My Speech To The World Hindu Congress on September 7th, 2018
Thank you for the introduction, and welcome to all of you.
First, I want to thank you for having me here. I must tell you that some of my friends and constituents were very concerned with my presence here today. I take their concerns as serious and sincere.
I decided I had to be here because I wanted to reaffirm the highest and only form of Hinduism that I’ve ever known and been taught — namely one that welcomes all people, embraces all people, and accepts all people, regardless of their faith — including all my constituents. I reject all other forms. In short, I reaffirm the teachings of Swami Vivekananda.
On September 11, 1893, 125 years ago this coming Tuesday, Swami Vivekananda addressed the World Parliament of Religions, not far from here, in downtown Chicago. In that speech, the Swamiji presented Hinduism in its truest light. He told the crowd that he was proud to belong to a religion espousing “both tolerance and universal acceptance.” He said, “[w]e believe not only in universal toleration, but we accept all religions as true.”
As we know, Swami Vivekananda’s legacy stretched far beyond those days in Chicago through his influence on Mahatma Gandhi and hundreds of millions who broke the yoke of colonialism. That legacy found its way back to the United States through Martin Luther King Jr. who followed the example of Gandhi and helped tear down walls of discrimination here in America. The movement Swamiji powerfully contributed to enabled millions of Americans of all colors, all creeds, and all faiths to live as equal citizens as never before.
It is because of his legacy and this legacy of equality and pluralism that I stand before you as a Hindu, as an American, and as a United States Congressman.
Recently, I spoke nearby, where Swami Vivekananda and the World Parliament of Religions met in downtown Chicago. Congressman John Lewis, a hero of the Civil Rights Movement, joined me as we called for equal voting rights for all Americans. I couldn’t help but remember the Swamiji as we stood together with Christians, and Jews, and Muslims, and Sikhs, and Hindus, and showed our shared commitment to the rights of all and the fundamental values of inclusion, acceptance, and diversity. It is a scene of religious unity that I believe would have made Swami Vivekananda proud.
As I think of the Swamiji’s lessons, I recognize how they have changed the world, but yet how far we must still go.
More than a century ago, Swamiji warned of the risk of division. He said, “Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant, fanaticism, have long possessed this beautiful earth. They have filled the earth with violence, drenched it often with human blood, destroyed civilization and sent whole nations to despair,” the Swamiji said.
Despite Swami Vivekananda’s warnings 125 years ago, we still know too much division, and through it, too much despair even in our world today.
Even here in America, the land I love and which I have been sworn to protect as a Member of the United States Congress, at times, we have also faltered and unfortunately witnessed discrimination against Hindus, and Muslims, Sikhs, Jews, Latinos, African-Americans, and others. As a Hindu-American, and a spiritual descendant of Swami Vivekananda, it has been my duty to combat that discrimination and bigotry in all of its ugly forms. I do that because I am a Hindu.
Swami Vivekananda told us that no religion has a monopoly on holiness or virtues, and that there is no virtue higher than ahimsa, the concept of non-violence.
When we embrace ahimsa, we recognize there is no place for prejudice, no place for violence, no place for hate — not here in America, not in India, not anywhere in the world, and not in Hinduism.
We must teach our children and all generations the values of tolerance, love, diversity, and inclusion which Hinduism embodies.
We must re-commit ourselves to this highest form of Hinduism and reject any other form.
We must accept every person whoever they are, wherever they come from, and whatever their religion or faith.
In so doing, we will honor the true legacy of Swami Vivekananda. We will live out the highest ideals of Hinduism, and ensure that all people everywhere experience the greatest command of our faith, which is Shanti, Shanti, Shanti — Peace, Peace, Peace.
Thank you so much.