On the 6th of July around one hundred eager devotees congregated during four days for a Holy Name Retreat outside Kharkov in Ukraine.
We had rented a summer camp outside the city - a holiday resort which used to belong to a government owned factory during the old Soviet days. In those days all the government owned enterprises had a holiday resort for their
workers, and now these camps have been privatized.
It was a somewhat ugly and not well maintained establishment but offered everything we needed: the basic facility to accomodate the devotees in double rooms, with a spacious kitchen, a cosey seminar room and a prasadam hall.
The rooms were very simply - not too inviting, so devotees would be eager to attend the programs and not get too comfortable in their rooms. After all a Holy Name Retreat should not invite the mood for sense enjoyment and
relaxation but rather create a good focus on the Holy Name.
The arrangement perfectly suited our needs.....
Most devotees came from the Kharkov community, and some also had arrived from other cities around Ukraine. Gradually the news are spreading that these retreats are a worthwhile experience, and devotees are becoming more
and more eager to participate.
A separate group of devotees formed a service team and were there to cook the prasadam with enthusiasm and devotion. Sarvatma Prabhu and his wife had brought their beautiful Gaur Nitai Deities and their home altar with all the
decorations, and of course Srila Prabhupada was also there.
We had gone to the fields to collect nice forest flowers and brightly blossoming sun flowers, and the altar and Prabhupada's Vyasasana were decorated with beautiful vases. The seminar room was decorated with flags and a big Maha Mantra banner and had turned into a confidential bhajan kutir - just big enough to welcome all the participating devotees. The room emanated a very personal and intimate atmosphere.
Devotees were tuning well into the mood, leaving all their usual distractions behind and opening their hearts in order to welcome Sri Harinama Prabhu to do His mysterious transformations on us. The evening kirtans were deep and prayerful, and everyone present gained deeper insights into chanting the Holy Name.
On the third day we experienced some little pastime which reminded me of Mahaprabhu's lila's at Srivas Thakur's house:
A small group of young devotees had joined us on the afternoon of the third day. We had already done a lot of internal work during those three days, and thus the atmosphere had reached a deep level. However, those young devotees
who joined us were in a different mood and started showing off during the kirtan by engaging in frivolous dancing sports.
Immediately the entire atmosphere changed, and the deep and transcendental mood was destroyed. I felt upset and was wondering what to do - to simply tolerate it, or to use the situation to preach....?!
So I stopped the kirtan. Somebody had joined us who should not have been there.....
I gave some explanations and requested the newcomers to be humble and sensitive to join our confidential circle with the right consciousness. And gradually we managed to again build up the transcendental mood, and the offenders felt somewhat exposed but purified.....
In the evening when taking rest I felt very happy about the incidence. It had been very instructive for everyone present, and it almost appeared as if Mahaprabhu's same kirtan lila's were still going on to this day..... It had been a practical preparation for the next day's discussion: chanting the Holy Name in the mood of rendering service, rather than in the mood of sense gratification.
During the final closing ceremony Caitanya Rupa Prabhu, a senior devotee of the Kharkov yatra shared a wonderful realization. More than fifteen years ago as a young brahmacari he had bought Deities in Vrindavan, and upon his return to Ukraine he had written a letter to his spiritual master, asking for blessings to begin Their worship. His Gurudeva had given an unexpected response: he had requested him to simply keep those Deities in the box and not worship Them for the time being. And he had instructed him: "For now your Deity is the Holy Name."
He had followed the instruction and did not start with the worship until many years later when his Guru Maharaja had given permission to do so. Now at the retreat he shared: "I followed the instruction not to worship those Deities, but I never really understood how the Holy Name is my Deity. Only now during this retreat I began to understand his instruction more deeply - after fifteen years...."
The retreat left deep impressions on the devotees' hearts, and it had a wonderfully uniting effect on the entire yatra: uniting in service and in chanting the Holy Name....
Devotees expressed their gratitude for the wonderful experience, sharing how this retreat had given them a new understanding of what it means to chant - in japa aswell as in kirtan.
If only a handful devotees feel like this, the entire endeavor is well worthwhile.....!
On the 20th of July I flew of to Stockholm/Sweden for yet another transcendental adventure: the Scandinavian Bhakti Sangam Festival.....
Your servant, Devaki dd