MBE: Mr. Swami can you please start off by telling us about your childhood before you moved to Canada.
Swami: I was born into a middle class Hindu priest family in Sri Lanka and spent my childhood studying to become a priest. From a young age I had a desire to build temples and help my community. I have always believed that a good connection with religion, be it any religion, helps a person in every aspect of life including business and prosperity. At the age of 20 I completed all the studies required to be a priest.
MBE: When you reached Canada how did you feel you could help the Hindu and Sri Lankan community in Canada?
Swami: At the time they were very few Hindu Priests from Sri Lanka in Canada but they were many immigrant families. Therefore I started helping the community with various occasions such as weddings, funerals, house ceremonies and the birth of new born children. One of the things I pushed for the most was the building of temple made specially for Hindus from the southern part of India and Sri Lanka.
MBE: How were you able to gather the required funds to build such a temple?
Swami: At first no one was willing to help out because of my language barrier. I went to other communities apart from my own and then eventually I was able to find people who were willing to donate to the cause. With the help of these people we were able to build a temple where people could come and practice the Hindu religion. At the time there were 10 temples for Hindus from the northern part of India but they was only 1 temple for Hindus from the South of India and Sri Lanka which practiced the same kind of Hinduism. There was a desperate need for more temples for these people.
MBE: What do you believe are the common mistakes immigrants coming from this part of the Asia make when they arrive in Canada and how were you able to advise these immigrants?
Swami: The biggest mistakes and difficulties immigrants face when they arrive in Canada is integrating into western society. Even the leaders of the community some time do not do enough to help these immigrants integrate into society. I took a personal initiative to give lectures every Friday to my community in which I not only preached about religion but I also spoke about how immigrants could integrate into Canadian society. The most important advice I gave to new immigrants was to learn English because it was integral in living in Canada. I also set up classes for immigrants to learn English.
MBE: What was a culture shock you personally faced in your early years in Canada?
Swami: As I mentioned earlier they major setbacks I faced were with food and language barrier. As the years have gone on I have learnt to speak English and adjusted my diet so that I can eat properly here also.
MBE: What problems do you face running a Hindu Temple in Canada and what help do you get from the Government?
Swami: The biggest problem in running a Hindu temple is that in the HIndu religion there is no fixed congregation so therefore a Hindu can go to one temple one week and a different temple the next week. Because of this we do not have a fixed in flow of donations and some months we receive good donations and other months we do not. The only help we have received from the government is that it allows tax relief for those who donate towards the temple.
MBE: Can you please tell us a specific instance where your temple was able to help your community.
Swami: When the Tsunami struck Sri Lanka in 2007 many Sri Lankan's living in Canada had lost friends and family back home. The temple not only helped council these immigrants through this difficult time but we were also able to collect a lot of donations to send to the affected parts in Sri Lanka. The temple was also to help other communities for example the Turkish community that was affected by the severe earthquake that took place in Turkey. Once again we were able to raise funds for those that were affected by this disaster.
MBE: How do you spend your personal time apart from helping other people?.
Swami: I like spending my free time reading books and watching TV dramas. Apart from that I like spending time with family and two sons. I have given my children the freedom to chose whichever path they want in life. This means if they do not want to become priests they do not have to.
MBE: Any last message for the readers of our MBE Business Magazine?
Swami: An important message for the immigrants of Canada especially that is that it is vital for you to contribute to the society in which you live. Contribution means culturally and economically. As a gratitude for the Country that has given you a home and has now become your mother land you must do whatever you can to give back to the country and community.