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June 16, 2008

Gita Nagari Sri Radha Damodar

Gita Nagari is in Juniata County, where the fertile land has lead to large settlements of agrarian communities like the Amish and Mennonites. In 1976, Srila Prabhupada desired to develop this place to exemplify the principle of “simple living and high thinking” and named this place as Gita Nagari – a village where ideals of Bhagavad Gita are lived.

The Retreat

The theme of the Retreat this year was Shikshastakam verse 3 – cultivating humility, tolerance, simplicity and respect.

Many devotees traveled from far distances to the magical place of Gita Nagari. Just entering the Juniata County, we could feel that we were in a different part of the US. The soothing sights of open lands, deep valleys and hillocks of green trees refreshed us, relieving us of the fatigue from our long travels. As we drove into Gita Nagari farm, curious cows and bulls gazed at us. We went to the rooms where we were put up and were welcomed with sumptuous prasadam. Many devotees had arrived earlier to prepare the place for this 3-day spiritual retreat.

Friday, May 23th 2008

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

In the evening, devotees gathered for the Gaura Aarti (worship of Lord Chaitanya), when we had the first darshan of the beautiful Deities of Sri Sri Radha Damodara, residing on a beautiful altar, with Sri Sri Gaura Nitai on the left and Sri Sri Jagannatha Baladeva Subhadra on the right. The devotion of the residents of Gita Nagari was evident as the pujari offered each article with love and devotion. As the aarti came to an end, our hearts became eager to hear from His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja.

We saw Maharaja enter the temple room, pay his obeisances to Srila Prabhupada and the Deities. The projector was already set up and a beautiful picture of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu captured our attention. Maharaja explained the purports of Shikshastakam verses 1 and 2. He elaborated on the seven glories of chanting the holy name from Verse 1 as follows: the holy name cleanses the dust from the heart, extinguishes the blazing fire of material existence, spreads the rays of benediction moon, is life and source of all education, increases the ocean of happiness, expands the nectar at every step and purifies all souls irrespective of their age, color and even species. He also quoted Devahuti, who said, “Those who sincerely chant the holy name are worshippable.” It was very instructive to learn that every devotee, who is chanting the holy name, is worthy of great respect.

Maharaja then explained that through verse 2 of Shikshastakam, Lord Caitanya is magnifying the mood of humility and regret, when one does not feel taste during chanting. He elaborated that the holy name can render all good fortune; all transcendental energies of Krishna are invested in His holy name; the holy name when chanted purely is Krishna Himself; there are not even any hard and fast rules for chanting; but alas! We have no attraction for chanting the holy name purely. Maharaja said that Shikshastakam verse 3 is the solution for going deep into chanting – to chant with feelings of humility and respect, free from envy and tolerating the phantasmagoria of the material world.

There was a question/answer session at the end and our appreciation of Guru Maharaja grew more on hearing his enlivening answers to different questions. Maharaja stressed on acting from the platform of the soul and called that real humility.

Saturday, May 24th 2008

When we gathered for Mangala Aarti at 4:30 am, we noticed that many more devotees had arrived the previous night and the room was quite full. Singing the samsara dävänala prayers (glorifications of the spiritual master) in front of Sri Sri Radha Damodara, in the presence of Maharaja and in the loving association of devotees, softened our hearts.

After Tulasi Aarti (worship of the divine Tulasi plant), Maharaja enthusiastically welcomed us again to Gita Nagari and made us feel fortunate to be present there by Lord Krishna’s descending mercy. There was a lot of difference in the quality of our chanting the holy name, and especially, the newcomers were immensely touched by the mood of love with which the devotees were endeavoring to call out Krishna’s names during chanting.

Gradually, the room became lit by the soothing morning sunshine and it was time for an ecstatic Guru Puja (worship of Srila Prabhupada). Then, Maharaja enlightened us on Shiksastakam Verse 3, which is the essence of all the teachings of Lord Caitanya. We heard that one should sincerely strive to receive the pure holy name and with great eagerness serve Lord Krishna. One should cultivate purity and unalloyed service attitude, which does not waver due to dualities and always carry thoughts of well-being of others.

In the evening, Maharaja described how to cultivate a deep relationship with the holy name. He said that it is possible when one carries humility in one’s heart, serving the devotees and especially serving the spiritual master without any reservation. One should eagerly take dust of the lotus feet of great souls and place it on one’s head. In the examples of great Vaishnava saints, Srila Narottama däsa Thakura and Ishvara puri, we see how they humbly served their respective spiritual masters and in return they received full mercy of Guru and Krishna.

Chanting and Devotee Relationships

His Grace Krishna Smarana Prabhuji gave a detailed lecture on the relationship between good chanting and good relationship with Vaishnavas. He underscored that we need to have determination to keep trying and begging for the mercy of the saintly souls to serve Krishna and His devotees with love. We read through many verses from Srimad Bhagavatam, which inspired us to always endeavor to please one’s spiritual master, cultivate a soft heart of servitude towards him, submissively hear from him, receive the rare yet ample descending mercy to remove all our misconceptions, responsibly discharge our services and transparently pass on all credits to one’s spiritual master.

We learnt 10 principles that enhance Vaishnava relationships and 10 things that degrade it. After lunch prasadam, there was another 2 hour discourse on how one can perform Kirtaniyah sada harih — always being in a mood of glorifying Lord Krishna.

We heard that we should receive guidance of the spiritual master and his representatives. This guidance is to culture a conducive internal atmosphere of submission, pridelessness, humility, offenseless attitude, so that we can accept the holy name. Internally, we must have good sanga (environ), because whatever is inside comes outside. We should always contemplate on how to fulfill the instructions of the spiritual master. We should have internal accountability – honesty with ourselves, spiritual master and our guides. We should use our time for cultivating genuine gratitude and repentance.

While the lectures for the adults were going on in the temple, there was a specially designed program for the children. The children were taught the principles of Shikshastakam verse 3. There were many outdoor activities like canoeing, bon fire etc, that created ample opportunities for them to apply the principles that they had heard in the classes and enhance their loving relationships with each other. Two children have shared their heartfelt experiences of the Retreat.

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Shreya Anand from St. Louis shares,

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

Going to Gita Nagari was a very special time of the Month of May. It was a short 4 day retreat. The first day when we reached Gita Nagari we all went to see the Gita Nagari Goshala (place where they take care of cows). There we got to milk the cows and we saw many small kittens, they were fun to play with. That day evening there was a class by H. H. Romapada Swami Maharaj, he started with the first two verses from the Siksastaka or the eight main teachings of Lord Shri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. I learned that these set of 8 verses were the only things Caitanya Mahaprabhu left us with even though he was such a great scholar. But, the 6 Goswamis of Vrindavan elaborated on his teachings by writing more books on his teachings.

The next day, I went with my friends to the children’s program. There was a special guest there, his name was Bhakti Saranga Prabhu, and he is a disciple of H.H. Romapada Swami Maharaj. He taught us the third verse of the Siksastaka, this verse is the most important verse out of the 8 verses that Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu left us with. He explained how real humility means understanding that you are an eternal servant of Krsna, we all really enjoyed his association.

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

After that all of us went hiking with Jagadananda Prabhu through the Gita Nagari woods with some of the kids who live at Gita Nagari. It was really amazing seeing the exquisiteness of the forest. Later we all came to a house, it was the house of one of the older kids who lived at Gita Nagari, and his name was Druva. So we all came to his house and we all had ice-cream, it tasted way better than the ones we get at the store (made at Gita Nagari). Next we all went to Druva’s back yard to see his cow. We sang kirtans to the cow because she had just recently given birth to a calf. After we worshiped the cow we then went to see her calf, she was only one month old. We learnt that we must protect the cows and we also learnt that cows bring about simple spiritual life. With the purpose of eating lunch we all had to walk back to the Gita Nagari Temple, which was not far at all. Following lunch we all assembled and discussed about how to go canoeing. It was decided that boys would be off first then the girls would go. So after 45 minutes or so Rajeev Prabhu (Anushri’s father) came to get us. We reached our destination in like 5 minutes, then we were divided into groups of 2-3 then we took off across the river. We really enjoyed the display of the natural surroundings. We are very thankful to all the devotees for coordinating and making the Children’s program so exciting. That evening we attended the class of Srila Romapada Swami Maharaj this time about the third verse of the Siksastaka. It was really amazing, inspiring and enlivening.

The next day was full of amusement, and it was so interesting because there was an initiation and a Vedic marriage observance. It was really fascinating to see how they do “Vedic” marriages, because it very unusual to see because nobody was serious, as they would be in regular Indian marriages. At the initiation 5 people got initiated or got new Krsna Conscious names from their spiritual master. But, along with the new names they got, they had to follow strict vows like the four regulative principles and had to take a vow to chant a minimum of no less than 16 rounds per day. After the five devotees who got initiated and the couple who got married were completed with the first phase of the ceremony, they had to perform a fire sacrifice, taking vows in front of the Deities and fire after that they all circumambulated around the fire. It was incredibly magnificent to see the devotees getting initiated and some get married. Next we had a wonderful kirtana. The next program was by Krsna Lila Mataji. She answered many of the questions people had. She explained how we should try to be tolerant like a tree and how we should not discriminate of whom people are. Then when all the programs were over we left for St. Louis. I truly liked the Gita Nagari retreat. I am very thankful to Sri Radhika Mataji and Yamuna Jivana Prabhu for allowing me to come with them to go to the Gita Nagari Retreat.

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Devesh from Houston shares,

Hare Krishna! My name is Devesh. I am 8 year old. I am from Houston. I took a flight and came to Gita Nagari . Gita Nagari is a farm community. When Prabhupada first came he named it Gita – Nagari.

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

When we arrived Mother Koulini took all the devotees to Goshala (cow shed). Mother Koulini called the cows by their names- Saloni and Kishori. She told us these names are of Radha Rani’s. The cows entered into a big door, while we entered into the Goshala through another door. After the cows entered, the kids took turns feeding the cows while Koulini mataji milked the cows. After Koulini mataji milked the cows for some time the kids also took turns to milk the cows. After we milked the cows, we played baby kittens.

Next we went into the temple and got the darshan of Sri Sri Radha Damodara. After the nice kirtan Guru Maharaja told about the first two verses of Shikshastaka. Maharaja explained that Sankirtana cleanses the heart and that you can chant Krishna’s names at any time. After Maharaja’s class we went to stay at Akincana’s home. The next morning we woke up and went to the temple for Managala Aarati. There was a nice kirtan and after the kirtan there was chanting. After chanting we went to the Prasadam hall and had a class on third verse of Siksastakam “trinadapi sunicena taror api sahisnuna amanina manadena kirtaniya sada harih”. From that discussion I learned that we should be humble like a blade of grass and tolerant like a tree and should not expect respect from others and we should respect all others. In our morning class we also learned about the seven mothers. One of the seven mothers is mother cow. Cows are very gentle and are very close to Krishna. The cows are called mother because they give us milk. That’s why we need to be very gentle and not kill any cows. At the goshala we used to pet, feed and milk the cows. Before we used to start the morning class Jagadananda prabhu used to tell us to put the mats. When the chanting is going on, Prabhu used to tell us to go through the temple Kitchen and get to the Prasadam hall. There we used to put the mats for the morning class.

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

Later, after morning class we went canoeing. After we went canoeing we sat under a tree and we all shared stories about trees recalling the Siksastaka Verse and glorifying the qualities of trees. Jagadananda prabhu told a story: Once upon a time Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu and his associates went on a trip. After doing sankirtana for a long time, they all got tired. The associates got thirsty and wanted to eat something. Caitanya Mahaprabhu pushed a mango seed into the ground using his foot and as soon as He did that a big tree sprouted out. On the tree were thousands of mangoes with no seeds and no skin. All the devotees ate the mangoes until they were full. Another time when Lord Caitanya Mahaprabhu was a teacher in Vidyanagara, all the children were getting tired in the heat of the sun, so he pushed pencils into the ground and many trees sprouted giving shade to the children. The next day we went on a nature walk to archery. At archery the kids took turns to shoot arrows. After we shot some arrows we went and saw some cows. Jagadananda prabhu opened the gate and all of us got chance to pet the baby calf, Bhakti, who was born just a month ago.

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

We also visited Radha Damodara garden where we saw some plants and we planted some new plants in the ground. Some of us took mint leaves from the garden and chewed on them. On the next day there was an initiation ceremony in the temple room. After the initiation ceremony we attended the questions and answers with Guru Maharaja. After that we left Gita Nagari. I liked Gita Nagari because it has simple living and high thinking which Prabhupada recommended. The best activity I liked was at the goshala where I used to feed and milk the cows.

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Every evening there were heart-softening kirtans, invoking feelings of gratitude and indebtedness for all the blessings, awareness, empowerment and mercy that we had received during the day.

The experience of listening to the kirtans led by teenage devotee children is beyond description. It was very inspiring to see these children, who have been receiving serious training in Krishna consciousness at a young age.

Sunday, May 25th 2008

Maharaja strengthened our understanding of Shikshatakam in the lecture and answered the queries of the inquisitive hearts. Maharaja emphasized that every moment there is an opportunity to serve Krishna and while doing so our focus should be on our relationship with Him. One can cultivate that by being *present* with the holy name, then the mind will be focused. The price to get the pure holy name is to be eager for it. One should call out for the mercy of the spiritual master and make efforts to receive it. The mercy or dust of their lotus feet is available in their instructions. One should take the instructions to one’s heart and very humbly make those instructions manifest in this world. Then the taste of the holy name would develop. Without the dust of the great souls, one is like a dead body.

Maharaja discussed the quality of pridelessness - amanina manadena. Pride is there when we have a false conception of “I” and “mine” and that leads to offenses to the holy name. The way to get rid of pride is to call out for the mercy of Krsna and cultivate feelings of dependence on that mercy. We should always strive to improve the quality of our chanting.

Lessons on Respect

There are various ways of respecting different kinds of devotees – one should hear from advanced devotees and serve them; exchange realizations with peers; provide loving assistance to less advanced and create opportunities for the innocent to receive mercy.

His Grace Krishna Smarana Prabhuji very emphatically elaborated on how honoring Brahmins (spiritual leaders), cows, women, children and elderly is very important to keep the culture of respect in the society. We heard in detail the role of each of these entities in maintaining a Brahminical society and how we can protect and respect them by facilitating their service to Krishna. We should recognize the value of each person in God’s creation. And if we follow the system of Krishna, there is empowerment in it and it can never fail. We can emulate the Vedic system in small models and set examples of maintaining strength, purity and integrity on the basis of these principles for others to follow.

Workshop on “Respect and Humility”

Her Grace Krishna Lila Mataji’s heart-melting workshops have always received a warm welcome in the past, especially because they involve role plays wherein devotees can freely express their emotional concerns and obtain an immediate solution.

This year’s theme of the workshop was “Signs and Symptoms of Respect and Humility”. Role plays involved dynamics of the interactions between husband and wives, parents and children; family constellations etc all with Guru and Krishna at the center. Devotees were left with their hearts filled with feelings of love and gratitude, eyes filled with tears and a smile on their face exhibiting satisfaction!

Even though the talk/workshop was scheduled to end at 1:00 pm, the devotees wanted to hear more and more from Krishna Lila Mataji, and she finally halted the session at 1:30 pm as it was way past the Prasadam time!

The afternoon session was even more personal than the morning. Devotees were clustered in groups for discussing specific personal concerns. Mataji gave special care and attention to every devotee’s needs and made sure that she provided considerable time for every problem. Majority of the time during the workshop was spent in family constellations.

Not only was there an active involvement of the adults, but there was also an enthusiastic participation from the youth.

As Mataji continued to help the devotees get over their emotional barriers, bringing to their knowledge the presence and role of Krishna in every situation, the clock kept ticking. Despite her extremely exhausted body, she kept on serving the devotees with a level of happiness that only seemed to be increasing. Devotees were inspired by her service attitude.

It was a day packed with opportunities for purification, as each one of us was able to clear our past misconceptions and look at life in a fresher and simpler way, with Guru and Krishna at the center.

Monday, May 26th 2008

Gita Nagari Retreat 2008

This was a very special day for everyone. Maharaja was going to initiate some of the spiritual aspirants who had been performing their sadhana diligently for years. For those who were already initiated, it was a moment to strengthen their commitment, for some it was a strong inspiration to take this step in their lives and for many it was the first glimpse of a fire sacrifice and initiation ceremony. Every moment of the initiation ceremony was worth experiencing and reliving again and again. The atmosphere was filled with utmost auspiciousness, joyfulness and feelings of love and surrender.

A few devotees had set up the fire altar, with utmost care and love. The process of initiation began with purifying oneself (achaman), followed by the recitation of Brahma Samhita prayers and a soul-touching lecture by Maharaja (Click here to read). Then, one at a time, the candidates took their lifelong vows of commitment at the lotus feet of their spiritual master, accompanied by the entire disciplic succession and Lord Krishna. There was a marriage ceremony too, where a couple took their vows to support each other on their journey to Krishna. It was a very moving experience for everyone.

Many of us did not want to believe that it was the last day of the retreat. Our hearts were surcharged with feelings of gratitude and sadness knowing that the personal association of Maharaja, His Grace Krishna Smarana Prabhuji, Her Grace Krishna Lila Mataji and all other dear devotees that we had for the last few days was about to end for now. Many devotees had to leave before the special question and answer session, when His Holiness Romapada Swami Maharaja welcomed many questions from us and enlivened our hearts with his penetrating answers. One could sit for hours and hours and hear Maharaja touch our hearts very deeply by his very clear, bright and pertinent answers.

The take-home message was very clear – cultivate deep loving relationship with the spiritual master, with the holy name and with the devotees, as we return to our respective field of activities.

We felt very grateful for the painstaking efforts of the devotees in organizing the retreat, for the warm welcome of the Gita Nagari devotees and towards His Holiness Romapada Swami – the source of inspiration, purity, empowerment and love behind everyone and everything during the retreat.

To experience moments of the Retreat, please listen to the lectures of the Retreat visit the Audio page