Writings

Guru Retreat

Dear devotees and friends,

Please accept my best wishes. All glories to Srila Prabhupada.

I am now writing to you from the Sri Sri Radha Rasabihari temple in Juhu, Mumbai, India, where we’re about to start our mid-year GBC meetings. I last wrote from Moscow, when I was returning from the Russian national festival at Kuchuguru. Incidentally Kuchuguru, depending on how it’s translated, can be interpreted to mean “a large pile of gurus”!

I flew overnight to Johannesburg via Frankfurt, landing at about 9am on the 1st. believe it or not, at 1.15pm that afternoon I was booked to fly to Mauritius to give a seminar in one of the main villages there, named Flacq, which has a very strong Nama Hatta.

Because of the travel situation, I was only able to have a bath that morning at about 11am, when I had booked in for the Air Mauritius flight and gone through to one of the lounges near the departure gates. I actually have a special card which gives me access to business class lounges all over the world free of charge (although you must pay for the card), and this comes in extremely handy quite often. So I went into the Kopano Lounge in the Johannesburg airport and had a shower and put on clean clothes, and then had
breakfast, which Dina Tarine had kindly cooked and delivered to the airport for me.

Air Mauritius is very nice, in that the staff are usually quite pro-ISKCON, and some of them are even devotees. One, Bhaktin Anju, is a very nice devotee, and occasionally she is working on a flight I’m on, and she takes care of me very nicely.

I arrived in Mauritius around 7pm that evening, having been on the road since midday the day before (Mauritius and Moscow are in exactly the same time zone). I had a bag full of DVDs of different parikramas with me, plus some copies of my book, for the Phoenix temple, and was assuming they might want me to pay some duty or tax when I entered the country, so I asked one of the devotees who works at the airport there, and who had met me when I left the plane, if he could ask the customs officials what I should do.

The nice side of the Mauritian nature is that the Indian-origin people are extremely favourable to Krishna consciousness, and when our devotee asked them what to do, they immediately said just take them through without having to pay anything, so that was good.

A busload of devotees came to pick me up from Flacq, along with Harideva prabhu, my senior disciple in Mauritius, who is co-Temple President of the Phoenix temple. I went on the bus for the one hour ride to Flacq, and the whole way we had roaring kirtana with the ecstatic Flacq devotees.

I stayed in the house of Amar and Deepa, two aspiring disciples of mine, and on the 2nd and 3rd evenings we had the seminar, on “The Importance of Devotee Association”. I did a reasonable amount of research into the subject and came up with some perspectives that interested me, and every night the 200 or so devotees who came from the eastern side of the island listened attentively.

I will upload recordings of these two classes shortly.

Each morning about 40-50 devotees from the district assembled in the house for chanting japa. This is something I’m doing more and more, and I find it extremely beneficial all round – both for myself and for the devotees who take part. From time to time I make some brief comments on chanting japa, and once or twice we usually chant a round in unison. The overall effect of this programme is amazing, and I relish doing it so much.

On Saturday morning I went and visited the temple of Mukta Purusa prabhu. He’s been an ISKCON devotee for perhaps 30 years, and lived in the temple for some time. Later he moved out and started a computer business which flourished, and then he took it upon himself to build a multi-million dollar
temple in Triollet, in the north western part of Mauritius. At this point it’s a private temple, and is not officially a part of ISKCON, although Bhakti Bringa Govinda Maharaja, with whom I am co-GBC for Mauritius, and I, are trying to see how it can be integrated into Srila Prabhupada’s movement.

One of the obstacles to that is the hard feelings that have developed between some devotees in Mauritius. As I said above, there’s a really nice side to the Mauritian nature, but then sometimes, in some people, there’s another side which isn’t so nice. Unfortunately in Mauritius there have been some clashes between some devotees, and the scars go deep. Aparadha is a very dangerous thing, and it poisons the mind of the offending devotee, and sometimes brings out the worst even in the devotee who is offended. We have
to watch out for it very carefully.

I remember once being in Srila Prabhupada’s darsana room in Bhaktivedanta Manor with a small group of devotees one afternoon in 1974. One devotee read Srila Prabhupada a short excerpt from Nectar of Devotion in which he talks about offences: “Even when a person becomes an offender unto the Supreme Personality of Godhead Himself, he can still be delivered simply by taking shelter of the holy names of the Lord: Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare. In other words, the chanting of Hare Krsna is beneficial for eradicating all sins, but if one becomes an offender to the holy names of the Lord, then he has no chance of being delivered.”

The devotee asked Srila Prabhupada: “but isn’t there some way we can become delivered if we offend the holy names?”

Srila Prabhupada replied: “You are asking this question because you want to offend. But you have to stop offending. No more offences.”

Another devotee asked Srila Prabhupada if it would be all right to eat meat if one was in some extreme situation where there were absolutely no vegetables to eat. Srila Prabhupada replied: “A devotee would rather die than eat meat”.

Then a devotee asked Srila Prabhupada if there was more benefit if one goes out to preach, compared to serving in a temple. Srila Prabhupada replied that if one is serving in the temple and commits some offences then it may take some time to get over the reactions, but if one is preaching then Krishna immediately takes away the reactions. Thus there is special mercy for the preacher.

On Monday the 5th I flew out of Mauritius in the evening to Bangalore in India. I arrived there early in the morning on the 6th and had to wait till 9.30am for my flight to Mumbai. I finally got to the temple there around midday, and got to take my first bath of the day, and change into fresh clothes. Unfortunately I wasn’t able to use any of the lounges in the Bangalore airport, so it was a rather sticky morning.

That afternoon I flew on in the company of Ravindra Svarupa, a fellow GBC member of long standing, to Indore. We arrived there late and had to wait for Prahladananda Maharaja, the GBC Sannyasa Minister and Guru Services Minister, and BB Govinda Maharaja. From the airport we drove about 2 hours to Ujjain, the project headed up by Bhakti Caru Maharaja, where the first ever ISKCON Guru Retreat was to take place from the 7th to the 10th.

We arrived around 10.30pm, but the kind devotees there insisted we have prasadam, and we only took rest around 11.30.

The next morning we got into the retreat. It was quite an amazing experience discussing with other gurus how to better serve as a guru, and learning from their experiences. In attendance were Bhakti Caru Maharaja, Prahladananda Maharaja, Govinda Maharaja, Ravindra Svarupa prabhu, Madhava Maharaja, Smita Krishna Maharaja, Bhakti Raghava Maharaja, Prabhavisnu Maharaja, Vedavyasa Priya Maharaja, Kalakantha prabhu, a householder who is in the process of becoming an ISKCON guru, Kripamoya prabhu, one of my old friends from London, who is also going through the process of becoming guru, and Drutakarma prabhu, the famous author. Later Bhakti Marg Maharaja came and joined us. Many subjects were discussed.

First we discussed how to help ISKCON gurus avoid having problems, and came up with various solutions. They should avoid traveling too much, they should have annual physical checkups or have a particular doctor they regularly see, and who knows the condition of their bodies. This was one of the problems with Jayapataka Maharaja, who had a stroke a year ago – wherever he went there were very well meaning doctors who prescribed him different medications for his various physical problems, like high blood pressure, but
unfortunately those doctors were not in touch with each other, and there were inconsistencies between the different medications they gave him. Ultimately, when his crisis occurred in October last year, some of those
medications clashed with each other and made his condition even more dangerous.

Then we discussed how gurus need proper diet and exercise. These are also problems in ISKCON, as the well meaning devotees often like to prepare excellent rich prasadam for their beloved gurus, but often the gurus are not able to digest it properly and it causes serious problems. Then we also discussed that gurus need sufficient rest, and enough association with their peers, particularly other gurus.

Gurus need to have good, visible sadhana to ensure their spiritual strength and to encourage the other devotees. They should not really have private lives. They should also regularly attend retreats like the one we were having.

The next day we started with each guru explaining what they felt the two main lessons  or principles they had learned in regard to caring for disciples. Here are some of the things the devotees said:

  • Attend as many festivals as possible as they’re good places for disciples to gather
  • To take a real interest in their personal lives
  • Let them know that you care for them, unconditionally
  • To understand their consciousness
  • To be patient, forgiving and encouraging at every step
  • To accept them as they are, without preconceived ideas
  • To maintain internet blogs, like Facebook pages etc
  • That if some difficult situation arises, their perception of your integrity
  • in caring for them must not be compromised
  • To stress the connection with Srila Prabhupada
  • To be realistic in understanding what can be done by the disciple
  • To foster their identities as members of ISKCON
  • To refer man/woman type problems to qualified householders

I put forward some experiences that I’ve had: I try to visit the areas where my disciples are around the world twice a year so they can have personal association regularly. I always answer emails promptly. I am developing this programme of chanting japa regularly with disciples.

One of the highlights of the retreat was our special excursion to the asrama of Sandipani Muni. Krishna and Balarama came here immediately after killing Kamsa, and studied here for 64 days, during which time they learnt everything Sandipani Muni could teach them. There are some photos of this accompanying this report.

In the afternoon we went to one of the old estates of one of the previous Maharajas, where we took bath in the local river. The difference was that the Maharaja had built a whole structure across the river with different types of pools here and there for bathing. It was quite amazing, and you can get an idea of it by looking at the photos.

So now we’re in Mumbai, and the GBC meetings are starting tomorrow. I’ll report further in a little while.

Hoping this meets you well.

Your servant,

Bhakti Caitanya Swami

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