12 years from now on the early morning of morning of September 11, 2001, 19 Islamic hijackers took control of four commercial airliners (two Boeing 757 and two Boeing 767) en route to California (three headed to LAX in Los Angeles, and one to San Francisco) after takeoffs fromBoston, Massachusetts; Newark, New Jersey; and Washington, D.C – are unleashed a terror attack so unprecedented that it has remained the most iconic image in most Americans of this generation.
And, with that 9-11 has come to have a dark and black connotation in the minds of most Americans. But it wasn’t always so. 120 years from now, on this very day – September 11; there was another “invasion”. Not of a terrorist, but a Monk.
A Monk who introduced the concept of Hinduism and Dharma to the Americans for the first time. His name was Swami Vivekananda. The day was September 11, 1893. Never before had an Eastern Monk, so well articulate in English, so well steeped in Dharmic Spiritual order and so well accomplished spoken to the Americans. Here is the speech he gave along with other lectures he gave during the course of the whole event.
That trip of Swami Vivekananda was a very special one for all. US and India. On that trip in 1893, he initiated three movements that have shaped the World, India and US in ways very few can fathom.
Yoga and Spirituality: The seeds of Yoga and Hindu Spirituality were sown by him. This generation has seen Deepak Chopra do something similar, but Swami Vivekananda was Dr. Deepak Chopra on steroids. While Dr. Chopra shies away from speaking of the Hinduism – yes, it is not a religion, but since that is that broader narrative then why not? – in context of the Spiritual messages he shares; Swami Vivekananda spoke freely and openly about the gift of Spirituality that he brought from the “Ancient lands”. If only, Yoga and Hinduism offered by Swami Vivekananda had been in good hands, things here would have been different. But whatever good you see coming out of it, was first initiated by Swami Vivekananda.
Charities by US Corporations and the Rich: Not many know, but India’s Tata group – started by Jamsetji Tata – had started a Formal Charity organization even before any significant charity was started in US by any businessman. On that trip, when John Rockefeller came to “check out the Indian Monk”, little did he realize that he will end up getting pushed to start a movement in the US, which will be taken by Warren Buffett and Bill Gates to even greater heights. (How Swami Vivekananda changed John Rockefeller)
Initiation of Research in Fundamental Science in India: On the voyage from Japan to Chicago, there was another traveller on the ship which brought in Swami Vivekananda. It was Jamsetji Tata. He was coming to get the Iron & Steel plant from the US, which he wanted to establish in what is now known as Jamshedpur. The two struck a conversation, where Swami Vivekananda inspired Jamsetji Tata to start something in fundamental science research in India and not just import a plant from the West. That started a series of events which culminated in the establishment of Indian Institute of Science later. Here is a portion on this discussion from a speech by India’s ex-President APJ Abdul Kalam.
Jamshedji said that he wanted to bring steel industry to India. Swami Vivekanda blessed him. He suggested steel technology had two components – one is steel science and the other is manufacturing technology. What can you bring to this country in material technology – you will have to build material science within the country. Jamshedji was thinking and thinking and made a decision.
The Two “Invasions”
Many come to the shore of great nations. What they bring with them and how they treat the new land is very important for all. While a Monk who came 120 years back still inspires millions to live a life of fulfillment, health, well being and Spirituality; the terrorists from another land brought destruction, which has taken many lives and still is pushing the world to disastrous wars.
An entire culture of Middle East, which has always – for last 1400 years unleashed brutal wars and take over of lands by annihilating the local cultures and traditions, far more sophisticated than those Desert ways; could bring to the US what it hid in its bosom. India’s Dharmic tradition sent what it hid in its bosom, a message of wellbeing and “toleration”, as Swami Vivekananda called it.
How the Americans treated “the Monk”
The Americans were taken over by the personality, poise, wit and humor of the Monk who spoke in perfect Queen’s English and without notes. This article from New York Critic, dated November 11, 1893 titled “The Chicago Letter” says it all.
. . . It was an outgrowth of the Parliament of Religions, which opened our eyes to the fact that the philosophy of the ancient creeds contains much beauty for the moderns. When we had once clearly perceived this, our interest in their exponents quickened, and with characteristic eagerness we set out in pursuit of knowledge. The most available means of obtaining it, after the close of the Parliament, was through the addresses and lectures of Suami Vivekananda, who is still in this city. His original purpose in coming to this country was to interest Americans in the starting of new industries among the Hindoos, but he has abandoned this for the present, because he finds that, as “the Americans are the most charitable people in the world,” every man with a purpose comes here for assistance in carrying it out. When asked about the relative condition of the poor here and in India, he replied that our poor would be princes there, and that he had been taken through the worst quarter of the city only to find it, from the standpoint of his knowledge, comfortable and even pleasant.
A Brahmin of the Brahmins, Vivekananda gave up his rank to join the brotherhood of monks, where all pride of caste is voluntarily relinquished. And yet he bears the mark of race upon his person. His culture, his eloquence, and his fascinating personality have given us a new idea of Hindoo civilization. He is an interesting figure, his fine, intelligent, mobile face in its setting of yellows, and his deep, musical voice prepossessing one at once in his favor. So it is not strange that he has been taken up by the literary clubs, has preached and lectured in churches, until the life of Buddha and the doctrines of his faith have grown familiar to us. He speaks without notes, presenting his facts and his conclusions with the greatest art, the most convincing sincerity; and rising at times to a rich, inspiring eloquence. As learned and cultivated, apparently, as the most accomplished Jesuit, he has also something Jesuitical in the character of his mind; but though the little sarcasms thrown into his discourses are as keen as a rapier, they are so delicate as to be lost on many of his hearers. Nevertheless his courtesy is unfailing, for these thrusts are never pointed so directly at our customs as to be rude. At present he contents himself with enlightening us in regard to his religion and the words of its philosophers. He looks forward to the time when we shall pass beyond idolatry–now necessary in his opinion to the ignorant classes,–beyond worship, even, to a knowledge of the presence of God in nature, of the divinity and responsibility of man. “Work out your own salvation,” he says with the dying Buddha; “I cannot help you. No man can help you. Help yourself.”
There were more and more superlatives given out by many papers and journals from Minnesota to Iowa.
The First speech on September 11, 1893
It fills my heart with joy unspeakable to rise in response to the warm and cordial welcome which you have given us. l thank you in the name of the most ancient order of monks in the world; I thank you in the name of the mother of religions; and I thank you in the name of the millions and millions of Hindu people of all classes and sects. My thanks, also, to some of the speakers on this platform who, referring to the delegates from the Orient, have told you that these men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true. I am proud to belong to a nation which has sheltered the persecuted and the refugees of all religions and all nations of the earth. I am proud to tell you that we have gathered in our bosom the purest remnant of the Israelites, who came to the southern India and took refuge with us in the very year in which their holy temple was shattered to pieces by Roman tyranny. I am proud to belong to the religion which has sheltered and is still fostering the remnant of the grand Zoroastrian nation. I will quote to you, brethren, a few lines from a hymn which I remember to have repeated from my earliest boyhood, which is every day repeated by millions of human beings: As the different streams having there sources in different places all mingle their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take through different tendencies, various though they appear, crooked or straight, all lead to thee. The present convention, which is one of the most august assemblies ever held, is in itself a vindication, a declaration to the world, of the wonderful doctrine preached in the Gita: Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths which in the end lead to me. Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, 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. But their time is come; and I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor 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.