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Vedanta Retreat, Manjakkudi, 13–26 Nov 2018

A time comes when students naturally wish to fully consolidate and then share what they have learnt. The Brahma Sūtra, written by the famous sage, Vyāsa, is designed to meet that need.

It is one of the Prasthāna Trayi, which consists of the Upaniṣads, Bhagavad Gîtā and Brahma Sūtra. Together they form a prasthāna, a source and a departure point in that the journey of understanding begins (and ends) with them, and they are the source in that together they are both the means and its fulfilment.

The Brahma Sūtra text chiefly consists of logical refutations of the opposing ideas of various schools of thought. Studying it helps resolve any remaining doubts in the student's mind, and through its refutations equips him or her not only to understand more fully (and hence teach more effectively) but also to deal more competently with doubts.

In order to fully understand and appreciate the significance of the arguments and refutations employed, it's essential to have already understood very well the Upaniṣads and Gîtā. As such, it is intended for the further sharpening of an already highly informed mind, the mind of a Vedanta student of mature understanding. It is not for beginners!

This year, the retreat in India focussed on the Brahma Sūtra and we returned to Manjakkudi to fulfil that purpose. We were also one of the first groups to enjoy the facilities of the new Swami Dayananda Memorial Centre, which was completed earlier this year. Fittingly, it contains an admirable polished black granite statue of Swamiji to watch over proceedings!

As usual, the study was interspersed with visits to places of cultural interest, including: the Airavadesvara Temple in Darasuram, the Swami Dayananda Veda Patashala at Kodavasal, plus the girls' school that was visited last year, and also several temples in Kumbakonam. We again saw sesame oil being pressed via a bullocks-powered press, and we returned to the Brihadîsvara temple too, with another chance to see its incomparable sculptures and reliefs, and its huge Nandi and Śivalingam.

Later, we also again visited the huge 280 acre Sri Ranganathar Swamy Vaishnavaite temple in Trichy, this time seeing the new ācārya. Later still, at the very end of our stay, we visited the golden temple at Chidambaram where ākāśa, space, is worshipped as Bhagavan.

Finally, back in Chennai, a few of us had the privilege of an audience with Pujya Sri Swami Paramarthananda in his chambers. It was striking how naturally and unaffectedly simple and cheerful he was — ever smiling, intelligently listening, warmly responsive. It was a wonderful meeting, a wonderful way to complete our stay.

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