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Friday, 18 January 2013

Swami Vivekanada and the World Parliament of Religions

Reading this article on the BBC news about "Swami Vivekananda, the yoga missionary" I was intrigued by the reference to his participation in the World Parliament of Religions:

"He first shot to stardom at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. He called for tolerance and the end of religious fanaticism - by a strange coincidence the date was 11 September (or 9/11), 1893.

After his first words, "Sisters and brothers of America", there was a standing ovation - women fell over each other to get a closer look at this handsome Hindu monk with ochre robes and turban who spoke flawless English in a deep authoritative voice".

Unitarians and Universalists were heavily involved in arranging the first World Parliament of Religions. Rev Jenkin Lloyd Jones, born in the Welsh Unitarian stronghold of Llandysul in Ceredigion, was a Unitarian Minister in Chicago and acted as executive secretary and event organiser.

Vivekanada made the following plea:

"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 from the triumph of any one of these religions and the destruction of the others, to him I say, "Brother, yours is an impossible hope". Do I wish that the Christian would become Hundu. God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christians? 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 substances and grows 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 is to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the others and yet preserve its individuality and grow according to its 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 anyone dreams of the exclusive survival of his own and the destruction of the otehrs, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion would soon be written, in spite of their resistence: "Help, and Not Fight," "Assimilation and Not Destruction", "Harmony, Peace, and Not Dissension".(1)

That Unitarians and Universalists were instrumental in arranging the Parliament with such ideals of religious pluralism is striking. As Richard Hughes Seager has written " The Parliament was a harbinger of, a prelude to, perhaps the first exercise in what we now call globalization and multiculturalism".(2)

1. Impromptu Comnets by Vivekanada in "The Dawn of Religious Pluralism", Open Court, 1993. (ed) Richard Hughes Seager p336-337
2. above p 10

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