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Swami Vivekananda’s Idea of Universal Brotherhood in Chicago

India is celebrating 75 years of independence as Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, which comprises valuable contributions and self-sacrifice of various known and unknown heroes and sons of Bharatmata. Though India got political freedom in 1947 it was Vivekananda who aroused and awakened the soul of India. 11 September 1893 became the historical date in world history when India reclaimed its lost glory and got spiritual freedom.

While searching for his mission of life, Swami Vivekananda covered the whole length and breadth of India twice and reached Kanyakumari in December 1892, Vivekananda meditated at the last rock of India for 3 days on 25,26 and 27th December 1892. Once Vivekananda said later, “sitting at the last bit of Indian rock – I hit upon a plan”. That plan was a gigantic one, for the reawakening of Bharatmata. There Vivekananda decided to go to America to participate in the World’s Parliament of Religions and leave for Chicago on 31 May 1893.

The world’s parliament of religions was organised on the occasion of the 400th year of the discovery of America by Columbus and the mission was to propagate Christianity as the supreme most and the only true religion in the world. In the foreign land, without any credentials, or references, Vivekananda got shocked when he discovered Parliament did not open until the first week of September. A penniless pilgrim with no shed over his head, he had to sleep in the empty box of the station. But the gigantic plan was unfolding and Vivekananda met with J.H Wright, a professor at Harvard University who encouraged Vivekananda to represent Hinduism in the Parliament of religion.

On Monday, 11 September 1893, as the parliament opened, there sat Swami Vivekananda with a fascinating face, noble nature and gorgeous apparel and hardly he pronounced the very simple words ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ then thousands arose on their seats and applauded. Romain Rolland writes beautifully, that ‘his speech was like a tongue of flame’.

The New York Herald wrote, ‘After hearing him we feel how foolish it is to send missionaries to the learned nation.’ The Boston Evening stated Vivekananda as the ‘great favourite of the parliament’. With his next five lectures in the parliament, Swami Vivekananda single-handedly changed the narrative about India. India was until then considered a land of magic and snake charmers, a land of superstition and ignorance, but Vivekananda through his brilliant expositions explained the elevated Hindu Dharma.

Vivekananda succeed in Chicago, not only because of the ignorance of the whole world about India but the power behind Vivekananda was Sanatan Dharma and its message of Universal Brotherhood. The centre message of Vivekananda’s speech was not Brotherhood, rather it was Universal Brotherhood. It was Vivekananda only who though belonged to one Dharma but gave the message of Universal Brotherhood.

The true meaning of Brotherhood has to be inculcated and imbibed. Brotherhood may be of Christian or Muslim brotherhood which is proof of pity-mindedness, but the message of the universal brotherhood of Hindu Dharma is far broad and based on the vision of life-based on oneness. Universal Brotherhood indicates that the same divinity pervades in you which is in me. The brotherhood of religion or sect propagates the brotherhood of some people and hatred for the rest. Like in Christianity ‘Heaven is assured only for those who follow that particular denomination’. The same is with other ideologies. It is only from the Rishis of Sanatan dharma from whom it emanates, ‘एकं सत विप्रा बहुधा वदन्ति’, that which is one sages call it by different names.

Vivekananda further said in his speech ‘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

The message of Universal Brotherhood is based on universal toleration and acceptance. When one accepts someone of his own, then the feeling of brotherhood pervades. It is only we who believe and accept all religions as true. It is Sanatan Dharma which has given the message of ‘ Vasudeva Kutumbakam’. The idea of religious brotherhood is very harmful to humanity which can be understood from the fact that on one day, on 9/11 the twin towers of WTC in America were destroyed by terrorists and it was the same day of 9/11 when Vivekananda gave the message of universal brotherhood in 1893.

The vision of life or worldview of Indian Culture is a ‘vision of oneness’ in which we see divinity pervades in all animate or inanimate. The vision of oneness is at the core of Indian festivals, Utsav, and the way of worship. We say unity in diversity but the correct expression is diversified unity and that unity is only because of the universal brotherhood. 

The Chicago speech of Swami Vivekananda was just an expression of the great message of Sanatana Dharma to the whole world. This message of Swami Vivekananda gave inspiration to many freedom fighters like Subhash Chandra Bose, Yogi Arvind, BR Ambedkar and others. Swami Vivekananda in a lecture in 1897 at Madras said, ‘For the next fifty years this alone shall be our keynote – this, our great Mother India. Let all other vain gods disappear for the time being from our minds.’ And it was not a coincidence that exactly after 50 years India got independence in 1947. While commemorating this message of Vivekananda we should revisit the feeling of universal brotherhood and vision of oneness.

About the Writer– Satish Kumar is the Vibhag Yuva Pramukh in Uttar Prant of Vivekananda Kendra Kanyakumari and a post-graduate student from the University of Delhi.

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