ISKCON guru and leader Sivarama Swami received the Gold Cross of the Hungarian Republic, the second highest award in the state, during a Diwali celebration this October 20th.
The Diwali Dinner, commemorating the Hindu New Year, was organized by the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. KÃ¡roly Manherz, the Junior Minister for Higher Education and Science, awarded Sivarama Swami with the Gold Cross at the event, saying it was in appreciation of his “charitable, humanitarian and value-creating work.”
Devotees and various dignitaries then sat down for dinner at elegant tables in a large hall with high ceilings, Indian-style arches and dramatic golden lighting. As they ate, they watched a professionally-produced music performance, with flute and violin.
Many Hungarian newspapers and TV stations covered the event. An official explanation of the decoration glowingly detailed Sivarama Swami’s history and notable achievements:
“As a spiritual leader, he participated in the foundation of the Hungarian Society for Krishna-Consciousness in 1989. Since then, he has devoted his tireless work to the organization and development of the spiritual and charitable activities of this church, as well as to the spiritual guidance of its members. Under Sivarama Swami’s leadership, the Society became the fourth most popular and supported religious community among hundreds in Hungary, measured by the allocation by taxpayers of 1% of their personal income tax.
All this bears to the church’s significant service to society under Sivarama Swami’s direction, as well as to his outstanding humane and leadership qualities. It seems appropriate that, on the 20th anniversary of the foundation of the church, the state expresses its appreciation in the form of a state decoration.
Sivarama Swami was born in Budapest in 1949, under the name of Peter Létai. In 1956 his parents emigrated to Canada, where he completed his studies. He joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON) in 1973. Since 1979, he has held a high position as a teacher in the Society. He is a respected member of the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON. For an extended period, he was the spiritual leader of the English community, which has a high representation of Hindu population. During this period, the community became one of the most stable members of the International Society.
He started visiting Hungary occasionally in 1987, initially in disguise because of the restrictions on religious activities that were then in place. By the depth of his knowledge, leadership capabilities and attractive personality, he became the spiritual leader of the forming community of devotees of the ancient faith of Krishna consciousness.
With the transition to democracy, the Hungarian Society for Krishna Consciousness became an officially registered church in 1989. Rapid development followed, both in the number of members and in the scope of activities. Soon the church started the Food For Life vegetarian food distribution program, which has helped to ease the hardship of the homeless, the elderly, the poor and people with large families.
Under Sivarama Swami’s expert guidance, the internationally renowned spiritual books of the ancient Indian tradition, published by A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, were made available to the public in the Hungarian language. These books teach universal humanistic values: they promote non-violence, moderation, charity, and physical and spiritual purity. Their teachings have spread the popularity of a non-violent and healthy vegetarian diet, and have helped many thousands of people to give up bad habits such as drug abuse.
In 1994, next to SomogyvÃ¡mos village, the Indian Cultural Centre and Organic Farm of Krishna Valley was founded. The inhabitants of this eco-village follow the principle of simple living and high thinking, and they are engaged in organic farming and traditional crafts, thus perpetuating many forms of traditional Hungarian farming technologies and small crafts. Much of Sivarama Swami’s energies are devoted to the leadership and development of this exemplary community. During the last fifteen years, Krishna Valley has become a prime destination in Somogy County for domestic and international tourism, with 30,000 visitors coming annually to see the ecologically self-sustaining community based on spiritual principles.
The environmentally conscious operation of the eco-village has attracted the attention of a number of professional and civil organizations involved in environmental protection. The professional conferences organized in October 2008 and 2009, and the subsequent cooperation agreements, concluded with a number of relevant higher education institutions also indicating the importance of this initiative.
Sivarama Swami also initiated the establishment of the Budapest Hare Krishna Temple and Cultural Centre in Csillaghegy, Budapest. The Centre is offering a wide variety of programs not only for devotees of the religion, but also to the Hindu population and the general Hungarian public. In addition, permanent communities exist in Eger, Debrecen, Pécs and Kecskemét, with supporting members also living in many other settlements in Hungary.
One of the ways to mitigate conflicts in our time is fostering the dialogue among various religions. Sivarama Swami is especially active internationally and within our country in such dialogue in the form of round-table discussions, conferences and personal meetings with leaders of other churches. The Swami participates not only in a dialogue with other churches but also in the life of the intellectual community: his church regularly organises fora, symposia, conferences and summer courses in order to enhance the dialogue with representatives of science and public life, to debate social issues, and to develop cooperation.
He is a frequent guest of the media as a spiritual master representing an oriental religion, and is the subject of a biographical film by Hungarian television’s Studio for Religious Programs.
Sivarama Swami also initiated the founding of Bhaktivedanta College, HSKCON’s institute for higher education. Also acknowledged by the state, it is training hundreds of students in day and correspondence courses. Sivarama Swami serves as one of its professors.
He is also active as a writer. He devotes a significant portion of his time to writing works of philosophy, morality and theology, as well as novels which give an aesthetic experience and spiritual inspiration to many.
More than a dozen webpages publish the activities of the supporting members and monks of the Society. These can be accessed through the www.krisna.hu address, which is the official site of the Church.
In spite of his erudition and high position, Sivarama Swami is renowned among disciples, admirers and friends for doing his service with deep humility. His deeds radiate compassion, love and self-sacrifice. Besides his official duties, he devotes a considerable amount of his time to solve the personal problems of those who ask for his assistance.
He is due much of the credit for the fact that, from the mere hundred people at foundation, the Krishna-church has become a community with tens of thousands of supporters during the twenty years of its operation.
State decorations are regulated by Para. 1 of the Act No. XXXI. of 1991.
According to this Act, the Republic of Hungary highly appreciates extraordinary and exemplary activities exerted to help the development of the country, to promote the interests of the same, and to enhance unversal humanity. To appreciate such activities, the Cross of Merit of the Hungarian Republic is founded, which is awarded, on recommendation by the appropriate Ministry, by the President of the Republic.”
View photos of the event here.