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  Colorado Sai Retreat Report, July 2001

From : Bala Natarajan
(young adult from Fort Collins)

Sairam Everyone !

This email is a gift from swami to share with all. HIS retreat in HIS
mountains in HIS words.

Swami is using me as an instrument to describe the bliss that everyone one of us felt, shared and revelled in during the 2nd Colorado Retreat at Allenspark, CO (July 13-15th,2001).

What better setting than God's own country. There is no surprise that Lord Shiva resides in Kailash for the mountains inspire and invoke the divine that resides in us all. Some might think that the 8000ft altitude would cause the speakers to gasp for breath. As swami beautifully orchestrated the retreat and spoke through wonderful divine speakers, we were the ones left breathless. There was not a moment when the oxygen deprived air ever ran short of love.

This email is going to be long but hopefully worth the read. So please bear with my verbosity, as sometimes words dont seem to do justice to swami's message. I should also remind you that you are seeing/hearing and experiencing the retreat from the eyes/ears and heart of a university student. It might not have all the details, but surely has some of the ones that swami wants us to have.

Dr.Jack and Louise Hawley first spoke about "Saadhana - Achieving Divinity". The question for us (perhaps for our whole life) is to how to achieve this divinity when we have dragons like Maya, Attachment, Desire, Anger, Greed and Egoism playing with our lives every moment. Well if Sadhana is the way, What is Sadhana? Sadhana is not just puja and prayers. Sadhana is 70% vichara or inquiry. Sadhana is similar to the process of polishing a rock. We all need polishing and our sandpaper is our Sadhana. Sadhana moves us from pain to bliss/ananda/happiness.

But how to achieve this divinity through sadhana? The first stage is what is called the Intention principle. You have to understand that its an active process. Its just not reading books but actually working on it. Swami compares just bookish knowledge to a donkey carrying a load of books. We should not be like that donkey. Another part of the Intention principle is to make a "deliberate decision" to strive towards divinity. Finally, in this whole process of sadhana we should be anchored in Love.

The second tool for sadhana is to "Train the mind". Swami says its important to control the mad monkey mind. Louise suggested a method that works for her- this involves talking to your mind and saying - "Oh mind ... dont do this..(or) do this.. (or) stop this". Another technique is to do namasmarana. When the mahut takes an elephant to the market, he makes the elephant carry a stick in its trunk. Otherwise the elephant with its trunk moving left and right would be tempted to take away fruits and food away from shops in the market place. The stick keeps the elephants trunk occupied with the task of holding and does not let it get distracted towards the fruits. So use the stick of "Om Sai Ram" (or any mantra) to control the trunk that is the mind. Dr.Jack shared one of the things he uses to train the mind. He suggested stopping any negative thoughts right at the gate and substituting anything negative with positive godly thoughts. Acknowledging the fact that eliminating all negative thoughts might be a challenge to people, substituting them with thoughts of god seems a very reachable target. Finally, the prayer that did wonders for Dr.Jack (and maybe for some of us) is to pray to swami as "Om Sairam - Cleanse my mind"!

The biggest buzz word for sadhana is "To cultivate divine qualities". Swami says that there are 26 divine and 6 demonic qualities. We should start our sadhana by looking into ourselves (vichara) and try to drop one bad habit after another. We should do this in stages and eventually fill ourselves with the divine qualities. This is sadhana.

In Ch.12 (shlokas 13-20) of the gita, krishna lays down the marks of the true devotee. A true devotee has 40 qualities (i cant list them here, but if anyone is interested i will mail a copy of the list). The sadhana is to cultivate all these qualities so that as krishna says "Then, arjuna, I will love you dearly and you will go beyond death to immortality". The striking point about these qualities are that these are sufficient guidelines for our lives. Every month we should list 5 of these qualities and at the end of the month see and check where we stand in  holding on to these. This exercise is one way to move closer to achieving divinity and moving to happiness from pain. Swami re-emphises the importance of practice by saying "1 gm of practice is better than 1000 gms of theory".

Talking about the gita, there are three major parts to the gita. The first 6 chapters talk about - knowing the true self within - which is the sankhya yoga and karma yoga. The second set of 6 chapters discuss the very nature of God - Bhakthi yoga and the final set of 6 chapters talk about achieving liberation. The Gita has a wealth of knowledge and guidelines for life. However, it is important to answer the question as to how to live your life so that you can find the answers to who you really are (Divine!) and who is God. The tips to living starts once again with purifying your mind. (substituting bad thoughts with good). Having shradha or faith takes you on the path of knowing, believing and eventually becoming! Be a "loved devotee" by following krishna's points of conduct listed in Ch.12. Perhaps the most potent of them all, is to "cultivate an intense love of god"! That is so powerful. How can we do that? Some techniques would be to get to know him and pray to him sincerely - "Make me yours"!; associating god with things that you really adore and love is another way. Serving god (by serving man)  is one way to cultivate love. Krishna says in the bhagwat gita - "To Love is to know me, my innermost truth"! So let us all live in love.

Next was Dr.Mohan. He was electrifying in his talk. His knowledge of the hindu scriptures and his wonderful rendition of shlokas in sanskrit captivated one and all. We truly need such inspirational people to better understand our religion and rituals.

He started by letting us believe how fortunate we are to be born as humans. He quoted the scriptures and said even "Devas aspire to be humans" as only through human body you can  merge with the divine. He reiterated the importance of triple purity - purity in thought, word and deed. God created this world with the pranava sound of "Om". Every single creation is composed of the three gunas - Sathwik, Rajasik and Thamasik. Sathwik stands for purity, whiteness. Thamasik stands for ignorance or darkness. Every single creation at some point has one of these three gunas dominate. For example, Cows are sathwik as it never hurts anything and is of great use to others. Tigers can be considered the thamasik kind. Our Sadhana should be aimed towards letting our sathwik nature dominate over the remaining two. If you see some evil action in some body, it is because that person is letting his thamasik quality dominate. We should strive for the light or sathwik qualities to dominate our lives.

The ultimate aim is to unite with the divine. And the Gita suggests 3 ways to do this - A Karma Yogi approaches god through action; A Sankhya Yogi approaches god through the intellect or wisdom; and finally a Bhakthi Yogi approaches god through Love. In this Kali yuga Bhakthi yoga is the more popular form of reaching out to god. In the gita krishna defines bhakthi as "Extreme love for god that is nectarine". This true bhakthi is sweet as nectar. Talking about bhakthi, Dr.Mohan spoke once again about the features of a true devotee as outlined by Krishna in Ch 12 of the Gita. He gave the example of Bhadrachala Ramadasa and his love for his Rama. Gopanna (his original name) was a tax collector in the town of bhadrachalam and was initiated into rama nama japam. After doing a crore of japa he used to perform narayana seva for the whole village in a grand scale. Once during this time, his little son accidentally fell into a hot pot of food and died. Gopanna was speechless and the whole village was shaken. It was a time when everyone's faith was being tested. Gopanna took his son in his arms and walked straight to the Rama Temple in town and laid the body at Rama's feet and just broke down. He cried to the lord for help and told him how this would affect everyone's faith. Well as Gopanna was crying to Rama, the lord gave his son's life back and the villagers were elated. In his joy Gopanna decided to build a bigger  Rama Temple there. He did not have the money to build it . But he had all the money collected as tax at his home and he thought for this good purpose his king will not mind him using it. He was planning to slowly pay off the money to the treasury. However, he did not mention this to the king and he built the temple. But as soon as his boss found out about the money, he imprisoned Gopanna and tortured him daily in public. But gopanna was so much intoxicated with love for Rama he just kept repeating his name and took all the torture with love. Years passed by and goppanna was still in prison chained from head to toe and brutally tortured. One night when the king was sleeping he experienced a bright light emanating from beneath his bed. This light was strong and powerful and from the light appeared two forms, they were ramanna and lakshmanna (Rama and Lakshmana) .. they introduce themselves as servants of Gopanna ! the king is shocked. and they also leave him all the money gopanna owed and asked the king to free him. When the king woke up he was surprised to see the money in his bedroom!! he immediately rushed to gopanna and fell at hs feet and asked for forgiveness. Such was gopanna's bhakthi that the lord came down to save him as his servant.

Another aspect we have to remember while praying to the lord is to have "Bhava" or feeling. If you have faith and pray with Bhava god will surely listen to you. Faith can move mountains. At the same time, one should never judge god's actions. We can never understand the significance of every incident of our life. It is divine will that dictates it. We are born with the prarabdha karma which we have to deal with in our lives. God many times does not play with karma as he wants us to work through our karma and clear our records to reach him. But we can hold on to "Namasmarana" in this process. That will help concentrate and fix our minds and our faith through the ups and downs of life. Praying is so potent that krishna says in the gita that even if a sinner who has committed the worst crime possible takes the lord's name he can become a saint. It is so powerful.

Moving from Namasmarana to the Gayathri Mantra, which is considered as the queen of mantras. ( there is no greater goddess than your mother!!!!). Before talking about the gayathri mantra let us see what is a mantra? "Mananath Thrayathe Ithi Mantra" - Mantra is one that protects you when u remember it in your mind. What does it protect you from ? 1.danger that involves extrenal forces (egs. head injury etc.) 2. Adhyathmic or danger due to internal forces (like stroke etc.) 3. Danger due to natural disaster like earthquakes etc. Dr.Mohan gave the example of what swami once said - there was this huge plane crash and swami said he would have saved everyone if atleast one of them had recited the Gayathri Mantra. So it is very potent. Mantras in general create a protective shield around you. Every mantra is presided over by a deity; it has a meter; and patron saint to which the mantra has been revealed. As soon as you meditate or say the mantra, the presiding deity actually appears in form. you might ask how come we dont see the deity. Well there is the gross body that we can see and then there is the causal body and the subtle body. The deity appears in subtle body which we cannot see. However, the scriptures say that if u repeat a mantra 960 million times, god will appear in gross body form so that we can see him. Ramakrishna Paramahamsa actually did this and forced God to appear in front of him. The mantras also emanate vibrations. For this  reason it is better to chant/meditate on the matra in the mind. As these vibrations travel far and wide into the universe . Chanting it loud creates sound waves that dont travel very far. So potency of a mantra is enhanced if you chant it in the mind. It is said "Only in the sound of silence can you hear god"!!

Let us now talk about the gayathri mantra in specific. This mantra has a specific meter and there are 167 other mantras in the same meter. Gayatri devi is the presiding deity and the patron saint is Vishwamithra. God revealed this to "Kaushika" who was later called "Vishwa mithra" - "friend of the universe". Dr.Mohan then described the meaning of the gayathri mantra word by word ( i can email this separately if people want to know). He mentioned that the actual mantra starts at "Tat Savitur Varenyam.." Swami says this is a mantra that will help remove ignorance as we ask gayathri devi to enlighten "our" intellect. One of the reasons this mantra is special is because the prayer actually asks for knowledge or light for "us" instead of just "me". Swami always loves selfless prayers and this one is one among them. The gayathri mantra represents the core statement of the vedas. Vyasa wrote the 18 puranas. What is the essence of that? well it is simply "Help ever Hurt Never" as our swami tells us.

So this gayathri mantra is an universal mantra that can be chanted any time any place. DrMohan finished his talk with a brief mention of how to control the mind and keep it from wandering. He said give it the constant work of chanting god's name. Thats the way to achieve divinity.

This is just a drop of the ocean of information and knowledge swami showered us with during this retreat. I have left out quite a few points mainly due to my memory and also the fear of misquoting swami. But since swami has written this through me, I hope it will reach all your hearts and help you in your spiritual progress.

Yours in Sai Service


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