On November 11, 2013, HSBC celebrated its third annual Diwali Festival at the Global Headquarters in Canary Wharf, London. His Holiness Radhanath Swami was requested to deliver the keynote speech. 500 bankers attended the event, and only the limited seating hindered hundreds more employees from also participating.
Radhanath Swami spoke about the festival of Diwali in India, how every home puts little lamps in windows and on rooftops during the night. “The spirit of the festival is how light conquers darkness, how love conquers hate, how compassion conquers selfishness, how forgiveness and humility conquer arrogance, and how selfless sharing gives deep fulfillment in our lives.”
Radhanath Swami introduced the topic of wealth, highlighting that it can have a divine purpose if used with a spirit of compassion and love. Sharing the principles of his own tradition of bhakti yoga, he spoke of the potential sacredness of all different types of energy when used in service. He provided the example of fire, the crucial element that digests food, gives energy through the sun, dispels darkness, cooks our food and keeps us warm. However, if a person is careless, fire can also have destructive powers – just like wealth. “The beautiful things in life, if used properly, can be beneficial to ourselves. But when improperly used they bring sadness and difficulty.”
Weaving together the occasion of Diwali and the topic of wealth, Radhanath Swami explained that the Diwali festival is based on a great spiritual epic, the Ramayana, which tells the story of Sita and Rama. “Sita, the consort of Lord Rama, was described as the mother of all living beings,” Radhanath Swami explained. “As a mother, she nourishes all wealth, fortune, the earth and the environment. To understand that all these are sacred gifts, which also include health and intelligence, and to use them accordingly in our lifestyles – in banking, business, politics or wherever it may be – this becomes yoga, a path of spiritual enlightenment.”
Sita was the consort of Rama, who symbolizes the highest virtues. For the purpose of honor, integrity and defending his family, Rama accepted exile to the forest for 14 years, willingly leaving behind all of life’s comforts to uphold these higher principles. Ravana, on the other hand, who was so immensely powerful and wealthy, had envy and selfishness breeding in his heart. Ravana felt he had the right to do anything he wanted for his own purposes. As a result, Ravana kidnapped Sita. Radhanath Swami explained that on this path of unrighteousness, by mistreating wealth personified, Ravana lost everything. “The principle of the Ramayana is that these two forces are with us, the divine and selfish natures. Real values are developed in overcoming these selfish and arrogant tendencies for the higher purpose of seva, or serving humanity and God.”
Quoting the Brahma-sutra (1.1.12), which states ‘ananda-mayo ‘bhyasat,’ Radhanath Swami explained how every living being seeks fulfillment, and that true fulfillment is to love and be loved. While worldly things give temporary satisfaction to the mind and senses, only love can satisfy the heart. The real problem in this world he detailed as a hunger of the heart, which exists even in the wealthiest people globally. “The origin of that love is between the true self and Supreme, whom we call Krishna, or God, in Sanskrit.” Citing examples of global traditions, he showed how key people in ancient times made sacrifices for higher purposes.
Radhanath Swami explained that to appreciate the sacredness of wealth, one needs to appreciate the sacredness of life. This is done by identifying and appreciating that we are all part of the same creator. Whatever our religion, nationality, status or beliefs, we are all family. Real fulfillment in life is, therefore, found in what we do for each other. This is the essence of human values and all spiritual paths. “In my tradition, Lord Caitanya, the great avatara (incarnation) of Krishna who appeared just over 500 years ago, spoke about prema dhana – how the highest wealth is love. When we awaken that love for God and direct our loving service to Him, it extends to all living beings… just as when one waters the root of a tree, the water extends to all the branches and leaves. When the atma, the living force within us, connects to that love, we find a wealth that even time cannot take away.”
“What is the legacy that individually, as a family, and as a society we are going to give to the next generation? Our values and, more than anything else, our character is what will influence our children and grandchildren to lead meaningful lives. It’s not how much money we have that is important, but our love for each other.”
“People who have much are in a position to do such great sacred services for the whole world. Human evolution lies not just in our science and technology, but is found when, individually and collectively, we move from the “need to get” to the joy of giving. I know many people, some of whom are sitting right in this room, who work as hard as anybody I have even seen. And in their occupations and by their creative genius they really have accumulated a lot. But their motivation is to serve God and to serve society, and what they are doing is phenomenal in making a serious difference in people’s lives. That potential is within all of us. When we have a foundation of inner peace and inner values it gives power to whatever we do. When we learn that every word we speak and every act we engage in is an investment internally, then we really take responsibility.”