Addresses at the Parliament of Religions – 4
Religion Not the Crying Need of India
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. 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.
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.
[At this point, Swami Vivekananda said that he was not feeling too well that day and so wished to be excused. But, we read in the newspaper report, “there were thunders of applause and cries of ‘Go on,’” so Vivekananda continued:]
The earlier speaker said something about the miserable and ignorant priests in China. The same may be said of the priests in India. I am one of those monks who have been described as beggarly. That is the pride of my life. I am proud in that sense to be Christ-like. I eat what I have today and think not of tomorrow. “Behold the lilies of the field; they toil not, neither do they spin.” The Hindu carries that out literally. Many gentlemen present in Chicago sitting on this platform can testify that for the last twelve years I never knew whence my next meal would come. I am proud to be a beggar for the sake of the Lord. The idea in the East is that to preach or teach anything for the sake of money is low and vulgar, but to teach the name of the Lord for pay is such degradation as would cause the priest to lose caste and be spat upon.
There is one suggestion in the earlier speaker’s paper that is true: If the priests of China and India were organized, there is an enormous amount of potential energy that could be used for regeneration of society and humanity. I endeavored to organize it in India but failed for lack of money. It may be I shall get the help I want in America.
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.