Last weekend (March 3-5), 150 devotees from Houston, Dallas, Chicago, Oklahoma City and New Orleans had a joyful and spiritual Japa Retreat (Chanting of Holy Names) with Romapada Swami and Bada Hari Das at Greater Houston area, ISKCON Houston. This Japa Retreat is an annual event and for this year the theme of the Japa Retreat was "Taking Shelter of Holy Name – Saranagati." Romapada Swami gave very informative lectures with scriptural evidences and realizations from his decades of scriptural studies and dedication to the chanting of the Holy Name, Maha mantra (Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama Hare Hare). This retreat was a perfect opportunity to enhance the relationship with the Holy Name. The attendees were also participated in enthousiastic kirtan by world renowned devotee musician Bada Hari Das and his students from Chicago.
It is also a common practice in all religions like Hinduism, Christianity and Islam to worship God by chanting the holy names. Similarly, devotees of the Lord Krishna chant the holy names in the form of the Hare Krishna Maha mantra, which is a call to the Lord to help us in self-realization and reestablishing our eternal relationship with Him. The natural desire for wanting to understand and having a relationship God is in all of us but we generally have no time nor the opportunity to pursue it. This Japa Retreat gave the perfect opportunity to overcome the material obstacles to enter into a spiritual relationship with God.
The second day was full of lectures and kirtans on the theme "Saranagati" or total surrender to Lord Krishna. Romapada Swami said in the beginning of the lectures that when many devotees come together and chant the holy names, they will help each other focus deeply and achieve deeper shelter of holy name of Krishna. This is called congregational chanting. He also quoted Srila Rupa Goswami, the foremost of the six Goswamis of Vrindavan, that when the word ‘Krishna’ is uttered in a Mantra, the very moment the first syllable – ‘Krish’ is vibrated, it immediately attracts the attention of Lord Krishna Himself. The Swami also gave great detailed explanation on six ways of surrender: (1) Humility, (2) Dedication of the self, (3) Acceptance of the Lord as one's only maintainer, (4) Faith on Krishna that He will surely protect one, (5) Execution of only those acts favorable to pure devotion, and (6) Renunciation of conduct adverse to pure devotion.
In the poem Sri Namastaka written by Raghunatha das Goswami, another of the six Goswamis, the shelter of holy name is so beautifully and poetically explained.
“O Hari-nama! The tips of the toes of Your lotus feet are constantly being worshiped by the glowing radiance emanating from the string of gems known as the Upanishads, the crown jewels of the Vedas. You are eternally adored by liberated souls such as Narada and Sukadeva. O Hari-nama! I take complete shelter of You.”
Syamasundara Das then discussed the meaning of what taking the shelter of the Holy Name meant. And later Radha Krishna Das discussed how the participants can also serve the Holy Name in various ways. Both these discussions helped the participants to practice the chanting the Holy Name with greater care and understanding and in forming a better relationship with the Lord as well.
In between the lectures and discussions, Bada Hari Das and his students sang "Saranagati" songs written by Srila Bhakti Vinoda Thakura melodiously which were overwhelmingly enjoyed by all the retreat attendees as they stood up and danced and chanted in unison.
On Sunday, the final day, the highlight of the retreat was the 64 rounds of the Holy Names where 64 rounds are the equivalent of chanting the Holy Names for 6,912 times. It usually takes the chanter about 8 to 9 hours. To avoid distractions and to not waste valuable time, the attendees all took a vow of silence or ‘mouna vrata’. The day ended with many attendees sharing their realizations which were appreciated by all. One devotee shared her realization that “I am very happy to attend Japa Retreat and my daughter chanted 59 Rounds for the first time in one day and I was able to have good realization about where I am at in my spiritual life”. Young devotee children also shared their realization that “I did 32 rounds and quality of chanting was better when I did in front of Deities” and “I felt very blissful when I chanted so many rounds”
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