Tuesday, 23 August 2016

Sunday, August 14th, 2016

Sunday, August 14th, 2016
Toronto, Ontario

Those Who Came Forward

I’m back in my home-base, but still keeping up my daily walking, while fingering through my beads numbering 108, and moving my upper and lower lips--as well as my tongue--to utter the name of Krishna.  Whenever I travel, these mechanical, mental and spiritual outputs are there.

I re-connected with Yonge St., the strip from Bloor to Dundas, known for its characters.

Near Dundas, a Caucasian young person, with hair pulled back to form a bun, came up to me and began talking in a rather incoherent way.

“Are you on drugs?”  I asked him.  Indeed he was, as he expressed so in a non-confessional way.  For him, that’s his life.  I mentioned to him to do himself a favour and pull out of it.  “Then life can begin.”

Our conversation got cut short when another fellow, this time an Indian--who was obviously also ‘on something--addressed me with, “Hare Krishna!”  He said it several times and continued with words that made no sense.  Still, he was zealous and maintained a smile for the reason, I guess, that he’s talking to a sadhu, of sorts.  I indicated that I had to proceed, although I perceived he was liking the attention.

A young Black chap then came to stand in front of me, and in a facetious way, bowed at the waist respectfully, demonstrating some kind of reverence.  I took the gesture to not be coming from the heart, so I didn’t take him too seriously.

As I said, “Characters!”  But I wouldn’t put them down entirely.  They were the ones who came forward, out of all the pedestrians on Yonge St.

May the Source be with you!

5 km

Saturday, August 13th, 2016

Saturday, August 13th, 2016
Pelee Island, Ontario

Ways of Nature

It is astounding to see the ways of nature.

Yesterday, we witnessed an entity in the form of a catfish exiting the water.  This morning, the reverse occurred.  It was not a catfish, but rather a large black water snake who slithered from the trees in front of us, moved over the sand, and slipped into the shallow shore waters of Lake Erie.  It then disappeared into the depths of the fresh water.

We were also terribly humbled by biting stable-flies.  Nature came on then with another of her forces.  After a dry spell, running a month in duration, a near-drought in Ontario, Ohio, and the surrounding vicinity, was dispelled.  Rains and rainbows made their visitations.  On our return journey to Toronto, I delighted in reading from “Memories,” recollections from devotees about our dear guru, Srila Prabhupada, as those welcoming rains came down with a passion.

Every journey, especially an auto-driven one, needs its breaks.  I suggested to our crew, “Let’s check out one of my favorite locations on the planet—Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”  With me were Nimai-Nitai, originally from India, Elona from Latvia, and Katrina from Russia.  They were not aware of the historical significance of this place.

As a person on foot--or one who most often likes to be--I have the opportunity to learn of past tragedies and victories.  Historical plaques and places are everywhere.  Check out the Underground Railway, Josiah Henson, and Uncle Tom’s Cabin.

May the Source be with you!

5 km



Friday, August 12th, 2016

Friday, August 12th, 2016
Pelee Island, Ontario

Driven!

He had whiskers and was no more than a foot in length.  He was tanned and wiggling his way along, moving by will and not wave.  It was time for him to go.  Providence had told him so.  He had had the lake as his habitat for who knows how long and now he was beach-bound. 

A group of us, in retreat on the island’s east-side, were ready to indulge in prasadam, a sacred picnic, when we saw this catfish coming our way.  At first glance, I thought “Is he hungry?” as he ignored the kids a-splash all around him, and bee-lined his way to dry sand.

He was determined to hit air, to lie on that sand, die, and hence--end a cycle.  The water kept pulling him in, in small lapping waves, but he fought to remove himself from the H2O, and succeeded.  He keeled over and did what I’ve seen massive carps do when they’re aged.  They exit from the water and camp at the beach, passing away in seconds or maybe minutes.  For this catfish, it was about two minutes.

What’s next for him?  A new body awaiting his spirit?

He was pulled by nature, and behind that, a divine power.  Perhaps it was the same power which compelled those people coming from the winery, to dance with us at our dusk kirtan.  We wrapped up the day by the dock with not a swim, but with receiving a wondrous wind while I led that timeless mantra and produced a tal on the drum.

I was surprised at the zealousness shown by the folks who sang and danced.  But then after their sips and swigs of grape-juice-gone-WOW, it’s understandable.  We devotees from Ohio, Michigan and Ontario, were inspired to see the full-on participation.

Everyone, everything, is driven by divine force.

May the Source be with you!

1 km



Thursday, August 11th, 2016

Thursday, August 11th, 2016
Pelee Island, Ontario

Back to Kilometres

I showed my birth certificate at the Sandusky, Ohio ferry terminal, ascended and sat in the top, outside level of the boat, destined for a small retreat at Pelee Island.  I was surprised to see the swift response by the Afro-American devotee couple, Avadhuta and Agnihotra, to come and join me after my invite just hours before.

We sailed under myriad-blue-toned clouds, caught a breeze from Lake Erie’s kindness, and chatted with the couple.  Once settling ourselves after docking, we drove in their van around the entire island, measuring its distance.  It is 23 kilometres riding the coastal roads. That was great!

We stopped in at an outdoor cafĂ© for a custom-made, vegetarian pizza (no other option).  We were pleased to meet the cook, Riki, a devotee of nature who had met members of our crew last year.  She has been reading the “Bhagavad-gita,” Krishna’s divine words.  She is the wife of Matthew--who has to work on the mainland--and is the mother of Camilia, age nine.  She teaches yoga, by the way, to some of the residents on this island which has a population of 125 in the winter (expanded in the summer).

Truly it’s great to be in a place where there are no billboards and no lamp-posts.  You can see the stars in the sky, and  tonight in particular  was unique, because you could maximize your  meteor-gazing.  I bumped into a couple and scared them to death with my presence in the dark.  They had counted over one hundred meteors shooting in the sky.

May the Source be with you!

12 km



Wednesday, August 10th, 2016

Wednesday, August 10th, 2016
Cleveland, Ohio

Returning Things

Now that the walk is put to rest for the time being, it is a matter of tidying up and putting away, or giving away (as gifts) some of the items that were part and parcel of our paraphernalia meant for the travels.

At an evening sanga (gathering), I gave away some literature for good reading, a stockpile we had left over after sales.  The group in Cleveland was really fanciful by the offer of Steven Rosen’s book “Christ and Krishna.”  Rosen is one of my favourite authors and the book is excellent.  As I was passing them out, I received donations, against the printing costs anyways.

One of the items we were to return back to its owner, with whole-hearted obligation and appreciation, was the Honda van which we named Vamana.  Rene is a true sweet-heart for lending it to us over this period of two and a half months.  We wanted to return it in as mint a condition as possible.  This entailed internal and external cleansing.  Mandala did a great job with that.  A rear window was replaced by us after someone had bashed that area and snuck inside while we were parked in Des Moines, one night.  We also  gassed up, and Mandala and I went to the Lube Shop for an oil change.

This last item was a good experience in terms of the thorough, friendly nature in which the auto crew handled themselves.  As said, they were friendly, and concise.  And quick!  I was inspired. 

“Now this is the way a spiritual organization can be managed,” I thought.  And if I could add, the tone of empathy in dealing with clients/congregants/seekers could be added.

May the Source be with you!

0 miles



Tuesday, August 9th, 2016

Tuesday, August 9th, 2016
Chicago, Illinois

Now That This Half Is Over

About the sweetest thing I experienced from this stretch of the U.S. walk was to receive a letter from my spiritual brother, who’s also a monk—Jayadvaita Swami.  The words were encouraging.

“Well, you’re doing the healthiest thing in the world and making a valuable spiritual contribution by your example.  Happy walking and happy chanting.”

I’ve calculated to have just completed 1,232 miles or 1982.7 kilometres from Butler, Pennsylvania to Seward, Nebraska.  There’s another 1,594 miles to go to make it to San Francisco.  For now, I’ll hold it as a dream until I return, in the spring of 2017, to exercise the second half of the U.S.A.

It was today that I sat for nine hours in a meeting, with minor breaks at different times.  The feet hardly did any work.  It’s awkward, and it doesn’t make for great sleeping conditions in the night.

At 6:30 p.m. Praharana, a godsister from Canada, and I, delivered a talk on youth empowerment.  Some of the highlights were “when we became renunciates we were young,” (average age of people joining in the early 70’s was anywhere from 18-24), and “take responsibility when you’re young.”  And finally, we spoke about Krishna appearing ‘young’ in His pastimes.  His childhood and youth are to be adored.

May the Source be with you!

0 miles



Monday, August 8th, 2016

Monday, August 8th, 2016
Princeton, Illinois

A Few Steps, A Few Memories

Our team of Gopal, Mandala and myself, set out on our return journey.  We were headed east in our Toyota van which we named Vamana, a name for an avatar meaning “the one who makes great strides”.  We spanned the states of Nebraska, Iowa, and Illinois, arriving at destination Chicago for a day’s stay, before continuing.  Oh, how we shook our heads in disbelief, wondering how these hundreds of miles were just recently covered on foot.

We took a break at Princeton for our two drivers to catch a nap, and I took the opportunity to walk east on 6.  It was time to reminisce on recent doings. I thought about the beautiful people who had hosted us and organized sangas, or gatherings of devotion.  They rarely get a swami coming to town; so while our pedestrian troupe (the three of us) were around, they milked us like a contented cow, with questions and requests for mantras. Their children, too, loved to listen to the wisdom and pastimes of Krishna. How gracious they all were!

At the edge of Princeton, where I walked, is the old homestead of abolitionist, Owen Lovejoy, who fought for the liberty of slaves. This was also the stomping grounds of President Ronald Reagan. I’ve come upon birthplaces of other celebs, besides U.S. Presidents, on this walk, like actors John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart. Illustrious company, I suppose.

At the side of one corn field waited two young ladies, cousins, who stopped to meet and offer me water. They called me a “celebrity.”  That’s a far cry. Maybe a “celebrant.”
This walk is for 50 years of Hare Krishna in America.

May the Source be with you!

3 miles

Thursday, 11 August 2016

Sunday, August 7th, 2016

Sunday, August 7th, 2016
Tamora, Nebraska

‘The Walking Monk’ Hangs up Shoes in Nebraska

Allison Sommerfeld, #4165, a police officer, pulled over and offered to shake my hand.  She read the following article in today’s Journal Star by Lindsay Esparrago:

Bhaktimarga Swami has trekked across Canada four times covering over 17,000 miles on foot.

Often known as “the walking monk,” Swami followed his first walk from his homeland of Canada in 1996, by traveling across Ireland, Israel, the Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad, Guyana and other countries, to promote simple living and peace.

It was in 2016 when the 63-year-old Hare Krishna monk told himself, “If I don’t do the USA, I’m not a complete monk.”

So he’s living up to his reputation as “the Forrest Gump of Hare Krishna,” he said with a laugh.

In honor of his spiritual teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada and his contributions, his decision to walk was final.  Prabhupada brought the Hare Krishna tradition to the U.S. at the age of 70.  The walk celebrates the 50th anniversary of his guru’s introduction of “green style living” to the 50 states.

With his bright orange robe -- often mistaken for an orange prison jumpsuit -- and his tan, go-to Crocs, he embarked on his 3,000 mile journey from New York City to San Francisco.

But on Saturday night, after his stay in Lincoln, Swami has decided to put his U.S. excursion to rest until next summer, when he will return back where he started in Lincoln and continue on to San Francisco.

He thought Lincoln’s “middle of the country” location was the perfect stopping point for now.

His reasoning is simple, much like his lifestyle.  Beyond his marathon walking and duties as a monk, Swami keeps himself busy as a Bhakti yoga and mantra meditation instructor.  He’s also a playwright, producer and director of live “morality theatre” -- productions based on enlightening tales from ancient India.

“I’m just breaking it up,” Swami said.  “I have a lot of other responsibilities as a monk. It’s a pretty busy community.”

His choice to stop after he reaches York on Sunday has nothing to do with a nervous breakdown or his legs giving out, he said.  Each day he walks 20 miles in about 10 to 12 hours, sometimes getting up as early as 3:30 a.m.  Even when the hills get tough, his body doesn’t quit.

Swami said walking long distances does anything but remind him of his age.  In fact, he swears it makes him feel younger.  Sending a message to the youth is one of his main explanations as to why he chooses to walk.

“I want to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” he said.  “We move really fast and we need to slow down.  Everybody knows that, but we all need reminders.”

His reminders often come in abrupt ways as he’s walking along highways, dirt roads and bike trails.  Aside from encountering at least one police officer each day and scheduled speeches and programs from time to time, many people come up and question him -- his chance to spread peace and knowledge.

Who he calls his “support person” is one of the youth he has influenced to live spiritually.  So much, that 21-year-old Mandala McAllister came from Canada this time around to join in on the adventure.

McAllister drives a van a few miles ahead of Swami, checking on him every three miles to see if he needs water or any assistance.  But even the 21-year-old has tried to keep up with Swami’s pace and failed, McAllister said.

But the interactions and lessons are all the same, he said.

“There’s so many nice people to meet,” McAllister said, “and I get to spend time walking with the monk.  He helps me out with my spiritual life.  It’s a really different experience from experiences of today’s day and age.”

It’s all about the people for Swami, too.  Since his departure in the spring, Swami raved about peoples’ hospitality.  Not once did the two have to camp out because strangers always offered a place to stay.

Swami said he resonated with his stopping point of Nebraska, much to his surprise. The cornfields and “farmers’ country” reminded him of home.  Though he observed constant change in Nebraska -- rural and urban, conservative and liberal company -- he said he also noticed “stability in this part of the U.S.”

His journey isn't over and neither is the conversation he's started.  Swami thinks he's done just enough to pick back up where he left off in Lincoln next year.

“If you just drop little seeds of interest, you get people to think more about the other side of life,” Swami said.  “Giving them a little hint goes a long way.”

May the Source be with you!

6 miles

Saturday, August 6th, 2016

Saturday, August 6th, 2016
Seward, Nebraska

Good Cop, Bad Cop

Police authorities continue to remain an integral part of our cross U.S. walk.  A well-built officer came to “check me out” just as I was about to enter the small city of Seward.  He admitted that he liked what I was doing.

“I’m always pushing the fitness model to my associates.”  The officer was telling me he has to restrain himself from going overboard with his hype.

On parting, I mentioned that the police have been awesome in taking interest in our pilgrim project.

“That’s good to hear,” said the officer, considering there’s been some negative publicity going out toward police in America, a lot of it having to do with racial issues.  Everyone’s heard the case of an officer who shot a motorist who was merely reaching for his wallet.  The fellow died.  The passenger, his girlfriend, filmed the whole thing.

When Mandala was waiting by the side of a dirt road at mid-day, with the intent to serve me and co-walker Chaitanya Chandra, with water and fruit, a heavy-set, stereotypical, “tough” sheriff pulled up to see what was going on.  He came to the passenger’s side of the van.  When Mandala turned to grab for his ID, the officer shouted, “Hey, stop moving!”  He was ready to reach for his gun.  “What are you doing here?” asked the officer.

“I’m just waiting for The Walking Monk,” implored Mandala.  The sheriff slowly relaxed and left.

May the Source be with you!

21 miles


Friday, August 5th, 2016

Friday, August 5th, 2016
Lincoln, Nebraska

People Coming Through

The Bluebird Bike Trail took me into the city of Lincoln—Nebraska’s capital.  No fuss with traffic, but with horse flies—yes.

For a second consecutive day, lunch was in the home of Hemant Dessi, proprietor of the La Quinta Inn.  Generous as he is, he also is giving Mandala and I accommodation in the hotel.  In every way, the man is pious.  He also hosted two members of the Swami Narayana group.  They were from a Chicago chapter and sat comfortably in the living room while we were enjoying our meal.  The two monks, also in rather intense orange attire, had not come prepared to eat, but we did engage in light conversation with them--they use the title “sadhu” before their names, just as in our tradition we use the term “swami” after our spiritually-given names

They were pleasant.  I suggested that we all, in our different ways, advance the cause of raising consciousness. Them, and the entire Gujarati community, and lest we forget, the north, south, east and west members of the Indian community, who are so eager to serve and take care of lodging, food and other financial needs.

When interviewed by Lindsay of the Journal Star from Lincoln, I was able to say, “Lindsay, since I began this walk, we did not have a problem with securing a room for any night.”  Either it has been an ISKCON temple, a Krishna devotee’s home, or a Hindu household which has supported our need to rest our weary bodies at the end of the day.  We are grateful!

May the Source be with you!

14 miles



Monday, 8 August 2016

Thursday, August 4th, 2016

Thursday, August 4th, 2016
Eagle, Nebraska

Inside Out

As mentioned, we have broken into night-time walking.  En route to our starting point, an officer stopped us.  Apparently, Mandala (the driver) went 20 miles over the normal speed through town.  Well, it was hard to notice there was a town.  It was tiny.

The officer went through the usual procedure, asking for papers and license.  Mandala complied and as he was handing over documents, despite the darkness, the officer noticed the passenger.  Up until now it looked like a $240 fine was coming Mandala’s way.

“Oh, are you the Walking Monk?” the officer asked.  “They told us you were coming this way.”

Now, I would have to admit, the officer, from the beginning, was one of those stern and cold types.  Meeting someone different, however, seemed to lighten him up a bit.

Mandala and I were both relieved that, in the end, no fine was due us.  Just waving!

Whew!

Taking to the bike trail, in the dark, after the trail-end of a tornado storm whipped through the area, was rather exhilarating.  I was surprised to walk head-on into a massive spider web with its web-designer crawling all over my neck.  Remember, it was pretty dark, but that was the worst of it.

I came to one conclusion about self-analysis.  There’s more darkness inside of us than what is outside.  I began to chant at that point, hoping to turn myself inside out.

May the Source be with you!

16 miles

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016

Wednesday, August 3rd, 2016
Elmwood, Nebraska

For “Walking Monk” a Long, Hot Trek

Mandala and I decided, or rather the fireball (the sun) decided, that we would tackle night hours again.  The evening breeze was enlivening as we left the Omaha area and headed towards Lincoln, Nebraska.

Local radio had covered our story and so did the Omaha World Herald Newspaper.  Under the title above, Maggie O’Brien wrote:

“The Walking Monk” made a stop in Omaha on Tuesday as part of his journey across America to celebrate his faith and promote an active, healthy lifestyle.

“It’s about going back to the basics,” Bhaktimarga Swami said.  “Like Gandhi said, a simple life, high thinking. I see this as doing both of those things.”

Swami, 63, is a Hindu monk from Canada. He is walking from New York to San Francisco to commemorate the 50th anniversary of the Hare Krishna religious movement, which emphasizes spiritual well-being and clean, simple living.

Swami changed his name from John Peter Vis when he became a monk in 1973. He wears an orange robe and black Crocs on his feet.

He considers walking an ideal form of exercise, he said, because anyone can do it, and it allows time for self-reflection.

This tour is broken into three parts.  He started last fall in Boston, went to New York, then into Pennsylvania.  The second leg started again in Pennsylvania over Mother’s Day weekend and took him to Ohio, Michigan, Illinois and Nebraska. He arrived in Omaha on Tuesday.

Next up is Grand Island on Wednesday, where he’ll stop his journey before completing the third leg of the trip next summer.

Swami, who also practices yoga, said he started walking long distances to get away from the chaos of the world.

He has walked across Canada four times.  He’s also trekked through Ireland (he said it was wet), Israel (dry), Ghana (hot) and Trinidad (humid).

It hasn’t been easy walking through the Midwest, he said.  Swami usually gets up at 4 a.m. to beat the heat and averages about 20 miles a day.

“It’s been a hot, sweaty summer,” he said.

May the Source be with you!

19 miles