. A frog lived in a well it had lived there for a long time. It was born there and bought up there and yet was a little small frog of course the evolutionists were not there then to tell us whether the frog lost its eyes or not but for our story’s sake we must take for granted then it had Its eyes and that it every day cleaned the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern bacteriologist in this way. It went on and become a little sleek and fat, well one day another frog that lived in the sea and fell into the well. Where are you from, I am from the sea, the sea, how big is that is it as big as my well, and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other. My friend, said frog of the sea how do you compare the sea with your little well and the frog took another leap and asked is your sea so big, what nonsense you speak to compare the sea with your well. Well then said the frog of the well nothing can be bigger than this, this fellow is a liar so turn him out. That has been the difficulty all the while. I am a Hindu I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammadens sits in his well and think that this is the whole world. I have to thank you America for the great attempt you are making to break down the barriers of the little world of ours and hope that in the future the lord will help you to accomplish your purpose

From the high spiritual flights of Vedanta philosophy, of which latest discoveries of science seems like echoes to the low ideas of idolatry. With this multifarious mythology the agnosticism of the Buddhist and the atheism of The Jains each and all have a place in Hindu’s Religion. Where then the question arises? Where is the centre to which all the diverging radial converge? Where is the common basis upon which all the seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question I shall attempt to answer.

Three religions now stand in the world which has come down to us from time prehistoric--Hinduism, Zoroastrianism and Judaism. They have all received tremendous shocks and all of them prove by their survival their internal strength. But while Judaism failed to absorb Christianity and was driven out of its place of birth by its all-conquering daughter, and a handful of Parsees is all that remains to tell the tale of their grand religion, sect after sect arose in India and seemed to shake the religion of the Vedas to its very foundations, but like the waters of the seashore in a tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in an all-absorbing flood, a thousand times more vigorous, and when the tumult of the rush was over, these sects were all sucked in, absorbed, and assimilated into the immense body of the mother faith. From the high spiritual flights of the Vedanta philosophy, of which the latest discoveries of science seem like echoes, to the low ideas of idolatry with its multifarious mythology, the agnosticism of the Buddhists, and the atheism of the Jains, each and all have a place in the Hindu's religion. Where then, the

question arises, where is the common centre to which all these widely diverging radii converge? Where is the common basis upon which all these seemingly hopeless contradictions rest? And this is the question I shall attempt to answer.

The Hindus have received their religion through revelation The Vedas; they hold that the Vedas are without beginning and without end. It may sound ludicrous to the audience. How a book can be without a without beginning or end but the Vedas no books are meant. They mean the accumulated treasury of spiritual laws discovered by different persons in different times just as the Law of Gravitation existed before its discovery and would exists if all humanity forget it so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual world. The moral ethical and spiritual relation between soul and soul and between individual spirit and the father of all spirit, were there before the discovery and would remain even if we forgot them. The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis and we honour them as perfect beings. I am glad to tell this audience that some of the very greatest of them were women. Here t may be said that these laws as laws may be without end they must have had a beginning. The Vedas teach us that the creation is without beginning or end. Science is said to have proved that the sum total of cosmic energy is always the same. Then if cosmic energy is always the same, then if there was a time when nothing existed where was all these manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God in that case God is sometime potential and sometime kinetic. This would make him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound must undergo that change. Which is called destruction; So God would die, which is absurd. Therefore there never was a time when there was no creation.

If I may be allowed to use a simile Creator and Creator are two lines without beginning and without end running parallel to each other. God is the ever active providence by whose power systems after systems are being evolved out of chaos made to run for a time and again destroyed this is what the Brahmin boy repeats everyday ”The sun and the moon the Lord created like the sun and moon of previous cycles” and this agrees with modern science . Here I stand and if I shut my eyes and try to conceive my existence “I” “I” “I” which is the idea before me. Idea of a body, am then nothing but a combination of material substances? The Vedas declare NO. I am a spirit living in a body I am not the body. The body will die but I shall not die. Here I am in this body it will fall but I shall go on living I had also a past. The soul was not a creator for creation means a combination which means a certain future dissolution. If then the soul was created it must die. Some are born happy, enjoy, perfect health, with beautiful body, mental vigor and all wants supplied. Others are born miserable, some are without hands or feet others again are idiots and only drag on a wretched existence. Why if they are all created. Why does a just and merciful God create one happy and another unhappy? Why is not he so partial nor would it mend matters in the least. To hold that those who are miserable in the life will be in a future one. Why should a man be miserable even here in the reign of a just and merciful God? In the second Place the idea of a creator God does not explain the anomaly but simply expresses the cruel fiat of an all powerful being. There must have been causes then. Before his birth to make a man miserable or happy and those were in his past actions. And all the tendencies of the mind and the body accounted for by inherited aptitude? 

A scene from the Parliament of Religions at Chicago.  This photo was taken on the morning of the 11th  
day ofthe Parliament. Photo Courtesy: Advaita Ashrama, Kolkata
 Here are two parallel lines of existence. One of the mind and the other of matter. It is matter and its transformations answer for all that we have, there is no necessity for supposing the existence of a Soul. But it cannot be proved that thought has been evolved out of matter and if a philosophical monism is inevitable spiritual monism is certainly logical and no less desirable than a material monism, but neither of these is necessary here. We cannot deny that bodies acquire certain tendencies from heredity. But those tendencies only mean the physical configuration, through which a peculiar mind alone can act in a peculiar way. These are tendencies peculiar to a soul with a certain tendency wound by the laws of affinity take birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of that tendency this is in accordance with a cause with science wants to explain everything by habit and habit is got through repetition. So repetitions are necessary to explain the natural habits of a new born soul. And since they were not obtained in this present life they must have come down from past lives.

There is another suggestion taking all these for granted. How is it that I do not remember anything of my past life? This can be easily explained. I am now speaking English. It is not my mother tongue in fact no words of my mother tongue are now present in my consciousness. But let me try to bring them up and they rush in, that shows that consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean. And within its depth are stored up all our experiences. Try and struggle they would come up and you would be conscious even of your past life.

This direct and demonstrative evidence. Verification is the perfect proof of a theory and here is the challenge thrown to the world by Rishis. We have discovered the secret by which the very depth of the ocean of memory can be stirred up, try it and you would get a complete reminiscence of your past life. So the Hindu believes that he is a spirit him the sword cannot pierce him the fire cannot burn him the water cannot melt him the air cannot dry him. The Hindu believes that every soul is a circle whose circumference is nowhere but whose centre is located in the body and death means the change of this centre from body to body not is the soul bound by conditions of matter in this very essence it is free unbounded holy pure and perfect. But somehow of other it finds itself tied down to matter and thinks of itself as matter.

Why should the free perfect and pure being be there under the thralldom of matter is the next question? How can the perfect soul be deluded into the belief that it is imperfect. We have been told that the Hindus shirk the question and say that no such question can be there. Some thinkers want to answer it by posting one or more quasi perfect beings and use big scientific names to fill the gap but naming is not explaining. The question remains the same how can the perfect become the quasi perfect. How can the pure, the absolute change even a microscopic particle of its nature. But Hindu is sincere. He doesn’t want to take shelter under sophistry. He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion. And the answer is “I don’t know” I do not know how the perfect being, the soul came to think of itself as imperfects joined to conditioned by matter.

But the fact of the fact for all that it is, a fact that in every bodies consciousness that one thinks of one self, as the body. The Hindus doesn’t attempt to explain “Why one thinks that one is the body” The answer that is the will of God. There is no explanation. There is nothing more than what the Hindu says “I don’t know” well then the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and infinite. And death means only a change of centre from one body to another. The present is determined by our past actions and the future by the present. The soul will go on evolving up or reverting back from birth to birth and death to death.

But the question here is man a tiny boat in a tempest raised one moment on the foamy crest of a billow and dashed down into a yawning chasm the next rolling to and fro at the mercy of good and bad actions, a powerless helpless wreck in an ever raging ever rushing uncompromising current of cause and effect. A little moth placed under the wheel causation which rolls on crushing everything I its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry. The heart sinks at the idea yet this is the law of nature. Is there no Hope? Is there no escape? Was the cry that went up from the bottom of the heart of despair, it reached the throne of mercy and words of hope and consolation came down and inspired. A vedic sage and he stood up before the world and in triumphant voice proclaimed the glad tidings “Here ye children of immortal bliss even ye that reside in higher spheres. I have found the ancient one who is beyond all darkness all delusion knowing him alone you shall be saved from death over again “ Children of immortal bliss what a sweet, what a hopeful name here of immortal bliss - yea the Hindu refuses to call you sinners. You are the children of God the sharers of immortal bliss holy and perfect beings yea divinities on earth – sinners it is a sin to call a man so. It is a standing libel on human nature. Come up O Lions and shake off the dilutions that you are sheep. You are Souls immortal spirits free blast and eternal Ye are not the matter Ye are not bodies. Matter is your servant not the servant of matter

Thus it is that VEDAS proclaim not a dreadful combination of unforgiving laws not an endless prison of cause and effect, but that at the head of all these laws in and through every particle of matter and force stands one by whose command the wind blows the fire burns, the cloud rains, and the death stalks upon the earth.

And what is the nature?. He is everywhere the pure and the formless one, the Almighty the all merciful thou art our father thou art our mother thou are our beloved friend thou art the source of all strength, give us strength thou art he that beneath the burdens of the universe help me bear the little burden of this life Thus song the RISHIS of the Vedas. And how to worship him? through love. He is to be worshiped as the one beloved clear then everything in this and next life.

This is the doctrine of love declared in Vedas. And let us see how it is fully developed and taught by Krishna whom the Hindus believe to have been God incarnate on earth. We taught that a man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf which grows in water but is never moisture by water. So a man ought to live in this world like his heart to God and his hand to work.

It is good to love God for hope of reward in this or the next world. But it is better to love God for love’s sake and the prayer goes “ God I do not want wealth, nor children nor learning if it be thy will I shall go from birth to Birth but grant me this that I may love thee without the hope of reward. Love unselfishly for love’s sake.

One of the disciples of Krishna the then empire of India was driven from his kingdom by his enemies and had to take shelter with his queen in a forest in the Himalayas and there one day, Queen asked him, How it was that the most virtuous of man should suffer so much misery King Yudhishtira answered, behold my queen the Himalayas how grand and beautiful they are. I love them they do not give me anything but my nature is to love the grand the beautiful therefore I love them similarly I love the Lord, he is the source of all beauty of all sublimity, he is the only object to be loved. My nature is to love him and therefore I love I don’t pray for anything, I do not ask for anything let him place me wherever he likes, I must love him for love’s sake I cannot trade love. The Vedas teach us that the soul is divine only held in the bondage of matter; perfection will be reached when the bond will burst and the word they use for it is therefore Mukthi – Freedom, Freedom from the bonds of imperfection, freedom from death and misery. And the bondage can only fall off through the mercy of God and this mercy comes on the pure, so purity is the condition of this mercy. How does that mercy act? He reveals himself to the pure heart the pure and the stainless see God yea. Even in this life then and then only the crookedness of the heart is made straight. Then all doubts ceases. He is no more the freak of terrible law of causation. This is the very center the very vital conception of Hinduism. The Hindu does not want to live upon words and theories. If there is existence beyond the ordinary sensuous existence, he wants to come face to face with them. If there is a soul in him which is not matter. If there is an all –merciful universal soul, He will go to him direct. He must see him and that alone can destroy all the doubts. So the best proof a Hindu Sage gives about the soul, about the God is I have seen the soul I have seen the God and that is the only condition of perfection. The Hindu religion does not consist in struggles and attempts to believe a certain doctrine or dogma but in realising, not in believing but in being becoming. Thus the whole object of the system is by constant struggle to become perfect, to become divine, to reach God and to see God. And this realising God, seeing God becoming perfect even as the father in heaven is perfect constitutes the religion of the Hindus.

And what becomes of a man when he attains perfection he lives a life of bliss infinite. He enjoys infinite and perfect bliss. Having obtained the only thing in which men ought to have pleasure namely God and enjoys the bliss with God.

So far the Hindus are agreed this is the common religion of all the section of India but then perfection is absolute and the absolute cannot be two or three. It cannot have any qualities it cannot be an individual and so when a soul becomes perfect and absolute it must become one with the Brahmam and it would only realize the Lord as the perfection the reality of its own nature and existence. The existence of absolute knowledge. Absolute and bliss absolute, we have often reached this called the loosing of individuality and becoming a stock of a stone.

He jests as scars that never felt a wound. I tell, you it is nothing of the kind of the kind. It is a happiness to enjoy the consciousness of two bodies. The measure of happiness increasing with the consciousness an increasing number of bodies. The aim, the ultimate of happiness, being reached when it would become a universal consciousness. Therefore to gain this infinite universal individuality this miserable little prison individuality must go. Then alone can all errors ease when I am one with knowledge itself; and this is the necessary.

Scientific conclusion; Science has proved to me that physical individuality is a delusion that really my body is one little continuously changing in an unbroken ocean of matter and unity is the necessary conclusion with my other counterpart soul.

Science is nothing but the finding of unity. As soon as Science would reach perfect unity it would stop from further progress because it would reach the goal, thus Chemistry could not progress farther when would discover one element out of which all other could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfill its services in discovering one energy of which all the other are but manifestation and the science of religion becomes perfect when it would discover him who is the one life in universe of death, him who is the constant basis of a ever changing world one who is the only soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestation. Thus is it through multiplicity and duality that the ultimate unity is reached. Religion can go no further this is the goal of all science.

All science is bound to come to this conclusion in the long run. Manifestation and not creation is the word of science today, and the Hindu id the only glad that what he has been cherishing in his blossom for ages is going to be taught in more force able language and with further light from the latest conclusion of science. Descend we now from the aspiration of philosophy to the religion of the ignorant at the very onset I may tell you that there’s no polytheism in India. In every temple if one stands by and listens one will find the worshipers applying all the attributes of God, including omnipresence to the images it is not polytheism nor would the name monotheism. Explain the situation the rose called by any other name would smell as sweet name are not explanations the tree is known by its fruits when I have seen amongst them that are called idolaters the like of whom in morality and spirituality and love I have never seen anywhere. I stopped and ask myself “Can sin be getting holiness? Superstition is a great enemy of Men but bigotry is worse. Why does a Christian go to church? Why is the cross holy? Why is the face turned towards the sky in prayer? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are there so many images in Minds of Protestants when they pray? My brethren we can no more think about anything without a mental image then we can live without breathing. By the law of association the material image calls up the mental idea and vice-versa. This is why Hindu uses an external symbol when he worships. He will tell you it helps to keep his mind fixed on the being to whom he prays. He knows as well as you do that the image is not God, is not omnipresent after all how much does omnipresence mean. To almost the whole world a symbol has got superficial area? If not, when we repeat the word omnipresent we think of the extended sky or space that’s all.

As we find that somehow or other by the laws of our mental constitution we have to associate our ideas of infinity with the image of the blue sky or of the sea so we naturally connect our idea of holiness with the image of a church, a mosque or a cross. The Hindu have associated the idea of holiness, purity, truth, omnipresence. And such other idea with different images and forms but with this difference that while some people devote their whole life to the idol of a church and never rise higher because with them religion means a intellectual ascend to certain doctrines and doing good to their fellow the whole religion of Hindu is centered in realization. Men is to be divine by realising the divine idols or temples or churches or books are the only support the helps of spiritual childhood and on and on he must progress. He must stop anywhere external worship, material worship “say scripters is the lowest stage struggling to rise high mental prayer is the next stage but the highest stage is when the lord has been realized” Mark the same earnest men which is kneeling before the idol tells you “Him the sun cannot express nor the moon nor the stars the lightning cannot express him nor what we speak of as fire through him they shine” But he does not abuse any ones idol or call its worship sin. He recognizes in it a necessary stage of life “the child is the father of men” Would it nice for an old man to say that childhood is a sin or youth is a sin. If a man can realize his divine nature with the help of an image would it be right to call that a sin? Nor even when he has passed that stage should he call it an error. To the Hindu man is not truly from error to truth but from truth to truth, to him all the religions from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism. Means so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realize the infinite. Each determined by the conditions of its birth and association and each of these marks a stage of progress and every soul is a young eagle soaring higher and higher, gathering more and more strength till it reaches the glorious sun.

Unity in variety is the plan of nation and the Hindu has recognized it. Every other religion lays down certain fixed dogmas and tries to force society to adopt them. It places before society only one coat which must fit jack and John and Henry. He must go without a coat to cover his body. The Hindus have discovered that the absolute can only be realized or thought of or stated through the relative, and the images, Crosses, crescents, are simply so many symbols. So men peg to hang the spiritual ideas on. It is not that this help is necessary for everyone but those that do not need it have no right I say that it is wrong. Nor is it compulsory in Hinduism.

One thing I must tell you idolatry in India does not mean anything horrible, it is not the mother of harlots. On the other hand it is the attempt undeveloped mind to grasp high spiritual truth.

The Hinduism have then faults, they sometimes their exemption but mark this they are always for punishing their own bodies never cutting the throats of their neighbors. If Hindu fanatic burns himself on the pyre he never lights the pyre of inquisition. And even this cannot laid at the door of his religion any more then burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity. To the Hindus then the whole world of religions is only a travelling, a coming up of different men and women through various conditions and circumstances to the same goal. Every religion is only evolving a God out of the material man and the same god is the inspiration of all of them. Why then are there so many contradictions? They are only apparent says the Hindu. The contradiction came from the same truth adapting itself to the varying circumstances of different natures. It is the same light coming through different colours. And these little variations are necessary for purposes of adaptation. But in the heart of everything the same truth reigns. The Lord has declared to the Hindu in his incarnation as Krishna, “I am in every Religion as the thread through string of pearls wherever thou seest extra ordinary holiness and extra ordinary power rising and purifying humanity know thou that I am there”. And what has been the result? I challenge the world to find throughout the whole system of Sanskrit philosophy any such expression as that the Hindu alone will be saved and not others. Says Veda Vyasa “We find perfect men even beyond the pale of our caste and creed”. One thing more how then can the Hindu whose whole fabric of thought centers in God believe in Buddhism which is agnostic or in Jainism which is aesthetic?


The Buddhists or Jains do not depend upon God. But the whole force of their Religion is directed to the great central truth in every Religion to evolve a God out of men. They have not seen the father, but they have seen the son hath seen the father also.

This brethren is a short sketch of the Religious ideas of the Hindu. The Hindu may have failed to carryout all his plans. But if there is ever to be a universal Religion it must be one which will have no location in place or time which will be infinite like the God it will preach and whose sun will shine upon the followers of Krishna and of Christ on saints and sinners alike. Which will not be a Brahminic or Buddhists, Christian or Mohammedian but the sum total of all these and still have infinite space for development. Which in its catholicity will embrace it its infinite arms and find a place for every human being from the lowest groveling savage not for removed from the brute, to the highest men towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity making society stand in awe of him and to doubt his men mature it will be a Religion which will have no place for persecutors or intolerance in its polity, which will recognise divinity in every men and women and whose whole scope whose whole force will be created in aiding humanity to realize its own true divine nature.


at chicago
May he who is the Brahmin of Hindus, the Ahura-mazda of the Zoroastrian , the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehova of the Jews, the father in heaven of the Christians give strength to you to carryout your noble idea. The star arouse in the east it travelled steadily towards the west sometimes effulgent till it made a circuit of the world, and now it is again rising on the very horizon of the east the borders at the Sanpo a thousand fold more effulgent than the ever was before.



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