Building a Deeper Sense of Community by Carly Boland
The Ladies Sanga at Bhakti SF grew from special request of our community, as an opportunity for Vaishnavi's, (experienced and new alike) to come together and inspire one another to deepen in devotional life. Since August of 2019, it has been an honor and pleasure to organize a monthly interactive women’s discussion circle at San Francisco's Bhatki center.
Each month we share a day for ladies to explore the intersection of the devotional wisdom of the Bhakti Yoga tradition and the lives of women in the 21st-century. The sessions begin with an opening kirtan, which softens our hearts and creates the space for connection. We get ecstatic, dancing and chanting, sometimes even taking the Holy Name out to the streets for a boisterous Harinam! It is so rare to chant with only the Vaishnavi's and I've been practicing on mrdanga to provide sweet rhythm when our more seasoned drummers are not around.
After the kirtan we have a class. Often we host esteemed guest speakers, (last month HG Malati Devi Dasi attended) but sometimes it is more of an open forum. We might read together a devotional verse, song, or commentary as stimulus, allowing the wisdom presented to the ignite lively sharing of ideas, struggles, inspirations and hopes.
For me, the space created in the Ladies Sanga feels completely safe and free of judgment, which is quite rare for a group of women in my experience. Because of the respect and compassionate mood of the gathering, I feel comfortable revealing the contents of my heart and mind, and that mood carries across the intimate gathering. Even our struggles and shortcomings can easily be revealed, with the understanding that each of us greatly desire the spiritual success of the other.
The program unfolds itself organically and beautifully, like a lotus opening for the sun. Those more experienced on the Bhakti path are able to give insights and realizations, supporting the growth for the newer ladies and for all who come to share. Regardless of experience, the space of our monthly sanga truly feels pure in the shared desire of purification and service to the Supreme. This safe space and sanga acts as a wellspring and I feel my devotional cup getting filled. The sangas enable me to go out into the world and water the seed of devotional service throughout the month in my regular seva and sadhana.
Sanga is a Sanskrit word that means “assembly”, “association”, and “community”. This monthly gathering is more than just a bunch of women in a room. We strive to build deep connections that move each participant towards women’s spiritual empowerment. We bring together a love for building community and diving deep into Bhakti Yoga. Between sessions I either see or call (or text) most of the Vaishnavis just to check in, to see how the lessons shared are settling and we connect about how our sadhana is growing or feeling stuck. The effects of the sanga deepens throughout the month, fueling me with the encouragement and feedback shared.
I almost forgot to mention, the prasadam served after the discussion is the most delectable prasadam you will find! Bhaktin Katya loves the service of preparing the feast and to quote HG Kanka Devi Dasi after sanctifying the prasadam, "Katya, You are going to cook your way right back to Godhead!"
We invite all ladies to join us for an intimate session consisting of activities such as meditation; reading and discussing philosophy; singing and dancing; eating together; making new friends; and much more! We gather together to support each other in spiritual practice, develop faith, open our hearts and learn from each other.
Our next sanga will be Saturday, November 23rd at 11am and we will meet at Bhakti SF—1227 Folsom St, San Francisco, CA.