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October 10, 2010

Gita Nagari Japa Retreat '10

This was the third Japa retreat organized by HH Romapada Swami in Gita Nagari. Since this was right after Janmastami (Krishna’s appearance day) and Vyasa Puja (worship in honor of the spiritual master’s appearance) fewer devotees were in attendance and hence the whole retreat became very intimate. Another feature of this retreat was that Maharaja gave all the lectures. HG Prema-tarangini mataji led meditation exercises for us. She asked us 3 questions. What do you feel about being in Gita Nagari? What is your aim/intention/sankalpa for being in Gita Nagari? Why do you think Sri Sri Radha Damodara have arranged for you to be in Gita Nagari? I found these questions to be very meaningful and soul-searching and they helped me orient myself to the retreat. Maharaja made an impassioned plea to all of us to not use the cell phone, internet, etc. and focus on the retreat. In fact, only when Maharaja described that we were in a Holy Dham and that we had come for spiritual upliftment and connection that I thought that “yes this is why I have come here”. He compared the retreat with the Yatra (pilgrimage) and these words also helped me focus on the retreat. By the grace of Sri Sri Radha Damodara, Srila Prabhupada, Maharaja's lectures and arrangements and the association of the devotees, all of us in my family were able to complete 64 rounds. For the last few rounds it was very very difficult to concentrate. Finally, a thought came to me. In the previous Gita Nagari retreat I had gone to HH Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja's Samadhi Mandir to chant. So, I thought I would do the same since I was struggling. I did this and thus was able to complete the 64 rounds by the mercy of being in Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja's Samadhi. Sadly, Maharaja mentioned that next year due to Radhastami being on Labor day it might not be possible to have the Japa retreat in Gita Nagari. Maharaja encouraged us to keep aside a day for coming together and chanting in our local sanga. Last but not the least, I was at the airport when Maharaja went to the next destination for yet another preaching opportunity. I saw him swiftly navigate through the security area to board his flight. From his itinerary it was evident that disregarding the inconvenience of choosing a flight with layovers, Maharaja had opted for just such a journey. I realized the amount of sacrifices that Maharaja makes going from place to place to give us his association. Gita Nagari Japa Retreat ki jai! HH Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja ki jai! HH Romapada Maharaja ki jai!

- Shivram Swaminathan (Chicago).
 

 

Actually, this retreat was a much wanted one for me. Maharaja's re-cap on connected chanting really set the theme in my heart and I was praying intensely to the Holy Name and more to my mind to let me feel the presence of Krishna even for a fraction of second, by hearing attentively. There were lots of hills and valleys but, Maharaja's blessing "May the mercy of Their Lordships Radha-Damodara descend into your hearts today" really softened my heart. My heart was filled with gratitude for that blessing of a pure representative of Krishna, wanting me to uplift with unconditional love, thus helping me eternally. After failing in repetitive attempts to calm the mind, I was really praying to Guru and Krishna to give me the strength to neglect the mind. I took a few minutes to understand what it means by "Krsna and His Name are non-different". I remembered reading in 'Namamrita' - Srila Prabhupada was saying Krishna has unlimited number of devotees so His dealings and names are also unlimited. But, He has taken the form of His own name, hence Krishna and His Name are non-different. Krishna took the form of the Holy Name just to deliver conditioned souls like me. Maharaja and all the devotees in the assembly are giving me that Name to chant. I was thankful to Maharaja and all the devotees, for creating some hankering for 'Namasraya' (shelter of the Holy Name). I was greatly inspired by all the devotees who were so eagerly chanting to please Guru and Krishna. One-mantra-at-a-time was a powerful tool to stir some sporadic feelings in my heart and made me focus on hearing the Holy Name. I am still practicing to understand the meaning about Krishna and His Name being non-different in my daily chanting. All glories to Maharaja! All glories to Vaishnava Sanga!

- Mahamantra das (Washington D.C.).

 

By the mercy of the devotees, I could join the Maha-Mantra retreat led by His Holiness Romapada Swami on the first weekend of September 2010. Giving inspiring lectures during the first day of the retreat, Maharaja helped us enter into the mood of chanting. As he suggested, I wrote down a prayer to help me meditate during the day of 64-round chanting: “On the authority of the acharyas, the Holy Name is non-different with the Lord Himself. I am chanting Your Holy Name by Your sanction. I am too ignorant and disrespectful to be worthy of any mercy but, You are so compassionate that You still shower Your mercy on me. You have intriguingly shown me that the material shelters, no matter how lucrative they look, are as temporary as the dust that is unsettled by a blow of breath. I have no shelter but Your Holy Name. I seek a cure for my madness of inattentive chanting and what cure there can be but Your sweet mercy. I beg for Your mercy so that I don't fall into the realm of ignorance.” After a couple of hours of chanting, as a dear friend had suggested, I had a very light dwadasi (the day after ekadasi) prasadam and returned to the temple room to continue. As I sat amongst the devotees, besides Tulasi Devi and in front of Radha Damodara, I felt so humble to be there. I thought to myself that these devotees here are the dearest ones to Krsna. I heard the mesmerizing vibrations of the Holy Name chanted by these devotees and I felt joy and fortunate to be in their presence. Then, remembering the glories of the Holy Name, and the mercy of Lord Chaitanya, my eyes were filled with tears and my throat choked. I became conscious that I was not just reciting the Holy Name, I was chanting and who can chant without feelings?! Chanting the Holy Name felt so natural as it was flowing from my tongue. I could feel Its flow in the atmosphere and in my body. I was very conscious and appreciative of my surroundings as I saw Maharaja walk past me to go back to his seat at the front of the temple room and it made me more thankful and fortunate to be there. After the lunch prasadam, I realized how important it is to control the eating habits and how nice fasting is as I could better focus on the Holy Name. I remembered Maharaja had suggested meditating on the Siksastaka (Lord Chaitanya’s eight verses) prayers to help us concentrate on chanting. I was moved by the third verse as, due to Krishna’s mercy, I had realized how in a humble state of mind one can chant the Holy Name constantly. I made a resolution to meditate every morning on the words of Lord Chaitaniya. Later on, when I shared my experience with an advanced devotee, he reminded me how once in a while Krishna shows us a glimpse of `His mercy, even though we do not ‘necessarily’ deserve it, to give us faith to keep us moving on the path of bhakti. The first stage of bhakti is faith and the last one is also about faith and everything in between is also about faith! I pray that I am able to reciprocate to the mercy that He has bestowed.

- Roozbeh (State College, PA).

 

Kids' news item

 

Gita Nagari Cows

On the Labor Day weekend, I went to Gita Nagari for the Japa Retreat. I got the opportunity to attend part of the Kids’ Program. I attended organic farming, sculpture -making, burger-making, and also joined the Amish community tour. Then I attended Maharaja's wonderful lectures. On Friday, we went to the Amish community. It was really fun! The Amish have no electricity. Their kids are not attached to television, computers etc. I really liked the farm life and how simply they lived. As for me I couldn't imagine my life with out electricity. For me that will be a real austerity. As for their entertainment; it is working on a farm. I would really love to visit them again. On Saturday, we engaged in sculpture-making, and organic farming. At sculpture-making with Hema Gaura Prabhu, I helped make an altar for my friend Sruthi. At organic farming with Mother Rasa Suddhanidhi devi dasi, I learned a lot of farming and planted a squash seed. On Sunday {64 Round day}, I chanted until 4:00 pm. Then, I went to cooking session with Varsana Mataji. We learned how to make burgers. After we made them and offered them to Sri Sri Radha Damodara, we had a feast of burgers, ice cream, and cupcakes. I REALLY enjoyed it! Unfortunately, I could not attend the Kids’ seminar on Monday. I really liked the Kids’ Retreat and I am looking forward to it next year. I want to thank all the Gita Nagari devotees for hosting it there; Maharaja for arranging the retreat; Mother Sri Radhika for organizing the Kids Retreat; my parents for taking me there; ALL the devotees for making it happen and for their WONDERFUL association; Finally, Sri Sri Radha Damodara for their MERCY and arrangements for me to come to GITA-NAGARI!!!

- Shrinithi (9).

 

I eagerly waited for the big day – September 3rd - the first day of the Gita Nagari Retreat. Gita Nagari is my second favorite dham next to Mayapur. I like everything about Gita Nagari: the friendly kittens, the mooing of the cows, ecstatic kirtans, beautiful peacocks, amazing kids’ activities, and a playground filled with children screaming with joy. Altogether, the atmosphere is nice and peaceful. Upon reaching Gita Nagari, I immediately ran to see the kids’ schedule. As usual, the schedule was full of exciting activities. I became so jubilant that I jumped up and down. Out of all the activities we did, I liked two of them very much: the Amish community tour and sculpture-making. Most of all, I loved going on the Amish community tour because we got to see how people lived in a simple way close to nature. The family we visited had ten children and all of them were happily doing some work. They had puppies, ducks, and raccoons as their pets. The children wore simple dresses. The girls wore an apron and wore no jewelry. These children went to a school that was part of their community. All these children also learn to work on the farm from a small age. The people of the Amish community didn’t even use electricity! Can you imagine living like that? They don’t have any TV, computers, or even cars! Instead, they use wagons to travel around. The Amish people also grow their own fruits and vegetables without using any chemicals. During the summers, they make fresh fruit juices. They sell the surplus of fruits and vegetables to outsiders. They also get milk from their own cows. This Amish community tour helped me to learn how others live and connect this to my own life. For example, the Amish people live very simply. Srila Prabhupada has said: “Simple living, high thinking”: we should live simply and think highly so that we don’t become attached to the temporary, material world. By living simply, we will have more time to think about God. Also, we shouldn’t waste Krishna’s property and use whatever Krishna has given us in His service. Another lesson I learned from these people is the importance of cooperation: how we should help one another. Just like geese help each other while migrating, we should help each other in carrying out nice devotional service. The children helped their parents; this made life possible in the Amish community. I should also help my parents and listen to them; that will make Krishna and His devotees happy. My other favorite activity was sculpture-making. In that activity, we were allowed to create anything using wood. Once we decided what we were going to make and what pieces we were going to use, one mataji used the glue gun to glue all the pieces together. Then we got to spray paint the wooden model. We all made different things: birds, carts with wheels, houses, temples, and playgrounds. This was great fun! I very much loved the children’s activities at the Gita Nagari Retreat this year. I can’t wait to go back next year!

- Mansi Suresh (10).