It has been the tradition of our great land that during the ‘Chaatur-maasya’ (four month period) following Gurupoornima, disciples and devotees come to the hermitage of the Guru and remain in his-Sannidhi (presence), immersing themselves in scriptural study and spiritual discussions.
श्रोत्रियोऽवृजिनोऽकामहतो यो ब्रह्मवित्तमः ।
ब्रह्मण्युपरतः शान्तो निरिन्धन इवानलः
अहेतुकदयासिन्धुर्बन्धुरानमतां सताम् ॥ ३३ ॥
Who has realized the essence of the scriptures, sinless, who is unsmitten by desire, a knower of Brahman par excellence, is always immersed in Brahman, calm and brilliant like fire that needs no fuel; who is an ocean of mercy that knows no reason, and a friend of all those noble ones who prostrate before him.
It has been the tradition of our great land that during the ‘Chaatur-maasya’ (four month period) following Gurupoornima, disciples and devotees come to the hermitage of the Guru and remain in his-Sannidhi (presence), immersing themselves in scriptural study and spiritual discussions. This blessed tradition continues to some extent even today. In Ashram, this spiritual immersion has always taken place in the form of a week-long retreat following Gurupoornima.
Over the past two years, Gurupoornima and Retreat have been exclusively held online. This year, it was finally time to gingerly emerge from the “COVID19 cocoon”, but having a restricted physical gathering. After much deliberation, taking into consideration the number of people that could be hosted at a time while observing reasonable physical distancing, it was decided that the Retreat would be held as a separate event, commencing 4 days after Gurupoornima function.
Ma led her team of workers through every guest room to make sure everything was tip-top. Meticulous charts were drawn up detailing guest names, arrivals, accommodation, etc. All were shared on the multiple WhatsApp groups operating in Ashram so that everyone was in the know.
Most of the devotees who opted to attend the Gurupoornima function had arranged to leave before retreat participants were scheduled to arrive, in order to make the limited accommodation available for them. A few were to participate in both events. For Retreat participants, it was mandatory to be present for the entire 8-day programme.
The Retreat commenced on the evening of 17 July 2022 with the Introductory Session. Poojya Swamiji’s opening message set the tone for the whole retreat. He explained that the Sadguru blesses the seeker in 3 ways – through his sight, thought and touch. Swamiji also made clear to all what benefit they could gain from attending the retreat – an enriched mind and enlightened intelligence, integration of the whole personality, and increased power to assimilate and be enriched by world impacts.
Nutan Swamiji urged all participants to keep their mind open like a fresh clean slate to receive everything in its proper form. To increase retentivity, he advised us to be mindful of thoughts and speech, remaining focused on the spiritual goal. At the same time, he reminded, we should not become constricted and insensitive, rather be free and helpful responding to others’ needs with love and concern.
Ma recollected Poojya Swamiji’s advice to her when she first came to Ashram – be free and relaxed like a child. She advised participants to simply be at the Ashram receiving the shower of knowledge with blessedness. All that needed to be done was to observe and understand that everything taking place in the Ashram is completely charged with a spiritual current.
Participants then took turns to introduce themselves. About forty committed seekers attended the Retreat, including several couples and two families. A few were well-known, many were new, having come in contact via the weekly online Global Satsangs. It was exciting on both ends – for the newcomers to finally meet the Spiritual Masters they had been following so closely online, and for our Saints to finally see some of the faces they had been speaking to for almost 2 years.
Poojya Swamiji, Nutan Swamiji and Ma – each gave a full lecture daily for the duration of the Retreat. Poojya Swamiji’s daily morning Prabhata Rasmih expanded to a mini lecture series, with Swamiji speaking for almost 45 minutes each time.
Participants were also able to experience daily Ashram routines right from early Morning Prayers to Pushpa-samarpanam, Bhojana Pavitreekaranam before lunch and dinner and Evening Prayers. Additional treats included guided tour of the Tapovanam buildings by Nutan Swamiji himself, tour of Annakshetra by inmates and visits to Sabha Niketan and Poojya Swamiji’s birth house.
1. Poojya Swamiji: Self-Realization – The Supreme Treasure
कर्तव्यमस्ति न ममेह हि किंचिदेव स्थातव्यमित्यतिमना भुवि संस्थितोऽस्मि ।
संशान्तया सततसुप्तधियेह वृत्या कार्यं करोमि न च किंचिदहं करोमि ॥
Yoga Vasishtha Ramayana 2.10.44
I have here nothing particular to be done as a duty, nor is there anything to be conformed to in the way of a discipline or custom. Yet I live well on the earth with a transcendental mind. Always with a tranquil mind and intelligence, as it were in a state of sleep, I do whatever is to be done, but at the same time, I do not do anything at all.
Poojya Swamiji beautifully narrated the essence of spiritual instructions given by Sage Vasishtha to Prince Rama in Yogavasishtha Ramayana. Having been born as human, Swamiji said, the sole focus in one’s life must be to constantly reform and refine the mind. The agency to help and guide us in this process is our own intelligence and the method is ‘Truthful Introspection’ (tattva-vichara).
Various episodes from this stupendous text were explored in depth by Poojya Swamiji to highlight their its practical application. The beautiful Song of the Siddhas led us to the space between two thoughts, which is the very Source of all thoughts. Swamiji’s narration about Suraghu and Parigha (two kings who were assailed by their royal afflictions and torments) showed us how spiritual wisdom becomes meaningful and fulfilling in helping us conduct life in the world efficiently and benevolently.
Ultimately, in our sadhana, self-effort is indispensable. Swamiji emphasized that it is the ‘Paurusha’ – the human will and effort – which wins the result for us in any sphere of life. Employing supreme Paurusha, we have to gently lead our restless mind to a state of equanimity and placidity. When the mind is thus graced with equipoise, all dualities like attraction and repulsion, infatuation and intolerance vaporize.
2. Nutan Swamiji: Introspection – based on Bhagavad Gita
दूरेण ह्यवरं कर्म बुद्धि-योगाद्-धनञ्जय ।
बुद्धौ शरणम्-अन्विच्छ कृपणाः फल-हेतवः ॥
Bhagavad Gita 2.49
O Dhananjaya (Arjuna), the usual course of activity (which fixes our attention on the fleeting gains alone) is far inferior to buddhi-yoga (wherein the intelligence preserves evenness by remaining anchored in the Self). Therefore, seek refuge under yoga-buddhi. Those clinging only to objective results are miserly (as they lose the benefit of inner enrichment and lasting fulfilment.)
In his series of talks, Nutan Swamiji brought to light the fundamental problems of human life, the causes behind them, the way to overcome all vicissitudes and become absolutely unaffected and free.
All humans are born with an inherent feeling of insufficiency; so they always look for something which will make them happy. Also, they are born with a delusion that something from the world will make them fulfilled and happy. In reality, the very nature of our Self is blissfulness, and the source of joy lies within. Not understanding this, we keep searching for joy from outside and become a slave to the world.
Nutan Swamiji explained that the way to win over desires is through buddhi-yoga – anchoring our intelligence in the impersonal, unaffected Self. With this anchorage and understanding, every interaction will help our mind and buddhi to get rid of constrictions and bondage. The entire pursuit is, therefore, a process of purification of our mind and evolution of our buddhi.
Nutan Swamiji’s sessions made us aware of the subtle emotions – desire, selfishness, possessiveness and ego – that take us away from peace and happiness. Swamiji delivered the deeper meaning and import of relevant Bhagavad Gita shlokas. More importantly, he helped us understand ourselves and each other better through these shlokas. By absorbing Swamiji’s teaching, Bhagavad Gita not only aids us in being more introspective, but also provides the right way to overcome our difficulties and move forward with ease.
3. Ma: Imbibing the qualities of a Knower
शान्ता महान्तो निवसन्ति सन्तो वसन्तवल्लोकहितं चरन्तः ।
तीर्णाः स्वयं भीमभवार्णवं जनान्-अहेतुनान् यानपि तारयन्तः ।।
There are Saints, calm and magnanimous, who do good to others like the spring season, and who, having themselves crossed this dreadful ocean of worldliness, help others also to cross the same, without any motive whatsoever.
The topic of Ma’s discourse series was most apt, as she often says her entire life has been one of loving and imbibing qualities. More than learning concepts by being in close association with a Mahatma, it is the observation and understanding of their lofty qualities and values, which should interest and guide a seeker.
Ma’s relationship with Baba and Poojya Swamiji has always been one of complete openness. It is only through this openness and humility that we allow the Saints’ qualities to percolate into our being. Otherwise, transformation will not take place and we will simply remain like stones in the holy Ganges.
Why are we unable to become wholesome in our sadhana? Ma clearly gave us the reason – our own preferences and prejudices. The differentiation between spiritual and non-spiritual must simply be dropped from the mind, and we must understand that nothing is non-spiritual. With such an orientation of mind, the whole life becomes sadhana.
It is not enough to listen to a Knower, read his books and try to follow his teachings from a distance. How Guru became what he is must be understood, the qualities that make him so must be observed and imbibed. As Ma beautifully quoted:
यानि स्थितप्रज्ञ-लक्षणानि तानि-एव साधनानि ।
Whatever are the characteristics of Sthitaprajna, imbibing those is the sadhana for a seeker.
(Shankara bhashya on BG ….)
Feeding with Full Heart
Feeding arrangements took a historic turn. Ma, in discussion with Poojya Swamiji and Nutan Swamiji, felt that in order that participants did not miss any part of the retreat sessions, serving in Annakshetra should be done by some of our lady assistants. Several names were suggested. All of them were excited and enthusiastic about being given this new role. As a team, they were phenomenal. Lively, attentive, cohesive, motherly. That was the energy and inspiration they brought to the dining hall during every meal, drawing effusive praise from participants and volunteers alike.
Live streaming these invaluable programmes definitely serves to reach a much wider audience, allowing the benefit to spread beyond time and space. For the serious seekers who were not able to attend physically, watching online did have some unique advantage. If something was not grasped well during the talk, one could immediately rewind and listen again. Despite time zone difference or work schedules, viewers could still listen to the discourses every day, and be part of the week-long knowledge austerity from wherever they were.
However, although listening to the talks online gives us the basic understanding, it is only by being in the physical presence of the Knower that one can really see the knowledge in action and comprehend what Self-Realization truly means in daily interactional life. The divine energy of being in Guru’s physical presence is something no extent of technological advancement will be able to provide!
At the Feet of the Teacher
Feedback from participants attested the incomparable benefits of attending the retreat physically. Many felt immensely blessed being in the presence of our Teachers, observing and interacting with them, and clarifying doubts. Focus and concentration during classes was significantly greater, than in the household with its abundant distractions. All of them felt the vibrance and transforming power of being in the spiritual ambience of the Ashram could never be matched by online sessions.
Additionally, every participant had the blessed opportunity to spend personal time with each of our Spiritual Masters. Poojya Swamiji, Nutan Swamiji and Ma – all felt it was a vital part of the retreat to have one-to-one meeting with the participants.
The Undiminishing Current
Poojya Swamiji, in his daily Prabhata Rashmih sessions, drew mainly from Srimad Bhagavatam. Through every talk on devotion, and on how devotion rests solely on the heart and mind of the devotee, the focus was brought back to ultimate devotion to the Guru. The intrinsic power and glory of the Guru was discussed beautifully by Poojya Swamiji every morning.
Poojya Swamiji soaked us in the love and fondness for his Guru, Baba, every morning , and carried us to the loftiest dimensions of our ancient Teachers every night. Nutan Swamiji’s classes were a constant reminder of how humility and surrender to the Guru make the flame of Knowledge come alive and burn off all our dross. Ma’s classes showed the light on all the qualities of the Guru we should observe, love, yearn for and finally imbibe.
Perhaps there was some change from previous years in having the retreat set apart from Gurupoornima day. Whether the impact would have been greater without the break is difficult to say. But for those of us who were there, it hardly mattered. Ultimately, through every facet of the retreat, the cord of love and reverence for our Parampara and their spiritual wisdom was so strong, and the current of Guru-bhakti so powerful, that we were simply carried all the way through with our heads bowed and hearts full!
“The benefits of attending the retreat are – an enriched mind and enlightened intelligence, integration of the whole personality, and increased power to assimilate and be enriched by world impacts.”
“Having been born as human, the sole focus in one’s life must be to constantly reform and refine the mind. The agency to help and guide us in this process is our own intelligence and the method is ‘Truthful Introspection’ (tattva-vichara).”
“Employing supreme Paurusha, we have to gently lead our restless mind to a state of equanimity and placidity. When the mind is thus graced with equipoise, all dualities like attraction and repulsion, infatuation and intolerance vaporize. ”
“The way to win over desires is through buddhi-yoga – anchoring our intelligence in the impersonal, unaffected Self. With this anchorage and understanding, every interaction will help our mind and buddhi to get rid of constrictions and bondage.”
“It is not enough to listen to a Knower, read his books and try to follow his teachings from a distance. How Guru became what he is must be understood, the qualities that make him so must be observed and imbibed. ”
“It is only by being in the physical presence of the Knower that one can really see the knowledge in action and comprehend what Self-Realization truly means in daily interactional life. ”
“Through every facet of the retreat, the cord of love and reverence for our Parampara and their spiritual wisdom was so strong, and the current of Guru-bhakti so powerful, that we were simply carried all the way through with our heads bowed and hearts full! ”