Universal Brotherhood Day is observed on September 11 every year. It marks the commemoration of Swami Vivekananda’s famous speech delivered on September 11 1893 in Chicago to the delegates of the World Parliament of Religions. The speech is popularly remembered for its opening words – ‘Sisters and brothers of America.’
It was a short speech of five hundred words. But its impact was instantaneous. It is said that after hearing those opening words, the entire assembly gave him an extended standing ovation. That thundering applause must have been unexpected and very humbling for the young sanyasi who was speaking for the first time to a gathering of that scale and grandeur. In a way it was a divine act in the sense that he was the chosen medium to deliver the idea whose time had come. And that idea was ‘the idea of toleration’. During the speech he says, “These men from far-off nations may well claim the honor of bearing to different lands the idea of toleration.”
Toleration is the act of putting up with something that one disapproves of.
Swami Vivekananda’s speech was a turning point of the Parliament, because it changed the idea of toleration, Swamiji added the dimension of acceptance to it and made it more comprehensive and real. ‘Tolerance’ is a state of mind that implies non-judgmental acceptance of different lifestyles or beliefs.
Swamiji further said in that speech, “I am proud to belong to a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance. We believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”
This idea of acceptance and inclusive had set him and his speech apart. During the course of his stay in the West, he further elaborated this idea. In one of his speeches in that parliament itself he said, “The seed is put in the ground, and earth and air and water are placed around it. Does the seed become the earth, or the air, or the water? No. It becomes a plant. It develops after the law of its own growth assimilates the air, the earth, and the water, converts them into plant substance, and grows into a plant….Similar is the case with religion. The Christian is not to become a Hindu or a Buddhist, nor a Hindu or a Buddhist to become a Christian. But each must assimilate the spirit of the others and yet preserve his individuality and grow according to his own law of growth.”
Essentially, he advocated the right to follow one’s unique nature and disapproved imposing changes on anyone. This he applied from macrocosm to microcosm, which is from nations to individuals. His idea of toleration is the solution to the discords between nations, religions and cultures on one hand, and discord in families and smaller groups on the other.
The way forward to diplomatic and domestic peace is then to follow Swami Vivekananda’s idea of toleration - accept the other person in totality and make peace with all. This would be the ideal commemoration of Universal Brotherhood Day.