The main building which is now the abode of Sri Sri Radha Vraja Sundara, Sri Sri Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra, and Sri Sri Gaur Nitai, is a beautiful and large Renaissance villa dating back to the sixteenth century. Situated on top of a hill it thus offers a breathtaking view onto the valley with it's beautiful nature. The entire property measures eighty hectares of land, with forests, pastures and hundreds of olive trees.
A large and beautiful garden in classic Italian style with a central fountain is surrounding the villa, inviting visitors to stroll around and relax. Exotic plants, palm trees and lush greens are giving a wonderful home to birds and squirrels. Peacocks are calling out, reminding indeed of Vrindavan. The air is filled with pleasing aromas of herbs and trees of entirely different nature than what we can find in Germany. Each place in this world offers a certain combination of the three modes of nature, bringing along a particular taste and satisfaction for the senses and the mind. And Sri Sri Radha Vraja Sundara being the center of this beautiful abode tranform it indeed into Villa Vrindavan.
The walls of the temple room are decorated with the originals of many famous paintings, showing scenes of the spiritual world and Mahaprabhu's lilas. Most of them are all painted in the same style with dark colours, creating a serene and almost mystical atmosphere.
In the beginning of this year I had met Anandamayi Mataji and her daughter in Mayapur - they had attended our Holy Name Retreat in Ekachakra and some of our courses on spiritual culture. They had found them very enlivening and had thus requested me to visit their community here at Villa Vrindavan.
I was scheduled to give the seminar on giving and accepting shelter being the foundation to Vaisnava relationships and Devotee Care. Since this yatra is HH Radhanath Swami's GBC zone, and many devotees are his disciples, this topic of giving and accepting shelter is indeed especially relevant to them and perfectly in line with their Guru Maharaja's mood and vision. Maharaja has been trying to inspire the devotees to implement a mentor system, and this seminar would give additional insights into the importance and urgency of it.
I was invited to give the seminar over five days, as morning and evening program, which was well attended by a steady crowd of around 35 to 40 devotees. Some devotees living further away also came to be part of it. We included the Sunday program, selecting the topic of envy for this session - a theme which is relevant for one and all, even for those who did not have the opportunity to attend other sessions of the seminar.
In the word for word translation of S.B.5.18.9. Srila Prabhupada gives the meaning of 'khalah' as being 'the envious', adding 'almost everyone' in brackets. This includes each and everyone of us - we have to assume that we are included in 'almost everyone'. Indeed, almost everyone in the material world is affected by envy - a manifestation of the desire for sense gratification, the root cause of all suffering in this world.
Every man should act like this: when he meets a person more qualified than himself, he should be very pleased; when he meets someone less qualified than himself, he should be compassionate toward him; and when he meets someone equal to himself, he should make friendship with him. In this way one is never affected by the threefold miseries of this material world.
Generally when we find someone more qualified than ourselves, we become envious of him; when we find someone less qualified, we deride him; and when we find someone equal we become very proud of our activities. These are the causes of all material tribulations. The great sage Narada therefore advised that a devotee should act perfectly. Instead of being envious of a more qualified man, one should be jolly to receive him. Instead of being oppressive to a less qualified man, one should be compassionate toward him just to raise him to the proper standard. And when one meets an equal, instead of being proud of one's own activities before him, one should treat him as a friend. One should also have compassion for the people in general, who are suffering due to forgetfulness of Krsna. These important functions will make one happy within this material world.
Interesting to understand, that envy is also found in our dealings with inferiors - not only superiors or equals. An envious person will use inferiors in order to establish his superior position, by surpressing or deriding them, making fun of them, constantly and heavily correcting them, or ignoring their skills in order to keep them in a lower position. Behind all these dealings we can detect a subtle form of envy.
We discovered at this Sunday session, that envy is the main obstacle in giving and accepting shelter: an envious person will not eagerly take shelter of a senior by offering respect, service and inquiry. Rather, he will try to diminish his importance by ignoring him, criticising him or finding fault in him. And an envious person will also not affectionately uplift a junior, trying to raise him to a higher standard, but instead will keep him down and will be unwilling to sacrifice his time and energy for his upliftment. Our envy is what blocks us the most when it comes to giving and accepting shelter. And of course, in a culture where sense gratification is the goal of life, envy and competition will forever increase. But in spiritual culture, where sense gratification is kept to a bare minimum, envy is also being subdued. Thus in spiritual culture these principles of giving and accepting shelter are the natural basis for any meaningful relationship, whereas in material life we find competition and envy in its place.
What a wonderful aspiration - demonstrating how civilized human life is meant to be lived....
Saturday afternoon we went on harinam in the nearby city of Florence. The old part of town with its beautiful buildings, churches and dome was flooded with tourists from all around the world. We can clearly perceive a great history of spiritual culture here, with its beautiful architecture and art. All great art and architecture came about by the desire to glorify God. And Italy has a rich heritage of it.
We had a wonderful time chanting the holy name ploughing through the narrow lanes and cobblestone streets of Florence, and people reacted with joy and happy smiles.
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit to Villa Vrindavan, feeling that I managed to establish new and meaningful relationships here. Devotees expressed their appreciation for my visit by offering words of gratitude, gifts and generous donations, requesting me to return soon - maybe in order to conduct a Holy Name Retreat....
On the 17th of September I moved on to Goloka Dham in Germany....
Your servant, Devaki dd