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New Vrindaban’s Holy Name Immersion 2023 with Sacinandana Swami

The word “immersion” doesn’t quite feel like it serves justice to this years’ Holy Name Immersion retreat with Sacinandana Swami. Attendees were inexplicably swept off their feet, hearts stolen and transported right into our favorite golden avatars pastimes in a hands-on, hearts-on experience of vaishnava culture, Gaura Lila, and of course, the reason we all gather every year, the Holy Names of Krishna!

No better place comes to mind than the sattvika setting of New Vrindaban to collectively cultivate our personal relationships with the Holy Names; and no better transcendental guide than the red-sweatered and always smiling saint, Sacinandana Swami. This transcendental experience took place over five days although it seemed to escape linear time. Wednesday was our warm up for entering the retreat. We were invited in by a melodious kirtan and correspondingly, we were all delighted to see +200 eager devotees from all over- some faces new, some already familiar.

Our two cultural ambassadors, Gaura Vani and Acyuta Gopi, sat at Sacinandana Swami’s right hand facilitating bhajans, stories, and experiential activities for all the attendees. These well known personalities were backed up by a powerful kirtan team that has possibly never been so epic: Amala Harinam, Nadiya Mani, Gour Krishna, Manu, Ananta Gauranga, Aravind, Ram Govinda and others. They all very successfully filled New Vrindaban with kirtan that was heart melting.

The following four days started at 5am by greeting and receiving the blessings of Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra before going directly into guided japa sessions. Chairs were set in a large semi-circle where we all could sit together, making the vibration of the Holy Name very tangible. Between the Discovery classes (hand crafted excerpts of Srimad Bhagavatam) in the morning and interactive workshops in the afternoon, everyone’s minds were absorbed in how to come closer to Krishna through chanting.

Walking into the Yogashala, we were met with the association of great, transcendental poets like Bhaktivinoda Thakura, Nilakanta Goswami, and even Mahaprabhu Himself. Acyuta Gopi and Gaura Vani allowed us entrance into these saints’ deeply devotional moods via bhajans such as: Kevalastakam, Sri Nama Mahatmya, Anadi Karama-Phale, and Siksastakam. Carrying this mood, we harmonized our journey by exploring very practical philosophy, in which Sacinandana Swami broke down many points so they were easily understood and applied. We spoke on forced and natural faith- Is our faith simply copy-cat or are we truly going on an inner journey? Do we offer bhakti ritualistically or with awareness? Is the condition of our heart compassionately transforming?

Sacinandana Swami again and again held up this introspective mirror that allowed us to see inside our hearts... What kind of devotee am I? Do I simply identify with the conventional externals? Am I committed to putting Krishna in the center of all parts of my life? Am I so absorbed in the charming personality and exciting pastimes of the most sweet and beautiful cowherd boy that I lose all interest in my own desires? Captured by His all-attractive features, do I embody what it means to be “kinkaram-” a truly loving servant? Finally, how do we offer our prayers? Do we humbly accept and acknowledge our shortcomings through apology? Do we kindly request Krishna to engage us in His service? Do we offer total submission, giving complete dedication and love to Krishna with everything in our heart? Following this workshop class, the HNI team passed out blank cards, delicately stamped with a flower. Instructed to form a heartfelt prayer to the Holy Name, we drew our pens and went within.

Each day we were requested to make a slight schedule change by meeting outside the temple fifteen minutes prior to the Kirtan and Katha sessions. As a guest, it was difficult to tell if these activities were planned or a spontaneous overflow of inspired devotion. It only took fifteen minutes to be completely revived from the after-prasad satisfaction coma and awakened to the spiritual reality of our circumstance. By expertly curated activities, our cultural ambassadors directed us to step out of the normal “we’re all just people existing in the world” and into a grand consciousness of respect and reverence for the rare souls who stood all amongst us, offering their sincere hearts to Krishna. Practicing the six loving exchanges, we turned to the friend next to us and tied a vibrant kautuka to each other's wrist and spoke words of friendship. On the next day, we lovingly fed one another mahaprasad! And on the last day, the extraordinary HNI team warmly offered worship to the assembled Vaishnavas. Speckled foreheads adorned sandalwood paste, flower petals rained on our heads, and ghee lamps shone brilliantly ‘round and ‘round. The conches bellowed and bells chimed, purifying us along with the ether. As we stepped into Sri Sri Radha Vrindabanchandra’s sacred hall, our consciousness shifted. Not that we were worshipable, but considering the very fact that we all shared a desire to give ourselves to the most supremely beloved person and to take part in such an auspicious activity as chanting the Holy Names. That deserves all glory. To classify as an exchange, it is necessary to give and to receive, and boy, was the love powerfully received. As it is said, one can not just approach Krishna, but through His merciful and loving devotee, Krishna is bound. Any ounce of resistance to the Holy Name was totally diminished, when gazing up towards Radha Vrindabanchandra, our eyes met a meek sari-draped pujari sitting within the golden altar, approaching the Lord with a basket. Individually and personally unraveling each of the handwritten prayers, she requested Them to see and accept our prayers. Our spiritual requests, beckons of gratitude and helpless calls for Their service were offered plainly with everyone as witness.

The miracles of this retreat festival continued into the evenings with relishable Kirtan and Katha sessions. Practically taken by the hand into Sri Dham Mayapur, we were captivatingly lead into the abode of Srivas Angam- into the most intimate pastimes and kirtans of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu and his closest associates. Sacinandana Swami painted what felt like a familiar dream- before us, the most generously loving, graceful, and effulgent personality! Dancing with elegantly long, golden arms, positioning Himself as if He were playing the flute, while sweetly singing His very own names. Always radiantly calling out “Haribol! Haribol!” while mridangas were struck and kartals rhythmically sounded.

These transcendental lilas primed us for the famous festival of Kheturi, where the original Gaura Purnima pastime manifested in front of us. Acyuta Gopi was perfect for directing the festival drama- encouraging the Vaishnavis to fill the room with Bengali uludhwanis and helping us catch each blissful detail of this divine event. The exalted kirtan singers paraded in, humming with a spiritual pride that is only appropriate for those who are palanquining Balaram in his form of Krishna’s instruments! As arati was offered, prayers to the mridangas, the kartals, the conch shells, even the trumpets took place. One by one, the kirtan singers were granted Narasimhadev Pavitras, fresh harinam chaddars, and gestures of affection by Sacinandana Swami. With the glorious reception now finished, the mridangas started rumbling, conches started to bellow, and ulus were loudly reverberated. A demonstration by expert mridanga players followed with the crowd calling back and forth- Gauranga! Nityananda! Gauranga! Nityananda! Flowers were flying above from the demigods who were clearly present (and also from Gaura Vani standing center stage.) The pace increased faster and faster and faster until everyone was on their feet dancing! This was not an ordinary kirtan mela. For +10 hours, this kirtan went on. The entire temple room became so packed (due to the simultaneously occurring Sunday Feast) that at some points dancing was limited to a concentrated swami step. Everyone was inescapably attracted and captured by Lord Gauranga’s presence in this Kheturi festival. The momentous kirtan, not ending until hours after the finishing time, was filled with devotion that could not be halted. But the enthusiasm continued to propel everyone into the next morning where devotees reassembled in the Yogashala, awake and glowing, for our last gathering.

A final celebration was left to mark the end of our time together, a bestowing of blessings. That red sweatered and always smiling saint, Sacinandana Swami led us outside in front of Kusum Sarovrar where we were greeted by a beautiful, smiling Gopal Sila—worshiped for years by His servant, Anantasila das. This deity was gently placed in a patra of fresh leaves and vibrant fruit. Held high up by the twin brothers, Krishna Kishor and Ananta Gauranga, Sacinandana Swami received kalash after kalash, lovingly bathing Him with warm, freshly scented water. Devotees, crossing the Rupa Kund of their own minds and hearts, were showered by this sahasra tirtha jal. This pure water was taken on our heads- some of us accepting drops during our sprint and some of us relishing a slow spiritual drenching. To experience the love of someone who is so deeply dear to Krishna- who has given his guidance so expertly and has freely thrown all blessings for us to be successful in our own chanting of the Holy Name- is the medicine we all needed to fully pacify our always anxious hearts.

Reflecting over the process of transformation, we were reminded to be conscious of our intentions, contemplations, preparations, actions, and hope for change. Encouraged to deeply reflect on what we heard over the last five days, we were promised that this process of smaranam would help us maintain our inspiration and taste for chanting. Sacinandana Swami centered the first discovery class on this point: “Every name is a bite! Fill your stomach, fill your ears full, full, full of Krishna until there is room for nothing more. Quoting Srimad Bhagavatam (11.2.42): “Devotion, direct experience of the Supreme Lord, and detachment from other things — these three occur simultaneously for one who has taken shelter of the Supreme Personality of Godhead, in the same way that pleasure, nourishment and relief from hunger come simultaneously and increasingly, with each bite, for a person engaged in eating.” We were all blessed to be able to realize the truth of Srimad Bhagavatam as we progressed through this Holy Name Immersion.

All the devotees bid their bittersweet farewells at Prabhupada’s Palace during the rose garden brunch. A colorful fruit and nut-filled charcuterie table was the spotlight of this first class preparation. Everything about this retreat was so consciously crafted and beautifully delivered, that nobody was left with any material hankering. Only a deep spiritual hankering that we could all press pause and keep in the prestigious association of these worshipable Vaishnavas and to stay forever chanting and dancing in the sankirtan party of Sri Chaitanya Mahaprabhu.

Thank you to all the devotees who attended, to all the devotees who organized the event, and to all the devotees who served at this unforgettable Holy Name Immersion. It is impossible to express, but please accept all of our gratitude and thanks, Sacinandana Swami, for so lovingly breathing new life into all of our relationships with the Holy Name.

Stay tuned for the release of next year’s dates with Sacinananda Swami.


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