Swami Tyagananda on Light—Both External, and Internal

“On Saturday, members of the Hindu faith—including many in our own Roxbury Latin community—began the celebration of Diwali, one of the most popular festivals of Hinduism, which symbolizes the spiritual victory of light over darkness, good over evil, and knowledge over ignorance—virtues to which we can all aspire,” began Headmaster Brennan in virtual Hall on November 17.

The morning’s Hall continued a time-honored RL tradition of recognizing, and celebrating, the particular faith lives of members of our community. Joining the RL students and faculty on November 17 was Swami Tyagananda, who spoke about the tradition and celebration of Diwali, as well as the virtues of spiritual strength and how we might all work toward it. The Swami is a monk of the Ramakrishna Order; he is head of the Vedanta Society in Boston, and he also serves as the Hindu Chaplain at MIT and Harvard. He became a monk in 1976, soon after graduating from the University of Bombay, India. He has presented papers at various academic meetings and offers lectures and classes at the Vedanta Society, MIT and Harvard, and other colleges in and around Boston.

Swami Tyagananda acknowledges routinely that some people in the West find his name unusual. As he explains: “’Swami” is the epithet used for Hindu monks, and the word means master. It points to the ideal of being a master of oneself, or being in control of oneself. The second part of his name was given to him when he received his final monastic vows. “Tyagananda” is a combination of two words, tyâga and ânanda: tyâga means detachment or letting go; ânanda means joy. Taken together, the word means “the joy of detachment.” It points to the ideal of letting go of all the nonessentials in order to focus on and hold on to the essentials.

In Hall, the Swami not only enlightened his audience to the history of the Diwali celebration, and the story of King Rama’s defeat over Ravana; he also reminded us that while the body and mind have limitations—that they can feel weak or strong—the spirit is limitless, and perfect. He spoke about the virtues of focusing on one’s spirit, and sharing that internal light with the world. He also reminded us that while our external markers vary greatly—our genders, skin colors, languages, religions—our spirits are universal, and it is often in learning about this great diversity of the world around us that we can help to understand our own identities and traditions anew. You can view the entirety of the Swami’s Hall presentation here.