I thought I would bring something a little different to the table. Today is a very sad day for a large amount of people, and by all means we should remember those that perished over a decade ago now. But I thought it would be worth sharing something interesting that I learnt earlier on this year that took everyone I told by surprise. September 11 was a significant date before the atrocities of 2001 ever took place. It happened 120 years ago.
120 years ago, Chicago hosted one of the most important parliaments in the history of the world, but I guarantee you that 90% of you will have no idea about it. The First Parliament of World Religions in 1893 saw the largest congregation of religious officials of the time to see the first integration of western and eastern spiritual philosophy. Members as remote as Tibet and as hallowed as Vatican City made their way to that Mid-Eastern American town to discuss how they could work together to tackle some of the big problems of the time.
Needless to say, the attitude towards these religions is different today, but that is part of my point. On one day, with a gap of 120 years between them we can see the difference between religious cohesion and destruction. The veneer of this momentous conference will be drowned in history by the actions of a small group of organised religious extremists. This is a reminder that this is not merely coincidence, but acts as a poignant mirror of the effects of the changing beliefs of our society.
But we digress. The real hero of this story is Narendra Nath Datta – more famously known as Swami Vivekananda. Or not so famously for some of you. 120 years ago, on this very day, he brought eastern spirituality to western philosophy in only 30 minutes. He began his speech, with “Sisters and Brothers of America,” which received a standing ovation for 10 minutes alone. He showed that these individuals, these delegates, these human beings had a spiritual bond that transcended their mere religious label. He even began by addressing his “sisters” which was ironic considering there were no women delegates at this time…an insight into Western vs. Eastern thinking.
His exploits in America and Europe is probably the reason that many millions practice yoga around the world. And in the same way that Hinduism and the Vedanta way of thinking is revered by those who have religious beliefs, and interestingly, those that do not. Therefore on this day especially, on the anniversary of the speech that changed the world, we should celebrate how it was brought together, rather than how it was nearly torn apart.
It is his 150th birthday this year. I usually have an aversion to ‘inspirational figures’ but I would definitely urge anyone to learn more about the impact that he had in the short 39 years of his life. There is a global exhibition where young people from around the world are going to be talking and sharing the thoughts of Vivekananda to commemorate his birth. There is going to be one near you, wherever you are. Please, if you can, go. You won’t regret it.