Eighteen devotees attended the first ever annual retreat for new sannyasa candidates from February 6th to 8th this year at the Vaishnava Academy in Mayapur, West Bengal.
Attendees hailed from India, Europe, USA, South America, Africa and Russia, and were aged between forty—the minimum age at which ISKCON allows sannyasa—and sixty-five.
The retreat, which includes a number of training seminars, is another step in a series of efforts by the ISKCON Sannyasa Ministry to ensure the maturity and qualification of those accepting the renounced order of life.
Candidates are expected to take the retreat three times before taking sannyasa, on top of already established systems such as a five-year waiting period, in-depth peer reviews, scriptural tests, a written statement of agreement from their former spouse, and more.
Overall, throughout the three years that new sannyasa candidates take the retreat, the ISKCON Sannyasa Ministry aims to prepare them for future sannyasa life with training on a series of subjects.
On the topic of a sannyasi’s role in ISKCON, they’ll learn: what an ideal sannyasi in ISKCON is; how a sannyasi should cooperate with managerial authorities; ISKCON sannyasis’ role as siksa-gurus; financial accountability for sannyasis; rules and regulations for ISKCON sannyasis; and the attitudes and psychology conducive for the carrying out of sannyasa duties in ISKCON.
To prepare sannyasa candidates for the challenges of sannyasa life, the retreats will teach: how a sannyasi in ISKCON should deal with women; the importance of regular peer association for sannyasis; how travelling sannyasis can maintain their health and a balanced life style; a sannyasi's relationships with other asramas, devotees, and the public; and how to improve mind and sense control.
“Of course, ultimately, the real challenge is to fix your mind upon Krishna and never forget Him,” says ISKCON Sannyasa Minister Prahladananda Swami, who has been a sannyasi for twenty-nine years and is one of the retreat teachers. “Because without becoming Krishna conscious everyone is challenged in this world, no matter what their position. Either we’re challenged by difficulty, or if we’re in a very comfortable position, we can be challenged by complacency. Without becoming Krishna conscious, there’s no hope for anyone developing the qualities of real renunciation and knowledge.”
The retreats will also enhance candidates’ awareness of the qualities of a sannyasi and how to develop and maintain them, through seminars on the three qualities of a sannyasi: fearlessness, purification of one's existence, and the cultivation of spiritual knowledge; as well as the leadership qualities of a sannyasi.
Finally, to clarify the meaning of sannyasa in ISKCON in relation to Srila Prabhupada's mission, the retreats will discuss: the place of Srila Prabhupada in a sannyasi's life; Sannyasis' role in preaching and book distribution; and Srila Prabhupada's instructions and vision for the sannyasa ashrama.
At this year’s retreat, candidates covered some of these topics including the meaning of sannyasa in ISKCON, leadership qualities of a sannyasi, the three main qualities of a sannyasi, the history of sannyasa, and integrated preaching strategies such as book distribution. The seminars, usually lasting about an hour-and-a-half each, were presented in the morning and afternoon by experienced sannyasis and preachers such as Prahladananda Swami, Chandramauli Swami, Bhakti Rasamrita Swami, Yadunandana Swami, and Navina Nirada Dasa.
During the second day of the seminar, the candidates visited the Jaganatha Mandir in Mayapur and enjoyed hearing Krishna Book and chanting of ecstatic bhajans. All their accommodations and prasadam were provided for free by Navina Nirada, the Director of the Mayapur Vaishnava Academy.
The candidates expressed deep appreciation for the retreat, and look forward to another one, covering different topics, next year.
“These new annual sannyasa retreats are an important step in helping to strengthen sannyasis in our society, and especially in building strong bonds of friendship and support among new sannyasis,” comments GBC member Anuttama Dasa. “The sannyasa ashram is an important source of inspiration for all ISKCON members, and it has many challenges. The more we can do as a community to help ensure mature and spiritually strong sannyasis, the more deeply rooted we’ll all be in our service to Srila Prabhupada.”
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