Many people in this world know about the Hare Krishna Maha Mantra, but not so many sincerely endeavor to get deeper insights into the science and secret of chanting the Holy Name. In these modern days of technological advancement life is very fast, and we are constantly being bombarded by so many mundane stimulations, which are distracting our attention from our most valuable jewel: the holy name.
Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur has urged us: "Make your chanting heart deep, not just lip-deep."
This involvement of the heart in chanting is not such an easy thing. It requires endeavor and cultivation. It requires mindfulness of Krsna being a person, actually being there to connect with us through His holy name. And above all: it requires humility.
In Krsna Kathamrita Bindu it is said: "The pot of the heart must be made up of these four constituents: humility, tolerance, respect and pridelessness. Mahaprabhu is the giver and you are the receiver. But if your pot is not made up of these constituents, how can you receive?"
Unless we get to deeper levels of chanting the holy name - in kirtan aswell as in japa, we will lose the taste and attraction for both. How long can we chant sixteen rounds every day, if we take our japa to be a dry, mechanical, impersonalistic and ritualistic duty?! And how long will we feel inspired to join the kirtans if we think that kirtan is a musical performance, or simply meant for our fun - jumping around in wild acrobatics or engaging in elaborate dancing performances?
Sooner or later we will lose interest in the holy name, and we will be looking for something else....
Holy Name Retreats are a very powerful tool to bring us to deeper levels of chanting. Spending some days in seclusion, away from all our usual duties and distractions creates a wonderful and most conducive atmosphere to deepen our relationship with the holy name. Hearing about the glories of the holy name in the association of like-minded devotees, and practically applying what we have heard - in kirtan as well as in japa, combined with little personal exercises in pairs brings about a transformational learning experience. Infact, during such retreats we can experience a different reality - associating with Krsna in person, through His Holy Name....! We can learn to
open our heart and allow the Holy Name to do His mysterious work on it.
On the 11th,12th,13th and 14th of May I met with around 65 devotees for such a Holy Name Retreat in Estonia. We rented the same place as last year: a most suitable retreat center around 100 km's outside of Tallinn, hidden away in the forest.Some devotees had come all the way from Latvia and Finnland - the two neighboring countries. With great happiness I welcomed all the devotees, and I was pleased to see that also a number of senior devotees had come to participate.
The mood and atmosphere was even more deep and sweet than last year. Devotees were more prepared what to expect and very easily tuned into the mood while keeping a very good focus. Once again Madhuri Radhika mataji had arranged the entire event, and Bhakta Lennert was happily serving the devotees by cooking nice prasadam.
This year we had added one more day and spent four days churning the nectar of the holy name, which ended up being a much deeper experience than with three days.
One senior devotee who had come with his wife and two children from Latvia shared an inspiring conclusion: "Now, after this retreat, my life has a new purpose: I take rest in the evening in order to get up early, so I can chant the Holy Name. Now I cannot watch TV any longer while chanting.....!"
On the following weekend of the 18th,19th and 20th of May we conducted the very first Holy Name Retreat in Almvik/Sweden. A couple of devotees had come from Berlin/Germany, another couple had come from Riga/Latvia and Madhuri Radhika mataji and Bhakta Lennart had come from Tallinn - this time not to organise the retreat, but to participate.
We were a small group: around 20 devotees. Some were very senior, even a couple of Prabhupada disciples eagerly participated. The atmosphere was very personal and intimate.
We have all heard the important principle: as soon as material satisfaction and comfort are increasing, the interest in spiritual life is decreasing. In one sense this Holy Name Retreat in Almvik confirmed this eternal wisdom. Even some of the devotees living on the property of Almvik felt they had more important things to do than absorbing themselves in chanting the Holy Name by participating in the seminars... Sweden is a comfortable place, and material satisfaction easily leads to complacency... How can one cry out in helplessness and need for mercy if situated in material satisfaction...? Therefore Prabhupada explains that a person in material satisfaction cannot chant the holy name in quality.
Nevertheless - it was a wonderful start in order to introduce such retreats, and the participating devotees felt enlivened and received new insights into their relationship with the holy name. And no doubt, the presence of senior devotees made the mood and atmosphere very deep and serious.
We conducted the seminars in the temple room in front of Pancha Tattva, and suddenly at one moment the realization hit me that there is no better place for such discussions than in front of Them, in Their presence. Every one of these personalities were directly engaged in starting Lord Caitanya's Sankirtan mission. I had visited Advaita Acarya's place in Bangladesh, and Srivas Thakur's school where he had taught before moving to Navadvip, and Jagannath Misra's residency, and the birth place of Pundarik Vidyanidhi who is Gadadhara's Pandit's spiritual master. I had some little relationship with all of These amazing personalities, and here we were in front of Them - finally making endeavors to get on deeper levels of chanting the Holy Name ...! Surely this must have been very pleasing to Them ...! Surely They must have been waiting for this moment for so many years ...!
And I almost felt this to be a historic moment - a humble attempt of bringing deeper dimensions to the Sankirtan movement in Scandinavia ...!
I recalled how Mahaprabhu had performed His Sankirtan pastimes in Srivas Thakur's house for one entire year, and only His most confidential associates were allowed to join in. He firmly established the pure chanting in everyone's heart before He took it into the public, into the streets of Navadvip. We were perfectly following in Their footsteps by also trying to more deeply establish the holy name in our hearts, and only then we will be empowered to distribute it far and wide, and only then we will be able to affect the hearts of so many conditioned souls more permanently... After all purity is the force ...
On the 22nd I flew on to Kishiniev/Moldova, where I met my old companion and assistant Alakananda mataji, to conduct yet another holy name retreat on the following weekend of the 25th,26th,27th and 28th of May.
Like last year the devotees of Kishiniev had closed their temple for this Sunday, and around 100 devotees had come to the retreat center around 40 km's outside the city of Kishiniev. Some devotees had also come from neighboring cities as well as from Ukraine in order to join the event. Gradually the news are spreading about the glories of these retreats and devotees eagerly came to taste the nectar.
The atmosphere was exceptionally surcharged with transcendental energy, and all the devotees were in such a wonderful mood of service and affection. Even though the participating devotees were not such good singers and kirtaniyas, nevertheless the kirtans were so relishable and deep! Every maha mantra was flooding our hearts with waves of increasing happiness and joy. Once again it confirmed the truth that kirtan is not a musical performance!
Sometimes the kirtans are more deep when the leaders are not such expert musicians - it is easier to sing in a humble mood when you know your voice is not so impressively nice ...!
This retreat left very deep impressions on everyone's heart. It took me around three days to afterwards find my way back into the dealings within this material world... My heart was in pain of separation, and I truly missed the wonderful evening kirtans...
May my life become a continuous holy name retreat...!
On the 30th of May I took the overnight train to Kharkov/Ukraine, together with Alakananda mataji ...
Your servant, Devaki dd