A new bhakta director and youth preacher at ISKCON Juhu, Mumbai has been taking new devotees and their parents on spiritual retreats together. The results? Deeper relationships, and unfavorable parents becoming favorable to Krishna consciousness and in some cases taking up the path themselves.
Chakravarti Das works with the Mumbai chapter of CHOICE (Center for Heritage of Indian Culture and Education). The program sees devotees renting an apartment near a college, and accommodating male students who want to practice Krishna consciousness. Every day, the students rise at 4:00am, attend mangala arati, chant japa, listen to a Bhagavatam class and take a prasadam breakfast before going to college for the day.
Many students have been following this program for two to five years, and aim to fully join ISKCON or even become full-time brahmacharis (celibate monks) at the temple. Some parents are unfavorable to the idea; but rather than widening the gap, program leaders are inviting them on retreats to spend time with their sons and share Krishna conscious experiences together – giving them insight on this new love of their sons’ lives.
Chakravarti Das began with his own parents, and has been leading parent-son sacred retreats annually since 2015. Each year, the numbers have grown, and this year saw two retreats – one in April and one during the holy month of Kartik.
The Kartik retreat ran from October 7th to 9th in Vrindavan Dhama, and was attended by 100 people including 20 devotee students and 80 of their parents and relatives.
On the first day, starting at Kusum Sarovara lake, the group did a seven-hour parikrama (foot pilgrimage) of the sacred hill Govardhana. In the evening, Chakravarti gave a two-hour introduction to the basics of Krishna consciousness, clarifying what ISKCON does, what its philosophy is, and why chanting, reading scriptures, associating with devotees and visiting holy places is important; as well as how one can practice at home. The parents and relatives also had a chance to ask questions.
On October 8th, the group visited the house of Nanda Maharaja, Krishna’s father in Gokula; Raval, Srimati Radharani’s birthplace; and the spot where mother Yashoda tied Krishna to a wooden grinding mortar, a pastime meditated upon during Kartik. They also visited Chintaharan Ghat, where mother Yashoda prayed to Lord Shiva to relieve her anxiety after seeing the entire universe within Krishna’s mouth.
At Chintaharan Ghat, Bhakti Ashraya Vaishnava Swami, a disciple of ISKCON guru Gopal Krishna Goswami, gave a lecture on the childhood pastimes of Lord Krishna. And later that evening, all the sons and relatives visited some of the main temples of Vrindavan such as Radha Damodar and Banke Bihari.
Finally, on October 9th, the group visited Nandagram, Vrinda Kunda, and the Radharani Shriji temple in Varshana, before hearing about Krishna’s nectarean pastimes again from Bhakti Ashraya Vaishnava Swami.
Students outside Lord Rama’s Palace in Ayodhya during a previous retreat
Throughout the retreat, parents, sons and relatives also attended mangala arati every morning. And every evening, they offered lamps to the Lord at ISKCON’s Krishna Balarama Mandir.
The effect of this and previous retreats have been astonishing. “Many parents who previously opposed their sons joining are now chanting sixteen rounds a day, following the four regulative principles, regularly reading Prabhupada’s books, and ready for initiation themselves,” says Chakravarti.
Some are supporting their local ISKCON temples, and some who do not live near a temple are even spreading the word and building congregations to create a base for ISKCON to build a temple in their area.
It goes without saying that these parents also now support their sons’ plans to become full-time brahmacharis. Other parents, who have not taken up the path of Krishna consciousness, have at least changed their tunes to become favorable and supportive.
Other family members have also seen their lives change after going on retreats. One student’s brother gave up intoxicants, is now chanting sixteen rounds, and supports his sibling’s path fully after seeing the transformative power of Krishna consciousness.
Many family members are so spiritually enlivened that they have insisted on going on yet another retreat, to Jagannath Puri in January, despite having so many personal and professional responsibilities at home. They also have promised to bring more relatives next time.
“We started with just six people – my family – and 40 people came in April, then 100 for this Kartik’s retreat,” says Chakravarti. “In January we expect 150 or 200. So it’s expanding.”
The student devotees themselves are also delighted with being able to share such a big part of their lives with their parents, thus deepening their relationships.
“It’s a win-win for everyone,” Chakravarti says.
Jan 22, 2023
Bhaktivedanta Institute for Higher Studies