Over the Easter holidays we had scheduled a four-day retreat with the topic of "Giving and Accepting Shelter". It was the first time for the Cologne temple to host such kind of event. Around 25 to 30 devotees had assembled to receive insights into this deep and so relevant theme, which accompanies us throughout our entire spiritual life. Giving and accepting shelter is the very essence of spiritual practice: we are ongoingly endeavoring to take shelter in the holy name, in Guru, Krsna and the Vaisnavas. And we are meant to qualify ourselves more and more in order to reach out to others and give shelter.
Cologne is situated in a densely populated area of Germany, and there must be at least three hundred devotees residing within a radius of one hundred kilometers. Cologne is the only city in Germany where ISKCON owns a nice temple building. All other yatras located in cities are living on rent, which means every few years the devotees have to find a new location. Having one's own temple building certainly gives stability to a yatra, and the devotees can arrange their lives in such a way so they can live near the temple.
It is interesting to understand how the principles of giving and accepting shelter are connected to culture. Jiva Goswami expresses this in the Madhava Mahotsava: "Though one usually ignores others in attaining one's goals, those aspiring for prema accept dependance on others with similar goals and tastes. Thus, cooperating with each other, they worked together keeping in mind the goal of prema."
In material life and its culture, where sense gratification is the goal of life, people ignore each other or even push each other down and out of their way. The survival of the fittest, as we call it. Competition and envy enters the relationships, which are superficial and have a business deal mentality, based on sense gratification: I scratch your back, you scratch mine. There is a lack of respect and selfless service mood towards each other. Everyone is focused on their own schedule and very busy, hardly willing to sacrifice time for others. Relationships are impersonal and self-centered, and a higher standard of life gives the illusion of independence and freedom.
In spiritual life and its culture, where self realization is the goal of life, things are quite the opposite: people like to accept internal dependance on others who have a similar mood and taste. Relationships are based on respect and selfless service towards each other, and it is most natural for seniors and more experienced persons to reach out to youngers to affectionately uplift them. And it is most natural for juniors to offer respect and service to seniors and inquire from them in submission in order to receive guidance. And thus the relationships are deep and meaningful.
Garuda Purana explains: "One cannot be liberated without association with a pure devotee of the Lord. And unless one shows mercy to those in an inferior position, one's life will be superficial." And not only one's life, but one's relationships as well.
Material relationships are based on sense gratification. As devotees, we want to eliminate this basis, but unless we replace it with something higher, there will be a vacuum in our relationships. We have to replace sense gratification with the principles of giving and accepting shelter. Only then our life and our relationships will become deep and meaningful. Otherwise we will simply surround ourselves with "haribol-relationships": exchanging small-talk, and lots of 'haribols'....! Talking about ourselves, instead of inquiring from seniors and more experienced devotees.
We can clearly observe this in our communities. As soon as we cultivate this mood of giving and accepting shelter, then relationships become deep and meaningful. But if this is not there, then we have a rather impersonal atmosphere, where devotees are simply busy with themselves and their services, running past each other. Unless we come to the point in our spiritual development, where we genuinely and selflessly want to reach out to others and uplift them, we remain kanistha: simply focussing on ourselves. There is such a thing as so-called spiritual selfishness: my sadhana, my service, my schedule, my trip to India, my reading time - mine, mine, mine....! It is still selfishness, even though employed in Krsna consciousness.
We spent a wonderful time together in Cologne, churning this topic on deeper levels. We discussed the qualities we have to develop to be eager for shelter, and the qualities we need to have in order to be able to give shelter to others. And what blocks us the most from giving and accepting shelter. We could clearly understand that those qualities which we need in order to be eager for shelter are not really promoted and aspired for in material life. They are considered to be weakness. The mere word of 'accepting shelter' implies that there is a mood of helplessness there - something which is absolutely necessary in spiritual life. It is a sign of advancement. The more we advance, the more we feel helplessly dependant on Hari, Guru and the Vaisnavas. However, no materialist wants to feel helpless. He would be considered a loser.
A nice feast concluded the event.
I also met with many devotees privately in order to give guidance on their personal situation. New relationships were established, existing one's were deepened.....
On the 7th of April the devotees drove me to Radhadesh in Belgium.
Your servant, Devaki dd