Sunday talk in Portland, October 1, 2023

In this busy workaday world, there is nothing quite so welcome as time off, and in particular time spent somewhere on vacation. We think of vacation as a time of renewal, when we can relax, maybe travel, and lift our spirits with the kinds of experience that add meaning and joy to our lives.

So, I want to tell you about such a vacation that you could take every summer, and I promise you that it will be one of renewal like no other, a vacation that might even be the highlight of your year… every year.

What’s amazing is not that such an opportunity exists, but that so many people pass it up. I’ll tell you more about it in a few minutes, but for now I’m going to hold you in suspense, because I also want to tie this into our reading today: In Surrender Lies Victory. That topic, and the vacation I have in mind, are largely about letting go of some of our old habits and ways that are never quite fulfilling enough, and looking to ways of thinking, doing and being that can fill those voids with a greater measure of personal enrichment and joy.

You probably think I’m going to talk about meditating more or taking time for seclusion – which are wonderful choices to make – but no, that’s not where I’m going with this. What I have in mind is filled with best friends and days of pure, inspirational fun. Would you be willing to surrender to that? The victory gained doesn’t even require winning a battle, it just requires a commitment to spend a week’s getaway in a multi-dimensional experience of earthly bliss.

Is your curiosity piqued? I hope so, because I’m going to try to sell you on an idea that I know from experience you will thank me for, but most of all for which you will thank yourself.

Another word for surrender, at least in a spiritual context, is renunciation. Sounds pretty extreme, doesn’t it. Renounce desires. Renounce old habits. Renounce the ways of the world. No thanks. Like St. Augustine once said in the early days of his spiritual quest: “Lord, make me good… but not yet!”

There’s a beautiful story that many of you have heard before about a once-wealthy Indian man who walked away from it all one day to live the life of a humble yogi, a devotee of God, free of material needs of any sort. He was asked after many years of his renunciation, why he would give up such luxury to be a penniless sannyasi. “You have it all wrong,” he answered, “I have given up a few paltry rupees for a life of supreme abundance and joy in God.” The true renunciate, he implied, is the person who seeks happiness in this world of duality and delusion, because that pursuit is literally bound by the law of physics to prove impossible to sustain.

But hey, what else is there to seek if not the pleasures that our emotions and our senses crave? Do we have to go to the opposite extreme and walk into the forest with just a begging bowl? What kind of a vacation would that be? “Make me good, Lord, but not that good! Renew my spirit, but go easy on my desires, habits and attachments, because I really like them.”

Why do we think that giving up aspects of our ego has to be painful? Well, the answer, of course, is that is what we’ve been raised and conditioned to believe. “What is wisdom,” says the little bird, “ if not to keep what is mine for myself?”

Don’t worry, I haven’t forgotten about that vacation. We’ll get to it.

Chances are, you came to Ananda because you were looking for more than the world out there can deliver. Highs and lows are fun while they’re high, not so appealing on the way down, and down is bound to follow up just as night is bound to follow day. There’s just no getting around it.

So, isn’t there some sort of middle way that is both directionally progressive and sustainably enjoyable? Is there somewhere I can go to kick-start my path of renunciation without having to forcibly give up anything at all… somewhere so inspiring that I’ll find myself letting go of old habits that do not serve me with hardly even having to make the effort?

What Yogananda brought to the world was a new expression of religion, an expression to be experienced, not merely read about or listened to in a talk

like this. We speak now of spirituality more than religion, because the spiritual path is one that we must make our own by living it fully, immersing ourselves in its environment in service and in the company of our fellow devotees.

What better way to do this than spending a week of spiritual satsang in an atmosphere of divine inspiration.

For the past 54 years, Ananda Village in California has dedicated an entire week each summer to the joyous renewal of every person who attends, renewal in body, mind, heart and soul. It’s a week open to everyone, and there is nothing like it… seven days of divine friendship shared by devotees from around the world, and celebrated with brilliant talks and discussions, satsang and sadhana, magnificent musical events, sacred ceremonies, fabulous food, and beauty wherever you look, especially in the faces of everyone there.

What I’m referring to is called Spiritual Renewal Week, and next year it will run from Sunday, June 23, to Sunday, June 30. Well, that’s nine months away. Why am I talking about it now? Because I want you to put it on your calendar now, and I want you to come with us. We’re going to make it trouble-free and great fun even before it starts, because Ananda Portland is going to rent a bus or a van for the trip to and from, and the more the merrier… literally.

If you’ve been to Spiritual Renewal Week, you know what an amazing experience it is. Devotees from all over the world fly in to be a part of it – from the across the country, from Europe, India, New Zealand and Australia – as many as 900 people, all of whom are your greater Ananda family. It’s a time of renewing old friendships and creating new ones, a time of connecting with Ananda’s pioneers of 40 and 50 plus years, and with newcomers visiting Ananda Village for the first time.

The Village itself is many hundreds of acres in the beautiful Sierra foothills of California, and what we want to do is let their staff know that we will be bringing 20 people or more – hopefully more – so that we can secure our accommodations and meals as soon as possible.

I promise you, this will be a week you will remember for the rest of your life as one of its true highlights. Is it expensive? Well, how much do you usually spend on a week’s vacation plus transportation? A thousand dollars or more? That’s roughly what we’re talking about, and I will be able to tell you more when I know how many are going to be with us. But I’m going to say again, and many others here will say it also, do not miss this opportunity to have a week’s experience like no other. Badri, Hanuman and Mari, Tom Shott, Pooja and Peter… talk to any one of us about this remarkable program, and do set the time aside to be with us. You will thank us, I guarantee it.

The energy here in our Portland sangha has really started to build. Great things are happening, more and more is possible, and I hope you want to be a part of it. What better way to reinforce and extend that momentum than in spending a week together in the embrace of beauty, inspiration and friendship.

Surendra James Conti
Spiritual Director
Oct 5, 2023

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