Penn students’ idea of success was challenged late Wednesday night in Houston Hall.
Penn’s Bhakti Yoga Club hosted world-traveling monk Devamrita Swami, who spoke about wisdom in today’s world and the various ways students perceive what defines success.
“You can pursue success in the outer way,” he said, “which is what the media presents — fame, fortune and social status.”
Swami said that internal success, however, comes from a deep knowledge of oneself.
“I know how to be the master of the mind and senses, and that is the first necessity for real success in life,” he said.
For over 40 years, Swami has been traveling the world, sharing his inner wisdom. He discovered the Bhagavad Gita, a scripture of the wisdom of ancient India, and has served as a monk in the Krishna Bhakti tradition since 1982, after graduating from Yale University in 1972.
“I was looking for the solution to all human problems,” he said. “And after four years of studying [at Yale], I realized there’s no material solution to human material problems, so I began to look on another level.”
Swami said students often strive for external success in competition with those around them.
“There’s fear that if you stumble and fall, it will be horrible,” he said. “All the runners behind you will trample on you and get ahead. You’ll fall back behind the pack.”
Swami compares this pursuit of success to climbing a symbolic ladder. The top rung — the peak of external success — is “quite lonely” and “actually not so satisfying.”
Next, he described how people climb a symbolic ladder in pursuit of success, only to be disappointed by the outcome.
Devamrita Swami’s description of this pursuit of external success hit close to home for many Penn students, who can relate to a culture driven by competition and ambition.
“I feel like Penn students associate themselves with their success,” club leader and College sophomore Rishabh Kumar said. “Everyone here is competing to be at the top of the ladder.”
Mangal-Arti Devi Dasi, who leads weekly meditation sessions for Penn’s Bhakti Yoga Club and who helped organize the event, said she believes that speakers like Devamrita Swami are important for Penn’s community.
“There are all kinds of departments here for neuroscience and psychology and mathematics,” she said. “But there’s not so much, even in the best institutes in the world, that teaches you about how to deal with life. Those kinds of things you’re left to do on your own.”