Tuesday, 9 December 2014

Wednesday, December 3rd, 2014

Santa Clara, Cuba
 
Rough Sleep
 
 
Sleep was rough. Without a fan running at night, mosquitoes harass you like anything yet the propellers brought on a cough that persisted. Secondly, like the cars in Cuba, mattresses haven’t evolved in sixty years. The mattresses are still stuffed with springs that somehow brace one or two of your ribs. Ouch!
 
It was the second consecutive night of sleep discomfort. Room-partner, Sahil, took sick the night before, renouncing all he consumed for the whole day. “Use the toilet to do that, not the sink, please, Sahil!” I really did feel for him.
 
An hour drive took us to Santa Clara after a great two hour walk from Rodas’ precincts into country territory. Common imagery are, once again, horses and now cowboy hats.  Farmers take to the fields of sugar cane, greens, orchards, beans and rice.
 
Our small contingent of Canadian monks were walked to our first venue in Santa Clara for speaking at, “Sol Teatro” off of a pedestrian-friendly street called Boulevard.  Favourable responses came from all. Cubans love kirtan. Sahil, now feeling better, was at his optimum on the drum. Hayagriva mentioned that he was impressed by the youth attendance as well as the repeat presence by people from last year.  Some have taken now to japa chanting and in the kirtan everyone has their moment to dance up a storm in the centre of our formed circle.
 
The final stop for today was at the Theosophical Society centre. This was a mature group of folks. The president, vice-pres., secretary, treasurer and members made it a point to come. Most of the group are familiar with Krishna’s teachings, most appeared to be firm believers in the soul’s transmigration. Chanting came natural to them. The only thing that appeared “new” was having a swami to visit them. I told them I’ll be happy to come again next year.
 
Adios!
 
May the source be with you!
 

10 KM

Tuesday, December 2nd, 2014

Rodas, Cuba
 
More Pretty Than A Car
 
 
A horse is always more pretty than a car. Even if it is a souped-up ‘55 two-tone white and green Chevrolet, our first leg conveyance en route to small town Rodas. Still couldn’t match the beauty of the more dominant horses pulling buggies.
 
Our monastic team took advantage of the beach at Varadero, in ocean-splashing-fun before embarking on our ride to Rodas. There, we indulged in an explosive kirtan followed by a Q & A session.
 
Q: “How do we, in Cuba, develop a strong devotional community?” asked one of the local devotees of Krishna.
 
A: Success in this area will depend on strong relationships. There are four major categories of people that we need to cultivate relations with. The four categories to consider are: 1) Superiors referring to God, guru, elders, parents and mentors. 2) Peers refers to friends, equals in realization or age. 3) Innocents refers to children, students and the inquisitive. 4) The inimical refers to those most uninclined towards spiritual life. They may even have a highly critical nature.
 
I explained how each category be approached in their own unique way. Above all it is highly important to view everyone, from the bigger picture, as an equal spiritually but, for practical reasons, distinctions must be made.
 
More questions ensued, all with insight. Yes, it was a good evening. It was by our calendar, that we were compelled us to honour “Gita Jayanti”, the anniversary of when Krishna spoke the Gita. Today was also an ekadasi, a day to relax the stomach from consuming grains. Finally, we were in relatively quiet Rodas, where horse-drawn carts out-populate autos. Such a place can’t be all bad.
 
May the Source be with you!
 
4 KM


Monday, December 1st, 2014

Varadero, Cuba

 

We Are Here

 

“Try this mantra which helps to get your mind off of materialistic things,’’ said Hayagriva to the fellow in the car. It was he, the fellow, who was curious when he drove up to where we were ambling along and then who asked what we were all about.

 

‘’If I try this mantra and it doesn't work, I’ll come back to see you then, okay?”

‘’Surely!’’ said Hayagriva reassuringly and with an ounce of humor. The man then took off in a blast of diesel exhaust, as is common enough, even in the more posh resort areas of Cuba.

 

Hayagriva, Brihat and I took a two hour jaunt near the peninsula’s end, on the conventional side-walk parallel to the road which accesses all the resorts frequented by South-Americans, Germans, Russians, British, Canadians, just about everyone to the exception of U.S. Citizens. Double-decker buses whiz by and then retard speed to full stops along the way. I’ve been noticing tourists finding a three-some brigade of monks to be met with inquisitiveness.

 

Of course, we are not just here, in Cuba, to relax. We are in this intriguing country to strike up sparks of interest. Conversation is what we thrive on. Being that it is a day off (no speaking engagement today) we’ve left ourselves to be servants of a world of adventure, discovering that inner contentment is indeed sought after.

 

While the interaction with tourist is not just our prime goal in Cuba, we focus primarily on the sharing of the bhakti path to local residents, and those who have already begun the process previously. We are here to nurture and to be nurtured through the pure act of sharing something most worthwhile.

 

May the Source be with you!

 

9 KM

Sunday, November 30th, 2014

Habana, Cuba

 

The Way It Is

 

A librarian, Ariel, accepted the name Agni at his initiation today.  There was also Rahul who received the name Ramachandra (via Hridayananda Goswami) and the massage therapist, 23-year old Elvis, took the name Ekanath.

The Krishna community here in Habana was very happy for them.  They could appreciate the achievement.  The joy of community and initiate-recipients was expressed through the dance and mantra after the fire ceremony held in a generous woman’s apartment. 

Not everyone can own a car in Cuba.  At average, 20-30 dollars a month, it’s virtually impossible.  Being that the way it is, a good heap of attendees walked the 5 KM to and fro.  Certainly an event like a (havan) fire ceremony takes on a more traditional flavour when you walk to it.  Another advantage - people are outdoors.  They get to see you and you, them.

I was particularly keen on this response from the public which always gives me a big thrill, especially at our return to Riu resort in Varadero. 

In the relaxed atmosphere, the pop-over and questions didn’t stop.  Just as one curious browser would leave, another would come. Their question period was never long enough to go deep into a subject matter. The best of the bunch was a happy-go-lucky chap from Toronto, perhaps in his late sixties.

“What are you doing here?  I see you at Yonge and Bloor all the time,” he remarks about my frequent walks there in Toronto. He was less interested in my lifestyle in place of his own I guess. This is not as a judgmental remark but he really did brag about the cigars he smokes. 

“Great, but I stay away from the stuff,” I told him. “I don’t and I’m doing pretty good,” the man said in all smiles. 

As I close today’s blog entry I just wanted to reveal a true smile-maker.  Our new initiates and companion-monks from Canada sat together to memorize a verse from the Gita in Sanskrit whose translation goes as follows, “Even if you are habituated to erroneous deeds, when you are situated in the boat of transcendental knowledge you will be able to cross over the ocean of miseries.”  (4.36)  This might even apply to the cigar man.

May the Source be with you!

14 KM

Monday, 8 December 2014

Saturday, November 29th, 2014

Habana, Cuba   

Monastic Getting Around                                                                

I, along with three monks from Canada, taxied our way to the city of Matanzas last evening after a long beach walk.  Sand and salt water met our our feet along the Varadero beach.  At a bend to the beach we split ourselves for a preference to a dip or a nap.  Away from the industrial world and away from the masses, we enjoyed solitude on sand while shaded by plants.  Readings and discussions from the Bhagavad-gita centred on the topic of bhakti as the supreme yoga.  Just imagine if you will, four single men, (by name Hayagriva, Brihat, Frederic, and I) with not the worries of the world on our minds.  It really does work that way for monastics. 

After sundown in Matanzas we had this Cuban reception, initiated by a kirtan, followed by my talk.  Then today, a long drive to Habana , landed us at a culture house where we engaged in, once again, kirtan. From the lotus position, sitting down cross-legged, we all eventually stood up for a spontaneous dance.  The venue was Casa de la Cultura, a former architectural Spanish building of beauty, now in disrepair, like so many aristocratic edifices of the area.

People here appear to be immune to the disregarded state of affairs, but they do have each other.  They are the lovin’ kind.  They like rhythm and movement.  With that being said we did deliver.  All being pleased.  In the short time here in Cuba, a day and a half, we spanned some kilometres on foot, some on wheels and treated ourselves to the spirited hospitality of the Cuban people in Varadero, Matanzas and Habana. 

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Thursday, 4 December 2014

Friday, November 28th, 2014

Havana, Cuba
 
Sauntering – Part 3
 
From “The Spirit of Sauntering;  Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle”, by Maria Popova:
 
I am astonished at the power of endurance, to say nothing of the moral insensibility, of my neighbors who confine themselves to shops and offices the whole day for weeks and months, aye, and years almost together.

Of course, lest we forget, Thoreau was able to saunter through the woods and over the hills and fields in no small part thanks to support from his mom and sister, who fetched him fresh-baked donuts as he renounced civilization. In fact, he makes a sweetly compassionate aside, given the era he was writing in, about women’s historical lack of mobility:

How womankind, who are confined to the house still more than men, stand it I do not know; but I have ground to suspect that most of them do not stand it at all.

Thoreau is careful to point out that the walking he extols has nothing to do with transportational utility or physical exercise — rather it is a spiritual endeavor undertaken for its own sake:

The walking of which I speak has nothing in it akin to taking exercise, as it is called, as the sick take medicine at stated hours — as the Swinging of dumb-bells or chairs; but is itself the enterprise and adventure of the day. If you would get exercise, go in search of the springs of life. Think of a man’s swinging dumbbells for his health, when those springs are bubbling up in far-off pastures unsought by him!

To engage in this kind of walking, Thoreau argues, we ought to reconnect with our wild nature:

When we walk, we naturally go to the fields and woods: what would become of us, if we walked only in a garden or a mall?

Give me a wildness whose glance no civilization can endure — as if we lived on the marrow of koodoos devoured raw.

Life consists with wildness. The most alive is the wildest.

All good things are wild and free.

But his most prescient point has to do with the idea that sauntering — like any soul-nourishing activity — should be approached with a mindset of presence rather than productivity. To think that a man who lived in a forest cabin in the middle of the 19th century might have such extraordinary insight into our toxic modern cult of busyness is hard to imagine, and yet he captures the idea that “busy is a decision” with astounding elegance:
 
I am alarmed when it happens that I have walked a mile into the woods bodily, without getting there in spirit. In my afternoon walk I would fain forget all my morning occupations and my obligations to Society. But it sometimes happens that I cannot easily shake off the village. The thought of some work will run in my head and I am not where my body is — I am out of my senses. In my walks I would fain return to my senses. What business  have I in the woods, if I am thinking of something out of the woods?
 
May the Source be with you!
 
5 KM

Thursday, November 27th, 2014

Havana, Cuba

Sauntering – Part 2

From “The Spirit of Sauntering:  Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle”:

“He who sits still in a house all the time may be the greatest vagrant of all; but the saunterer, in the good sense, is no more vagrant than the meandering river, which is all the while sedulously seeking the shortest course to the sea.

Proclaiming that “every walk is a sort of crusade,” Thoreau laments — note, a century and a half before our present sedentary society — our growing civilizational tameness, which has possessed us to cease undertaking “persevering, never-ending enterprises” so that even “our expeditions are but tours.” With a dramatic flair, he lays out the spiritual conditions required of the true walker:

If you are ready to leave father and mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again — if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man — then you are ready for a walk.

No wealth can buy the requisite leisure, freedom, and independence which are the capital in this profession… It requires a direct dispensation from Heaven to become a walker.

Thoreau’s prescription, to be sure, is neither for the faint of body nor for the gainfully entrapped in the nine-to-five hamster wheel. Professing that the preservation of his “health and spirits” requires “sauntering through the woods and over the hills and fields” for at least four hours a day, he laments the fates of the less fortunate and leaves one wondering what he may have said of today’s desk-bound office worker:

When sometimes I am reminded that the mechanics and shopkeepers stay in their shops not only all the forenoon, but all the afternoon too, sitting with crossed legs, so many of them — as if the legs were made to sit upon, and not to stand or walk upon — I think that they deserve some credit for not having all committed suicide long ago."

… To be continued.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Wednesday, November 26th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Sauntering – Part 1


My good friend, Michael Oesch, cross-Canada walker, forwarded this article regarding walking, and a major proponent of the art, Henry David Thoreau.  This article is stupendous. 

The Spirit of Sauntering:  Thoreau on the Art of Walking and the Perils of a Sedentary Lifestyle

By Maria Popova

 

“Go out and walk. That is the glory of life,” Maira Kalman exhorted in her glorious visual memoir. A century and a half earlier, another remarkable mind made a beautiful and timeless case for that basic, infinitely rewarding, yet presently endangered human activity.
 
Henry David Thoreau was a man of extraordinary wisdom on everything from optimism to the true meaning of “success” to the creative benefits of keeping a diary to the greatest gift of growing old. In his 1861 treatise, Walking, penned seven years after Walden, he sets out to remind us of how that primal act of mobility connects us with our essential wildness, that spring of spiritual vitality methodically dried up by our sedentary civilization.
 
Intending to “regard man as an inhabitant, or a part and parcel of Nature, rather than a member of society,” because “there are enough champions of civilization,” Thoreau argues that the genius of walking lies not in mechanically putting one foot in front of the other en route to a destination but in mastering the art of sauntering. (In one of several wonderful asides, Thoreau offers what is perhaps the best definition of “genius”: “Genius is a light which makes the darkness visible, like the lightning’s flash, which perchance shatters the temple of knowledge itself — and not a taper lighted at the hearthstone of the race, which pales before the light of common day.”) An avid practitioner of hiking, Thoreau extols sauntering as a different thing altogether:
 
I have met with but one or two persons in the course of my life who understood the art of Walking, that is, of taking walks — who had a genius, so to speak, for sauntering, which word is beautifully derived “from idle people who roved about the country, in the Middle Ages, and asked charity, under pretense of going a la Sainte Terre, to the Holy Land, till the children exclaimed, “There goes a Sainte-Terrer,” a  Saunterer, a Holy-Lander. They who never go to the Holy Land in their walks, as they pretend, are indeed mere idlers and vagabonds; but they who do go there are saunterers in the good sense, such as I mean. Some, however, would derive the word from sans terre, without land or a home, which, therefore, in the good sense, will mean, having no particular home, but equally at home everywhere. For this is the secret of successful sauntering. “
 
… To be continued.
 
May the Source be with you!
 
5 KM

Tuesday, November 25th, 2014

Houston/Toronto

Sounds at the Airport


If I don’t make a deliberate effort to sing (very softly) my morning mantra, I will be subjected to mundane sound all around me.  Through the loud speakers at the Houston Airport, country western music vibrates through the airwaves.  It is not my cup of tea.  The selections chosen are indeed rather cheesy, if I could use the term.  It’s not the kind of stuff that stimulates self realization.

In the Toronto Airport, these old Motown greats are pumped out through the system.  They are no doubt, nostalgic.  At least you’ve got happy tunes.  I’m really impressed though, with the airport in Philadelphia, where they play classical music.  It’s an easy background for chanting japa on the beads.

Airport facilities are usually large enough that you can get away with a low volume, rhythmic Sanskrit song.  And even if you are caught singing, it’s of some benefit to the casual listener.  Sanskrit, and sometimes Bengali, and Hindi are the three principal languages that Krishna monks sing.  It may sound foreign to us, they’re sweet sounding nonetheless, and they are of a spiritual quality.  They can soften the heart, much like a good old song by the Von Trapp family. 

So, I’m stuck in an airport with the usual humdrum sounds.  I look out the window at a Texas winter outdoors and I wish I could be out there.  Not on the runway, of course, but somewhere where I can loosen limbs, somewhere where I can hear the sounds of a more free world, of birds and coyotes, and somewhere on a trail amidst trees or prairie.  There, I can sing at a volume that even the spiritual world could catch.

May the Source be with you!

0 KM

Monday, November 24th, 2014

Buenos Aires, Argentina

My Big Brother and I


My spirit brother, or what we call, god brother, goes by the name of Hridayananda Goswami.  He first became a monk under our guru’s mentorship back in 1969, if I’m not mistaken.  This morning he and I collaborated together.  Although miles away, Hridayananda was present with us in the temple room through Skype.  Still, I would say the event was totally mystical because two people, a couple who are undergoing a transformation of sorts, Marcello, who takes active roles in the dramas I bring to Buenos Aires, and his wife, Guadelupe, had decided to make a commitment towards spiritual advancement this very day.

Sitting by a fire yagya, the two expressed their vows to respective gurus, Hridayananda Goswami for her, and myself, Bhaktimarga Swami, for him.  It was both Marcello and Guadelupe who desired to make their vows announcing before their present well-wishers and friends, the reason for taking vows. 

In a brief paraphrase, here’s what they said, “To boost compassion, you accept a life of vegetarianism.  To enhance austerity, one avoids intoxication.  To be clean in both body and mind, you adopt the lifestyle of no illicit sex.  And to embrace the principle of truthfulness, you abstain from gambling.”

Guadalupe and Marcello were quite content with their new names.  Just after the fire ceremony, their family and friends already began calling them by their Sanskrit names.  Guadalupe is now Govinda Lila and Marcello is now referred to as Matsya Lila. 

It was a pleasure dealing with team player, Hridayananda Goswami.  He is my big brother.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Sunday, November 23rd, 2014

Buenos Aires, Argentina

People Stayed


Sunday proved to be just that – sunny.  Under this condition more people are inclined to travel from far reaches of the city to get on with the Ratha Yatra, the Chariot Festival.  I became the privileged chanting leader for the procession at the start.  The challenge was the increased number of humans.  Moving on foot in crammed conditions proved awkward, especially if you play a musical instrument.  My piece of paraphernalia was the microphone.  I was noting that the mic I used was small enough to fit through the earringed earlobe of a fellow.  Not that the mic was small, the ear hole was huge. 

Our usual location for entertainment and food was perfect – shady trees and peaceful atmospheres.  The stage was the best set up yet, about 8 by 5 metres.  It amazed me when music bands came in with their equipment, they know their stuff so well with their cables, gadgets and playing instruments.  The band called ‘Mukunda’ does this reggae style of kirtan and the yoga rave band called “So What” provide excitement to their respective audiences.  There was a clear focused attention given to our drama, “Little Big Ramayan”.  The great epic condensed to a half hour as we presented is very riveting. 

After the two ‘hot bands’ completed their sessions, we were on.  Not the drama, that came earlier on.  A monk from Germany, Gaura Vani Swami, and I, were expected to hold and excite the crowd.  With no chance of rehearsals to our more traditional approach, it left me feeling somewhat apprehensive.  The sun had vanished for some time by now, and we thought people were likely to depart.  Both GV Swami and I were taken by surprise, people stayed and followed the chant and our improvised dance steps.  We held the crowd.  It’s all the mercy of Krishna, really. 

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Saturday, November 22nd, 2014

Buenos Aires, Argentina

How November 22 Went


I have a sister whose birthday is today.  I usually never forget it.  I remember walking her home from school the day that JFK was assassinated on the same day.  That was an impactful day.  Who will ever forget? 

Somehow, being immersed in devotional service, dates just do not register in my mind.  I also didn’t have Roseanne, my sister on my mind, not until this writing, what to speak of remembering the day that those fateful bullets hit the US president.

There was just so much engagement, in fact, 16 hours straight I spent in a basement room working with a crew from scratch, “Little Big Ramayan”.  It was going to be my finale of this piece for this year.  Trying to direct a play to people who are accustomed to a different language, Spanish, is very interesting.  I would give a directive, and three or four people would volunteer and blurt out their own translation to the poor artist who was trying to understand.  And, as you may know, the Spanish language is much more flowery and expansive than the English language.  That approach had to change, so I had to select one person (uno) to help me with this.  Furthermore, working on a tile floor for those hours in a basement takes a toll on the body, and it happened to be a damp day.  The temperature outside is moderate, but tomorrow promises to be 30 degrees plus Celsius, a chance for sun exposure. 

Walks in the city can be pleasant enough.  I took note of less dog dung on the streets from previous years, trees are tall and shady, the air is great, it’s spring.  Pigeons are well fed here, plenty of breadcrumbs are dispersed by benefactors.  Doves are also recipients while Robins go for the worm after the fresh showers of rain.

I’m loving it. 

May the Source be with you!

5 KM