The Spiritual Retreat & Family Camp with Swami Mukundananda is the most-awaited event of the year for countless devotees. The week-long camp at the exquisitely beautiful Radha Krishna Temple of Dallas (Allen) in Swamiji’s divine presence is a dream come true for many spiritual aspirants. The 2023 Family Camp was the most memorable of all spiritual retreats thus far. Swamiji’s profoundly insightful discourses on the Bhakti Shatak left no soul untouched. Who can forget the bliss of all the celebrations including Phoolon ki Holi, Rath Yatra, Picnic, and Chhapan Bhog? Each and every event was filled with indescribable bliss!
Whether the event occurred at the exquisite Radha Krishna Temple of Dallas or outdoors, the bliss shot sky-high for all the participants as Swamiji orchestrated their soulful journey, flow of devotion, and magical experiences! In this blog, we share some unforgettable experiences and provide a peek into memorable moments that will forever be etched into the hearts and minds of devotees.
In two previous Family Camps, Swamiji had covered Bhakti Shatak verses from 1 to 40. The essence of these verses has been described in Bhakti Shatak: Epitome of Divine Love. This year, he covered Verses 41 to 69. Swamiji shared profound insights on devotion and love for God in these verses. All the discourses were filled with high levels of inspiration but a tiny gist is presented here.
Swamiji described how the philosophy of the previous four Jagadgurus differed from that of Jagadguru Shree Kripalu ji Maharaj – the author of the Bhakti Shatak. He propagated the philosophy of divine love for God. On the path of bhakti or devotion, everyone is accepted unconditionally unlike in the other paths that require eligibility requirements. Shree Krishna told Arjun that even a durachari or wicked person should be considered to be a sadhu or saint if s/he faithfully practices bhakti. Emphasizing the value of bhakti, Swamiji explained how in the absence of bhakti, karmyog would be kuyog, and gyan would be agnyan. All paths are incomplete without bhakti, which is the means to connect and reach God. However, bhakti needs to be selfless but all material souls are programmed with selfish desires including the desire for self-happiness even in devotion. Swamiji beautifully explained ways to redirect our own desires to ward God to attract His divine grace.
Swamiji also explained the difference between theoretical knowledge and practical realizations or wisdom, which are the hallmarks of true devotion. Only when we cultivate knowledge with bhakti, will we be able to develop a humble attitude, otherwise the intellect will be shrouded in false pride or gyan abhiman. Moreover, the true knowledge of God cannot be obtained from the exclusive study of scriptures but is conferred upon the soul through the divine grace of God/Guru. For such divine grace, it is essential for souls to have deep faith in God, in the Guru who imparts divine knowledge, and in the path of bhakti.
The most glorious part of the discourse was about the knowledge of God, His infinite qualities, infinite shaktis or powers, and how the omnipotent Lord becomes a slave of His true devotees. Swamiji extolled the virtues of the bhakti path, explained the importance of selfless devotion, and described how God graces devotees with rewards even without their asking. Devotees do not need to strive for anything – not even liberation, just serve God with loving devotion and He maintains their Yogakshem (i.e., protects spiritual assets – as stated in Bhagavad Gita 9.22).
In this context, Swamiji narrated the real-life story of how he had invited Shree Maharajji to Kathmandu for a picnic on the last day of the 10-day Sadhana program. Several hours before Shree Maharajji arrived, a heavy downpour resulted in severe waterlogging where tarps on the ground started floating. Swamiji called Shree Maharajji to explain the weather conditions and told him to not come. Shree Maharajji said that the rain might just stop by the time he got there so he would stick to the original plan. When he said that, Swamiji thought, “Maharajji said this so there must be something to it.” So, Swamiji asked everyone to continue preparing for his visit. While Swamiji narrated the complete incident, we stop here to make a stark comparison with an event at this year’s Family Camp.
On the day of the picnic, prior to leaving, a devotee had asked Swamiji if we should go to the picnic given the excessive heat and over 105º F. Swamiji had said something similar – “It might cool down so let’s plan to go.” True to Swamiji’s words, when the Family Camp participants left for the picnic, it was excruciatingly hot, however, within about 20 minutes of getting to the park, there was a short but heavy downpour that cooled down the atmosphere (see images below). To everyone’s delight, two rainbows appeared on the horizon making the natural environment exquisitely beautiful. This was a live example of how God and Guru take care of their devotees. Swamiji later said that we must not question how God and saints do their leelas. The important takeaway is that devotees on the bhakti path need to have unshakable faith that God and Guru are protecting them from harm at all times whether they know or understand the means or not.
Swamiji’s discourses were embedded with sweet leelas and stories of Narad ji, Sant Namdev, the Gopis, and many other selfless devotees of God, giving us an illustration of the power of bhakti. Swamiji ended his discourse by reiterating the need to develop faith in bhakti as the sadhan or means to reach God. With our pure desire, the forces of the universe would help us forge ahead. Such faith enables people to accomplish three critical things: (1) Understand the goal in life – God-realization and know our relationship with God; (2) know that the goal can be achieved through bhakti alone; and (3) develop faith and continue with sadhana with a firm resolve.
Swamiji's divine words and presence transported the audience from an earthly plane to Cloud-9, filled with hope and aspiration to progress on this beautiful spiritual journey. The sweetness of the discourses was enhanced by the sublime chanting of Jai Radhey Krishna Radhey Radhey in between verses. Swamiji’s deeply devotional voice and inspirational words (or vaani) filled the hearts with peace, fulfillment, and wisdom leaving all participants wanting more.
The Radha Krishna Temple of Dallas became a portal to the divine realm as the Phoolon ki Holi celebration unfolded in Swamiji's divine presence. The celebration began with joyous chants of kirtans and displays of huge troughs of vibrant flower petals everywhere. Swamiji tied beautiful jasmine-flower venis (i.e., mini-garlands) on the wrists of Radha Rani and Shree Krishna, and sprinkled flower petals on Shree Maharajji, all the deities, and the Utsav-Murtis of Radha-Krishna. The sakhees and sahkaas of Radha-Krishna also got the opportunity to sprinkle flower petals on the Utsav-Murtis followed by other devotees. It was an amazing sight as devotees played Phoolon-ki-Holi with Radha-Krishna, singing and dancing to the tunes of Shree Maharajji’s Holi kirtans. Very soon the Prayer Hall transformed into a mortal’s vision of Golok filled with vibrant flower petals and joyous melodies.
The temple radiated an ethereal glow and the surroundings seemed to shimmer with brilliance. Petals filled the air, creating an awe-inspiring spectacle of orange and yellow colors dancing in harmony with the divine vibrations in the Prayer Hall. Then when Swamiji started dancing to the beats of the dhol (i.e., drums), it appeared as if he were channeling the very essence of Radha-Krishna in a state of bliss. With a smile that radiated pure love, Swamiji joyously engaged other devotees in the revelry of the festival. To the absolute delight of devotees, Swamiji picked up the mic and started singing “Mera kho gaya bajubandh” as he continued to dance to the tunes of the enchanting kirtan! His laughter mingled with the joyous cries of the devotees, who could not stop cheering and dancing alongside! it was undeniable that something magical was transpiring. The boundaries between the earthly and the divine seemed to blur, and it appeared as though Golok had descended upon our material world.
As if the bliss was not enough, Swamiji sprinkled flower petals on all the devotees in the Prayer Hall, leaving their hearts brimming with gratitude and awe. Swamiji, a conduit of divine grace, had bestowed upon us a glimpse of the extraordinary. The Phoolon ki Holi celebration transformed the Temple into a sacred haven where love, unity, and devotion converged, leaving an indelible mark on the souls. It reminded us that in Swamiji’s presence, everything becomes magical and divine.
Earlier in the day, Swamiji had set the stage for the Rath Yatra by describing the mesmerizing intensity of the selfless love of Radha-Krishna for each other, as displayed in their sweet and sublime leelas (see an example in the Rath Yatra blog).
The Rath Yatra commenced with devotees carrying the Vigrah of Shree Maharajji to the beautiful modern-day chariot decorated like a float! The divine Vigrahs of Shree Radha-Krishna were already situated in the chariot adorned with flowers and gold-colored inlays. Swamiji led the procession by chanting and dancing to the tunes of melodious chants, his aura radiating an undeniable sense of connection with the divine.
Before the procession kicked off, Swamiji and the devotees performed the Aartis of the deities and braved the intensely scorching summer heat of about 105º F. As the procession began, Swamiji stood up at the top of the chariot flatbed, once again dancing and chanting, inspiring devotees to soak in the bliss of joyous kirtans. Everyone withstood the sweltering heat and absorbed the joy of singing and dancing while soaking in the bliss of Swamiji’s incredible aura. When the procession entered the street across from the Temple, the soft shade of the Temple building and trees no longer protected the participants. Yet, the sacred procession in honor of devotion and love for God and Guru continued to move forward.
When it reached the location ideal for a breather, the chariot stopped while Swamiji aboard it, revved up his dancing, lifting his gaze and long arms skyward. Then, as if in direct response to the Swamiji’s earnest plea for comfort, a gradual shift began to unfold in the skies above. Wisps of clouds, seemingly summoned by his fervent energy, gathered into an intricate canopy accompanied by a strong and cool breeze, much to everyone’s relief. The once harsh sunrays were now diffused, casting a gentle, golden hue over the entire gathering. Everyone was thinking about it but no one could describe the miracle of Surya Narayan’s grace in protecting all the devotees under Swamiji's umbrella by providing a cloud cover to cool the environment until it was time for sunset.
The devotees continued to gaze skyward in awe and wonder. It was as if nature itself was acknowledging the spiritual unity and devotion that the Rath Yatra represented. Swamiji's divinity had invoked a remarkable response from the universe, offering respite from the relentless heat. Swamiji expressed his gratitude to the universe for its unexpected embrace. The clouds persisted, shielding the devotees from the intense sun.
As the procession turned around back to the Temple, the cloud cover persisted, and a soothing breeze brushed against the faces of the participants. Then, much to everyone’s immense joy, Swamiji took the mic and started singing “Sunu Barasani Wari, Gulam Tero Banavari.” The fervor in the hearts of devotees multiplied, who danced their hearts out under the cool breeze and cloud cover. The Rath Yatra reached its culmination point in the Temple courtyard, but the awe, reverence, and wonderment in the hearts of devotees continued through the rest of the evening and the week.
Even though a brief description of the picnic was provided earlier, there’s more to the magic than meets the words! Devotees always love picnics and parikrama with Swamiji as they get to see another side of the saint – one where Swamiji descends to our level, becomes a friend, and showers all the souls with indescribable bliss. With unwavering spirits, devotees drove to the park, ready for an adventure in spite of the blazing sun. Starting with a blissful parikrama, all the devotees followed Swamiji, chanting the divine names of God and singing his glories!
Very soon, Swamiji started playing games with the children and adults. The environment was punctuated by fun and high spirits among the participants. It was a testament to the power of collective enthusiasm where even though the temperature soared to a staggering 105º F, everyone’s spirits remained undeterred, experiencing delight in watching Swamiji play cricket.
Then, as if in response to yet another call for relief, a distant rumble of thunder resonated in the air. Then, as if orchestrated by divine intervention, the heavens opened up, releasing a torrential downpour that was both unexpected and profoundly welcomed. The rain fell like a cool, gentle embrace from the universe, which cleansed everyone’s spirits too. Everyone took cover under the roof of a shed. Even though Swamiji was completely drenched, his fervor remained high as he got on the top of the picnic table, picked up a mic, and started singing and dancing! Laughter rang out as people clapped and danced, feeling an unparalleled connection with their Guru, nature, and each other. The sweltering heat was replaced by a refreshing cool air that seemed to wash away our worries and bring a renewed sense of vitality. Participants continued with activities like the Mehfil, a sumptuous dinner, and loads of fun.
Just as suddenly as it had started raining, it stopped just as quickly after the temperature dropped by about 20 degrees. Then, just when we thought the magic could not get any more enchanting, the sun peeked through the dissipating rain clouds, creating the perfect canvas for one of the most breathtaking displays of nature's artistry – the emergence of two vivid rainbows, arching gracefully across the sky in a symphony of colors that defied description.
Everyone was humbled by the grandeur of the moment. Swamiji's divine presence seemed to magnify, his wisdom and grace now intricately woven into the very fabric of the universe around us. The double rainbow stood as a testament to the miracles that can unfold when devotion and nature converge when material hearts yearn for a deeper connection with their Guru. The scorching heat had been transformed into a divine blessing, a profound reminder that the universe responds to the sincerity of saints as they continue their efforts to help us deepen our faith.
The picnic with Swamiji had turned into an unforgettable journey of transformation, a day when nature itself conspired to create an experience that transcended the boundaries of the ordinary. From the relentless heat to the refreshing rain, and to the awe-inspiring double rainbow, people were reminded that divine grace pours in amazing ways, manifesting blessings that leave an indelible mark on our souls.
In addition to the experiences described above, the Spiritual Retreat & Family Camp was a treasure trove of many other memorable experiences. The Jhoolan and Chhapan Bhog for Shree Maharajji was more than a celebration. It reminded participants of the legacy of divine love and graces bestowed upon souls in the form of divine knowledge. Additionally, the Abhishek of Shree Radha-Krishna and the jubilation of the 6th anniversary of their Pran-Prathishta were moments of profound connection with the divine. Who can forget the most blissful celebration of Guru Purnima the day before the start of the Family Camp? It is a challenging endeavor to encapsulate such divine experiences in mere words, for they transcend the ordinary boundaries of human understanding. Yet, these glimpses capture a tiny proportion of the real live experience!
Amidst these sanctified ceremonies, the air was filled with the mellifluous echoes of sweet and sublime kirtans, the joyous spirit of the Mehfil, the engagement of interactive activities, and the spirited competition of the JKYog Idol contest. The retreat unfolded like a symphony of spiritual rejuvenation, where time seemed to stretch, allowing us to bask in the glow of Swamiji's presence, teachings, and the divine vibrations that permeated every facet of the week.
While the Spiritual Retreat & Family Camp with Swamiji is always an amazing experience, this year’s event was the most memorable one of all! Many have already started planning for the Family Camp 2024!
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