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National Sai Retreat 2013 - A Real Treat

This year the National Sai Retreat entitled ‘Divine Bliss: Echoes of Eternal Harmony’ took place in the scenic coastal town of Llandudno, located in North Wales. This retreat, spread out over three days, was attended by about 350 devotees from all around the UK. We were very fortunate to have with us, Sri R.J. Rathnakar, a member of the Sathya Sai Central Trust, Prasanthi Nilayam, and a nephew of our beloved Lord Bhagawan Sri Sathya Sai Baba.

As devotees started arriving at their allotted hotels on Friday afternoon, one could feel immediately the ‘echoes of harmony’ in the loving and enthusiastic way in which they greeted each other; in the way that volunteers at the Registration desk attended to their needs and requests patiently with a smile; and in the way various teams worked together silently and happily to get everything ready for the evening programme. There was a palpable sense of one big, happy Sai family assembled together in love and devotion to our Divine Lord Bhagawan Baba.

After a delicious dinner, cooked and served lovingly by our volunteers, the evening programme commenced at the prestigious Venue Cymru Conference Centre located on the seafront and near the hotels. As one entered the main hall in this venue, one was swept off the feet and transported immediately into the hallowed precincts of Prasanthi Nilayam! For, the hall was adorned with a huge backdrop of Sai Kulwanth Hall with Bhagawan’s Most Sacred Mahasamadhi occupying the Centre Stage. It was so alive and uplifting to behold, and also a totally unexpected and breathtaking introduction to the Retreat! The bliss that one experiences in Prasanthi Nilayam was felt instantly, and this continued for the rest of the weekend.

The evening started with mellifluous Bhajans followed by a welcome note from our UKCC Chairperson, Dr Kiran Patel. In his welcome, he said that Bhagawan Baba is the personification of Bliss or Anandam and the easiest way to experience this bliss ourselves is to be in harmony with Him, through constant contemplation and through the practise of His Teachings. Our esteemed guest Sri Rathnakar then gave a short insight from the vast experiences he has had with Swami. He reflected on the great blessing we have in being His devotees, as He then takes over our welfare for lifetimes. Both thoughtful and humorous, his talk gave a glimpse of the precious gems he had to share with us over the next two days. The evening concluded with a delightful Carnatic vocal concert by two of our very talented youngsters, Akilesh Sreecumaar and Keertana Easan, who performed several pieces each, followed by Aarthi. Everyone then went back to their respective hotels to have a restful night before the amazing programme awaiting them the next day.

As the sounds of the waves crashing against the shores echoed in the ambient early morning stillness, the chanting of the Primordial Aumkaar 21 times during Suprabhatham at 5.30 am awakened our inner self to the experience of inner stillness and bliss. Jyoti Meditation, Darshan and Bhajans that followed enhanced this joyful experience. Following this session, devotees had a choice of activities in which they could participate- either yoga, meditation, a meditative walk on the beach, Vedam chanting or Taize chanting. Understandably for most, the choice was a hard one to make between these 5 different harmony-bringing activities!

The yoga activity was led by an experienced and young ‘teacher’ who expertly brought the focus of the ‘students’ on harmonising the body and mind so as to experience peace within themselves. The meditative walk on the beach led by one of the Spiritual Coordinators was worth joining, despite the slight chill, as it was bringing peace within oneself, thanks to a beautiful view and the soothing sounds of the water. Meditation sessiion was held at one of the two hotels, whilst the energising vibrations of Sri Rudram chanted in the foyer of the venue during the Vedam session intermingled seamlessly with the soothing Christian Taize chants sung by another group of devotees in the main hall. Such divine vibrations wafted from the venue in to its sorroundings, that it was a clear indication to the event living up to its name: ‘Echoes of eternal harmony’.

Simultaneous with all this activity, the children attending this retreat had their own activity programme held during the weekend by the SSE Wing. Yoga sessions, art and music sessions, a visit to a local farm etc allowed the young ones to express their inner spirit. A walk on the beach inspired the budding artists within them to create a wonderful underwater collage which was displayed in the exhibition at the main venue for all to admire. Whilst the children had a joyful time under the supervision of SSE Wing, the parents, youth and other devotees enjoyed the Saturday morning keynote talk by Sri Rathnakar on his experiences and interactions with Swami. He emphasized the fact that to call ourselves Sai devotees, we should live the message of Swami. As per Swami’s words, he said, the Sai organisation is different from any other organisation in that the only condition to be part of it is to actually follow and live Sai teachings.

After his talk, a traditional Bharata Natyam dance tribute entitled ‘Sai Anandam’ was performed by the talented sisters, Riddhi and Nidhi Joshi. Then, Mr Arun Kumar Panda, an active member of the Sai Organisation, shared how by engaging in service activities constantly, he came closer to Bhagawan and experienced immense joy and bliss.

Continuing on, a total of 9 workshops on Practical Spirituality were held. The main theme in these workshops was centred on the Nine Point Code of Conduct given by Bhagawan for all Sai devotees to follow in their daily lives, and how this is akin to a spiritual formula for experiencing Divine Bliss. Each workshop then focussed its discussion on a single point from the Nine Point Code of Conduct, and its practical application. Delegates participated actively in these workshops and the discussions further consolidated the understanding of Bhagawan’s teachings. After lunch, which many devotees took as a picnic on the beach, delegates gathered again in their respective workshop group for a 2nd session and discussed various topics such as the importance of ceiling on desires, considering all work as worship, the true meaning of devotion, etc. The feedback from all the workshops, which was given the next day in the main hall, gave a clear indication that delegates in all workshops recognised the significance of the Nine Point Code of Conduct as a practical roadmap to experience Divine Bliss, the ultimate goal of all spiritual journeys!

Returning to the auditorium, a question and answer session with Sri Rathnakar took place where he addressed some of the wide array of questions posed to him by the delegates. It was a very interesting and inspiring session where his simplicity, humility, devotion and surrender to Bhagawan whilst working incessantly in a focussed manner in His Divine Mission became very evident for all those gathered in the hall. Bhajans were held shortly after, leading onto a sumptuous and welcome dinner. We reassembled after dinner for a panel discussion, where brother Rathnakar shared some of his personal experiences as a student at the Sri Sathya Sai Institute of Higher Learning, as well as some of his family’s experiences, with two former Sai Students who are active members of the UK Sai Organization. The evening came to an end with Arathi, after a delightfully exquisite musical performance entitled “In Tune with Thee” by the Panesar Brothers on the Tar Shehnai and Tabla.

Refreshed, thanks to a well deserved sleep, the Sunday morning programme began with the resounding Aumkaars, morning prayers and bhajans like the previous day. Once more there was an opportunity to take part in one of the 5 different activities. This was followed by breakfast, enabling us to go full of energy to listen to Sri Ajit Popat, familiar to all of us as ‘Puppet’, which our beloved Bhagawan used to call him most endearingly. In delivering his talk on the topic ‘ Through Sacrifice alone, Immortality can be attained’, he reminded all of us of Bhagawan’s words that ‘removal of immorality leads to Immortality’. In his inimitable style, full of humour and deep insights, he emphasised that we should strive to sacrifice this immorality, and achieve purity through various activities such as listed in the Nine Point Code of Conduct. Then Immortality or Divinity will be our experience. After this inspiring ‘Puppet show’ and the workshop feedback session, brother Rathnakar gave a highly thought provoking Valedictory address, in which he spoke about the Divine Mission of Sathya Sai and our roles in it as Sai devotees, office bearers and trustees. This brought us to the closing session where the children were awarded Certificates, and the stupendous efforts of various teams involved in putting this Retreat together were acknowledged in gratitude on behalf of all delegates. Bhajans and Arathi brought the Retreat to a close, and devotees departed for their homes after a tasty lunch.

Overall the retreat was indeed a Real Treat! It spiritually recharged us with the wonderful satsang of fellow devotees, esteemed guest speakers, delightful concerts and interactive and reflective workshops. Going home after this inspiring retreat, it is now our responsibility to contemplate deeply and put into regular practise at least some of what we learnt, such as the Nine Point Code of Conduct in our daily lives. We are very grateful to Swami for enabling us to participate in such divine events. May He shower His Grace on all of us and guide us more and more towards Divine Bliss.

Nimisha Komalram & Marine Aufranc
Region 3 & Region 4, SSSSO UK