Addresses at the
Parliament of Religion, Chicago
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 1
Response to Welcome
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 this platform who,
referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these
men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to
different lands the idea of toleration. I am proud to belong to a
religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal
acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration but we
accept all religions as true.
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.
I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I
remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, and which is
every day repeated by millions of human beings:
As the different streams having their sources in different places
all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths
which people 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 in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world of
the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita:
Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach them; all
are struggling through paths which in the end lead to Me.
Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, 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 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 is come; and I fervently hope that the
bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the
death-knell of all fanaticism, of all persecutions with the sword or
with the pen, and of all uncharitable feelings between persons
wending their way to the same goal.
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 2
Why We Disagree
I will tell you a little story. You have heard the eloquent speaker
who has just finished say, "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 that would illustrate the
cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there
for a long time. It was born there and brought 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 it for granted that it had its eyes, and
that it every day cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli
that lived in it with an energy that would do credit to our modern
bacteriologists. In this way it went on and became a little sleek
and fat. Well, one day another frog that lived in the sea came 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 the frog of the sea, "how do you compare the sea
with your little well?"
Then 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
my well. There can be nothing 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 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. I have to
thank you of America for the great attempt you are making to break
down the barriers of this little world of ours, and hope that, in
the future, the Lord will help you to accomplish your purpose.
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 3
Paper on Hinduism
Three religions now stand in the world which have 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 sea-shore in a
tremendous earthquake it receded only for a while, only to return in
an all-absorbing Hood, 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 center 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 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 and the Father
of all spirits were there before their discovery, and would remain
even if we forgot them.
The discoverers of these laws are called Rishis, and we honor them
as perfected beings. I am glad to tell this audience that some of
the very greatest of them were women.
Here it may be said that these laws as laws may be without end, but
they must have had a beginning. 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.
If I may be allowed to use a simile, creation and creator are two
lines, without beginning and without end, zoning 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
every day: " The sun and the moon, the Lord created like the suns
and the moons of previous cycles. " And this agrees with modern
Here I Stand and if I shut my eyes, and try to conceive my
existence, "I," "I," "I," what is the idea before me? The idea of a
body. Am I, 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 shall go on living. I had also a past. The
soul was not created, 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
He so partial? Nor would it mend matters in the least to hold that
those who are miserable in this life will be happy in another one.
Why should a man be miserable even here in the reign of a just and
In the second place, the idea of a creator God does not explain the
anomaly, but simply expresses the cruel Rat of an all-powerful
being. There must have been causes, then, before his birth, to make
a man miserable or happy and those were his past actions.
Are not all the tendencies of the mind and the body accounted for by
inherited aptitude? Here are two parallel lines of existence - one
of the mind, the other of matter. If 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
materialistic 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. There are
other tendencies peculiar to a soul caused by his past actions. And
a soul with a certain tendency would, by the laws of affinity, take
birth in a body which is the fittest instrument for the display of
that tendency. This is in accord with science, for science wants to
explain everything by habit, and habit is got through repetitions.
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 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.
This is direct and demonstrative evidence. Verification is the
perfect proof of a theory, and here is the challenge thrown to the
world by the Rishis. We have discovered the secret by which the very
depths of the ocean of memory can be stirred up - try it and you
would get a complete reminiscence of your past life.
So then 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. The Hindu believes that every soul is a circle
whose circumference is nowhere but whose center is located in the
body, and that death means the change of the center from holy to
body. Nor is the soul bound by the conditions of matter. In its very
essence, it is free, unbounded, holy, pure, and perfect. But somehow
or other it finds itself tied down to matter and thinks of itself as
Why should the free, perfect, and pure be thus 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 positing one or more
quasi-perfect beings, and use big scientific names to fill up 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 the
Hindu is sincere. He does not want to take shelter under sophistry.
He is brave enough to face the question in a manly fashion; and his
answer is: "I do not know. I do not know how the perfect being, the
soul, came to think of itself as imperfect, as Joined to and
conditioned by matter." But the fact is a fact for all that. It is a
fact in everybody's consciousness that one thinks of oneself as the
body. The Hindu does not attempt to explain why one thinks one is
the body. The answer that it is the will of God is no explanation.
This is nothing more than what the Hindu says, "I do not know."
Well, then, the human soul is eternal and immortal, perfect and
infinite, and death means only a change of center 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 here is another
question: 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? 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 trumpet voice proclaimed the glad
tidings: "Hear, 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! Allow me to call you, brethren, by that sweet name
-heirs of immortal bliss - yea, the Hindu refuses to call you
sinners. We are the Children of God, the sharers of immortal bliss,
holy and perfect beings. e divinities on earth - sinners! It is a
sin to call a ma. so; it is standing libel on human nature. Come up,
O lions, and shake off the delusion that you are sheep; you are
souls immortal, spirits free, blest and eternal; ye are not matter,
ye are not bodies; matter is your servant, not you the servant of
Thus it is that the 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 clouds rain and death stalks upon the earth."
And what is His nature?
He is everywhere, the pure and formless One, the Almighty and the
All-merciful. "Thou art our father, Thou art our mother, Thou art
our beloved friend, Thou art the source of all strength; give us
strength. Thou art He that beareth the burdens of the universe; help
me bear the little burden of this life." Thus sang the Rishis of the
Veda. And how to worship Him? Through love. "He is to be worshiped
as the one beloved, dearer than everything in this and the next
This is the doctrine of love declared in the 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.
He taught that a man ought to live in this world like a lotus leaf,
which grows in water but is never moistened by water; so a man ought
to live in the world - his heart to God and his hands 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:
"Lord, 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 Emperor of India,
wag 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 the
queen asked how it was that he, the most virtuous of men, should
suffer so much misery. Yudhishthira answered, "Be hold, my queen,
the Himalayas, how grand and beautiful they are; I love them. They
do not give me any- thing 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
beloved; my nature is to love Him, and therefore I love. I do not
pray for any- thing; I do not ask for anything. Let Him place me
wherever He likes. I must love Him for love's sake. I cannot trade
The Vedas teach that the soul is divine, only held in the bondage of
matter; perfection will be reached when this bond will burst, and
the word they use for it is, therefore, Mukti - freedom, freedom
from the bonds of imperfection, freedom from death and misery.
And this bondage can only fall off through the mercy of God, and
this mercy comes on the pure. So purity is the condition of His
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 all the crookedness of the heart is made
straight. Then all doubt ceases. He is no more the freak of a
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 are existences 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 Rote Him direct. He must see Him, and that
alone can destroy all doubts. So the best proof a Hindu sage gives
about the soul, about God, is: "I have seen the soul; I have seen
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 realizing - not in believing, but
in being and becoming.
Thus the whole object of their system is by constant struggle to
become perfect, to become divine, to reach God, and see God; and
this reaching 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 man ought to have pleasure, namely
God, and enjoys the bliss with God.
So far all the Hindus are agreed. This is the common religion of all
the sects 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 Brahman, and it would only realize
the Lord as the perfection, the reality, of its own nature and
existence, the existence absolute, knowledge absolute, and bliss
absolute. We have often and often read this called the losing of
individuality and becoming a stock or a stone.
"He jests at scars that never felt a wound."
I tell you it is nothing of the kind. If it is happiness to enjoy
the consciousness of this small body, it must be greater happiness
to enjoy the consciousness of two bodies, the measure of happiness
increasing with the consciousness of 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
death cease when I am one with life, then alone can misery cease
when I am one with happiness itself, then alone can all errors cease
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 body in an unbroken ocean of matter, and
Advaita (unity) is the necessary conclusion with my other
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 fulfill
its services in discovering one energy of which all the others are
hut manifestations, and the science of religion become perfect when
it would discover Him who is the one life in a universe of death,
Him who is the constant basis of an ever-changing world, One who is
the only Soul of which all souls are but delusive manifestations.
Thus is it, through multiplicity and duality, that the ultimate
unity is reached. Religion can go no farther. This is the goal of
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 is only glad that what he has been cherishing in his bosom
for ages is going to be taught in more forcible language and with
further light from the latest conclusions of science.
Descend we now from the aspirations of philosophy to the religion of
the ignorant. At the very outset, I may tell you that there is 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 henotheism explain the situation.
"The rose, called by any other name, would smell as sweet." Names
are not explanations.
I remember, as a boy, hearing a Christian missionary preach to crowd
in India. Among other sweet things he was telling them was, that if
he gave a blow to their idol with his stick. what could it do? One
of his hearers sharply answered, "If I abuse your God, what can He
do?" "You would be punished," said the preacher, "when you die." "So
my idol will punish you when you die," retorted the Hindu.
The tree is known by its fruits. When I have seen amongst them that
are called idolaters, men, the like of whom, in morality and
spirituality and love, I have never seen anywhere, l stop and ask
myself, "Can sin beget holiness?"
Superstition is a great enemy of man, but bigotry is worse. 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 more think 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. He knows as well as you do that the
image is not God, is not omnipresent. finer all, how much does
omnipresence mean to almost the whole world? It stands merely as a
word, a symbol. Has God superficial area? If not, when we repeat
that word "omnipresent", we think of the extended sky. or of space -
that is 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 Hindus have associated the ideas of holiness, purity, truth,
omnipresence, and such other ideas with different images and forms.
But with this difference that while some people devote their whole
lives to their idol of a church and never rise higher, because with
them religion means an intellectual assent to certain doctrines and
doing good to their fellows, the whole religion of the Hindu is
centered in realization. Man is to become divine by realizing 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
He must not stop anywhere. "External worship, material worship," say
the scriptures, "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 man who 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
anyone's idol or call its worship sin. He recognizes in it a
necessary stage of life. "The child is father of the man." Would it
be right for an old man to say that childhood is a sin or youth a
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
traveling 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 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 nature, 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, all alike. If it does not
fit John or 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,
and crescents are simply so many symbols - so many pegs to hang
spiritual ideas on. It is not that this help is necessary for
everyone, but those that do not need it have no right to 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 of undeveloped minds to grasp high spiritual truths. The
Hindus have their faults, they sometimes have their exceptions; but
mark this, they are always for punishing their own bodies, and never
for cutting the throats of their neighbors. If the Hindu fanatic
burns himself on the pyre, he never lights the fire of Inquisition.
And even this cannot be laid at the door of his religion any more
than the burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity.
To the Hindu, then, the whole world of religions is only a
traveling, 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
inspirer of all of them. Why, then, are there so many
contradictions? They are only apparent, says the Hindu. The
contradictions come from the same truth adapting itself to the
varying circumstances of different natures.
It is the same light coming through glasses of different colors- 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 a string of pearls. Wherever thou
sees extraordinary holiness and extraordinary power raising 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 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
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
bath seen the Father also.
This, brethren, is a short sketch of the religious ideas of the
Hindus. The Hindu may have failed to carry out 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 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. It will be a
religion which will have no place for persecution or intolerance in
its polity, which will recognize divinity in every man and woman,
and whose whole scope, whose whole force, will be centered in aiding
humanity to realize its own true, divine nature.
Offer such a religion and all the nations will follow you. Asoka's
council was a council of the Buddhist faith. Akbar's. though more to
the purpose. was only a parlor meeting. It was reserved for America
to proclaim to all quarters of the globe that the Lord is in every
May He who is the Brahman of the Hindus, the Ahura-Mazda of the
Zoroastrians, the Buddha of the Buddhists, the Jehovah of the Jews,
the Father in Heaven of the Christians, give strength to you to
carry out your noble idea! The star arose in the East; it traveled
steadily towards the West, sometimes dimmed and 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 of the Sanpo¹, a thousand
fold more effulgent than it ever was before.
Hail Columbia, motherland of liberty! It has been given to thee, who
never dipped her hand in her neighbor's blood, who never found out
that the shortest way of becoming rich was by robbing one's
neighbors, it has been given to thee to march at the vanguard of
civilization with the flag of harmony
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 4
Religion Not the Crying Need of
Christianity must always be ready for good criticism, and I think
that you will hardly mind if I make a little criticism. Christian
brethren of America, you are so fond of sending out missionaries to
save the souls of heathens. I ask you: what have you done and are
doing to save their bodies from starvation? In India, there are 300
million men and women living on an average of a little more than 50
cents a month. I have seen them living for years upon wild flowers.
During the terrible famines, thousands died from hunger but the
missionaries did nothing. They come and offer life but only on
condition that the Hindus become Christians, abandoning the faith of
their fathers and forefathers. Is it right? There are hundreds of
asylums, but if the Muslims or the Hindus go there, they are kicked
out. There are thousands of asylums erected by Hindus where anybody
is received. There are hundreds of churches that have been erected
with the assistance of the Hindus, but no Hindu temples for which a
Christian has given a penny.
Brethren of America, you erect churches all through India, but the
crying evil in the East is not religion. They have religion enough,
but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out
for with parched throats. What they want is bread, but they are
given a stone. It is an insult to a starving people to offer them
religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him
metaphysics. Therefore, if you wish to illustrate the meaning of
"brotherhood," treat the Hindus more kindly, even though they are
Hindus and are faithful to their religion. Send missionaries to them
to teach them how better to earn a piece of bread and not to teach
them metaphysical nonsense.
[At this point, Swami Vivekananda said that he was not feeling too
well that day and so wished to be excused. But, we read in the
newspaper report, "there were thunders of applause and cries of ‘Go
on,’" so Vivekananda continued:]
The earlier speaker said something about the miserable and ignorant
priests in China. The same may be said of the priests in India. I am
one of those monks who have been described as beggarly. That is the
pride of my life. I am proud in that sense to be Christ-like. I eat
what I have today and think not of tomorrow. "Behold the lilies of
the field; they toil not, neither do they spin." The Hindu carries
that out literally. Many gentlemen present in Chicago sitting on
this platform can testify that for the last twelve years I never
knew whence my next meal would come. I am proud to be a beggar for
the sake of the Lord. The idea in the East is that to preach or
teach anything for the sake of money is low and vulgar, but to teach
the name of the Lord for pay is such degradation as would cause the
priest to lose caste and be spat upon.
There is one suggestion in the earlier speaker’s paper that is true:
If the priests of China and India were organized, there is an
enormous amount of potential energy that could be used for
regeneration of society and humanity. I endeavored to organize it in
India but failed for lack of money. It may be I shall get the help I
want in America.
I came here to seek help for my impoverished people and I fully
realized how difficult it was to get help for heathens from
Christians in a Christian land. I have heard so much of this land of
freedom, of liberty and freedom of thought, that I am not
discouraged. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 5
Buddhism, the Fulfillment of Hinduism
I am not a Buddhist, as you have heard, and yet I am. If China and
Japan and Sri Lanka follow the teachings of the Buddha, India
worships him as God incarnate on earth.
You have just now heard that I am going to criticize Buddhism, but
by that I wish you to understand only this. Far be it from me to
criticize him whom I worship as God incarnate on earth. Our view
about the Buddha is that he was not understood properly by his
disciples. The relation between Hinduism (by Hinduism, I mean the
religion of the Vedas) and what is called Buddhism at the present
day is nearly the same as between Judaism and Christianity. Jesus
Christ was a Jew, and Shakya Muni [Buddha] was a Hindu. The Jews
rejected Jesus Christ, nay, crucified him, whereas the Hindus accept
Shakya Muni as God incarnate and worship him.
But the real difference that we Hindus want to show between modern
Buddhism and what we should understand as the teachings of the
Buddha lies principally in this: Shakya Muni came to preach nothing
new. Like Jesus, the Buddha came to fulfill and not to destroy. In
the case of Jesus, it was the old people, the Jews, who did not
understand him, while in the case of the Buddha, it was his own
followers who did not realize the import of his teachings. As the
Jew did not understand the fulfillment of the Old Testament, so the
Buddhist did not understand the fulfillment of the truths of the
Hindu religion. Again, I repeat, Shakya Muni came not to destroy,
but he was the fulfillment, the logical conclusion, the logical
development of the religion of the Hindus.
The religion of the Hindus is divided into two parts: the ceremonial
and the spiritual. The spiritual portion is specially studied by the
monks. In it, there is no caste. In India a man from the highest
caste and a man from the lowest can become monks, thus the two
castes become equal. In religion there is no caste; caste is simply
a social institution. Shakya Muni himself was a monk, and it was his
glory that he had the large-heartedness to bring out the truths
hidden in the Vedas and throw them broadcast all over the world. He
was the first being in the world who brought missionaries into
practice--nay, he was the first to conceive the idea of
The great glory of the Master lay in his wonderful sympathy for
everybody, especially for the ignorant and the poor. Some of his
disciples were Brahmins. When Buddha was teaching, Sanskrit was no
more the spoken language in India. It was then only in the books of
the learned. Some of Buddha's Brahmin disciples wanted to translate
his teachings into Sanskrit, but he distinctly told them, "I am for
the poor, for the people; let me speak in the tongue of the people."
And so to this day the great bulk of his teachings are in the
vernacular of that day in India.
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.
On the philosophic side, the disciples of the Great Master dashed
themselves against the eternal rocks of the Vedas and could not
crush them; and on the other side, they took away from the nation
that eternal God to which every one, man or woman, clings so fondly.
And the result was that Buddhism had to die a natural death in
India. At the present day there are very few who call themselves
Buddhists in India, the land where Buddhism was born.
But at the same time, Hinduism lost something--that reforming zeal,
that wonderful sympathy and charity for everybody, that wonderful
leaven which Buddhism had brought to the masses and which had
rendered Indian society so great that a Greek historian who wrote
about India of that time was led to say that no Hindu was known to
tell an untruth and no Hindu woman was known to be unchaste.
Hinduism cannot live without Buddhism, nor Buddhism without
Hinduism. Then realize what the separation has shown to us, that the
Buddhist cannot stand without the brain and philosophy of the Hindu,
nor the Hindu without the heart of the Buddhist. This separation
between the Buddhists and the Hindus is the cause of the downfall of
India. That is why India is populated by three hundred millions of
beggars, and that is why India has been the slave of conquerors for
the last thousand years. Let us then join the wonderful intellect of
the Hindus with the heart, the noble soul, the wonderful humanizing
power of the Buddha.
Addresses at the Parliament of
Religions - 6
Address at the Final Session
The World's Parliament of Religions has become an accomplished fact,
and the merciful Father has helped those who labored to bring it
into existence, and crowned with success their most unselfish labor.
My thanks to those noble souls whose large hearts and love of truth
first dreamed this wonderful dream and then realized it. My thanks
to the shower of liberal sentiments that has overflowed this
platform. My thanks to this enlightened audience for their uniform
kindness to me and for their appreciation of every thought that
tends to smooth the friction of religions. A few jarring notes were
heard from time to time in this harmony. My special thanks to them,
for they have, by their striking contrast, made general harmony the
Much has been said of the common ground of religious unity. I am not
going just now to venture my own theory. But if anyone here hopes
that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions
and the destruction of the other, to them I say, "Friends, yours is
an impossible hope." Do I wish that the Christian would become
Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become
Christian? God forbid.
The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are
placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the
water? No. It becomes a plant, it develops after the law of its own
growth, assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them
into plant substance, and grows into a plant. Similar is the case
with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist,
nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must
assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve their
individuality and grow according to their own law of growth.
If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is
this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity
are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and
that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted
character. In the face of this evidence, if some people still dream
of the exclusive survival of their own religion and the destruction
of the others, I pity them from the bottom of my heart, and point
out to them that 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."