Today’s world isn’t just hectic and stressful for adults. Youth must juggle school or college, home studying, exams, and part-time jobs while holding on to some semblance of a social life. No surprise that every so often, it’s time for a much needed break. But while some choose drinking, partying and dogged pursuit of casual sex, ISKCON’s Pandava Sena youth group are looking for a true break away from it all this summer: a sample of the simple life.
Pandava Sena, or “Army of the Pandavas,” was formed in London in January 1994, when Hindu youth joined the campaign to stop Parliament from closing ISKCON’s Bhaktivedanta Manor to the public. It was a fitting name—this was a fight for justice, and the original Pandavas, five legendary brothers depicted in the epic poem Mahabharata, had fought in a war for the establishment of religious and moral principles.
But when the dust settled, and the battle to save Bhaktivedanta Manor had been won, Pandava Sena realized that they had created a network that was invaluable even in times of peace. These Indian youth affiliated with ISKCON had an urgent need to hang out with like-minded souls and to make Krishna consciousness relevant to them. So together, they began to organize and create festivals, musical jams, dramas, discussions, movie presentations, philosophical debates, and, of course, summer retreats.
By 2002, when a handful of Indian youth from New Jersey, USA attended Pandava Sena’s summer retreat, the UK youth group had become a veritable European institution, tight-knit and well-organized. Their kirtan chants, seminars, interactive activities and college student outreach deeply inspired the US youth. It was time, they decided, to start their own branch of Pandava Sena.
With the assistance and wisdom of UK branch leader Sandipani Krishna Dasa, Chaitanya Nanda Dasa and ISKCON News Weekly’s own Vyenkata Bhatta Dasa, the US Pandava Sena was born in New Jersey. Pandava Sena groups, mostly Indian although westerners are also welcome to join, also sprung up in Washington DC, Baltimore, and Toronto. Today, members aged 15-25 play a big part in organizing festivals at their local temples, and hold monthly spiritual programs to which they are encouraged to bring outside friends.
And every summer, the signature Pandava Sena retreats allow them to take some time out from their busy lives of school and work to have healthy fun and absorb themselves in Krishna consciousness.
Previous years’ events have been held in Detroit, Toronto, Washington D.C, Gita-Nagari in Pennsylvania and New Vrindaban in West Virginia. This year, fifty youth will attend the “The Simple Life” retreat at Prabhupada Village, North Carolina, a peaceful rural community, from July 22 to 28.
“Every year we have a different theme,” explains 21-year-old event organizer Chaitanya Dasa. “This year’s is simple living and high thinking, so we’ll be focusing on living with the earth and contemplating the goal of life.”
Chaitanya was convinced to use Prabhupada Village for his group’s summer retreat when he met Mitrasena Dasa, a musician and preacher who has lived there for seventeen years.
The community is made up of 360 acres in an idyllic countryside, Mitrasena explained. Every piece of it has been subdivided into private parcels for devotees, including a 17-acre plot for the temple. And every building in the community has been custom-built by devotees for devotees.
Furthermore, while many devotees in Prabhupada Village are like the rest of us still struggling with Srila Prabhupada’s ideal of simple living and high thinking, some are giving excellent examples of it. Krishna Chaitanya, a family man in his early thirties, raises and milks dairy cows, and supplies much of the community’s milk. Another devotee, Mathura, has built his own house using mud bricks, and makes a living exclusively from growing and selling farm produce.
The community also provides a good example in family stability for young people. Mitrasena and his wife Mahara have been married for 23 years, Sivananda and Madan-Mohan Mohini for 30 years, and Vatsala and Sasikala for 35 years.
Prabhupada Village is also home to many senior devotees who contributed significantly to ISKCON’s history. When Sivananda, a quiet and unassuming elderly devotee, was only 19, Srila Prabhupada asked a room full of his American disciples who could go on a mission to Europe. When no one spoke up, Sivananda volunteered, “I will, Srila Prabhupada,” and went on to singlehandedly started the Hare Krishna movement in Germany. Many other Prabhupada Villagers have also personally met ISKCON’s founder many times and have plenty of stories of their interactions with him.
“But all of us old geezers need someone to share our stories with, someone to pass down to all the information we’ve learned,” Mitrasena told Chaitanya. “We’ll be gone in a few years, and if we can’t connect with the younger generation, then everything is just going to disappear. Whatever we can establish within the hearts and minds of the youth, will endure into the future.”
Convinced, Chaitanya immediately set about planning a memorable 7-day retreat in the hills of North Carolina.
“On every day of the retreat, we’ll be attending the temple’s 7am morning program and philosophy class,” Chaitanya says. “On Wednesday July 22 and Thursday July 23, we’ll set up our headquarters outside in a shady area under the trees, and attend seminars on simple living and high thinking. Our special guest speakers include ISKCON gurus Jayadvaita Swami and Bhakti Marg Swami, Utah temple president Charu Dasa, and Iraq war veteran Partha Sarathi Dasa.”
Youth will also do a spiritually-themed scavenger hunt, take hands-on farming lessons, and go on a nature walk with Bhakti Marg Swami, who has trekked across Canada three times and is famously known as “The Walking Monk.” Then to cool off, they will bathe, Vedic style, in the refreshing creek flowing through Prabhupada Village.
On Friday, to combine the nature experience with a bit of youthful adrenaline, the group will go zip-lining at Carolina Ziplines, one of the best companies in the country. Using the same technology used in mountain climbing, ziplining sends visitors soaring through the forest treetops 20 – 60 feet above the forest floor. The canopy tour involves harnessing up, hooking onto a steel cable and zipping along at up to 45 miles per hour for distances of 100-1000 feet from one platform to another.
On Saturday and Sunday, youth will attend Prabhupada Village’s Krishna Fest, the fourth in a series of sustainability festivals designed to reach out to the public. Devotee and outside professionals will speak on diverse aspects of sustainability, such as transportation, farming, energy production, solar panels and more. Featuring speakers such as Subala Dasa, who installed the solar panels on Prabhupada Village’s temple, past festivals have drawn some 400 visitors, all westerners and many coming for the first time.
“The past few events have focused on the sustainability talks,” says organizer Mitrasena. “But this event will be a lot more Krishna-centered, now that we’re getting repeat guests who are more comfortable and feel like they’re part of the show.”
“Krishna-centric” activities will include stage performances of traditional music and dance, talks on Krishna conscious philosophy, and even the opportunity to try on saris. And of course, the Pandava Sena group will be doing plenty of kirtan chanting.
“Chaitanya told me that the group would like to do public chanting somewhere,” says Mitrasena. “But the nearest town, Winston, is an hour’s drive away, and doesn’t have a busy downtown. So instead, we’re bringing 400 people here to watch them do kirtan, and saving them the drive.’”
Pandava Sena’s retreat will end on Monday, when youth will spend the day canoeing down North Carolina’s Dan River, ending with a picnic at the Dan River Company’s riverside facility.
“I get to hang out with so many like-minded youth from all over the country, including New York, Boston, Houston, Dallas, Toronto, and Florida,” Chaitanya says. “ I get to spend seven days listening to fascinating seminars about spiritual life. And I get to do hours of kirtan. It’s the perfect recharge from the material world.”
There are currently 15 places still available on Pandava Sena’s “The Simple Life” retreat. The event fee is $250 per person, plus transport to Prabhupada Village. Registration closes on July 7. For more information or to register, visit www.psena.wordpress.com. Or call Chaitanya at 973-796-4412, Bobby Patel at 416-671-4013, Sneha Mali at 551-998-0992 or email email@example.com.
[ bhaktivedanta-manor ] [ uk ]