Swami Vivekanand visited Japan on his way to Chicago in 1893. First of all he reached the to the port city of Nagasaki and then to Kobe by a steamer. From there, he went to Yokohama by road, visiting the three big cities of Osaka, Kyoto and Tokyo along the way. He called the Japanese "one of the cleanest people on earth", and was impressed by cleanliness of their streets and houses, movements, manners and gestures, everything he found to be 'picturesque'.
During that time, rapid military build-up was going on in Japan as a part of the prelude to the Sino-Japanese and Russo-Japanese War. After observing these preparations Vivekanandji wrote, "The Japanese appear now to have fully awakened themselves to the necessity of the present times. They have now a thoroughly organized army equipped with guns, which one of their own officers has invented and which is said to be second to none. Then, they are continually increasing their navy." His comments about industrial development was, "The match factories are worth watching, and they are determined to make everything they want in their own country."
The contrast between the rapid progress of Japan and the situation back in India, made him urge his countrymen, whom he called, "The offspring of centuries of superstition and tyranny", to come out of their shell and have a look abroad. He suggested that "Only I want that many of our young men must visit Japan and China every year. Especially, Japanese, consider India still the dreamland of everything pure and good. And you, what are you..? Boasting twaddle all your lives, vain talkers, what are you? Come, see these people, and then go and hide your faces in shame. A race of dotards, you lose your caste if you come out! Sitting down these centuries with an ever-increasing load of crystallized superstition on your heads, for hundreds of years spending all your energy upon discussing the touchability or untouchability of this food or that, with all humanity crushed out of you by the continuous social tyranny of ages – what are you? And what are you doing now..? Walkway the sea-shores with books in your hands – repeating undigested stray bits of European brainwork, and the whole soul bent upon getting a thirty rupee clerkship, or at best becoming a lawyer – the height of young India's ambition – and every student with a whole brood of hungry children cackling at his heels and asking for bread! Is there not water enough in the sea to drown you, books, gowns, university diplomas, and all?"
He went to America via China and Canada and he reached Chicago in July 1893. But he was very disappointed to know that no one without credentials from a bona fide organization would be accepted as a delegate. He came in contact with Professor John Henry Wright who invited Vivekanandji to speak at Harvard University and on learning from him not having credentials to speak at the Parliament of Religions, Wright surprisingly quoted as, "To ask for your credentials is like asking the sun to state its right to shine in the heavens." Wright then wrote a letter to the Chairman in charge of delegates stating, "Here is a man who is more learned than all of our learned professors put together." On the efforts of the Professor, Vivekanandji himself writes that, "He urged upon me the necessity of going to the Parliament of Religions, which he thought would give an introduction to the nation."
On the platform of the Parliament of Religions in September 1893 at the Art Institute of Chicago as part of the World's Columbian Exposition, Swami Vivekanand gave his maiden brief address. He represented Hindustan and Hinduism. He bowed to Saraswati, the goddess of learning and began his speech with, "Sisters & Brothers of America..!". To these words, he got a standing ovation from a crowd of more than seven thousand, which lasted for two minutes. When silence was restored, he began his speech. He greeted the youngest of the nations in the name of "the most ancient order of monks in the world, the Vedic order of Sanyasi, a religion which has taught the world both tolerance and universal acceptance." And in relation to this, he quoted two illustrative passages from the Bhagavad Gita, "As the different streams having their sources in different places all pour their water in the sea, so, O Lord, the different paths which men take, through different mind sets, various though they appear, curved or straight, all lead to Thee..!" and "Whosoever comes to Me, through whatsoever form, I reach him; all men are struggling through paths that in the end lead to Me." Though it was a short lecture, it voiced the spirit of the Parliament and its sense of universality. Dr. Barrows, the president of the Parliament said, "India, the Mother of religions was represented by Swami Vivekanand, the Orange-monk who exercised the most wonderful influence over his audience." He attracted tremendous attention in the press, which entitled him as the 'Cyclonic Monk from India'. The New York Critique wrote, "He is an orator par excellence, and his strong, intelligent face in its divine setting of yellow and orange was equally interesting as those earnest words, having a rich, rhythmical utterance." The New York Herald wrote, "Vivekanand is undoubtedly the greatest figure in the Parliament of Religions. After hearing him we feel it was our foolishness to send missionaries to this learned nation." The American newspapers reported Swami Vivekanand as "the greatest figure in the parliament of religions" and "the most popular and influential man in the parliament". The Boston Evening Transcript reported on 30th September, 1893 that Vivekanandji was "a great favorite at the parliament... if he merely crosses the platform, he is applauded".
He spoke many more times at the Parliament on the topics related to Hinduism and Buddhism. The parliament ended on 27th September, 1893. One common theme of all his speeches at the Parliament was, Universality, and it focused on religious broadmindedness.
On one occasion in America Vivekanandji commented, "I do not come to convert you to a new belief. I want to make the Methodist a better Methodist, the Presbyterian a better Presbyterian, the Unitarian a better Unitarian. I want you to see and live the truth, and observe the light within your own soul."
After the Parliament of Religions which was held in September, 1893 at The Art Institute of Chicago, Swami Vivekanand spent almost two years lecturing at different places in Eastern and Central parts of the United States, but mainly in Chicago, Detroit, Boston and New York. Because of his constant exertion, he was fatigued and in poor health by the spring of 1895. After cancelling his lecture tour, Vivekanandji started giving personal free classes on Vedanta and Yoga. In June 1895, for about two months, he conducted private lectures to a dozen of his disciples at the Thousand Island Park and later established the 'Vedanta Society of New York'. As per him, this was the happiest part of his first visit to America. In between, he travelled to England twice - in 1895 and 1896 and his lectures were very successful there also. Here he met an Irish lady, Miss Margaret Noble, who later became Sister Nivedita. During his second visit to England in May 1896, Swami Vivekanand met Max Müller in Pimlico, who was a renowned Indologist at Oxford University and writer of Ramakrishna's first biography in the West. Meanwhile, Swamiji visited other European countries also and in Germany, he met Paul Deussen, another famous Indologist. He refused two very prestigious academic offers, the chair of Eastern Philosophy at Harvard University and a similar position at Columbia University saying that, as he was a wandering monk, he could not settle down to this kind of work.
He fascinated several devoted disciples like Josephine MacLeod, Miss Müller, Miss Noble, E.T. Sturdy, Captain and Mrs. Sevier who played an important role in founding 'Advaita Ashram' and J.J. Goodwin who became his stenographer and recorded his teachings and lectures. The Hale family was one of his most cordial hosts in America. His disciples Madame Louise, a French woman, became Swami Abhayananda and Mr. Leon Landsberg became Swami Kripananda, who initiated several other followers into Brahmacharya. Swami Vivekanand's vision was admired by several scholars and famous thinkers like, William James, Josiah Royce, C. C. Everett, Dean of the Harvard School of Divinity, Robert G. Ingersoll, Nikola Tesla, Lord Kelvin, and Professor Hermann Ludwig Ferdinand von Helmholtz. Other personalities who were influenced by his discourses were Harriet Monroe and Ella Wheeler Wilcox - the two famous American poets, Professor William James of Harvard University, Dr. Lewis G. Janes - President of Brooklyn Ethical Association, Sara C. Bull - wife of the famous Norwegian violinist Ole Bull, Sarah Bernhardt - the French actress and Madame Emma Calvé - the French opera singer.
From the West, Swami Vivekanand also commenced his original Indian work. He sent money along with advice letters to India to his followers and fellow monks. His letters motivated his disciples for his campaign for social service. He always made an effort to inspire his close disciples to do something great in India. His letters to them used to contain some of his strongest words. In one such letter, he urged Swami Akhandananda to "go from door to door amongst the poor and lower classes of the town of Khetri and teach them religion and give oral lessons on geography and such other subjects. Sitting idle and having princely dishes and saying "Ramakrishna, O Lord..!" will not serve any purpose. Do some good to the poor." Ultimately in 1895, under the inspiration of Swamiji, a monthly journal titled 'Brahmavadin' (presently, Vedanta Kesari) was started in Madras, with the money supplied by him for the purpose of teaching the Vedanta. Subsequently, Vivekanand's translation of first six chapters of 'The Imitation of Christ' was published in Brahmavadin in 1889.
On 16 December, 1896 Swami Vivekanand left for India from England with his disciples Captain and Mrs. Sevier and J.J. Goodwin. On the way, they visited France and also seen the famous Leonardo da Vinci's The Last Supper in Italy and continued their journey to India on 30th December, 1896 from the Port of Naples. Max Müller and Sister Nivedita followed him to India afterwards. Sister Nivedita dedicated the rest of her life to the education of Indian women and the cause of India's independence.
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