The first one was just too good. How good? Here, in their own words, is what the Vaisnavis experienced during our first outing in Govardhana in 2011: authenticity, dedication, inspiration, open-heartedness, absence of competitiveness, a breath of fresh air, focus on Srila Prabhupada, safety, peacefulness, intimacy, affection and love, examples to look up to, friendship, caring, acceptance, Srila Prabhupada’s presence, “heart surgery,” courage to traverse life in Krishna consciousness, determination to serve Srila Prabhupada’s mission, the bliss of kirtana, service attitude—altogether, an amazing sanga!
So we are doing it again. Same place—Jatipura, Govardhana. Same time of the year—February 27 to March 2.
One might question the need for such a program. The simple fact is that it fills a need. Every devotee needs peer association and intimate relationships on the spiritual platform. Many a times it is difficult for ISKCON female devotees to have such association in their daily lives. Many live far away from the temples or, even if close by, cannot attend the regular sangas due to family obligations. Some live in the temples but their service engagement is too hectic for them to take a break to simply sit and chant with their room mates. And even the few women who do attend the temple programs at times find themselves isolated, bereft of close relationships, and lacking association with senior devotees. Vaisnavi sangas fill an existing gap. As the saying goes, birds of the same feather flock together. They have the same language and proclivities and can thus better understand each other and share their experiences for success in life. There is a unique benefit to be derived from specialized sangas, be they for the women, the old, the young, the sannyasis or brahmacaris, the grhasthas, the children, the philosophically enclined, the managers or whatever group of individuals that share some common interests and needs.
To sustain our entire life in Krsna consciousness is not so easy. We need inspiration, peer support, and role models to envision the path ahead of us and remain enthused. We tread on unknown terrain—that of applied spiritual life in an age when materialism is the standard. Besides spiritual friends, we need spiritual mothers and aunts. Hearing from Srila Prabhupada’s female disciples’ varied experiences, be they of their married life, temple life, social relationships, spiritual quests, personal feelings, or whatever, is very useful for the younger generations of devotees. While we may sometimes feel lost, not knowing how to proceed with the various situations, frustrations, or choices that come our way, these older devotees have already walked the path with success, hanging on to Srila Prabhupada’s dhoti for decades, alive with Krsna consciousness. Together they seem like a bouquet of assorted flowers offered to His Divine Grace. One may like the rose, another the jasmine, but all get something concrete.
The Vaisnavi Retreat celebrates Srila Prabhupada’s mercy on us. He gave us everything to live the life of a true devotee. He initiated us, taught us to serve, and gave us all protection. By coming together we wish to experience and share his benevolent compassion in caring for Vaisnavis.
Hearing and chanting are the main angas of bhakti. Unless and until we learn to associate with devotees on this very basis, we will remain in the association of our mind. We need those times together, when we just remember Krsna and the goal of our lives. Of course, this can be and should be done daily, but again, are we doing it? How many are not doing it? How many have not yet gotten that clue? The Vaisnavi Retreat serves as a forum to develop a taste for active spiritual association.
This time our guest teachers will be Malati Devi, Narayani Devi, Daivi Sakti Devi, and Srimati Devi. They will speak respectively on Srila Prabhupada: Memories and Reflections from his Daughters; the Twenty Four Gurus; Taking Shelter of Srimati Vrnda Devi; and Dealing with Life’s Challenges.
As Svayam Rasesvari remarked at the end of the 2011 retreat: “Sometimes we get so bogged down with the thought of being a woman that our spiritual life suffers. It is so nice that it didn’t happen at this retreat.”
For further information, please visit vihe.org or write to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jun 25, 2022
Radhapriya Chawla, ISKCON Toronto Communications