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“Sisters and brothers of America”


These words marked the culmination of five years of wandering and the beginning of Swami Vivekananda’s life’s work. These words were met by 7000 people who “went into inexplicable rapture with standing ovation and clapping that lasted for more than three minutes” gathered at the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago. These words brought a message of unity, tolerance and universal acceptance.
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After five years of wandering India, Swami Vivekananda found himself at the southernmost point of the subcontinent. He witnessed:

“the meeting of the three eternal seas, the Indian Ocean, the Arabian sea and the Bay of Bengal. A fantastic composition of sand, rock and sea at the foot of green hills met his eyes. He stood with awe and wonder […] He was overwhelmed at the sight. The vast, expanse of sky and sea meeting in the distant horizon looked timeless and eternal.”

Despite years of searching he had not yet identified how to help the people of his land, the:

“potable condition of the Indian masses, victims of the unscrupulous whims of their rules, landlords and priests. The tyranny of caste had sapped their last drop of vitality. In most of the so-called leaders who shouted from the housetops about the liberation of the people, he had seen selfishness personified. What was his task?”

His three-day meditation continued, sitting 500 meters off the coast on what is now known as Vivekananda’s Rock. Finally, two realizations:

“He must approach the outside world and appeal to its conscience. But he was too proud to act like a beggar. He wanted to tell the West that the health and sickness of Indian were the concern of the whole world. If India sank, the whole world would sink with her. So the outside world, in turn, needed India, her knowledge of the Soul and of God, her spiritual heritage, her ideal of genuine freedom through detachment and renunciation; it needed these in order to extricate itself from the sharp claws of the monster of materialism.”

Now that he understood his task, his audience and those who could aid in making his vision a reality:

Then, to the Swami, brooding alone in silence of that point of rock off the tip of India, the vision came; there flashed before his mind the new continent of America, a land of optimism, great wealth, and unstinted generosity. He saw America as a country of unlimited opportunities, where people’s minds were free from the encumbrance of castes or classes. He would give the receptive Americans the ancient wisdom of India and bring back to his motherland, in exchange, the knowledge of science and technology. […] He recalled the earnest request of his friends to represent India in the forthcoming Parliament of Religions in Chicago. And, in particular, he remembered the words of the friends in Kathiawar who had been the first to encourage him to go to the West: “Go and take it by storm, and then return!”

Source (block quotes): Vivekananda Kendra’s Wandering Monk Exhibition

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