31 Dec 2015

The Making of A Decade of Love (Part 3 of 3)

Working on A Decade of Love - an experience

Over the last couple weeks I received the grace to work on the "Decade of Love" book, which chronicles the last 10 years of Mahamandaleshwar Sri Swami Vishwananda's mission, Bhakti Marga. The book is a condensed and image-rich version that illustrates the last 10 years of Guruji and his many devotees. 

During the last few days of the book's development, I had a strong feeling that I had not experienced before. The chapters were taking shape, photo layouts were being finalised, and it started to become a solid entity. During this stage, I felt a wave of awe. I'd not felt something like this before - only had I imagined feeling this after reading fictional stories.

This feeling was arising from seeing a mission of Love. This mission was truly worldwide - I could really see that now. It was, and is, built out of grace - the grace that only the Divine could call together. This mission was pieced together out with the thousands of individual experiences of each devotee, and it all came together to form this beautiful mission.

When I felt this, I had to stop, to take in the moment. This book was a glimpse of something holy. It really was a grace to see all the pieces coming together. I must have had joy on my face for a solid half-hour afterwards! In this book, it's clear to see that our Master and his mission are one.The mission of Bhakti Marga is a manifestation of his Love.

Just like this "Decade of Love" book, the growth of Bhakti Marga has been made up of many pieces. Sometimes these pieces are shaped over many years, and sometimes its divine harmony is only revealed at the last moment. Yet, it's always in God's perfect hands - in our Guru's perfect hands.

This book gives a glimpse into the early years of Bhakti Marga - the beginning of Steffenshoff, and the formation of the community that supports Guruji's work around the world. In putting the book together, we were able to see how the Bhakti Marga family has changed over the years. While digging through archives of photos from Guruji's work around the world, the team building the book could reminisce. We shared many a transformative stories that had taken place over the last decade.

Each story that we shared spoke to us about two things: Who is this person who has impacted our lives so profoundly, so wonderfully? AND What were the wonderful ways we had changed over the years of being a part of Bhakti Marga?

The transformations we had undergone were diverse. Each devotee had experienced something - something profound and moving - which caught their attention in a way that nothing and no one else in the world had done prior. Each situation that brought us to Guruji was different - unique to each of us. Every one of the spiritual lessons we've all gone through have been wrapped up in experiences 'just for us'. Tailor-made, as it were.

What stayed the same throughout this decade of Bhakti Marga was Guruji's Love. As Mahant Satya Narayan Das Babaji wrote in the book's preface, Guruji often plays the role of the perfect bhakta of God - incredibly devoted, hard-working, and single-pointed in his focus of Love. His dedication to opening the hearts of man is beyond measure - yet clear and visible. His Love shows up and works hard, constantly, day after day, year after year: one Darshan after another, one interview after another, one pilgrimage after another.

In this decade, Guruji has shown himself to be the puzzle piece missing from each of our hearts. But what of our fellow devotees? What of humanity? If the mission of Sri Swami Vishwananda is to open the hearts of man, surely that means that his devotees will open up their hearts. Surely they will reflect the love that their Guru teaches and displays.

Working with the team of people to create this book was a sweet sample of this opening of hearts. The people who worked together to make the book were each very talented and creative. In creating this book, we often had ideas for its design which we felt strongly about. We had disagreements amongst ourselves. 

What our team was experiencing was a natural part of teams everywhere. Each of our experiences were telling us to stand up for this project taking shape in a certain way, which matched our model of how the world should be. "This photo looks best when it's formatted like this." "This font is the one we should use." "I'm not sure this photo is the one we want in this chapter." We had disagreements.
However, through Guruji's grace, we were willing to put our lists of "shoulds" aside. We listened to each other, we let go of inner attachments to the way we wanted it to be, and we worked hard to make something together - one step at a time.

Once we picked up momentum in the spirit of working together, what started as disagreements turned into inspirations. We were no longer giving each other stumbling blocks - we were giving each other ideas and hard work that we could build upon. In the last few hours of putting the final form of the book together, the team was harmonized. We worked together, with unity. It was a beautiful thing to behold.

The next years of Guruji's mission are hard to imagine - we've experienced so much transformation in such a short time, I don't know what to expect for the future with all the added complexity of a growing community. More people will be drawn to Guruji, through direct encounters with him, and through the words and actions of his devotees. Bhakti Marga will grow - our devotee 'family' will become a rich network that reaches more and more places, more and more people as time goes by. But what challenges await us? What "processes" will we go through - individually, and as a community? Only Guruji knows for sure.

What is clear is that Guruji will always Love us, and that we must always try to Love more like he does - unconditionally. Working on this book that recaps a decade, I see that "trying to Love" is something we can do - something we know how to do. Love may be an eternal and infinite mystery - the wonderful and unknowable nature of God Himself. Our path, however, is devotion to God - devotion to Love.

Our path is Bhakti Marga. If I've learned anything from looking at the last 10 years of this path, it's that through the grace of the Guru, we will look back on our steps to see that we were able to experience Love, Patience, and Unity in the most amazing ways. - Sanjayananda

We are excited to announce that A Decade of Love is now available! Find it in the Bhakti Shop during your next visit to SPN and have a Happy New Year!

26 Dec 2015

The Making of A Decade of Love (Part 2 of 3)

"A Pilgrimage of Love"

A pilgrimage is a spiritual journey that opens one’s eyes and heart to see beyond the tangible into the heart and soul of a sacred place. Compiling the Decade of Love book was a pilgrimage of sorts, through the sacred landscape of Sri Swami Vishwananda’s life and mission. Every pilgrimage with a Guru takes one into new territory, both an inner and an outer; this one took me into a deeper appreciation of who my Guru is and how love can truly change everything.

Any pilgrimage can only touch upon the highlights of the holy land to be visited. This book is no different. To condense a Master’s lifetime of service and accomplishment into a single book that one can hold in their hands is indeed a formidable task. His teachings alone have already created a library of books. So the question arose, how to tell the story.

The chronological series of events, while impressive, simply form the walls of a temple. While a pilgrim enjoys the beauty of the structure, they inwardly yearn to feel the love and devotion that built it and keeps it alive in the hearts of those who worship there. And so, we chose to present both, the walls, built stone by stone, and the hands and hearts of those who selflessly laboured to manifest the vision of an extraordinary Master and his extraordinary mission.

As anyone who has ever done a pilgrimage with Guruji knows, the itinerary is merely a suggestion and the most exciting parts of the adventure come in the most unexpected ways. The journey of filling 228 pages, with nearly 26,000 words, in less than a month, was in no way a straight line. With too much information in some categories, not enough in others, no where near enough time and only a vague map to cover such a vast territory, the adventure began. Numerous times throughout the month we came upon obstacles that required us to step back and re-direct our path. It often felt like we needed another six months to do it justice.

Yet, through Guruji’s Grace the impossible task was made possible. Every time it got to be too much, we would stop, turn inward and pray for Grace. The prayers were always answered with more energy, a new idea, a willingness to let go and do it differently. There was no room for egos; to get the job done we had to work together, let others fine tune our work and let go of pride. In the end, all was surrendered to his Lotus Feet and through his mercy it came together. Just one week from deadline, a theme emerged that pulled together all the loose ends and gave us a vision for how to bring it home to the heart: “Living Bhakti Every Day”.

Throughout it all, we were held in the most amazing ways. We were always sustained by his invisible presence, silent whispers often dictated what to write and where to focus next. 16-hour days sitting in front of a computer and 90-hour weeks flew by without physical pain, with minimal stress and hardly any complications.

Underneath it all was a deep desire to serve our beloved Guru and create something he would be happy to share with anyone and everyone: family, devotees, dignitaries, the press. It is our sincerest hope we have accomplished our goal. It was indeed the most remarkable journey both inside and out. The precious gift of Guru seva showed me that the more love we felt for him, the more we were supported, and the more we wanted to give. It was truly an honour and a privilege to serve on this project.

Jai Gurudev!

Celebrate the approaching 11th year of Bhakti Marga with us on New Year's Eve! Click on link to register: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/new-years-eve

23 Dec 2015

The Making of A Decade of Love (Part 1 of 3)

A Decade of Love:
The behind-the-scenes experience of creating the story of Sri Swami Vishwananda’s Mission of Love.

Early this year, when we were starting to prepare ourselves for the 10 year festival of Bhakti Marga that took place on 10-12 July, we also resolved to put together a book that would cover the first 10 years of the history of our mission. It was clear for all of us involved, that it would have to be an extraordinary book, with lots of great visuals capturing the “bigger picture" and the many little charming insights into the wonderful mission of our beloved Guruji, the Mission of Love.

To make a long story short, we eventually ran out of time to produce it. So we had to postpone it for later and again it seemed that time was slipping away from our hands. Luckily though, with a little lovingly strict push from our Guruji, we succeeded to make it ready for Christmas 2015. As 2016 is approaching, this time marks the final phase of the first decade of Love. Actually, in hindsight, it is the perfect moment to look back at what was achieved, and we are happy that “fate” allowed us to release the book only now. It gave us the opportunity to include the fullness of 2015 where so many special things happened, to complete the first decade in style. Now we are ready to dive deeply into the New Era. But more about what that means later.

Putting together a book that is worthy of the mission of Guruji was quite a challenge for our team. It wasn’t a project one or two people can complete on the side with their little fingers so to speak. A grander effort was needed, where we had to free ourselves from the ties of our usual duties to give this the proper attention it needs and deserves. Also, we were faced with a proper “deadline”. Meaning, it absolutely had to come out by Christmas 2015, or else we would be … dead! Not literally of course, but you get the point.

To accomplish this in less than four weeks seemed to some of us like a mission impossible. And looking back it kind of was, which is quite fitting, because Bhakti Marga itself is in many ways a mission impossible from a human point of view. What Guruji has accomplished over these ten years is a breathtakingly divine master piece! It is his biggest miracle of all, consisting of countless smaller and bigger miracles inside. Stories and experiences of human beings turning from “metal” into gold, and Guruji being the philosopher stone making it all happen. How nice for us all that he has chosen us to be co-creators of his grand oeuvre!

We knew, we couldn’t afford to release something “half-baked”. Too much was at stake. To write the story, the history of the mission of our Guru. So a bigger team worked intensively over the past weeks to make it happen, and in the end, we working literally day and night. We had no choice but to become a real team to succeed. A continuous “yes” to each other. Creations of one person – whether concepts, texts, pictures or designs – were reshaped or edited by someone else, and again changed by a third person. What was very nice to observe is that we trusted each other, we trusted that the contribution of the next person would make it better. It wasn’t about “my” or “mine”, it was about him (i.e. Guruji) and us. It’s not the first time I’ve witnessed Guruji’s devotees grow together in times of pressure. We may sometimes have little disputes here and there, like in any family, but when it matters, we grow together and become one.

When completing the book after an all-nighter we realised, we just did the 3rd “Ratri” (full night, where we don’t sleep) in one year: Shivaratri, Karthik Night, and now Mission of Love Ratri 
It’s these moments that one remembers for the rest of one’s life. When you give it all. When you squeeze out the last drops of life force out of yourself. We were dead-tired, but not dead! We were alive, because we were living bhakti at its fullest.

In conclusion, this book is not just a mere history book. It takes account of the first ten years of Sri Swami Vishwananda’s mission in such a way, that it becomes a powerful reminder, of what matters most: God is Love. God manifests as the Satguru to wake mankind up to rediscover the Love inside of itself. The Satguru and his mission are one. If we love the Guru, if we love God and his creation, then we will naturally embrace his mission, which is to spread his Love. It means we naturally want to pass on the Love that we received.

Contemplating at the first decade of Love, it could be said, that it was the phase in which we received a lot of Love. Now the new Era, which starts with a new decade, stands for sharing that Love. Actually in sharing (unconditionally), we receive even more than before. This is the secret of Love. You have to give it to receive it. You have to be brave enough to be where you need to be, not where you want to be. But true devotion unites the need with the want. In other words, you will want to be where you need to be.

The mission cannot be grasped. Neither can the Guru, or God.  But this book acts a bit like a “murthi” does. It is a physical gateway to access the larger truth that is beyond space and time. We hope you will use the unique opportunity the book provides, and enjoy discovering the keys of success for the New Era. - Swami Vishwakurunandhanananda

Celebrate the approaching 11th year of Bhakti Marga with us on New Year's Eve! Click on link to register: http://www.bhaktimarga.org/events/new-years-eve

10 Dec 2015

A Year of Street Kirtan with Bhakti Marga

Imagine yourself walking down the sidewalk of the city you live in, heading towards the store to buy some food for lunch, and in the distance, you hear music. As you turn around the corner of the block, you see a group of people, some dressed in all-white, some dressed in jeans and a t-shirt, and some with dhotis, kurtas or even sarees. They are carrying instruments and singing without repress. Each of them with tilak on their foreheads, clapping and rejoicing in the middle of a city normally painted grey with introverted strangers. And somehow, the smile on their faces places one unto your own; you smile as you watch this group of bhaktas, slowly march down the street, singing, “Radhe! Radhe!” without a care in the world.

The concept of Street Kirtan and the spreading of the Love of God through the chanting of Divine Names has existed for centuries. Bengal is the birthplace of Street Kirtan and was initiated by the glorious saint, Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. In the years to come, the organisation called ISKCON (The International Society for Krishna Consciousness), would popularise this practice in the Western culture, particularly known to be in airports and at Union Square in New York City.

If you have visited Shree Peetha Nilaya, then you have probably heard the mantra, “Bhaja Nitai Gauranga Radhe Shyam, Japa Hare Krishna, Hare Rama.” Every day at the center, this mantra is chanted in the temple continuously from 9:00 in the morning, till 9:00 at night, with community prayers in-between. But what does this mantra actually mean?

The mantra itself can be broken down into several parts. First of all, we are offering service (Bhaja). What is the service? We are offering the qualities of Sri Nityananda (the companion of Chaitanya) and Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, namely compassion and devotion, in the form of vibration for the sake of the world (Nitai-Gauranga). For what is this service rendered? The spreading of compassion and devotion will lead to the attainment of the goal of life, the lotus feet of Sri Radha Krishna (Radhe Shyam). Finally, how do we offer this service? This is all achieved through the repeated chanting of the Maha Mantra (Japa Hare Krishna Hare Rama).

With the knowledge of what this mantra means, and from the inspiration of great saints like Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, Bhakti Marga has embraced the tradition of Street Kirtan wholeheartedly. Since December of last year, Street Kirtan has been performed every Sunday around the diverse cities of Germany.

At the request of Sri Swami Vishwananda, Swami Vishwakanjalochanananda (formerly known as Chaturananda) has taken the lead on this project. Swami Kanjalochana has made an exceptional effort to make sure that Guruji’s wish for Street Kirtan to occur weekly has been upheld. Over the course of this last year, Swami Kanjalochana has had unexpected experiences that testify to the power of Street Kirtan. People who have never even heard about kirtan, become drawn to the Love that emanates from the Divine Names. The stories are innumerable, as each person that Street Kirtan has impacted are unique.   

The practice of Street Kirtan has not only opened the minds and hearts of the sidewalk spectators, but it has also helped to shift the perspective of the participants. As it is natural to be shy, many people are hesitant at first to go out in public and sing in front of strangers. With a little bit of courage, and the support from people like Swami Kanjalochana, afterwards, they are so inspired that they often wish to start Street Kirtan groups in their own hometowns.

Street Kirtan is a service that uplifts the surrounding environment through the vibration of the Divine Names. Though it has existed for hundreds of years, Street Kirtan is still a relatively new concept to the Western culture. The growth and future of Street Kirtan depends on the devotees who wish to serve humanity in a public way that instantly gives people a first-hand experience into the world of spirituality. It is a method to open hearts and to acquaint people with Sri Swami Vishwananda and Bhakti Marga. Swami Vishwakanjalochanananda is passionate about spreading Street Kirtan around the world and is willing to be of help to anyone who is looking to join an existing Street Kirtan group or to help anyone who aspires to pioneer a Street Kirtan group and make the journey to reach the heart of strangers on a Sunday afternoon.

If you want to receive more information about Street Kirtan, please contact Swami Vishwakanjalochanananda via email at: vishwakanjalochanananda@bhaktimarga.org

Below you can read a testimony from one of the regular participants of Street Kirtan from Shree Peetha Nilaya:

“Street Kirtan is a time when we can go and spread the Love of God first hand. Since I live in the ashram, my contact with the outside world is limited, and though this seclusion helps me to stay spiritually focused, it can also limit the opportunity to share the Divine Love that the world so desperately needs.

It’s always fascinating to see the curious faces pass by as we sing bhajans. Often I have noticed how children have an intuitive nature for the Divine names, many times their faces light up with joy and they seem to be magnetised to the music. Street Kirtan also gives me a great sense of family. Just as a family supports each and other, every member participating adds strength to the rest of the group and we all have a great time singing the Divine Names.

I’m grateful to be able to see the devotees come together and spread the Divine Love that has transformed each one of us. Street Kirtan is one way of sharing this transformation, of sharing this Divine Love, so that we may not keep it for ourselves, but rather, to share it with those who have yet to experience the beauty of chanting the Divine Names.” – Kushalananda

The New Year will be here soon! Come celebrate New Years Eve at Shree Peetha Nilaya with Sri Swami Vishwananda and the Bhakti Marga family:

3 Dec 2015

Babaji Day 2015

The Babaji Day event is an evening that recognises Mahavatar Kriya Babaji for all the Grace and guidance He provides. Occurring on November 30th, it marks the day that Babaji decided to remain in His body and continue in assisting the spiritual development of mankind. Through the blessing of Atma Kriya Yoga, Mahavatar Babaji and Sri Swami Vishwananda work together to uplift the consciousness of humanity to the state of divinity.

The 2015 Babaji Day celebration at Shree Peetha Nilaya began with Paduka Abishekam, which included Guru Puja to Sri Swami Vishwananda, and then a Kalash Puja dedicated to Mahavatar Babaji. As Babaji Himself has promised to be present whenever His Name is spoken thrice, the atmosphere of the hall perceptibly verified this. The night included bhajans, a reading and talk about Babaji, group Atma Kriya Yoga practice, and Sri Swami Vishwananda sharing his wisdom about Mahavatar Babaji and the Grace of Kriya Yoga.

Here is an excerpt from Sri Swami Vishwananda’s talk during Babaji Day:

“Know that whatever you do you are not alone. You have the Grace of Mahavatar Babaji with you, one of the greatest avatars who have ever walked the Earth, which is still alive, which is still here. When you are practicing (Atma Kriya Yoga), know that He is with you, know that I am with you and know that all the kriya saints and sages are with you. This is the blessing that you were given while receiving the Shaktipat.

The Shaktipat is not just the transfer of the energy to you. It’s not just a key of unlocking. It’s a transfer of the Master's Grace to you. Each one of you who practices kriya, you hold upon that Grace inside of you, you have it. That’s why Babaji said that you are all yogis, because He has made you His yogis. You carry His Grace and blessing with you.

So, that’s the blessing, that after this life, you will attain Him. And if you don’t succeed in attaining Him in this life, He will help you. Of course, if your karma is too high...if you have a billion lifetimes of karma, then the Grace will carry on in the next life, just as it has carried on from the last life to this life. Because throughout lives, all these thousands of years, you have been practicing. And because He wanted you to know about Him, He has graced you with His blessing of knowing Him. And above all, He has graced you with the supreme blessing of bhakti.

You are very fortunate to receive this Grace. You are very fortunate to be among His chosen ones. Let His Love, let the Love which God has put inside of you radiate through you. Each time when you are practicing your kriya before, know that when you are invoking Him, He is next to you.” – Sri Swami Vishwananda

Babaji Day is the perfect reminder for how blessed each of our lives are. It is a day to simply be thankful for everything we've received, no matter how small. Mahavatar Babaji and Sri Swami Vishwananda work hand-in-hand to help all of us attain the Lotus Feet of the Lord. By practicing Atma Kriya Yoga and by connecting to the Divine Masters who have already realised the ultimate Truth, we are given the Grace to experience the Love of God at its highest state. Babaji continuously blesses the world and yet remains humbly hidden, ever waiting for us to discover Him in the place that is most vital  ̶  the heart. 

A couple days after Babaji Day, Sri Swami Vishwananda traveled to Finland to inaugurate a new Mahavatar Babaji temple. The temple is located is Helsinki, the southern capital of Finland. As you can see from the picture, the murti of Babaji is both exquisite and substantial. The devotees of Finland have been greatly blessed to now have an official home for Babaji, a place where they can always visit and spend their time in the presence of one of the greatest avatars to have ever incarnated. With the blessing of Sri Swami Vishwananda, the recently inaugurated Babaji temple has become a beacon of light for the Finland devotees, and inevitably, for the rest of the world.

Sri Swami Vishwananda performing abishekam to Mahavatar Babaji

Final arati offered to conclude the ceremony

2015 is almost over! Join us soon at Shree Peetha Nilaya for the New Year's celebrations and start 2016 with a spiritual bang: