Sahebji Youth Leadership Retreat 2017 (SYLR 2017) took place in the divine presence of Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai and Vratdhãri Santo, Pujya Jayeshbhai and Pujya Utpalbhai from December 23-28, 2017. It was the first retreat to take place at a location other than the Allentown mandir since 2009, where the location was Fremont, CA. Youth and Santo stayed at a large cabin in Pigeon Forge, Tennessee. Approximately 50 youth leaders attended, ranging from ages 15 to 31 years. Their daily schedules were packed with a variety of activities, which included sabhã sessions, team-building activities,group discussions and goshthi.
SYLR 2017 began with the arrival of youth leaders on the evening of Saturday, December 23rd. Atmiya (Lansdale, PA), welcomed the santo with pujan:
Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Utpalbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai. During the opening ceremony, Santo encouraged youth leaders to form new bonds and friendships over the next five days while also resolving to identify at least one lesson to take back home with them. Pujya Jayeshbhai, having just arrived from his trip to India, conveyed “Jai Swaminarayan” from Sant Bhagwant Sahebji and Sadguru Santo Pujya Ashvinbhai and Pujya Shantibhai.
Each day started off with morning Aarti (which included 30 min of dhun) and breakfast. Next, the youth leaders participated in a sabhã session followed by team-building activities. Following lunch, everyone split off into groups to play board games, playing cards, or pool. Later in the afternoon, leaders gathered again for open forum which offered them the opportunity to ask questions to senior leaders and Santo. Next, the leaders engaged in YYC 2018 planning. Before dinner, leaders and Santo performed evening Aarti. And after dinner the leaders were separated into smaller groups for Goshthi with Santo. Finally, to end the day everyone participated in group games: pool, “spot it” card game, “phase 10” card game, air hockey and charades.
Here is an overview of the daily events including captioned pictures and notes from each sabhã session.
Morning Sabhã Session – Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai & Pujya Utpalbhai
In the first session, Pujya Utpalbhai started off by highlighting the importance of the bhajan “Mauj Ma Rahevu Re,” for which Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada gave the agnã to memorize by heart. Pujya Utpalbhai provided a line-by-line literal translation of the bhajan so that youth leaders could begin to understand the meaning of each word of lyric. He admitted that although the bhajan was difficult to understand, if the leaders followed what it said, they would attain divine happiness. Pujya Jayeshbhai further expanded on the importance of Swaminarayan dhun, repeating the aagnã from Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada to do at least 10 min of dhun daily. He encouraged leaders to follow this aagnã and experience the spiritual benefits over time.
Finally, Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai reminded the leaders that each of them is special; chosen souls because they have met Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada, who is guiding them as akshar mukto. Accordingly, they have been connected to God since their birth and now have the duty to maintain and grow that connection with him.
Open Forum Session – Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai, Pujya Utpalbhai
During the first open forum discussion, Rushita and Maharshi spoke on the topic of Suhradbhãv and provided techniques for maintaining Nirdoshbuddhi in difficult situations. In addition, other youth leaders brought up challenging questions on how one can remain positive when faced with insurmountable hardships. Pujya Utpalbhai responded to many questions with practical examples and useful references from Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada. He emphasized the value of dhun-bhajan-prãrthanã, being the key to experience divinity and give one the strength to endure. He introduced the concept of forming a friendship with a Vratdhãri Sant and developing Priti. The session gave the youth leaders inner satisfaction from hearing such detailed responses to their questions.
Morning Sabhã Session – Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai & Pujya Utpalbhai
In the second sabhã session, Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai started off by explaining how we can develop Priti: once we have the habit of loving our parents unconditionally, we can then easily develop the same love for the Satpurush. Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai also explained the meaning of the Swaminarayan mahãmantra by defining the master-servant relationship between Shreeji Mahãrãj and Gunãtitãnand Swami. He reminded leaders of its power and protection capabilities. He also narrated prasangs from Gunãtitãnand Swami’s Jivan Charitra who showed his complete devotion and surrender to Shreeji Mahãrãj.
Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai also gave practical examples to show the roles God and the Gunãtit Sãdhu play in one’s life. One such example explained the way in which a mother protects her child from dangerous objects. Just as a mother sees her child accidentally playing with a knife and snatches it away to prevent her child from getting hurt, God also takes such things away from us which can hurt us, even if we are unaware.
To conclude the session, Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai gave “smruti bhet” to all the youth leaders, a mãlã and a copy of the Yogi Gitã, for leaders to use in their daily prayers, sent by Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada.
- Amit Patel (FL), one of many yuvaks to receive smruti bhet.
- Shilmi Patel (PA), one of many yuvatis to receive smruti bhet.
Christmas Day Gift Exchange
On Christmas Day, the youth leaders participated in a “White Elephant” gift exchange. All leaders brought small gifts with them to retreat, and during this session everyone sat in a circle and selected gifts one-by-one.
On December 26, the youth leaders left the cabin to explore the local area. One group of leaders went hiking at Rainbow Falls trail in the Smoky Mountains.
- Youths at the top of the hike
- Hiking Trail
Another group went to visit the town of Pigeon Forge.
- Pigeon Forge Town
- Mountain view from the top of a tourist attraction in Pigeon Forge
Morning Sabhã Session – Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai, Pujya Utpalbhai
In the third sabhã session, Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai had the youth leaders recite an oath (sankalp). Then, he answered questions on the various Hindu rituals we practice. He explained why we do aarti, pujan, pradakshina and more. After that, the youth leaders received blessings from Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada and Sadguru Sant Pujya Shantibhai via live video chat.
Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada congratulated the youth leaders on taking their valuable Christmas vacation time to attend this leadership retreat. He mentioned that they wouldn’t realize it then, but the knowledge they were obtaining was “sabij gnan,” meaning seed-like knowledge. He echoed the words of Brahmaswarup Yogiji Mahãrãj and asked the leaders to keep Samp, Suhradbhãv and Ektã in all their work. He emphasized how fortunate they were to spend time in the presence of santo like Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai and Pujya Utpalbhai, who are not ordinary Santo, but rather Anoopam Mission Santo with the highest level of sadhuta. He concluded his blessings by saying that there may be 50 leaders now, but 500 will be created along with them, and through all of these leaders, amazing work will be done for USA satsang.
During the second open forum discussion, younger youth leaders asked questions about balancing school/work with satsang, camp responsibilities, and performing seva unselfishly. Shivani, Rushita, Rutvik, Chandani, Maharshi, and Neil answered these questions by reflecting on their own experiences from the past. The overall theme among all the responses was that leadership means taking the initiative to get more involved and stepping out of your comfort zone. The youth leaders left this session feeling more self-confident in their leadership abilities.
In this group session, Shivani (Allentown, PA) asked everyone to sit in a circle and imagine that a giant bonfire was burning in the center of the circle. The purpose of the activity was to identify one thing that the leader would like to throw into the fire and get rid of, and identify one thing from the sky that the leader would like to take back with them. The youth came up with many creative and thoughtful answers. Some threw away their negative thoughts and close-mindedness, while others got rid of their stress and worries. At the same time, leaders wanted to take with them greater faith in their Guru, more positivity, and stronger friendships.
Closing Ceremony – Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai, Pujya Utpalbhai, Pujya Jayeshbhai
In the closing ceremony, many youth reflected on their experiences from retreat. Speakers included Ruchi (Lodi, NJ), Kunal (Rochester, NY), Kriya (Lansdale, PA), Atmiya (Lansdale, PA), Nupur (Peoria, IL), Kuldeep (Lansdale, PA), Jatin (Fremont, CA), Karan (Old Bridge, NJ), Karina (Old Bridge, NJ), Parth (Lynchburg, VA), and Maharshi (Poconos, PA).
Next, Pujya Utpalbhai spoke with great joy about how he felt so much positive energy during the retreat. He was so impressed that the youth leaders were willing to speak of their limitations so openly—to accept them and the desire to change is a very big deal! He ended by asking the youth to do three things: 10 minutes of dhun daily, to stay in touch with santo, and to remember that we are all the children of Sant Bhagwant Sahebdada.
Sadguru Sant Pujya Harshadbhai kept his final blessings brief, emphasizing that God is always there to help you, and is always listening to our prayers. He specifically wanted the youth leaders to remember: “I am God’s, and God is mine.” He reminded all the leaders to take with them the fact that each one of them is a chosen soul of God.
All group pictures (taken on Christmas day, Dec 25)
- All SYLR Attendees
- All SYLR Yuvaak Attendees
- Tennesse Youth Mandal
- California Youth Mandal
- Kansas Youth Mandal
- Lansdale, Pennsylvania Youth Mandal
- Michigan Youth Mandal
- Illinois Yuvati Mandal