Just like in previous years the devotees had once again decided to close the temple for this weekend and not have a Sunday program, but rather encourage all the practicing devotees to go into seclusion for four days in order to deepen their relationship with the holy name. It had already become an established 'must', and devotees could not imagine their life without this recharging and nourishing annual event.
This year more devotees from other yatras also felt inspired to come and join the sanga - gradually the news are spreading that these Holy Name Retreats are a deep and transformational experience.
Once again we rented the same holiday camp surrounded by forests and nature, around 45 km's outside the capital city of Chisinau.
With every year the organisation of our retreat becomes easier and more and more smooth. Everybody knows what needs to be arranged, and devotees eagerly join the various service departments and offer their help.
Devotees know already what to expect and thus are mentally prepared to embark on an internal journey in introspection. And undergoing such internal work in the association of our fellow devotees from our own yatra is very uniting and creates strong bonds: not only are we deepening our relationship with the holy name, but also with each other.....!
This year we announced not to buy the flowers for the vases decorating the altar, but rather to pick them from our own gardens or from nature.
This is indeed one of my favorite services: picking wildflowers from the forests and meadows and arranging them nicely for the Lord's pleasure....
Flowers do play a very important role in the spiritual world. Krsna and Radharani like those decorations made from wildflowers the best. They wear not only garlands, but ear rings, neclaces, bangles, anklets, crowns, garments and even shoes made from flowers!
In order to offer our love and devotion we have to give it some external shape and packaging, so that we can offer it to Krsna and His devotees. And the main way to package our love and devotion is through cooking and flower arrangements.
Both have a common principle: we collect something from nature - either fruits and vegetables, or flowers, and combine them with love and devotion, and create something amazingly wonderful for Krsna's pleasure. And the result is surcharged with this devotional energy, which Krsna joyfully accepts. And the devotees relish the remnants and receive spiritual upliftment through honoring this maha prasadam.
On our this year's retreat we composed wonderful flower arrangements in
vases - all from devotees' gardens and the surrounding forests. And we could clearly perceive the devotional energy and atmosphere emanating from them...
Throughout the four days our group of around one hundred devotees kept a very good focus on the holy name. As usual the scedule was tight, creating a certain intensity and not allowing any time for anything else except the holy name.
The seminar blocks were interspersed with chanting exercises, where we could apply immediately in kirtan and in japa what we had heard and discussed. Also the sharing of realizations in pairs was well received and helped the devotees to open up to one another and deepen their own conviction and faith.
Each morning various groups performed short skits to summarize the discussed topics of the previous day, which deepened our learning experience and added a playful sense of humor. Some of these skits were so deep and meaningful that they brought indeed tears to my eyes....
Every Sunday feast lecture or Vaisnava festival could include some aspects on chanting the holy name, and devotees could illustrate them by performing short but meaningful skits. This would surely affect the consciousness of the audience and would gradually bring attention to the importance of reaching deeper levels of chanting - in japa aswell as in kirtan.
The evening kirtans were deep and prayerful and gave once again an opportunity to cultivate attentiveness on the level of the heart while chanting. As Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati Thakur had instructed us: "Make your chanting heart deep - not just lip deep...."
For some devotees the retreat created a revolution within their minds and hearts - it entirely smashed their shallow concepts of what chanting the holy name means.
During the closing ceremony one brahmacari openly shared that this retreat helped him to understand how much pride and arrogance he had been carrying within his heart, which entirely had blocked his ability to deeply chant. For many years he had been doing something else - not chanting the holy name....! And while confessing this he was overcome by emotions and began to cry.
Just one devotee gaining such realizations confirms to me that it is all worthwile holding such retreats. It is a powerful tool to affect devotees' hearts on deeper levels and give them a transformational experience. Indeed, a holy name retreat can be a life changing experience, if we participate in an eager and humble mood. It enables us to open our heart in order to receive Sri Harinam Prabhu Who will then perform His mysterious work on us....
We concluded our visit to Chisinau with a program for the ladies at the temple. It was very well attended by many young and intelligent matajis who had recently come to Krsna consciousness. I gave an introduction into the importance of spiritual culture, which inspired many to register for our two week course "Exploring The Roots Of Spiritual Culture" which we would conduct next month in Kharkov/Ukraine.
On the 6th of June I traveled on to Odessa/Ukraine, together with my translater Acyuta Priya Mataji.....
Your servant, Devaki dd