At last the long-awaited Texas Japa Retreat took place in Houston on September 2-4, 2011. To keep the attendees focused and away from the everyday hustle and bustle, it was arranged in the remote rural setting of the beautiful Brazos Bend State Park, which is about 70 miles south of the Houston temple. This event was attended by 125 devotees that came from various parts of the United States, Canada and India.
His Holiness Romapada Swami kicked off the retreat by welcoming the attendees with great vigor and enthusiasm. He stressed the importance of chanting and reiterated how Krishna reciprocates with His devotees in ways that may be inconceivable to a commoner. He gave the wonderful example of the dog in South America who would come to kirtans and one day while he was jumping during the kirtan, left his body. He honed in on the point that everyone is eligible to go back to Godhead – an awesome inspiration to keep chanting the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra!
Maharaja discussed the different stages of chanting. He went over the nine keys for improving changing that are highlighted in His Grace Bhurijana das prabhu’s book titled Japa. Several points struck the attendees like a thunderbolt – one was to chant under all circumstances and never give up chanting. He emphasized the intention (sankalpa) to chant one mantra at a time by being present – and not in the past or the future. A powerful instruction was shared which required a devotee to bring the mind back when it wanders. The potency is in the instruction itself, as the instruction has the capacity to bring the flickering mind back on track. Finally, Krishna’s causeless mercy is there to serve as the master key!
Maharaja offered practical solutions for staying focused while chanting japa. Chanting japa in front of a Maha Mantra sign was one powerful example. He stated that we should be loud enough so that we can hear the mantra without disturbing other devotees. Another focusing technique was to chant swiftly, which helps prevent the mind from wandering.
The second day was the big day when devotees were encouraged to do 64 rounds and by observing mauna vrata [a vow of silence] until 5:30 PM. The japa room was charged with a lot of energy and about 40 devotees were able to chant 64 rounds. The ages of these devotees ranged from 10 to 65 years.
The attendees underwent several exercises. One exercise was the chanting done by a devotee was critiqued by another devotee, and vice versa. Finally, everyone had to write what he or she got from the japa retreat – pledge card!
The last day was Radhastami and the half-day program was held at the temple. After a powerful lecture by Maharaja, the sankalpa ceremony was held wherein the commitment to individual pledge cards was formalized in front of the Sri Sri Radha Nila-Madhava deities by Maharaja tying a red thread to the participants’ wrists.
Finally, the proof of the pudding is that one of the newly initiated devotees is so inspired by this retreat that she has been chanting 32 rounds per day since September 5!
Srila Rompada Swami Maharaja ki Jai! Srila Prabhupada ki Jai!