(Delivered in Minneapolis on November 26, 1893:
Reported in the Minneapolis Journal)
The Unitarian church was crowded yesterday morning by an audience anxious to learn something of eastern religious thought as outlined by Swami Vivekananda, a Brahmin priest, who was prominent in the Parliament of Religions at Chicago last summer. The distinguished representative of the Brahmin faith was brought to Minneapolis by the Peripatetic Club, and he addressed that body last Friday evening. He was induced to remain until this week, in order that he might deliver the address yesterday. . . .
Dr. H.M. Simmons, the pastor, . . . read from Paul’s lesson of faith, hope and charity, and “the greatest of these is charity”, supplementing that reading by a selection from the Brahmin scripture which teaches the same lesson, and also a selection from the Moslem faith, and poems from the Hindu literature, all of which are in harmony with Paul’s utterances.
After a second hymn Swami Vivekandi [sic] was introduced. He stepped to the edge of the platform and at once had his audience interested by the recital of a Hindu story. He said in excellent English:
“I will tell you a story of five blind men. There was a procession in a village in India, and all the people turned out to see the procession, and specially the gaily caparisoned elephant. The people were delighted, and as the five blind men could not see, they determined to touch the elephant that they might acquaint themselves with its form. They were given the privilege, and after the pro cession had passed, they returned home together with the people, and they began to talk about the elephant. ‘It was just like a wall,’ said one. ‘No it wasn’t,’ said another, ‘it was like a piece of rope.’ ‘You are mistaken,’ said a third, ‘I felt him and it was just a serpent.’ The discussion grew excited, and the fourth declared the elephant was like a pillow. The argument soon broke into more angry expressions, and the five blind men took to fighting. Along came a man with two eyes, and he said, ‘My friends, what is the matter?’ The disputation was explained, whereupon the new-comer said, ‘Men, you are all right: the trouble is you touched the elephant at different points. The wall was the side, the rope was the tail, the serpent was the trunk, and the toes were the pillow. Stop your quarrelling; you are all right, only you have been viewing the elephant from different standpoints.”
Religion, he said, had become involved in such a quarrel. The people of the West thought they had the only religion of God, and the people of the East held the same prejudice. Both were wrong; God was in every religion.
There were many bright criticisms on Western thought. The Christians were characterised as having a “shopkeeping religion”. They were always begging of God — “O God, give me this and give me that; O God, do this and do that.” The Hindu couldn’t understand this. He thought it wrong to be begging of God. Instead of begging, the religious man should give. The Hindu believed in giving to God, to his fellows, instead of asking God to give to them. He had observed that the people of the West, very many of them, thought a great deal of God, so long as they got along all right, but when the reverse came, then God was forgotten: not so with the Hindu, who had come to look upon God as a being of love. The Hindu faith recognised the motherhood of God as well as the fatherhood, because the former was a better fulfilment of the idea of love. The Western Christian would work all the week for the dollar, and when he succeeded he would pray, “O God, we thank thee for giving us this benefit”, and then he would put all the money into his pocket; the Hindu would make the money and then give it to God by helping the poor and the less fortunate. And so comparisons were made between the ideas of the West and the ideas of the East. In speaking of God, Vivekanandi said in substance: “You people of the West think you have God. What is it to have God? If you have Him, why is it that so much criminality exists, that nine out of ten people are hypocrites? Hypocrisy cannot exist where God is. You have your palaces for the worship of God, and you attend them in part for a time once a week, but how few go to worship God. It is the fashion in the West to attend church, and many of you attend for no other reason. Have you then, you people of the West, any right to lay exclusive claim to the possession of God?”
Here the speaker was interrupted by spontaneous applause. He proceeded: “We of the Hindu faith believe in worshipping God for love’s sake, not for what He gives us, but because God is love, and no nation, no people, no religion has God until it is willing to worship Him for love’s sake. You of the West are practical in business, practical in great inventions, but we of the East are practical in religion. You make commerce your business; we make religion our business. If you will come to India and talk with the workman in the field, you will find he has no opinion on politics. He knows nothing of politics. But you talk to him of religion, and the humblest knows about monotheism, deism, and all the isms of religion. You ask:
“‘What government do you live under?’ and he will reply: ‘I don’t know. I pay my taxes, and that’s all I know about it.’ I have talked with your labourers, your farmers, and I find that in politics they are all posted. They are either Democrat or Republican, and they know whether they prefer free silver or a gold standard. But you talk to them of religion; they are like the Indian farmer, they don’t know, they attend such a church, but they don’t know what it believes; they just pay their pew rent, and that’s all they know about it — or God.”
The superstitions of India were admitted, “but what nation doesn’t have them?” he asked. In summing up, he held that the nations had been looking at God as a monopoly. All nations had God, and any impulse for good was God. The Western people, as well as the Eastern people, must learn to “want God”, and this “want” was compared to the man under water, struggling for air; he wanted it, he couldn’t live without it. When the people of the West “wanted” God in that manner, then they would be welcome in India, because the missionaries would then come to them with God, not with the idea that India knows not God, but with love in their hearts and not dogma.