Monday, 1 September 2014

Sunday, August 31st, 2014

For Montreal

Montreal, Quebec
Before I left for a quick flight to Montreal, I discovered some guy sprawled out on the outdoor stair landing of our ashram. No doubt the fellow had passed out or was fast asleep or something, a result of some intoxication.
"You won't be able to stay here," I said as he was blocking the way.
Instantaneously he woke up, looked up to notice me and said, "Oh! Buddha!" I had remarked something to Dakshin, a monk visiting from Miami, and who had been standing nearby. The fellow managed to hoist himself to midway and said, "Oh! Another Buddha!"
"Yes, well, the two Buddhas are trying to say that you have to move on. Do you mind?"
He complied and left, hopefully to seek nirvana.
The purpose to my visit to Montreal was to do a talk during a festival in honor of our guru, Srila Prabhupada. I spoke about my personal time with him in Atlanta, Chicago, Detroit, and Toronto. About half of the anecdotes had to do with my walking with him and his entourage.
Then I learned from the coordinator of the event that in '68, when our guru made his first visit to Montreal to deal with U.S. visa issues, he had walked a good seven to eight kilometres from the Notre Dame Basilica to the ecumenical centre for visiting all religions: "Le Centre Montchanais." This was in June, July and August.
Also, he once mentioned he loved majestic flowing rivers which compelled him to walk along the riviere St. Laurent, up to Mont Royal Park.
Guess who's going to check out those locations on foot? Yes, to me they are pilgrimage places.
May the Source be with you!
6 KM

Saturday, August 30th, 2014

Dundas, ON
There is one thing I would like to declare, unofficially; that those Johnny-on-the-spot outdoor toilets are perfect self-realization cubicles.
I personally stepped into one of those purely to make a change into my swimming trunks for water exploration. In the cubicle next to me a woman entered saying, "Gross!", horrified at the contents. That's why I say, "A step into one of those units and you've got reality staring you in the face." It's the lump-sum of human bodily constituency. It's eye opening while the nostrils and mouth stay tightly shut.
The place of activity for the day was Spencer's Gorge, near Dundas, Ontario, which became a real hot spot for family and community fun. I spent the morning, and part afternoon, with our Brampton community; bonding, tracking, learning, chanting and having a picnic. It was a bhakti blast. The water experience took some bravado.
Every person that came to this outdoor haven circumvented barriers to reach the base of Spencer's Gorge/Webster's Falls. Vrajadham from Hamilton was our guide. He took us to what seem like Jules Verne's "Journey to the Center of the Earth". The notable place of ecstasy was right under the falls, a strong penetrating continuous shower. Going behind the constant pour was another "looking behind-the-scenes" experience. It was unobnoxious compared to the toilets.
The anatomy of this day was ending in Richmond Hill at the home of a godbrother, Subha Vilas. There, I delivered a theatrical reading of the Gita along with another spiritual bro, Krsnadas. Yes, it was well received, as was Kalyapani's song of Krsna done to an Irish tune. It was totally sweet!

May the Source be with you!
6 KM

Friday, August 29th, 2014

Don't You Know, We're Eternal?

Toronto, ON

I pulled out of the closet, my '96 blue backpack with the logo "Cross Canada Walk" sewn on, before I embarked on a Bloor Street trek for two hours. This small pack provides enough space for overnight provisions - a tooth brush, clean set of robes and swimming trunks. My destination was anywhere on Bloor St. until my host from Milton, Aindra by name, would see me from his car and then scoop me up for a ride to his home.
I like Bloor St. It's not raunchy like sections of Yonge. Bloor is multi-culturally vibrant. It has a more quaint "downtown" feel. As I was recently reminded from a mundane prospective, Petula Clark's song, "When you are alone and life is making you lonely, you can always go downtown." The transitional community phases from Bloor and Spadina range from Anglos, to Koreans, to Portuguese, to Polish. There are Carribean shops too - "Mom and Pop shops" - along the way. You are not in a crazy concrete jungle when you're on Bloor.
Perhaps, the most memorable encounter of today was not on Bloor but earlier in the day when I joined Godbrothers, Dharma and Krishnadas, both who, like myself, are in our 60's. Dharma has suffered from a stroke back in the early 80's. He moves slow and limped during our mini-procession. As we went down Yorkville Ave. with our kirtan, a group of guys were sitting at a patio outside a bar.
One white-haired man drinking his liquor and bearing a resemblance to Michael Douglas, shook his head in disgust when he saw us. Now, practically everyone who saw and heard us on the street was either indifferent or favourable in their response. This fellow seemed to discard us, "Aren't you, guys, too old for this?" Inside me, I took offense. Externally, I smiled and said, "Don't you know we are eternal? Have a nice day!" He kind of went blank. 
May the Source be with you!
12 KM

Saturday, 30 August 2014

Thursday, August 28th, 2014

Bracebridge, Ontario

Trees, Water, and People

I hit a few trails outside of Bracebridge with companion, Jay Gopal.  We had them all to ourselves.  The trees were with us though, only they did not walk.  We had red and white pines, cedar, maple, hemlock, beech, and more, which acted as our canopy.  True friends they are. 

At noon I embarked on the Lady Muskoka cruise, one that meanders the Muskoka River, and then to the lake of the same name.  “Tourists are down, ever since 9-11,” said one of the cruisers staff, “Americans don’t come as they used to.”  Anyways, water was all around and it was very tranquil, the whole 2 ½ hour run.  It was also my chance to connect with fellow passengers and make friends. 

Outside of forest and water, I had a great conversation with a Polish fellow who’s doing renovations at the Inn.  Being Polish, he declared his exposure to Catholicism, yet I found in him a sense of incredible openness.  He is currently reading Canto 7 of the book, “Bhagavatam”, and has immersed himself in the wisdom that tells of tall tales and deep philosophy.  He was enamoured by the self centred character, Hiranya Kashipu.  He talked and questioned long and hard, and I responded from the platform of Vedic philosophy, which he admitted, goes deep.  He did share with me some good material from Saint Augustine’s “The Confessions”:

In this life, which is said to be one long temptation, no one should be complacent… Restrain yourselves from the monstrous savagery of pride, from luxurious inertia of self indulgence, and from sham pretention to knowledge.
May the Source be with you!

9 KM

Wednesday, August 27th, 2014

Bracebridge, Ontario

Eeking Out The Last Of Summer Fun

The summer break for kids is nearing its end.  Vacationers are wrapping it up as a creeping in chill hits our evenings.  In the forests where the oak tree flows with acorns, the squirrels ‘go nuts’ with harvest.  In truth, this is the summer that never was, as temperatures rarely reached normal heights.  But that’s okay, moderation in temperatures and lack of balminess is my thing, if I might say so, selfishly.

From the greater Toronto area, four families and I took off for an outing.  This I see as the spiritual leader’s obligation from time to time.  The motive or the motif is, “Get with your people”. 

Once reaching Bracebridge, a quaint town of 16,000, the majority of the group vied for going to Santa’s Village, a mini (and multi triple that) version of Disney nestled in the northern forest.  I first had to question my purpose in being in this kiddies’ domain.  Once entering, however, I could appreciate the neatness of the place, and an ambience of innocence.  I felt it was a safe haven compared to being in a convenience store which solicits sex through magazine covers which are for sale.  Now you have to remember, I’m a monk speaking here.  By the way, our kids really loved Santa’s Village.  The teenage boys, however, got stimulated only when we returned to our host’s facility, The Muskoka Riverside Inn, which has incorporated within its premises, a bowling alley. Excuse the inside joke – the ‘Hari Bowling” alley.  Yes, I took a crack at striking the pins.  I did pretty good if I might say so.

Finally, my turn for greater stimulation, a walk to two local waterfalls from along the Muskoka to Saugeen River, and to trails beyond, completed my adventure with the Patel dynasty, that are ever so good at securing motel/hotel establishments doomed to fail, and turning them into hopeful enterprises.  The secret is family power.

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Tuesday, August 26th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Two Directions As One

I had been preparing for the next day’s trip to Muskoka cottage country up north.  Preparatory work for me means two things, one, get my chanting, and two, get my walking in.  Packing is minimal.  I’m only staying overnight.  So the idea is get body and mind tuned up

I ventured through nooks and narrow streets.  I came upon a place I’d never seen before in the city where I live.  I particularly attempted to hit walkways situated away from traffic.  I trekked for the first time up the street from where I live, University Avenue, and trailed down on its gardened strip of the boulevard in the middle.  I was surprised to discover urban labyrinths.  All the while I was chanting except for two instances when I briefly stopped to gesture at a First Nations fellow who was quite drunk, yet he knew enough culturally to offer his pranams when seeing me. 

My next and final encounter was with two Caucasian chaps who did their best at saying “Namaste”.  Both of them, brothers, had been to India.  They spent some time there, then came back to North America only to experience a type of “subtle hostility” as they put it.

“Yes, India’s a place of physical chaos, but mental peace,” was our mutually agreed upon attitude about the country.  Neither communities, east or west, have the ideal situation as they stand on their own.  East and west should be able to find solace in drawing together the strengths from each side. 

So, let there be a marriage, a gorgeous celebration! 

May the Source be with you!

10 KM

Monday, August 25th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Make Light!

I know some people who visit our ashram and who have challenges in life with imbalance. Whether on medication or not, I advise them to get more physical for their well-being. Such people do seek advice. They sometimes anticipate some spiritual counsel and surely I will deliver.  At the same time I will suggest physical accomplishments – the use of head to toe, the swaying of legs and swinging of arms. In short, the ancient art of walking works.

It is also in walking that one reaches a creative optimum. There are things you see, smell and wander over in the course of movement that helps to bring out the most in an individual.

Sometimes I meet folks who carry extra karma (lbs.-wise) and surely I will tactfully recommend walking. For the slim and trip, I’ll do the same – advise them that their obligation is to stay inspirational to others. “Please remember though, you are not the body. You are the spirit.”

For the youthful, anything to get them for free time from gadgets. “Walking beats all,” I say. To the elderly, well, in his seventies our guru, Srila Prabhupada went on his daily treks. That, along with daily massage boosted longevity. In his own words he said of an emergency doctor, “That was good advice.”

Anyways, what do you expect a “walking monk” to say to an audience of readers? The monk part is about chanting and healing oneself with the subtle flab that hangs around inside you.

“Karma is a heavy thing,” a friend said when he encountered life’s bumps. I agreed with him and said, “Let’s make it light!”

May the Source be with you!

9 KM

Sunday, August 24th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario
Fill the Day
The start of today was kirtan. The middle of the day also called for kirtan. Then at the farewell bidding of the day there was also kirtan.
Kirtan refers to the celebration of sound. For those few of us who reside in our ashram we have the good fortune to be attending the first of the day’s chanting session at mangal arati. A half a dozen people come from outside our building. Most of the residents in our area are $1 million-plus homes. It makes it hard for our community members to even consider living near their place of meditation. Again, those of us who are practically able, are lucky.
Most mornings Manoj plays a soft roll on the drum. Nick plays a sweet, light clang on kartals (hand cymbals). The rest of us sing making this all a glorious welcoming to the day.
My second and third portions of celebratory sound were at Bhakti Lounge on Dundas Street. For the guru, Srila Prabhupada, young members, all born after his departure in ’77, sang the standard Guru Vandanam and then proceeded with their version of what’s called Vyasa Puja. Each one of the hardcore members, numbering about ten came forward to read (from a glowy gadget) their own scripted words to express their thanks. When it came to kirtan time, I was frankly concerned the floor would cave in when these jumping enthusiasts and the singing and drumming made that floor shake a bit. Below us is a chicken-eating restaurant. I’m sure eating clients chewing on their birds would not appreciate some monk suddenly landing on their table.
The final kirtan for the day was at our 243 Avenue Road location, again this time with three hundred folks ecstatic with letting the sound of Krishna’s name be of a powerful force that pushes maya, illusion, far away. Wish you could have been there.
May the Source be with you!
7 KM

Monday, 25 August 2014

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

Brampton, Ontario

2nd Annual

In between the two installments of trekking today, I had the pleasure to partake in Brampton’s 2nd Annual Ratha Yatra at downtown Gage Park.  “When a teenager,” I told the crowd, “way before I heard the word ‘Krishna’, I relaxed at this very park at the gazebo in the shady trees.”  Ron Casir, a friend, and I, hitchhiked one summer throughout southern Ontario looking to find ourselves.  I never would have believed that I’d be in this spot again, bald and wearing robes, 43 years after my moderate hippie phase. 

Since then, the park has been spruced up (I still see the same spruce trees, though).  The area around has been built up.  After all, the world in which we live is always changing.  The mayor of the city, which is now at the half a million mark, showed up.  Susan Fennell seemed to be all smiles.  My god-brothers, Kaliyapani and Gaura, also came to lead in the kirtans.  A special feature, undisputedly, was the drama of “Little Big Ramayan”. 

The organizers were happy, expressing a double increase of attendance from last year’s modest 500, it grew to twice that size.  Our route for the standard procession was ‘in the round’.  Four revolutions on this circular sidewalk constituted the journey of joy as participants pulled the chariot by rope.

One local guy, James, who came for the bulk of the program, came to see me, offered the greatest handshake, saying, “Thank you, and please pray for me.”  I thought he was going to cry.  I believe he did, at least internally.  Tears were dripping on his heart, he had such a good time.  Then James asked a group of us, “Do you guys know the Beatles?” and one of our members, Vaishnava, sang, “We love you, yeah yeah yeah…”  James corrected him saying, “No it’s, ‘she loves you’.”  And my response to that was, “No it’s ‘we’, in relation to you and us.  We prefer, ‘we love you’”.  At that point, James got it.

May the Source be with you!

11 KM

Friday, August 22nd, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

The Good About Kali

Sad for me to hear from a family lawyer, who’s a member of our community, that few people remain content in their relationships.  In her own words, “People don’t seem to learn from their past mistakes.”  She indicated that whatever personal weakness that an individual may admit to, he/she will not make the endeavour towards correction, hence, the same short coming spoils the chance for a relationship to work the next time around.

Separation/divorce is rampant, and it’s a challenge that faces every community across the board, across the globe. 

When I saw a park bench in the course of today’s trek, a grafiti’d message sprayed on to the bench read, “Sick Earth”.  I wasn’t sure how to interpret that line because sick in today’s language means, ‘it’s cool’.  If we take it to mean that the world is malfunctioning or is dysfunctional, I think this would be a more accurate assessment.  Patience and tolerance of character we lack, and it is a sure sign of the times.  We say, in devotional circles, “We are in the Kali Yuga (age of darkness).”  People are slow to inner development. 

At the same time that we languish in the conditions of today, we can also recognize the true optimism of the current day.  In our discussion this morning, after I took my personal short but sweet head clearing walk, the few monks and I reflected on the Kali Yuga’s strongest feature.  The sages of Vedic tradition say that through song of the right sound one can encounter ultimate hope and peace. 

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Saturday, 23 August 2014

Thursday, August 21st, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Tiny Spirit

Hanuman is a Columbian visiting us for some time in the ashram.  He and I, and Praveen, took a stroll before Surya (the Sun) poked his head over the horizon.  We were in the downtown on Yonge Street, so you couldn’t actually very well see that ball of glory beyond all the buildings unless you peeked east at a street running longitudinally. 

There are a number of men who work at the waste management plant nearby.  They are getting accustomed to seeing us on our devotional daily walk.   While they carry huge coffee cups in hand, they make a point to greet us with a, “Good morning”.

I had a humbling thought, “I am waste, I’m garbage.  Maybe they can manage me.”  It’s not for you to worry about a perceived low self-esteem issue, but I’m definitely not made of all clean stuff.  I’ll be the first to admit to the refuse within me.  I’m working on it though, I stay in positive company, hear positive sound, and eat positive prasadam(food that’s blessed).  I try to stay positively engaged in Krishna’s service.  I had the good fortune to deliver a class each day this week, it’s very purifying for me.  We have been speaking about the progenitors of the world, their rule and their counsel.  Reading and teaching from the ‘Bhagavatam’ reminds me of the smallness that I’m in and putting things in the real perspective.  I am a tiny spirit set in this universe.  I am a servant trying to get clean. 

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Wednesday, August 20th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Spook Trail

It was an obscure trail and it lead me upwards under welcoming shade.  It meandered a bit up to the ridge’s ascension along Bayview Avenue.  “No one comes here,” I figured, and then I doubted my conclusion, “Well, someone has to, otherwise, it wouldn’t be here.”  It was just by chance I spotted this path in the first place.  It’s totally off the beaten path.  I trekked it and started to question the trail’s direction.  I went up and then it indicated that it’s descending already. 

There, along this super attractive trail was the secret home, a cylindrical tarpaulin structure to a not totally homeless person.  I assumed vacancy at this time of day, 5 PM.  I forged ahead and then decided to retrace steps.  The direction it went was north and I wanted south.

When I came back to this secret lodge, if you will, I noticed a pair of hands at one end of the person’s plastic home, just inside the aperture.  Anticipating some clear directions from the person inside, I said, “Hello, hello?” a few times.  Only the hands were visible, the rest of the body was bundled up and in darkness.  One hand pulled in at the sound of my voice, and the remaining one was jittery.  It was thin and bony and light skinned, and it was moving in a jittery way over a small game board of sorts.  The utter silence spooked me a tad, but rather, helped me to think of Krishna.  I was hoping that at least I’d here a caveman’s grunt. 

With zero answer I was compelled to let instincts guide me, and so I eventually found myself hobbling over the hill into sunshine and stepping right into a healthy patch of poison ivy.  Too late!  I’m done!  I’m susceptible to this ornery plant.  That’s what you get for being slightly adventurous and leaving a main trail.  It’s all fun.  You just keep rolling fingers on the beads and moving your lips to the mantra. 

May the Source be with you!

6 KM