ISKCON Introduces Corporate Spirituality in Cape Town
By Sri Radharamana dasa
If money is the means, then what is the goal? Over 2,300 people around the world tuned in Live where 200 selected local industrialists and leaders gathered in the heart of Cape Town to hear from an ISKCON Swami and celebrity banker on this topic.
With admission by invite-only, individuals considered cream-of-the-crop in the South African white community made up 80% of the gathering. The Provincial Minister of Economic Opportunities in the Cape Town government, Mr Alan Winde, joined the assembly along with his wife. His Excellency Mr Puneet Kundal, the High Commissioner of India in Cape Town also graced the occasion.
Initially developed as a supply station for Dutch ships sailing to East Africa, India, and the Far East, Cape Town quickly outgrew its original purpose becoming the economic and cultural hub of South Africa. Celebrated as the World Design Capital for 2014, Cape Town was also named the best place in the world to visit by both the American New York Times and the British Daily Telegraph.
Amidst such heights of economic development and opulence, His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami personally gave the vision for the event and championed the message of Srila Prabhupada to encourage the leaders of Cape Town towards spiritual growth.
Close to the famous balcony at City Hall where Nelson Mandela delivered his first speech after 27 years imprisonment, a dynamic interview was conducted by Surinder Shandilya who leads a programme of Corporate Spirituality events based on Vedic wisdom in the UK. The host of the event, Mr Ragavan Moonsamy, one of South Africa’s lead entrepreneurs, set the scene of the event through the opening speech. Highlighting the gap of spirituality in society, he explained: “We are preoccupied with making lots of money – only to become alone; we build huge mansions – only for them to become empty. If we invest in good relationships then you will never be lonely. Despite a planet occupied by 7 billion, people are still lonely because they fail to build good relationships.” The forthcoming event was set to discuss how to build spiritual relationships and ultimately a relationship with God. Comparing past attitudes with the current, the host expressed: “When we were growing up we would find people fixing an iron or toaster. But now we live in a disposable world where everything is thrown away; we fix nothing! In the future we will also be disposable; our children will throw us away. If we want to save ourselves in the future we need to change our behaviour. How do we re-orientate these relationships and how do we re-prioritise these relationships? Tonight’s event is to bathe in the blossom of good wisdom so that we can reflect upon our own decisions, behaviour and how we can do things better.”
To provide a commercial view couched in extraordinary corporate life achievements, Mr Zed Cama travelled in from London to join the panel. Mr Cama started his banking career in 1967 and joined HSBC Bank in 1968. He was CEO of HSBC India in 1999 becoming the first Indian to head the Group’s operations. He was appointed a Group General Manager and moved to Malaysia as Deputy Chairman and CEO in 2002 – the first Asian to hold this position. In 2009, he led the Continental European business comprising 19 countries. He retired in 2011 after 44 years service but continues as a Non-Executive Director of HSBC Private Bank amongst many other corporations.
Apart from being the first Indian in his generation to hold top Bank positions, our first panellist pioneered the way for next generation leaders from Indian origin. The interview discovered that at the heart of his success reigned lifelong humility, tolerance, sacrifice for others, trust in God and putting society and the institution above his own personal gain. His dedication to religiosity extends beyond his own faith to help others and innumerable charities to make a substantial difference in this world; a few years ago this included his authorisation of enabling an exquisitely ornate HSBC bank building in UK to become an ISKCON temple. Through the example of the first panellist, guests learned about the importance of ethical values and principles to develop a successful career by putting others and society first. Mr Cama explained: “If I did well and did it in the right way it will have a very beneficial effect on others aspiring to do the same thing. It was not easy to get that feeling through the system. The example set needs to be beneficial to others. Be successful by being selfless.”
To provide the spiritual perspective on the topic His Holiness Bhakti Charu Swami presented the Vedic philosophy on commerce but complete with its path to spirituality. His Holiness explained that money plays an important role in society but as a medium of exchange, and that too only on the gross material plane. However, history has shown that wealth has been transitioning from gross forms into subtler forms to meet universal needs. Over time wealth has moved from precious metals to currencies, coins, notes, credit cards and now cyber space via. internet banking. If we follow this syllogism then we arrive at the concept of piety; which according to the Vedic literatures is the most subtlest form of wealth generated by good deeds. Cultivation of piety is the very reason why some people have to dedicate vast amounts of effort, while others much less, to access riches. “That is why the Vedic wisdom advises us to act in a right way since wrong actions lead us to suffering.” Having detailed the direct link between gross wealth and piety as a driver, His Holiness challenged the status quo of “success.” In presenting the natural inclination of the living entity to connect with God, His Holiness discussed why it is possible to possess large sums of money and still not be fully satisfied. For those in doubt of the existence of the soul, His Holiness paraphrased systematic evidence in the Vedic literatures used as evidence and reason.
In order to define the material and arrive at the spiritual, His Holiness provided a detailed scriptural description based on the Sankhya philosophy and Shrimad Bhagavatam. His Holiness explained that work should be done with an awareness of the supreme father, who happens to be the most benevolent well-wisher of every individual. Residing in our hearts, God is always concerned about our welfare and stays with us just like a father does for the child. In the ethical context of work, it is important to serve God through ones’ efforts. In doing so, an awareness of His existence allows one to be empowered to righteous conduct. “When we develop that awareness then the quality of our life changes and creates the proper peaceful and prosperous environment.”
His Holiness added: “When you know that someone is watching you then you cannot act wrongly. In reality there is a personality who is watching us and accordingly He is managing our future. That personality is situated in everyone’s heart and is the supreme person.”
Having detailed the way in which work can be dovetailed to include and serve God, His Holiness explained the importance to not lose focus on transcending the material and arriving at the spiritual. He explained that as parts and parcels of the Lord, the goal of life is to re-establish a relationship with God. Surrendering to God allows one to not worry about worldly responsibilities and makes space for God to be the guide.
While values and righteous principles are essential means to ethical success, inclusion of spiritual wisdom provides a vision and power that is not possible through human endeavours. That spiritual consciousness allows one to be more effective since the living entity has a responsibility which also goes beyond our duties in the material world. Another consideration is to accept that since the living entity cannot remain in a material body for more than a few generations, the only way to truly leave a legacy that benefits mankind for multiple generations is to embed consciousness and devotion of God in society. In that way, future generations can continue to resolve the problems of this world even after a leader departs from their body. Therefore, if one wants to be truly successful in their career and make a difference, then one needs to learn how to install God consciousness in the centre of everything and share that experience of the science of God with others.
In discussing the relationship between Religion & Spirituality, His Holiness explained that understanding of the spirit soul is spirituality. Physics is the means to understand energy just like mathematics exists to understand numbers. Similarly, religion is the science to understand spirituality in its pure form. His Holiness went on to explain how unfortunately, religion has degenerated into the ritual state as a faith.“Religion was meant to be a science; religion is meant to be the means to understand the existence of the soul in another reality and ultimately reveal God.”
To explain the goal of money His Holiness explained its correct utility in society, correct conduct to cultivate piety and how to transcend the material so that satisfaction of the self is achieved by cultivating a relationship with God.
His Holiness expressed that anything that is minute and many has an origin. The origin of the spirit soul is the supreme soul and that is God. If we are parts and parcels of God then we must have a relationship. Yoga is the process to connect with God and when one surrenders to the Lord then He picks him up in his loving embrace. Having a relationship with the Lord is the ultimate conclusion. The perfect understanding has been given in this way and that is the essence of religion it is not just faith – it is a science based on proper understanding and explanation.
In expressing his gratitude unto Srila Prabhupada, His Holiness explained how his spiritual master had no money or didn’t know anybody when first arriving in America. “In 10 years time however, Srila Prabhupada spread Krsna Conscious wisdom across the world by establishing 108 temple and today we have 685 temples even after his departure. The wisdom that he gave I consider as the highest thing ever known.”
Hundreds of participants from various backgrounds are now following up on their interests to understand further with the ISKCON Cape Town community.
Here is the link to watch the footage on Facebook: