BY HEMALAN NAMBIAR
SUNGAI GABAI, MALAYSIA – The Vedic Oasis for Inspiration Culture and Education (VOICE) organized its first Japa Retreat on the 6th and 7th December, coordinated by Bhakta Navin Raja. The event saw participation of 14 prabhus and 2 senior devotees, HG Rasika Murari prabhu and HG Madhumaya Krishna prabhu.
Japa Retreat officially began on the morning of the 6th at BACE boys’ apartment beginning with mangala arathi, morning walk, group japa and a short discourse by HG Srivas Caitanya prabhu. The aim for the japa retreat was to chant 32 rounds in a day for the core members of VOICE whilst the newer participants were given a target of 16 rounds. Most continued chanting after the morning program, some took a short nap, while others watched Prabhupada’s Your Ever Well Wisher video. However, the chanting of the holy name of Krishna continued until lunch time.
After taking lunch prasad the prabhus proceeded to Sungai Gabai at about 2pm and reached the area around 3.30pm. Sungai Gabai is a recreational area, with a flowing stream and small huts built on the side for campers and weekend tourists. Having booked 3 such huts, which only consisted of three areas, bed room, bathroom with no running water and a small area in between, we unpacked and proceeded to the waterfall for some recreation. The surrounding area was sandy and damp, and so when it came time for sandhya arati, most of us choose to be in jeans and kurta instead of dhotis. However, thanks to our seniors who insisted that we wear Vaishnava attire for arati as we are representing the ISKCON image, we managed to preserve our culture and faith. It was clear that without the guidance of our senior Vaishnavas, we would have clearly diverted from a spiritual atmosphere, more worried about our dhotis getting sandy and wet then being dressed in proper attire.
We had photos deities of Sri Sri Radha Madhava, Sri Narasimhadev, Pancha-tattva and Srila Prabhupada from Mayapur temple. We all were seated in a small room that was about 2 by 3 meters in size. With the close sitting position of 16 devotees, the experience and feeling of deity worship was more heartfelt. After arati we continued with kirtan which included many pastimes of Srila Prabhupada in between different ragas. The kirtan was loud and exciting that the whole place vibrated with the transcendental chanting of the Hare Krsna Maha Mantra.
In between scheduled programs we continued chanting, the scene was that of 14 devotees in Vaishnava attire walking around the small camping site with chanting bags continuously chanting along the river that flowed in front of our little huts. You should have been there to see the faces of other campers who looked dumbfounded seeing these young mud-smeared boys clad in white cloths chanting around their camping site!
That night we had a sharing session around a camp fire on the topic of how we came to ISKCON. Many discussed their tough trials and turbulence in devotional life, something that most of us could relate to as all of us were varsity students and shared similar difficulties.
Water supply stopped in the middle of the night, and the next morning we had to take bath in the river, a situation that was quite austere as the water as extremely cold and not all was used to bathing in the river. After morning mangala arati and ecstatic kirtan, which we took to the banks of the river from our small hut were the deities were placed because we saw neighboring people dancing to the kirtan, we had a post mortem session by the river and share our feelings about the event, many said that even though the situations were austere, but with the association of devotees, the mood was very encouraging and enlightening. Some was amazed that devotional life can be so much fun and bliss, contrary to old belief where praying was always associated with being boring and dull. We all pledged on chanting more rounds after this retreat.
The score for the day was met, where most of the boys, even the newer members managed to chant 32 rounds and more. I know most would be wondering, with no water supply, what about going to the toilet. Well, let’s just say thank Krishna it was only one day and we managed to control answering Mother Nature’s call.
We left Sungai Gabai around 10.30am on the 7th and reached ISKCON Kuala Lumpur, Sri Jagannatha Mandir at around 11.45, just in time for prasadam.
The event was successful in cultivating the spirit of chanting and the importance of devotee association. For youths, varsity students alike, it was really important that we share a common bond to help us though our devotional life in the spirit of sad-sanga. City boys like us, with all comforts of life, being placed in small huts with no bathroom or toilet facilities, forced to take bath in the early mornings in a river and share a small old dusty mattress to sleep in, was really austere by our standards, but no one complained about the situation. Just being among a wonderful group of devotees chanting, singing, and talking about Krsna constantly was so much more blissful.
Lord Krishna says in Bhagavad-Gita 10.9
mac-citta mad gata prana
kathayantas ca mam nityam
tusyanti ca ramanti ca
“The thoughts of my pure devotee dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me.”
We thank the coordinator Bhakta Navin, the core members of VOICE, participants and of course our seniors for a wonderful outing. With the mercy of Srila Prabhupad and Mahaprabhu we hope to be always successful in the future undertakings in this mission of Mahaprabhu.