Wednesday, 29 October 2014

Thursday, October 23rd, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Under Siege

“Under Siege!” read the headlines today.  The news from Canada’s national capital, the Parliament Buildings in Ottawa, received global attention.  For many countries it became the top story.  A gunman managed his way into the Parliament Buildings and fired away, killing one security guard, and in the process of his madness, lost his own life.  People are rather shocked that such a crazed person was able to enter the nation’s inner sanctum.

We live in very disturbed times.  It is a feature of the era of ignorance, kali.  In the case of the gunman who lost his life, apparently it was the shadow of irreligion that clouded the man’s consciousness.  Obviously he was not at peace with himself.  And once again the jihad notion gives religion a bad name. 

After I had heard the news from a friend who informed me by phone from New York, I felt a shake up feeling inside.  What was ironic about this sad day, however, is that many calls came in from people, but not to do with the tragedy in Ottawa.  The calls were actual inquiries about Diwali, the New Year.  This event commemorates Rama’s glorious victory over evil forces.  “When are we celebrating Diwali?” and “How are we celebrating Diwali?” people asked.  It was hours of this that I played telephone reception.  A good crowd came in the evening to chant, hear readings of the Ramayan, and partake in prasadam.

By the day’s end I could get out to walk to take time to reflect and perhaps even to redefine my take on this dual world in which we live.  On the one hand you have darkness and on the other hand you have something that lights up. 

May the Source be with you! 

5 KM

Wednesday, October 22nd, 2014

Mississauga, Ontario

It’s For You


I was hosted by Dharma and Manasi Ganga, a couple from Mississauga.  After the overnight stay, I helped myself to the streets before dawn.  It’s somewhat easy to get lost, being in the dark, and in the area of cookie-cut homes (where all looks the same), and lastly, when you put priority on the sound of the early morning – the maha mantra

Emanating from this humble servant’s mouth is Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, etc.  Outside of that, the odd car drives by, someone’s en route to work, or on a return, home after a graveyard shift.  And, as far as sound goes, I did hear a peep out of one bird.  Vayu, the wind god, didn’t help with the sound, he seemed to be asleep, and this was indicative of the pervading quiet.  Not even leaves were rustling.  At the edge of a forest signage tells of the presence of coyotes, and that from dusk to dawn it was not advisable to lurk there with a pet. 

No problem for me, my only pet is the strand of beads of benevolence that I’m carrying.  I was determined to put them to my usual vigilant use.  Beads have an anchoring effect in much the same way that a murti or deity of Krishna anchors the mind.  With that tactile sense, the fingers roll over those precious beads and gain a feeling of groundedness. 

I felt quite at home, though the sounds of summer are now silenced and the air, to my rating is fresh.  The enhanced solitude after days of crowds, queues and traffic, was quite welcome.  The early morning is meant for that, solitude and meditation. 

Take advantage of it, it’s for you.

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Tuesday, October 21st, 2014

Hyderabad, India

Woe Is Me


I merely spent a few hours at ISKCON Hyderabad.  Hyderabad is a progressive city in the south, population I was told is 8 million.  Traffic is very full.  You are a hero to cross the street in the downtown rush.  Cars rule here, walkers have a tough time to triumph.  I had asked about a quiet walking trail near ISKCON’s guest house where I stayed overnight.  The response, in the local language (Telegu, I believe) was, “No way.”  Consolingly, the temple itself has a shanti  or peaceful atmosphere where one can pace up and down in a safe fashion. 

The night prior I was asked to chant and then to speak from the Gita, 2.60, “The senses are so strong and impetuous, Oh Arjuna, that they forcibly carry away the mind, even of a man of discrimination who is endeavouring to control them.”

This entire day, however, was an in the air experience.  Embarking from Hyderabad to London and then Toronto, I had given most time to reading devotional material.  It was in the beginning of the trip that mercy came my way – love really.  The person looking after me with room service in Tirupati, and a much needed massage, is actually from Hyderabad.  And while I was waiting for the day’s first flight, airport authorities sought me out at the waiting area and handed a phone to me.  The call came in from this same fellow, Vijay Kumar by name, but I couldn’t decipher who he was or what he was saying.  I took the call as a mistake.  Minutes later Vijay had driven all the way to the airport and had prasadam (divine food) of dosas and sambar, South Indian specialties, packaged in a small bag which was sent through security tagged and all.  He left a note inside the bag.

I was surprised at Vijay’s kindness.  He went through such an extent to cook a meal for me and to see that I didn’t have to fully rely on airplane food.  With this loving sentiment, I left India.  As I always experience, I am left with heart melting gestures from people of that devotional land.  Yes there is this crazy hustle bustle about the place, but there is always an underlying spirit of bhakti in the atmosphere.  I only feel bad that I can’t reciprocate with Vijay.  I did not pick up his number during my stay.  Woe is me!

May the Source be with you!

0 KM  Except for all the walking done in the corridors of Heathrow Airport.

Monday, October 20th, 2014

A Premier Pilgrim’s Spot

Tirumala, India


He said it like it was a mantra, repetitiously.  “See the Swami!  See the Swami!  See the…”
It was one of the pandas (priests) repeating these words in reference to us, the pilgrims, viewing Balaji, a self-manifested Visnu form who stands sternly at His shrine.  His white marking is iconic – bold and beautiful, and perhaps overdone.  The explanation is that the white paste covering His eyes is because He is not prone to see the evil of man in this world.  A similar white marking at the chin represents remedial herbs applied because once, when manifested as a young man, a furious fellow hurled an iron rod at His chin which left an injury.

The place is Tirumala, which translates as “the mountain of the abode of Laxmi (the Goddess of Fortune).”   And the big attraction at the mountain’s peak is Balaji Himself who draws a bigger crowd and more funds than the Vatican.  Each day, faithful people contribute collectively crores of rupees as donations.

The place is fascinating.  Myself and peers, mostly my monk brothers and sisters from North America and Europe had the viewing of Balaji at which time, we also did a tight circumambulation around this temple, followed by a trek on a more wide angled path.  Incidentally on this path was a beautiful dance formation of young men who routinely stepped in circular fashion around a zealous drummer’s beat. The dancers held a shaker to make sound in the right hand, and a red cloth which they’d flick at a particular rhythmic beat in their left hand. 

All the while that we were on the grounds there, there was an audible mantra recorded.  It was in praise of Balaji: “Om namo venkatesvarayah.”  The reciprocation for visiting with your voluntary donation is a bowling ball-sized sweet called laddu.  This I will save for the monks in the ashram back in Toronto.  It will be the sure proof that I did some serious pilgrimage at this unique place in South India.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Sunday, October 19th, 2014

Tirupati, India

Climbing is Walking


It’s been a nice change, leaving the shoes behind in the room and going for several days everywhere barefoot.   I’m making brief trips generally going from one building to the other at the temple campus.  It also means taking to flights of stairs several times over. 

Instead of waiting for the elevator, Devamrita Swami decided to climb the stairs to the 4th floor of one building where we were holding meetings.   I followed him.  Tirtharaj, another friend from Australia, followed.  A chain began.  Moving at a good speed, Tirtharaj remarked, “We will all do a cardio test after this.”  The three of us are all in our 60s and are not yet struggling too much physically.  We ascended with little sweat.

It was announced at today’s meeting that I’ll be embarking on a walk from Boston to New York via Butler, Pennsylvania next year to honour a golden jubilee event.  It will be 50 years since our guru Srila Prabhupada made a historical milestone – landing on American soil as an ambassador to the spiritual world.  In any event, this anticipated effort of my walking to commemorate the unofficial kick start of the Hare Krishna movement was really appreciated by peers.

The several days meetings came to a close.  With the hot topic of ‘female gurus’ a consensus was concluded.  The majority of the group are generally in favour of having qualified ladies to function and be official teachers as diksa gurus.   After a three day intensive on the subject we came to a happy conclusion.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Saturday, October 18th, 2014

Tirupati, India

News That Hurts


There are 70 monks who live on the premises here at Tirupati.  They are a happy group.  I recognize some of the older as well as younger ones from my visit two years ago.  I’m sure there’s some turnover.   Naturally, there will be a departure for some.  Not culturally, but vocationally.  Some will get married. There will also be a hardcore portion of them that will make this monastic life their lifestyle until they reach their physical end. 

I had received an emergency call from Canada.   The news was about a young couple who are splitting.  When I heard this my heart sank to hear of this failure.  Vows of commitment were made and yet the relationship didn’t have strong “go” for a very extended time.  Naturally the two were struggling and were strained in their communication.  Tolerance and patience did not take a priority on either end of the stick. 

Though the two individuals have called it quits on each other, by some divine revelation a glimmer of hope may cause a relook and a return of the situation.  There’s always that chance.  It’s always good to keep the doors open.   If you can imagine at one time there was love that has now become faded.  Romance is like a pickle (stimulating), but know it to be fickle.  We forget that real love is service to each other. 

If there’s anything about kali yuga (dark age) that is dominant it appears to be this one.  The breakup of couples.  Who wants it?  Neither he nor she, friends, family, guru, or God find joy in a bond broken.

A word of caution: before tying the knot, know whom you’re hooking up with.  Be assured that there are elements about the other person that you will not like.  Who is perfect after all?  Concentrate more on your own shortcomings.  There is so much to be said about relationship issues.  Some people are better off as permanent monks or nuns who make firm their relationship with the Divine.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Monday, 20 October 2014

Friday, October 17th, 2014

Tirupati, India

Under the Rooftops


A light rain hit all the rooftops before the sun rose.  I was on that veranda unaffected by wetness.  Above me is the next floor creating a natural awning.  I could chant in peace and in dryness at an hour when temperatures are coolest.

My friend, Akrura, from Canada, had previously walked the streets and made an interesting observation about trekking in the sun, “You end up sweating in places on your body you never knew were possible.”  We both concluded it is just downright muggy here in Tiruapti. 

Another peer, Madhusevata, told another dynamic which took place when he was a young brahmachari monk in Kolkata in the 70’s, “At night the cockroaches would come out, but what’s worse were the rats chewing on the back of our feet as we were asleep.  The rats had this habit to blow on the wound in order that you wouldn’t feel the pain quite so severely.  You couldn’t detect what they were doing until you woke up.  They would bite then blow.”

Madhusevata hails from Italy.  When he joined he wasn’t yet married.  He pioneered Krishna Consciousness with his Indian friends in this very congested city.  I guess you could say he’s a real success story.  He went on to become a major leader with a mission in his homeland Italy and built up Hare Krishna Villagio, in a village not but a few miles from Milano. 

It was Madhu, Akrura, and others who enjoyed kirtan in the morning as I did in the exotic temple right next to where I did my pacing on the veranda.  The murtis  (sacred images) are named Radha Govinda.  They are decorated stunningly each day.  When the pujari priest brought his jasmine flowers towards the deities, and strikes the clothing, suddenly there’s a shimmer from the cloth which adds to the divine glamour which each morning displays the quality of otherworldliness. 

Far beyond being drenched in sweat or rain, harassed by roaches or rats, is the spiritual world. 

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Thursday, October 16th, 2014

Tirupati, India

Day of Thought


It was quite the day.  I do enjoy the company of my swami friends, godbrothers.  There are good talks amongst us, with godsisters as well.  We talked philosophically which means we as a group are going deeper into the field of life.

Physically though, anyone amongst us would admit that humidity and heat is intense, and would resort to the use of AC with or without the addition of ceieling fans.  In coolness, there is an eeasier chance of processing information. 

It was quite the day and after talks, I did my walk up and down the veranda.  Then I submitted to my room and plopped my body on one of those fancy Rajasthani chairs.  I reached up for the Bhagavad Gita while acknowledging the wording on the rear side of the book’s cover, “The most widely read edition of Gita in the world.”  I flipped over to verse 13.35.  This resonates.  “Those who see with eyes of knowledge the difference between the body and the knower of the body and can understand the process of liberation from bondage in material nature attain to the supreme goal.”

Further enlightening words arise from the purport:

“One can understand that the body is matter.  It can be analyzed with its 24 elements.  The body is a gross manifestation, and a subtle manifestation is the mind and psychological effects, and the symptoms of life are the interaction of these features.  Yet over and above this, there is a soul.”

Food for thought!

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Wednesday, October 14th/15th, 2014

Tirupati, India

The Bat and Me


I doubt very much that he was the same bat I met two years ago in the same spot. He was fluttering about in the space that wasn’t really mine. I can’t reach that high, but almost. He can carefully manoeuvre himself just above arms-length, stretched up. These bats normally do.

I was chanting my japa, (mantras on beads) along the lengthy veranda at the Tirupati ISKCON Guest House when I met this fellow. It was his eating time, night-time. Like you see a lot of western youth with their invincible tummies having pizzas at night, this nocturnal winged wonder my bat friend got his munching in at what folklore calls the witches hour.

I think he was doing well due to the bugs galore. I can’t fault him for not eating veggies and not devouring with honour that which we call prasadam, food blessed by brahmins. My little bat friend was preying on what’s natural for him.

As humans we have so many choices for food. I had a brief four-hours-stay in the guest house at Hyderabad. During that time I was asked to speak to the brahmachari monks from a Bhagavatam verse, Canto One. The interesting topic was about looking at emergency situations where meat consumption may be permitted. In general, under normal circumstances, we humans commit to satvic food, food in goodness. Ultimately the choice is yours.

Again, my friend, was following his natural aptitude, his dharma. And that’s why I call him my amigo. I was glad not to be alone, in fact, at that quiet hour on the veranda. I still wondered if he was the same fella of two years past.

The answer hangs in the air like a bat at night time. If it’s a new guy, then I have two friends now. The more the merrier. I hope to meet him tomorrow.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Sunday, 19 October 2014

Tuesday, October 14th, 2014

Montreal/London/Hyderabad


The Grand Poem

I just can’t resist sharing an offering sent on my birthday from a soul who loves walking.  Here is the poem entitled, “The Grand Beaver”:

THE GRAND BEAVER

In the great and natural North
Was a hill of sticks and logs
Nestled in the clearest pond
Created by a Beaver’s song
He, pure servant of the Gods

All were welcome to the lodge
And put to steady use
This Spirit Beaver glowing grand
Always lent a helping hand
And tail and foot and tooth

All who joined him found a home
And a window in the nest
That opened to another world
Where dancers sang and singers twirled
Where all were duly blessed

Grand Beaver on occasion made
His way both far and near
To share spirit ways of family
And what is truly enemy
And what is truly dear

Nearby a moose walked forest trails
Of bramble, switch and thorn
And came upon Grand Beaver glad
Who noticed that the moose was sad
Entangled and forlorn

Grand Beaver said, “Be less like Moose
And more like Caribou,
Alone you haven’t stamina
And even saintly brahmina
Must work within a crew”

The moose then bowed and acquiesced
To Beaver’s mystic call
And with Beaver’s flick of magic tail
Came cool winds and sparkling gale
Moose – no longer Moose at all!

Now Caribou who humbly knelt
Before Grand Beaver, prayed,
“Please help me to stay nearer you
And aid you in the work you do;
Let not my mind be swayed”

Grand Beaver lead Now Caribou
Back to the spirit lodge
And gave him many roles to play
Bright colours to the darkest grey
Expression’s camouflage

Grand Beaver knew Now Caribou
Occasionally would fail
And at those times
Forgave the crimes
And offered massive tail

To give Now Caribou a push
And all else who sought his charge
This tail that built
Ne’er based on guilt
But compassion in the large

Grand Beaver gave wise counsel
And Now Caribou could be
An Otter and a Beaver too
As long as there were things to do
And done so lovingly

There never was so grand a Beaver
As Grand Beaver solely was
Save for his much beloved master
Who saved the world from disaster
And moved all creatures to his cause

-          Written by Nitai Priya

May the Source be with you!

0 KM

Monday, October 13th, 2014

Val-des-Roches, Quebec

Thank Your Shapers


It being Thanksgiving Day, we can consider a day to express gratitude.  “For what?” you may ask.  For at least what has come to you today, because the task to say merci beaucoup to all the nice people that have come to your life would be impossible.  Consider, however, that whatever has come to you as good or bad circumstances, are all welcome, because they shape us all.  Thank the shapers and love who you are.

I decided to be grateful for the people in my presence today, and the environment of today.  I decided to BE HERE NOW.  After hummous and toast sandwich, I took to a trail which might lead me to where the other three monk had apparently slipped off to.  I wanted to relay to them my thanks to them about the good company they provide. 

Well, I never did detect them.  No foot tracks or evidence of their wanderings were clues for me.  I then took to one of dozens of trails.  I stepped by moose hoof prints and felt the animal’s spirit.  I spotted a grouse, a chipmunk, and felt their presence.  Even so, I heard the woodpecker tapping his tree and viewed the green moss and the white of the peeling birch.  The smell of the spruce spurred me on.  All this was my company and I said, “Hare Krishna,” as a way to express thanks. 

The footpath was the way I like it.  It was sloping up and down and sideways.  There were areas of moistness and dryness, of sand and black soil, of laden twigs, leaves, bark and rock.  The path was an ankle strengthener and an eye alerter.  I was grateful even though I could not find the lost monks. 

It’s all quite relative, isn’t it?  Perhaps I’ve become the lost monk.  Let’s take this as a metaphor on life and when on the spiritual path, there must always be a sense of direction, and even more so, a sense of gratitude.

Thus ends the walk for today, and the super meetings of the weekend.  En route to Montreal’s airport, my auto companions, Sahadeva, Vrinda, and Gauramani and I, spent the hour pulling out the highlights of three days.  It was so fitting considering the day.

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Sunday, October 12th, 2014

Val-des-Roches, Quebec

Gold Then Gold Now
 
We did plod the country road, but in the dark, after meetings that mattered.  Three Canuck monks and I took to the gentle up and down course.  It was down time after a long but rich day of discussion and presentation.
 
These presentations of a "close-to-the-heart" sort moved my emotions as there was vision behind such initiatives.  "Think for the future" was the theme.  And as I heard the voice of 'care' in the air I looked out several times through the resort's window to trees drip of tears.
 
I think they were hearing our message of opportunities missed, hence the tears.  They were an actual transformation of the lightest frost melting in the sun's warmth.
 
Triumphantly rose the yellow leaves of the aspen shaking for joy because not all occasions we spoke of were grim.  There has been far greater victory over defeats of the past.
 
Once our walk had terminated we found some of the weekend crew still in the dining lounge space engaged in happy chatter over the old and gold days, of the times spent in jail because we were misunderstood.  I joined in and oh yes, lest I forget, I escaped a near-death fire and when a moving train bashed again and again at our stalled vehicle on the tracks while I, the driver, sat there frozen in shock.
 
When I think of life as a Krishna monk in the 70's and the monks of now who live on easy street, it is like night and day.
 
May the Source be with you!
 
5 KM