Devotees from England, Belgium, Croatia, Slovenia and other neighboring Eastern European countries attended the second annual Japa and Kirtan Retreat at Hotel Korinjak on the Island of Iz, Croatia from June 16th to 23rd this summer.
One couldn’t hope for a better retreat destination—set in the azure waters of the Adriatic sea, the island is beautiful and pure, with pristine white rocks and a light breeze carrying the smell of cedar wood and Mediterranean herbs.
Most important for the retreat’s leader Sacinandana Swami and all the participants, however, was the peace and quiet the island provided, allowing them to become fully absorbed in the Divine Holy Names of God.
Helping ISKCON devotees reach a new level of dedication to chanting the Hare Krishna mantra has been a major mission for Sacinandana Swami—who holds events like the one on Iz all over the world—ever since he fell seriously ill some years back.
The Island Iz, Croatia
Bed-ridden and unable to carry out his services as a missionary, the ISKCON guru resided in the holy land of Krishna’s birthplace, Vrindavana. Searching for ways to deepen his Krishna consciousness upon recovering, he began to reside in Vrindavana during the sacred month of Kartika every year, completely absorbing himself in japa, the practice of chanting privately on one’s beads.
Madhava Das leading an ecstatic kirtan
The experience changed his life, and he decided he wanted to help others gain a deeper taste for chanting too. Developing a systematic method based on his own realizations, and integrating practical techniques that had worked for him, Sacinandana Swami began to teach them all around the world.
The transformational experience his retreats offered became more and more popular, as devotees relished the opportunity to deepen their relationships with Radha and Krishna in the form of Their Holy Names.
It is Jahnavi’s turn
This year’s Island event took the retreat to a new level, gathering highlights from all Sacinandana Swami’s previous retreats to create a comprehensive program for better japa and kirtan (congregational chanting).
Each day began with the singing of traditional temple morning prayers at 7:00am, followed by a kirtan and a “Discovery Lecture,” giving important inspirations and teachings to set the spiritual frame for the day.
After breakfast and some free time, the first two-hour japa and kirtan workshop of the day ran from 11:00am till 1:00pm.
“The sessions were practice-oriented, with Sacinandana Swami giving everyone different practical tips on how to improve their japa,” says Madhava Naidoo, a well-known international kirtan singer who attended the retreat and led its kirtan sections. “These tips included the right sitting position, breathing techniques, how to listen to the mantra, and how to create your own space both outside and inside, so that you can connect with Krishna and not get disturbed when chanting japa.”
Short and instructive presentations on the moods, skills and practices of kirtan were also given during these two-hour workshops.
At 1:00pm, participants got a chance to stretch their limbs with a yoga class, followed by a lunch of sanctified vegetarian food and then several hours of free time. As well as reflecting upon everything they had learned, participants used this time to enjoy relief from the summer heat by swimming in the clear, cooling waters of the Adriatic sea, turning the retreat into an all-round relaxing holiday.
Spiritual elements were also incorporated into this recreation time, with devotees retrieving a “Message in a Bottle” carrying the Hare Krishna mantra from the sea, as well as diving for colored balloons inscribed with Krishna’s name.
Returning at 5:00pm, devotees took another two-hour workshop, followed by light snacks and kirtan from 7:00pm until around 9:30pm.
“During these guided kirtans, we applied all the exercises that Sacinandana Swami had taught us during the japa workshops,” says Madhava. “Because japa is also kirtan, and kirtan is also japa—they feed each other. The more kirtan you do, the more taste you get for chanting japa; and the more japa you chant, the more you desire endless, purer, kirtan. So he would read something from Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s pastimes, and we would meditate on it, focusing and controlling our minds, and trying to go deeper into the Holy Name.”
Both japa and kirtan received special focus on different days: on June 21st, a 12-hour kirtan was held, while on another day, all participants chanted 64 rounds of japa. Madhava, who routinely sings kirtan for hours on end, admits that sitting alone with one’s mind chanting japa is a challenge.
Even more bliss
“Because all the techniques we learned made japa easier, the first sixteen rounds were okay, and the second set, reaching 32 rounds, was still alright,” Madhava says. “But with the next 32, it came to a point where my mind got really tired, frantically running here and there. But I noticed that if I tried to really pray to Nama Prabhu (the Holy Name) and to the saints in our line who have a taste for chanting, then another door opened… And time flew, and chanting became so wonderful!”
Other participants all agreed that the retreat took their japa to a different level, giving them a much better understanding of the process, and helping them to concentrate their minds and develop heart connections with Krishna.
Drowning in ecstasy
“Personally, I love the way Sacinandana Swami presents the philosophy behind chanting in a very palatable way that keeps everyone interested,” says Madhava. “And while all his workshops and seminars are based on the teachings of Srila Prabhupada and the previous acharyas, what makes them really powerful is the way he shares his personal experience, and the way he gives personal, one-to-one guidance to each and every devotee.”
Beware of flying monks
Next up, Madhava will be hosting another week-long Japa and Kirtan retreat with Sacinandana Swami at the New Govardhana farm in Australia in early October. With 12-hour and 24-hour kirtans exploding all over ISKCON, Madhava hopes that japa retreats will be the next phenomenon.
“Whether you’re a newcomer, gurukuli, or older devotee, I would recommend them to everyone,” he says.
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