A world-renowned speaker and social activist spoke at Northwestern on Tuesday and discussed how his experiences shaped his view of the role of different leaders in society.


The event, called ‘The Power to Lead,” featured Radhanath Swami and drew a crowd of about 150 individuals to Harris Hall. It was co-sponsored by several student groups including the Bhakti Yoga society, Engineers for a Sustainable World, Wild Roots, NCDC, Interfaith Advocates, among others.

Radhanath Swami began his talk through discussing how the choices he made throughout his life affected his spiritual decisions. Radhanath Swami left his hometown of Highland Park, Illinois at age 19, when he traveled to Europe to spend a semester abroad. At the end of this experience, he said he was drawn to India, where, after several years of living in the Himalayan forests, he adopted a Hindu and Buddhist theology called Bhakti yoga. A few years later, he took monastic vows.

Radhanath Swami attributes his decision to become a monk to his childhood experiences, pointing to his parents and uncle as role models. He said when he was growing up, his family often experienced economic hardships, followed by success.

“Either way, (my father) would regularly say to his children, ‘What really matters is our love for each other,’” he said, “’We work for money because we have to.’”

During his talk, Radhanath Swami stressed the importance of the inherent goodness in each person and the change that individuals can make in their societies. He illustrated this by recounting the story of an older woman he heard speak at an International Woman’s Day event in India last year.

He said the woman frequently was punished for abandoning her chores to sneak off to school during her childhood. After she got married, she was brutally beaten by her husband when another man claimed she had been unfaithful.

From that point on, she was homeless and fell into depression, contemplating suicide. During a suicide attempt, she heard an older man’s cry for help. In response, she chose to respond to the man and from then on, devoted her life to serving others.

Radhanath Swami recounted the woman saying, “My life was full of thorns, but I made friends with those thorns, and my life became beautiful.”

She went on to found an orphanage and took in more than 1,500 children, referring to each of them as her child.

“People will not love you for what you achieve,” Radhanath Swami said, “People love people because of their values, their compassion, their love.”

Evanston Mayor Elizabeth Tisdahl, Highland Park Mayor Nancy Rotering and SESP Prof. John Kretzmann also spoke at the event.

Mayor Tisdahl explained that she was asked to speak at the event several months ago and when the organizers reached out to her, she was struck by their passion. She attributed this to the power of Radhanath Swami’s teachings.

“To inspire that kind of excitement and pure joy in these young people is just as important as everything else,” she said.

Weinberg junior Erik Linnell, who is involved in Bhakti yoga, said Radhanath Swami’s ideas on the importance of compassion in leaders struck him the most.

“Leadership is basically compassion for other people,” he said. “The main image of leadership that’s talked about today is that of a very egocentric version, the one person who must be in control of everything, when really it’s having compassion for others and, as he said, seeing potential in others.”

During the conclusion of his speech, Radhanath Swami used a metaphor of two dogs, one good and one bad, both trying to get a person’s attention in an effort to highlight that individuals have free will to make their own decisions but can be influenced by leaders in one’s community.

“Leaders of society are required to help and nourish the good dog in others,” he said, “If we are able to see the good dog in ourselves, we can help others see.”

(This article originally appeared in The Daily Northwestern)

Join the Conversation


  1. What an amazing viewpoint to understand what leadership is – “Leadership is basically compassion for other people,”. Thank you very much for posting.

  2. Wonderful dimension to what leadership is all about. It’s about being compassionate and helping others not being egocentric and trying to be in control in all circumstances! Radhanath Swami has explained the point so well about the responsibility of leaders by using the analogy of the good and bad dog and how they should feed the good dog.

  3. Thank you very much for nourshing good dog in me. It will surely help to starve bad dog in me.

  4. Wonderful points! Leadership is indeed a path of compassion ; of endless sacrifices , to ensure that legacy left behind is worthy for world to take guidance ftom

  5. True leadership can create heaven whereas bad leaders can lead to hell. HH Radahanath Swami points out the correct meaning of leadership and way to lead. I have seen HH Radhanath Swami and his disciples. Being a leader of spiritual organization, he has not only change the life of people but inspired thousands of people to lead and percolate his teachings. Now you can visit the projects inspired by H H Radhanath Swami and you can learn that how efficient leader he is. He simply teaches to lead by love and care for followers or colleagues.

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