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Sivarama Swami is an internationally acknowledged religious leader, theologian, author of 23 books and dozens of articles, and an environmental and human rights activist.
He was born in 1949 in Budapest, Hungary, to Pal and Magda, survivors of the Holocaust. His family’s trauma has largely contributed to Sivarama Swami’s sensitivity to human rights issues throughout his life.
In 1956, after the failed Hungarian revolution, he and his family migrated to Canada. He studied engineering at McGill University in Montreal, but shortly before graduation turned his interest towards Eastern philosophy and religion.
In 1973 he joined the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON), a dynamic organisation representing Vaishnavism, and became a disciple of ISKCON’s Founder-Acharya, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. Six years later, at age 29, he entered a life of renunciation and was awarded the order of sannyasa (celibate monk). In 1987 he was ordained as an initiating spiritual master in the Vaishnava denomination.
Sivarama Swami has served his spiritual master’s mission by opening and managing temples and communities in Canada, USA, UK, Ireland, Hungary, Romania, and Turkey, while also serving as a member of ISKCON’s international Governing Body Commission since 1986.
In the late 1980’s, he began to visit and teach in his native Soviet-dominated Hungary. Incognito, and despite continued harassment from communist police, he helped lead a group of young ISKCON devotees through the country’s transition to democracy, and in turn, was instrumental in guiding devotees in changing Parliamentary legislation against religion.
Despite these changes, however, basic democratic norms in Eastern Europe still were not to be taken for granted. In the ensuing 25 years, Sivarama Swami led several international campaigns against religious and minority discrimination, helping communities of various denominations achieve recognition and freedom in Europe.
Under his leadership, from its beginnings as a persecuted group, ISKCON Hungary has become the fourth largest and most revered religious organisation in the country. In addition to its religious mission, ISKCON Hungary is now maintaining a state-accredited theological college in Budapest; running Krishna Valley Indian Cultural Centre and Organic Farm, at 650-acres one of the largest organic, self-sufficient, and environment-friendly farms in Europe; and is involved in extensive charity work, providing thousands of underprivileged families and children with hot meals and other necessities on a daily basis.
Krishna Valley is not only a residence for Vaishnava monks and families, but is also a tourist attraction with an average of 30,000 visitors a year. Krishna Valley is part of the Global Eco-villages network and is affiliated with Hungarian universities teaching environmental, social, and economic sustainability.
Sivarama Swami has also helped run international humanitarian campaigns, including a charity program feeding thousands of tsunami victims daily in Sri Lanka in 2005, and providing meals for earthquake victims in Haiti in 2010.
His scholarship and writings, his extensive public activities, his continued efforts to stand up for human rights, and his regular involvement in interfaith dialogues have made Sivarama Swami one of the most prominent religious leaders in Europe. He has been invited to speak at several high-level international conferences, including the Parliament of World Religions in Barcelona (2004), and the European Religious Leaders meeting, where he was involved in discussions on the elmination of poverty and social exclusion led by Messrs. Barrosso, Van Rompuy and Buzek at the European Commission’s headquarters (2010).
In 2009, for his outstanding charitable and humanitarian work, Sivarama Swami was awarded the Gold Cross of Merit of the Hungarian Republic, the second most prestigious award in the Republic of Hungary.