|Other names||Peter Létai|
|Other names||Peter Létai|
|Initiation||Diksa – 1973 Sannyasa – 1979|
|Post||ISKCON Guru, Sannyasi, Member of the Governing Body Commission|
Śivarāma Swāmī (born as Péter Létai on 30 March 1949, Budapest, Hungary) is a bhakti-yogī monk, spiritual guide, and a religious leader for the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). He is an author of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava theology and an international speaker on morality based on the wisdom of ancient Vedic scriptures.
Śivarāma Swāmī was born in Budapest in a Jewish middle-class family to Holocaust survivor parents. His mother, Magda Létai, worked at UVATERV, a road and railway constructing company as a department supervisor. His father, Pál Létai, was a textile chemist. Although they raised their son protectively and conservatively, they did not introduce him to religious teachings. In December 1956, after his first year of primary school in Hungary, his family emigrated to Canada during the failed 1956 Hungarian revolution. In Montreal he continued his primary education and was introduced to religion at the Hungarian Protestant church he attended on Sundays. As a child he loved to read, and wrote many poems and stories. In 1966, inspired by his parents—especially his mother—Péter Létai was accepted by McGill University in Montreal, where he studied metallurgical engineering. Due to his conservative upbringing, he was taken aback by the behavior of students and teachers alike, and felt that real values and character training were lacking. Education was focused only on getting a career and enjoying the world. His disappointment made him open to alternative ways of thinking. In 1967, he first saw members of ISKCON, representatives of the Indian bhakti tradition, chanting and dancing at the university campus and at the Montreal World’s Fair.
He married in 1969, and his wife awoke his interest to alternative lifestyles, specifically all things Indian. They both became vegetarians committed to a non-violent lifestyle. He spent the summer of 1970 in Boulder, Colorado, working at a pilot mill, and while trying out vegetarian eating options he visited a Hare Kṛṣṇa temple for the first time. Due to his interest in spiritualism and counterculture, on his way back to Montreal he visited Haight-Ashbury but did not find the standard of dress, culture, or character of hippies attractive. Having lost interest in his studies and career, he attended public programs held by the young Guru Maharaji, but was left unimpressed by his presentations. He did, however, become interested in the ancient wisdom of the Bhagavad Gita, a book mentioned by every text on Indian mysticism.
Disappointed in materialistic education, in 1971, during his 5th year of studies, he left McGill and traveled to Miami to distance himself from his concerned family. He acquired a copy of Bhagavad-gītā As It Is and Kṛṣṇa written by A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī, Founder-Ācārya of ISKCON, and reading his commentaries made the ancient wisdom of India relevant and applicable. He planned to meet the author and accept him as his spiritual guide, something that was not to be for some years still. In 1972, back in Montreal, he and his wife became regular guests at the ISKCON centre and started to follow the spiritual practices and lifestyle of Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇavas. The association of Vaiṣṇavas, spiritual practices and the study of books led to a desire to go beyond being a believer to being an active member. He wanted to dedicate his whole life to spreading knowledge of spirituality and God consciousness by giving up family life and living as a celibate monk.
In April 1973, at the age of 24, he joined the Montreal Hare Kṛṣṇa temple as a full-time monk. He shaved his long hair and started to dedicate himself to the budding spiritual movement led by A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī. He led a simple life: rising early, attending temple programs, meditating, studying, and distributing A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī’s books on the streets of Montreal. In June 1973 he received initiation and the spiritual name Śivarāma Dāsa from A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī. Due to his leadership abilities he was given responsibility to oversee the team of book distributors and later become temple president in Montreal, Winnipeg, Minneapolis, and Chicago. Responsibilities included managing the temples, educating and guiding ISKCON members, and presenting Kṛṣṇa consciousness to the general public. Following the death of A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī in 1977, Śivarāma Dāsa accepted the renounced order of life, sannyāsa, in 1979, at the age of 29, and became Śivarāma Swāmī. In 1980 he was transferred to the United Kingdom and became the president of Chaitanya College, a Hare Kṛṣṇa Community in Worcester, as well as the national leader for distributing the books of A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī. He served in the UK for 25 years. In 1987, Śivarāma Swāmī became a member of the Governing Body Commission (GBC), the managerial and spiritual authority of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, and was given responsibility for the UK and Ireland. In the same year he accepted the duties of initiating spiritual master, taking further responsibility to guide disciples in a God-centered life.
Activities in Hungary
Being of Hungarian origin and speaking the language, the GBC requested Śivarāma Swāmī in 1987 to take responsibility for ISKCON’s mission in Hungary. He started to regularly visit Budapest, but due to the repressive communist environment, he would travel undercover as a painting importer, abandoning his monk attire for civil clothes and a wig. During his visits he spoke to interested people at their homes and gradually built a small community of serious practitioners. Hungary’s transition from communism to democracy opened the gates to religious freedom, and in 1989 the Hungarian branch of ISKCON became a legally incorporated religious organization called the Hungarian Society of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness. In 1990, the first Hare Kṛṣṇa Temple was opened in Budapest, and with the arrival of serious Hungarian students Śivarāma Swami began initiating disciples. In the pioneer phase of preaching, Śivarāma Swāmī emphasised and inspired the translation, publication, and distribution of the sacred books of the Gauḍīya Vaiṣṇava tradition, translated and commented upon by A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī. He also inaugurated the Hungarian section of ISKCON’s international food relief program called Food for Life, opened vegetarian restaurants throughout the country, and initiated the Ratha-yātrā chariot festival in Budapest.
From 1991, to 1995, Śivarāma Swami organised the national tour of an Indian cultural festival, attracting the attention of Hungarians and making ISKCON widely known. Being a visionary and dedicated to the teachings of his spiritual master, he began work on a spiritual farming community. This project was based upon a God-centered life that embraced the principles of self sufficiency, environmental consciousness, dependence on the land, and the protection and caring for cows. It was also designed to provide a natural home and school for the society’s children. With 250 members and growing, this project, known as Krishna Valley, is currently the largest and most well organised ecological community in central Europe. Over thirty-thousand tourists visit Krishna Valley yearly, the biggest annual weekend festival being the Krishna Valley Fair (Búcsú), which attracts nearly ten thousand guests. The motto of Krishna Valley, coined by A. C. Bhaktivedānta Swāmī, is ‟simple living, high thinking."
Śivarāma Swāmī is also the architect of transforming Krishna Valley into an international place of pilgrimage creating landscaping, lakes, memorials, pavilions, and gardens to remind residents and visitors of Krishna’s birthplace in India, thus enriching the farm’s unique atmosphere.
Śivarāma Swāmī is an advocate of spiritual education. To enable the systematic presentation of Vaiṣṇava philosophy, in 1998 he inspired the founding of the Bhaktivedanta Cultural and Academic Institute in Budapest, which in 2003 became Bhaktivedanta College. The college is ISKCON Hungary’s institute for higher education and the first independent accredited College of ISKCON that offers government accredited degrees in Vaiṣṇava theology and Yoga master.
Śivarāma Swāmī engaged in several legal and political skirmishes to defend freedom of religion in Hungary as well as the legal status of the Kṛṣṇa consciousness movement there. Under his leadership and based upon the 1% tax offerings to religions by the public, ISKCON Hungary has been rated as the 4th most popular Church in the country.
In June 2003, Śivarāma Swāmī resigned as GBC representative for UK & Ireland and focused his attention fully on developing the Hungarian community. In 2005 he became co-GBC for Romania and in 2007 GBC secretary for Turkey. He travels these countries to expand ISKCON’s activities in keeping with political and religious restrictions. Today Śivarāma Swāmī travels regularly between India and the West, inspiring thousands in their spiritual practices and sharing the teachings of bhakti-yoga. During his travels he regularly meets academics, public officials, and political leaders to discuss social, environmental, and economical problems in light of India’s ancient spiritual wisdom. He is also an active speaker in interfaith dialogues and a member of the European Council of Religious Leaders.
On 20 October 2009, Śivarāma Swāmī received the Gold Cross of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, the second highest award in the state at the Museum of Applied Arts in Budapest. He was awarded this recognition by Károly Manherz, the State Secretary for Higher Education and Science, "in appreciation of his philanthropic and humanitarian work, and for his outstanding exemplary activities in enriching universal human values."
Śivarāma Swāmī is well known for his deep knowledge of Vaiṣṇava scriptures, reflected through his lectures, seminars, and personal guidance to the thousands of people he meets annually through his travels. His childhood affinity for writing resurfaced in a desire to present Vaiṣṇava theology and culture in a form more lasting than occasional talks. His first work, The Bhaktivedanta Purports, published in 1998, responded to academic criticism of the Bhagavad-gītā commentaries of his spiritual master. In the same year he began the Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series, books that are based on the 10th Canto of the Śrīmad-Bhāgavatam, five volumes of which have been published so far. In total he has written twenty-two volumes on the philosophy and theology of Kṛṣṇa consciousness, the most voluminous being Nava-vraja-mahimā, a nine-volume treatise on the sacred land of Kṛṣṇa’s expansive Vraja district through the Vaiṣṇava perspective of pastime, pilgrimage, and philosophy. He is currently working on an extended series on social development in his Varṇāśrama Compendium handbooks. His works have been translated into Hungarian, Russian, and Spanish.
Śivarāma Swāmī lives as a traveling monk, with no personal possessions or permanent home. He is a strict vegetarian, taking dairy produce only where the milk comes from protected and nurtured cows. He likes to spend time in Krishna Valley’s natural environment and in Māyāpur, ISKCON’s spiritual capital in West Bengal. He performs daily mantra meditation, worship, kīrtana, scriptural study, and writing.
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Bhaktivedanta Purports. Perfect Explanation of the Bhagavad-gītā. Badger: Torchlight Publishing, 1998. ISBN 1-887089-12-8
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Veṇu-gītā. The Song of the Flute. Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series Vol. 1. Budapest: Bhaktivedanta Intézet, 1998. ISBN 963-03-6988-5
- Śivarāma Swāmī. The Śikṣā-guru. Implementing Tradition within ISKCON. Budapest: Bhaktivedanta Intézet, 1999. ISBN 963-03-6988-5
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Na Pāraye ‘Ham. I Am Unable to Repay You. Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series Vol. 2. Budapest: Bhaktivedanta Intézet, 2000. ISBN 963-86034-5-3
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Śikṣā Outside ISKCON? Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2002. ISBN 963-86227-1-7
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Kṛṣṇa-saṅgati. Meetings with Kṛṣṇa. Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series Vol. 3. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2004. ISBN 963-214-946-7
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Śuddha-bhakti-cintāmaṇi. The Touchstone of Pure Devotional Service. Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series Introduction. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2006. ISBN 978-963-200-100-5
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Nava-vraja-mahimā. 9 volumes. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2012. ISBN 978-963-89567-0-5
- Śivarāma Swami. Sādhavo Hṛdayaṁ Mahyam. Saints Are My Heart. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2013. ISBN 978-615-80197-3-6
- Śivarāma Swāmī. My Daily Prayers (Collected prayers of Vaiṣṇava teachers). Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2014. ISBN 978-963-89866-5-8
- Śivarāma Swāmī. The Awakening Of Spontaneous Devotional Service. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2015. ISBN 978-615-80197-9-8
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Varṇāśrama Compendium. Part One. The Four Varṇas. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978-615-80331-1-4
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Śrīla Raghunātha dāsa Gosvāmī’s Śrī Vilāpa-kusumāñjali. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978-615-80331-3-8
- Śivarāma Swāmī. Śrī Dāmodara Jananī. Kṛṣṇa in Vṛndāvana series Vol. 4. Budapest: Lāl Publishing, 2016. ISBN 978-615-80331-5-2
- Bryant, Edwin – Ekstrand, Maria: The Hare Krishna Movement: The Postcharismatic Fate of a Religious Transplant. Columbia University Press, 2004.
- Cox, H., Shinn, L.D., Hopkins, T.J., Basham, A.L., & Shrivatsa Goswami: In S. J. Gelberg (Ed.), Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna: Five Distinguished Scholars on the Krishna Movement in the West. New York: Grove Press, 1983.
- Dwyer, Graham – Cole, Richard J. (Editor): The Hare Krishna Movement: Forty Years of Chant and Change. I. B. Tauris, 2007.
- ISKCON Governing Body Commission member profile – Śivarāma Swami Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- See Bibliography.
- www.sivaramaswami.com Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Ravindra Svarūpa Dāsa. Śrīla Prabhupāda: The Founder-Ācārya of ISKCON. ISKCON Revival Movement, 2015.
- Hungarian Society of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Gandharvika Prema Dasi: Food for Life Hungary Lights Up the Holidays for Thousands of Under-privileged Families. Retrieved 28 December 2016.
- Madhava Smullen: Krishna Valley to Host 10th Anniversary of ISKCON Farm Conference. 31 August 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- ISKCON News Staff: New Eco-School Inaugurated In Krishna-valley, Hungary 21 May 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- www.navavrajadhama.hu/en Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- www.bhf.hu Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Govardhana Das: New Building of Budapest’s Bhaktivedanta College Inaugurated. 8 July 2011. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Hungarian Society of Kṛṣṇa Consciousness Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Hungarian National Office for Tax and Customs, 12 May 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- ISKCON News Staff: Sivarama Swami Addresses World Peace Forum 7 October 2017. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Gandharvika Prema Dasi: Dignitaries Celebrate ISKCON50 at Hungarian Gala 23 December 2016. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Vyas, Laxmi: 2nd Hindu Appointed to the European Council of Religious Leaders. 14 May 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- European Religious Leaders Consult on Societies in Transition 14 May 2014. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Heol: Gold Cross of Merit for Leader of Krishna Devotees 29 October 2009. Retrieved 11 January 2018.
- Flood, Gavin. Book Review:The Bhaktivedanta Purports. In: ISKCON Communications Journal 6 (2), 1998. Retrieved 11 January 2018.