Differences are a Blessing

Maulana Wahiduddin Khan | YoursPositively | July 6, 2020

I am often reminded of the first time the 29-year-old Swami Vivekananda (1863-1902) took to stage at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 to share perspectives on diversity and co-existence with intellectuals from across the globe.

Swami Vivekananda made a sensational debut at the Parliament. He was initially nervous about delivering his speech but as he took the stage, he began by addressing his audience as ‘Sisters and Brothers of America!’ The hall resounded with a long burst of applause at his words and he received a standing ovation from the delegates and the crowd comprising several thousand people from all over the world. Today, as we have become increasingly global, the expression takes a larger dimension and has transformed into ‘Sisters and Brothers of the World!’

The President of Parliament of World Religions, John Henry Barrows later remarked about Vivekananda, calling him “the orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his auditors.”

The media splashed articles and special features on him and he was labelled as the ‘most popular and influential man in the Parliament! In a world of strangeness and separation, Swami Vivekananda had touched the chord of familiarity and proximity, awakening a feeling of unity amongst his audience.

The mission of the Parliament of the World’s Religions is to cultivate harmony among the world’s religious and spiritual communities and achieve a just, peaceful and sustainable world. Swami Vivekananda became the ambassador of this message of universal brotherhood at the Parliament.

He was the first to introduce Indian philosophy to the west in this manner and received support, leading to the establishment of Vedic centres in the west. In his interactions, he extensively discussed tolerance and cooperation between communities of the world.

In Letters of Vivekananda, Swami Vivekananda outlined the bright future of India as a nation, to be shaped by two forces: Islamic Body and Vedic Brain. I would modify this and say that in order to create the future we all aspire for, we would have to resort to a blend of ‘Western Body, Eastern Brain’―this is the only way we shall progress in times to come!

Swami Vivekananda was an ardent advocate of religious diversity being the soul of universality. His formula was, ‘Follow One, Hate None.’ This principle was based on an inherent understanding of the fact that this world is full of differences―family, society, religious communities and nations―difference is an integral part of each ecosystem. But differences are not evil; they are a blessing as they create challenges, which lead to development and progress in the world.

In my experience, too, this is the simplest and most natural formula―to follow one religion, and respect all. As a nonagenarian, I can lead a life devoid of any hatred and full of love and compassion. This is because I recognise, in my mind, in my heart, every person as a creation of God.

Since every one of us is created by God, how can I hate anyone? Therefore, there’s no real difference between us. It is acceptance of this reality that can pave way for us to co-exist and enable us to meaningfully adopt and leverage differences, rather than trying to eliminate or remove them.