Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Vaisnavi Retreat in Brazil

By Amrita Gopala dasi

     Often the word “retreat“ denotes rest and relaxation. This year´s Vaisnavi Retreat in Vrajabhumi Asram, Brazil did afford devotees the opportunity to take a break from the fast-paced life of work and Rio de Janeiro gridlock. Yet the twenty devotees who joined the two-day program were treated to a feast of devotional activity. The two prominent R&Rs were “recharge“ and “rev-up.“Held over the last weekend in May (chilly in this part of the world!), the theme of the sanga intended to challenge devotee women to understand their unique contribution to the Hare Krsna movement. Balancing philosophical talks with creative arts, the devotees sought to explore their potential and expand their understanding of the breadth of bhakti-yoga.    The workshops and talks were conducted in an interactive style to encourage devotees to develop confidence and conviction in assimilating the message of the scriptures. Preaching as a way of life was very much emphasized throughout the presentations.

     The Vaisnavi Retreat was inspired my experience of preaching in Brazil. This is my first visit to South America, and I´ve been so thrilled by how loving and enthusiastic the devotees here are. In my eagerness to have more of their association, I asked two leaders of the Rio de Janeiro temple, Vaisnava Krpa devi dasi and Sukhayanti devi dasi, to help plan a weekend filled with hari-katha, kirtana and lots of fun. Their good planning and publicity skills yeilded a program that was instructive and inspiring.

     Seminars addressed the hows and whys women must care for their health. Vaisnava Krpa devi dasi lent her expertise in the field of wellness to a very informative dialogue linking the needs of the body and mind to a devotee´s long-term goal of uninterrupted devotional service.

     I gave a class detailing how women´s contribution to the preaching mission are required.

     In a workshop led by Srimati devi dasi, a senior member of the Rio yatra, devotees were taught how to make a beautiful, balanced flower arrangement.

After the workshop we took our creations and lovingly offered them to Sri Sri Krsna-Balaram.

     In the evening we were treated to a wonderfully devotional presentation by Sukhayanti devi dasi. She explained in a beautiful slideshow, the scenes desribed by Srila Krsna das Kaviraja Goswami in his song Nama Sankirtana (“Jaya Radhe, Jaya Krsna, Jaya Vrindavan`). Bhaktin Aurea, a well-loved and active preacher in Brazil, spoke about her amazing plans to start an asrama for travelling preachers. During her talk, we spoke about how essential it is for devotees to support maverik projects with money and resources. In the previous evening, we had a very lively panel discussion revealing the challenges of working within our institution. Our experiences are very diverse, and every devotee was called upon to individually respond to a series of questions about how we cope with obstacles of sexism, lonliness and lack of recognition.

     Two other seminars brought the devotees to a deeper understanding of the arts in Vedic culture: Lila Shakti devi dasi, a most exalted devotee and a professional peformance artist, led us in a series of exercises meant to enhance our concentration on Radha-Krsna.

     And Bhaktin Rosana, one of Rio´s most friendly and spirited devotees, gave a fantastic presentation on the historical and spiritual significance of mendhi. Then she allowed us to play with the mendhi, and each of us got a beautiful design to decorate our hands.

      “I was so pleased that the retreat was so organized and professional,“ said Premananda devi dasi from Brasilia. The weekend proved to be a first step in bringing devotees together to enhance our individual and collective Krsna consciousness. It certainly was a weekend that brought together friends old and new for chanting, dancing, remembering Krsna and feeling happy."

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