I’ve just returned from an 8-day break with 120 highly energetic young devotees of Krishna. My wife and I were both contracted out to give talks, kirtans and discussions. The main themes were the Upadeshamrita and basic Vaishnava culture. We were in the far west of Germany, surrounded by hundreds of square miles of forest, around 40 kms from Frankfurt. Up at 3.30 am and tucked up in bed by 10.30, with kirtans, classes, practical devotional service in between, the event was the ISKCON Sena annual ‘getaway.’
For the last 14 years our youth clubs and university societies have organised an attractive spiritual retreat in different parts of Europe – and its been growing in size and competence through the years. What I mean to say is that its highly organised and very devotional; like a complete festival every day.
The location of the ISKCON temples are a large part of the pulling power, of course. They are often in countryside spots of outstanding beauty and many have clusters of large buildings suitable for accommodating a large number of people. Our centres in Spain, France, Ireland, Italy and now Germany, all have played host to large groups who have enjoyed the spiritual atmosphere of the temple, meeting local devotees and learning about the culture, the spiritual courses, the fellowship, and some of the local attractions too.
There’s practical benefits for the local ISKCON centre. This year the Sena completely repainted the temple room, weeded and planted the garden with flowers, and helped with lots of practical work that is easily done with a hundred volunteers. And for the centres that are relatively quiet, its a great injection of devotional energy. Enthusiastic kirtans, bhajans, a festival spirit, nightly theatre, harinama sankirtan in local towns – all done by young devotees who are excited to be living in a temple for a week! One popular aspect of the Sena annual trip is, of course, the abundance and variety of the prasadam. Each trip invites a competent team of cooks along for the week – and the results are very memorable!
For me, the nightly theatre based on devotional themes was the most striking feature. The youth put on short plays based on devotional or philosophical themes. Often they vividly portrayed their own experiences of trying to put Vaishnava teachings into practise in their home and work. Sometimes it was hilarious, sometimes saddening. It is never easy trying to be a devotee of Krishna; struggle is very much a part of the path we’ve all taken, yet with humour and understanding, and a lot of help and support from friends it becomes that much more possible.
The young people of the ISKCON Sena have great affection for each other, yet always behave with respect, eager to help one another on the great adventure that is spiritual life.
You can see some photos of the trip here: Senagetaway 2009