A Spiritual Summer Retreat in Saranagati Village

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In an idyllic setting in remote British Columbia, children learn swimming, hiking, theater, archery, and candle-making—all in a Krishna conscious setting.

Some forty-five years ago, in the blue-green waters of the lake at Camp Kawakee, after much trepidation and practice I coordinated my limbs, head, and body into the fluid motion of the crawl. Finally I could swim. The four summers I spent in that small upstate New York camp gave me a love for the outdoors, for exploration, and for life without cars and television. There I became aware of the importance of camaraderie and of solitude. I learned how to resuscitate someone, how to properly treat wounds, and how to survive with minimal provisions. But it never occurred to me to question the goal of life or how to achieve that goal. And looking back, I think that no other Kawakee camper or instructor considered such questions either. For me, those questions were answered many years later—from my contact with the teachings of His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.

Srila Prabhupada repeatedly explains that this body is temporary, the soul eternal. In the human form of life we can, if we choose, give up material engagements and perform devotional service to the lotus feet of Lord Krishna without desiring worldly compensation. By serving the Lord with devotion, Srila Prabhupada says, we will gradually become eligible to return home, back to Godhead. He also says that we should not become fathers or mothers unless we can save our children from repeatedly being born and dying—that is, from the cycle of transmigration—by engaging them in the devotional service of the Supreme Lord, Sri Krishna.

These instructions are clear and are confirmed by the scriptures. And, for those of us who are parents, the last one is an especially great challenge. The futility of material activities and the need for spiritual life may be apparent to us, but our children want fun and excitement—a Camp Kawakee-like experience—especially during their summer break.

In a letter to one of his disciples Srila Prabhupada offered a practical solution to this difficulty: “The children should always be instructed by taking advantage of their playful mood. Teach them to play Krishna games. They can be cowherd boys, cows, peacocks, demons, etc. If they think of Krishna by playing just as if they are actually present in association with Krishna, then they will become Krishna conscious very quickly.” He further explained, “Let them learn something, chant, dance, eat much prasadam if they like, and do not mind if they have a playful nature. Let them also play and run. That is natural.” These instructions form the basis of the children’s summer camp in Saranagati Village, British Columbia, Canada.

Far removed from the hubbub and tension of urban and suburban life, Saranagati, a four-and-a-half hour drive from Vancouver, is a 1,600-acre lake-studded, “off the grid” valley in the Coastal Mountains, its residents dedicated to the principle of living simply and progressing spiritually through following the instructions of Srila Prabhupada.

The children’s summer camp, begun by Radha Kunda and Kartamasa Delaney, starts each day with the campers’ chanting japa, having kirtana, and then praying to the small Krishna-Balarama deities worshiped by this young married couple, both of whose parents are disciples of Srila Prabhupada. With Srila Prabhupada’s directives to guide them (”some exercise is required for development,” Prabhupada said), they organize the children’s day around physical outdoor activities and hands-on educational experiences. The campers make candles, learn archery, and help each other through an obstacle course. They swim and hike, create dioramas of Krishna’s activities, and for the pleasure of Saranagati’s residents, perform a play about the pastimes of the Lord.

When Radha and Kartamasa’s work as schoolteachers stopped them from continuing the camp in 2006, Amrita Devi became the head counselor, assisted by the campers’ parents and many Saranagati residents. Like Radha and Kartamasa, Amrita wanted the children to have fun, learn new skills, and become more conscious of Krishna.

Sitting in a hand-built log cabin, Amrita says, “The first instruction Prahlada Maharaja gave his classmates is that like adults, children can also practice the activities of devotional service. Out of all the many different species of life it is rare to achieve a human birth, and although the human form is temporary—as all material bodies are—it is meaningful because in it one can serve Krishna with devotion. Even a little sincere devotional service can give a child complete perfection.

Amrita pauses for a moment to help a camper with a woodworking project.

“We want the campers to know that devotional service is natural,” she continues. “We want them to know that Lord Krishna, the Supreme Personality of Godhead, is their most dear friend and well-wisher. Instead of being bewildered in their childhood and wasting time or getting involved with bad company, these children can serve the Lord. Their relationship with the Supreme Person is a fact, and they can act and speak in a way that will satisfy and please Him. Lord Krishna is beyond the conception of material knowledge, but He can be understood even by a child who serves Him with love.”

A day after the 2006 camp ended, one of the campers, Rasamandala, age eleven, said, “I loved the whole experience, from beginning to end. I can’t even say what my favorite activity was, because they were all so good.”

Her father, Yoginatha Dasa, said, “This camp is a chance for the devotee children to learn to get along with each other, to practice devotional activities, to learn new ways of serving Krishna, and to have fun in the process. It’s really not a camp at all but a spiritual summer retreat.”

About the Author: 

Vishakha Devi Dasi

Vishakha (pronounced Vi-shA-khA) Devi Dasi received an Associate of Applied Science degree with honors from Rochester Institute of Technology and shortly afterwards published her first book, Photomacrography: Art and Techniques. In 1971 she traveled to India, where she met His Divine Grace A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, read his Bhagavad-gita As It Is, and eventually became his student. She traveled with and photographed Bhaktivedanta Swami and his students in India, Europe, and the United States.