Today is the 155th birthday of Swami Vivekananda, the great spiritual leader of India. He inspired a generation of Indians to rediscover the rich heritage of India and Hindu faith. His speeches at the Parliament of World’s Religions in Chicago in 1893 have inspired people of India and the world. These speeches unraveled the essence of Hinduism to the world. But they also had some criticism for missionaries and soul harvesters who came from the west.
On 20 September 1893, Swami Vivekananda delivered the speech titled- ‘Religion not the crying need of India.’ He asked his audience, whether conversions were right.
Christianity must always be ready for good criticism, and I think that you will hardly mind if I make a little criticism. Christian brethren of America, you are so fond of sending out missionaries to save the souls of heathens. I ask you: what have you done and are doing to save their bodies from starvation? In India, there are 300 million men and women living on an average of a little more than 50 cents a month. I have seen them living for years upon wild flowers. During the terrible famines, thousands died from hunger but the missionaries did nothing. They come and offer life but only on condition that the Hindus become Christians, abandoning the faith of their fathers and forefathers. Is it right? There are hundreds of asylums, but if the Muslims or the Hindus go there, they are kicked out.
He went on to say that the asylums set up by Hindus did not discriminate the hungry people who came for help.
There are thousands of asylums erected by Hindus where anybody is received. There are hundreds of churches that have been erected with the assistance of the Hindus, but no Hindu temples for which a Christian has given a penny.
In what could be called a scathing attack on missionaries, he asked them not to teach metaphysics to the impoverished, but to teach them to earn their own bread.
Brethren of America, you erect churches all through India, but the crying evil in the East is not religion. They have religion enough, but it is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats. What they want is bread, but they are given a stone. It is an insult to a starving people to offer them religion; it is an insult to a starving man to teach him metaphysics. Therefore, if you wish to illustrate the meaning of “brotherhood,” treat the Hindus more kindly, even though they are Hindus and are faithful to their religion. Send missionaries to them to teach them how better to earn a piece of bread and not to teach them metaphysical nonsense.
He ended the speech by asking Western charities and people of America to help his people to come out of poverty.
I came here to seek help for my impoverished people and I fully realized how difficult it was to get help for heathens from Christians in a Christian land. I have heard so much of this land of freedom, of liberty and freedom of thought, that I am not discouraged. I thank you, ladies and gentlemen.
There is a dire need to read the full text of Vivekananda’s speeches in the Parliament of World’s Religions. Quoting the first line of the inaugural address has become a sort of a fad these days. Hindus must study his speech completely and the missionaries of today must take the advice given by the great sage of India seriously.