216 19th Avenue South East St. Petersburg, Fl 33705
Roan Mountain Summer Retreat
July 9 - 15, 2018
The Vedanta Center of St. Petersburg held its’ annual summer retreat during the week of July 9-15, 2018. This was the ninth year in a row for the retreat and, as in years past, it was held 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.
There were 25 devotees in attendance this year, primarily from Florida, along with California, New York and Maryland. Three Swamis in attendance were 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 the devotees were in completely furnished log cabins situated along paths 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 in which everyone took all meals together.
Each day participants attended at 6:00 am, morning meditation, followed by chanting of Vedic prayers and reading from the Gospel of Sri Ramakrishna. Everyone then gathered for breakfast, followed by a short reading and discussion. The book selected was “Profiles in Greatness” by Swami Sastrananda. Evening Arati was held each afternoon at 5:00 pm, with chanting, meditation and a short discourse by one of the Swamis.
Swami Mahayogananda spoke on Monday on “Darshan: Seeing the Divine.” He explained that darshan is an auspicious seeing of the divine but also could be internal by a direct experience. According to Sri Ramakrishna a longing for God is an essential ingredient to seeing God.
Swami Nishpapananda’s topic on Tuesday was “Vivekananda’s Impact on America”. He talked about the thought current in America before and after Vivekananda’s visits to America. He also gave short vignettes on people, lives of whom had been affected by Vivekananda during this time.
Swami Mahayogananda spoke again Wednesday on “Birth, Rebirth and No Birth”. There is mention of reincarnation even in the ancient scriptures such as the story of Natchiketa in the Katha Upanishad. The spiritual journey in Vedantic life is longing for liberation, the state beyond birth and death.
On Thursday, July 12 a half day retreat on the topic “Practical Religion” was conducted by Swami Ishtananda, Swami Mahayogananda and Swami Nishpapananda. Swami Nishpapananda began the retreat by focusing on “Bhakti in Daily Life”. How does one change preoccupation with the world to devotion to God? Bhakti is intrinsic within us and can be kindled by contact with people who live the life of a sincere devotee themselves.
Swami Mahayogananda then spoke on “Application of Jnana in Daily Life.” The talk was initiated with the question “Is Jnana relevant since bhakti is more prevalent among people?” It can deepen and enrich our spiritual life by harmonizing both. It helps steady the ship by not becoming too emotional or radical. There is a negation and affirmation approach to jnana, by practicing discernment, detachment and then a longing for God.
After a short break a few of the devotees spoke on what practical religion meant to them. Swami Ishtananda concluded the retreat by stating that practical religion is all about going to the basics. By living your life in the most moral and most ethical way in the path of devotion you prepare yourself to be a fit recipient for grace. He said that incarnations are born to teach us the practical way to religion. He stated that Ramakrishna said three things on practical religion; 1. Hold on to truth, 2. If prayer is sincerely practiced then surely God will listen, and 3. Face the challenges in the world bravely with full faith in God.
On Friday, the final afternoon, lecture by Swami Nishpapananda was titled “The Wisdom of an Unlettered Saint”, about Swami Adbhutananda (Latu). Though uneducated he was said to have a talent for getting to the heart of things. Swami Brhmananda referred to him as an unblemished sadhu. He came to Sri Ramakrishna as a young boy and was greatly touched by him.
During the retreat days attendees had time to explore the park and surrounding area. There were two group hikes organized led by Swami Mahayogananda and Swami Nishpapananda. One on the Appalachian Trail starting from Carver’s Gap, at the Tennessee/North Carolina border. The second was at the Rhododendron Gardens at the heights of the Roan. The hike started with a heavy morning mist common to high altitude mountains. There were also short hikes and a visit to the Miller Farmstead located within the park.
On Wednesday morning all attendees went for a picnic breakfast at Wautauga Lake. The picnic grounds were 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 lunch at 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 “Letters and Prayers” of Swami Yatiswarananda. These evening readings and being in the group of devotees was also a happy and peaceful experience 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 helped to contribute to a spiritually uplifting retreat. All felt blessed to have attended and are looking forward to joining next year.
As one of the participants said last year and is as valid this year; “We share all our meals together full of joy and laughter. The grand communion of spiritual company and the enlightening talks from the monks, who have given us their valuable time to help us along our spiritual paths, infuses me with thoughts to contemplate in this silence. So much to be grateful for. I can't help but think that this place will be permeated with this spirit and it will grow and be shared by many more to come.”