The dates of June 20-21, 2020 marked a historic event for SRF/YSS: it was the first time the society had conducted an online event of such length and magnitude. The remarkable 24-hour online meditation, led entirely by monastics, united SRF and YSS as never before. It also symbolized one of the ways in which Yogananda Seva (YSO), the virtual community of SRF and YSS volunteers, is helping to bring SRF and YSS devotees from East and West together, both as devotees in spiritual practice and as a network of volunteers.
The word sevak is used regularly in Yogoda Satsanga Society of India to indicate “one who serves,” or as we say in the West: a volunteer. It was the dedication of many sevaks working behind the scenes to support the monastics that made these 24 hours flow smoothly. Months of preparation with the help of more than 35 volunteers led to the success of the 24-hour meditation. The team of volunteers included online usher technicians, audio-visual consultants, lay devotee and monastic technical support teams, volunteers who supervised scheduling and calendar management, online meeting managers, attendance and analytics volunteers, and devotees who provided communications about the event.
The dedicated service of the SRF and YSS volunteers, who joyously served at all hours of the day and night to make this special meditation possible, were uplifted through the service they rendered. One volunteer said:
“Everyone was striving to make the experience of those devotees tuning in around the world the very best it could be. This motivation was absolutely unanimous and it was a joy to be a part of it. In our team meetings, we are always asking, ‘How can we make it better? How can we do more?’ There is so much going on in the world that is challenging, but when you see this you have no fear, only hope.”
Volunteer teams held mock services before the actual event, to train and improve their operation and transition between different monastic-led segments of the meditation. Usher teams’ tasks included making sure slides were in order; doing audio-visual sound checks, light checks and harmonium sound level checks; monitoring videos and attendance, disabling chats and comments; guarding against lost signals; handling YouTube-related issues; and bringing each unique section of the meditation led from various locations and time zones around the world to transition smoothly so as to appear as one seamless meditation.
There was an immense amount of audio and visual equipment to manage — cameras, encoders, mixers, microphones, receivers, and adapters — that were initially purchased for the one-day retreat and were re-used for the 24-hour meditation.
SRF Online Meditation Center (OMC) ushers said they felt inspired to be part of such a dedicated team of volunteers serving Master’s devotees from around the world.
“Despite having to keep your mind on many different technical issues, the perspective on the world it gives you is so moving. Your Zoom computer screen is on ‘gallery view,’ so you are looking at all these faces of devotees – Master’s warriors – around the world, knowing that they are striving, in the same way you are striving, to do their best for him. It is such a blessing to see the work covering the earth like that!”
Throughout the hustle and bustle of the coordination, the volunteers felt the blessings of Guruji pouring down upon them. One volunteer said, “The 24-hour online meditation was a deeply spiritual experience for all of us who were part of it. It felt like Master’s whole world-wide family came together, collaborating and cooperating with harmony and a deep spirit of service.”
Another volunteer said:
“Guruji’s presence was so evident. Everything we did was with a spirit of friendship and harmony. As we held to that purity and harmony, wherever we were situated as team members, good things happened. We were sharing each other’s company in sadhana, satsanga, fellowship, all one in our love for God and Guru.”
The 24-hour meditation was led in segments by ten different monastics from Paramahansa Yogananda’s ashrams around the world. The first hour was led by SRF/YSS President Brother Chidanandaji at the SRF Headquarters on Mount Washington in Los Angeles; from there SRF and YSS monastics led periods of meditation broadcast from Ranchi, Noida, Mount Washington, Lake Shrine, and Encinitas.
Graphs were kept throughout the service of the numbers attending throughout the world. Each time there was a chant, an usher would chart the attendance. Never did the number of viewers drop below a few thousand during the entire duration of the service.
Many ushers for the 24-hour meditation expressed surprise at the energy that sustained them during the event, despite rising in the early hours of the morning to perform audio-visual checks and complete their service commitment. One devotee who serves as an online usher said:
“I see service like that as all part of guru seva. I had helped coordinate at the 8-hour online retreat before this, which was like a warm-up for the 24-hour, and I was astonished then at how smoothly it all went. For the longer meditation, we had less sleep (2 or 3 hours) but we seemed to have automatic energy. It all comes from the Gurus; they are there with you every moment.”
Another usher expressed it this way:
“At 4 a.m., I wasn’t sleepy, and I remembered that Master said that meditation is as good as sleep. I think that time of serving was just like meditation. The vibration was so strong; when it ended we all said, ‘Where did the 24 hours go? It went so quickly!’ Master blesses us so much. As the Gita says, he ‘supplies our deficiencies, and makes permanent our gains.’”
The success of the 24-hour meditation can be traced to the beautiful inspiration and spiritual guidance of the SRF and YSS monastics, the planning and preparation, the tireless teamwork and technical support, and the fact that the event ran so smoothly without any technical glitches. But the real measure of success was in the experience of the tens of thousands of participants tuning in across the world during those hours.
Over 22,000 participants from over 79 countries tuned in for part or all of this special meditation throughout the 24 hours, either via Zoom video conferencing or the YouTube livestream broadcast.
The outpouring of emails after the 24-hour meditation attested to the impact. One devotee wrote:
“Thank you for the 24-hour meditation for International Yoga Day. It opened with Brother Chidananda’s meditation that inspired us to go much longer than we would imagine! We kept the iPad going 24 hours and joined as often as we could, never leaving the presence of so many meditating and the inspirations of monks and nuns. We hope you do it every year. We need it and the world needs it. Oh, how lucky we are to have this path of Kriya Yoga. Jai Gurus. In deep appreciation,”S. S. and A.S.
“Just to say that was truly awesome. I joined the first four hours and hopped on board at intervals throughout the day. It was like joining a huge cosmic carnival traveling around the world bringing peace and joy. It was the virtual equivalent of Master’s devotees processing under his colourful banner of commemoration, singing bhajans and distributing prashad to every home in the world in 24 hours. I felt I was joining an astral dance-a-thon flowing underneath mortal existence. Thank you. Jai Guru!”J. O., France
A devotee who had stayed online the whole 24 hours said that it had the effect of Convocation in re-igniting devotion to her sadhana. Another wrote:
“The 24-hour meditation was for me a mini-SRF Convocation. It was perfectly orchestrated; the timing of the events of the Program were in effortless, harmonious flow from beginning to end. I did not feel at any point in time during those 24 hours a need or desire to move from my meditation seat for any reason, except to participate in the Energization Exercises. Jai Guru!”Anonymous
Surely such sincere effort in meditation allowed God’s unseen blessings to flow into the world through the receptive hearts of volunteers and participants alike. Jai Guru!