Bhakti Retreat Virtual, a live online gathering for Spanish-speaking devotees during the pandemic, celebrated its tenth installment with a special edition on Saturday August 22nd, featuring talks by Jayapataka Swami and other senior devotees.
Husband and wife team Prema Rupa Madhava Das and Prema Rupini Madhavi Dasi, who previously organized Bhakti Vriksha programs and “Harinama Party Buses” in their hometown of Buenos Aires, Argentina, launched the retreat when the pandemic halted those activities. With help from Kanakangi Padma Dasi and Kishora Shyam Das, they have been holding the virtual retreat twice a month since April.
“Because we could not do in-person meetings, we had this idea to get the association of many devotees around the globe, so that devotees in the Spanish-speaking world can see how big Srila Prabhupada’s movement is,” says Prema Rupa Madhava. “It’s wonderful for them to have this opportunity to get to know many senior devotees and Prabhupada disciples.”
Over the past ten installments, the Bhakti Retreat has featured more than sixty illustrious speakers and kirtaniyas including Malati Devi Dasi, Dina Bandhu Das, Yadubara Das, Mahatma Das, Anuttama Das, Madhavananda Das and Gaura Vani. Each time about 100 devotees have attended, participating live on Zoom. The retreats have also been broadcast live on Facebook and Mayapur.tv at Bhakti Virtual.
The tenth installment once again drew over 100 devotees, hailing from Peru, Chile, Colombia, Uruguay, Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Ecuador, Costa Rica, Dominican Republic, Venezuela, Spain, the US, and the UK. While the retreat was created specifically for Spanish-speaking devotees, English speakers are welcome too, as most of the talks are in English and translated into Spanish by translator Phanendra Gaura Das.
The immersive program on August 22nd began early in the morning at 5:00am, with a two-hour japa session. All the devotees on Zoom unmuted their mics so that everyone could hear each other. “We could also see everyone chanting in their own houses, and people could show their home deities and altars,” says Prema Rupa Madhava.
After a two-hour break, the retreat continued at 9:00am with a Hatha Yoga class by Parama Gopi Dasi from Ecuador. The live Zoom call allowed her to not only see all her students but also to correct or guide a particular student, providing a very personal interactive experience.
Next at 10:15am came a lecture by Brahmatirtha Das (Bob Cohen), entitled “Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers” after the famous book in which his 1972 conversations with his guru Srila Prabhupada were recorded. Brahmatirtha, who had been a science teacher serving with the Peace Corps in India at the time, recounted how he had been the only visiting guest during a Hare Krishna festival at ISKCON Mayapur, West Bengal. As a result, all the devotees were constantly trying to talk to him and preach to him. In a protective mood, Srila Prabhupada took special care of him, often inviting him to his room to ask how he was doing and to answer any questions he might have.
The promotional poster for the special tenth installment of the Bhakti Retreat Virtual
Brahmatirtha explained that the opportunity allowed him to follow the instruction of Bhagavad-gita 4.34, “Just try to learn the truth by approaching a spiritual master. Inquire from him submissively and render service unto him. The self-realized soul can impart knowledge unto you because he has seen the truth.”
Bhajans by Krishna Kishor Muralidhara from the Mayapuris followed at 11:30am, accompanied by harmonium, and later by mridanga and flute. Krishna Kishor also told the story of how his father had given him, as his first flute, one with four holes just like Lord Krishna’s ‘Murali flute’ described in the scriptures. Years later, he explained, his guru Jayapataka Swami named him Krishna Kishor Muralidhara, after Lord Krishna who plays that very flute.
While mics were muted during the response part of the bhajan to ensure better sound, devotees nevertheless could be seen on their webcams chanting and dancing along.
“You could see everyone in their different homes, and you could see the happiness on their faces,” says Prema Rupini Madhavi. “The movement is more families now, and you could see how all the devotees, and their children, are practicing. It was a very nice, warm mood.”
While regular Bhakti Retreats usually conclude the morning sessions at this point, the 10th installment featured a special extra class by Jayapataka Swami at 12:00pm. Through retelling various pastimes of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, he explained how to serve in Mahaprabhu’s mood.
Like the other speakers, he also left time for live questions via Zoom and Facebook, answering inquiries about how to have good relationships with devotees, and how to tell when the inner voice we hear is Paramatma talking to us and when it is our own mind.
After a several-hour break for lunch and rest, the retreat restarted at 4:00pm with Urmila Devi Dasi, who spoke about developing Vaishnava qualities, and explained several of the 26 qualities of a Vaishnava in detail.
At 5:30pm, Chandra Mukha Swami from Brazil gave a talk on being an instrument for Srila Prabhupada, and on how the pandemic has provided an excellent opportunity for reaching out to both devotees and new people with virtual lectures and seminars. He also spoke about Srila Prabhupada’s qualities and preaching mood. A professional musician before becoming a devotee, Chandra Mukha Swami ended his offering with a happy, upbeat Brazilian-style kirtan, incorporating different melodies.
Finally the Bhakti Retreat concluded at 7:00pm with participants sharing their realizations.
“Some said that they finished with a strong sense of happiness and gratitude, and that their faith in this Krishna consciousness movement had grown,” Prema Rupini Madhavi says. “One senior devotee, Menaka Devi Dasi from Argentina, has attended all the retreats since the first one in April, and said that they have been a great injection for her spiritual life. When she’s chanting japa at 5 o’clock in the morning during the Bhakti Retreat, she says, it feels like her early days as a brahmacharini in the temple.”
The retreats have allowed South and Central American devotees to meet and learn from senior Vaishnavas who didn’t normally travel to their countries even before the pandemic, and to establish lasting connections with them. Bhakti Virtual has created a true sense of the “International” Society for Krishna Consciousness, made devotees more enthusiastic and proud to be part of ISKCON, and inspired deeper appreciation for Srila Prabhupada.
Organizers plan to continue running the Bhakti Retreat every two weeks for the forseeable future, along with two other regular virtual programs – One Day in the Life of A Vaishnava, in which a senior devotee or young kirtaniya is interviewed twice a month; and Inspiration Friday, in which renowned book distributor Navinda Nirada Das gives weekly talks on Sankirtan.
“During the pandemic, devotees feel like they can take shelter of these programs,” Prema Rupa Madhava says.
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