Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu, India, 7 January 2014 - His Holiness accepted an invitation from Mounasadhu Swami Satyanand Maharaj of Aruppukottai, who has remained silent for over 20 years, to celebrate the 150th anniversary of the birth of Swami Vivekananda - an advocate of inter-religious harmony.
5000 adults and children, all dressed in orange, congregated at the Cadissa Trade Fair Centre where singers and musicians led the singing of bhajans. Next came the lighting of the lamp and introductory speeches followed by the highlight of the event as His Holiness unveiled a 7 feet 9 inch tall Makrana Marble statue of Vivekananda which was viewed by everyone on large video displays.
His Holiness then addressed the crowd, telling them that he sees himself as just an ordinary human being, mentally, physically and emotionally and called them all brothers and sisters. He praised Swami Satyanand Maharaj for remaining silent and hoped that one day he would consider speaking again, if only for a short time, in order to share his experiences with interested people.
His Holiness expressed his admiration for Swami Vivekananda, not only for his dedicated spiritual practice but also for his broad, far-sighted vision and for his famously attending the World Parliament of Religions in Chicago many years ago.
He noted that India has a distinguished line of teachers and recalled his friend Raja Ramanna telling him that he had read in Nagarjuna's writings explanations that pre-empted quantum physics by almost 2000 years. He also said that 'ahimsa', non-violence, was an important ancient Indian idea meaning to act without violence and to recognise the rights of others.
His Holiness praised the fact that many spiritual traditions live peacefully side by side in India (Parsees, Christians, Jews and Muslims) with very few upsets. Among all the countries in the world India is a model of how people of different faiths can live together in peace and remarked on India's democracy, rule of law, freedom of speech and media succeed because of the long tradition of tolerance and the ability to accept and respect opposing points of view.
He urged religious teachers to come out and share their rich traditions and experiences and make the well-being of humanity our prime concern. Too much self-centredness and stress on our own narrow interests are causing problems, he said, and advised more consideration for the needs of others.
His Holiness asked what can be done when 1 billion out of a population of 7 billion declare themselves non-believers in spirituality and how corruption can flourish among those who think of themselves as religiously minded. He praised the monks, nuns and members of the Ramakrishna Mission for spreading health and education among those with little access to it.
He suggested that the need today was for secular ethics, those inner values incorporated by all religions, and said how he admired India's idea of secularism that respects all faiths without bias, even those that have none. He said that his dialogue with scientists over the years had shown that anger, hate and fear undermine our physical well-being and therefore it was in our interests to cultivate compassion and concern for others in order to be healthier and happier.
Asked if he had a message for the young people he replied that when you face difficulties you must keep a positive outlook and reminded them that when he was a young boy he was naughty and preferred playing to studying. How at 16 he lost his freedom and at 24 he lost his country but never gave up keeping his hope alive.
His Holiness then talked to the media, telling them that information is very important in a modern democratic society and that they should sniff out what is really going on and then inform the public. He urged them to do this with honesty so that once the public are aware they can take action accordingly.