The Death Knell of Fanaticism | Study Guide

Swami Vivekananda

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The Death Knell of Fanaticism | Quotes


Sectarianism, bigotry, and its horrible descendant fanaticism have long possessed this beautiful Earth.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda uses Speech 1 to establish the primary goal of his visit to the World's Parliament of Religions. He links the conflicts between the world's religions to centuries of misunderstandings that have led to sometimes violent fanaticism on all sides. His explanations of Hinduism's core beliefs are designed to clear up some of these misunderstandings.


I fervently hope that the bell that tolled this morning in honor of this convention may be the death knell of all fanaticism.

Swami Vivekananda

A death knell is a bell that marks the end of something. Swami Vivekananda hopes that the long-standing conflicts between the world's religions will begin to reach a peaceful resolution thanks to this meeting of religious minds from around the world.


I am sitting in my own little well and thinking that the whole world is my little well.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda uses a short parable about a frog that grows up in a well as a representation of how each person's background contributes to their view of the world. In the story the frog from the well believes that no body of water could possibly be bigger than his small pool inside the well. Vivekananda explains that religious people are the same way. Their perspective on religion is shaped by their experiences.


Just as the law of gravitation existed before its discovery ... so is it with the laws that govern the spiritual relations between soul and soul.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda asserts that the spiritual laws which govern human behavior and the soul's final destiny have always existed even when people were unaware of them. He links this idea to the discovery of gravity. The laws of gravity influenced the universe's daily operations long before the English physicist Sir Isaac Newton (1642–1727) defined these laws on paper.


I am a spirit living in a body: I am not the body. The body will die, but I shall not die.

Swami Vivekananda

In Hinduism the spirit is immortal and serves as the source of identity. A person's spirit will move from one temporary body to the next, but the spirit will continue to carry traces of the person's past lives. With each new life, a person learns more about the world, and this accumulated experience pushes them closer toward a fuller understanding of God.


Consciousness is only the surface of the mental ocean, and within its depths are stored up all our experiences.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda compares the conscious mind to an ocean in that its surface appearance does not always communicate its incredible depths. He argues that an individual's subconscious is made up of the experiences of hundreds of lives and that these experiences subtly influence the individual's conscious actions. According to Vivekananda people can summon up memories of their past lives with enough focus, just as scientists can examine the ocean's different levels.


So a man ought to live in the world—his heart to God and his hands to work.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda argues in favor of a practical faith that has real-life applications to a person's daily activities. He advocates for people to devote their hearts and minds to God while using their hands to improve society. Like Christianity and Judaism, Hinduism is connected to acts of service. Practitioners of the religion are encouraged to use their personal gifts and resources for the sake of humanity as a whole and not just their own individual betterment.


Science is nothing but the finding of unity.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda interlaces his speeches with references to scientific discoveries. In Speech 3 he insists that the primary goal of science is to unify the world under a single set of principles that are free of personal bias or cultural interpretations. In the same way, Vivekananda hopes to unite the world's religions under a shared set of goals.


This cannot be laid at the door of his religion any more than the burning of witches can be laid at the door of Christianity.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda acknowledges that Hindus have committed violent acts in the past under the mistaken belief that they were expanding their religion's reach and influence or affirming their own devotion to Hinduism. He argues that Hinduism itself cannot be blamed for these anomalous acts any more than Christianity can be blamed for the Salem Witch Trials (1692–3) which led to the deaths of over 20 innocent people.


What have you done and are doing to save their bodies from starvation?

Swami Vivekananda

In Speech 4 Swami Vivekananda criticizes Christians for focusing on people's religious conversions to Christianity over their immediate physical needs. Millions of Indians were locked in a desperate cycle of poverty in the late 1800s. Between 1860 and 1901, over 15 million people died in India as a result of multiple mass famines. Vivekananda insists that Christians have the resources to help people in need and therefore have the responsibility.


It is bread that the suffering millions of burning India cry out for with parched throats.

Swami Vivekananda

The phrase "burning India" refers to the widespread droughts of the late 1800s that led to 10 mass famines in less than 50 years. India's rural poor were especially vulnerable because they lost their primary means of income just as food prices skyrocketed. Swami Vivekananda asserts that his people currently need bread more than religious instruction.


I am proud to be a beggar for the sake of the Lord.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda lived a very modest life. He explains in Speech 4 that religious teachers are not supposed to ask for payment from their pupils. Demanding money for instruction is considered shameful by his culture. He has willingly adopted a life of poverty for the sake of his beliefs. However, many of India's poor do not have a choice but to live in squalor. Their poverty is therefore much more emotionally degrading than his.


In religion there is no caste.

Swami Vivekananda

Indian society is built around a caste system. People are born into social castes or levels. The members of the lower castes have limited opportunities for upward mobility. A person's social privileges are determined by their caste, and it is rare for people to marry outside of their respective castes. The one profession that is available to members of all castes is priesthood. Hindu monks and religious teachers can come from any social background. The social stratification seen in outside society does not apply to Hindu teachers.


So long as there is a cry going out of the human heart, there shall be faith in God.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda predicts that religion will always be a part of society because it addresses people's innermost needs for purpose and hope. The world's major religions share the goal of providing context for life's best and worst moments. Religion offers an explanation of life's mysteries that Vivekananda argues cannot be found anywhere else.


Help and not Fight.

Swami Vivekananda

Swami Vivekananda envisions a banner that will one day be shared by all religions. This banner will bear the words "Help" instead of "Fight." He imagines that the world's different faiths will eventually step away from their age-old conflicts in the name of humanity's overall improvement. In his opinion, the goal of every good person should be to help their fellow humans and not to fight people based on their differences.

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