REMINISCENCES OF SWAMI VIVEKANANDA
REV. H. R. HAWEIS
From his book “TRAVEL AND TALK”
By Chatto Windus, London and Dodd, Mead, & Company, New York. 1897
The Parliament — In the centre of the great material, pork-purveying, money-grubbing city of Chicago — seven miles from the World’s Fair — is opened the Hall of Columbus, where three times a day an excited crowd scrambles for the 3,000 seats, whilst hundreds are on each occasion daily excluded, and this continues for sixteen days without abatement.
An Episcopal bishop or a Presbyterian minister is in the chair. As I sit on the platform I can see through a window the dense crowds waiting outside who will never get in.
At a signal all doors are closed, and the half-hour papers and speeches, “Theology of Judaism” & “Hinduism”; “Existence of God” & “Immortality” &c;, follow in quick succession. The Archbishop of Zante, in flowing robes, gives an address on the Greek Church; a Catholic bishop, Cardinal Gibbons, shows the needs of man supplied by the Catholic Church; the eloquent mystic Mazoomdar in excellent English pours forth a eulogy on the Bramho-Somaj; the Archimandrite from Damascus, who boasts that he has never spent a penny, not only addressed the meeting, but sat every day — sometimes, it is true, asleep — through all the speeches. The names of Canon (now Dean) Fremantle, Professor Max Muller, Professor Henry Drummond, Lyman Abbott, Dr. Momerie, and the leading lights of all the American universities, sufficiently show the representative and influential support given to the Religious Parliament; but to see the absorbed attention of these Chicago crowds day after day riveted on the discussion of abstruse religious and theological questions was a more impressive sight even than the Orientals in scarlet and orange-coloured robes and white turbans, or the galaxy of distinguished speakers and teachers whose names are known throughout the civilised world.
Nothing succeeds like success, and all of us who attended these earnest and enthusiastic meetings seemed to feel that the Chicago religious demonstration, with its cosmopolitan cry for unity and its practical plan for toleration, would leave a mark upon Christendom resembling, though differing from, the new departure created by the Protestant Reformation.
In listening to the eloquent Dharmapala of Ceylon, and the subtle and incisive utterances of the gorgeously robed Swami (Master) Vivekananda, it dawned upon many for the first time that so much high Christianity having been taught before Christ did not cheapen the Christian religion, but merely pointed to the Divine source from which both it and every other devout and noble teaching has come.
Clearer and clearer every day, as we listened to the accredited teachers of the world’s religions, did we perceive the everlastingly recurrent ideas, pure and simple, which underlie and vitalise all religious systems — God, the Soul, Sacrifice, Revelation, Divine Communion — clearer every day seemed to stand out the supremacy of the Christian ideal, and the unique work and personality of Jesus. A few notes of discord served only to throw up into higher relief the predominant keynote of brotherhood. The Rev. Joseph Cook, of Boston, or, as some called him, the Rev. ‘Cocksure’ Cook, in proclaiming his Christian certainties exhibited an almost archi-episcopal scorn of, and indifference to, all other certainties and religions, but he carried little weight — except that of his own dogmatism, which nearly sank him. Another gentleman raised a storm by intimating that polygamy was by no means an unmitigated evil. He was nevertheless listened to and loudly applauded at the close of his bold defence of Islamism.
Vivekananda, the popular Hindu monk, whose physiognomy bore the most striking resemblance to the classic face of the Buddha, denounced our commercial prosperity, our bloody wars, and our religious inconsistency, declaring that at such a price the ‘mild Hindu’ would have none of our vaunted civilisation. The recurrent and rhetorical use of the phrase ‘mild Hindu’ produced a very singular impression upon the audience, as the furious monk waved his arms and almost foamed at the mouth, “You come,” he cried, “with the Bible in one hand and the conqueror’s sword in the other — you, with your religion of yesterday, to us, who were taught thousands of years ago by our Rishis precepts as noble and lives as holy as your Christ’s. You trample on us and treat us like the dust beneath your feet. You destroy precious life in animals. You are carnivores. You degrade our people with drink. You insult our women. You scorn our religion — in many points like yours, only better, because more humane. And then you wonder why Christianity makes such slow progress in India. I tell you it is because you are not like your Christ, whom we could honour and reverence. Do you think if you came to our doors like Him, meek and lowly, with a message of love, living and working and suffering for others, as He did, we should turn a deaf ear? Oh, no! We should receive Him and listen to Him, as we have done our own inspired Rishis’ (teachers). I consider that Vivekananda’s personality was one of the most impressive, and his speech one of the most eloquent speeches which dignified the great congress. This remarkable person appeared in England in the autumn of 1895, and although he led a very retired life, attracted numbers of people to his lodgings, and created everywhere a very deep impression. He seemed completely indifferent to money, and lived only for thought. He took quite simply anything that was given him, and when nothing came he went without, yet he never seemed to lack anything; he lived by faith from day to day, and taught Yogi science to all who would listen, without money and without price. His bright orange flowing robe and white turban recalled forcibly the princely Magians who visited the birthplace of the Divine Babe. The Orientalists at the Congress supported each other admirably, not only from a scenic, but also from a controversial point of view.
Dharmapala, the Buddhist ascetic, in white robes and jet-black hair, followed Vivekananda, and, speaking in the same sense, denounced the missionaries. This brought up a gentleman in Chinese costume, an English missionary, who spoke up for his class with great ability and fire, intimating at the same time that the missionaries were far in advance of the missionary societies who sent them out. These, he said, were often narrow and intolerant; but the true Christian missionary knew how to value the native religions, and went out, not to denounce them, but to preach what was positive in his own, and to help the people to better knowledge and nobler lives. His class were, he declared, as a rule, not the idiots and self-indulgent idlers that had been described, but Godfearing and self-sacrificing men.
All the Orientalists fell bitterly on the pork butcher of Chicago, and on meat-eating generally. ‘If you cannot give life’ said Mazoomdar, ‘at least, for pity’s sake, do not take it’. Their utterances, however, failed to bear conviction to pig-killing, sausage-loving Chicago.
But on the whole, the message to the world from the World’s Parliament of Religions has been peace to all that are near, and all that are afar off.
Indeed, it is time to proclaim the essential unity of all religions — they conflict only in their accidents. The ‘broken lights’ bear witness to the true Light which lighteth every man that cometh into the world — nay, are parts of that Light as much as the colours in the prism are parts of the sunlight. Henceforth to accept Christ the rejection of all the teachers that went before Him is not necessary, and to receive Christianity need not carry with it the dogma that all other religions are in all parts false.
Last, not least, people may feel together even when they cannot think or believe alike, and there may be ‘difference of administration,’ and yet the same spirit, ‘The brotherhood of man’ transcends all the ‘isms,’ even as Christ is greater than Christianity, and Religion than the Churches.
These are some of the voices from Chicago, which no scorn of the world can daunt, and no indifference of the Church will be able to silence.
Courtesy: Frank Parlato Jr.