A Note from Janet Walker: I was privileged to be among twenty-some people, most of them women, who came together in June for an extended retreat held at the Dominican Spiritual Life Center in Niskayuna, New York. The retreat, led by Pravrajika Amalaprana from Sri Sarada Math in India, was intense. Focusing on the Yoga of Meditation, Mataji covered the whole of chapter six of the Gita in four sessions. We were blessed to have the almost constant presence of Amalapranaji in our midst. We enjoyed meditating with her, sitting with her at meals, talking with her individually, and just being with her under one roof.
An interview was later conducted with Pravrajika Amalapranu which contains important ideas for us to contemplate and assimilate into our lives. In abridged form, I want to share the heart of Mataji’s thoughts with you.
Sri Sarada Society (SSS): Mataji, would you comment on the role of the retreat in the Hindu tradition.
Pravrajika Amalaprana (PA): The meaning of the word “retreat” is retracing one’s steps. One leaves behind the worldly atmosphere with all its duties. You come together having the same temperament and the same ideals, with one object. You gather together and you make the effort to concentrate all your minds on a noble purpose, to attain some spiritual food. As I told you, it is just like recharging a battery. When a battery loses its strength, its energy, you put it into a full-loaded electric charger to get it recharged. In the same way, when we have used up our spiritual energy, when we feel as if we are lacking in that power, we need a retreat, where together we can sit and meditate and concentrate our minds to get divine help—from that divine source—to recharge our batteries. For that purpose only we come for a retreat.
SSS: Mataji, how does silence support the purpose of a retreat? Some people have told me that they thought it was very valuable at this retreat.
PA: In the beginning of the retreat I told you to avoid unnecessary talk. What happens when we come away from our usual routines and meet other people is that we carry with us the same old tales: talk about our family matters and so on. We have not really come away from them. We are actually still entangled in them. Though we have come away physically, our minds are still there. So to keep away from those thoughts, first and foremost it is necessary to be silent. We have to do this discipline: kaya, vaca, manasa. Kaya means physically, bodily. We have come away on retreat. Vaca means speech. This also should be controlled. You’re not going to talk only of your old things, old worldly things, and worldly entanglements. Finally, even mentally you must discard them—manasa.
Some talk is necessary. But then, very necessary, very essential talk- do it in a very slow voice, in a low voice so that it will not disturb anyone. Control of speech is very essential. Through speaking, you know, we waste all our energy. Speech, talking, takes really more than 50% of our energy. If we have controlled speech we have controlled a lot. Concentrate on your ideal, your spiritual thought. In a retreat, we have come away. This seclusion, this isolation, should help us.
SSS: What was your reaction to the retreat, Mataji?
PA: The people were serious. And I found a real earnestness among the members. They were really deeply interested. I myself was highly pleased being there with them for these three days. In their meditation, in their prayer, in everything—even while they took their food and all that—I found them very earnest in their striving. A very good group.
SSS: We wanted to take advantage of your presence, Mataji. How often do we have a chance to do this?
PA: No, no! You need not depend on any outside help. You can conduct a retreat yourselves. You have found out how very helpful it is. Why should this be so only when a sannyasini comes?
PA: Assemble together, have a program. Each and every one of you should be involved. It is good to have a retreat at least once every three months, or once every two months. It doesn’t have to be a big affair, where you need to rent a place. You can do it in the house of any one of the devotees. For one day, from morning to evening, twelve hours. You can do japa; if there are twelve ladies you can have
each one do japa for one hour. If this is done it will have a tremendous effect on all the participants. Do it in one room. Others will read scriptures, recite, do Gita chanting. In this way, you’ll actually have a program. Do retreats like this and see how beneficial they are. Why should you depend on a sannyasini to come? I told you how Indian householder ladies conduct retreats. And you people, you are so
very earnest in your efforts, and you are so devoted, you can also do this. You are all assembled in the name of Mother. You should do it. Mother will help you to do it.