PM’s address at the Closing Ceremony of the Commemoration of 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda
Following is the text of the Prime Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh’s address at the Closing Ceremony of the Commemoration of the 150th Birth Anniversary of Swami Vivekananda in New Delhi today.
“We are gathered here today to pay our homage and tribute to the memory of one of India’s greatest sons. A teacher, a great philosopher, a great religious scholar, a patriot, a nationalist and an internationalist – Swami Vivekananda was all these; he was also a citizen of the world. It is not a surprise, therefore, that his message has gone far and wide, inspiring millions of devotees across the world.
Over the past one year, we have marked the 150th anniversary of Swamiji’s birth by celebrating his life and his teachings. I believe there are at least three central messages of Swamiji’s teachings that are truly timeless and have universal appeal.
First, that all the great religions of the world seek peace on Earth and goodwill among all human beings.
Second, that India’s true liberation would come when every Indian feels liberated from the scourge of poverty, ignorance and disease.
Third, that India, this great motherland of ours, has much to learn from the world around us and, equally, much to teach the world and that a two-way flow of knowledge between India and the world can only be to our benefit and the benefit of all humanity.
Let me elaborate on these thoughts.
I have personally been inspired by Swamiji’s syncretic views. As he put it so simply, yet profoundly, “All who have actually attained any real religious experience never wrangle over the form in which the different religions are expressed. They know that the soul of all religions is the same and so they have no quarrel with anybody just because he or she does not speak in the same tongue.”
This syncretic and pluralistic view of religion is one of the greatest contributions of Hinduism and of the civilisations that took root in this ancient land of ours. The idea that the whole world is one family has inspired millions of people all over the world. But I also believe it is an idea that defines India and the Indian view of the world.
In his historic and famous address to the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893, which one observer described as "human eloquence at its highest pitch", Swami Vivekananda said that sectarianism, bigotry and 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.”
Swami Vivekananda expressed the hope at the World Parliament of Religions that “the bell that tolled this morning in honour 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.”
I have used these three quotes from Swamiji to highlight that it is no use celebrating Swamiji’s life, paying our respects to his ideas and teachings and honouring his memory if we do not also imbibe the values that he so passionately advocated. His truly great message for us, which is of great relevance to our country and our sub-continent, was that true religion and true religiosity cannot be the basis of hatred and division, but of mutual respect and tolerance for the faiths and beliefs of all.
I believe Swami Vivekananda’s second important contribution to modern India was to stir the minds of fellow Indians and inspire them to seek freedom and a life of dignity. His clarion call: “Arise! Awake! And stop not till the goal is reached!” – was at once a call to spiritual as well as political liberation. While promoting the idea of the oneness of all religions, Swamiji promoted with equal zeal the idea of the equality of all human beings. Therefore, he rejected colonialism and alien rule as an affront to human dignity.
This message inspired a new generation of Indians who, on the one hand, were rediscovering their own history, their own heritage, their own civilizational attributes and contributions and, at the same time, wished to be a part of the modern world on the basis of liberty, equality and fraternity.
Finally, Ladies and Gentlemen, let me draw your attention to the third key message of Swami Vivekananda, which has inspired millions of people and has shaped my own thinking about India and the world and about Indians and the world.
You will recall that Swami Vivekananda went to Chicago via East Asia and spent time both in China and Japan en route to the United States. He was truly inspired by what the people of China and Japan were trying to do in pursuit of their own national development. Swamiji was particularly inspired by the patriotism and the pursuit of modernity by the people of Japan. The combination of national pride, pride in their cultural inheritance, and at the same time true commitment to learning from the world of modern science and technology that he saw made a deep impression on him.
Reflecting on his visits to China and Japan, Swamiji once said. “With all my love for India, and with all my patriotism and veneration for the ancients, I cannot but think that we have to learn many things from other nations. We must be always ready to sit at the feet of all for, mark you, everyone can teach us great lessons. At the same time, we must not forget that we have also to teach a great lesson to the world.”
One striking feature that I find in Swami Vivekananda is the amount of courage and faith he instills in the readers through his stirring discourses. Faith not in any one God or gods or in any sector creed, but in oneself. This sense of confidence in oneself, without being arrogant, and humility, recognising the need to learn from others, is a rare but precious trait. It is a trait we in India today must readily acquire and jealously retain.
Let us, in all humility, imbibe these lessons from Swami Vivekananda. Let us learn to be tolerant of one another, have respect for all religions and dedicate ourselves to the development of our people and our country. And let us also be humble enough to recognise that there is much that we can learn from the world and therefore be open to new ideas, new opportunities and new challenges.
In celebrating the life and teachings of Swami Vivekananda we are not just paying tribute to the past. That would be the wrong way to honour this great son of India. I sincerely believe that the best tribute to Swamiji would be to recognise the relevance of his teachings and his thoughts for the 21st century, for today’s India, for tomorrow’s India.
Let me end by recalling an anecdote from Swamiji's famous appearance at the World Parliament of Religions. When he arrived at Chicago, he was dismayed to learn from the organizers that no delegate could be admitted without references and that it was too late to register as a delegate. Through an acquaintance, he was introduced to a Harvard professor, John Henry Wright. After only one meeting with him, the professor remarked, "To ask you, Swami, for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine." Wright proceeded to write a letter to the organizers of the conference, saying, "Here is a man who is more learned than all our learned professors put together".
I urge every young Indian, irrespective of faith and religion, to be inspired by such a man as they build their own future in this ancient land of ours.
Thank you. Jai Hind.”
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