Have you wanted to do an ashram retreat, but weren’t sure you could handle the austere living? Pining for knowledge, but need your comforts? Then Mahasamadhi Summer Camp is a must for you next year.
My family just returned from Chicago - St Charles to be exact - after a nearly week long stay at a lovely resort where this year’s annual Chinmaya Mission Mahasamadhi Summer Camp was held. I want to share my experience and also some highlights of the retreat.
Several years ago when fresh out of college, while on a tour of south India I was somehow led to an ashram outside Bangalore. On an impulse I decided to stop my tour and stay at the ashram for a month. While the first week was certainly a challenge - adjusting to life with only the bare necessities - those days in the ashram were the best in my life. Being in constant satsang, living in a haven of peace, and bathing myself in spiritual knowledge was nothing short of complete ecstasy. For that period of time, my mind experienced a state of emptiness and calm like never before. And that was happiness. An indescribable happiness. I was so immersed in this high that during my last few days of the program, I was looking for reasons to not leave the ashram.
There hasn’t been much opportunity after that to experience the “ashram high”. I can say, however, that Mahasamadhi Camp is the closest I’ve gotten.
Some similarities between Mahasamadhi Camp and ashram life:
Daily satsang with highly realized spiritual masters (most compelling reason for me)
Variety of classes including spiritual talks, bhajans, yoga, informative workshops, etc
Being surrounded by people who are spiritually inclined, creating an atmosphere of warm and positive vibes
How it’s different (and better in some ways):
A program for kids at the same time !!! (second most compelling reason for me)
All the comforts you’d get at home, plus more (no cooking for a week!)
Plenty of time for introspection (ashram life doesn’t give you any down time)
What I found that Mahasamadhi Camp did (as did ashram life), was revive my perspective on life, give me a new energy, a new drive to return home and resume my daily life with freshness and eagerness, applying the principles of Vedanta. This is not like a vacation. Coming home from a trip to the Carribean is always a drag. The thought of returning to work is painful. But not after a spiritual retreat. After days of spiritual immersion, you are eager to return to work. It’s as though you are reformed into a new person - you see work differently, family differently, everything is different….and better.
I learned that attending a spiritual discourse once a week, or reading scriptures every night won’t have the same influence on me as several days of nothing-but-spirituality. You wake up to yoga, then meditation, then bhajans, then lecture on our scriptures, then break to contemplate what all you just heard...then repeat. Several times a day for several days. You immerse yourself in this sadhana. What happens is this: your mind first begins to empty, then finds calm and peace, and then purifies itself, leading to a feeling of happiness and elation.
The difference between this kind of elation is that there is no “crash” that follows it. You may experience some kind of heightened happiness elsewhere too - like at a social event, a vacation, or at the movies - but that feeling is coming from a thrill. And like all thrills, it follows with a crash where you suddenly feel empty or sad after the event ends.
The happiness from a spiritual retreat is not a short-lived kind of thrill. The time spent at a retreat actually allows you to turn inward and find your inner happiness that is always there but rarely experienced. That’s why at an ashram, after the first week, you become completely oblivious to the fact that you’re living in austerity, because what’s external to you no longer matters. You’re already blissful….would a mattress make you any happier? Not really. When you are happy from inside, the circumstances in your life become irrelevant.
As an example, I did not realize that I hadn’t eaten a meal in nearly 3 days while at the camp. The food was certainly fine, but I’m accustomed to eating low-salt and non-spicy food at home, so my taste buds were not geared up for spicy. Only on the third day it occurred to me that I had only eaten fruits and Kind bars since I left my home ! Normally, I can feel hunger pangs after skipping just one meal ! But I experienced no hunger. My mind was so engrossed in the incredible spiritual knowledge I was gaining, that even eating became less important to my mind and body.
I was surprised to find that not a single family with young kids from my center (Silver Spring) was at the camp. I felt that so many families could have benefited from it, especially the kids. The program for children is created with so much thought. They get a perfect mix of Hinduism, culture and fun all at the same time. During the afternoon, kids would meet up at the pool for swimming, and evenings they’d have movie nights and a cultural program.
I encourage all our families to attend the camp next year, to be held in San Diego. I will personally get involved next year to assist families in planning and arranging tours outside the camp week.
In next week’s article, I’ll share with you some of the notes I took from Swami SwaroopanandaJi’s profound and uplifting lectures. I don’t have words to truly describe his ability to reach to the depths of our hearts with his words of wisdom and experience. He is a rare spiritual master, so devoted to his cause, and we are indeed so fortunate to have him as the leader of this great Mission, to carry forward the life, message and vision of our beloved Gurudev.