Skip to main content

Yesterday I settled into the Ishopanthi Ashram one day prior to the arrival of devotees for Dhanurdhara Swami’s and Madhavananda Prabhu’s annual retreat and parikrama (which is restricted to invitees only). This is a Christian (Roman Catholic) retreat center – a very nice, clean, quiet place where Father Ashley kindly welcomes
the Vaisnavas for one week. As I was chanting japa in the ashram’s grass courtyard yesterday, I met Archbishop John Barwa, the Archbishop of Odisha, who is spending some days here to rest after a heart operation.

I told the Archbishop about the Vaisnava-Christian interfaith gathering at Tirupati (hosted at ISKCON-Tirupati) which I attended about two weeks ago, and he was very pleased to hear about it. As we spoke a few minutes further I could appreciate his great humility and openness. When I “warned” him that the ashram will not be so peaceful when all the Vaisnavas arrive, so his purpose of getting some rest may be frustrated, he said, “Oh no, that is no problem, you are all engaged in spiritual activity, and this is not a disturbance!”

Then this morning, as he was leading a morning worship service for about twenty people (men and some young boys) in their chapel on the 2nd floor of the ashram, I went up to have a look (they were singing very nicely). The Archbishop saw me and motioned me to come in, so I came and sat down in the back, observing and listening. They were celebrating the feast day of the founder of their order, Saint Arnold Janssen (1837-1909). The Archbishop gave a very short homily (not more than five minutes), speaking in a nice inclusive way and acknowledging my presence (“Swamiji is with us”).

What struck me in the Archbishop’s homily was a point he made as he concluded the talk, about prayer. He said, “Prayer is power.” An interesting thought. Vaishnavas understand nija-sarva-śakti, the divine names of the Lord possess all the Lord’s power. We tend to think of power as something material (physical, political, military, legal), and often as something in opposition to spirit. But as Vaishnavas we recognize Sri Krishna (Bhagavan Sri Krishna, as the devotee Jivan Gaura-hari Prabhu in Chennai a few days ago would always translate into Tamil as I lectured to devotees: whenever I said “Krishna” he would translate “Bhagavan Sri Krishna”) as the all-powerFUL Lord. To consider prayer-as-power is to appreciate that, in the conscious directing of our hearts to the Lord, we are connecting ourselves (yoga) with His power. And Krishna’s power is the power of devotion, which works in wonderful and subtle ways. Prayer might be considered as “tuning in” to the wavelength of this higher power, through which Krishna’s grace becomes recognizeable.