The Cambridge Union Society is a debating society at Cambridge University – a world famous home of free speech and debate since 1815. On October 15th the Union hosted a dinner in honor of Radhanath Swami with prominent members of the Indian Cambridge Cultural Association as well as academics and leaders from the Cambridge University Faith Forum.
Later, an audience of 125 gathered to hear Radhanath Swami give an address in the Cambridge Union Historic Chamber, which has previously hosted speakers such as US Presidents Ronald Reagan and Theodore Roosevelt, Winston Churchill, Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama. Recent speakers include former British Prime Minister John Major, former President of Pakistan Pervez Musharraf, evolutionary biologist Richard Dawkins and Wikileaks founder Julian Assange. Radhanath Swami spoke about how ‘life was much simpler when apples and blackberries were just fruits’, although, he admitted, ‘I did write the whole of my book on an Apple computer.’
He shared an observation that he made while walking through the Muir forest north of San Francisco, populated by some of the worlds oldest redwood trees. Overhearing a forest guide speaking to tourists, he understood that though the trees appeared to be standing upright on their own strength, their real stability and nourishment came from the fact that below the ground, the roots of every tree are deeply interconnected. He underlined how important this principle is for society, connecting it with the teaching of the Bhagavad Gita that the truly wise see all beings with equal vision.
Radhanath Swami quoted his teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who said that philosophy and religion have no value unless they create good character. His speech concluded with a hearty round of applause and was followed by several thoughtful questions from the audience. One audience member questioned how Bhakti-yoga fits into the more commonly found interest in hatha yoga, and Swami answered that ‘the goal of yoga is to put our consciousness in harmony, and Bhakti is a culmination of this aim’.
Cambridge Union Speakers Officer, Anna Stansbury reported very enthusiastic feedback from attendees after the event, and Janet Soskice, a Cambridge Theology and Philosophy Lecturer said, ‘It was a very enjoyable evening and good to hear someone addressing such important themes. I am only a few years younger than Swami and I could relate to many of his experiences, though my own were a bit less adventurous! I am also struck by the similarities in some of the Swami’s experiences and those of St. Augustine, sixteen centuries earlier, as he followed his way.’
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