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Easter Yoga Retreat in Pandavas Paradise

We had a beautiful yoga retreat during the Easter Holiday here in Pandavas Paradise, from the 20 to the 24th of April.

The retreat was made special by the presence of a group of Spiritists from the north-eastern coastal city of Natal. This musical and educational group is the Spiritist equivalent of a Nama Hatta that gets together almost every day (!), to chant devotional hymns and perform charity work. Their main philosophy is Christian Spiritism (Allan Kardec), but they have lately been expanding their horizons and now call themselves Universalists. Thus, they were very eager to learn more about Krishna consciousness. They also took to japa very seriously and especially loved kirtan, since they practice it almost every day in their own way.

Not only were the people from this group serious spiritualists, but, this time, it so happened that just about everyone else on the retreat was too, something normally found only in our bhakti devotee retreats. Add to that delicious prasada and amazing weather and we had the perfect ingredients for a beautiful retreat.

Here are some pictures of our walks. My wife, Carana Renu, is getting more and more inspired in her photography (and she also just got a new wide-angle lens). She took amazing pictures.

Here the guests are enjoying one of our waterfalls.

It’s becoming a tradition now for guests to enjoy the therapeutic effects of a natural mud bath. It leaves your skin very soft. (It also makes for hilarious photos!).

Here are the guests enjoying Mahavira Kunda, so named in honor of Mahavira Prabhu (ACBSP), a great friend and mentor of mine, and one of the major pioneers of the Hare Krishna movement in Brazil.

The guests always love the prasada, and this group were especially gifted in their abilities to consume large quantities of it! (What is it with being more spiritual that makes you eat more prasada?). The prasada was mostly prepared by Manjari DD and our dedicated assistant Dani (in the picture above).

At night I Iectured on different themes of Krishna consciousness to an attentive audience.

We had a couple in charge of the yoga classes: Premananda DD and her husband Rafael – Iyengar style.

Here are some of the comments left by our guests:

“In one sentence? An unforgettable and transforming experience. Without a doubt I can sum up all these days in Paradise with this sentence and, in it, include everything: the wonderful place, Mother Nature in all her forms, the temple and the prayers which touched me profoundly, the hospitality, the wonderful cooking and, for course, the enlightened people, which, I’m sure, were carefully chosen to be together in this retreat. Thank you all for the opportunity of getting to know you. Everything was really special and transforming for me.” – Natália, Natal-RN

“The dictionaries explain that the word ‘paradise’ comes from the Persian word meaning a walled garden. The meaning and tone of words change through the centuries. Thus, paradise lost its walls and went from the terrestrial plane to the celestial Eden, but it left a fragment here in the Cerrado. A piece big enough to remind us that magnificent nature and good-hearted people help us find our inner paradise. Thank you.” – Márcia, Rio de Janeiro, RJ.

“In a simple way, I can say that this was a transformative experience, the kind we remember for a long time and carry with us for the rest of our lives! I’m profoundly grateful for everything! I hope to come back soon, in another yoga retreat or a vegetarian cooking retreat, because I confess that the prasadam was unforgettable. : )” – Andrea, Brasilia-DF.

“My stay there was divinely enchanting. Charana’s voice still rings in my ears and my heart. I want to come back as soon as possible” – Giovana, Brasilia-DF

“It was a very pleasant surprise participating in this yoga retreat in Pandavas Paradise. I felt like all of us were part of one big family. Everyone’s mood and vibes seemed very harmonious and left me very relaxed, in peace and at home.” – Rosa, São Paulo, SP

Click here to see lots more amazing pictures from the retreat.


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Trip to Bahia – Salvador and Barra Grande

After an intense period of retreats here in Pandavas Paradise, we planned a trip to the Brazilian State of Bahia, with some rest and relaxation by the ocean.

We arrived in Salvador, the State capital, on the 25th of March. Salvador is a 472 year old city, with beautiful baroque churches and a very colorful, historic city center.

The local ISKCON devotees asked me to lecture on the “Citra Kavitvani”, Rupa Goswami’s beautiful poems.

After the lecture we had an aratik for the most famous resident of Salvador – Lord Jagannatha! Carana Renu lead the singing with a sweet kirtan.

Following the aratik I did a presentation on the administrative structure of ISKCON. We had decided, at the last meeting of the Brazilian National Council (CGB), that members of the Executive Committee should travel and explain to the devotees in general about ISKCON, the GBC, the National Council, and the different services we offer, in other words, how we can help the different temples and the individual members. The lecture is also a call for devotees to get more engaged in management roles in ISKCON.

I was invited to be the speaker at the Sunday Program. I gave one of my favorite classes, on conscious and unconscious desires, and how they affect our bhakti.

The next day we set off to the beautiful region of Barra Grande. We stayed in a house on the beach of Taipus de Fora, considered one of the six most beautiful beaches in Brasil. A real tropical paradise!

In Barra Grande, a friend of ours, a yoga teacher who has participated in a retreat here in Pandavas Paradise, organized for me to give a lecture.

Barra Grande is practically a little village and the roads are only sand. So, I was very surprised at the turnout with nearly 40 people in attendance. Barra Grande is one of those places where intelligent people, from all over Brazil and even abroad, come to live an alternative lifestyle, rejecting the rat race of the big cities.

I did my “Karma – What It Is and How to Get Rid of It” lecture.

Back on the beach…here I am exploring the natural beauty of the coral reefs of Taipus de Fora. When the tide goes down, the coral reefs form a natural pool and you can swim around with beautiful tropical fish in waist deep water (we even saw an octopus!). Oh, and did I mention the water temperature is amazing and we practically had the whole beach to ourselves?

Here are some pictures we took of the fish!

The trip rekindled a desire my wife and I have of setting up a beachside yoga retreat center in the Northeast of Brazil… In every town and village, right?

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Carnival Yoga Retreat in Pandavas Paradise

Brazil is famous for its Carnival – a very colorful popular celebration of life that happens all over the country, that has been made specially world famous due to Rio de Janeiro’s Carnival, the richest and biggest of all the Carnival celebrations. Of course, Carnival is also famous for being a very sexual, very crazy time – lots of booze, lots of scantily clad women, loud music and very lusty men. It’s basically a city-wide party going on simultaneously in every major city of the country. Naturally, because it is so wild, so “carnal”, a select minority of people do their best to avoid all the madness. It’s not surprising, therefore, that Carnival is our most sought after yoga retreat here in Pandavas Paradise.

We had people coming from many different parts of the country, some travelling over 2000km to get here. We had a good mix this time, with two couples (one young, one older), a single male (policeman), which is a rare occurrence in our retreats, and the rest were women (including a med school student, a state prosecutor, a university teacher and an architect).

We invited a lovely devotee couple to help us out – Tulasi and Radharani. They came with their baby daughter, Hladini. Radharani has been the yoga teacher many times in our retreats and guests always tell us how much they like her. Of course Hladini was a big hit!

The guests also went nuts over the prasada, prepared by Carana Renu. They couldn’t believe how good everything was and kept going on about it during the five days of the retreat! They also enjoyed the cooking course held one afternoon.

At night I presented a new lecture, on Maya. Finally, after all these years giving lectures about Krishna consciousness, I could speak on something which I truly understand! No, but seriously, I noticed that it’s important to present “the problem” more clearly, before presenting the solution.  In other words, instead of just jumping in by explaining what the path of self-realization in yoga is, I realize now it’s important to emphasize why a person should want to take it up in the first place.

Though it’s the rainy season, the weather held out nicely, and we had several great walks and a great time at our waterfalls.

A more dedicated group of the guests came everyday for japa and our mangala aratik, but all of them participated in the evening aratiks. Most guests bought books (printed and audiobooks in CDs) in the end.

Here are some comments left by the guests:

“This was really one of the most important moments in my life, in all regards… I go back home with the certainty that the soul’s greatest obligation in this life, aside from love, is self-realization… Thank you very much for everything!!!” –Antonio, Brasília-DF

“Pandavas Paradise has left me with longing… EVERYTHING was good there… the people, the place so full of peace, the delicious food, the yoga classes, the mantras, the waterfalls, the walks, the sharing of life experiences and the teachings… My gratitude, care and longing! See you soon!” – Gisele, Belém-PA

“I’m still feeling a profound sense of inner peace. Even if destiny does not allow us to meet you all again, believe me, you have left a permanent impression in me. Hare Krishna!” – Paulo Cesar, Miguel Pereira-RJ

“Though we only spent five days there, they will never be erased from our minds, because our perception was so uniquely changed. We learned that life is lost in the whirlpool of superficial life, to the detriment of true “being”. And through introspection we forgot this superficial existence, and through meditation, mantras and the teachings of the Bhagavad-gita, we experienced our “soul consciousness”. In this state we return to our regular lives with the firm conviction that life is a long road and that we should share our love while we travel.” – Eliana, Palmas – TO

Click here to see more pictures of the retreat.

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Retreat With Chandramukha Swami in Pandavas Paradise

Chandramukha Swami (HDG) spent 3 nights in Pandavas Paradise, from the 17th to the 20th of February. Though we only had two weeks notice that he was coming, we decided to organize a bhakti retreat to make the most of his visit.

Chandramukha Swami will be celebrating this year 25 years of sannyasa – quite an accomplishment for anyone, what to speak of someone who took sannyasa in his twenties and preaches in Rio de Janeiro! Though little known outside of Brazil, Maharaja is very popular here. He’s quite creative and has written dozens of books on Krishna Consciousness and recorded dozens of kirtan CDs with popular Brazilian musicians. He’s also an excellent preacher, well versed in the shastras. Since being appointed guru a few years ago, he has taken on nearly a hundred disciples.

We had a full house for this retreat, all but two people being regular congregational members in Brasília, which though 250km away is the closest big city to Pandavas Paradise. Pandavas Paradise and ISKCON Brasilia have a synergetic relationship – an essential key to the success of retreat and farm projects.

At the start of the retreat, it seemed we had a disaster in our hands! Maharaja, after eating some vegetarian sushi with a bit too much wasabi (horseradish), felt his throat tighten up. It turned out that Maharaja has developed some lumps in his vocal chords from all these years of intense speaking and chanting and will apparently need surgery. With his throat aggravated from having just come from an intense preaching tour in Santiago, Chile, the wasabi was the final blow. He called his doctor, who chastised him and told him to remain in total silence! 16 people had come to listen to Maharaja and upon arriving were informed that it was likely Maharaja would not be speaking at all!

I quickly thought of an alternative – I’d speak to the guests on the fascinating story of Chitraketu Maharaja, from Sixth Canto of the Srimad Bhagavatam. The first night I spoke on Chapter 14 and was prepared to extend the presentation all through the weekend.

But, to our surprise and delight, the next morning Maharaja showed up at class time and said he was feeling better after only one night of silence – you can’t keep a good swami down! He then went on to lecture for nearly 5 hours that day, giving a Bhagavatam class on Ajamila,  a long questions and answers session, and a Bhagavad-gita class on verse 18.67!

We also went on a walk to our waterfalls, with ladies going to the big waterfall and Maharaja with the men to another. To avoid unnecessary speaking on the way, it was a mauna-vrata or japa-vrata walk.

Maharaja cracked us up by carrying a little piece of paper with the words mauna-vrata!

Maharaja was very impressed with the scenic beauty of Pandavas Paradise and our waterfall.

The ladies went to a separate waterfall.

On Sunday morning Maharaja left at 5am. I finished the presentation on Chitraketu Maharaja that morning and, after breakfast, the retreat was brought to a close. The guests were inspired and spiritually recharged, happy to have gotten such wonderful association in Paradise.

Maharaja wrote in his blog:

“By the mercy of Srila Prabhupada, I spent the last weekend literally in ‘Paradise.’  And not just any paradise, but a Krishna conscious paradise, the best of both worlds.”

Click here to see more pictures of the retreat!

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Two Yoga Retreats with Laurent Dauzou in Pandavas Paradise

We had two yoga retreats with the famous French Iyengar trained yoga teacher, Laurent Dauzou. The first was from the 19-23 of January and the other from the 11-16 of February.

Laurent is a very skilled and knowledgeable teacher. His classes are intense and, quite literally, body altering – your body gets realigned, stretched and more balanced. The students had over 4 hours of yoga classes with him every day!

Both groups (of about 12 guests) were especially united and quickly took to each other, creating a loving and family like atmosphere.

In the first group we had a reporter, from a travel magazine. It was his first time in contact with the practice and philosophy of yoga and Krishna Consciousness.  He’ll be writing an article on Pandavas Paradise to be published in March. He was very well impressed and I expect his article will be very positive.

It’s summer here in Brazil (as all of you buried under massive snow storms will be pleased to know, I’m sure!).  In this time of the year we have beautiful sunny days, with the occasional massive thunderstorm. We were blessed with great weather for hiking our trails.

Even though we’re at 4000 ft altitude, when it’s sunny it gets quite hot – perfect weather for splashing about in our waterfalls!

Every day the guests practiced concentrated, sitting-down, japa, after the mangal aratik. In the evenings, after Gaura aratik, I lectured on different topics of our yoga philosophy and how to apply it to our lives. In the second retreat we also showed the “Ever Wellwisher” documentary on Srila Prabhupada. (Nice as it is, isn’t it time ISKCON had a new professional documentary on Srila Prabhupada?)

In both retreats, the guests bought Gitas, Yoga Sutras, other books and japas and neck beads in the hopes of continuing what they had started in Pandavas Paradise.

Here are some of the comments we got from our guests:

“Again, wonderful and intense moments, nurtured by the company of super special people, invigorating practices of yoga, and absolutely refreshing and delicious prasadam, which incidentally, is one of the highlights of Paradise. I thank you for all the moments of fun, introspection, life and yoga lessons, talks, walks and refreshing swimming in the waterfalls. To the folks of Pandavas Paradise, after my third visit, I can safely say, ‘until next time!’”- Helena, Brasilia-DF

“I needed some time for myself, to go back to my essence, to hear my inner self, and, within days, not only did I get all that, but I also got to know special people that made me feel at home, a “home” that I never thought existed, with everyone seeking the same things despite having such different personal backgrounds. The place – precious, the company – wonderful, the food – divine, the lessons – challenging and the peace – eternal. Thanks for everything and everyone for taking part in this special moment!”- Fernanda, Brasilia-DF

“My friends, I thank you for everything. Thanks for such a wonderful place and for the people who complete the magic of this paradise on earth. “- Adriana, São Paulo-SP

“Frieds, I am very grateful to you all for sharing such important and amazing moments with me! I can still feel the good energy that we cultivated in these days of meditation, kirtans, yoga classes, and in every moment. I hope that Pandavas Paradise will continue to be this wonderful place of giving and receiving of good energy. “- Gabriela (Gal), Aracaju-SE

“It was really a unique opportunity to have participated in the retreat in Pandavas Paradise! I was very happy to meet people who are so dear and attuned to subtle and valuable aspects of life! “- Mario, Brasilia-DF

“I really enjoyed those days we spent together and carry with me the positive mood, fond memories and lasting impressions of each one of you. I thank you all, and especially Giri and Laurant for facilitating these moments of peace, connection and understanding. “- Ju, Florianópolis-SC

Click here to see more pictures of the retreat of our January retreat and here to see pictures of the February retreat!


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Kirtan at Laya Yoga in Brasilia

Last weekend we were invited to perform kirtan at the Laya Yoga school in Brasilia, as part of their offer to help us raise funds for Pandavas Paradise. The event was the finale of their “Week of the Divine Mother”, in honor of Sri Lakshmidevi.

Many of our local ISKCON devotees joined in for the fun, playing, singing, dancing or just helping out by selling books and distributing flyers to the guests.

Three of us lead the kirtan.

First Sadhu Sanga Prabhu, the music teacher to many members of our congregation…

followed by me.

Then my wife, Carana Renu, beautifully singing Bajahu Re Mana, followed by the Hare Krishna mantra.

At the request of the owner, I spoke to the guests about our campaign to raise money to rebuild our burnt-down Shanti guest house. She suggested I use a bowl to get the donations! It was kind of funny… but it worked!

I also gave one of my books to their leader, who had flown in just for the closing ceremony, a lady from another important city in Brasil, Belo Horizonte. She’s the “acharya” of Laya Yoga in Brazil. The next day she wrote to me:

“I liked very much the content covered and the way in which the book was written. I found your writing very acessible and a pleasure to read, without distorting the teachings of Yoga. I wish you happinness and success in your work of spreading the teachings of Yoga.”

By the end of the almost three hours of kirtan, the devotees were deep in the bliss of the holy names, dancing, singing and laughing!

Click here to see more pictures of the event.

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Trip to Miguel Pereira and Rio de Janeiro

In the mountains of the State of Rio de Janeiro are many beautiful towns, surrounded by the Altantic Forest and peaks. One such place is Miguel Pereira, a town with a population of 26 thousand people. It’s only about 90 minutes from Rio and because it’s not too high (600m altitude), the temperature is always quite pleasant there. A devotee couple recently opened a preaching center there and invited me to give a lecture.

Actually, the recent story of this couple is a nice example of how Krishna makes wonderful and unexpected arrangements for His devotees. The couple fell quickly in love last year and got married soon after. However, they did not want to live in Rio (the husband, Tulasi Bhakta Prabhu, is a policeman – imagine being a policeman in Rio!). Praying to Krishna for guidance they embarked on a tour of the country, a sort of honeymoon/pilgramage, visiting many different ISKCON temples and projects in Brazil, as well as other scenic spots. In their travels they met a pious lady from Miguel Pereira. She immediately liked them (they are very likeable!) and offered them a beautiful, well located house in Miguel Pereira – for free! There was only one catch: they would have to maintain an ISKCON preaching program there, with at least one program a week. She signed a two-year contract with them. Just amazing! And the wife, Radharani DD, was already pregnant by this time too. So, in the space of about 10 months, Radharani and Tulasi went from not even knowning each other, and both living in the temple (one in Rio, the other in Belo Horizonte) to being married, with a baby (she was very premature but healthy), and an excellent, free house/preaching center in this charming town in the mountains! By the way, they met and fell in love in Pandavas Paradise!

They organized the program very nicely and managed to get a full half-page article in the local newspaper about the lecture. As a result, the small preaching center was packed to maximum capacity (just over 30 people). My wife started with a nice bhajan and then I gave the lecture. The crowd was very interested and asked lots of questions. It’s a great lecture that I have taught in several different cities: “Karma, What it Is and How to Get Rid of It!”.

In the end we managed to sell several books and CDs.

The next day we came to Rio de Janeiro, where I held a “12h Gita”. It’s a lecture I have come up with, which contains the full content of the Gita, and key quotes from Prabhupada’s purports. It’s quite intense (nearly 500 slides worth of powerpoint), but gives the participants a full view of the Gita, allowing them to perceive the flow of the entire text and Krishna’s message. I don’t read all the verses, but I do include all the information contained in them, in the same sequence. It’s the second time I’ve done this presentation and the students have given me very positive feedback.

On Sunday I was invited to give the Sunday Feast lecture at the Rio ISKCON Temple. I spoke on “Karma-yoga”, to a lively and attentive crowd.

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