Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi

2014 Yoga Youth and Children’s Retreat

by Joanne Sullivan

I would like to tell you just a small part of what happened here at Swami Rama Sadhaka Grama (SRSG) in late December. This gathering was lit up from within by the guru presence. The scaffolding of love held strong. Every evening Swami Veda meditated in silence with the children, followed by an hour of immersion in the silently guided “unguided meditations” with adults.

On most days, teatime in Swamiji’s upstairs corridors was a time for the children to have a special interlude with Swamiji, to share affections with him and to receive prasad. Near the end of the retreat, this included kirtan in front of Swamiji with Jagadananda leading the children. Some of the older children also came at other times to bathe in Swami Veda’s oceanic peace and affection. One fellow with whom Swamiji had played building blocks on the floor over 30 years ago was there. They were overjoyed to see one another again, hugs and smiles overflowing.

If you have not already seen it, you may wish to read Swami Veda’s 2014 Christmas and New Year’s blessing. It reflects such deep peace and perhaps echoes some of what we experienced here with him.

Throughout all external changes, Swami Veda seems to remain steadfast and strong despite the vicissitudes of a frail body. Do not believe reports that Swami Veda is unavailable. He is more available in ways that count than ever before. Such abundance! Swamiji’s love and delight are immeasurable.

Astonishing Children

I was astonished to see that some of the children, even some of the very small children of age 5 or 6, sat very straight, still and relaxed. A number of them seemed as engaged in meditation as longtime adult practitioners. There was also a toddler filled with love who carried fearless joy and friendship toward everyone he met. Kenzo! The final treasure.

This retreat was important not only for the future generations and the perpetuity of ancient sacred traditions. It was a testimony to the entire guru-disciple stream and its continuity through all ages past, present and future and beyond time as we know it.

Yamas and Niyamas

Most days had a theme from the yamas or niyamas and the children shared discussions among themselves with their teachers. These were: Ahimsa- Non-violence, Satya– Truthfulness, Asteya – non-possessiveness, Brahmacharya – conservation of energy, directed focus, directed energy, Aparigraha – non-possessiveness, non-greediness , Saucha – Cleanliness , Santosha: contentment, Tapas – Self-discipline, Determination, and  Svadhyaya - Self-reflection.

KHEL Charities: Kindness, Health, Education, Laughter

KHEL Charities was founded years ago by Ammaji, Lalita Arya. The KHEL students, faculty and friends gave a dazzling performance one afternoon. They offered a rich program that included Garhwali Nature Dance, Punjabi Harvest Dance, Rajasthani Dance, Kumauni Song and Dance, a Krishna play and a flute recital. Some of the students stayed for the retreat.

Bhola Shanker Dabral also kindly spoke about ARC, the Adolescent Resource Centre, an important initiative in conjunction with KHEL.

Aditi Sharma, Dhrupad Vocalist

Aditi, whose father was the late Pandit Shree Datt Sharma who blessed us many times with his voice of wonder and awe, comes from the beloved family of dhrupad singers. Her Father left his body last year. Many of us miss him so much.

This time, Aditi uplifted us with Raga Shree. Her brother Arush Datt Sharma and sister Ila Sharma accompanied her in a profound evening of dhrupad music. I was already aware of Aditi as an accomplished dhrupad singer and her evening performance once again took me beyond the beyond. Her brother Arush was similarly transporting though he sang less in this concert. I was so thoroughly enveloped by the music that there is little I can say that would adequately convey how it awakens worlds within the listener.

I was not, however, aware of Aditi’s prowess as a teacher until this children’s retreat. I attended 2 of her Indian classical singing classes and was impressed with her ability to convey difficult concepts clearly and how graciously she interacted with her students of all ages and backgrounds. She makes herself and everyone else completely at home.

At one point a caller response Krishna song sprung up spontaneously between Aditi and a distinguished elderly woman named Geeta Kamat who sang us into the lush undergrowth of the monsoons with a traditional classical folksong.

Aditi also explained why the first note in dhrupad is of utmost importance and how in that first note, whole worlds are born. Her intriguing discussion ranged from ancient Indian Rishis to the Big Bang Theory of modern science and how they apply to Dhrupad. The class, which necessarily is a different sort of experience from Dhrupad, was not as enthralling as her evening concert, where Mystery bends each note and bows before It/Him/Her. Yet the class was also totally engaging.

When an unruly handful of bouncy, young students in the front row were chatting away even as she taught, her natural wit spared us all any disruption of the flow.

“It seems that we have an important delegation from the United Nations with us and that they are discussing Global Warming,” she said. “We must be very respectful of them as they try to resolve these very serious world problems.” A couple more times she reverted to “our much respected United Nations delegation” and how “we must be very respectful of them as they have work of the utmost importance at hand.”

When she intercepted a paper airplane, she later asked its owner “Do you need your Lufthansa 747? Or any others—Air France? British Airways? May I make any reservations for you?” She was never one jot disturbed. Her masterful tone was one of playful, quiet amusement and a genuine reverence for all.

Prakriti Bhaskar, the Om of Dance

Prakriti Bhaskar dances with so much grace. She is the Om of dance. In her, one sees stillness in action and action in stillness. Every gesture is a series of tableaus, such that one might also say that she is the iconography of dance. A lotus opens with the hands as though in time-lapse photography. Seeing her dance, I believe afresh that there is no mistake in nature, not one stray mark.

Whether she is Yashoda, Krishna’s Mother, or Bhairavi lifting the 3 worlds or blessing a universe into creation, or the flashing fire in Shiva’s third eye, she bows deeper than the oceanic depths. She ended with countless more blessings in Mangalam. She introduced us to Gayatri, her young protégé from Hong Kong, who also seems immersed in the path of dance as sacred gesture.

Prakriti Bhaskar also gave 2 workshops called “Magic of Movement.” Unfortunately I did not attend but some who did attend expressed enthusiasm for her classes.

The Children’s Orchestra

Shivananda Sharma is the director of the C.J. Maa Music School of Rishikesh. The school was founded by Swami Maa Chetan Jyoti with the goal to develop the musical potential in local impoverished children by developing a children's orchestra for classical Indian music. Children who study at that school pay nothing for their music lessons. This school is a charitable organization.

We have many times hosted spectacular concerts with Shivananda at SRSG, and we are always happy to see him, both with his own budding students and in performance.

Shivananda gave an Indian Music workshop, and one evening he came with the wonderful students for a fine musical presentation.  

On that night his students accompanied him to treat us to an evening of Hindustani classical music. This school’s mission is to sustain an important part of India’s cultural heritage: Hindustani and Carnatic instrumental and vocal music. Shivananda teaches many instruments and also classical voice.

Sivananda has toured India, France, the USA, Japan and other countries and has played in concerts and made recordings with major musicians in India and in the West.

Attendees said that they enjoyed hearing the children’s orchestra. Many of the students we saw in performance were small when they began, and we have seen them grow into fine young people and musicians. Some now have their own music students. One such student of Shivananda performed for us that night.

Nav Prabhat: Bhagavandev Nayak’s Orissa Students

At the last yoga youth retreat here, Bhagabandev brought several boys and teachers from his traditional ashram/school in Orissa. This time, the boys from that school stayed back and Bhagabandev brought representatives from the girls’ division which only started in 2011 and two of their teachers. Like the boys from that school I met 3 years ago, they too are impressive and are a highly motivated, disciplined and talented group of 13- and 14-year-olds. They were at the early morning fire practice and their chanting of the prayers was clear, precise, and filled with the energy of devotion.

One evening, they presented several traditional dances of Orissa. One dance, the Shakti-filled Sambalpuri folk dance of western Orissa is done in worship of Ma Durga, Divine Mother. It is featured at most Orissa festivals.

With the help of Rabindra Sahu and Tom, I had a chance to interview, and here is a paraphrase of a few of the things they said.

They were very surprised by how cold it was. This was their first time seeing foreign kids. They played volleyball and badminton with them. They liked the discussions of the yamas and niyamas.

They were also very surprised about the nature of this place, the mountains and Ma Ganga. They loved the nature walks along Ma Ganga and cleaning up the river. They were not happy to see a lot of trash there. They said that the river is like our mother and as the mother takes care of us, we also need to take care of our mother.

They loved the children’s Jataka Tale performance and the Christmas story with shadow puppets in the background. They went to Vashishta Cave farther up Ma Ganga. As soon as they saw the cave they felt a sense of stability and peace. They stayed in the cave 30 minutes in meditation. They had never seen such a cave before. They put their feet in Ma Ganga near Vashishta Cave and the flow of the river there was quite tremendous.

They belong to Arya Samaj so they do not worship deities but do havan (fire practice).  They believe that God is one. They liked meditating with Swami Veda, felt very nice sitting with him, felt melted. They loved the hugs from him too. They are very eager to come back.

Building Good Values through Stories

Retired Air Marshall Vishwa Mohan Tiwari and Retired Commander Dwarka Dheesh Chopra, Indian Navy have brought traditional stories to SRSG before. They firmly believe that you can build good human beings with good values. They do it through storytelling. Year round, they travel throughout India for Bal Vikas Bharati (translation: Children’s Development of India). They visit 150 Indian schools each year, from Assam to Baroda and from South Bangalore to Kausani, Uttarakhand to tell stories that imbue children with strong, positive virtues. Many children and parents at the Yoga and Youth Retreat came to listen once again and seemed to greatly savor their stories.

Nature Walks and Tree Planting

I really liked this workshop for the strong force of positive feelings and the possibility, the importance of change it created. Ahimsa was a thread that encircled the whole retreat. Maria Miguel Ribeiro, Alan Richard and Pravin Soni led a wonderful nature workshop (Please see the article Connecting to Mother Nature in this newsletter.) which culminated in the children planting 37 trees of 8 varieties in the new meditation garden at the foot of Swamiji’s balcony. The children named the trees they planted and many hope to come back and visit them.

There were 3 nature walks along the mighty Ganges River. In India the Ganges is called Ma Ganga and is considered a living, sacred mother. Many people do special pujas (prayer ceremonies) along this revered river. For centuries people have made long and arduous journeys just to take a dip in Ma Ganga and receive those blessings. But many pilgrims leave plastic and other debris behind. The children learned that they could be guardians of Mother Nature (Maatra Bhumi) and of Ma Ganga by carrying away the trash that they found along the river. They carried away 99 kg of plastics for recycling! They learned that this body of water generates many life forms in and along the river and that the children’s respect and care can help Her and all of us thrive. It was inspiring to see them joyfully set out from the ashram on foot for this Namaste. From start to finish, this was a meaningful Namaste to one another and to Mother Earth who so generously nourishes us.

Many years ago, Dr. Arya taught us that when you fold your hands together upon meeting or departing from another the Namaste gesture contains this meaning:

With all the capacity for intelligence in this mind, love in this heart,

 and action in these hands, I bow to the divinity with you.

Many Gave Generously of Themselves

Lela Pierce, the lead coordinator, and Aaron Rosenblum were at the pulse of every event to see that this was a fun and edifying experience for children and adults. Lela’s parents, Carol and Sonny Pierce, were Dr. Arya (now Swami Veda) students as early as the 1970’s. Apoorva Pal was unable to attend most of the retreat but came for a number of days before the retreat and played an important role in advance coordinations and communications. She continued to assist remotely until she arrived near the end of the retreat. Her family has been an integral part of Swamiji’s work since the early 1950’s when Apoorva’s grandmother, Mother Pal, first went to see an erudite teenaged Pandit Usharbudh Arya speak before crowds in Delhi.

Rabindra and others also helped with the planning. Tom took precious time off from a breakneck schedule back home to spend his little free time volunteering here at every impasse of this retreat. His father has been a close student of Swami Veda for several decades and his brother also studied here one year. Nalini Behari of Holland was greatly missed as she could not come this time but participated via emails and Skype. Swami Radha Bharati was their advisor.

Sofia Foteina from Athens arrived early, saved scant funds for months, to complete her second 40-day silence here —before the children’s retreat—and, as one can observe with silence participants, it was a palpable gift, not just for her. After her silence retreat, she orchestrated games and yoga classes with the children, and together with Tom, talked with parents about honoring the light within children, how they are spiritual beings. They know surrender, they don’t mind sharing, they love without expectation, they forgive immediately, they are innocent, happy, laughing and have unconditional love. At Christmas, Sofia was one of the gentlest, funniest Santa Clauses we have yet to see, and many of us could not figure out who the mystery Santa was.

Others also came to share. Two Italian women taught yoga to the children in fun, innovative ways. Many of our own SRSG residents, students, former students and old friends also taught yoga and/or translated throughout the week. There were separate yoga classes for young children, older children and young adults/adults in addition to intimate discussions with parents on spiritual parenting topics. These were led by Prakriti, Sofia , Tom, Swami Radha, Bhagabandev, Idriss and Aisha Ouedraogo , and Kani Ilangovan. Dr. Gopalkrishna Prabhu and Pravin also gave a lecture on meditation research and children. Swami Radha led early morning guided meditations for teens and adults who were new to the Himalayan Tradition.

Teachers included Pierre Lefebvre, So Yung Chung, Sofia, Lela, Tom, Rabindra, Aaron, Ramprakash Das, Adhikari Bhoi, Gita Bhoi, Sandeep Pandey, Pravin,  Murli (Borim) Hwang, Heejung Lee, Swami Ramcharit Das, Marianna Rozzarin, Ilaria Sarri and Lara Muraro.

Pierre and others also led early morning fire practice of Mahamrtunjaya mantra, dedicating the havan to Swami Veda’s good health.

Two sisters from Delhi, Pankhuri and Surbhi Gupta, who had never been here before, served in countless ways. Borim and Heejung, former SRSG Gurukulam students, came from Korea to lead in creative, spiritual activities, from teaching yoga and breathing to beautiful paper lotus lantern-making. They also assisted with many other tasks like the distribution of morning and afternoon snacks. Children also made Jataka Tale animal masks and practiced for a Jataka Tale skit they enacted led by Aaron and me.

Rabindra gave a lecture one evening on Mandalas. Ahimsa Ishaya, Amrta McKinney and Archana Ranjan expanded upon concepts in mandala-making and led mandala-making activities, assisted by Pankhuri and Surbhi. Here children from toddlers to teens were encouraged to freely express their creativity, both in making their own personal mandalas and also in making one huge mandala together. The forms and brilliant colors emerged from chalk, for the initial outline, rangoli powders, flowers bought in the bazaar, and flames in oil-filled deepaks (clay fire pots).

One evening there was a talent show which showcased exquisite dance, guitar, song, drama and Sanskrit recitations. Christmas Eve was brightened by Bhagabandev’s effortless translation into Hindi of the Nativity story. Lela and Aaron silently reenacted the story from behind a screen with Shadow Puppets. Then Santa came with many gifts for the children and then another Santa (not dressed up like Santa) showered more gifts upon the children. Swami Veda blessed us with his physical presence at most evening programs.

The Outdoor Playing Field

Sometimes there were family field games for all. There were badminton, soccer, volleyball and many other games. On the last day, there were more games for children, including limbo, and special relay races to the beat of a big thundering drum. Anticipation ran high, with children tumbling over one another in laughter.

All this glorious fun often took place under bright blue skies and brilliant sun –a nice shift from the cold nights, early mornings and occasional overcast days. The last night featured a glorious huge bonfire.

Weeks later, I can still see some of those children twinkling back at us---laughing, running, questioning, hugging. Yes, there was occasional grumbling and rivalry (“s/he did such and such!”) and occasional chagrin: One shy boy’s tears at being excluded by his new best friend. At that point, I had to walk away from the bonfire lest my tears put out the laughter and fun.

Swami Veda wanted to see all of his kin. Each child is beautiful in his or her own unique ways. I felt that I knew many of them intimately. If I felt this, imagine how great Swami Veda’s love for his spiritual children and grandchildren must be. The name “Veda” comes from the Sanskrit verb root “vid,” to know. Paracelsus, the Renaissance alchemist, tied knowing to love:

“… (He) who understands also loves, notices, sees … The more knowledge is inherent in a thing, the greater the love.…”

If you missed this retreat, come next year at the same time. The children persuaded Swamiji to let this be an annual retreat. It will be on the same dates. December 22-31, 2015, is the next one.



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