2. THE PARLIAMENT OF RELIGIONS
The primary purpose of the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 was to bring together the fruits of man’s material progress. Everything imaginable was on exhibit – not only the achievements of Western civilization but, the better to show these off, life-size models of the more backward cultures of the world. The Fair, however, would not have been complete without a representation of the world’s thought. “Neely’s History of the Parliament of Religions,” edited by Walter B. Houghton, tells us that “the idea of a series of congresses for the consideration of the greatest themes in which mankind is interested, and so comprehensive as to include representatives from all parts of the earth originated with Charles Carroll Bonney in the summer of 1889.” Mr. Bonney was a well-known lawyer of that time. From 1890 he had held the position of president of the International Law and Order League and was the author of many important constitutional and economic reforms. His voice being one which was heard, his idea was given wide publicity and was met with general approval. A committee was formed, and on October 30, 1890, the World’s Congress Auxiliary of the Columbian Exposition was organized with Mr. Bonney as its president. For the next two and a half years elaborate and complex plans were made, involving an untold number of letters to and from all corners of the earth. The congresses which finally met between May 15 and October 28, 1893, were twenty in all and embraced such things as woman’s progress, the public press, medicine and surgery, temperance, commerce and finance, music, government and law reform, economic science, Sunday rest, and – “since faith in a Divine Power . . . has been like the sun, a light-giving and fructifying potency in man’s intellectual and moral devel.
Among the Councilors chosen from India were G. S. Iyer, Editor of the Hindu, B. B. Nagarkar of Bombay, and P. C. Mazoomdar of Calcutta, the last two of whom represented the Brahmo Samaj at the Parliament. The Committee was also in communication with Dhannapala, the General Secretary of the Maha-Bodhi Society in Calcutta, who later became the delegate for the Southern Buddhists of Ceylon, and Muni Atmaramji, High Priest of the Jain community of Bombay.
This abundance of correspondence was not all: articles, lectures, sermons and editorials were written which either extravagantly praised or bitterly condemned the attempt to bring together all the religions of the world. It was through articles in the Hindu by its editor, G. S. Iyer, that the plans of the Parliament were made generally known in India, and it is probably through this channel that Swamiji, not being affiliated with any sect or organization, came to learn of what was afoot in America.
The task of assembling this unprecedented gathering was not only cumbersome but delicate. The initial action of the Committee, which was appointed in the spring of 1891 and was formed largely of zealous Protestant ministers, was to advise religious leaders of the proposed objectives of the Parliament, which were in brief: ” 1) To bring together in conference, for the first time in history, the leading representatives of the great Historic Religions of the world. 2) To show to inen, in the most impressive way, what and how many important truths the various Religions hold and teach in common. … 4) To set forth, by those most competent to speak, what are deemed the important distinctive truths held and taught by each Religion, and by the various
chief branches of Christendom.. 7) To inquire what light each Religion has afforded, or my afford, to the other Religions of the world. … 9) To discover, from competent men, what light Religion has to throw on the great problems of the present age, especially the important questions connected with Temperance, Labor, Education, Wealth and Poverty. 10) To bring the nations of the earth into a more friendly fellowship, in the hope of securing permanent international peace.”
At first the responses that flowed in were mostly favourable and enthusiastic. To be sure, a missionary of the Presbyterian
Board in India expressed some “misgivings through fear lest the faith we loved and the Saviour we preached might seem to us to be dishonored.” But further acquaintance with the plans served to remove these misgivings and to bring about his hearty approval.
In what this further acquaintance consisted may be gathered from a quotation in Barrows’ book. “The Christian conviction Backof this Parliament,” he writes approvingly, “was well expressed by Pere Hyacinth in the Contemporary for July, 1892: “It is not true that all religions are equally good ; but neither is it true that all religions except one are no good at all. The Christianity of the future, more just than that of the past, will assign to each its place in that work of evangelical preparation which the elder doctors of the church discern in heathenism itself and which is not yet completed.’
But this patronizing complacence was not enough to remove all misgivings, and as the plans became more widely known, dissent was soon loud and strong. Many Christian journals in America came out in decided opposition, largely on the same grounds that had given pause to the Presbyterian missionary, but also out of fear that the Parliament would only aggravate discord. The worst blow of all, however, was struck by the powerful Archbishop of Canterbury, who after due consideration finally wrote in a letter to the Committee: “. . . The difficulties which I myself feel are not questions of distance and convenience, but rest on the fact that the Christian religion is the one religion. I do not understand how that religion can be regarded as a member of a Parliament of Religions without
assuming the equality of the other intended members and the
parity of their position and claims.”
Echoes were heard. For example, a letter from a minister in Hong Kong: “. . . If misled yourself, at least do not mislead
others nor jeopardize, I pray you, the precious life of your soul by playing fast and loose with the truth and coquetting with false religions. . . . You are unconsciously planning treason against Christ.”
Although the stand of the Archbishop and those like it were criticized by many, the opposition to them was for the most part based on the conviction that, after all, Christianity had nothing to fear. “In my judgment” wrote one bishop in America, “no Christian believer should hesitate one moment to make the presentation of the Religion of Jesus Christ grand and impressive, so that it may make itself felt powerfully in the comparison of religions. . . .” “Who can tell” he went on, “but that the great Head of the Church may, in his providence, make use of this immense gathering to usher in the triumph of his truth, when at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow ?”
“One result” wrote another bishop, “will be to show that the Christian faith was never more widely or more intelligently believed in, or Jesus Christ more adoringly followed. Civilization, which is making the whole world one, is preparing the way for the reunion of all the world’s religions in their true center – Jesus Christ”
Dozens of similar letters followed in, approving of the Congress for evangelical reasons. Barrows, without the slightest consciousness that these letters were anything but in the spirit of the proposed objectives, added his own voice to them. He found it part of his work in replying to the criticisms of the Parliament to write articles and give many public addresses explaining the Christian and Scriptural grounds on which its defense, as he says, “securely rested,” namely, that St. Paul “was careful to find common ground for himself and his Greek auditors in Athens, before he preached to them Jesus and the resurrection.” “We believe,” Barrows went on to say. “that Christianity is to supplant all other religions, because it contains
all the truth there is in them and much besides, revealing a
redeeming God.” Patronization was taken for enlightened brotherly love. “Though light has no fellowship with darkness, light does have fellowship with twilight. God has not left himself without witness, ami those who have the full light of the Cross should bear brotherly hearts toward all who grope in a dimmer illumination”
This was as liberal as the Christian ministry’ could get. There were of course letters and articles which expressed the thought of more open minds. But in Barrows’ history, these are in the minority and, significantly, almost all come from the pens of laymen. Representative is the following from Count Goblet d’Alviella, of Brussels: “The significance of such an attempt cannot be too much insisted uppn. In opposition to sectarian points of view which identify Religion with the doctrines of one or another particular form of worship, it implies, 1. That religious sentiment possesses general forms and even a sphere of action independent of any particular theology ; 2. That men belonging to churches the most diverse can and should come to an understanding with each other in order to realize this program common to all religions.”
But views such as this, though they represented a large portion of public opinion, missed the main point as far as the General Committee was concerned. “The Parliament was conceived and carried on,” Barrows says, “in the spirit of Milton’s faith, that ‘though all the winds of doctrine were let loose to play upon the earth, so Truth be in the field, we do injuriously to misdoubt her strength. Let her and falsehood grapple; who ever knew Truth put to the worst in a free and open encounter?’ ” Truth, in this instance, was, of course, Christianity ; falsehood, every other faith.
While this sort of thing had the effect of allaying the fears of the more bigoted section of the Christian Church (though not those of the Archbishop of Canterbury), it also had the effect of repelling the leaders of other religions. It became necessary for Barrows hastily to assure certain alarmed foreign delegates that “the spirit of kindness and fraternity would prevail in the Parliament.”
The General Committee had many a ticklish problem on its hands, and there were some beyond its control At the last moment, for instance, in the summer of 1893, the Baptists and the Christian Endeavor Society withdrew all connections with the World’s Fair, the reason being that after long-drawn-out debates, the managers of the Fair had decided that its doors were to remain open on Sundays – a decision which was obviously the work of Satan. The Anglican churches for other reasons also withdrew. Russia refused to send a representative, as did Turkey.
But at length all plans were in order, and on August 11, 1893, the General Committee sent out a request for Universal Prayer . . to the advance of spiritual enlightenment, to the promotion of peace and good will among nations and races, and to the deepening and widening of the sense of universal human brotherhood.”
It must be said here that despite the obvious and strong prejudices of a large portion of the Christian ministry, and despite the rampant materialism of the age, thousands of men and women trustingly looked to the Parliament for the fulfilment of the first and broader objectives laid down by the Committee. There was in America a sincere and open-minded search for spiritual truth and an eagerness to welcome it wherever it might be found. But while a profound readiness existed in the American soul for spiritual food, a truly liberal attitude could not, in those days, obtain acceptance among the clergy or the public as a whole. Ironically, however, the Parliament, which could be convened only through a spirit of Christian evangelism, became in spite of itself an instrument for the destruction of bigotry.
The Parliament of Religions opened on the morning of September 11, 1893, at the Art Institute of Chicago, which is not to be confused with the “Art Palace” – a temporary though grandiose structure in the Fair Grounds. The Art Institute was a permanent and newly constructed building on Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, not yet ready to house the art exhibits for which it was intended. Except for the fact that its many large halls accommodated at various times all the congresses, it had no connection with the Fair, nor did it vanish into smoke as did the Exposition buildings; rather, it stands today, a large stone building of classical design, serving as one of America’s finest museums of art. It was in the Institute’s great Hall of Columbus that the delegates of the Parliament gathered on that memorable morning.
At ten o’clock, ten solemn strokes of the New Liberty Bell, on which was inscribed, “A new commandment I give unto you, that ye love one another,” proclaimed the opening of the Congress – each stroke representing one of the ten chief religions, listed by President Bonney as Theism, Judaism, Mohammedanism. Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism, Shintoism, Zoroastrianism, Catholicism, the Greek Church, and Protestantism. It is not likely that any of the delegates heard this proclamation, for the bell was one of the curiosities of the Fair, and was located at a considerable distance from the Parliament. Nor did the bell serve to summon the spectators. A multitude of people had long since been besieging the doors of the Institute ; four thousand had crowded onto the floor and into the gallery of the Hall of Columbus and were waiting in an expectant silence for the delegates to appear. The hush was like that of a church. It is said that this “mass of people was so wonderfully quiet that the flutter of wings was heard when a tiny bird flew through an open window and over the vacant platform.”
There is no written description of this platform to be found, but to judge from pictures of the Parliament, it ran less than the full width of the auditorium and was about twelve feet deep. Empty of delegates, it must have presented a somewhat dreary and hodgepodge appearance. Against the Backwall, upon which hung what appear to have been a Japanese and a Hebrew scroll, two giant marble statues of Greek philosophers brooded over the scene. Next to the philosopher on the right a comparatively small and sprightly bronze goddess – possibly the Goddess of Learning – lifted an encouraging hand. But the most extraordinary object was a thronelike chair, made, it is said, of iron, its high Backintricately wrought. This chair was centered between the statues and, on this opening day, was reserved for Cardinal Gibbons, the highest prelate of the Catholic Church in America. On either side of the throne, about thirty ordinary wooden chairs stood three rows deep and awaited the delegates, the oflicials of the Parliament and invited guests. A speaker’s rostrum completed the scene.
Not on the opening day, but later, a sign was hung on the front of the rostrum, which read: “No Admittance Except to
Authorized Representatives of the Chicago Daily Press.” This admonition referred to the pit directly below, in which reporters and official stenographers sat at small tables and recorded the daily proceedings, and was no doubt made necessary by the curiotis and reverent crowds who pressed forward to reach the platform. Indeed, one of the now aged women members of the press (of whom there vrerc but one or two) told not long ago of how crowds used to rush forward to touch the hem of Swamiji s robe, and of how deeply she was impressed by his supreme and unbroken humility in the face of such adulation.
But to return to the vacant platform of the opening day, it had a makeshift air about it, as though someone had unsuccessfully attempted to convey the spirit of universality. It presented a conglomeration of unrelated things and was certainly not what one would call either harmonious or prepossessing. However, as the Reverend Barrows explained in another connection: “It
would have been unworthy of the moral dignity, the serious purpose of the occasion, if there had been any attempt at mere pageantry.”
Pageantry there was enough without a studied attempt at it. In another part of the building, the delegates, Swamiji among them, were preparing to make their appearance, forming in pairs to walk to the platform. At the appointed hour of ten the group started out. Heading the long procession came President Bonney and Cardinal Gibbons, arm in arm, the Cardinal resplendent in his crimson robes, the President somber and dignified in his morning coat. Following these two were the President and Vice-President of the Board of Lady Managers of the Exposition, Mrs. Potter Palmer and Mrs. Charles H. Hcnrotin, in silk dresses with puffed sleeves and bustles. The procession slowly and majestically entered the Backof the auditorium, the crowd making way for it. Then beneath the flags of many nations and amid wave upon wave of cheers it marched down the center aisle and ascended the platform.
“The sight,” says Houghton, “was most remarkable. There were strange robes, turbans and tunics, crosses and crescents, flowing hair and tonsured heads.” Cardinal Gibbons sat in the center of the group on the iron throne. On his right were the five Buddhist priests of China in their long, flowing white robes, and on his left, the black-garbed patriarchs of the old Greek Church, “wearing strangely formed hats, somber cassocks of black, and leaning on ivory sticks carved with figures representing ancient rites.” The First Secretary of the Chinese Legation in Washington, who had been deputed by the Emperor of China to present the doctrine of Confucius, wore robes of a mandarin.
His pictures show him sitting bolt upright, squarely facing the audience with immense dignity and looking somewhat like a huge Chinese doll with a round and moonlike face. To quote again from Houghton: “The high priest of the state religion of Japan was arrayed in flowing robes, presenting the colors of the rainbow. Buddhist monks were attired in garments of white and yellow ; . . . the Greek Archbishop of Zante, from whose high head-gear there fell to the waist a black veil, was brilliant in purple robe and black cassock, and glittering as to his breast in chains of gold. Dharmapala, [‘whose slight, lithe person was swathed in pure white, while his black hair fell in curls upon his shoulders’] was recognized in his woolen garments; and in black clothes hardly to be distinguished from European dress, was Mazoomdar, author of the ‘Oriental Christ’.” The closing sentence of an eyewitness account by the Rev. Mr. Wente (from which the above bracketed quotation regarding Dharmapala is taken) is worth quoting here to complete the picture:”The
ebon-hued but bright faces of Bishop Arnett, of the African Methodist Church, and of a young African prince, were relieved by the handsome costumes of the ladies of the company, while forming a somber background to all was the dark raiment of the Protestant delegates and invited guests.”
In the midst of this impressive ariay sat Swamiji, conspicuous, according to all accounts, for his “orange turban and robe,” or, as better put by the Rev. Mr. Weil re, for his “gorgeous red apparel, his bronze fate surmounted with a turban of yellow.” Ihis, then, was the scene on the platform. Facing it was the vast audience of men and women, filling every seat of the floor and gallery’ and comprising representative intellects of the day, both clerical and secular. “Such a scene,” writes Houghton, “was never witnessed before in the world’s history.” Swamiji later wrote, “My heart was fluttering and my tongue nearly dried up.” And it is little wonder, for he had suddenly found himself surrounded on all sides by solemn and august personages in full regalia, who represented the religious thought of the whole world. Although, as was told in the preceding chapter, he had spoken to small gatherings in America, never before had he seen, let alone* addressed, such a crowd as this.
Suddenly the great organ in the gallery burst forth with the
strains of the “Doxology” and the entire assembly arose to sing: “Praise God from whom all blessings flow; Praise him, all creatures here below; Praise him above, ye heavenly hosts; Praise Father, Son and Holy Ghost” There were more verses, and one can be sure that the hall resounded. At the end of the hymn a deep silence was sustained by the uplifted hand of the Cardinal. Then into this impressive hush he began the words of the Lord’s Prayer: “Our Father who art in heaven .. ” and every voice in
the hall joined with his. “The supreme moment of the nineteenth century” says Houghton, “was reached”
The Parliament of Religions had begun. Seventeen days of continual speech-making, morning, afternoon and evening, followed. Each session was attended by an audience that, big to start with, grew in volume as time went on until by the fourth day crowd became so great that it overflowed into the neighboring Hall of Washington, where the entire program was repeated word for word. On the fifth day, however, the Scientific Section of the Parliament was opened, and thenceforth the spectators were divided between the Parliament proper and this adjunct, in which the more erudite papers – those dealing with the science of religion – were read. As is known, Swamiji spoke at the Scientific Section on several occasipnj, and one cannot help wondering if the diversion of the crowd from the Hall of Columbus was not, in part at least, due to his presence rather than to the presentation of the science of religion.
One fortunate thing about the Parliament, which may be noted here, was that it was held in the early autumn, when the days were no longer stifling hot. With the exception of that overcrowded fourth day, when the temperature rose to 95°, and of a morning toward the end of the Parliament when it fell to 39°, the days, as far as temperature went, were mild. It was windy, however, and sometimes it rained. Indeed, such a storm blew one evening that rain was driven into the building, forcing many to protect themselves with umbrellas, and pounded on the roof with such a roar that often the speakers voices were drowned out.
The first day of the Parliament was devoted to speeches of welcome from the officials and responses by the delegates. There
were seven of the former, delivered in high oratory and
consuming a large part of the morning session, which was concluded with eight short speeches of response. To some of the latter the audience was wildly demonstrative. The first delegate to speak was the Archbishop of Zante, representative of the Greek Church, who expressed the sentiment that “all men have a common Creator and consequently a common Father in God” and concluded with, “I raise up my hands and I bless with heartfelt love the great country and the happy, glorious people of the United States.” “This is indeed glorious!” cried President Bonncy, and the audience burst into prolonged cheering. Mazoomdar, the representative of the Brahmo Sainaj in Calcutta, who had been in America ten years before and was known to many, was also loudly cheered. But the expressions of welcome given to Pung Kwang Yu “were surpassed in the case of no other speaker on the platform,” says Barrows. “Men and women rose to their feet in the audience, and there was wild waving of hats and handkerchiefs.” This not because the audience was in sympathy with Confucianism, but because, as President Bonney had said in his introductory remarks, “We have not treated China very well in this country.”
To judge from a quotation from the St. Louis Observer of September 21, 1893, which reproduced in Barrows’ book, Dharma-pala, the Buddhist from Calcutta – whom Swamiji later spoke of as “a nice boy” – somewhat startled the public. “With his black, curly locks thrown Backfrom his broad brow, his keen, clear eye fixed upon the audience, his long brown finger emphasizing the utterances of his vibrant voice, he looked the very image of a propagandist, and one trembled to know that such a figure stood at the head of the movement to consolidate all the disciples of Buddha and to spread ‘the light of Asia’ throughout the civilized world.”
Through all this, as is known, Swamiji remained seated, meditative and prayerful. It was not until the afternoon session, after four other delegates had read their prepared speeches, that he arose to address the Congress and, through it, the world. The electric effect on the audience of the first words Swamiji spoke is well known. Both Barrows and Houghton comment on the fact that “when Mr. Vivekananda addressed the audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ there arose a peal of applause that lasted for several minutes,” and Swamiji himself tells us that “a deafening applause of two minutes followed. . . Another reference to this incident comes from Mrs. S. K. Blodgett, who much later became Swamiji’s hostess in Los Angeles. “I was at the Parliament of Religions in Chicago in 1893,” she once told. ”When that young man got up and said, ‘Sisters and Brothers of America’ seven [?] thousand people rose to their feet as a tribute to something they knew not what. When it was over I saw scores of women walking over the benches to get near him, and I said to myself, ‘Well, my lad, if you can resist that onslaught you are indeed a God!'” (It is told in “The Life” that the night following the opening day of the Parliament Swamiji, a guest at the time in a luxurious home, wept from the depths of his heart over the poverty and suffering of the Indian masses. This was his reaction to the fame and power that were suddenly his.)
As has been seen, however, the crowds had not sat glum and silent until he spoke: they had cheered a few others vociferously. As far as spiritual perceptiveness was concerned, this audience was an average one, its spiritual yearnings moving invisibly, even to itself, beneath layers of material tradition. This was not India, where greatness has but one meaning – spiritual greatness – and where, when it is seen it is understood. The audience of the Parliament, as a whole, could not have known, as Mrs. Blodgett says, precisely why it cheered for Swamiji at his very first words. In other cases there had been obvious reasons: political or religious sympathy, previous knowledge of the speaker, or atonement for national sin. In Swamiji’s case there was nothing like this, nor could the applause have been inspired by his words alone, for sentiments of universal brotherhood had been given voice throughout the whole morning and half the afternoon. Was it not, rather, inspired by something unspoken that came through Swamiji’s words? Bearing in mind that this was the first time he had addressed the great American public and that he himself was strongly moved by the occasion, one cannot but think that the deep powers of his nature were fully active as he stood there on the platform and that the knowledge of his spiritual identity with that huge crowd of men and women was paramount In his mind and vibrant in his voice, communicating itself irresistibly to those who saw and heard him. In short, it would not seem to be going beyond the realm of fact to say that the spontaneous and prolonged standing ovation that met Swamiji’s first words of greeting sprang from a source as deep as did those words themselves and that the rapport – the sense of unity – that was immediately created between himself and his audience betokened the real signiiicance of his visit to the West. This at least would seem to have been the case, though few at the time may have been aware of what force had so deeply stirred them.
Four talks followed Swamiji’s address before the opening day came to a close, making, throughout the morning and afternoon sessions, twenty-four talks in all. And now that the foreign delegates and the American people had greeted one another the serious business of the Parliament could begin.
There are several contemporaneous descriptions and appreciations of Swamiji quoted in “The Life” from various journals and periodicals such as the Boston Evening Transcript, the Rutherford American, the Interior Chicago and the Critic (called in “The Life” the New York Critique). Also one of the finest appraisals comes, as readers will remember, from the Hon. Mr. Mcrwin-Marie Snell, President of the Scientific Section. Swamiji’s devotees are familiar with these, but in the belief that
they never tire of hearing of him from eyewitnesses, I think it will perhaps not be amiss, before continuing with the story of the Parliament, to give here a few word pictures of him that have not previously been known. Perhaps the most interesting of these comes from the pen of the well-known poetess, the late Harriet Monroe, who was for many years editor of Poetry, A Magazine of Verse, through whose pages she introduced many of America’s now famous poets. Miss Monroe attended the World’s Fair in 1893, and years later in her autobiography, “A Poet’s Life”, recorded her impressions of <he Parliament of Religions and of Swamiji:
The Congress of Religions was a triumph for all concerned,especially for its generalissimo, the Reverend John H. Barrows, of Chicago’s First Presbyterian Church, who had been preparing it for two years. When he brought down his gavel upon the “world’s first parliament of religions” a wave of breathless silence swept over the audience – it seemed a great moment in human history, prophetic of the promised new era of tolerance and peace. On the stage with him, at his left, was a black-coated array of bishops and ministers representing the various familiar Protestant sects and the Russian Orthodox and Roman Catholic Churches ; at his right a brilliant group of strangely costumed dignitaries from afar – a Confucian from China, a Jain from India, a theosophist from Allahabad, a white-robed Shinto priest and four Buddhists from Japan, and a monk of the orange robe from Bombay.
It was the last of these, Swami Vivekananda, the magnificent, who stole the whole show and captured the town. Others of the foreign groups spoke well
– the Greek, the Russian, the Armenian, Mazoomdar of Calcutta, Dharmapala of Ceylon – leaning, some of these upon interpreters. Shibata, the Shinto, bowed his wired white headdress to the ground, spread his delicate hands in suave gestures, and uttered gravely with serene politeness his incomprehensible words. But the handsome monk in the orange robe gave us in perfect English a masterpiece. His personality, dominant, magnetic ; his voice, rich as a bronze bell ; the controlled fervor of his feeling; the beauty of his message to the Western world he was facing for the first time – these combined tcT give us a rare and perfect moment of supreme emotion, It was human eloquence at its highest pitch.
While it is gratifying to read descriptions from the pen of a poet, poets themselves are often beset with what is known as poetic melancholy at the evanescence of perfection. In this case it was a melancholy not justified. Miss Monroe goes on to add:
One cannot repeat a perfect moment – the futility of trying to has been almost a superstition with me.
Thus I made no effort to hear Vivekananda speak again, during that autumn and winter when he was making converts by the score to his hope of uniting East and West in a world religion above the tumult of controversy. . . .
Another picture of Swamiji comes from the Chicago Advocate of September 28, 1893. The fact that the Advocate was not entirely favorable to Swamiji, as will be seen later, perhaps makes this description all the more valuable. Although this report refers to the second week of the Parliament, the description is no doubt also applicable to the opening day:
In certain respects the most fascinating personality was the Brahmin monk, Suami Vivakananda with his flowing orange robe, saffron turban, smooth-shaven, shapely, handsome face, large, dark subtle penetrating eye, and with the air of one being inly-pleased with the consciousness of being easily master of his situation.
His knowledge of English is as though it were his mother tongue. . . .
The correspondent of the Boston Evening Transcript found a way to meet the delegates of the Parliament behind the scenes, and it is to him that we owe a more intimate description of Swamiji. A sentence or two from his article published in the Transcript on September 30, 1893, has been quoted in “The Life” but I will nonetheless include the whole of it here:
THE HINDUS AT THE FAIR
Some Interesting Personalities at the Parliament of Religions . . . Plain Talk of Leading Heathens.
(Special Correspondence of the Transcript.)
Chicago, Sept. 23.
There is a room at the left of the entrance to the Art Palace marked “No. I – keep out.” To this the favorite at the parliament, from the grandeur of his sentiments and his appearance as well. If he merely crosses the platform he is applauded, and this marked approval of thousands he accepts in a childlike spirit of gratification, without a trace of conceit. It must be a strange experience too for this humble young Brahmin monk, this sudden transition from poverty and self-efTaccment to affluence and aggrandizement. When asked if he knew anything of those brothers in the Himalayas so firmly believed in by the Theosophists, he answered with the simple statement, “I have never met one of them” as much as to imply, “There may be such persons, but though I am at home in the Himalayas,
I have yet to come across them.”
Aside from being able to give new’ word pictures of Swamiji, we are fortunate enough to have recently discovered one of the first likenesses of him in America – an unposed snapshot, taken, it can be reasonably assumed, in this room marked, “No. 1 – keep out.” Perhaps it is not as clear as one would like all of his pictures to be, but it nonetheless belongs in Swamiji’s history and is reproduced in this book.
Readers of the “Letters of Swami Vivekananda” will remember that in a letter, dated November 2, 1893, Swamiji asked his disciple, Alasinga, for information regarding a Hindu boy. This request as it is given in the fourth English edition of the “Letters” reads: “A boy called-Acharya has cropped up in our midst. He has been loafing about the city for the last three years. Loafing or no loafing, I like him, but please write to me all about him, if you know anything. He knows you. He came in the year of the Psfltfs Exhibition to Europe.”
This “boy called -Acharya” is without question the same Narasimhacharya who is pictured in the photograph mentioned above peering intently over Swamiji’s shoulder. He was a “loafer,” but a loafer of undoubted charm and a good deal of intelligence and spirit. In answer to Swamiji’s request for information regarding him, Alasinga wrote a long biographical letter which told that Narasimhacharya was a prodigal son on whose account his mother had shed many tears. The letter
followed Swamiji about from place to place in his later lecture tour and did not catch up with him until long after Narasimha-charya had been lost sight of. In the meantime Swamiji, on July 11, 1894, wrote again: “Why have you not written anything about Narasimha? He is practically starving here. I helped him a little, then he disappeared, I don’t know where, and he has not written to me anything” But then it can come as no surprise to those who know of Swamiji that, during the rushed days of the Parliament and afterward, he tried to take care of a charming wastrel who, somehow, one cannot imagine how, had become a delegate to the dignified Parliament of Religions.
Another new description of Swamiji comes from the pen of a Rev. W. H. Thomas. The Reverend Mr. Thomas did not speak at the Parliament, but was no doubt a member of the audience. In a letter published in the Wisconsin State Journal, November 18, 1893, he writes of Swamiji:
Of the many learned men in the East who took part in the great World’s Parliament of Religions, Vivekananda was the most popular favorite, and when it was known that he was to speak thousands were turned away for want of room. Nor was it curiosity alone that drew the masses; for those who heard him once were so impressed by the magnetism of his fine presence, the ( harm and power of his eloquence, liis perfect command of the English language and the deep interest in what he had to say, that they desired all the more to hear him again. It will be the opportunity of a life time for the cities of our land to sec and hear this noble, earnest, loving Brahman, dressed in the costume of his order, telling the true story of the religion and customs of his far-off country.
It can be noted here in passing that Swamiji came to be generally known, among other things, as a “Brahmin monk.” This was no doubt due to expediency on the part of the newspaper reporters, to whom, as to most Americans in that age, “a Brahmin” was synonymous with “a high caste Hindu who was a religious teacher.” It was a careless but forgivable error and one which Swamiji could no* have corrected. The term “Kshatriya,” the caste to which he belonged, would not only have conveyed nothing to the public, but would have been a bate noire to the press. “Brahmin” was bad enough. As a matter of fact, Swamiji acquired a sizable assortment of epithets during his stay in America, being known variously as the “Indian Rajah,” “The High Priest of Brahma,” “The Buddhist Priest,” “The-osophist,” and so on. Anything that conveyed the idea to the public that he was noble, religious and Indian sufficed for a headline. Later, however, Swamiji’s enemies made capital out of these casual and typically American errors, imputing to him a deliberate misrepresentation of his status.
A picture of Swamiji at the Parliament would not be complete without our telling something of his activities outside the plenary sessions, which by no means occupied his entire time. These days were strenuous ones for the delegates. Papers were delivered not only at the Parliament proper, but at side meetings. It is known, for instance, that Swamiji spoke at least four times, and perhaps eight, at the Scientific Section. Such talks were not simply given and over with: open discussions followed, the speakers being questioned at length. In this connection it is interesting to remember a footnote on page 199 of Volume VIII of “The Complete Works of Swami Vivekananda.” The material is from the Chicago Daily Interocean of September 23, 1893:
In the Scientific Section yesterday morning Swami Vivekananda spoke on “Orthodox Hinduism.” Hall III was crowded to overflowing and hundreds of questions were asked by auditors and answered by the great Sannyasi with wonderful skill and lucidity. At the close of the session he was thronged with eager questioners who begged him to give a semi-public lecture somewhere on the subject of his religion. He said that he already had the project under consideration.
On page 200 of the same volume is a report of a lecture delivered on Sunday, September 24, 1893. at the Third Unitarian Church, which may have been the semipublic lecture that Swamiji had been requested to give.
The long hours of listening, of discussing, of lecturing were almost continuous. Moreover, the hospitality which the leading citizens of Chicago offered the delegates allowed them little rest. Enormous receptions were held after the close of many of the evening sessions, and smaller parties were given throughout the two weeks.
Along with the other foreign delegates, Swamiji was officially introduced to American society on the evening of the opening day of the Parliament at a huge reception held by the Reverend Mr. Barrows at the home of Mr. and Mrs. A. C. Bartlett – a great stone mansion, the rooms of which had been decorated with many hundreds of flags. On the second evening an even larger reception was given by President Bonney for all the delegates in the halls of the Art Institute. Thousands attended. On the following Thursday, the fourth evening, Mrs. Potter Palmer, President of the Lady Managers of the Fair and one of the most wealthy and influential social leaders of the Midwest, to whom Swamiji later referred as having been very kind to him in America, entertained the members of the Parliament at the Woman’s Building in the Exposition grounds. Here electric launches were provided (an innovation in those days) to carry the foreign delegates – probably Swamiji among them – through the Fair’s lagoons, that they might witness “the beautiful illuminations in the Court of Honor.” Edison’s newly perfected light bulbs, glowing magically and reflected in the dark waters, were no doubt a sight to behold.
At this reception of September 14 Swamiji gave a short talk on the condition of women in India! “It was Mrs. Palmer’s earnest wish,” writes Barrows, “to secure authoritative statements with regard to the condition of women in other lands, and appropriate addresses in response to her desires were made by the Archbishop of Zante, Hon. Pung Kwang Yu, Mr. Dharmapala, Mr. Mazoomdar, and Mr. Vivekananda.” Whether this talk was that which is quoted on page 198 in Volume VIII of “The Complete Works” is a puzzle which cannot be solved here, but it is not likely that a lecture given on September 14 would be reported in a paper of September 23, as was this published one. More likely, Swamiji spoke again on this subject on Friday, September 22,
More receptions fbr the delegates were held throughout the weeks by the leading citizens and ministers, and it is little wonder that Swamiji writes, “Many of the handsomest houses in this city are open to me,” for there could have been few of the Chicago gentry whom he had not met and charmed. Years later Prince Wolkonsky, a free-lance delegate from Russia, commented to Albert Spalding, the famous violinist, on Swamiji’s popularity. In Spalding’s autobiography, “Rise to Follow,” this excerpt can be found:
Wolkonsky was a delightful conversationalist. I found that he knew my country, having represented Russia in the Congress of Religions at the Chicago World’s Fair of 1893. I asked him whether by any ChanceTieTiad met Swami Vivekananda there. Oh, yes, he had, and for some time afterward the two had maintained an active correspondence. But how was it that I came to speak of him? I was, after all, much too young to have remembered. … I explained that my family had been acquainted with the Swami and had often talked about him.
“He made a – what do you call it? – sensational ‘hit’ in your country,” said Wolkonsky, “especially with the Chicago ladies. Ah, those Chicago ladies! They seemed to take life – and incidentally themselves – very seriously.”
The Chicago ladies were, as were the women throughout America, asserting themselves in a new-found independence. It is precisely because they took life and themselves so seriously that they took Swamiji seriously, perhaps instinctively finding in him a symbol of the freedom and dignity which they knew to be their birthright and which they were indisputably winning for themselves. Missionary criticism later attributed Swamiji’s tremendous popularity among the American women to the brilliant color of his robe and turban!
Although the women, as a whole, may have given more expression than the men to their admiration of Swamiji – for the women were intent upon expressing themselves – men and women alike were drawn to him as to magnet. The descriptions we have of Swamiji at the Parliament of Religions show him as colorful and dynamic, dominating the scene with the force of his personality and the utter purity of his message. He was in the full vigor of his youth, ready to face the entire world and to sacrifice his life for “the poor, the ignorant, the oppressed” of his motherland. And there was yet another reason for his phenomenal popularity. Never before had the people of America seen one in whom spiritual truths had been fully realized. Though the fact that Swamiji was such a one was not consciously known by the thousands who flocked to hear him speak, who waited interminable hours for even a few words and who applauded when he simply crossed the platform, the people through some inner knowledge unerringly recognized him for what he was and, from start to finish, instinctively sensed that his very presence conferred a blessing. “Darshan” was unheard of in America, but here at the Parliament was a spontaneous and unconscious manifestation of the attraction of the human soul to the spiritually great.
This, then, is something of how Swamiji appeared to the Parliament. Let us now see how the Parliament appeared to him as it progressed through its seventeen days.
For the most part each day was divided into three sessions lasting from two and a half to three hours each. At the opening of each morning session the presiding chairman – there was a different one each day – “invited the assembly, rising, to invoke, in silence, the blessing of God on the day’s proceedings; then, while the assembly remained standing, [a chosen member of the Parliament] led in ‘the Universal Prayer’ ‘Our Father which art in Heaven.’ ” Talks by the delegates were limited to half an hour apiece, but this ruling was at times relaxed, for the crowd had its favorites and would brook no interference with them. The jgreatest favorite, of course, was Swamiji; and the story is well known of how the attraction of the crowd to him, embarrassing as it may have been to some of the defenders of Christianity, was used to good advantage. From the Boston Evening Transcript, as quoted in “The Life” we know, for instance, that “the four thousand fanning people in the Hall of Columbus would sit smiling and expectant, waiting for an hour or two of other men’s speeches, to listen to Vivekananda for fifteen minutes.” In a letter to India Swamiji himself remarked upon this trick of saving the best until the last, and recently we have come across other accounts of the maneuver. One of these is given by Vircliand Gandhi, the Jain delegate, in the January 1895 issue of the Arena, an American periodical now defunct but once widely read, which described itself as “A Monthly Review of Social Advance”:
… at the Parliament of Religions … it was a fact that at least a third and sometimes two-thirds of the great audience of Columbus Hall would make a rush for the exits when a line orator from India had closed his speech. It was even a very noticeable fact that, long before the close of the great Parliament, some of my countrymen, made popular by the Parliament, were used as a drawing card to hold the great audiences, and in this way thousands were compelled to sit and listen to long, dry, prosy papers by Christians. They showed plainly that they were not interested, but there they sat enduring with much murmuring, expecting the next speaker might be one of the popular Orientals whose name was usually first on the bulletin board. . . .
The allusion no doubt included Swamiji, and the following account from the Northampton Daily Herald of April 11, 1894, leaves no question regarding ths matter:
… At the Parliament of Religions Vivekananda was not allowed to speak until the close of the programme, the purpose being to make the people stay until the end of the session. On a warm day when some prosy professor talked too long, and people would leave the hall by hundreds, it only needed the announcement that Vivekananda would give a short address before the benediction was pronounced to hold the vast audience intact, and thousands would wait for hours to hear a fifteen minutes talk from this remarkable man.
Officially the Parliament was not intended to be a controversy but rather a symposium of all the faiths of the world. The subjects presented were divided into two categories. The first comprised speculative and abstract topics, such as the nature of God, the nature of man, the importance of religion, revelation, the Divine Incarnation, immortality, and so forth. These and like subjects were discussed from the second to the tenth day. Then, the metaphysical doctrines of the various faiths having been made clear, the remaining seven days of the Parliament were devoted to papers bearing upon the second category of subjects, namely, the relation of religion to practical social problems, such as family life, the arts and sciences, the love of mankind, morals, Christian missionary methods, and so on.
During the first ten days of the Parliament every religion had its say. A paper by Manilal N. Dvivcdi gave a technical exposition of Hinduism and Indian philosophy. Dharmapala of the Maha-Bodhi Society in Calcutta defined Buddhism in all its aspects. Confucianism, Shintoism, Japanese Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Judaism, and many other religious doctrines were expounded and re-expounded. And of course, as we know, Swamiji in his “Paper on Hinduism” not only explained the teachings of his faith, but made them come alive as eternal truths pertinent to all men everywhere.
No doubt some members of the audience had come expecting to hear strange and weird beliefs regarding idolatry, blood sacrifice and polytheism ; for the popular conception, fed by missionary propaganda, was that the Oriental lands were rife with dark and unholy practices. But there can be no doubt that by the time the first half of the Parliament was over many hitherto fast-imbedded misconceptions regarding Eastern religions had been pried loose in the popular mind. Not only Swaniiji’s “Paper on Hinduism,” but other papers served to undermine the popular notions concerning, among other things, idolatry. The Review of Reviews, March 1894, in an article on Barrows’ book, “The World’s Parliament of Religions,” reflects the change of attitude that was brought about on at least this one point:
The book contains many pictures of idols such as one mostly finds in missionary literature. There they are intended to excite the horror and pity of the Christian reader. Here the attitude to idolatrous religions is avowedly sympathetic rather than critical; but one can scarcely escape a twinge of the old feeling at a sight of the fantastic objects of worship. Nevertheless, the popular Protestant notion of idolatry was emphatically repudiated by those who spoke in the name of image-worshippers.
In substantiation of this the article quotes briefly from the papers of Dvivcdi and of J. J. Modi, a Parsi of Bombay, and then goes on to quote at great length from Swamiji’s “noble address” the “Paper on Hinduism” Accompanying the article is a photograph of Swamiji in profile.
The change in the popular attitude toward Eastern religions was also reflected in other contemporary journals and periodicals. The Christian Herald of October 11, 1893, wrote:
From the Parliament of Religions which has just closed its sessions in Chicago two significant and important results have come. First we have learned from the addresses delivered by representatives of many religions, especially those of Asia, that the leaders of these faiths have generally the same aim as that of the Christian preacher. They are seeking in their way to eradicate sin and vice, to ennoble and purify the lives of men and to encourage kindness, charity and helpfulness. Thus, so far as morality is concerned, they are allies rather than opponents of Christianity.
The thing that strikes us with something of a shock today is that this was news! The Outlook of October 7, 1893, made an even more profound discovery:
The relations of the ethnic religions to Christianity are, in every phase of these meetings at Chicago, forced more and more into prominence, as the strong personalities of the men who represent Brahmanism, Buddhism, Confucianism, Shintoism, press themselves upon the listening thousands ; their seriousness, earnestness, devoutness, and spirituality, as they sit side by side with Greek, Anglican, German, and American Churchmen, precludes the thought that their religions are ancient shades which will fall or melt into mist as the triumphant light of Christianity shines through them.
The representatives of the Hindu cults, in particular, are no men of straw, and through their eyes Christians have looked, many perhaps for the first time, into the depths of religions which for thousands of years have not only occupied the minds of philosophers, but have formed the ethical codes atid directed the Godward aspirations of millions and millions of human beings.
During the first ten days of the Parliament the full range of Christian conviction was also expounded. Although the principles of universal toleration for which, ideally, the Parliament stood were earnestly and well expressed by some of the Christian delegates, the notion that a universal religion meant nothing other than a universal acceptance of Christianity not only insinuated itself into the proceedings, but was sounded forth in unabashed oratory. An example or two may indicate something of the general trend.
On the third day of the Parliament, the Reverend Thomas Ebenezer Slater, of the London Missionary Society, Evangelist to educated Hindus, gave a talk entitled, “Concession to Native Ideas, having Special Reference to Hinduism.” It may be worth noting here that the Reverend Mr. Slater had written a book called, “Studies of the Upanishads,” in which he had stated: “The Vedanta, the highest conclusion of Indian thought, is based on a mistaken and pessimistic view of life ; on a fonnulated dogma unsupported by any evidence and untaught in the hymns of the Rig-Veda: the whole an elaborate and subtle process of false reasoning.” In his talk at the Parliament the Reverend T. E. Slater conceded to native ideas the fact that they were based on a search of the human spirit for the Divine. “The Vedas,” he said, “present ‘a shifting play of lights and shadows; sometimes the light seems to grow brighter, but the day never comes/ For, on examining them we note a remarkable fact. While they show that the spiritual needs and aspirations of humanity are the same … we fail to find a single text that purports to be a Divine answer to prayer, an explicit promise of Divine forgiveness, an expression of experienced peace and delight in God, as the result of assured pardon and reconciliation. There is no realization of ideas. The Bible alone is the Book of Divine Promise – the revelations of the ‘exceeding riches of God’s grace’
. . . for this reason it is unique . . And so on.
On the fourth day, the Reverend Joseph Cook from Boston, a doughty man with fuzzy sideburns, gave a talk on “Strategic Certainties of Comparative Religion” The Reverend Mr. Cook was a popular and well-known lecturer who belonged to no particular denomination – “the servant” as he said, “of no clique or clan.” He had delivered talks throughout the world, and his “Boston Monday Lectures” had been widely published. The Reverend J. Cook’s paper at the Parliament consisted of one theme repeated over and over obsessively. It was in brief this: “It is clear that we cannot escape from conscience and God and our record of sin. It is a certainty and a strategic certainty that, except Christianity, there is no religion under heaven or among men that effectively provides for the peace of the soul by its harmonization with itself, its God, and its record of sin.” The Reverend Mr. Cook concluded his talk with a poem that he wanted to have engraved on his tombstone. Space does not permit quoting the entire poem here, but perhaps two stanzas will suffice:
Endless sin means endless woe. Into endless sin I go,
If my soul, from reason rent, Takes from sin its final bent.
Balance lost, but not regained, Final bent is soon attained.
Fate is choice in fullest flower. Man is flexile – for an hour!
The Rev. J. Cook’s obsession with sin and lurking damnation was representative of what in that day was given out as religion by a large part of the Christian clergy. It is important to understand this, for one cannot otherwise appreciate, on the one hand, the shock with which some sections of the audience must have heard Swamiji’s ringing words – “Ye divinities on earth – sinners? It is a sin to call a man so. It is a standing libel on human nature” – nor, on the other hand, the enthusiastic approval of other sections. A stanza of a poem which appeared in the Open Court of October 12, 1893 – a contemporary organ of popular opinion – reflects the latter reaction. The poem was entitled, “Aunt Hannah on the Parliament of Religions,” which accounts for its dialect:
Then I heered th’ han’somc Hindu monk, drest up in
Who sed that all humanity was part of God – no less,
An’ he said we was not sinners, so I comfort took,
While th’ Parl’mcnt of Religions roared with approving roar.
It was this approving roar with which Swamiji’s teachings were met that seriously alarmed many a Christian missionary. Later an attempt was made to set matters straight. “The Swami by his denial of sin,” the missionaries explained, “shows that he knows nothing of true religion, and that he is a teacher of deadly error. Woe! woe! woe! to those who follow a blind guide to their own destruction.” This quotation is taken from a little book entitled, “Swami Vivekananda and His Guru,” published in 1897 by The Christian literature Society for India.
Although many of the doctrines of Eastern religions that had been expounded during the first week of the Parliament by such men as Dvivcdi and Dhannapala were hair-raising in the light of the orthodox, evangelical Christianity of 1893, they had been delivered in a dry and pedantic form not apt to set fire to the soul, and were therefore not alarming to the Christian ministry. But the enthusiastic reception which Swamiji was given from the very beginning was a matter of serious concern, and it was perhaps this that prompted several of the Christian delegates to attack Hinduism openly on September 19 – the very day that Swamiji was scheduled to read his paper.
On this day, Houghton tells us, “The Hall of Columbus . . . could not accommodate all who endeavored to gain admittance.” And from the Chicago Interocean, as quoted in “Swami Viveka-nanda and His Guru,” we learn that
Great crowds of people, the most of whom were women, pressed around the doors leading to the hall of Columbus, an hour before the time stated for opening the afternoon session, for it had been announced that Swami Vivekananda, the popular Hindu Monk, who looks so much like McCullough’s Othello, was to speak. Ladies, ladies everywhere filled the great auditorium.
There was, no doubt, electricity in the air, and before long it began to crackle, eventually calling forth one of Swamiji’s short but flaming rebukes – one which has not hitherto been known.
The Dubuque, Iowa, Times of September 29, 1893, gleefully reviews this ninth day of the Parliament as though a tournament were under consideration. The report, being somewhat impressionistic, does not make it entirely clear at exactly what point in the proceedings Swamiji had heard enough, but it was undoubtedly before he had delivered his “Paper on Hinduism.” The passages of the news article that have bearing on the debate are quoted here:
GOD MAN AND MATTER
Brethren All Yet They Indulged in Sharp Words.
Rev. Joe Cook Criticised the Hindoos, and the Hindoos Attacked Christianity. . . .
WORLD’S FAIR, Sept. 28. – (Special.) – The Parliament of religions reached a point where sharp acerbities develop. The thin veil of courtesy was maintained, of course, but behind it was ill feeling. Rev. Joseph Cook criticised the Hindoos sharply and was more sharply criticised in turn. He said that to speak of a universe that was not created is almost unpardonable nonsense, and the Asiatics retorted that a universe which had a beginning is a self-evident absurdity. Bishop J. P. Newman, firing at long range from the banks of the Ohio, declared that the orientals have insulted all the Christians of the United States by their misrepresentations of the missionaries, and the orientals, with their provokingly calm and supercilious smile, replied that this was simply the bishop’s ignorance.
In response to the question direct, three learned Buddhists gave us in remarkably plain and beautiful language their bedrock belief about God. man and matter.
Following this is a summary of Dhannapala’s paper on “The World’s Debt to Buddha” which he prefaced, as we learn from another source, by singing a Singhalese song of benediction. The article then continues:
His [Dhannapala’s] peroration was as pretty a thing as a Chicago audience ever heard. Demosthenes never exceeded it.
Swami Vivekananda, the Hindoo monk, was not so fortunate. He was out of humor, or soon became so, apparently. He wore an orange robe and a pale yellow turban and dashed at once into a savage attack on Christian nations in these words: “We who have come
from the east have sat here day after day and have been told in a patronizing way that we ought to accept Christianity because Christian nations are the most prosperous. We look about us and we see England the most prosperous Christian nation in the world, with her
foot on the neck of 250,000,000 Asiatics We look Backinto history and see that the prosperity of Christian Europe began with Spain. Spain’s prosperity began with the invasion of Mexico. Christianity wins its prosperity by cutting the throats of its fellow men. At such a price the Hindoo will not have prosperity.”
And so they went on, each succeeding speaker getting more cantankerous, as it were.
At the end of the afternoon session, Swamiji delivered his now famous “Paper on Hinduism.” If some of the ideas which it contained had been presented before, they had never before been presented with such sublime eloquence, nor with the full force behind them of a divine mission. There was actually no ground left for the evangelizing Christians to stand on, for not only Swamiji’s paper but Swamiji himself gave proof that Hinduism was a religion that soared to the highest reaches of the Divine – and attained them.
Nonetheless, up until the very last day of the Parliament, the Christians, that is to say, the missionary-minded Christians, continued to claim, with even greater insistence it would seem, that theirs was the superior religion, in fact, the only religion. The Hall of Columbus rang with such sentences as: “Christianity is absolutely superior in its motive power, its purifying influence and its uplifting inspiration from any and all other religions with which it comes in competition. The greasy bull of Madura and Tanjore has little in coittnon with the Lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world,” or “The attitude … of Christianity towards religions other than itself is an attitude of universal, absolute, eternal, unappeasable hostility ; while toward all men everywhere, the adherents of false religions by no means excepted, its attitude is an attitude of grace, mercy, peace, for whosoever will.” That is, for whosoever will become a Christian!
It is tempting to go on quoting similar statements made during a parliament the avowed purpose 91 which was to bring together the representatives of the great religions of the world for mutual enlightenment and understanding. But perhaps by now the general trend has been made clear.
It must be said, however, lest the reader get too one-sided a view of the scene which confronted Swamiji, that there were several spots of light amid the gloom. There were many men attending the Parliament who were truly liberal and who were possessed of that blessed trait that seems to go with true liberality, namely, humor. Many of these were laymen. Piince Serge Wolkonsky, for instance, who informally lepresented Russia, and Colonel T. W. Higginson of Cambridge both spoke for a religion as broad and all-inclusive as the skies, and both later became friends of Swamiji. Lyman Abott, Alfred W. Momerie and Merwin-Marie Snell were others who lepirented the liberal trend and who welcomed Swamiji But the talk most remarkable for its broad views came horn the Reverend L L. Rexford of Boston, who in the course of a long paper on ” The Religious Intent” said: “No ruthless hand shall justly destioy any form of deity while set it
arrests the reverent mind and heart of man. There is only one being in the woild who may legitimately destroy an idol, and that being is the one who has worshipped it. He alone can tell when it has ceased to be of service. And assuredly the Gieat Spirit who works through all forms and who makes all things his ministers, can make the rudest image a medium through which he will approach his child . . And the great religious teacheis and founders of the world have lived and taught and suffered and died and risen again, that they might bring us to themselves> No ; but that they might bring us to God. ‘God-Consciousness/ to borrow a noble woid from Calcutta, has been the goal of them all.”
Such papers were indicative of a decided swing toward a broad and liberal outlook, but they were rare. To the Chiistian clergy as a whole it never occurred that evangelism was presumption or that the occupation of soul-saving in foreign lands might be similar to carrying coals to Newcastle.
Although the Parliament was not intended to be a controversy, it was inevitable that a current of debate should weave through the entire proceedings, sometimes coursing beneath the surface, sometimes coqiing into open view. The question under consideration was not only whether or not Christianity was superior to other religions, but whether or not it was to replace other religions through missionary endeavor, and if so, how. It was a debate closely watched by a large part of the Christian world. Ofliciall), only one session – the afternoon of the twelfth day – was devoted to a discussion of this all-important issue, but actually from first to last it colored the proceedings ; it was there by implication, if not by overt expression, in most of the Christian talks; it cropped up in the papcis of the foreign delegates; and it appeared iirepressibly in unscheduled discussions.
The Christian missions were, on the one hand, scathingly criticized b) the representatives from China, Japan and India, and, on the other hand, passionately defended by the missionaries themselves. The foieign delegates contended that the failure of Christian missions was due to the fact that the missionaries were intolerant, selfish, ignorant and bigoted, and also to the fact that the countries the) represented were an)tiling but Christ-like in their imperialistic policies. Moreover, while maintaining respect toward Christianity, the non-Christian religions showed beyond any reasonable doubt that Christian conversion was not necessary to salvation. The Christian speakers replied to the effect that (1) Christian missions were ?iot a failure ; (2) although individual missionaries might make mistakes, missionaries were, on the whole, worthy lollowcrs of Christ; (8) Christianity was the only religion that gave assurance of salvation.
Although Swamiji found it necessary to deliver a few decisive blows as the extent and virulence of Christian bigotry became more and more apparent, it was on the whole the other foreign delegates who in prepared tttlks roundly trounced the missionaries. In the course of expounding the doctrines of their respective religions during the first days of the Parliament, the Confucian, Pung Kwang Yu. and the Japanese Buddhist, Horin Toki, found little that was good in the intrusion of Christian missionaries into China and Japan. The missionaries, they said, were uneducated, arrogant and totally unnecessary. Such denunciations were delivered with impeccable and devastating politeness. A third talk, given by Kinza Riuge M. Hirai, a Buddhist layman of Japan, attributed the failure of Christian missions in his country not to the missionaries themselves, nor to the fact that Japan was already possessed of a satisfactory religion, but to the immoralities of Christian nations in their treatment of the Japanese people. This was an essentially political speech, and it brought down the house. The Chicago Herald of September 14, 1893, as quoted by Barrows, reported:
Loud applause followed many of his [Hirai’s] declarations, and a thousand cries of “shame” were heard when he pointed to the wrongs which his countrymen had suffered through the practices of false Christianity. When he had finished, Dr. Barrows grasped his hand, and the Rev. Jenkin Lloyd-Jones threw his arm around his neck, while the audience cheered vociferously and waved hats and handkerchiefs in the excess of enthusiasm.
Shortly the Hindus entered the field. Nagarkar. the Brahmo Samajist, cried on the seventh day for less soul-saving and more education. “Little, how little, do you ever dream that your money is expended in spreading abroad nothing but Christian dogmatism and Christian bigotry, Christian pride and Christian exclusiveness. I entreat you to spend at least one-tenth of all this vast fortune on sending out to our country, unscctarian, broad-learned missionaries that will spend all their efforts and energies in educating our women, our men, and our masses” The force of this plea, however, was lost in a talk devoted, on the one hand, to a rhapsodic tribute to the moral and civilizing influence of English rule in India – an account which must have caused Swamiji no little anguish – and, on the other hand, to the reform movement of the Brahmo Samaj.
The evening session of the tenth day “was concluded,” Barrows says, “by a brief speech from Swami Vivekananda.” This was the now well-known address, “Religion Not the Crying Need of India.” The version of this talk, as quoted in Volume I of “The Complete Works,” is provocative enough, but there is evidence that it is not quoted in full. The Christian Herald of October 11, 1893, includes in its article on the Parliament some quotations from?* the address that are new to us. “Christian missionaries” Swamiji is here reported as having said, “come and offer life, but only on condition that the Hindus become Christians, abandoning the faith of their fathers and forefathers. Is it right? … If you wish to illustrate the meaning of ‘brotherhood/ treat the Hindu more kindly, even though he be a Hindu and is faithful to his religion. Send missionaries to them to teach them how better to earn a piece of bread, and not teach them metaphysical nonsense”
The Catholics received Swamiji’s criticism with hearty enthusiasm. In the chapter of Barrows’ history entitled “Introduction to the Parliament Papers” it is reported that ” . . . on the eleventh day, Bishop Keane said: ‘I endorse the denunciation that was hurled forth last night against the system of pretended charity that offered food to the hungry Hindus at the cost of their conscience and faith. It is a shame and a disgrace to those who call themselves Christians.’ . . . Bishop Keane, who read Mr. Donnelly’s review of the history of Catholic charity, said that in India their system was one of absolute indifference to the religious faith of the need), and in addition to endorsing the denunciation by Mr. Vivekananda of Christian charity any way limited to converts, he pronounced justifiable, from the Hindu point of view, ‘the denunciation of the Christian system of the atonement, that same also from the heart of the Hindu monk.’ He declared that we do not hear half enough of such criticism, and that if by these criticisms Vivekananda can only stir us and sting us into better teachings and better doings in the great work of Christ in the world, he for one would only be grateful to our friend the Hindu monk.”
Turning to the actual report of Bishop John J. Keane’s reading of Mr. Donnelly’s paper, we find a further parenthetical observation: “… My heart was glad when I listened last night and heard our good friend, the Hindu, confess that for years he did not know where he was going to get his next meal. That was the way with these poor Franciscan monks. They were reduced to poverty in order that they might better consecrate themselves to the service of God everywhere.”
Here again is evidence that Swamiji said more in his talk than has been recorded in any of the histories of the Parlia-raent. It is also possible that Swamiji spoke at other sessions on the subject of missionaries, for the Outlook, October 7, 1893, in giving an impressionistic picture of the Parliament, adds this highlight:
. . . The subject of Christian work in India calls Vivekananda, in his brilliant priestly orange, to his feet. He criticises the work of Christian missions. It is evident that he has not tried to understand Christian-ity, but neither, as he claims, have its priests made any effort to understand his religion, with its ingrained faiths and race-prejudices , of thousands of years’ standing. They have simply come, in his view, to throw scorn on his most sacred beliefs, and to undermine the morals and spirituality of the people he has been set to teach.
This may or may not be a reference to Swamiji’s talk, “Religion Not the Crying Need of India,” on the tenth evening, but in any case, it is certain that the full text of Swamiji’s extemporaneous utterances at the Parliament have not been recorded.
The afternoon of the twelfth day of the Parliament was officially devoted to the “Criticism and Discussion of Missionary Methods.” “On this day,” Barrows tells us, “the crowds in the Hall of Columbus were, if possible, more dense than on any previous day.” It is conceivable that these crowds expected to witness a row. If so, they were destined to disappointment, for there was no row. Dhannapala and Narasimhacharya represented the Eastern religions; the Reverends G. T. Candlin and R. E. Hume, the Christian. (Swamiji was not present, being that afternoon at the Scientific Section.) Each gave a short but cogent talk. Dhannapala, who opened the discussion, did not spare the missionaries; whereupon, in reply, the Reverend George T. Candlin, an American missionary to China, who for some reason always dressed during the Parliament in Chinese costume, objected with indignation to Dharmapala’s “personal remarks.” Narasimhacharya, who followed, did not attribute the failure of Christianity to the selfishness and intolerance of the missionaries, but rather to their interference with native custom.
It was, of course, not to be admitted by the Christians that Christian missionary work had by any means failed in foreign lands. The Reverend Mr. Hume informed Narasimhacharva that “in a generation all the positions of influence and of responsibility will be in the hands of the Christian community in India” and went on to add that missionaries sometimes do make mistakes and are grateful for correction. This same minister, as will be seen in a following chapter, attempted some months later without success to engage Swamiji in public controversy.
The session was short, and it was over without mishap. But the tension that had accumulated throughout the Parliament finally broke down the control of the Reverend George T. Pentecost, who on the following Sunday, when Swamiji was quite probably present, interspersed throughout his paper many glaring violations of the Parliament’s watchword: “Tolerance and Fraternity.” For a report of this incident I quote from Barrows:
“The argument of [Pentecost’s paper, “The Invincible Gospel,”] was the ultimate triumph of Christianity as assured by its essential superiority to all other religions. Certain impromptu remarks interjected between the lines of the paper drew forth a reply on the following day. He was reported by the press as saying: ‘Some of the Brahmans of India have been here and
have dared to make an attack upon Christianity. They take the slums of New York and Chicago and ask us why we do not cure ourselves. They take what is outside the pale of Christianity and judge Christianity by it.’ Proceeding then to attack the religious systems of India on the point of morality, he alleged that among the followers of Brahmanism there were thousands of temples in which there were hundreds of priestesses who were known as immoral and profligate. They were prostitutes because they were priestesses, *9hd priestesses because they were prostitutes.”
It is true that the Reverend Mr. Pentecost represented the extreme of bigotry and not the spirit of the Parliament; but he represented also that large number of his kind, both in America and in India, who were later to do their utmost to destroy Swamiji.
On the evening of September 27, after seventeen days of long, sometimes tiresome, sometimes stirring sessions, the Parliament of Religions came to a close. Every shade of religious thought had been expressed, from the most light-filled to the most clouded, and it could not have been lost upon the audience – indeed, it was not – that the heights of spiritual expression came from the least expected quarters.
Yet despite the fact that because of this complete reversal there were moments of tension that came close to justifying the fears of those who had predicted a scene of discord rather than one of harmony, the total impression one receives through reading the accounts of the Parliament is one of festivity. It was as though, no matter what some of Her children might have thought, the Divine Mother had arranged this party and was present through it all. It is difficult to put one’s linger on the source of this impression. It is not to be found in the high-flown protestations of harmony, nor is it in the handkerchief-waving. Perhaps it is simply in the fact that, regardless of what was said about God, most of the delegates spoke of Him in earnestness, and in the further fact that each was allowed to say what he would. Certainly at the dose of the Parliament the elation was marked.
“More than seven thousand persons were crowded into the Halls of Washington and Columbus,” Barrows writes. “For more than an hour before the time announced, the eager crowds swept up againsi the doors of the Art Palace. The throng extended from the doorways to Michigan avenue and thence for half a block in either direction. … An eye-witness reports: .. The last and dosing scene of the great Parliament of Religions is one that will live forever in the memory of those who were so fortunate as to be spectators. The great Hall of Columbus was illuminated by a myriad of lights. Every inch of room was used by the greatest crowd that ever sat within its walls. On the stage, beneath the folds of the flags of all nations, were the representatives of all religions. The dull, black and somber raiment of the West only intensified the radiantly contrasted garbs of the Oriental priests Twice during the evening flashlight photographs were taken of the historic group on the platform. (Lest the reader forget, the illumination was gas light, and the flashlight a burst of gunpowder.)
In passing it should perhaps be noted that Swamiji unfortunately does not appear on the platform in any of the published pictures of the Parliament, of which there aie thiec, taken, respectively, on the morning of September 14, the morning of September 21, and the evening of September 27. In the last of these, which has been published in the second edition of “The Life,”‘ Swamiji has been tentatively identified in the front row of the delegates; I am sony to say that a comparison with an enlarged and annotated copy of the same picture shows that this is not Swamiji but that “loafer,” Narasimhacharya. There must, however, be several unpublished pictures in existence of the Parliament platform in which Swamiji appears. We have been fortunate enough to have seen one of these and are including it in the piesent volume.
The immediate results of the Parliament were mixed. Perhaps it is correct to say that the bigots became more bigoted, for their backs had been pressed to the wall, and that the liberal-minded became more libeial, for they were now confirmed in their views, and that this latter outcome was undoubtedly the mote important and enduring. It is undeniable, moreover, that the American people had not been merely intellectually impressed by the nobility and supreme wisdom of Eastern doctrines which hitherto, in the words of Dr. Alfred Momcrie, “they had been taught to regard with contempt,*’ but that they had been touched by and had responded to the tremendous power of living spirituality that Swamiji embodied Something far more important and more far reaching had taken place than an intellectual appreciation of Bastern religions. It was as though the soul of America had long asked for spiritual sustenance and had now been answered.
This is not to say, as has sometimes been implied, that Swamiji was recognized by all for what he was – the spiritual leader of the age. Some attributed greater spirituality, for instance, to Mazoomdar, whose talk on the Brahmo Samaj unaccountably inspired the multitude to rise to its feet arid sing the hymn, “Nearer, my God, to Thee. The Advocate of
September 28, 1893, after stating that Swamiji’s “knowledge of English is as though it were his mother tongue” went on to say:
. . . This is equally true of Mazoomdar, who however is a man of far greater spirituality and profounder religious conviction. The chief representative of the Brahmo Samaj, he is careful to say that he did not get his religion from the missionaries, but that it is an evolution out of Hinduism, now laying hold of all that is true in that as in all other forms of religion, but culminating in the acceptance of Jesus Christ as the Son of God and the Savior of the world.
It is not too surprising that the Advocate gave first place to Mazoomdar. In the same article the observation was made that since “most of the representatives of the religions of India and Japan were accomplished English scholars, … it was inevitable . . . that their expositions of Brahminism, of Shintoism, should take colouring from the truths they had learned directly or indirectly of Christ.”
It is amusing in this connection to take note of Barrows’ remarks in regard to Swamiji’s final address. As will be remembered, Swamiji said in the course of his talk: 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 its individuality and grow according to its own law of growth.” This was, of course, not at all the looked-for lesson of the Parliament. Certainly the Christian was not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist. With Swamiji most would have cried, “God forbid! ” But the halls had resounded with the conviction that the Hindus and Buddhists were to become Christians. Barrows tells us:”Swami Vivekananda was always heard with interest by the Parliament, but very little approval was shown to some of the sentiments expressed in his closing address.”
The public reaction was different. A description of the closing scene is quoted here from the Critic of October 7, 1893, with ‘the omission of the text of Swamiji’s address:
. . . The scene was one not to be easily forgotten. Before an audience which filled every copier of the great hall, the delegates from distant lands paid tribute to the purity of Christian ideals. They bore witness to the spirit of charity which animated the speakers of the congress, and a kind of exhilaration possessed them, as of something large and line accomplished. With the black-coated Occidentals were seated thus the dark-skinned men from the East., quiet, attentive and dignified.
A young African prince, whose black face showed what is best in the Ethiopian type, arose in his dark-richly-embroidcred robes, to express a conviction that the Parliament had promoted a feeling for the brotherhood of man which can unite all races. “The very atmosphere,” he said, “seems pregnant with an indefinable. inexpressible thing – something too solemn for human utterance.” And it was this background to the joyousness that appealed to the imagination and gave the occasion its peculiar impressiveness. . . .
But the most impressive figures of the Parliament were the Buddhist priest, H. Dharmapala of Ceylon, and the Hindoo monk. Suami Vivekananda. “If theology and dogma stand in your way in search of truth,” said the former incisively, “put them aside. Learn to think without prejudice, to love all beings for love’s sake, to express your convictions fearlessly, to lead a life of purity, and the sunlight of truth will illuminate you.” But eloquent as were many of the brief speeches at this meeting, whose triumphant enthusiasm rightly culminated in the superb rendering by the Apollo Club of the TIallelujah chorus, no one expressed so well the spirit of the Parliament, its limitations and its finest influence, as did the Hindoo monk. I copy his address in full, but I can only suggest its effect upon the audience, for he is an orator by divine right, and his strong intelligent face in its picturesque setting of yellow and orange was hardly less interesting than these earnest words and the ricli, rhythmical utterance he gave them. . . . [After quoting
the greater part of Swamiji’s Final Address, the article continues: ]
Perhaps the most tangible result of the congress was the feeling it aroused in regard to foreign missions. The impertinence of sending half-educated theological students to instruct the wise and erudite Orientals was never brought home to an English-speaking audience more forcibly. It is only in the spirit of tolerance and sympathy that we are at liberty to touch their faith, and the exhorters who possess these qualities are rare. It is necessary to realize that we have quite as much to learn from the Buddhists as they from us, and that only through harmony can the highest influence be exerted.
Chicago, 3 Oct., 1893. LUCY MONROE.
Other organs of public opinion attest to Swamiji’s popularity and influence. Many quotations from these are already known to the readers of “The Life,” but one moie can here be added from the Chicago Interorean of September 1, 1894, which almost a year following the Parliament recalled Swamiji’s unquestionable popularity:
VIVEKANANDA AND THE HINDOOS
There was no delegate to the Parliament of Religions who attracted more courteous attention in Chicago by his winning ways, his ability, and his fearless discussion of all questions relating to his religion than Swami Vivekananda, who represented the Hindoos of South India. This distinguished Hindoo was enthusiastic in his admiration of the greatness of rlie Western World and its material development, eager in his efforts to learn of those things that might be beneficial to his people, earnest in his desire to recognize the religions of all people as related to each other, and all sincere efforts in behalf of virtue and holiness, but at the same time
he defended the Hindoo religion and philosophy with an eloquence and power that not only won admiration for himself but consideration for his own teachings.
To a request of the New York World of October 1, 1893, for “a sentiment or expression regarding the significance of the great meeting” from each representative, Swamiji replied with a quotation from the Gita and one from Vyasa:
“I am He that am in every religion – like the thread that passes through a string of pearls.” “Holy, perfect and pure men are seen in all creeds, therefore they all lead to the same truth – for how can nectar be the outcome of poison?”
And this certainly was the lesson learned through the Parliament. Though some may have been loath to acknowledge it at the time, it was a lesson that struck deep and that was not forgotten. The Backof bigotry, although not broken, had received its first hard blow.