New Vraja Dham is a wonderful community with around one hundred devotees living on the property itself, and another one hundred in the nearby village. Those who live on Sri Sri Radha Syamasundara's property are aspiring to offer their entire life in Their service, without striving for personal economic development. They live a simple life in service to the Deities and devotees - even as householders, and are fully maintained by the temple.
I was invited to give the course "Giving and Accepting Shelter" to the devotees here. Sivarama Swami had suggested to have a 90-minute presentation each day during the morning program over five days, followed by further discussions in the afternoons, as a more informal get-together on the veranda outside the little Guest House where I was accomodated. It was a great idea which worked really well, with around sixty devotees attending the morning sessions, and around 25 assembling in the afternoons for further discussions in a more personal setting and atmosphere. This was a very nice way to give as many devotees as possible the opportunity to take part in the seminar - an idea which I might also apply in other communities in the future.
We even had arranged the printed hand-outs to be translated into Hungarian. In this way everyone received the materials of the systematic development of the topic with its nice quotes, and devotees could discuss them further in home programs.
The topic of endeavoring to take shelter accompanies us throughout our whole spiritual practice - it is the very essence of Krsna consciousness.
When discussing the main qualities we need to cultivate in order to be eager for shelter which are in one sense manifestations of humility - namely inquisitiveness, helplessness and respect, it became evident that in material life and its culture people do not strive for these qualities. Instead of being inquisitive people in general prefer to talk about themselves and share their opinions, and inquiring about a topic is seen as being incompetent, inexperienced and ignorant. This is even more so when it comes to feeling helpless. In material life, feeling helpless is considered to be a sign of weakness - almost being a loser. Nobody would strive for helplessly depending on others. However, in spiritual practice it is a sign of advancement - to recognise our tiny and insignificant position, being helplessly dependent on Hari, Guru and the Vaisnavas.
Humility directly manifests also as respect towards other living entities, and especially towards other Vaisnavas. A humble person will give respect to one and all, whereas a proud person will not be able to respect anybody but rather demand respect for himself. And unless we have genuine respect - how can we feel inspired to take shelter in a more experienced Vaisnava?
Any intimate relationship has to be based on deep respect. But in modern days we consider respect to be formality, and we try to create intimacy by throwing out respect. But in return we simply get overfamiliarity - taking each other lightly, and using each other in subtle ways for our own gratification.
Interesting to understand that the very foundation of spiritual culture is respect. Thus the elders are able to pass down traditions, values and standards to the younger generation. Unless there is respect from both sides, this loving exchange cannot take place. In Nectar of Instruction verse 4 Prabhupada comments what guhyam akhyati prcchati means: a more experienced devotee explains, and a less experienced devotee learns from him. This is the confidential loving exchange of giving and accepting shelter which can only take place if respect is the foundation of the relationship.
Maybe this is one reason why we have not managed to establish the Vanaprastha ashram so far. Giving guidance to the younger generation and sharing their wealth of life experience and wisdom is the main and most valuable contribution the elders are making to human society. And this can only take place where giving and accepting shelter based on deep respect is cultivated. When this respect is not there, the elders don't have any function in human society and are simply seen as a burden.
During my visit I was invited to take lunch with Maharaja one day, together with a few other visiting devotees from England, who were still here after his Vyasa Puja. It was a wonderful feast with all kinds of delicious preparations. I even broke my no-sugar diet and had a little piece of chocolate cake and ice cream. We were sitting outside in the garden, surrounded by blossoming trees and flowers - a beautiful setting....
From New Vraja Dham I traveled back to Budapest and gave four morning sessions on the same topic of Giving and Accepting Shelter to the temple devotees and the congregation. Also here it was well received.
One evening I had an opportunity to visit Govinda's Restaurant in the city and give an evening program here. A nice group of people had assembled in a cosey room behind the restaurant area - eager to hear and inquire. On the way back to the temple I caught some impressions of the beautiful city of Budapest - many old and majestic buildings are the remnants of a great heritage of spiritual culture. It somehwat reminded me of Stockholm in Sweden.
On the last evening we met with all the brahmacarinis of the city temple, discussing topics centered around being in a woman's body. The idea came up to arrange for a Vaisnavi retreat next year, out in New Vraja Dham. We could invite all the ladies from different parts of Hungary to spend a few days in New Vraja Dham, churning deeper topics to ongoingly transform our hearts and minds. What a wonderful idea.....!
On the 14th of May I flew off to Zurich/Swizzerland....
Your servant, Devaki dd