With everyone in self-isolation and practicing social distancing due to the Coronavirus Pandemic, devotees are coming up with more and more creative ways to associate with each other and hold events virtually that would previously have taken place in person.
On April 18th, over 100 Spanish-speaking devotees from Argentina, Uruguay, Peru, Chile, Brazil, Bolivia, the United States, Italy, Spain, Mexico and Colombia attended a full-day online Bhakti Retreat on Zoom.
The retreat was offered entirely in Spanish, with Mexican devotee Rasika Dasi translating the English-speaking presenters. Husband-and-wife team Prema Rupa Madhava Das and Prema Rupini Madhavi Dasi from Buenos Aires organized, with help from Kanakangi Padma Dasi and Kishora Shyam Das.
“Using the Zoom platform made it very personal, because everyone had their own camera, and could see all the other participants,” says Prema Rupa Madhava. “It was also interactive, with each presenter leaving space for questions.”
The retreat began at 5:00am with a two-hour japa session until 7:00am. Unlike the other sections of the retreat, everyone’s mics were left on throughout, so that participants could listen to each other’s chanting and get inspiration while they concentrated on the Holy Name, as if they were actually in a temple room together.
After a two-hour break, Prema Rupini Madhavi, a professional yoga instructor, taught a yoga class from 9 to 10am, with everyone doing their asanas at home and visible to each other onscreen; followed by pranayama (breathing) exercises taught by her husband.
From 10:30 to 11:30am, Prabhupada disciple Mahatma Das spoke from Alachua, Florida about how we can find the safest place by taking shelter of Krishna.
“He explained how Krishna is always with us and is personally protecting us, and how even if things happen that we don’t want, we should understand that this is Krishna’s plan,” Prema Rupini says.
A half hour of kirtan followed with Denver-based book distributor Ananda Murari Das and his wife Sri Radha Dasi, who began with a short talk on the glories of the Holy Name.
“Due to connection delays, the participants’ mics were muted throughout, but at the end, we turned all the mics on to sing five minutes of kirtan all together,” Prema Rupa Madhava says.
After a four-hour break from midday to 4pm, the retreat restarted with Ayurvedic doctor Nikunja Bihari Das speaking from Mar del Plata, Argentina about “Ayurvedic Benefits For Your Spiritual Practice.” Explaining what spiritual practices are ideal to do during each muhurta, or period of the day, he also shared how to balance work, spiritual practice and recreation; how to maintain the body; and how we can take care of the machine (the body) while not being too attached to it.
At 5pm, Bhakti Sundar Goswami, speaking from Venezuela, gave a lecture on the meaning behind each demon that Krishna kills in His pastimes, and how each one represents a different anartha, or block to spiritual advancement.
From 6:20 to 7pm, kirtaniya Madhuri Pura Das gave tips on kirtan and bhajan singing techniques, such as good posture, “full tank” – taking sufficient breaths – and chanting with one’s heart. Advising devotees to take care of their voice to ensure a lifetime of chanting the Holy Name, he then led an uplifting and interactive kirtan, inviting everyone to take turns singing.
The retreat concluded with reflections, as participants each shared something about their experience. Devotees called it one of the best days they had had during the COVID-19 lockdown. Several people new to Krishna consciousness, who had been invited by devotee friends or introduced through the yoga world, also attended and raved about the speakers and retreat, asking organizers to let them know when they would hold another one.
Their prayers will be answered sooner rather than later, with Prema Rupa Madhava and Prema Rupini Madhavi planning a second Bhakti Retreat on May 2nd, and more retreats twice a month for as long as the lockdown lasts and participants respond positively.
So far, they certainly are. “Devotees were happy and attentive in the lectures, and during the kirtans you could see them all dancing,” Prema Rupini says. “The energy was like a big festival all together, with Krishna in the center.”
Future retreats will invite different speakers and add new presentation topics, such as Vedic astrology, to the mix.
The virtual retreats may also continue after lockdowns have been lifted, as they have enabled devotees to discover a new, easier way to attend such events.
“Our realization was that for many devotees, it is very expensive and difficult to travel,” Prema Rupini says. “But this kind of retreat gives you the opportunity to associate with amazing devotees from all over the world, listen to their classes, ask questions from them, and learn from them – all very cheaply, from your own house.”[ bolivia ] [ brazil ] [ chile ] [ online ] [ peru ] [ retreat ] [ spain ] [ spanish ] [ uruguay ]