on Jan 12, 1863 in an affluent Bengali family, Narendra Natha Datta was a precocious child who was what we call nowadays, an all-rounder, excelling in music, studies and athletics. His father Vishwanatha Datta was a well-known attorney.
However, he took the spiritual route instead and introduced Hinduism to the world in 1893 when he spoke at the World's Parliament of Religion (probably one of the most epic things any Indian has done abroad!).
Swami Vivekananda's famous speech at the first Parliament of World's Religions is full of deep insight and wisdom, presented with irrefutable logic.
Long before Shashi Tharoor made us proud with his speech claiming India to be the rightful owner of the Kohinoor, and TED Talks became the new bastion for discussing and spreading radical new ideas, there was a man who did us proud on a world platform.
Swami Vivekananda’s speech at the first Parliament of the World’s Religions, held in Chicago, is considered among his most significant contributions to the world — so much so that a three-day world conference was organised to commemorate his 150th birthday in 2012.
It was an impressive breakdown of the ancient philosophy of Hinduism — delivered with crisp logic and scientific insight. The speech made him a hero in the US. His opening lines “Sisters and brothers of America!” earned him a 2-minute long standing ovation.
Just imagine what effect the rest of his speech would’ve had. Here are a few excerpts from his speech that will convince you why celebrating the National Youth Day on his birth anniversary is so apt.His patriotism
“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 the 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.”His assessment of major religions
“I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christians sit in their little well and think the whole world is their well. The Muslims sit in their little well and think that is the whole world.”His interpretation of the ancient scriptures
“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 this audience, how a book can be without beginning or end. But by 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 exist if all humanity forgot it — so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual relations between soul and soul and between individual spirits.”His knowledge of science
“The Vedas teach us that 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 there was a time when nothing existed, where was all this manifested energy? Some say it was in a potential form in God. In that case God is sometimes potential and sometimes kinetic, which would make Him mutable. Everything mutable is a compound and everything 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.”He sums up the existential crisis of the youth very well
“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 from 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 of causation, which rolls on crushing everything in its way and waits not for the widow’s tears or the orphan’s cry?”His logic behind the idea of rebirth
“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 depths are stored up all our experiences. Try and struggle, they would come up, and you would be conscious even of your past life.”His definition of Hinduism that all seem to have forgotten
“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 and becoming.”His prediction of the future of Science
“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 it would discover one element out of which all others could be made. Physics would stop when it would be able to fulfil its services in discovering the one energy of which all the others are but manifestations. The science of religion would become perfect when it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death.”His understanding of the need for rituals
“Why does a Christian go to church? Why is the cross holy? Why is the face turned toward the sky in prayer? Why are there so many images in the Catholic Church? Why are there so many images in the minds of Protestants when they pray? My brethren, we can do no more thinking about anything without a mental image than we can live without breathing- by the law of association, the material image calls up the mental idea and vice versa. This is why the 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.
“Man is to become divine by realising the divine. Idols or temples or churches or books are only the supports — the helps — of his spiritual childhood. But on and on he must progress.”He doesn’t judge
“To the Hindu, man is not travelling from error to truth, but from truth to truth, from lower to higher truth. To him, all the religions — from the lowest fetishism to the highest absolutism — mean so many attempts of the human soul to grasp and realise the Infinite, each determined by the conditions of its birth and association, and each of these marks a stage of progress.”His attempt to reconcile Buddhism, Jainism and Hinduism
“The Buddhists or the 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 man. They have not seen the Father, but they have seen the Son. And he that hath seen the Son hath seen the Father also.”His vision for the future of religion
“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 Brahminic or Buddhistic, Christian or Mohammedan, but the sum total of all these, and still have infinite space for development; which in its Catholicity will embrace in infinite arms and find a place for every human being — from the lowest grovelling savage, not far removed from the brute, to the highest man towering by the virtues of his head and heart almost above humanity, making society stand in awe of him and doubt his human nature.”His understanding of human faith in the divine
“Whatever may be the position of philosophy, whatever may be the position of metaphysics, so long as there is such a thing as death in the world, so long as there is such a thing as weakness in the human heart, so long as there is a cry going out of the human heart, there shall be faith in God.”He was against religious conversion
“Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid.”
He finished his speech with the appeal, “Upon the banner of every religion will soon be written — in spite of resistance — ‘Help and not Fight’, ‘Assimilation and not Destruction’, ‘Harmony and Peace, and not Dissension’.”