Swami Vivekananda's Appeal For Peace And Harmony
A clarion call for assimilation, not destruction, that rings true nearly 124 years later
Sectarianism, bigotry and, its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it 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. I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honour of this convention may be the death-knell of all fanaticism.
You have heard [an] eloquent speaker say, "Let us cease from abusing each other," and he was very sorry that there should be always so much variance. But I think I should tell you a story, which would illustrate the cause of this variance. A frog lived in a well. It had lived there for a long time … for our story's sake, we must take it for granted that it had its eyes, and that it cleansed the water of all the worms and bacilli that lived in it. In this way it went on and became a little sleek and fat. One day another frog that lived in the sea fell into the well.
"Where are you from?"
"I am from the sea."
"The sea! How big is that? Is it as big as my well?" and he took a leap from one side of the well to the other.
"My friend," said the frog of the sea, "how do you compare the sea with your little well?"
Then the frog took another leap and asked, "Is your sea so big?"
"What nonsense you speak, to compare the sea with your well!"
"Well, then," said the frog of the well, "nothing can be bigger than my well; there can be nothing bigger than this; this fellow is a liar, so turn him out."
That has been the difficulty all the while.
I am a Hindu. I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well. The Christian sits in his little well and thinks the whole world is his well. The Mohammedan* sits in his little well and thinks that is the whole world.
If anyone here hopes that this unity will come by the triumph of any one of the religions and the destruction of the other, to him I say, "Brother, yours is an impossible hope." Do I wish that the Christian would become Hindu? God forbid. Do I wish that the Hindu or Buddhist would become Christian? God forbid. The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant, it develops after the law of its own growth, assimilates the air, the earth and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant.
Similar is the case with religion. 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 his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.
If the Parliament of Religions has shown anything to the world it is this: It has proved to the world that holiness, purity and charity are not the exclusive possessions of any church in the world, and that every system has produced men and women of the most exalted character. In the face of this evidence, if anybody dreams of the exclusive survival of his own religion and the destruction of the others, I pity him from the bottom of my heart, and point out to him that upon the banner of every religion will soon be written, in spite of resistance: "Help and not Fight", "Assimilation and not Destruction", "Harmony and Peace and not Dissension".
*This term was commonly used to describe Muslims in 19th Century India. Some of the terms used in this speech have connotations prevalent at the time
Excerpted from Swami Vivekananda's speeches at the World Parliament of Religion, Chicago, in September 1893. Swami Vivekananda was a theologist, spiritual leader and founder of the Ramakrishna Mission.