Read the Kirtan Blog: All about the kirtans

This short film was made in Russia in October 2015, by a small team of filmmakers who are passionate about sharing the culture of bhakti yoga with the world. It was shot on location in Moscow and Sochi, and profiles Jahnavi Harrison, who grew up with bhakti yoga and serves in the capacity of a kirtan (devotional call and response chanting) leader.

Producer: Shaktyavesha Avatara dasa
Director of Photography: Raghunatha Prana dasa
2nd Camera: Hari Mohini dasi
Additional Camera: Nityananda Rama dasa
Postproduction: Tamal Krishna Dasa
Transport: Alexey Pigurenko

 

Read the Kirtan Blog: All about the kirtans

Writen by Gopal Anandini Schleusener

Gopal Anandini Schleusener

We have 22 students, all determined, sincere and serious. It’s been a real pleasure working with them so far. The first week, Sacidanadana Swami guided them in understanding the importance of doing kirtan in the right mindset and mood. Immersing them in the holy names, he got things off to a blissful start. The past two weeks, the teachers focused on teaching mrdanga mantras and kartala beats. Also, each student by now knows a melody on the harmonium. By next week they’ll be playing in and leading kirtan. All the students have their own styles, and it is a great experience to see it.

Kirtan Course students at Rathayatra in Antwerp

Moments of mercy flowed from Lord Jagannatha during His chariot procession. Holy names filled the air, and the mrdanga beats awakened each soul who heard them. We celebrated with kirtan and shared kirtan with others.

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Radhadesh Summer Holi

After a month of study and a week of intense practice, the Kirtan Course students took part in the festival with a half-hour stage performance of mellow, choral chanting. Shivani and Cherl sang solos. Braja made a mrdanga presentation. With sweet tunes of Braja, the lead singers were Shivani, Cheryl, Paraschiva, Surya, and Murari. Their joyful mood helped the audience experience the glories of sankirtana, the congregational repetition of the maha-mantra.

In a kirtan tent, our mrdanga teacher, Krsna Das, led workshops on playing this instrument. Students demonstrated their skills, and the people could join in to learn the basics. Shivani, Cheryl, and Sam led workshops on voice toning and gong-sound healing therapy. The happiness of Holi spread to everyone. The weekend was filled with kirtan and devotion, relaxation and self-realization.
Moments to be remembered . . . relished . . . carried in the heart.

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The Shamanic Festival in Namur

The Kirtan Course students, along with the teacher Jahnavi Harrison, spread the holy names around a bonfire. Dancing and chanting purified the hearts of many, and those who joined us became absorbed, letting themselves be carried away by the angelic voice of Jahnavi  and the transcendental Holy Name.

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Balarama Purnima at Radhadesh

It was a day filled with kirtan and dancing, swinging Deities, and offering one’s heart in blissful worship. Taking part in such temple programs and doing kirtans for Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha have become a natural part of the students’ everyday life. The sweet late-evening kirtan at Radhadesh is one activity that every student will miss after returning home.

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First to Leave

Day by day we come closer to the end of the two-month Kirtan Course, which has given new skills and deep realizations to the students. 
Some of these memories will last, as will friendships that formed by bonding in kirtan. Precious moments will stay with them throughout their lives. In gratitude we said goodbye to three wonderful students who had to leave a bit early: Paraschiva Florescu, Chih-Chen Chen, and Kuan Lee. We were blessed to have delicious donuts made by a cupcake master, Gopalanandini Schleusener, who has the sweetest talent for baking and decorating cupcakes. Happy we were to have nice chats on the grass before we all wandered in different directions throughout the world. As Sri Sri Radha-Gopinatha were waiting to hear the kirtans of Paraschiva Florescu and Kuan Lee, we all joined them in the temple room, where their heart-melting devotion made it seem that the Deities danced.

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Graduation ceremony

The Kirtan Course’s graduation ceremony provoked tears and laughter, certificates and comments. We had ice cream and cold drinks. Knowing that each of us would feel strong separation from these relishable months we shared, connected by kirtan, we anticipated our friendships lasting when we are far away from one other. The staff will miss you and wishes you all the best on your kirtaniya path! 
May you all flourish in the garden of kirtan and blossom with the holy names in your hearts! Kirtan Course 2016, ki jaya!
Sankirtana-yajna, ki jaya!

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Ananta, Radhadesh, August 2016

Interviewer: Can you tell us a bit about what you have been up to since you left Radhadesh a few months ago? How has it been adjusting to “regular life” again?

Ananta: When coming home, I rested for a week. Ashram life is challenging and by staying on the 5th floor, going up and down many times every day, puts a lot of pressure on the body and the mind. I’ve lost a few kilograms, which is good. Looking forward to doing it again if the opportunity arises.

Interviewer: What was the biggest highlight of the Kirtan Course for you?

Ananta: Leading kirtan in front of Sri Sri Radha Gopinatha on Janmastami. I felt very nervous but at the same time I knew that the ice breaking would bring me a lot of success in the future.

Interviewer: Have aspects of the Kirtan Course changed the way in which you spend quality time with your family? Do you ever do kirtan together?

Ananta: Yes, we have kirtan evenings now every evening. Sometimes I sing for a while even during the Bhoga Offering. The kids play karatals as well.

Interviewer: How have you been able to incorporate what you learned during the course into your local devotional community?

Ananta: I help one of my friends with his Mantra Lounge here in Stockholm. Sometimes we drive to the temple and have a kirtan as offering.

Interviewer: How did the Kirtan Course help you further develop your relationship with the holy name? Have you found there have been changes to your sadhana since the course?

Ananta: Yes, of course. The chanting is increasing. Before we had only japa and sometimes kirtan and we clapped our hands. Now we do nice melodious kirtans, which sometimes last longer than planned. It’s a wonderful feeling.

Interviewer: You have quite the open-minded and humorous personality. How did this help you to inspire your fellow students during the course?

Ananta: Tough one… I encountered a few incidents caused by frustration. The tutors have put a lot of pressure on us to learn and practice a lot. My attitude was: let’s just take pleasure in learning the instruments and have some fun as well. People have different personalities and they are inspired in different ways. I always take it easy and go with the flow…

Interviewer: What is your favourite instrument? Have you found yourself continuing to develop your skills in certain areas of the practical aspects of kirtan since the course ended?

Ananta: My favorite instrument is harmonium. Since coming home from the course, I continuously learn new melodies. I ask devotees who have mastered the art of kirtan to teach me new things all the time. I must admit, it’s not easy and it takes a lot of practice and dedication. To be able to learn how to play the harmonium in order to make a pleasing offering to Krishna can take many years. It’s not just the skill; it’s the Bhava as well. Actually the attitude of having Nama Yagna is the most important, but the skill of the instrument completes the offering.

Interviewer: What is your favourite thing about kirtan and why?

Ananta: As we know, kirtan means the congregational glorification of the Lord. As I personally did, I used kirtan to engage people who were never, not in the wildest of their fantasy, would take to the chanting or listening of the holy name. Kirtan is a powerful tool, which knowingly and unknowingly connects people with Krishna. The real meaning of Yoga.

Interviewer: What advice would you give to future Kirtan Course students?

Ananta: Take the course seriously; take to your heart the teachings from the first week of the course, meditate always about the meaning of Kirtan, learn the instruments to your best ability and make nice offerings to the Lord. Srila Prabhupada says: Facility comes from chanting. By making this offer to Krishna by engaging your time, money, senses, mind and intelligence in learning how to sing His holy name your life will change forever and many wonderful things will happen in your life.

by Cintāmaṇi Mādhavī Devī Dāsī (Kirtan Course Alumna 2014)

In 2014 I had to move from the town where I was born in Chile to the capital, Santiago, to continue with my studies of journalism. I rented a little room in the downtown of the city. When I arrived, a student living there warned me: “This place is nice. The only thing that may annoy you is that your window is right next to a Hare Kṛṣṇa temple, and they chant the whole day.”

Maybe he’s exaggerating, I thought. But the first week, I knew he was telling the truth. From early in the morning I would hear people singing, bells ringing, and some strange deep, thunderous sound (the blowing of a conch shell, I later leaned). I also smelled incense, as well as captivating food being cooked with ingredients I couldn’t figure out. I was curious.

What’s behind this that can keep these people chanting every day of the year?

The strangest thing was that they were always singing the same words: Hare Kṛṣṇa, Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa Kṛṣṇa, Hare Hare/ Hare Rāma, Hare Rāma, Rāma Rāma Hare Hare.

Months later I went to the temple for the first time. And after reading Śrīla Prabhupāda’s books, I knew I wanted to be Kṛṣṇa conscious. But the mahā-mantra remained a mystery for me. Even after experiencing big changes in my life by chanting the mantra on my beads, I couldn’t understand deeply what was behind these sixteen words. With time, chanting my sixteen rounds became a mechanical duty, especially after I started to work in the rushed world of the media. Most days I would find myself chanting the last rounds at night, hoping to finish quickly to go to sleep. This negligence was silently and seriously undermining my enthusiasm for spiritual life. To revitalize my enthusiasm, I decided to take a time off from work, and I made the Kirtan Course at Bhaktivedanta College in Radhadesh, Belgium, my first stop.

Inspiring Teachers

The course started with an introductory workshop by Śacīnandana Swami, who made us dive into the holy name for a week, with philosophy, meditation, and kīrtana. “Worship Kṛṣṇa with the flower of your attention” was his advice the first day of class. After having chanted my rounds for so long with my mind wandering far and wide, I felt he was talking directly to me.

 

In the Harināma Cintāmaṇi, by Śrīla Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, it is said that pramāda, or inattention or carelessness while chanting the holy name, is the offense from which all other offenses arise. There are three types of inattention: indifference, inertia or laziness, and restlessness of the mind. Śrīla Bhaktivinoda instructs that one should always be careful to not only dutifully chant one’s rounds but to chant them properly. The remedy for improper chanting is to associate with devotees who have a taste for the holy name, because by seeing Vaiṣṇavas’ attraction for the name, one will be inspired to give up indifference.

The Kirtan Course was nine weeks of this type of association. We had the opportunity to learn about the history and meaning of the saṅkīrtana movement from scholarly and senior devotees, as well as leading exponents of kīrtana. Kṛṣṇa Kṣetra Swami taught the importance of sound, citing Vedic texts, and the different traditions of devotional music. Kadamba Kānana Swami drew us deep into the meaning of Caitanya Mahāprabhu’s Śikṣāṣṭakam, which includes instruction on the appropriate mood with which to chant the holy name. Mahātmā Dāsa explained how humility is the main component of kīrtana, and with Jahnavi Harrison we sang prayers by Bhaktivinoda Ṭhākura, trying to understand the mood of an exalted devotee. Mahendra Dāsa took us on a journey through quotations and explanations about kīrtana in the sacred literature. Finally, Hridayānanda Dāsa Goswami gave us some ideas on how to present all this knowledge in the Western world.

Connecting with the Holy Name

In the purport to Bhagavad-gītā 12.8, Śrīla Prabhupāda explains, “The holy name of the Lord and the Lord are nondifferent; therefore when a devotee chants Hare Kṛṣṇa, Kṛṣṇa and His internal potency are dancing on the tongue of the devotee.” To be able to realize this through great devotees who can transmit their blissful connection with the holy name was a transformative experience.

In addition, we seventeen students – from all over the world and from all kinds of backgrounds – learned harmonium, mṛdaṅga, and kartālas from the best teachers in a friendly and supportive atmosphere.

Indeed, these weeks were life changing, because you had the opportunity to appreciate the holy name from when you woke up till you went to sleep. When you feel connected with the holy name by chanting attentively, the whole day has a different taste – the sweet taste of Kṛṣṇa’s company. When we singing the mahā-mantra fully conscious, we water a plant that at some point will produce a flower that will bloom within our hearts. As stated in the Caitanya-caritāmṛta (Madhya 19.152): “When a person receives the seed of devotional service, he should take care of it by becoming a gardener and sowing the seed in his heart. If he waters the seed gradually by the process of śravaṇa and kīrtana [hearing and chanting], the seed will begin to sprout.”

Now I remember the days when the mahā-mantra first came through my window and I asked myself what could be the meaning of those words constantly repeated by my special neighbours. I could not have suspected that it was Kṛṣṇa Himself and that in the most merciful and simple way I could approach Him in these hard times of so much pain and quarrel. I hope many devotees can take advantage of the Kirtan Course and help the holy name open the windows of thousand of hearts.

 

Uttama Dasi speaks with her husband Partha Das at their seminar in Moscow in 2016

Uttama Dasi speaks with her husband Partha Das at their seminar in Moscow in 2016.

“We were able to convince the leadership across the country that we don’t want to just perform marriages anymore – we actually want to support and nurture marriages,” says Partha. “We’re trying to create a culture where premarital education is an integral part of marriage in ISKCON.”

“It’s important that you look for someone with similar values, personality and lifestyle,” says Uttama. “For instance, someone who shares your work ethics, family values, and the way you practice Krishna consciousness.”

Of course, she acknowledges, it is fine and natural to have small differences in values, and couples should support and encourage each other in these areas for a healthy marriage. Partha and Uttama also emphasized getting to know a prospective partner well before trusting them, and making sure you trust them before you commit. The communication skills part of the course, meanwhile, was largely based upon two of Rupa Goswami’s six loving exchanges between Vaishnavas: revealing one’s mind in confidence, and inquiring confidentially, or reworded here as “listening in confidence.”

“We’re trying to help devotees realize how important that exchange is, especially in household life,” says Partha. “We teach simple communication techniques that keep dialog from escalating into the modes of passion and ignorance where people end up having arguments, or isolating themselves in the relationship.”

Partha and Uttama feel that Krishna conscious marriage done right is something very special. If we truly stayed aware that Krishna is being worshipped in our homes, and is in our spouse’s hearts, they explain, we would never use unkind words or treat them harshly.

The counselors also talked about negative paradigms sometimes touted in ISKCON that cause damage. “One is the misunderstanding that your marriage and your children are not devotional service,” says Uttama. “Because then devotees don’t work on their relationships, minimize them, and sometimes don’t even meet their children’s needs.”

grihastha

A group photo of the seminar participants in Brazil 2015.

Happy, caring marriages and family lives are devotional service not only because our children and spouses are devotees, Partha adds, but because the general public observes how devotees live and conduct themselves. “So just having a good marriage is a big contribution to Prabhupada’s movement – what to speak of having happy, well-adjusted, protected children.”

Another area commonly misunderstood that Partha and Uttama made an important distinction between is the difference between Vedic marriage – where the wife is often seen as subservient to the husband – and Vaishnava marriage.

In this connection, they cited an article on Vaishnava marriage by Srila Bhaktisiddhanta Sarasvati in his magazine The Harmonist. “The cardinal principle of grihasta ashram is that no one may be the owner of any property or service of another,” he writes.  Everyone is only a servant whose activities are ever in the service of the Lord.”

He continues, “Marrying and giving in marriage do not give rise to any rights of a master either to the husband or to the wife. Men and women are joined in wedlock for the purpose of serving each other in the performance of the joint service of Krishna. The wife is not an object of enjoyment of the husband, nor vice versa. They do not marry for gratifying their sexual appetites. They marry for pleasing the Lord, not for pleasing themselves.”

He concludes, “Neither the husband nor the wife should claim the services of his or her partner on their own account. Both of them are only to offer their services if and when their partner is pleased to permit them to share their service of Hari. None of them can force their partners to serve them….This system of household discipline has its roots in the joint worship of the household deity by all members of the household.”

Next, Partha and Uttama are working on preparing an online version of their course that will be offered to everyone soon through Belgium’s Bhaktivedanta College Online Campus website.

Preparing as well as taking the course takes time and effort – but so does having a healthy and happy marriage, they remind us.

“Sometimes devotees look for an easy fix, saying, ‘Can you give us your blessings?’” Partha says. “But our blessings are to tell them, ‘Marriage doesn’t make you happy, it makes you married. And once you’re married, then you can do the hard work of becoming Krishna conscious and happy in your marriage. If you do the work, it is very satisfying. But you have to do the work.”

Article written by Madhava Smullen from ISKCON News

Splendid Instructions to the Mind (Sri Manah-siksa) is at once both hopefully inspiring and blatantly honest. To read it well entails an authentic appraisal of the state of one’s heart and mind, an experience of recognition and acceptance that is at once sweet and sour, comforting and uncompromising. To read it well entails receiving many glowing gifts to triumph over our lower nature and reveal our true spiritual essence, so that all struggles and illusion become a distant dream. In this book, we learn about affection and attachment so we can gain genuine love of ourselves and others. Through respect and integrity, we escape the pitfalls of arrogance and deceit.

SMS2 Sri Manah-Siksa_871x1008These verses are a complete step-by-step guidebook on the inner path of spontaneous love for God, while being applicable for everyone. Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami liberally used metaphor, poetry, and literary ornaments to unlock our full potential. Bhaktivinoda Thakura has instructed, “Sri Manah-siksa has laid down a systematic procedure for one to enter into and become absorbed in the pastimes of Sri Sri Radha-Krishna; one should follow it without guile.” Each of Raghunatha Dasa Gosvami’s verses is followed by commentary by Bhaktivinoda Thakura—both prose and song.

This edition is the first time his song commentary has been published in English. The verses and Bhaktivinoda’s commentaries are richly illustrated with over a hundred drawings by various international artists.

This is a 2016 edition produced by Padma, Inc. and compiled by Urmila Devi Dasi. It includes commentaries by Jayadvaita Swami, Sivarama Swami, Sacinandana Swami, and Bhaktivijnana Goswami.

Where to purchase: urmiladevidasi.org/publications/ 

Of course we all know that our main devotional activity is chanting the holy name. We understand this is the yuga dharma, the dharma for this age. It’s a very disturbed age, the age of kali and it’s known to be an ocean of faults, but there’s one good quality in this age. When one chants the names of Krishna, one is free from material existence. So as we chant Hare Krishna, we can come into a prayerful mood. There are many kinds of prayer and technically one may consider chanting Hare Krishna as having the character of approaching the Lord to have His shelter. We’re calling out to the Lord, “Oh Krishna! Oh Hari! Oh Rama!” We can also keep in mind that when we chant together, we’re doing a kind of service for the Lord. It’s a kind of entertainment and entertainment is one of the many aspects of service to the Lord in His deity form. There are many sorts of arts, which can be engaged in entertaining the Lord. In fact, Krishna Himself learns and becomes expert in the 64 arts and the first of these is singing. Of course this is different from japa, as we’re not just chanting. We’re also singing some melody and we’re accompanying the singing with musical instruments, which is the second art. It can happen in the course of singing and playing musical instruments that one becomes so much stirred that one may want to get up and dance. This is the third of the 64 arts. Another aspect of chanting the holy name that you will want to remember is that there are many stimuli or inspiration for devotional service. One of these is stimulus of the Lord’s name. There’s also the stimulation coming from the pastimes of the Lord and the remembrance of these pastimes as well as the Lord’s qualities… All of this can come out of the chanting of the holy names.

By the mercy of a pure-devotee i.e. a spiritual master (suddha-guru), a soul eager for devotional service attains the good fortune of chanting the spiritual names of the graceful divine couple. He chants a prescribed number of holy names on tulasi beads or he chants kirtana with great love and respect. He begins by chanting one grantha (four rounds) of holy names. Gradually he comes to chant 300,000 holy names (192) rounds. Then all the desires of his heart become fulfilled. One should chant the holy name a fixed number of times. Then the holy name blissfully dances on all one’s senses. The nine processes of devotional service takes shelter of the holy name. Still, chanting and remembering the holy name is the best of them all. A person strongly attached to Deity worship attains the results of hearing and chanting. A person attracted only to the holy name engages only in hearing, chanting and remembering the holy name.

 

ravi_guptaIt’s a prestigious position that brings to mind a gruff, silver-bearded elder. But Radhika Ramana flips that idea on its head. At a youthful 34, he’s got a beaming smile of pearly whites and a full head of black hair. He’s also disarmingly unpretentious despite his astonishing academic journey.

Homeschooled by his mother Aruddha Dasi at his home in Boise, Idaho, Radhika followed a highly unconventional curriculum based mostly on Srila Prabhupada’s Srimad-Bhagavatam, from which he learned reading, writing, comprehension, grammar, and critical thinking skills. It clearly worked. At 13, Radhika Ramana attended Boise State University. At 17, he received his Bachelor’s degree in philosophy and math. At 22, he completed his PhD at Oxford. Immediately after that, in 2005, he got his first teaching job. From there, it was moving up the ranks from assistant professor to associate professor to achieving tenure at the age of 29.

Now, as full professor, Radhika holds the highest rank possible in academics, signifying that he has developed an international reputation in his field of study, through his research, lectures, conference presentations and teaching.

Moreover, as Charles Redd Chair of Religious Studies he is also an an endowed chair in his field, an opportunity few in academia get. And as Director of Utah State University’s fast growing Religious Studies Program, he is responsible for developing it into the future. Simply put, he’s ideally situated to make an impact. Here’s the thing: he’s not alone. A consistently growing number of brilliant Vaishnava devotee religious studies scholars, specializing in their own tradition, are coming up through the ranks.

Along with early pioneers like Hridayananda Goswami (Howard Resnick), Garuda Das (Graham Schweig), and later senior devotees like Krishna Ksetra Swami (Kenneth Valpey), these new young wunderkinds bring the total to about two dozen Gaudiya Vaishnava scholars. “And all of them are getting very good positions around the United States and across the world,” says Radhika Ramana. “It’s very, very exciting and heartening to see.” This is key, because according to Radhika Ramana, it’s important to have both outsider and insider perspectives for a fully-developed picture on any tradition. And academic scholarship on Gaudiya Vaishnavism has been dominated almost exclusively by non-practioners. Until now.

So what do these scholar-practioners bring? For one, they can dispel long-skewed perceptions. For instance, academic literature has always praised Gaudiya Vaishnavism founder Chaitanya Mahaprabhu as a great mystic who brought the emotional intensity within Krishna Bhakti to new heights. Which is true. But it has consistently left the Gaudiya tradition out of any descriptions of India’s intellectual heritage. “This despite the fact that Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s 500-year history shows an incredibly high density of great philosophers, astute thinkers, and prolific writers and poets,” says Radhika Ramana.

Radhika Ramana Dasa (on the right) speaks with one Bhaktivedanta College student in 2002

Radhika Ramana Dasa (on the right) speaks with one Bhaktivedanta College student in 2002

Radhika himself began remedying this with his PhD thesis and 2007 book about the philosophy of one of Gaudiya Vaishnavism’s greatest thinkers, Jiva Goswami. Others have alsomade their own studies on towering figures of Vaishnava thought. Next, scholar-practioners can bring to light great texts that have been ignored. Despite sister epics the Mahabharat and Ramayana being studied profusely in the academic world, the Srimad-Bhagavatam has been left by the wayside for over a century. So in 2013, Radhika Ramana, with Krishna Ksetra Swami, published “The Bhagavat Purana: Sacred Text and Living Tradition” with Columbia University Press. The book features chapters by various specialists demonstrating the Bhagavatam’s impact on numerous aspects of Indian and world history. And this October, a second book, “The Bhagavata Purana: Selected Readings” will follow. “Both will be marketed as a pair for use in university classrooms,” Radhika says. “We feel that the time is ripe now for the Bhagavatam to be taken seriously in the academic world.”

All these foundational studies on Gaudiya Vaishnava subjects by devotee scholars are important, because as Radhika Ramana says, “When you produce a foundational study on a subject that hasn’t been looked at before, future studies will always refer to it as the basis.” As well as shining a light on these gifts from the Gaudiya tradition, scholarship is also essential to the health of the tradition itself. One of the services it can provide in this regard is to study both the short term history (Prabhupada’s establishing it in the West) and the long-term (back to Chaitanya’s time and beyond) so as to better navigate problems already faced in the past.

Another service of scholarship is to identify how to keep the tradition both faithful to its roots, and relevant to today’s people. “We need to negotiate and be comfortable with both, “says Radhika Ramana. “And we need to realize that innovation is not the enemy of fidelity and vice versa – as Srila Prabhupada so expertly proved.” There will always be a tug between relevancy and faithfulness in every world religion, Radhika Ramana says, but this is in fact a symptom of a healthy tradition. “Without that tug, the religion will either become so mainstream that it loses its roots and withers away,” he explains. “Or so heavily stuck in the past, that no one can identify with it today, and it becomes inaccessible and irrelevant to people.”

With all these services and more being provided by Vaishnava practioner-scholars, Radhika Ramana is glad that his new position as full professor allows him to mentor new generations and ensure that Vaishnava scholarship continues to thrive. Because even a small group can make a major impact, he says.

“Scholarship is slow by nature, and its effects are not seen immediately,” he explains. “But once it’s developed, its effects are long-lasting and very powerful, changing the way the mainstream thinks on a fundamental level. Some of the biggest ideas that are now commonplace in the world, like the notion of equal rights for all human beings, began as ‘crazy ideas’ tossed around by thinkers.”

For his part, Radhika Ramana hopes to give the Vaishnava tradition ‘a voice and an active seat at the table’ when it comes to both public and academic intellectual discourse.

“For me, that would be a measure of success for the type of service that we do,” he says.

eyc

Bhaktivedanta College Belgium hosted the 2nd European Yoga Congress from May 27th to 29th, sharing insights and techniques with thirteen different yoga schools from twelve countries.

The seeds of the event were sewn in November 2014, when many different yoga organizations met at Yoga Vidya in Germany, Europe’s largest yoga ashram, to explore commonalities and possibilities for cooperation. That gathering resulted in the creation of the European Yoga Confederation, and an agreement to hold a European Yoga Congress every two years.

This year’s event in Radhadesh was held in a giant nearly 1,000 square-foot tent on the grounds, as well as a satellite classroom in the temple. Some 160 to 180 people attended.

Yadunandana Swami, Rector of the Instituto de Estudios Bhaktivedanta in Spain, and Vaiyasaki Das, a Prabhupada disciple and renowned kirtaniya,  represented ISKCON Belgium along with several other devotees.

Yoga 2016 RadhadeshJagat Guru Amrta Suryananda, whose Portuguese Yoga Confederation has forty centers in that country, brought 70 people. Sanatan Dharma, an organization from Spain that has sixty centers, brought 30 people.Other schools represented were Yoga Vidya from Germany; Yoga Surya from Czech Republic; Pauls Stradinš Clinical University Hospital from Latvia; the Russian Classical Yoga Federation; and the Association of Hungarian Yoga Teachers. Swami Nirliptananda from the London Sevashram Sangha in the UK also attended; as did Dr. Bhandari Chandra Mohan from the Sulislaw Institute of Yoga and Ayurveda, Poland; and Master Sricharan Faeq Biria – a Sri Vaishnava and direct disciple of B.K.S Iyengar – from the Paris Iyengar Yoga Centre in France.

Proceedings began with a “pre-opening” at midday on Friday, during which ISKCON devotee yoga teachers Anandini Dasi and Ekachakra Dasi taught yoga asanas, culminating in a Hare Krishna kirtan.The official opening followed with an invocation by the Omkara Choir from Portugal, who sang the Ganesh Sharanam to destroy any obstacles and create auspiciousness. Representatives from each yoga organization then spoke a few words, introducing themselves to the students.

The next three days included classes on hatha yoga, pranayamas, asanas, relaxation, meditation, karma yoga and iyengar yoga. There were also sessions on holistic health and wellness through a combination of yoga and Ayurveda; opening and harmonizing of chakras; and the physiological effects of asanas on the cardio-vascular and respiratory systems.

Other classes focused more on yoga philosophy. There were talks on conquering fear; self discipline and freedom; classical yoga education as an alternative to modern yoga trends; and the relevance of yoga for European society and world peace.

Some, like members of the Yoga Shivananda group, where more inclined towards worship of Lord Shiva, or had other differing approaches to ISKCON’s. Devotees, however, found commonality due to a strong message of cultivating virtue, spirituality and transcendence across all groups’ presentations.In his talk on “The Need for a New World Order,” for instance, Swami Nirliptananda of the London Sevashram Sanga spoke about Dharma and spiritual values; how sense enjoyment is the source of problems in society; and how youth should be educated in yoga principles for a better world.

“Many speakers also quoted the Bhagavad-gita in a nice, respectful way, so that was another common denominator,” says Yadunandana Swami.

eyc_2ISKCON, of course, emphasized Bhakti. In his well-received talk drawing from the Gita, Yadunandana Swami gave six reasons why Bhakti is powerful in yoga: it integrates karma and jnana; is the goal of karma and jnana; naturally fixes the mind; reveals all transcendental secrets; is easily performed; and invokes the blessings of God, which counteract any shortcomings.

Meanwhile Dhira Nitai Das from ISKCON Simhachalam, Germany, spoke about his Bhakti Yoga Teachers Association, an ISKCON-associated group that is trying to create a unified approach to presenting bhakti through classical yoga. Finally Vaiyasaki Das gave a seminar on japa and kirtan, and held three interactive kirtans that escalated from meditative to getting everyone up on their feet, dancing and chanting. These kirtans were a major part of the event’s cultural programs every evening, which also included performances by renowned flute player Hariprasad Chaurasia and Latvian master Bharat Natyam dancer Gaura Nataraja Das.

“Gaura Nataraja performed beautiful dances dedicated to Lord Krishna and His devotees, Suryadeva, and Lord Shiva,” says Yadunandana Swami. “He also did one on the verse from the Ishopanishads “Tamaso ma jyotir gamah,” going from the darkness into the light, that delighted the yogis in attendance.”

Meanwhile guests were thrilled at the hospitality and accommodation provided by Radhadesh devotees, and the delicious prasadam with vegan and gluten-free options prepared by Gundica Das from Barcelona and Shyamananda Das from ISKCON London. The cherry on top came when the hosts offered gifts of books to all the presenters and prasadam from the Radhadesh bakery to all participants during the closing session. “Many expressed that they were happy to have been hosted in such a friendly atmosphere, and that they felt very welcome,” Yadunandana Swami says. “Some yoga teachers said they want to come back to Radhadesh, and even bring their students for a retreat.”

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On Tuesday, May 31st, after the Congress, all the participating organizations also attended a session at the European Parliament in Brussels on what yoga and spirituality can contribute to the betterment of society. Speakers included many of the same yoga masters who spoke at the Congress, as well as MEP Carlos Zorrinho, Indian Embassy Councelor Ankan Banerjee, and General Secretary of the Quality Council of India Ravi P. Singh. They discussed how yoga could help solve today’s problems like the environment, corruption, wars, and terrorism; the benefits of yoga practice in physical, mental, intellectual and spiritual well-being; and how it can help people develop virtues like compassion, a spirit of selfless service, and peacefulness.

“More than one speaker also mentioned the principle of service to God as an essential to success in transforming society from the present difficult situation of degrading values, to an experience of peace and happiness for individuals and communities,” says Yadunandana Swami.

Ultimately, despite any differences in approaches, it was this that bonded all the participants of the 2nd annual European Yoga Congress.

for ISKCON News on June 3, 2016

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