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  • Jessica Richmond

Babaji said,"No Need for Gloom. Let the Rooms Bloom!"

Five weeks into Babaji’s Bhakti Tirtha 6-month long course, and the seats sit empty, well, most of them, at least. The lecture hall is usually filled each year at this time with Babaji’s students from around the world. Each student has their own story of how and why they came to be here, part of the seasonal student body at Jiva Institute in Vrindavan, India. And each student also has their own unique story of how and why they cannot be here this year. Most of the students went home in the spring time, like they usually do, when the 6-month course is over. But no one thought that it would be so difficult to return in October. The only ones who are here now are the few who did not leave, for example, Vilasa from Germany, Malika from Italy, and Ananada Hari from Poland.


But take Manu, for example, Babaji’s longtime student and awesome musician. Manu went back home to Switzerland to work like he always does on the 6-month break from school. Sujani, his wife from Spain, chose to stay in India, forgoing her annual summer visit with her sweet mother. Instead, she kindly helped Kamala, Jiva's affectionate cow caretaker, to serve Babaji’s cows in the searing heat. Although Sujani was eagerly awaiting her husband’s return, to her disappointment in early October, the Indian government would not let Manu enter. The borders were closed due to COVID. Manu would not, could not and did not accept no for an answer. He tried with all of his might to figure out a way to get back to India. He even said that he will take a ship if that is what he has to do. As luck would have it, India opened up the border for a short gap of time, which Manu capitalized upon. He made it back to India just in the nick of time. He surprised his wife and all the rest of us one day when he just nonchalantly strode into the front courtyard like he had only been gone for a few hours. Manu was actually the only student who left in the spring and made it back for class this fall.


All of the other students are still back at home suffering their fate at the hands of COVID and other life circumstances that blocked them from coming back to India. For example, there is Bharata, also known as “Doctor Bart,” a friendly Ayurvedic practitioner from the USA. He left India after classes ended last April. His plan was to be back home in Pennsylvania to support his family during the COVID crisis, and to work to save up some money to support his India trip in the fall. But, like Manu experienced, when it was time for Bharata to return to India, the borders were closed. Bharata is still in the USA working, and caring for his family members. But at the same time, he is missing his much beloved cows of Vrindavan, and being in class, especially Sanskrit. Alex, one of Babaji’s new students, also from the USA, took the plunge and spent nearly one year at Jiva Institute. Just a few years out of college, he took the lessons he learned about life from Babaji back with him to his home in New Jersey and applied them at his job and in his personal relationships.


Then there is also a different class of students. Those who don’t stay for the whole six months, such as Tanvi, a smart German psychology student or Ladili, an energetic French translator for Babaji, with a flair for the creative arts. Sailesha, one of Babaji’s devoted Lithuanian students, comes each year for about one month in December and quietly soaks in sastra. Dina, Sailesha's wife, regrettably has not been able to visit Jiva for the last few years because she has been home caring for their small son. But, she has supported Babaji from home by managing the Jiva Institute's online store. Dineshaja, who has visited Jiva regularly in the past, also did not make it this year. However, she has been supporting Babaji from her home in New Jersey by managing his USA non-profit organization. Vraja Vinodini, another regular visitor of Jiva Institute, also was not able make it this year. Yet, she is enthusiastically engaged in editing Babaji's books. Bhakti Devi from Colorado spent one month here last year relishing her time connecting with friends and caring for the cows. Her husband, and Babaji's close friend, Dr. Ajay Jani, who generously supports Babaji, couldn't make it this year. But we hope he can join us with his wife next year. And Bhushanbhushanaga, a lifelong lover of the scriptures, also comes from Germany each year. He uses his holiday time from work to study from Babaji. Janaki from Maine has visited many times over the years, including one summer when she generously turned Babaji’s organic garden into a permaculture garden. Ananga Manjari, one of Babaji’s loyal French students, and excellent Ayurvedic massage therapist, comes every year for the 6-month course. But sadly for her, and for us, this year it just wasn’t in the cards.


There are also couples who come together to study from Babaji, such as the wise Ayurvedic doctor Tarun Krishna and his lovely wife, Sue whose sense of humor always makes me giggle. Professor Srikar and his artistic wife Shalini from Florida, also came for a visit this year with their cute and rambunctious 2-year old, Shyam. Angana and Ruci, a cheerful Lithuanian couple, makes the effort to come to India each year to be with Babaji whom they support throughout the year. Babaji’s students span the globe - even as far away as South Africa! One of Babaji’s god sister’s, Hema, from Johannesburg, came this year with her 3 kids in tow, and they had a lovely time at Jiva Institute singing in the morning kirtan, attending Babaji’s classes, and taking in the sights and sounds of this holy place, Vrindavan. Seeing Hema's teenage daughter twirl around in her new Indian gopi skirt made me smile at her beauty and our shared love of gorgeous Indian clothing. Students also come to visit together as a group, such as the group of Hinduism undergraduate students from Rutgers University in New Jersey. Babaji’s students, Rama Krishna and his partner Kulina lead this dynamic, fun group who stays for nearly one month each year. Alina Krishna, a PhD in Religious Studies student, has recently joined forces in helping lead the undergraduate students. The students go on cultural immersion day trips to temples and the Taj, as well as listen to Babaji’s lectures customized for their interests in love and life. A Polish group typically also comes annually, organized by their fearless and charismatic leader, Ela, whose love for India and Ayurveda is second to none. Vidya from Lithuania faithfully brings her group of spiritual-seeking Ayurvedic students. And a group of yoga students from New York city also comes annually to deepen their knowledge of yoga by listening to Babaji’s classes. The people whom I have named are just some of the vast group of Babaji's students that I have had the good fortune to spend some time with here at Jiva. There are many other students from all corners of the world, that also visit Jiva and contribute in their own special way.


Jiva Institute is an exceptional place, vibrant and full of a diverse group of people with an amazing set of interests and backgrounds. People's paths converge at Jiva Institute in their thirst for knowledge about the truth in love, life and spirituality. And Babaji does not disappoint in his potent lectures that deliver the timeless truths from the Vedas. But this year since only a handful of people are here, the usual high energy of this place has been dimmed to a quiet lull.


For those of us who are left at Jiva Institute, we go through our days as usual. But there is an underlying feeling of gloom in missing the familiar faces that grace this place. For example, one of Babaji’s longtime student’s, Malati, is not here. She went home to Germany for a short visit, but was not able to make it back to India. Her upbeat energy, smart questions in class, and presence in kirtan are sorely missed. The spot in which she has always sat for kirtan remains empty. No word has been spoken between us about leaving her place open like that, but maybe in a way we are all hoping she will just come through the door and surprise us one day like Manu did.


What I have realized during this past month is how much all of the special people from around the world who come here make up the fabric of this place. Each person has their own remarkable personality that adds to the uniqueness and vibrant feeling of being at Jiva Institute. In the morning when I enter in the temple, I remember Malati when I see her empty spot. I also remember Vira Devi from France, a professional musician, who gracefully leads our kirtans on her annual winter visits. And then there is Kubara from Poland, an excellent writer and philosopher in his own right, who usually comes for some time each winter. In class in the lecture hall, I gaze over at the couch and remember where Dr. Bart used to sit. I look to my right, and smile as I remember Hema from South Africa and her 3 kids sitting next to me as they took in Babaji’s lecture. I think of Purushottama Prabhu one of Babaji’s longtime friends. Purushottamaji is the one who introduced Babaji to Bhakti way back when. He always comes to Jiva Institute the first month of the school year and sits in the front row of class, enthusiastically asking intelligent questions. And then there is the lovely Bhadra from Malaga, whom spent one month with us last year, eagerly drinking in all that Jiva Institute has to offer from kirtan to classes to friendships to Ayurvedic treatments. And I can’t forget Professor Tanmaya Krishna from Florida, whom made a quick getaway from his family in India to visit Babaji for two days. He came in the winter last year and was so cold, tired and hungry when he arrived after an overnight train ride. But he didn’t care as much about that as I did. He hurriedly accepted the warm jacket and food I gave him. But he escaped quickly for a meeting and class with Babaji, like a small child eagerly running to the Christmas tree to see the gifts Santa has left for him.


These memories of the students who have spent time at Jiva Institute dance through my mind each day. One student in particular left something tangible behind for us all to remember him by. Gargamuni from Germany left behind a guest room that he had upgraded to more Western standards so it could be rented out on Airbnb. It is a quiet room tucked away in the corner of the third-floor guest house. Gargamuni furnished the room with a new handsome queen-sized bed, and a sturdy, wide working desk. He donned the windows with sky-blue satin curtains and a swift new overhead fan as well as a powerfully cooling new air conditioner for the scorching hot days of summer. He even hired a local artesian to decorate the bedroom wall by the desk. He thoughtfully adorned the bedside table with Babaji’s well-known Bhagavad Gita and the desk with Babaji’s Sandarbha book series. The room feels very grounding and comfortable. The personal touches in this room help us all remember Gargamuni for his creativity, thoughtfulness, love of learning and nature.


I began to think, since so many guest rooms are laying vacant at Jiva Institute, 42 to be exact, what if other people might also like to upgrade one room? This could be a way that we could include each student’s personality at Jiva Institute. That way when students are far away, there is still a little piece of them here in Vrindavan. What they think is important, what they have loved and learned over the years can be expressed in the room that they upgrade. For example, the room that Gargamuni upgraded has cow dung on one wall. That may sound gross to some of you, like me, who didn’t know much about it. But as it turns out the cow dung on the wall does not smell bad and it is surprisingly very purifying to the air. It is a natural disinfectant. Gargamuni explained another benefit to me that cow dung keeps the room cool in the summer and warm in the winter. There is a small sign beside the wall that educates guests by describing the use and health benefits of cow dung. The cow dung is one special touch to the room that enables Gargamuni to teach others about one thing that he loves about Vrindavan. Even though he is not physically here, his personality and interests are shining through in this room.


I began daydreaming about what different rooms would look like according to the myriad personalities that know and love Jiva Institute. I wondered if anyone else would be interested in this kind of project so I scheduled a meeting with Jaya, Jiva Institute's Executive Secretary, to share my idea. Jaya loved it and we ended up brainstorming for two hours on how this could work if other people also wanted to personalize a room. It was fun thinking of all the creative options we could offer for people. For example, if a student really loves art, she could fill the room with gorgeous paintings by local spiritual artists. If another student loves music, he could install speakers and have his favorite music playing. Or he could put some of the lyrics of his favorite spiritual songs framed on the wall. Perhaps if a student loves Ayurveda, well then, the whole room could have pictures, color schemes, oils, and shampoos related to educating guests on the Ayurvedic principles of balancing the mind and body. For the scholarly type of students, maybe they would want to install a bookcase in the room filled with all of their favorite books. They could even put framed posters on the wall with quotes from their most influential teachers. A cow lover could have pictures of cute cows hanging on a wall with cow dung. The room could educate guests not only on the healing power of cow dung, but also on how a person’s heart changes by caring for cows. I started feeling excited about the endless possibilities of ways in which the guest rooms could be personalized.


Jaya and I proposed our idea to Babaji. He quietly listened. I couldn't tell if he liked the idea or not because the look on his face was neutral. But when he started speaking, I quickly ascertained how he felt. Babaji said, “Jiva Institute is an educational institute, so making each room educational is a wonderful idea. We can think of each guest room as an educational room. You should write about this idea and invite others. This will be a nice way for all of us to feel close when we are so many miles apart. Working together to upgrade the rooms is a good way for us to get to know each other better and to engage in loving, harmonious relations. We don’t have to feel so isolated just because of COVID, quarantines, and social distancing. We can come together in small groups virtually and have fun working on this project. When guests come to stay at Jiva they will learn about so many unique things by staying in these different themed educational rooms, each with their own personality, and content to teach."


Babaji got up and swiftly headed out to get on with his busy, demanding day. Just before he walked out the door, to our surprise, he turned around and with a big grin on his face, he said, "No need for gloom. Let the educational rooms bloom!”


Feeling inspired, I wrote this blog to share the story of how this all came to be. Now we extend this invitation to you to sponsor an educational room at the Jiva Institute. You don’t need to travel here to personalize the room. You can simply just tell us how you would like the room to bloom! What would you like us to do to customize the room? Tell us the educational theme of the room, and what you would like to name the room. Once upgraded, the room will be ready to rent out, educating guests for years to come. Not to mention, the revenue generated from the room will serve as a generous donation to Babaji to cover some of the significant costs in keeping the institute running.


For pricing and to participate in the Rooms Bloom! project, please contact Jaya at: jaya@jiva.org.


To inaugurate the Rooms Bloom! project, Babaji named the educational guest room that Gargamuni sponsored, “Jivalaya,” which means the abode of Jiva Gosvami.

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