[Nutan Swamiji’s “Enlightened Living – Walking the Inner Path” Residential Retreats first started in Jamshedpur in 2013. This year, for the first time, the retreat was conducted at SIRD-Malaysia from 20th to 25th January 2023. The 5-day retreat had 20 participants from diverse ages and backgrounds. Dr Anand Balan, Anupreeta Partiban, Nyanaselvi Krishnan, Subashini Sivagnanam and Vanisri Sivagnanam were among the young adults who had participated. They were happy to give their views and glimpses of the enlightening and enriching programme, as presented below.]
Introductory Session – 20th Jan (evening)
Just hearing Swamiji speak made us excited about the retreat. We came with open mind and no expectations. All we wanted was to learn.
The retreat started with Nutan Swamiji speaking at length about the “Purpose of the Retreat”. Swamiji discussed how to know and cultivate our Inner Resources. He emphasized the importance of us having right behaviour, way of speaking as well as thinking, before we can think of propagating this Knowledge to our family members or the society.
Nutan Swamiji then spent some time enlightening us on the benefits of the Vishnu-sahasranāma chanting. We learnt that proper chanting is possible when we sit with spine erect, which enhances our breathing. This has a direct impact on mental clarity and sharpness.
Day 1 – 21st Jan
We learned that spirituality begins with enquiry, which is followed by purification and refinement of the mind and intelligence.
Our day started at 6.45 am – an unusually early start for some of us – with silent sitting. We came to understand that sometimes people take a little longer to become silent! After the blissful morning prayers led by Aravindanji, the whole group got involved in setting up the Satsang Hall for the upcoming classes.
Morning session began with an introduction where Nutan Swamiji (and the rest of us) got to know a bit about participants’ backgrounds, issues they were facing as well as their expectations from the retreat. Swamiji then went deep into the difference between religion and spirituality, explaining that religion is based on concepts of an external God, while spirituality requires us to enquire into our own within and realize the Truth of our real identity. We need religious practices as a start to discipline ourselves and be on the right path. With spirituality, we then outlive religious activities.
During the “Recording Our Thoughts” session, we were asked to write about what we understood from Swamiji’s sessions. Most of us simply replicated the notes we had made. Only later did we realize that we were supposed to share openly the impact of the learning on our own thoughts and impressions.
In the evening, we had our first Shloka chanting session with Aravindanji, who patiently taught us proper Sanskrit pronunciation and guided us to chant the shloka ‘Prabuddham vimuktam’ correctly. It was really a nice learning session.
Nutan Swamiji’s discourse series entitled “Understanding the Guṇas that Bind and also Liberate Us”, based on Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14, commenced that night. Swamiji highlighted that unlike the peaceful setting of Upanishadic learning, Bhagavad Gita was a dialogue between two administrators in the middle of a warfield. Bhagavad Gita shows us how to convert all our actions into sadhana, thereby divinizing every moment. Before concluding, Swamiji introduced us to the concept of the three Guṇas, the modes of Nature which bind and liberate us.
Day 2 – 22nd Jan
The sharing of our thoughts ignited a curiosity in better understanding and learning about oneself, leading us to apply Chapter 14 of Bhagavad Gita as a diagnosis and treatment for our personality.
By now we were accustomed to early rising, and tuned into the silent sitting and morning prayers in a much more relaxed manner. As the retreat progressed, the distractions in our minds faded somewhat. During the writing session, we reflected on what we had learnt from the Bhagavad Gita discourse the night before – what we understood, where we are now, and how we can move forward incorporating the teachings.
The morning’s interactive session with Nutan Swamiji placed strong emphasis on inner expansion and acceptance. It was a lovely session, and Nutan Swamiji’s real-life anecdotes (which at times were hilarious) made the teaching much more relatable.
Guided introspection presented a series of hypothetical situations, compelling us to examine our typical reactions as well as ideal response. Quite often we know the ideal response in the vast majority of situations, but we fall far short in practice. With Nutan Swamiji’s guidance we are now aware that “adverse reactions” occur due to non-acceptance, desires, and clinging to outcomes.
Evening shloka-chanting class was enjoyable and satisfying, as we applied our improved pronunciation of Sanskrit alphabets to new shlokas that were taught. The evening concluded with Nutan Swamiji using Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14 to enlighten us further on buddhi-yoga, and the characteristics of sattva-guṇa.
Day 3 – 23rd Jan
Guided introspection was tough as we had to be honest with ourselves. Hopefully what we wrote was helpful for Nutan Swamiiji to understand us better.
We found ourselves having greater enthusiasm in the early hours of the morning. Realized that silent sitting and morning prayers help us get on to the right path just as we begin the day. Writing session was sometimes difficult, trying to find suitable words to express our thoughts, trying to make the writing reflect what we were thinking. We took our time, going into ourselves to explore and understand what we had received from Swamiji so far.
In Nutan Swamiji’s morning class we learned that the search for Knowledge should make the divergent mind convergent. Ego and desires will only lead to disturbance and hinder our performance.
Throughout the day – and later at night during the Bhagavad Gita discourse – Nutan Swamiji gave us illustrations and examples both from his own life as well as those he knew, to help us comprehend better, and remain firm on the path of enlightened living. By the end of the night Swamiji had thoroughly gone through the three guṇas, the binding aspect of each, and how we can overcome them.
Day 4 – 24th Jan
We had to identify our behavioural traits in relation to the 3 guṇas, the spiritual progress we can expect when sattva-guṇa is predominant in our personality, and the changes we have to make to increase sattva-guṇa.
Among all our introspection sessions, this one felt like writing an exam. It was challenging because it wasn’t just about ruminating over our individual experiences and emotions, or ideal responses like the previous ones. If one was not attentive and receptive during Swamiji’s discourse, one could fail the paper! Fortunately, we had our notes penned down. What was left was to openly and honestly analyse ourselves, and correlate the 3 guṇas with our personality.
Final shloka chanting class for the retreat, many requested to learn ‘Brahmarpanam Brahmahavir…’ which is chanted before taking food. With Aravindanji’s patience and humorous demeanour, we had a wonderful session learning to chant the prayer.
In the evening, Nutan Swamiji took us through the chariot model of an integrated personality constituting the senses, mind, intelligence and Inner Presence. Swamiji also emphasized the importance of proper nourishment in the form of noble thoughts and expansive emotions, to strengthen the mind. All of us were enthused to follow the rest of the Bhagavad Gita Chapter 14 series, which would continue for another 4 days after the retreat concluded.
Day 5 (Concluding Day) – 25th Jan
It is now left upon each of us to retain the Knowledge given by Nutan Swamiji, and incorporate sāttvik practices in our daily lives.
It has been an absolutely enlightening 5 days. However, all good things must come to an end. Writing session was our feedback for the overall retreat, and suggestions to improve or incorporate for the next one. This was followed by each one of us sharing with Nutan Swamiji our impressions during the interactive session.
The overall feedback was positively amazing. The insights from Nutan Swamiji were comprehensive, and his stories, as delightful as they were, carried larger lessons for our life. We felt our mind-boggling issues and unanswered questions about everyday living were resolved. We hope to carry the feeling of light-heartedness, and deep calm, throughout our lives. As Swamiji said, “Flow like a river, led by the natural ups and downs of the terrain…”.
Ultimately we were all immensely grateful for the amount of effort and time taken to put the whole retreat together by Swamiji as well as the volunteers. Amidst all the love and comfort we received, we sometimes felt we were being “overfed”. But as one participant shared, the Knowledge received from Nutan Swamiji is “… the most important nutrition anybody and everybody needs to live joyfully.”
We understand that to improve ourselves in all aspects we must not be overly joyful or sad, but be observant and impersonal. We must not expect drastic changes in life, but let things happen naturally. We left the retreat more aware of our own emotions and thoughts, and eager to see where this journey takes us.
“Swamiji emphasized the importance of us having right behaviour, way of speaking as well as thinking, before we can think of propagating this Knowledge to our family members or the society”
“We learned that spirituality begins with enquiry, which is followed by purification and refinement of the mind and intelligence.”
“The sharing of our thoughts ignited a curiosity in better understanding and learning about oneself, leading us to apply Chapter 14 of Bhagavad Gita as a diagnosis and treatment for our personality.”
“We found ourselves having greater enthusiasm in the early hours of the morning. Realized that silent sitting and morning prayers help us get on to the right path just as we begin the day.”
“Swamiji emphasized the importance of proper nourishment in the form of noble thoughts and expansive emotions, to strengthen the mind.”
“Amidst all the love and comfort we received, we sometimes felt we were being “overfed”. But as one participant shared, the Knowledge received from Nutan Swamiji is “… the most important nutrition anybody and everybody needs to live joyfully.””