HH Giriraja Swami

teacher-girirajswamiGiriraja Swami was born Glenn Phillip Teton, the only son of a respected Chicago lawyer, who was later appointed a judge. In March of 1969, while studying at Brandeis University in Boston, he met His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, from whom, he felt, he had learned more in one brief exchange than he had in his many years of academic education. After graduating from Brandeis cum laude, he accepted formal initiation from Srila Prabhupada and received the spiritual name Giriraja Dasa. Giriraja quickly became a leading member of the Boston center and was soon given the opportunity to go to India with Srila Prabhupada, where he helped establish ISKCON.

In 1972, Prabhupada appointed Giriraja president of ISKCON Bombay and trustee of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Since then, he has made many significant contributions to Srila Prabhupada’s mission, most notably overseeing all aspects of the development of Hare Krishna Land in Juhu, Mumbai. He was instrumental in the acquisition and development of the Bhaktivedanta Ashram in Govardhan and led the development of Kirtan Ashram for women, the Bhaktivedanta Hospice, and the Vrindavan Institute of Palliative Care, all in Vrindavan. Through his efforts, Giriraja Swami has become renowned for the austerities he has accepted, his loyalty and dedication to Srila Prabhupada’s mission, his ability to raise funds and cultivate important members of society, and his care for devotees around the world.

In the year following Srila Prabhupada’s departure in 1977, Giriraja was awarded the renounced order of life and appointed president of ISKCON’s board of trustees in India. In 1982 he was appointed to ISKCON’s Governing Body Commission, and he went on to oversee the Society’s activities in Mumbai, Mauritius, South Africa, Spain, Portugal, Sri Lanka, and Pakistan.

Giriraja Swami has also taught at the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education and continues to lecture and give presentations at japa retreats and workshops around the world. Presently based in Carpinteria, California, Giriraja Swami is now focusing on one of the main personal instructions he received from Srila Prabhupada – his writing. He is author of Watering the Seed and Many Moons, and is working on several other publications, including a book about death and dying in the Vedic tradition, his search for a spiritual master, and his early days in the Boston temple, his travels with Srila Prabhupada in India, and Srila Prabhupada’s monumental efforts in Bombay, and on Vaishnava holy days.

www.girirajswami.com

HG Bhurijana Prabhu

teacher-bhurijanaH.G. Bhurijana Prabhu first met Srila Prabhupada at 26 Second Avenue in 1968 and was initiated by him later that year. After preaching in Japan for about a year, in 1970 he, along with his wife Jagattarini dasi, opened ISKCON’s first Hong Kong center. Throughout the early 1970s Srila Prabhupada would many times meet with Bhurijana and his wife during Srila Prabhupada’s tours of Hong Kong, Japan, Philippines, Fiji, Australia, and New Zealand. In his last meeting in 1976, Srila Prabhupada asked Bhurijana Prabhu to help develop ISKCON’s educational system. Since then, he has taught both academic and ashram courses at Gita-Nagari and in Vrindavan, including several teacher training courses in Vrindavan.

In 1987, again in Vrindavan, he began the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education (VIHE), where he has taught courses in teaching, writing, and Bhagavad-gita As It Is, Srimad-Bhagavatam, The Nectar of Devotion, Nectar of Instruction, Sri Isopanisad, and soon, Sri Caitanya-caritamrta.

To fulfill Srila Prabhupada’s desire for a strong educational thrust in ISKCON, he organized degree courses in Srila Prabhupada’s books, especially Srimad-Bhagavatam. It’s no wonder, then, that his main topic at the annual Govardhan Retreat is the Bhagavatam.

Bhurijana Prabhu has written several books, including The Art of Teaching, Surrender Unto Me (an in-depth study of the Bhagavad-gita), Studying Srimad-Bhagavatam, My Glorious Master, and Unveiling His Lotus Feet (an in-depth study of the first four Cantos of Srimad-Bhagavatam). He is currently working on a book that will study cantos 11 and 12, and is planning for a third in the series, covering cantos 5–9.

www.bhurijanadasa.com

Vrindavan Town

Vrindavan town sits beautifully on the banks of the Yamuna River, one of the guardians of the dhama. The town is also known to host more than 5000 temples, with the most prominent being those of the Six Goswamis. Make it a point to visit the famous Krishna-Balaram Temple, which was established by His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada and which he called his home in this world. Inside the temple gates you’ll also find his Samadhi Mandir as well as the seat of the Vrindavan Institute for Higher Education (VIHE), which organizes our annual retreats. In Vrindavan, we also find the self-manifest deity of Gopesvara Shiva there, along with Srila Rupa Goswami’s deity of Yogamaya (Paurnamasi). These together with Vrindavan’s dust, which is freely available in any of Vrindavan’s lanes, bless any pilgrim with full success on their pilgrimage..



Srila Prabodhananda Saraswati Thakura gives us some affectionate advice: “O saintly person, if you cannot suddenly renounce the dreamlike world, then day and night meditate on Vrindavan. Worship Vrindavan’s king and queen. Always chant Their holy names and hear Their glories. With food, clothing, and other gifts, serve the residents of Vrindavan.” (Vrindavan-mahimamrita, Sataka 1)


One good way to worship Sri Sri Radha-Krishna in Vrindavan is by reciting prayers to each of Vrindavana’s three main Deities, which were established by three of the Six Gosvamis:


Prayer to Radha-Madana-mohana, the presiding deity of sambandha-tattva:

jayatam suratau pangor mama manda-mater gati mat-sarvasva-padambhojau radha-madana-mohanau

Glory to the all-merciful Radha and Madana-mohana! I am lame and ill-advised, yet They are my directors and Their lotus feet are everything to me.


Prayer to Radha-Govinda, the presiding Deities of abhidheya-tattva:

divyad-vrndaranya-kalpa-drumadhah srimad-ratnagara-simhasana-sthau srimad- radha-srila-govinda-devau presthalibhih sevyamanau smarami

In a temple of jewels in Vrindavan, underneath a desire tree, Sri Sri Radha-Govinda, served by Their most confidential associates, sit on an effulgent throne. I offer my most humble obeisances unto Them.


Prayer to Radha-Gopinatha, the presiding Deity of prayojana-tattva:

sriman rasa-rasarambhi vamsi-vata-tata-sthitah karsan-venu-svanair gopir gopinathah sriye ‘stu nah

Sri Srila Gopinatha, who originated the transcendental mellow of the rasa dance, stands on the shore in Vamsivata and attracts the attention of the cowherd damsels with the sound of His celebrated flute. May they all confer upon us their benediction.

Varsana

Varsana is worshiped as the place where the Queen of Vrindavan holds court for six months a year. It is filled with gardens and ponds like Radha Sarovara in the Gahavarvana Forest, which remind us of Radha and Krishna’s pastimes. Who could ever forget the walk through the forest of Varsana that brings one to the magnificent Sriji Mandir? Who could forget Mayura-kutir, the place where Radha and Krishna took the forms of peacocks to dance Their famous peacock dance? And who could forget the innumerable holy places distributed over the four sacred hills, which according to ancient scriptures are the heads of Brahma, the creator of the universe?



In Varsana, an important pastime took place, by which Lord Krishna assumed a golden color, thus indicating His future appearance as Sri Caitanya Mahaprabhu. For details, ask one of the residents at Pili-Pokhara.

The tranquility of Varsana, and the atmosphere filled with remembrance of Radha and Krishna, make it an ideal place for our annual Holy Name Retreat, which is highlighted by a 12-hour kirtana in the midst of the wish-fulfilling trees of Gahavarvana Forest.


Here’s a nice song the residents of Vrindavan sing about Varsana:

O Krishna, please come to Varsana. Your beloved Radha is calling You.

O Krishna, if You do not know the way, then just come, walking street after street, and follow the call of Radha.

All of a sudden You will see a tall hill, on which the gem-studded palace of Your Radharani stands.

Just come up the stairs step by step – Your Radha is calling. With the peacock feather on Your crown and rings in your ears, You will appear very sweet.

On a flute made of fresh bamboo You will play some beautiful notes, or You might come through Sankari-khor and pass Your lake.

In Varsana there are pots filled with butter and sugar candy that You can eat with Your own hands.

Please come – Your beloved Radha is calling You.

Radhakund

The exalted position of Sri Radha-kunda, “lake of Radha,” is praised by the great saint Raghunatha dasa Goswami with these words:

Although Sri Govardhan is the area where the confidential loving pastimes of the Divine Couple take place, there is still one place in Vrindavan still higher. All the other pastime places are not equal to a mere shadow of the glories of Radha-kunda, which is as dear to Krishna as Srimati Radharani Herself. (Vraja-vilasa-stava)



By merely bathing once in Radha-kunda one can be overflooded with the most exalted divine love.


Mantras for taking bath in Radha-kunda:

radhika-sama-saubhagyam sarva-tirtha-pravanditam prasida radhika-kunda snami te salile subhe

Your good fortune is equal to that of Radhika herself. You are honored by all holy places. O Radhika-kund, please favor me. I am now bathing in your sacred waters.


Mantras for taking bath in Syama-kunda, Radha-kunda’s neighboring pond:

udbhutam krsna-padabjad arista-vadhatas chalat pahi mam pamaram snami syama-kunda jale tava

You were born from the lotus foot of Krishna on the pretext of his killing Arista. O Syama-kunda, please protect me, a most fallen soul. I am now bathing in your waters.

Govardhan

You’ll find Govardhan Hill on a map of India about 80 km NW of Agra. On a transcendental map, however, Govardhan is at the center of the spiritual world, Goloka Vrindavan.



When Krishna lifted Govardhana Hill, He wanted to show that taking exclusive shelter of His lotus feet protects us from all obstacles and dangers – even the wrath of an offended King Indra, who attempted to flood Vrindavan. It was no effort for Krishna to protect either His land or His devotees; He simply lifted Govardhan over His head like a huge umbrella and offered whoever wanted it shelter. Nothing has changed. Taking shelter of Giriraja Govardhan still offers pilgrims perfect spiritual security and, magically, fulfills their desires.

The residents of Vrindavan know Govardhan’s mood. Brijabasi schoolchildren circumambulate Giriraja for help in their upcoming exams and farmers pray for a good harvest. But devotees know that Giriraja Govardhan can bless them with the ultimate gift – pure love of Sri Sri Radha and Krishna and the opportunity to serve Them.

Giriraja can best be served by circumambulating him, engaging in kirtana, and hearing and chanting the glories of Giridhari Krishna, who held him aloft for seven days on the little finger of His left hand. Some perform their worship by continuously offering him their prostrated obeisances as they circumambulate.


Govardhan prayers

Obeisances to you, who are the crown of Goloka and who sits on Vrindavan’s lap. Obeisances to Govardhan, the umbrella of the Supreme Personality of Godhead! (Spoken by Sri Krishna in the Garga-samhita 2.2.15)

Five Gatekeepers

In Vrindavan it is well known that a border separates its material and spiritual dimensions. To exit one realm and enter the other we need permission from Vrindavan’s five gatekeepers:

holydham-gatekeepers1) Govardhan Hill

2) The Yamuna River

3) Yogamaya

4) The dust of Vrindavan

5) Gopesvara Mahadeva (Lord Shiva)

 


For your pleasure and to encourage you to visit, here are the prayers recommended for each of these transcendental guardians:


Govardhan pranams

namaste girirajaya sri govardhana namine ashesha klesha nashaya paramananda dayine

I offer my respectful obeisances unto the king of hills whose name is Govardhan. He destroys unlimited miseries and bestows the highest bliss.


Obeisances to the Yamuna River

gangadi-tirtha-parisevita-pada-padmam goloka-saukhya-rasa-puramahim mahimna aplavitakhila-sudhasu-jalam sukhabdhau radha-mukund-muditam yamunam namami

I offer my obeisances to Yamuna, whose lotus feet are reverentially served by all holy places, including the Ganga. Her exalted currents carry the blissful nectar of Goloka, and she has attracted by her greatness all the sanctified waters to fill her. She delights Sri Radha and Mukunda, immersing them in an ocean of happiness.


Prayers to Yogamaya Devi (Paurnamasi Devi)

kuladevi yogamaya more kripa kori avarana sambaribe kabe visvodari

O Yogamaya! When will you show mercy to me by lifting up the curtain of illusion with which you shroud the universe in your external form of mahamaya? You are known as Kuladevi, the transcendental worshipable goddess of all the vaishnava dynasties.

e dase janani! kori‘ akaitava doya vrindavane deha‘ sthana tumi yogamaya

O my dear mother! Showing your causeless mercy to this servant, give me a place in Vrindavan, for you are Yogamaya herself (the internal energy of yoga, or union).

(Kalyana-kalpataru, by Srila Bhaktivinoda Thakura)


Prayers to the Dust of Vraja

The following excerpt from Srila Prabhupada’s Krishna book (chapter 38, “Akrura’s Journey to Vrndavana”) is exemplary: “One who intends to visit Vrindavan should follow the ideal footsteps of Akrura and always think of the pastimes and activities of the Lord. As soon as one reaches the boundary of Vrindavan, he should immediately smear the dust of Vrindavan over his body without thinking of his material position and prestige.”

sukhamaya brndaba – kaba habe darsana se dhuli lagibe kabe gaya preme gadagada haina – radha-krsna-nama laina kandiya bedaba ubharaya

When will I see the blissful land of Vrindavan? When will I smear the dust of Vrindavan over my body? When will I walk about Vrindavan, loudly singing the names of Radha and Krishna and crying, my voice choked with ecstatic love?

(Prarthana, by Srila Narottama dasa Thakura)


Prayers to Gopeshwar Mahadev

srimad gopisvaram vande sankaram karuna-mayam sarva-klesa-haram devam vrindaranya-rati-pradam

I offer my respectful obeisances to Sri Gopesvara, who is the merciful Lord Shiva himself. He removes all troubles and grants spiritual love in Vrindavan.

(Sri Bhakti-ratnakara 5.374)

The Retreat Center’s Design

Designing the Govardhan Retreat Center is not so different from designing a hotel or conference center. Yet this Retreat Centre will not be a hotel. It will be a sacred space at Govardhan Hill where Giriraja can work his wonders – the spiritual energy at Giriraja Govardhan can help aspirants more easily enter higher states of consciousness than is possible anywhere else, because Govardhan Hill is a place of transformation.



Whenever practical, our designers have followed vastu principles. But the Retreat Center’s primary alignment will be toward Govardhan Hill.

As far as practical the Retreat Centre will be built

  • in an environmentally friendly way
  • in a way that is harmonious with the Vrindavan surroundings
  • to be energy-efficient and “green”
  • with good, durable, quality materials
  • in a way that maintenance costs remain low.

We are planning:

  • two seminar rooms and a hall which, when extended, can host groups of more than 500 people
  • comfortable rooms – in the first phase, we will build 30, double-occupancy rooms with adjoining baths
  • VIP rooms
  • “contemplation-friendly” landscaping: the position of the buildings, the creation of a meditation garden, walls, and other forms of screening will create a number of secluded areas for chanting, reading, and meditation
  • to plant numerous trees to attract and shelter Govardhan’s birds. Flowering bushes will encourage a Vraja mood
  • bhajana-kutirs – several simple, small cottages that provide the required silence required for concentrated chanting and hearing
  • a central kirtana hall
  • kitchens for both private and group cooking

Our humble Beginning

The greatest reward for a Krishna conscious teacher is to assist a student to reach nourishing, inspired, spiritual depths. Sri Vrindavan-dhama, the holiest of pilgrimage places, is a spiritually sublime learning environment, and so the perfect place for absorption in the insights of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition. As Srila Prabhupada once said: “Oh, you can become more Krishna conscious in one day in Vrindavan than in ten years in America.”



So in 2000, Bhurijana Dasa and Sacinandana Swami started holding retreats in Vraja. Our first retreat, with only thirty students, took place under the trees surrounding Giriraja. We still remember crawling under barbed wire to get to our teaching spot! It was all very rustic. But we were totally convinced of our mission – so much so that even Vraja’s forestry department, seeing our eagerness to hear and chant about Krishna in His dearest place, allowed us to sit that close to Giriraja. Reports about the sweetness of hearing and chanting about Krishna in Vraja brought more and more devotees to our retreats. As the number of students has grown, so too has our desire to serve this ever-expanding community of students by building our own center in Vraja. These days, we host about 700 devotees who visit for the annual retreats over a period of two weeks. “Why,” someone asked recently “do you want to build something new when there are already so many buildings in the Vrindavan area?” Of course, ISKCON has a wonderful temple in Vrindavan, with convenient living arrangements at the MVT and the surrounding area. But the town of Vrindavan has become a metropolis, and it is increasingly difficult to find a room or even a rickshaw – and almost impossible to find even a peaceful place to sit. A retreat center away from all this has become necessary. We looked to Govardhan. We envisioned a peaceful location near the hill, and a building with comfortable rooms and an airy hall large enough to accommodate larger groups. We also envisioned quiet gardens and trees under which devotees can sit and chant while receiving darsana of their magnificent host, Sri Giriraja Govardhan himself. Pooling our money, and with the help of a few devotees – and, of course, a large dose of Giriraja’s mercy – we have now purchased a beautiful plot of land that suits all these needs. In 2013, after seven long years of trying to get a building permit, the Mathura Development District agreed to the design of our first phase and construction is set to begin. By Krishna’s arrangement we already have sufficient funds to begin construction. If this project inspires you, please join us in serving Srila Prabhupada and the devotees. “The Lord quickly enters the heart of those who with firm faith continuously hear and chant about His glorious activities.” (Srimad-Bhagavatam 2.8.4)

Our Vision

Knowing well the profound potency of holy Sri Vrindavan-dhama, our vision for a spiritual retreat center at the foot of Giriraja Govardhan is founded on the devotee community’s ever-increasing need to have a place in Vraja to enter deeper into spiritual practice in the association of other sincere seekers. We wish to provide a setting for individual and group retreats in this sweet and most holy of places.



The Center’s land is located about 250 meters from Giriraja Govardhan, between the villages of Govardhan and Jatipur.

The Center is designed to

  • be simple, soothing, peaceful, and sattvic
  • inspires contemplation and spiritual growth
  • encourage and enable entrance into personal sacred space
  • be saturated with the mood of Vrindavan

The Center will attend to the needs of two groups of visitors, each with its own focus:

  • ISKCON devotees seeking to deepen their Krishna consciousness and faith – so a peaceful place conducive to spiritual practice
  • General spiritual seekers who come to Vrindavan to be introduced to the sacred Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition – so an attractive environment in which to explore the teachings of bhakti-yoga

All rooms will be simple but comfortable and clean, so participants can relax and stay focused on their spiritual interests.