B.T. Swami stresses relationships and community building
Posted March 19, 2005
I wanted to share a little about our most ecstatic Maha Vyasa Puja and Samskara Festival this past weekend in Gita Nagari. One Prabhupada disciple told us it was the best festival he's ever attended. We had several wonderful yatra offerings on Friday and Saturday from devotees all over the world. There were about 20 countries represented and at least 33 different Yatras.
On Sunday morning about 50 devotees were initiated by H.H. Bhakti Tirtha Swami, with about half of them taking second initiation. He also initiated a few disciples that were unable to get visas. On Saturday a panel of about 20 Prabhupada disciples shared their experiences in a workshop entitled "The day after: Keeping focus and enthusiasm after the physical departure of the spiritual master." Bhakti Tirtha Swami's family and childhood associates were present and reciprocated sweetly, sharing memories and jokes. Gurukulis and kirtaneers led sweet bhajans and powerful kirtans throughout the entire festival. The festival ended with five children's samskaras, including naming, first grains, starting school, and hair parting ceremonies. New books at the festival includied Reflections on Sacred Teachings IV: Sri Isopanisad and an expanded new edition of Spiritual Warrior II.
There were plays, bhajans, choirs, dancing, paintings, heartfelt sharing, and many, many gifts and letters. The New Jersey/New York Yatra were singing a beautiful song along with a slide show featuring Maharaja all around the world leading kirtan, holding some of his grandchildren, his beautiful smile, the covers of his books, hugging his godbrothers, conducting weddings, playing his festival drum, his deities Radha-Symasundara, and everyone singing the mahamantra.
Maharaja began bouncing up and down on his chair leading the devotees in waving their arms from side to side. Someone brought him a drum and a stick, and Maharaja started dancing and singing "Jaya Prabhupada, Jaya Prabhupada!" Maharaja danced over to Prabhupada assisted by devotees holding him up on his new prosthesis. The devotees were swarmed around him dancing in ecstasy. Even Maharaja's family was dancing, clapping and jumping. No one was expecting this, and the intensity of that 30 minutes was overwhelming.
I had personally asked Maharaja the day before the festival began if he was going to try and dance and he had said no, but it seems that the love of the other devotees and his desire to reciprocate forced him. The energy was so so high! We were in the spiritual world! Everyone was so ecstatic with emotions of joy to see our beloved Bhakti Tirtha Swami dance again for the first time in months and months, even though he is walking on crutches and using a wheelchair. I was experiencing intense mixed emotions because I was so happy to see my Guru Maharaja dancing, but I was very concerned that he might re-injure his leg since he is still in the healing and recovery process.
Maharaja has only been using the prosthesis for a couple of weeks and doesn't put much weight on it as he moves around on crutches. You could see the intense love in Maharaja's eyes as he cried out the Holy Name. At one point everyone was waving their hands in the air and jumping up and down in unison along with Maharaja and I thought we were going to crash right through the floor into the temple basement. The next day, Bhaktin Leslie mentioned that she and many of the kids down in the basement had been thinking the same thing as they looked up at the basement ceiling and heard the thundrous feet of 400 ecstatic devotees leaping in kirtan.
So many of us were in tears. The entire temple room was full, with devotees overflowing into the lobby area. Eventually Maharaja danced back to his seat and the kirtan kept going as the devotees' hearts were just overflowing with love for Maharaja. Vrajalila dasi finally intervene, out of concern that it was after 8 p.m., that Maharaja had not taken prasadam and that we had several more offerings yet.
This pastime (as well as the entire festival) was a blissful experience that is forever captured in the hearts of the devotees as well as on video. Devotees can contact Ajamila Prabhu in Gita Nagari for videos or DVD's at email@example.com
Bhakti Tirtha Maharaja emphasized four particular themes throughout the festival:
- Maharaja reminded us that the Bhagavad-gita was spoken on the battlefield, and we each have our own battlefield of Kuruksetra. Whether we're in a festival, at work, home, school, in the temple, or even on the altar, Krsna is there and Maya is also there. The war is always going on to annihilate our lust, greed, and the other enemies of the mind. The battlefield is designed for defeat and for victory. No other arena is more sensitive than a battlefield in bringing out the best and the worst of people. In a war we have casualties, traitors, and spies. We also have victims, survivors, and high achievers. In war we depend on association, strategy, and mentorship. But each individual person is held responsible for certain duties, and one person's failure can often bring disaster to many. Also one person's success can often bring victory to many.
- Take a daily personal inventory, in the morning or the evening, to see how we are being more mindful and time-conscious. Look at each day as if it could be our last. Take inventory and cry out directly to our deities, to the pictures of our gurus. Let them know our heart and mind, and beg for their help, guidance and chastisement. Tell them what we have offered that day for the mission of Srila Prabhupada and the mission of our gurus. The more we are personal with sastra, sadhu, guru, and Krsna, the more we will get that kind of reciprocation. Maharaja guaranteed that if we do this, we will see our spiritual life take on a whole new shift. So many things will go on in our life -- health, sickness, wealth, impoverishment, etc. -- but they'll just happen around us and we will not identify with them, because guru and Krsna are in the forefront of our consciousness.
- Look at our lives and distinctly see if we are helping to relieve the miseries of others. Our lives as Vaisnavas have as much value as we touch the life of another. Most of our thoughts and arrangements are about what isn't working in our lives. That is not transcendental. Yes, problems will be there and many of them will stay there. But we are all bigger than our own little problems. These experiences, problems, and challenges are part of our particular battlefield that we have to deal with to meet Krsna on the other side. That's why Krsna says one who is dear to Him is unaffected by happiness and distress. They're not seeing themselves as the center. As we think, act, plan, and strategize more in that way, then we will see so many issues, problems, and stagnations in our own lives are minimized or removed.
- "Dear Lord, whatever we need to be better servants for Srila Prabhupada's mission, let it happen or come to us. Whatever we need to have taken away to become pure in Srila Prabhupada's service, let it be taken away."
New devotees who have vowed to follow the four regulative principles are also expected to honor eight other principles which Srila Bhakti Tirtha Swami requests of all his disciples: the Four Principles of Community Building and the Four Principles of Balance.
The Four Principles of Community Building
- Treat everyone you encounter as if the success or failure of your spiritual life depends on the quality of your interactions with them.
- Reflect on the person you love the most, and aspire to treat everyone with that same quality of love.
- View all conflicts as your own fault first.
- Realize that people in your present environment might very well be the people with whom you will live out your life, and who are likely to be with you at the time of death.
The Four Principles of Balance
- Place more emphasis on having loving Vaisnava relationships. See all interactions as a cry for love or an extension of love.
- Go the extra mile with regards to the care and protection of women and children. The Bhagavatam mentions that when elders, brahmanas, cows, women and children are not protected, not only does the individual who doesn't do those things suffer, but the whole society or community suffers.
- Have a healthy balance with regard to our spiritual life and our material life, but make sure the secondary supports the primary.
- Remain chaste to Srila Prabhupada's movement, but not sectarian. We are to remain loyal to Srila Prabhupada's ISKCON, but to respect all other Vaisnavas.
The photos below are by Gauri dasi, Maharatha das and Pandu das. Additional pictures of the Festival can be found at www.btswami.com, www.gdasi.photosite.com, the-seed.net, and oppositerule.blogspot.com.
1. Flower garlanded Deities of Jagannatha, Subhadra and Balarama preside at Gita Nagari festival.
2. Bhakti Tirtha Swami encouraged devotees to build stronger communities.
3. Disciples of Srila Prabhupada, Tamal Krsna Maharaja and Gaura Govinda Maharaja discussed continuing in Krsna consciousness in the physical absence of their gurus.
4. Many gurukulis attended for the bhajans and plays.
5. Devotees performed classical Indian dance styles.
6. Pandu das performed on conga drums.