4th of July weekend was a life-changing experience for 45 devotees from the Parsippany
Bhakti Vriksha group who visited New Vrindaban on a spiritual retreat. The group, led by Madan Gopal Das and his wife Manasi Ganga Devi Dasi, consisted of about 15 families who had been attending weekly meetings for just 1-2 years. Eager to learn more about Krishna consciousness and to boost their spiritual growth, they enthusiastically embarked on a three-day pilgrimage. Key to the retreat’s success was the extensive advance preparation. By booking their rooms months in advance, they were able to secure accommodation for everyone despite the busy holiday weekend. They were also able to work with New Vrindaban managers like Anuradha Dasi to come up with a program of activities that was perfectly tailored to the needs of the group. Months before their departure date, the Bhakti Vriksha meetings were focused on preparing their consciousness for entering the holy land of New Vrindaban, understanding that it is non-different from Vrindavan in India where Lord Krishna appeared. Madan Gopal Das designed a mini course on how to develop the right frame of mind for appreciating the holy dhama. This included a group reading of Srimad Bhagavatam chapter 38 – Akrura’s Arrival in Vrindavan- along with a PowerPoint presentation to emphasize the important take-home points from the reading. At each Friday meeting, they would study a set of verses which they would spend the week meditating on and texting each other about before coming together the next Friday to share their thoughts and realizations. This increased everyone’s excitement for going to New Vrindaban and enabled them to have a richer experience while they were there. When the long-awaited day, July 3rd, arrived, they all gathered before sunrise and set off in a convoy of cars, with planned rest stops and a packed prasadam breakfast for all. The weekend’s events were all organized with a mix of mandatory and optional activities with plenty of flexibility for families with children or senior citizens. The program was shared with everyone in advance, so anyone who needed to take a break could easily join in again at any time. They arrived at New Vrindaban at midday, just in time for the Snana Yatra festival. After that, they enjoyed a guided tour of Srila Prabhupada’s Palace of Gold, followed by a delicious dinner at Govinda’s Restaurant. The evening ended in a glorious way with the gorgeous Swan Boat Festival on Kusum Sarovara lake.
Everyone was advised to take rest early so as not to miss mangal arati the next morning. Remarkably, almost everyone made it in time. For most, it was their very first mangal arati, and they took part with enthusiasm and gratitude. Madana Gopala was invited to lead the mangal arati kirtan, and another initiated devotee in the group was invited to lead the chanting for Tulasi arati. These small gestures of respect made the group feel that they were not just guests but were very much part of the family, received with love by their ISKCON brothers and sisters. After Tulasi Puja, the group hurried up to the Palace for a second mangal arati for Srila Prabhupada. Exiting the Palace, they were greeted by a spectacular sunrise over the rolling Appalachia hills. Next, they had their very own mini Japa Workshop at the Yogashala. This was modeled after HH Sacinandana Swami’s japa retreats. They started with breathing exercises and then chanted one round of concentrated japa after which everyone felt incredible. After breakfast in the temple with the devotees, they went on a guided Govardhana Parikrama where they heard the pastimes of Krishna at Govardhana Hill and Radha Kunda. Reassembling in a Bhakti Vriksha circle before lunch, they shared reflections on their experience so far, played some Krishna conscious games, and geared up for their voluntary services.
This was one of the mandatory activities for every member of the group – to do some practical service while they were there. The women decided to clean the main kitchen, and the men volunteered to clean up the garbage after lunch. To everyone’s surprise, this turned out to be one of the main highlights of the retreat. Although most of these devotees are highly successful career people - two of the men being high-level executives for Tata, one of India’s biggest corporations - they enthusiastically took part in these menial services and experienced first-hand how any service done for Krishna is blissful. “I never knew how much nectar was there in cleaning up garbage,” one said, with a big smile. After lunch, New Vrindaban temple president, Jaya Krsna Prabhu guided the group on a tour of Old Vrindaban. They went to the original farmhouse where Srila Prabhupada first stayed, had a small arati ceremony, and heard with great interest about the history of New Vrindaban and the vision for its future. On the way back, they visited the gardens and impressive tunnel greenhouses where much of the food for the community is grown, and on a visit to the goshala, everyone got a chance to milk Krishna’s cows.
Despite the tight schedule, there was still plenty of room for spontaneity. One unexpected event was a discussion about Tulasi neck beads which led to everyone buying neck beads from the gift shop, offering them to Sri Sri Radha Vrindaban Chandra, and taking part in a small ceremony which included making a sankalpa or a determined vow to practice Krishna consciousness more seriously according to their own inspiration, whether that meant chanting japa regularly, reading Srila Prabhupada’s books, living a sattvic life, or in some way trying to bring Krishna more in the center of their daily lives.
They had plenty of kirtans throughout the weekend including a spontaneous Harinam procession down the hill from the Palace, an inspiring piano kirtan in the Yogashala, Gaura arati at the temple, and, of course, the ecstatic chanting of the group’s theme song for the retreat, a beautiful bhajan by Narottama das Thakur called Vrindavan Ramyasthana which described the glories of Vrindavan dhama. The group had been learning and practicing this bhajan weeks before coming to New Vrindaban, and on the last night, the 4th of July, they had a bonfire kirtan by the lotus pond with s’mores. It was the perfect ending to the perfect day, and just as they were finishing their heartfelt singing of Vrindavan Ramyasthana, a wonderful display of fireworks started shooting off in the sky overhead, marking a victorious grand finale of their retreat. The next morning, it was time to head home. Anuradha kindly packed Ekadasi breakfast and lunch boxes for the road for each person, and after greeting the deities and saying grateful, tear-filled goodbyes, they started the journey back to New Jersey.
After the long drive, they all reassembled to again share their realizations about the retreat. The loving bonds that had formed over the last three days were deep, and they had all become so attached to each other that when it was time to go home, no one wanted to go. They had all gotten such a sublime taste for Krishna consciousness that going back to normal life was almost unthinkable. Indeed, their lives would never be the same again, because now they had learned how to put Krishna in the center and convert a seemingly mundane activities into spiritual ones by their own Krishna consciousness. They had gotten a taste for devotional service and were eager to do more. Two of them enthusiastically volunteered to organize the local Ratha Yatra. This is the effect of true bhakti – it inspires one to do more and more. Pilgrimages like this are powerful ways to experience Krishna consciousness. They provide a chance to get away from the troubles of everyday life and go to a place where everything reminds one of Krishna. And what better place than New Vrindaban? New Vrindaban has everything needed for a spiritual experience – natural beauty, spiritual ambience, a gorgeous temple, a solid morning program, opportunities for service, comfortable accommodations, an amazing restaurant, a well-stocked gift shop, and wonderful well-trained devotees. We at New Vrindaban are happy to work with you to organize a similar retreat for your community, Bhakti Vriksha group, yoga class, or anyone at all who is interested. It will be our pleasure to help you come up with a package that is exactly suited to the needs of your group. If you want to unify your group, bring them closer to Krishna, and facilitate them having miraculous spiritual experiences, then be sure to contact us well in advance, and we will do everything possible to make your vision a reality. Hare Krishna!
Participants’ Reflections on the Retreat: “For the first time, I felt my days, nights, and even the free time were filled with Krishna consciousness. There was only Lord Krishna and his devotees everywhere, as if we were in a little Goloka right here on earth… It is amazing for us and the kids to experience our culture, values, spirituality, and most of all, the love and respect for our guru and God in a land far away from home.” --Padma Pillai “A totally new experience for me and my family since we joined our Bhakti Vriksha group. All the activities brought us closer and closer to Krishna… Special thanks to Jai Krishna Prabhu and Anuradha Mataji for taking care of our group. They dedicated their time even on their busy schedule for all our events. Very impressive. May New Vrindaban grow more and more and become a very first choice of tourists from all over the world ...” --Ashish Gupta “Our stay at New Vrindaban was so pure, spiritually uplifting, every moment soaking in Krsna Consciousness. I could visualize and feel Srila Pranhupada's vision, I truly felt like I'm in Vrindavan, with the peacocks around and the guide around Govardhan Yatra. The swan boat festival was euphoric! Literal goosebumps!” --Priya and Arjun Kumar “I am forever grateful to the whole congregation of the New Vrindaban. I offer my humble obeisances to all the wonderful devotees and to the head of the congregation for hospitality beyond belief. It was an unforgettable experience, something very special that I will always remember. Beautiful, peaceful and soul uplifting. I have to mention that I had the best prasadam in New Vrindaban.” --Vivian Ghosh “There was passion and reverence for Srila Prabhupada in every nook & corner, a sense of piousness, and Bhagavan Sri Krishna's bhakti observed everywhere. We experienced pure energies in every interaction, and in each service…” --Rakesh and Padma Singh “Our experience at New Vrindaban was simply perfect. We are thankful to have the opportunity to be a part of this amazing experience. We received nothing but lots of love and blessings on this trip.” --Hetal and Soham Brahmbhatt