Roan Mountain Summer Retreat
July 15 - 21, 2019
216 19th Avenue South East St. Petersburg, Fl 33705
For the tenth year in a row The Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg held its annual summer retreat in the week of July 15-21, 2019, at Roan Mountain State Park in Tennessee. The park is located at the base of the majestic 6,285 foot Roan Mountain and encompasses over 2,000 acres of mostly hardwood forest. Through the center of the park flows the cool, clear Doe River.
This year there were 22 devotees in attendance along with Swami Ishtananda, the organizer of the retreat, from St. Petersburg Vedanta Center, Swami Mahayogananda, from the Vedanta Society of Southern California, and Swami Nishpapananda, from the Vedanta Society of St. Louis. Accommodations for them were in completely furnished log cabins situated along paths of the park in the forest. One of the cabins was set up with a shrine for group meditations and prayers, and another one was set up as a dining area.
Every morning meditation was held for one hour in the shrine cabin, followed by chanting of Vedic prayers and reading from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Evening vespers were held each afternoon with meditation and a short discourse by one of the Swamis afterwards.
Swami Nishpapananda spoke on the first evening on “The Wisdom of an Unlettered Saint”. This involved teachings of Swami Adbhutananda (Latu Maharaj) a direct disciple of Sri Ramakrishna. Though uneducated he had a talent for getting to the heart of things. He taught about how the name of God has the power to burn the seeds of desire and how we should have complete dependence on the Lord.
Swami Mahayogananda spoke on “The Diamond Heart” on Monday. He said that our character is the most important thing, and that good character can help us in realizing the divine (diamond heart) shining within. Character is habits of the mind. We must counteract bad habits with good habits.
Swami Ishtananda’s topic on Tuesday was “Discipleship”. Three things are important in life; 1. A human birth, 2. The grace of an illumined soul (a guru), and 3. Great longing for liberation. He stated a person has to develop a taste for the longing for God to be fit for a discipleship. Anyone fit for religious life will find a guru as a natural consequence.
Swami Nishpapananda spoke again on Wednesday; the topic was “Human Will and Divine Will”. Human will implies consciousness and willpower. Freedom of will comes from the Atman and because of that we have a moral responsibility. Human will functions in the waking state. Divine will is the overall controlling power operative in the universe. Moral life is the first stage of tuning up human will with divine will. When our relationship with God deepens, God’s will begins to act through us more and more.
On Thursday, July 18, a half-day seminar was held on “Kindness, Mercy, Compassion”. The retreat was conducted by Swami Ishtananda, Swami Mahayogananda and Swami Nishpapananda. The Swamis spoke on compassion being divine, not in theory as much as in practice. The divine qualities are what makes a saint attractive; compassion, mercy and kindness are God’s attributes. We need to see these qualities in the lives of the incarnates. God takes a human birth out of compassion and mercy for all. Instances from the lives of Buddha, Jesus, Shankaracharya and Sri Ramakrishna were given as examples. How Buddha once attaining liberation came back to the human level of consciousness out of compassion. Jesus, while on the cross was praying for the alleviation of suffering for the people who put him on the cross, showing compassion, mercy and kindness for them. How Shankaracharya showed mercy to Kapalik who wanted to sacrifice Shankar. And Sri Ramakrishna’s kindness and compassion to a maid servant. During the retreat we also heard from other devotees on what compassion, mercy and kindness meant to them.
On Friday Swami Mahayogananda’s talk was titled “The Voice of the Mother”. If we want to hear the voice of the Mother we have to stand close and listen carefully; Mother is very much approachable. According to Swami Vivekananda all must come home to the arms of the real “Mother”.
On Saturday, the final afternoon, lecture by Swami Istananda was titled “More About Discipleship”. This talk centered more about the disciple’s relationship with the guru. There are three kinds of disciples depending on how they respond to the guru. This depends on the manifestation of the three gunas, Sattva, Rajas and Tamas, in a devotee. We need a sattvic quality in order to achieve the goal prescribed by the guru and understand the way to achieve it. The physical body, the mind and the senses have to be prepared to receive the message. Discipleship is about preparation of them.
Attendees had time to explore the park and surrounding area during retreat days. There were two group hikes organized. One on the Appalachian Trail starting from Carver’s Gap, at the Tennessee/North Carolina border. This is a popular hike taken every year and was led by Swami Mahayogananda and Swami Nishpapananda. The second hike, led by Swami Ishtananda, was the Cloudland Trail starting at the Rhododendron Gardens at the heights of the Roan. The trail through old growth rododendrons ended at a mountain overlook. There were also short hikes and a visit to the Miller Farmstead located within the park.
On Tuesday morning all attendees went for a picnic breakfast at Wautauga Lake. The picnic grounds are on the banks of the lake. Everyone was treated to a luxurious dinner Thursday evening at Bonefish Grill in Johnson City, Tennessee. All participants gathered Saturday afternoon for a pizza picnic lunch with pizza from the Smoky Mountain Bakers in the town of Roan Mountain.
Each evening after dinner all the participants gathered on the porch of the Swamis’ cabin for a reading by Swami Nishpapananda from “For Seekers of God”, Spiritual Talks of Mahapurush Swami Shivananda. These evening readings and being in the group of devotees were among the happy and peaceful experiences, and a culmination to a wonderful day in the peace and tranquility of the surroundings. The retreat participants for many years in a row have enjoyed the spiritual company of Swami Ishtananda, Swami Mahayogananda and Swami Nishpapananda in all the daily activities of the retreat. The atmosphere of Roan Mountain State Park with the cabins nestled in the trees and the serenity around has helped to contribute to a spiritually uplifting retreat. All felt blessed to have attended it and were looking forward to joining next year again.