Interreligious Retreat-Seminar (20-23 November 2010)

on the auspicious occasion of Swami Abhishiktananda Centenary Birth Anniversary

The year 2010 marked the Centenary Birth Anniversary of French-born Swami Abhishiktananda (1910-2010), and as such it was a significant year for the interreligious community of Ajatananda Ashram. Swamiji was a bridge-builder between East and West. His life and message continue to inspire many who seek the Truth and try to live an authentic spirituality beyond religious barriers. Therefore, on the auspicious occasion of his Birth Centenary, it was essential to recognize the contribution Swami Abhishiktananda made in the area of interreligious dialogue and also to commemorate the way in which he introduced the perennial wisdom of Indian spirituality to so many seekers in the West.

A 4-day residential retreat was organized for about thirty monks and nuns from different religious traditions, including some revered saints whose presence was an immense inspiration for all. The function was very successful with a total of 200 seekers and visitors taking part in the main events.

Saturday 20 November 2010

H.H. Sri Chandra Swami Udasin who had blessed and inaugurated the ashram in 2006 was unable to attend and preside over the interreligious programme due to medical reasons. Hence, a delegation of monks and nuns went on the first day to Sadhana Kendra Ashram to have His Darshan. The group was led by Chief Guest, H.H. Swami Nityananda Giri, Head Monk of Gnanananda Niketan, Thapovanam (Tamil Nadu), and Swami Abhishiktananda’s guru-brother. With great love and affection, Sri Chandra Swami received Sri Swami Nityananda and all the respected guests from Rishikesh. Everyone was delighted to see the two elderly saints holding hands in great joy and freedom. A special satsang and a bhandara were organized for the occasion. Many of the participants expressed how deeply moved they were over the immense love and care H.H. Sri Chandra Swami Udasin had showered on them during their visit.

Sunday 21 November 2010

On the auspicious day of Sri Guru Nanak Dev Ji Jayanti, the newly constructed meditation hall ‘Sarva Dharma Dhyan Mandir’ of Ajatananda Ashram was inaugurated by the Chief Guest, H.H. Swami Nityananda Giri, with the performance of a havan in the presence of a large number of saints and sages of different religious traditions. Thereafter, the Interreligious Retreat was opened by the revered Chief Guest. There were many guest speakers to speak on Swami Abhishiktananda and the theme of the retreat: ‘Renunciation as an Interreligious Meeting Point Today’.

The retreat was not designed as a “seminar” to analyze or discuss Swami Abhishiktananda’s life, but rather to do what he would have wished: to enable monastics of different Traditions to come together in a truly interreligious gathering, appreciating dialogue at the level of experience, from heart to heart.

Among the main speakers were: H.H. Swami Nityananda Giri (Gnanananda Niketan, Thapovanam, Tamil Nadu), H.H. Swami Prem Vivekananda (Sadhana Kendra Ashram, Domet, Uttarakhand), H.H. Swami Yogavedantananda (Yoga-Vedanta Forest Academy, Sivananda Ashram), Most Venerable Lama Kunga Gyatso (Mindrolling Monastery, Clementown, Uttarakhand), Most Venerable Sudhammacara Bhikkhu (One Dharma Hermitage, Kamakura, Japan), H.H. Sri Devendra Vigyani (Rishikesh, Uttarakhand), Most Venerable Dr. Lama Tashi Samphel (Songtsen Library, Dehradun, Uttarakhand), Rev. Father Korko Moses (Ashram Aikya and Dhyanavanam Ashram, Tamil Nadu), H.H. Swami Vinaya Chaitanya (Narayana Gurukula, South India), Most Venerable Ajahn Upekkha (Kalyanamitta, London, United Kingdom).

Special Messages and Blessings were conveyed by H.H. Sri Chandra Swami Udasin (Head of Sadhana Kendra Ashram, Domet), H.H. Sri Swami Vimalananda Saraswati(President of The Divine Life Society, Rishikesh) and H.E. Jetsün Khandro Rinpoche (Mindrolling Monastery, Clementown).

Please click on a name to read the corresponding Message.

22 November 2010

The retreat programme centred on silent meditation and the opportunity for participants to share their deep personal insights and experiences on the subject of ‘Renunciation’.

In the evening, the participants were given the rare opportunity of listening to and dining with one of the greatest Indian living masters, H.H. Shiva Rudra Balayogi. Babaji hails from Karnataka but lives in Dehra Dun at the Sri Shivabalayogi Maharaj Ashram. He was introduced by his disciple Ma Amba Shivaranjani and then addressed the gathering about the common goal of all religions: to realize the One Universal Truth. He emphasized that, more than acquiring second hand knowledge of Scriptures, it was important to practice and gain the inner spiritual experience. After his most enlightening talk, the participants were given the opportunity to ask questions. Smiles and laughter were shared as humour interspersed the satsang. All were very appreciative of the penetrating wisdom of the Master. The evening ended with the sharing of prasada in His Holiness’ presence.

Tuesday 23 November 2010

The entire day was a commemoration of Sri Swami Abhishiktananda’s life within the context of his Birth Centenary. The presence of guests, mainly monks and nuns of various Traditions, at this commemoration was a precious and blessed moment of prayer, unity and communion across all philosophical/religious diversities. The programme included silent meditation, a celebration presided over by Rev. Father Korko Moses (President, Ashram Aikya), a puja and arati at the Shivananda Ghat, at the bank of Ganges, a satsang at Gurudev Kutir (Shivananda Ashram) with H.H. Swami Vimalananda Saraswati (President, The Divine Life Society), H.H. Swami Padmanabhananda Saraswati (General Secretary) and monks from Shivananda Ashram, followed by a festive meal (prasada) at the Ashram langar hall.

*The Commemorative Ceremony at the Ganges

It is worth noting that Swami Abhishiktananda took mahasamadhi in 1973 at Indore (Madhya Pradesh) where he was interred. In 1994, some of his mortal remains were transferred to a newly erected samadhi in Saccidananda Ashram (Shantivanam, Tamil Nadu) of which he was one of the founders. The place is now a pilgrimage destination for thousands of devotees and admirers from India as well as from all countries. However, in 1968 Swami Abhishiktananda left Shantivanam, his first abode in India, for good, and went to Gyansu (Uttarkashi) in the Himalayas, a place where he had already been living for many years. It was the heartfelt wish of Swamiji that after mahasamadhi his body be immersed in the holy Ganges.

Hence, the ceremony which took place at the Shivananda Ghat, where his chief disciple Swami Ajatananda himself received sannyasa diksha, served as a meaningful symbolic act to recognize the great love Swamiji held for the sacred river and was also a unique opportunity to bring together monastics and spiritual seekers of various religious traditions in a unifying act of reverence towards Swami Abhishiktananda as a great pioneer of interreligious dialogue.