Saturday, 22 June 2019

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Gainesville, Florida

I Hardly Walked

I hardly walked.  It's too humid.  To compensate for the loss, I swam 3 kilometres in one of those fabulous springs that the area is known for.  After a lively morning program in Gainesville, one of the members of the facility called "Krishna House," took me to Ichetucknee Springs State Park.  

Now, what is so unique about these springs?  Here's what a brochure tells me: "Springs are amazing natural phenomenon where vast underground caves and caverns form to hold water.  They are the window into the health of our groundwater."

It was in the spring that Jai Chaitanya and I swam in—the Ichetucknee.  How refreshing!  While submerged to the neck, heavy rains came.  As we body-sailed with the traditional forward strokes, the current carried us. Massive fallen trees, we tried to dodge. One such tree became a perfect anchor for me to sit upon during a gayatri mantra break before proceeding on. No alligators live here, but there are turtles galore.

The swim did the trick and spared me from a sweat-bound walk.

In the evening, I was invited for a second visit to "Krishna House," this time to award initiation to Lucy. I spoke on 10.9 from the Gita, and soon after, we gave her the Sanskrit name, "Lalita Gopi.  The ceremony was completed with a great, happy kirtan.

Since her younger years, people have teased her with the term "I Love Lucy.”  Perhaps now, it will occasionally be "I Love Lalita."

May the Source be with you!
2 km walking
3 km swimming

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Alachua, Florida

Speaking of Bears in Gator Country

Now that summer is around the corner, people already have plans for doing some serious summer camping.  At an evening program at the home of Nandini Kishori, there was a sizeable gathering of especially young boys and girls, all of bhakti yoga parents.  I was asked to share stories about my adventurous walks; the most intriguing one was about the grizzly encounter.  There was also the time when a brahmachari and I met up with a black bear, whom, we were not aware, had her cubs nearby.  She was munching on wild strawberries and I guess you could say we happened to be there at the time of her breakfast.  We were imposing on her leisure-time and she let us know about it. She got up on her hind legs looking tall, then she lunged forward on what is called a "bluff charge." We casually and respectfully moved out of her way and went down the trail.

The things that I learned from park authorities on the subject and personal experience with bears are as follows:  1) when you encounter a bear respect it and go backwards in a slow retreat   2) avoid looking at it in the eye   3) never run away as you are inviting the bear to charge   4) to fight off a black bear, strike it in the nose   5) play dead with a grizzly, head down with your hands to the back of your neck   6) carry bear spray and you may avoid #5   7) when walking through bear country make noise, let them know you're coming—or as I do, chant mantras audibly to warn them.

Those are some tips for those planning a wilderness trip of some kind.

May the Source be with you!
2 km

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Niagara / Toronto

A Mind Reader?

Anytime a monastic guest arrives in Toronto, I feel a happy obligation to take him to the Falls, which is a mere hour and a half away.  Sundarlal, from Mauritius, made it here for the first time, and along with our driver, Nanda, we took a trip on what seemed like the first day of summer this year.  

Starting on foot near white water with its rushing and roaring, Sundarlal, like all newcomers, became amazed by the elemental power.  While we were observing the majesty, a man from Kentucky, also a tourist, came over for a chat.

“Buddhist monks?”

“Actually, Krishna! Hare Krishna!” I clarified.

The outgoing friendly chap, with sun hat and shades, declared he was a mind reader. With a Festival of India card, I gave him, he pressed it to his head and then recited the entire Mantra, found on the card.  “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare….”

“Magic!” we asserted. “Magic!”

He gave us a boost.

Now, everyone knows my passion for theatre of a transcendental nature.  I rarely see live theatre, although I produce plays with a spiritual content.  Stephen, Balaram, and I have all worked as a team on dramas.  To gain exposure, ideas, inspiration, etc., we booked ourselves tickets for a performance of “The Book of Mormon” at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.  It was an entertaining experience.  The troupe was tight in their presentation.  The audience of 2300, all stood for a standing ovation. However,  much of the content was somewhat too vulgar for me. It was a learning experience.

May the Source be with you!
3 km

Monday, June 17, 2019

North York, Ontario

One Party Spoiled

They say two million people attended the big party today at Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square and the parade route along the Lakeshore.  That’s huge.  People were having a good time honouring the champion basketball team, the Raptors.

Unfortunately, there were three or four who came to spoil the party, leaving four people injured in a shooting, and others injured in a stabbing.  Not much is known about the offenders as I write this, but arrests were made.  We’ll hear more, I’m sure.  Just 3.2 kilometres north of the senseless tragedy, is our ashram.  I had every intention of staying away from the congestion even before hearing of the injuries. ( I wish quick recovery for the victims.)

The intent today, or rather, for tonight, was to visit some annual donors for our big (not Raptor big) Festival of Chariots.  That was cancelled out.  Our donors warned us,  “Please don’t come out tonight.  There’s too many shootings.”

The alternative was to go north to Shepherd in North York.  One of our girls, Lila Mayi, pre-arranged for a kirtan in Avondale Park.  Jai and I went via subway.  I was tired. We were late.  The kirtan had begun.  We could hear it.  We dashed over and plopped ourselves down on the grass and joined in.

The response was magnificent.  People came down from the highrises all around , curious about our sound.

What an assortment of demographics!  You have people from China, India, the Middle East, Russia etc. , all living around here as one happy family. It sure felt like that!

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Hamilton / Mississauga

Devil’s Punch Bowl

Two men fairly fresh from India, two from Canada (actual monks), and a young Ukrainian, hit the Bruce Trail trudging through mud.  The two Indians were enthralled.  “Green, that’s all that can be seen!” reflected one, who also added, “This is very, very, very nice!”  That was Venkat, from Andhra Pradesh.

The second one, Audarya, responded by sharing.  He held up his phone, filmed as he was walking through the green forest and shared a few steps with his wife and mother in India.  

Then there was Alexander from Ukraine.  He’s a pro at trekking the Bruce.  The terrain is not much different here from where he comes from.  

Finally there is Karuna and myself, both Canucks (slang for Canadians), who are passionate about this service, if you will.  Yes, we are doing ourselves a favour physically, and me, mentally.  On a daily basis, I deal with people stuff. It can be draining.  I keep my head above water by doing this walking. The people stuff or taking care of human-community needs has been going on for forty-five years.  The fact that I use walking poles proves my age.

It is Karuna, who is half my age, who is the helpful navigator of all our trips and has a love for this.  

So, we are all guys.  Happy Father’s day!  By birth we are meant to provide and protect Mother Nature.  This was my message to a group of bhakti-yogis in a studio rented space in Mississauga—a group called GEL (Gita Ethics Learning)—after the walk.  Whether you father kids or not, guys have a big responsibility to fulfil always.  By the way, we finished walking at the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  

May the Source be with you!
8 km

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

Hey, Walking Monk!

“Hey, Walking Monk!” shouted the soul from the window of his vehicle as I was approaching Bloor Street.  I wasn’t sure in the beginning who the greeter was, so I moved closer.

“Remember me?” he  asked.

Looking closely, I could identify him.  It was Johnny! 

“It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has.”

“I’m doing weddings, these days.”

“You mean you’re a priest?”

“No, just a thing.”

“Okay, thing.”

It was nice to see Johnny who had his two young daughters with him, and who joined in with salutations. “Goodbye Walking Monk!”

With my companions, we strolled off to our favourite park, Bellevue Square.  There, we met three young chaps from nearby Woodbridge, who were enroute to a Beat-boxing competition on Queen Street. Unique about this bunch was their familiarity with the science of the Bhagavad-Gita.  One of the chaps chants mantra and has read about bhakti-yoga.  All three knew of Arjuna’s struggle, and how he became enlightened  through Krishna’s words about dharma.  

“A sense of duty,” remarked the one fellow of oriental origin.  The other two, of Italian descent, were also thoroughly enjoying the conversation.  Spiritual talk is what it was all about.  It’s rare to find a group of guys, like these ones, talking also about the yuga-dharma, sharing sacred sound.

May the Source be with you!
6 km

Friday, June 14, 2019

Toronto / Mississauga

Go For Compliance

A very nice monk from Mauritius, Sundarlal, has been with me for a few days now, and we introduced him to our city’s little treasure place for kirtan.  Kensington Market is the place where we sat along with Dwarkanath, who is a sitar extraordinaire musician.  But before we laid out our mat for sitting on Bellevue Park’s grass, a neighbourhood lady from across the street approached us and mentioned we were very loud two days ago.  

“I’m seventy-two, and it’s very annoying,” she said in reference to Ananda’s boisterous but jolly djembe beats.  She was quite sweet about it and suggested we move to the side of the park away from the residences, and closer to the businesses.  I apologized and our chanting group complied.  It was worth the adjustment.  People who were strolling by gave nods of appreciation, especially a young oriental couple from Montreal.  They were transfixed by our presentation and went away with our complimentary cookbook.  But before they wandered off, they digested the contents of that book, The Higher Taste, just standing there, flipping the pages, sharing in the reading, the pictures, and so forth.  

As usual, Karuna and I walked back to the ashram, never sticking to the same trail, but always exploring new streets, and remarkably surprised by some green space not formerly known to us.  

A subway ride to the western-most reaches of the train line brought us to Kipling Station for a night time discussion on the Gita, Chapter Six, on meditational yoga.  Dharma and Manasi Ganga were our hosts. Thank you for the lasagna! Yummy! 

May the Source be with you!
4 km

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

I Walked.  I Prayed.

The rain spoke to me during most of the afternoon: "You ain't goin' out there now; walkin' will come later."  So, that's how the bulk of the day played out. But the evening said, "You can come out now."

Karuna and I listened.  The first step outside practically knocked us over.  A whiff of plant power hit our nostrils.  It was rather overwhelming—the freshness of the air.  Though we are both tiring of all the dismal grey wetness, as of late, some consolation reminded us of this water going to our green friends—the bushes and the trees.

"Which way to turn?" asked Karuna as we set off for a well-deserved outside experience after being so confined to indoors.

"I feel like heading in the Casa Loma direction. (which is the castle nearby).” We were whimsical about which streets to tread.  We came up to trails not known to us, but whatever they were, they were blessed byles fleures fragrant.  The perfumed emissions were incredible.

Karuna parted after the forty-five minute walk, but I continued on, and realized before long that at the retail and commerce areas where there were pubs with screens, people were more than huddled, they were crammed with eyes glued to those screens.  The playoffs for the basketball championship were on.  Where I walked I could hear outbursts of joy.  That meant the Toronto Raptors scored.  After arriving back at the ashram and heading to bed, when the game was over, the car horns and humans cheering resounded.  The Raptors had won.  I called Rajasuya.  I woke him for victory.  "You asked me to pray.  I prayed."

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Grafton, Ontario

Old Shelter

From Montreal, Ananda, Kishor and I headed west on Hwy 401 and took a break at the rural area of Grafton to visit Jai, Rasa and family, as well as to see their new calf.  That went well.  The visit included talks of relevance over soup and bread.  It was time to depart as we were under pressure to meet a timeline for chanting at Toronto's downtown Kensington.

"Pick me up," I softly recommended to our driver, Kishor. "I need to get some walking in."

"Okay," said Kishor, and I then had the pleasure to trek the Old Shelter Road, which is edged by farmland on both sides.  I could not help but notice the mustards by my side, the large lilacs bursting with fragrance, and the lowly, notorious poison ivy—a green companion there to respect but no more.

During that rather brief time on the rustic road, an occasional motorist would zip by somewhat surprised at the sight of a man in robes.  I can't always see the drivers through the tinted glass, but through a subtle perception I can feel something stirring inside—a curiosity perhaps. I really do wish the drivers, whoever he or she may be, would slow down, stop, roll down the window, and begin a chat. The nature of modern conveyance is that you move so fast there almost isn't the time, because of the speedy nature of things, to interact.  That's sad, in my opinion.

Oh, here comes Kishor and Ananda.  Goodbye country road!  Hello, smooth pavement, the 401, and the fast and furious madness until we reach Oshawa at that rush hour, when all becomes confined to turtle traffic.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Montreal / Mascouche

Mostly Outdoors

A good amount of time was spent outside today, including a good park-bench talk with monk, Hayagriva, who's in France these days, and then a chat about our mission in Cuba with Nanda Tanuja on his balcony.  For these two souls, a jacket was necessary (this is the coolest June I've ever known).  We then joined the chanting party on streets Mont Royale and Ste. Laurent.

Our chanting procession was received with warmth.  It was Kishor's first time.  He liked it. He's a natural at bhaktiyoga.  As our chanting party was moving along, one unknown-to-us person pulled out a conch-shell and blew out a resounding call.  Unexpected nice touch.

Oh, and there was one more outdoor event—a visit to Nandagram farm at Mascouche. Progress is underway with the garden, now expanded to ten times what it was last year.  Into its second year, the farm project looks promising. Renovations are also in stride for the residents in the farm house which we took shelter of.  We hit that despicable hour while admiring the garden. It was mosquito hour—dawn.  It was an onslaught and we hastened to get back inside.

Anubhava, who had the vision for the rural project in the first place, presented to me a canned jar of organic tomatoes from last fall's harvest.  You can't get a better gift.  It will go to our main cook in Toronto. Dwarkanath will be thrilled.

The half-hour drive brought us to the point of resting back at the downtown temple, but for me I had letters to complete—correspondence that would take me to midnight.

May the Source be with you!
4 km

Monday, June 10th, 2019

Toronto / Montreal


Spike came around today, just to drop in, and have some prasadam at Govinda's, where I test the food every day before it's served out to lovers of a different kind of food.

Spike is a different kind of fellow, by the way.  I haven't seen him for about fifteen years.  I’ve known him for about thirty.  I knew him as a Deadhead, which means he's an avid follower of the rock band, "The Grateful Dead."  I mean that literally; many Deadheads would follow the band's circuit to listen to them at concerts.

"So Spike, are you still a fan?" I asked.

I was surprised to hear: "Not any more.  I listen more to jazz and classical stuff."

"You're maturing, Spike.  Isn't it a good feeling?  You calm down—get more relaxed?"

Spike, whose got that kind of handsome Jewish look, admitted that to some degree he is enjoying the slowed-down-more-experienced way of being.  I was thrilled to hear that.  He always struck me as being a wild child with a smooth chat.

He loved the food at Govinda's—the kofta balls, the veggies, the soup and pakoras. Prasadam was always a draw for him and other people as well, including the occasional monk.

I left Spike to continue his meal while I headed for Montreal.  Between the two cities, Toronto and Montreal, moving by car, there's lots of great countryside.  I can't help but remembering the towns I’ve walked through. It's nostalgic for me. It was nostalgic also to see Spike again, who is always a character, but a cool one.  He likes Krishna also.

May the Source be with you!
3 km

Sunday, June 9th, 2019

Scarborough / Toronto

Walk and Peace

Given the perfect weather, with sun, moderate temperature and a fresh wind, I just couldn't pass up the opportunity to go north on Yonge Street to the ‘uptown’ region.  The morning showed itself to be so optimistic, judging by the upbeat-ness of fellow pedestrians.  The greetings on peoples faces and lips were precious—just precious—as they made their way to individual destinations.  They were places you would expect—Tim Hortons, Starbucks, even church.  Tennis rackets would indicate a courtyard nearby.

I walked the street's gradual upward ascent until Vinod picked me up for the trip to ISKCON Scarborough, where I was to lead everyone in a verse from the Gita. Chapter Eleven reveals the Lord's universal form which had the demigods up in arms.  They were frightened.  With palms together they shouted, "Swasti!" which means, "Peace!"

We discussed and explored the topic of fear which we concluded is a natural feature of life.  "Fear," we said, "helps to humble us and to keep us in check." The aspect of the universal form opens up with majesty and inspires awe and reverence.  Nearing the end of its display, it transitions to horror, and for the demigods it became too overbearing.  In the context of Chapter Eleven, fear was felt, but it stirred up the universal administrators, who are generally too relaxed, to the point of reaching a calm in the end, perhaps comparable to the sweetness of my morning walk on Yonge.

May the Source be with you!
8 km