31 Aug 2015

Shreemad Bhagavatam Course - Day 1

The first day of the Shreemad Bhagavatam course started with an introduction on the holy book itself.

After opening prayers, including a yagna and an abishekam to Swami's personal deities, Swamiji opened the course by telling the participants about the greatness of the Shreemad Bhagavatam, and the simple power it contains to help one advance to God-realisation quickly and easily.

As you have seen, the Bhagavatam is mostly stories. In the beginning, there are different stories of virtuous kings who have lived in the world, who have done their duty, but they have also attained the Lord. Which shows that, if one does one’s duty properly, it is very possible in one life to attain God.

Topics of Day 1

  • The origin of the book: Participants learned about the author of the Shreemad Bhagavatam, Veda Vyasa (who also wrote most of the central scriptures of Hinduism, such as the Puranas, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata), and heard stories about his excellent son, Sukadev Goswami, who narrated the Bhagavatam to sages in a forest.
  • Sleeping and attentiveness: Swamiji spoke about the intense desire to learn which was present in the first sages who requested to hear the Shreemad Bhagavatam - how much they yearned for the Divine, and how much they wanted to serve the world by learning of Narayana's incarnations. He compared this with the attitude we can see commonly in the world today: of desire for the material, exterior world, which will only keep one attached to Maya.
  • Respect between student and teacher: We heard about the great respect that Sukadev had for his students, the sages, for being ready students, as well as the respect and gratitude the sages had for their Gurus, who revealed Divine wisdom for them.
  • Authority to speak on the Bhagavatam: Swamiji spoke about the special nature of Sukadev, and how he was uniquely able to teach the Shreemad Bhagavatam, by explaining stories of the great level of unattachment he had towards everything material and impermanent.  
  • Veda Vyasa and inner satisfaction: We learned about the story of how the Shreemad Bhagavatam came into being: how Veda Vyasa was dissatisfied with his life's work, even though he had written and shared so many great scriptures, and how Narada Muni came to inspire Veda Vyasa to write about a topic he'd not yet written about - the wonderful experience of devotion to God.

The Shreemad Bhagavatam is itself a simplified version of all the other scriptures which Veda Vyasa had worked on sharing with the world - the Vedas, the Upanishads, the Puranas, the Ramayana, and the Mahabharata. Yet, despite its simplicity, the Shreemad Bhagavatam contains the essence of the Lord Himself. Swamiji explained this to the course participants:

It’s not just the reading of Bhagavatam that will free you, but even hearing the glories—the pastimes of the Lord—will free you. What power that has! That's why it is said that the Bhagavatam is the Lord Himself.

There is no difference between the Bhagavatam and the deity. There is no difference between the Bhagavatam and the Ishtadev. There is no difference between the Bhagavatam and the Guru. Because even hearing the glory just one time will free you; just one time will release you from the bondage of birth and death.

When we go through it, you will see the different stories Vyasa Dev put together, and how the Bhagavatam came to be written. It is not something to understand with the mind. It is something that you have to feel, because each story is the story of each person, each of you. It is a story of bhakti itself, how to awaken devotion, and how to surrender to the Lord.

The Bhagavatam is considered one of the main books for the Vaishnava. All the Puranas are inside it. Very often they say, “Oh, you know, the Vedas are the best of all“ because all the other Sampradyas refer to the Veda as the Ultimate, no? Of course the Veda is the ultimate, but there is no difference between it and all these. No difference from the Puranas, no difference from the Bhagavatam. It's just that when Vyasa Dev compiled the Vedas, he wanted to simplify it and make it much easier for people.

Because of the great ability of this book to purify a person's spirit, Swamiji shared that there is no 'wrong' way to read it - that any time reading it is a good time, any place is perfect. That one can read it in an angry mood, in a joyful mood - it doesn't matter. The reading of the Shreemad Bhagavatam will bring a positive result.

In the course it was clear how easy such a path to freedom would be - Swamiji was talking, and all we had to do was listen and enjoy!

We look forward to sharing excerpts of this auspicious course with Sri Swami Vishwananda with you as this week goes by.

Often people say, “Oh, no, no, this life is too short to attain the Lord.” But you see all the kings in the Bhagavatam. Of course, they had good punya, you know, they had good merits from past lives which brought them to where they were. In the same way, all of you are seated here hearing the Bhagavatam, and for sure you have good punya.

30 Aug 2015

Gayatri Yagna

This year's Gayatri Yagna was a wonderful 24 hours full of beautiful prayers. The event began early in the morning, with Sri Swami Vishwananda speaking about the Gayatri mantra itself - not about its origin, as he'd spoken of in previous years, but of its use: how to chant the mantra properly, and how it benefits the spiritual seeker.

Swamiji then started the yagna, and throughout the day and night, devotees from around the world circled around the holy fire to pray and offer grains while chanting the Gayatri mantra:

OM Bhur Bhuva Svaha

Tat Savitur Vareniyam

Bhargo Devasya


Dhiyo Yo Nah Prachodayat

At the end of the yagna, many devotees offered a coconut to the yagna kund in front of the altar, symbolizing the surrender of our mind and its negativity to the Divine, so that we can realize who we truly are through the Grace of God.

The next time Shree Peetha Nilaya puts on the 24-hour Gayatri Yagna, you should definitely do your best to go!

It is said in scripture that the Gayatri Mantra is the Mother of all mantras. All other mantras lie within the Gayatri Mantra. Guruji noted that in the Gita, Krishna said, “Among all the mantras I am the Gayatri Mantra.” The four Vedas reside within the mantra itself. It is incredibly powerful--with the ability to give the full knowledge and wisdom--the embodiment of the Four Vedas, purify and liberate a soul.

‘‘यद्यथाग्रिर्देवानां ब्राह्ह्यद्धमणो मनुष्याणाम्।
वसन्तऋतूनामियं गायत्री चास्ति छन्दसाम्।’’ 
-गोपथ ब्राह्मण

‘‘yadyathāgrirdēvānāṁ brāhhyad'dhamaṇō manuṣyāṇām.
Vasanta'r̥tūnāmiyaṁ gāyatrī cāsti chandasām.’’
- Gōpatha Brāhmaṇa

Gayatri is Mother of Vedas. It is destroyer of sins. There is no other Mantra more sacred and purifying than Gayatri Mantra on this earth as well as in the heaven.

The opportunity at Shree Peetha Nilaya’s 24-hour yagna is special. A whole 24-hours' worth of chanting can be extremely tough, but here, at the ashram, it could not be more fun! The facilities are comfortable when you need to rest and relax before going back to the intensity of the celebration. The atmosphere of the ashram is unique itself, giving the proper uplifting energy to sustain the residents and guests. Once you begin to recognize the gift and power of the Gayatri Mantra, combine its effect with the energy of the ashram, the deities, and the presence of a spiritual master, one can see how incredible an event like this really is.

Sri Swami Vishwananda came to the yagna fire several times throughout the event.

Waking early the first day, puja began at 6AM to pray for the grace of the lineage, and to thank it. The yagna was lit around 8 AM. Rotating in and out, residents and guests all took turns offering a mixture of grains - hawan samaghri - into the fire. The collective effort allowed for this kind of event to take place. Musicians rotated in and out, and swamis and rishis alternated leading the yagna. Guests were able to freely move in and out of the event tent.

Everyone had the opportunity to offer alongside Guruji.

Some of the people stayed for impressive amounts of time! One person said “Oh man, since 9PM to 8AM I was at the fire! The energy was incredible. Everyone was on the same vibration. I could really feel the vibrations of these sacred names. The freedom we can feel when we do Kirtana Bhakti is amazing. The mind turns off and you just feel breathing and chanting. We should do it more often—chanting 24 hours straight!”

The festivities went from around 6AM to 9AM the following morning.

Another person remarked how “even chanting is made fun because we can chant to a melody and to a rhythm. It’s easy to fall asleep with twenty-four hours of chanting. But in this way, it’s made fun, with karatals, mridanga--many instruments, and nice melodies.”

The music was a wonderful addition to the chanting!

It is important to stress how these events at SPN can be life changing. So often, participants have experiences with the divine in ways they could never predict.

“What was unique to me is that we were able to sit at the kund for lengthy times. Rather than for a specific count, during the 24 hours we had the freedom to stay and go deeply into the chanting and offering. Most yagnas celebrations don’t necessarily offer this. I experienced this for the first time. ‘Oh we will not do the normal way’ Guruji said regarding the offering circle. ‘Sit as long as you want, a few minutes, one hour, whatever. Just change to what you feel.’ This provided a freedom of dialogue with Gayatri Ma. You could develop a relationship with her. There were no conflicts with the changing times.

“People were aware, patient, and tolerant of each other. We needed the patience to wait to offer and to complete the 24 hours. This was something special between us that lingered on. A tolerance and patience was left behind because of the celebration. No one was telling us when to change. This was unique in this yagna. Some stayed around the kund for a few minutes, some for much longer than a half hour. I witnessed harmonious interaction between us.”

The party was still rocking, even late into night.

A devotee had some very sweet words about the celebration.

“Each and every time you say the Gayatri mantra, it was like saying thank you to Guruji. Each repetition was like saying I love you to guruji. It’s a grace just to know the gayatri mantra. She was allowing us to get to know her better. The sangha was so special. Everytime we got tired, someone came to cheer you up and brought energy to sustain the chanting. It’s like a metaphor for our spiritual path.

“We need the unity Guruji speaks of. Together we just do it. The Love, for me, was what it was all about. If you love it, you just do it, no matter what. This is how the yagna was like for me. It’s also beautiful, the difference between chanting here and in the real world. Here, Sri Swami Vishwananda makes it more powerful and deeper. His and her (Gayatri Devi’s) blessing are very present. For us, it was a gift because I could feel like Guruji was asking Gayatri Ma to 'come and bless them.'

"Each and every time he would just close his eyes, he just had a smile, he knew Gayatri Ma was there, looking at us and showering her blessings on us. It’s all about Guru Kripa. That we could sit, participate, to just say the mantra. It’s all Guru’s Grace, it’s all Him doing it.”

There was a beautiful ending to the yagna. Guruji then led a sweet puja and arati. He blessed us, sprinkling all with holy water from Kalash Puja, and gave everyone Prasad water offered to Thakur. Curiously, the water from Thakur was scarce, but seemed to continually manifest, serving over 200 people out of a small dish.

Sri Swami Vishwananda dresses Gayatri, as She is manifest as the holy fire.

Guruji gives water to over 200 people of a small dish.

 “I know that I will be protected forever. The special Gayatri meditation which we did along with Him at the completion of the yagna has had a permanent effect on me. Every morning I awake with the sensation of the energy of Gayatri around His Lotus Feet.”

The long event was a chance to test one’s willpower and discipline. Inspiring each other to enrich the experience, everyone helped to elevate the energy. It was this collective sensation, this state--unity--which helped push personal limits in this 24 hour endeavor. Testing their will, strength, and endurance furthered people on their spiritual path. It built beautiful relationships with Gayatri and aligned more with Gayatri’s divine vibration. It developed one’s own abilities and deepened awareness into the Self.

Thank you Gayatri Devi! Thank you Guruji! Jai Gurudev!

29 Aug 2015

The Highest Truth over 7 days: The Shreemad Bhagavatam

The 7-days Shreemad Bhagavatam discourse by Sri Swami Vishwananda started this morning.

The Shreemad Bhagavatam, the divine and eternal tales of the Supreme Lord, is one of the maha Puranic texts. It focuses on bhakti to Narayana, and in particular to Sri Krishna. The Bhagavatam includes many stories of the various avatars of Narayana and the life and pastimes of his most complete incarnation, Sri Krishna. Veda Vyasa is accredited for being the author, and he is himself considered to be an incarnation of Narayana. 
The Shreemad Bhagavatam or also called “Bhagavata Purana” is considered to be the purest and greatest of all the puranas since it invokes devotion towards Lord Narayana.

It is said, that if one with sincerity of heart and devotion listens to the Bhagavatam, especially when recited and explained by a God-realised master, one becomes completely liberated from material bondage and attains moksha or liberation from the cycle of births and deaths in the material world. 

Vaishnavas consider the Bhagvatam to be non-different from Krishna and to be the literary form of Sri Krishna.
The Bhagavatam takes the form of a story recounting Vyasa's work being recited for the first time by his son Shuka to the dying King Parikshit, the grandson of Arjuna who owes his life to Krishna. Longing to hear of Krishna before he dies, Parikshit hears the Bhagavatam, recited by Shuka, including questions by the king and replies by the sage, over the course of seven days.
Similarly, Guruji, Sri Swami Vishwananda, is telling us the timeless stories of the Lord over the next seven days, revealing the Highest Truth.

Important Announcement about Vrindavan, April 2016

A very important message from Swamiji's International Travel Coordination team:

"As Swamiji said during the 10 Year Anniversary, Bhakti Marga devotees are invited to attend the opening of the new ashram in Vrindavan India in April 2016.

We understand that after what Gurudev said, that you are all excited and want to participate :)

However, to participate in this event will be ONLY possible by registering with Bhakti Marga, through Shree Peetha Nilaya!

Please therefore DO NOT organize yourself (or your own groups) in searching for hotels or places to stay in Vrindavan.

There is only ONE WAY to participate in this event (which is sure to be an amazing experience): To participate is ONLY possible with our (and only our) registration from BM SPN which will be available in few days.

Sorry, but all people who are booked in privately will have no chance to participate.

Please let all devotees know that they should wait for our registration form and cancel whatever existing arrangements that have been made so far."

26 Aug 2015

Atma Kriya Yoga Retreat

From August 10-14, 2015, Shree Peetha Nilaya hosted an international group of Atma Kriya Yoga bhaktas, or initiates. People from all over the world came to Springen to focus on Atma Kriya, interested in refreshing and deepening their practices. Atma Kriya Yoga instructors from the ashram planned an exciting, intensive schedule that would immerse bhaktas in practice.

Taking the Practice to a New Level

The retreat was designed to take us all beyond technique into the love and devotion inherent in the Atma Kriya Yoga practices. The nine different forms of Bhakti are embedded in the techniques we practice, so in addition to supporting our mind and body, our spirits soared as the week progressed.

Atma Kriya Yoga is worship that allows us to engage in an intimate conversation with the Divine. Inherent in every discourse and practice was the recognition that we are not simply doing a practice but offering a prayer to the Divine with each and every breath and beat of our heart. In this way, every thing we do can be Atma Kriya Yoga.

To deepen our experience and make the practice more personal, Guruji suggested we remain in silence when not in the workshops, so meals were served with a side of silence, so sadhaks could digest both the energy from their meditations, as well as their food.

The days started early, with everyone practicing Babaji's Surya Namaskar, the Mahavatar's original Sun Salutation hatha yoga flow, on the back lawn before moving into each of the Atma Kriya Yoga practices.

Beyond exercise, the hidden meanings of the postures were revealed, illuminating how each technique was a reach for God, placing our heart above our head and prostrating ourselves before the Divine. It was remarkable to feel the added depth and benefit of practicing with so many experienced practitioners all at once.

Japa is both the foundation and the pinnacle of Atma Kriya Yoga and thus was prominent in the retreat. The name of God is no different than God Himself, and so, it is only by His Grace that we are able to chant it. It is a priceless gift to be treasured beyond measure. Those blessed with initiation into the mantra "OM Namo Narayanaya" receive the added blessing of Guruji and Babaji coming to remove karma from us with each breath. Above all we were encouraged to enjoy chanting the Divine Name. To do this, we took daily japa walks to deepen our own relationship with the mahamantra OM Namo Narayanaya as we traversed the countryside and village, uplifting the surrounding area with our silent prayers.

Back at the ashram, several smaller groups rotated through a variety of courses. We took in-depth refresher classes to refine our Atma Kriya technique, explored Nada Yoga ("yoga of sound") in music lessons, learned how to do a Guru Puja, and tried traditional Indian dancing. It was a great experience to review the Atma Kriya Yoga techniques, and to make subtle refinements to bring our practice into even clearer focus.

In the singing classes we learned how to fully embody the chant and make every bhajan an offering of our love and devotion to God. The discourse on Guru Kripa ("grace of the Master"), taught us about the importance of committed sadhana, and instruction in Guru Puja helps us appreciate all Guruji does for us. These also deepened our personal relationship with him, through whom all things are possible.

Guruji’s satsang on Friday was deep and profoundly moving, giving us a glimpse into the magnitude of the blessing of Atma Kriya Yoga in our lives. He spoke about Mahavatar Babaji’s gift to the world at this time in history to help mankind change from old ways to a new way of being, through Bhakti. He shared how Kriya helps break the patterns of the mind so we can move from focusing on the external material world to the internal reality and ultimately to the Supreme Reality.

Reiterating how Kriya is a prayer, his reminded us that doing the practices with love will take us much further along our spiritual path. Our sadhana is to help us get ready to receive God. Being initiated plants the seed for this possibility in this lifetime, but it is up to us to do our part. The gift of initiation from your Satguru is the greatest treasure, which money cannot buy.

Every day, the participants gathered to enjoy hatha yoga and a full round of Atma Kriya Yoga.

It was beautiful seeing all of the sadhaks in deep practice altogether.

An example of one of the hatha yoga asanas.

Yes, we even practiced Nada Kriya! ;)

Shandilyananda gave several in-depth refresher courses.

Paartha taught many participants how to perform puja.

Singing lessons familiarized participants with bhajans. 

Comments from a Lead Musician

There was a dance course which connected participants to a deeper understanding of devotional dancing and playing. The lesson explained the forms of dance, historic insights, symbolism, and connection to our path.

In the singing lesson there was a spiritual view of using the voice and opening the heart--how to call God while singing and make the voice its best, naturally. The course went very well.

It was very hard each day to finish the dance course because they would keep dancing more and more, enjoying the kirtan and the Bhakti. :D

A Note From a Dance Teacher

The end goal did not turn out as planned. We wanted to teach people how to dance, thinking we knew better and have better standards...


...but that’s not true. We learned we are no different. Just because we can move more gracefully or learned a certain technique, you can only communicate to a [certain] extent. I believe so strongly in what I do, that I felt I could transfer this love for dancing to the participants.

I could see people connecting to the love that I believe in, that I feel for dance. It was nice also that people had the misconception about dancing, that it was just for fun. They didn’t think it had anything to do with spirituality or devotion. But they had the opportunity to have their own experience of how everything can become spiritual.

Dance is deeply rooted and its essence is bhakti. It was special seeing people shed their individuality, the piece of the ego that connects with their body, to see them with each movement freeing themselves, ourselves. The journey began starting with us as the teachers, but ultimately we are all on the same journey, working together as a family to progress and love more and more each moment. 

People became joyfully absorbed, dancing around Giridhariji.

One Person's Recollection of the Week

Just completed the Atma Kriya Yoga retreat, it was a really amazing experience - the energy of all practitioners coming together to practice, the fun we had, the tears of being touched by Love and Grace, and of course the blessings and Grace of Sri Swami Vishwananda, spontaneously giving us Darshan, and a planned Mahavatar Babaji Yagna and Satsang. It was blessings beyond words. So deep, so touching. :)

Later in the week, Guruji met with sadhaks grouped by their individual countries to have private satsang. It was beautiful to see that despite the amount of participants, Sri Swami Vishwananda made time to visit with all of the people and answer their questions. He took two days to meet with all of the participants.

Spending some time with his South African devotees

Speaking from his personal balcony in a Satsang with the Germans and Austrians

Another satsang given in the outdoor Bhajan Cafe

One of the most amazing things to occur during the week was Darshan. This was the first outdoor Darshan ever to take place here at Springen. The view was stunning. A unique addition Guruji requested was continuous chanting of OM Namo Narayanaya, while Bhakti Sounds recited Stotrams.

During Darshan ancient Vedic and Puranic chants were chanted, like Vishnu Sahashranam, Guru Gita and Lalita Suktam

The final event of the Atma Kriya Yoga Retreat was an incredible yagna for the retreat participants, one day after the Darshan. Dedicated to Mahavatar Babaji, the Kriya Sadhakas were able to give their thanks for Mahavatar's Grace.

Many said that the yagna was very powerful and that they went away from it with such an amazing experience. It was as if the yagna drew the week of focused practice and awareness on the Divine to a satisfying conclusion.

One participant shared, "I wished I could live in it forever." Some said it sealed the uplifted energy created during the retreat.

Several participants said that they felt a deepened appreciation for the techniques. Many mentioned how they had begun to somewhat understand the Grace that is given not only through shaktipat (initiation) but also through every practice. Learning what the techniques offer us physically, mentally, and spiritually fostered a motivation to practice and devote oneself to Atma Kriya Yoga as a sadhana as well as a tool on the path of bhakti.

"It gave me a foundation for talking to other people about Atma Kriya Yoga in a way that speaks beyond technique, into the purpose of being on the spiritual path. This is the pinnacle and the path. It transformed my relationship to Atma Kriya Yoga. To speaking about it with others. It allowed me to go deeper into myself so that I can share it with others."

The whole week inspired a new-found motivation and devotion to the sadhana.

Personal Experiences

We talked with a couple of the sadhaks who participated to get their feedback:

A sadhak from New York City shared:

What was your expectation for the retreat?

I had no expectation, but I know that my experience would exceed any wildest expectation.

What is your highlight from the Atma Kriya Yoga Retreat?

The highlight is Guruji. My first experience with Guruji was the second day of the retreat. I was always feeling him in my heart for a couple months prior. It was special when he came and sang with us in the morning prayers. I had the opportunity to tell him how I had been feeling for months about him--how he was dear to me. He held my hand and I felt divine energy enter my whole body but especially my heart.

Darshan was amazing. Feeling that divine energy again brings the special moments you have with Him into the present. It’s a unique sensation you get to have when you are around Him.

The Mahavatar Babaji Yagna was definitely very special. You just don’t get to do that stuff in the real world. Sri Swami Vishwananda is a disciple of Babaji, and you get to do Kriya in the presence of Babaji himself.

A sadhak from Germany:

What was the yagna like?

We have been here (at Shree Peetha Nilaya) so much this summer. We are happy we can come so much and be blessed by His presence so much.

I can honestly say that we have been uplifted energetically a lot so far. The yagna was incredibly powerful.

Especially after all the practices we (the participants) have been doing, the yagna sealed that energy in. I feel that when we go home, we are definitely going to be able to affect others just by the vibrations we’ve built up this past week.

It seems as though Guruji had done all of this to do that, to reach others just by impacting them with our energy--with His energy.

The more people that practice Atma Kriya Yoga together, the more spiritual power can be generated. Not only did the participants sense this, many residents also remarked about the feeling of unity and peace that radiated from the practices.

After a whole week of dedicated Atma Kriya Yoga practice, the entire ashram was immersed in a special sweetness, a harmony. When practiced with love and devotion, each individual Atma Kriya Yoga technique can make one fully ready for God-Realization. The opportunities Sri Swami Vishwananda gives us are certainly unique and beyond this world. The Atma Kriya Yoga Retreat is an amazing example of the tools Sri Swami Vishwananda gives us on our spiritual path to fulfill the purpose of life.