Thursday, October 6th marked the Hindu festival of Dashera which celebrates the victory of the noble Rama over the evil Ravana as told in India’s great epic, the Ramayan. Dashera leads up to Diwali which celebrates Rama’s victorious return to his home in Ayodhya.

To observe these events the Vedic Society at the Global Headquarters of HSBC invited Radhanath Swami to speak to a group of over 1000 bankers including senior executives from the UK Home Office and other investment banks, at it’s landmark skyscraper in Canary Wharf, London. As the event’s MC, Surinder Shandilya, the chair of the Vedic Society, introduced the topic ‘Embracing Challenges’ as the theme for the evening.

Radhanath Swami was requested to address the topic both from the teachings of the ancient epic as well as from his own personal experience. He began by singing prayers to his own guru, Srila Prabhupada, and to the great teachers and spiritual figures in the bhakti tradition from the past, resonating the building with the celebrated Hare Krishna maha mantra. Having thanked the corporation and entire assembly for a loving reception, Radhanath Swami described Diwali as a “festival of hope, even in apparently hopeless conditions – it is a time of transformation from darkness to light – a transformation of heart, from greed to generosity, from envy to appreciation and ultimately, from suffering to joy. The history of Dipavali is based on Rama, the form of God descended to show us an example on how we can live and grow through the most difficult challenges of life.”

Radhanath Swami spoke of how, during the trails Rama faced while in exile, he always maintained integrity and morality for the benefit of the people. “This world is designed in such a way that the trials, tribulations and pain we experience, give birth to opportunities to grow”. He showed how, in many of the worlds great spiritual traditions emphasis is given to how blessing have come though trials. In the Jewish tradition the sacrifices of the sons of Abraham gave rise to the Ten Commandments, through the crucifixion, the resurrection of Christ gives hope to his followers, through Buddha’s inner turmoil came the depth of his spiritual teachings.

From his own life experience, Radhanath Swami spoke of his own guru. “My own beloved spiritual teacher, Shrila Prabhupada, at the age of 70 wanted to impart spiritual truths of love of God and compassion to all living beings. He left India on a cargo ship with only $7; but they were in rupees so they could not be exchanged! He hand nothing. He had three heart attacks and sea sickness on the way and he came to a place where he knew no one. Everyone in India was saying come home, its impossible! But he saw hope and he gave that hope to millions of people.”

“Seeing all the sectarianism and hypocrisy in the world today, greed even in the name of God, arrogance and division; he said religion or philosophy have no meaning without good character. Good character means to live with integrity. Integrity means that with our hearts we embrace sacred universal ideals – compassion, morality and a will to serve, to transform selfishness into selflessness and to maintain our ideals even when confronted with great obstacles such as temptation – that as if I give up this ideal I could gain so much…. or the fear that if I don’t give up my sacred ideas of compassion and morality that I may lose so much . But what is it that we are really looking for in this world? Everyone seeks fulfillment. Things – power, position, prestige, property, wealth, these things can give a certain amount of fulfillment to the physical body and to the mind but they can not give fulfillment to the heart.”

“We should build our life on the foundation of what is really meaningful, and that is within us – the power to love and the power to recognize love. And we believe that the origin of that inner tendency is the eternal soul’s loving relationship with God. And that love, between the soul and God, when we connect with it, it manifest as compassion for every living being.”

“It’s important that we take some time in our life to step back from all the distractions and all the duties and all the things that we just have to do – to meditate, to pray. In my tradition we chant God’s names. To associate with people who are uplifting, to read uplifting books, so that we can actually see things from a very realistic perspective.”

Drawing a lesson from the HSBC’s advertisements which show how the same thing can be understood in opposite ways, Radhanath Swami spoke of the symbolism behind Diwali. “When we speak about Diwali and darkness, we can remember that the real beauty of life is to see the potential of light in any situation.”