Revisiting the First Amendment from a Hindu Monk
By Sagar Patel
M.A. Candidate 2012, UCI Demographics and Social Analysis
There once was a small frog that lived in a well. He believed his well was the greatest and largest thing in the world, until one day a frog from the sea jumped in and told him otherwise. The sea frog argued how small the well was compared to the sea. The well frog could not believe this and cast the sea frog as a liar.
This has been the difficulty “sophisticated” humans face when encountered by another religion. Each Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Buddhist, etc. sits in his own well thinking his well is the greatest, the only truth. In a world where the word “religion” takes on confused, sad, and sometimes destructive connotations, few in history have stood up to defend it for the purity, tranquility, and universality within it.
One such man of bold character was Swami Vivekananda of India. In his appearance at the Parliament of Religions, the adjunct of the World’s Columbian Exposition in 1893, Vivekananda, a Hindu monk, preached the validity of all religions, comparing them to various little tributaries all flowing into the greater divine river. He recognized it was useless to attempt to gather people around a single personality. Instead, he urged that people gather around a religion based on principles, or a way of thinking rather than an individual person. Adorning your prophet or sage is perfectly fine as long as it does not come at the expense of the true and eternal principles.
He believed in the idea of a religion of man where divinity existed in each and every being. It was only a matter of unveiling the potential for the greater good. He urged the Christian to be the best Christian, the Hindu the best Hindu, and the Muslim the best Muslim. Recognize that though we may have our different streams, the path and principles are one and the same.
As Swamiji once said, “Why take a single instrument from the great religious orchestras of the earth? Let the grand symphony go on.”
It is this very philosophy that underlies our own nation’s founding principles. The First Amendment, which so boldly protects every citizen’s freedom of religion, recognizes the beauty of diversity. Such universal acceptance was what once made our country a beacon of hope in the world.
In recent times, though, this open-mindedness has come under increasing threats. We, as Americans, have become quick to reject others’ ways and ideologies. Whether it be strictly in the area of religion, or in the broader fields of economics and politics, this nation rose to the forefront by drawing from all valid sources and accepting the best each had to offer. This is what our nation’s founders wanted us to do, what the First Amendment eternally makes possible.
Thus, as proud Americans, let us stop the quarreling, and use reason and faith to pursue the greater picture. What good is it if we acknowledge in our prayers that God is the Father of us all but in our daily lives do not treat every man and woman as our brothers and sisters? On the 149th birthday of such a genuine man in our history, let us think twice in our daily prayers and work from tolerance to acceptance.