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Vedanta Retreat, Arsha Vidya Gurukulam, Anaikatti, 15-30 January 2014

It’s a great pity you couldn’t make it, but you left behind a good team” said a student when visiting Pujya Swamiji in a Coimbatore Intensive Care Unit (ICU) in early February. The student was referring to the Retreat that had just taken place at the Gurukulam.

Swamiji had fully expected to give several classes a day. But, unfortunately, pneumonia, and the complications that arose from it, put him in the ICU before the Retreat began and kept him there throughout.

Naturally, the students (mostly from the UK and Europe, plus a small group from Australia) were disappointed not to see and hear him in person, but the team he left behind proved to be a very able substitute: Swami Jnanananda gave guided meditations each morning, Swamini Atmaprakashananda unfolded the Aitareya Upanishad as only she can; Swamini Brahmalinanda thoroughly and skilfully expounded Chapter One of Pancadashi; tuition in Sanskrit was provided at various levels by Gita, Ganesha and Michika; and similarly chanting tuition was given by Swaminis Vedarthananda and Saradananda. There was also satsang each evening after supper.

During her discourses, Swamini Atmaprakashananda showed that the Aitareya presents a highly figurative description of how the jagat ‘descends’ from paramatma, the intelligent and material cause of all. The description emphasises that this so-called ‘creation’ is nothing more than a manifestation of name and form, and as such is mithya. The many devatas mentioned early in the text therefore represent not separate individual powers but various expressions or manifestations of the power of consciousness.

When paramatma ‘enters’ the body as the jiva he knows that the jiva will, by the grace of self-consciousness, become aware that as the user of the various sense powers it can be none of them, and will therefore begin the journey of self-knowledge by first asking, “What, then, am I?” Significantly, this ‘entry’ of the paramatma as the jiva is merely apparent: being all-pervasive, paramatma is already there — which means the jiva is beginningless!

Like an image in a mirror, the jiva is mithya, it's reality dependent on the reflection of the ever-present paramatma.

We were not totally without Pujya Swamiji. Videos of him discoursing on Nirvana Shatakam and Abhaya Pratishtha kept us all both richly nourished and full of laughter — his jokes and witty anecdotes interspersing a crystal-clear vision of how things really are. Inevitably, the videos made his absence all the more poignant.

After the Retreat, about two dozen students travelled to Sringeri to visit the Math, spending two full days there. Swamini Atmaprakashanandaji introduced each of us individually, in Sanskrit, to the Shankaracarya who blessed our studies with the words “Vedanta sastra vyasangah bhavatu.” — May the Vedanta shastra (i.e. its vision) be fully assimilated.

While there we were also able to have darshan of the extremely popular Sharada Devi (a form of Sarasvati) as well as visit the magnificent 600-year-old temple dedicated to Vidya Ganapati, Vidya Shankara and Durgamba. In spite of the remoteness of the Math and the difficulties involved in reaching it, the number of devotees is in the thousands every day, such is their value for it!

On our way back to Mangalore we stopped overnight at Collur, had darshan of Mookambika Devi, and then travelled to a Krishna temple in Udapi before finally arriving in Mangalore on the 3rd of February where the group began disbanding, some beginning the return journey home, others continuing their stay in India.

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