Tuesday, 18 December 2018

Sunday, December 16th, 2018

Cleveland, Ohio

Moving Around in Cleveland

Kaustubha and I walked to Olmsted Falls while morning was dark.  We were charmed by the rustic beauty of this little enclave with rushing river, covered bridge, antique shops and other shops selling stuff you don't really need.  It's a place for the rich, except for a couple of paupers like ourselves.  The place has a "Silent Night" feel to it and that's for everyone.

Now, every Sunday, followers of bhakti meet at Lakewood Young Filmakers Academy on Madison.  At exactly 11:08 a.m., I began speaking, not about film-making but of the wellness that comes from spirit-walking.  By that I mean chanting and striding along.  I told of my trekking adventures across the U.S. and Canada. Also in the quaint space, we chanted and did rock-dance.

Over in another end of town, the east end, Michael and Paurnamasi took me to the home of Krishnanandini and Tariq.  I spoke from the GIta, verse 15.14 where Krishna identifies Himself as the “fire of digestion”.  The word "fire" was significant because a fire was ignited in the fireplace from twigs gathered from the backyard.  We call this ceremony a havan and the group of people who came were there to partake in the diksha or initiation of Jake who's sixty-six.  I explained that the event is not really an initiation but more of a confirmation that the mantras he's been chanting will now be a life commitment.  Congratulations!

We followed this ritual with a wonderfully wild kirtan/chanting session.  The talk was conducted in a mood of sobriety but not without some jokes here and there.

May the Source be with you!
7 km

Saturday, December 15th, 2018

Columbus, Ohio

Having A Focus

I flew to Columbus and was then driven to a community hall in Dublin for an appreciation banquet dinner.  Prema Vilas—Prema means "love" so I refer to him as "Mr. Love"—organized the event and asked that I speak about the value of community.  From the spiritual perspective, I did.

"The basis of common unity, as the name implies, is to have a common goal.  Let us picture a very young Krishna who has been playing and herding in the pasture grounds of Gokula.  It's lunch time and He sits in the middle of the circle of His friends.  They enjoy looking at Him eat, talk and joke.  He is the whorl of the lotus and they, the boys, are the petals.  The petals have a centre on which they are hooked.  Krishna was popular with these boys, the gopas, and also with the girls, the gopis, as well as the adults of the village.  The point is we must have a central focus for there to be a strong community."

I was so happy to be in a room of what I consider a strong community for Columbus.  They are raising funds for a seven-million-dollar temple facility.  I was also glad to see my godbrother and godsisters, Yadhavacharya, Kamagiri, Krsnanandini and Malati.

There is a lot of material out there that delineates the concept of strong community.  It is good material but I believe it misses on one thing and that is the spiritual component in life.  Life is like an empty shell when the spirit is absent.

Michael, Paurnamasi and I then drove through rain-driven madness all the way to Cleveland.  It was Day 2 for no walking.

May the Source be with you!
0 km / mi

Friday, December 14th, 2018

Etobicoke, Ontario


Despite the mild weather of today and the willingness to experience the +3°C, destiny had it that I was to be temple-bound all day long.  For me the high point of the day entailed the morning discussions at the Bhagavatamclass led by Hara Kumar on yogis who took to spontaneous combustion.  Examples of people who passed on in their life by invoking the fire from within are Sati, the wife of Shiva, as well as King Dhritarastra, who was blind from birth and who decided to terminate with his Queen, Gandhari.  These fascinating stories are found in the books of Prabhupada.

How the topic came about was from the tale of Muchakund who burned to ashes with his laser eyes the barbarian, Kalyavana.

Another high point was having a frank talk with someone who felt the weight of depression.  Somehow my counselling bore fruit.  Spirits were raised.  Hope appeared to be restored.  It was such a good feeling when the session was over.

One anxiety for me was missing the visit by Vaisesika, a highly-powered devotee of bhakti, who was scheduled to come to Toronto for a sankirtanfest.  My schedule was set a while back and so I would not be able to take advantage of his stay, which involves very enlightening classes.

The final high point was a visit to a household located near the Toronto Airport.  Every Friday six families come together for a study of the Gita.  Discussions opened up regarding science and how it plays out to our advantage or to our detriment.  It was a fun debate.

It was a full day except for missing out on walking.

May the Source be with you!
0 km

Thursday, December 13th, 2018

Oshawa / Castleton

Water, Marsh, Trail

I consider myself to be in good hands—God's—when trekking a trail.  East of Toronto, just south of Oshawa proper, I was able to explore the Waterfront Trail and Oshawa Second Marsh.  It is a winding trail fit for pedestrians and cyclists.  At this time of year, you can expect solitude if that's what you want. I do.  There are plenty of people-needs to tend to as a Hare Krishna monk, so an hour of shanti, peace, is better than a prescription drug; better than an Ayurveda healing procedure.  Walking tops it all.

My first steps began right at the open lake, Lake Ontario.  

"This is a lake?" asked my support person, Ananda, from India.  "Is it sweet water?"

"Yes, sir.  It's an incredible massive lake which offers a harsh breeze."  

Ananda drove ahead as I went east into a more break-from-the-wind area of marsh, ancient trees and once again shanti, all on the Waterfront Trail.

At 2:10 p.m., it was time to move onward to Prince Edward Township and to Cold Shelter Valley Road.  There, on the farm, we met Jai and Rasa, and their family—which also refers to the shaggy ones in the barnyard.  My purpose in visiting them was to discuss the spring farm conference for Vaishnavas.  I wanted to drum up some interest for this noble but rural lifestyle, something encouraged by our guru, Prabhupada.

Ananda and I had the opportunity to feed goats, cows, and bulls.  When I saw their eagerness, I felt that this zeal, when applied to spiritual life, can bring success.   https://www.instagram.com/p/BrXrWZmAo3_/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=mquncsudggdq

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Wednesday, December 12th, 2018

Toronto, Ontario

Walking In Appreciation

Around the fence barriers of the under-construction park I went.  I'm happy when taxes go to public space improvement, even though at this season—winter—sitting at a park bench for any length of time is unfavourable.  I felt comfortable knowing that in the season ahead this green space will be enjoyed.  I'll be back on foot just for that.  Oh, by the way, the park I'm talking about is Queen's Park, where the provincial legislative building is located.

In the writings of our guru, Prabhupada, we learn that pious kings in Vedic times would arrange for green space, trees, lakes and wells for drinking, in their grandiose cities.  Architecture was made of beautiful craftsmanship—pleasing to the eyes.  I had the good fortune to visit Kuruksetra where ancient artifacts are on display from ruins from the city Dwarka, in India. Dwarka was under siege by nature's way. A tidal wave came to envelope the fortress established by Krishna Himself.  The disaster is explained in the epic Mahabharat.

I have expressed, in the past, of my disappointment with modern architecture.  The drab, squarish nature of many of today's structures often does little to bring pleasure to the eyes.  They seem like heaps of greed.

The edifice south of Queen's Park is a handsome looking building made of a type of red stone.  The legislative decision-making that goes on inside may not always be so appealing, but the exterior is something expressing optimism and hope.  It's nicely looked after.

My walking is over for the day.  It is night.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Friday, 14 December 2018

Tuesday, December 11th, 2018

Toronto, Ontario

The Ultimate Positive

It was awesome seeing snow move upward instead of the reverse.  From Pape and Danforth I stepped west and onto the bridge that is set over the Don Valley, and I guess gusts of wind took the descending snow in the direction that challenges gravity.  I wondered if anyone else noticed.  Pedestrians, like myself, faced a mild rawness from winter wind, but I sensed from their faces that reaching their night destination was all that mattered. How the snow blew wasn't important.

There is a rush.  It's Christmas!  Hanukkah! Perhaps other holidays.  In our tradition, Gita Jayanti is honoured on the 18th but that hasn't, as of yet, received the hype it deserves.  In any event, people are in a hustle, a bustle and sometimes a tussle at this time of year, and I always feel that a soft snow's landing makes much of the city's-traffic noise mute.  To a large extent, sounds are subdued.  Silent night!

One thing, for sure, is the average person walking the street is full in thought, as am I.  What the subjects of our thoughts are is what counts.  For instance, in the Gita it is stated, in Chapter 8, Verses 5 and 6, that whatever you are filled with in thought determines your destiny.  In particular, Verse 5 speaks of the preferential contemplation on Krishna, and that it is to His existence that we strive and hopefully arrive, due to a meditation on Him.  https://www.instagram.com/p/BrSSjtVgbGw/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=3zw8srnhcwhd

This is definitely something to work on.  The mind is a vessel that is never empty.  It must be filled with the ultimate positive.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Monday, December 10th, 2018

Toronto, Ontario

40 Steps to Healthy

Sent my way to make my heart smile was the following article, filed under “restore your faith, walk more drive less.”

“Bhaktimarga Swami (otherwise known as ‘the walking monk’) is a Canadian man who so far has walked around 20,000 miles during treks across Canada, Guyana, Israel, Mauritius, Ireland, Fiji and Trinidad. Wearing out four pairs of Crocs on each walk, he walks for around 8 hours a day, always facing the traffic, and making friends along the way.  Now in his 60s, he covers around 30km daily, and says the main danger is coyotes rather than humans (though he has been propositioned a few times by female drivers). He chants as he walks (especially at night) to let the animals know he is coming! 

The Walking Monk belongs to a religion called Hare Krishna.  This is a branch of the Hindu religion, started by Sri Chaitanya of Bengal back in the 16th century.  He believed that chanting the names of God was so powerful, that monks should chant in the street to benefit all.  The Walking Monk does indeed chant for several hours a day, as he goes walkabout. 

Hare Krishna monks always bless their vegetarian food, as they believe that your emotions are infused into the food.  So a lentil stew, made by an angry monk, is as bad as a meat pie! 

He has also had his brushes with the law. Some people have reported the Walking Monk on his travels, believing with his orange robes, that he is an escaped convict.  And one person even reported him as a ‘moving traffic cone!’ If you are wondering why Buddhist and Hare Krishna monks wear orange robes, it’s a tradition that dates back hundreds of years, simply because saffron dye was readily available in Southeast Asia (Tibetan monks tend to wear maroon robes). 

Why he walks:

To inspire a greener way of life, to promote pilgrimage & connection to the Divine through nature, to honour our teachers…and to make lots of friends!”

Thank you, author!

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Tuesday, 11 December 2018

Sunday, December 9th, 2018

Fallowfield / Ottawa

Off the Train

The conductor announced, "Fallowfield is next. Fallowfield coming up!"  https://www.instagram.com/p/BrPtD7YANuj/?utm_source=ig_share_sheet&igshid=gky6f1phbw3u

That registered with me, however, I had been caught up in reading, absorbed in the stories of monk Chaitanya.  Oops!  The train stopped.  This is where I get off.  I was swift on my feet and de-trained like anything.  There at the station was Surinder to pick me up for a short drive to his home for lunch, before heading to the Ottawa ISKCON Centre on 212 Somerset Street.

Actually, I was quite absorbed in reading about the demeanour of someone by the name of Ramachandra Puri.  He was a monk whom everyone despised.  He excelled in fault-finding, which is never good for anyone in spiritual life.  You could call him a fanatic.  It was humourous though, going over his nit-picking habits, finding faults in other monks over petty matters.

This is material for a new play! I thought.

Anyway, I made it to the kirtan,and delivered a class from 10.10 of the Gita.  The subject of the message was "Be A Giver."  The essential principle here is to recognize God in the heart giving us the intelligence to make the right devotional decisions.

It was great meeting a young guy who is a student at Ottawa U.  He explained he'd been dancing on the dark side of the moon with alcohol, but: "That's behind me," he proudly said. 

I expressed that we have to start giving to ourselves.

No walking today.  Time constraints.  Woe is me!

May the Source be with you!
0 km

Saturday, December 8th, 2018

Mississauga / Markham

Six Refreshing K's

I managed a refreshing six kilometres of walking from Yonge and Lawrence to the ashram. At the major juncture of Eglinton, I and a host of pedestrians waiting at the stop light, looked on in shock. And horror  at an older person with a walker crossing the street on the red.  Traffic was approaching but he managed to walk through out of the courtesy of the motorists who saw what was going on.  He was dangerously in his own world.

My walk was another nighttime walk, after conducting a house program in Markham.  There were quite a few new people there experiencing kirtanfor the first time.  They were quite eager to hear of my walking pastimes, so I obliged them. That request came in earlier on in Mississauga when I attended a program of a similar nature at a household there. For them, I told of wildlife attacks and threats from bears, birds and wasps.

My companion for that program was Dwarkanath, a Toronto monk from Bangladesh, who just lost his mum to cancer.  It's a little tough for him.  He wasn't there at the cremation as it took place in Kolkata. He's a good soul and I'm sure so was she, bless her heart.

I'm trying to encourage him to take walks just as I do.  He's still struggling with the weather challenge of Canada.  "The air is fresh here and you can get some prana, good air power, from the experience," I explained.  "Be a warrior."  Bravery is what I was alluding to.

Overall, it was a fulfilling day.  One last event was the Kid's GitaContest held in Toronto's ISKCON Centre.  The young children recited verses from the Gitafrom memory.  Impressive!

May the Source be with you!
6 km

Friday, December 7th, 2018

Richmond Hill / North York

Three Things

Monks have obligations.  When someone in the community perishes, a monk participates in the send-off.  Krishna Sharma, I'm guessing, was ninety.  She resided in our ashram in the ’80s.  I learned a few things from her in the kitchen.  She could make a fantastic green banana subji.  Her English wasn't totally terrific but we loved her attempt at it.  Instead of saying "spaghetti," she would come up with "subghetti."  We loved her. She was a real giver.

My experience is that family and friends at a crematorium are unsure of proceedings at the last rites, so I become a natural co-ordinator for her funeral—an emcee, you might say.  We highlighted chanting.  God bless her soul.

A second obligation executed today was a visit to the Caledon farm owned by Vishal and Yasomati.  The couple have come up with innovation, especially in regard to the by-products of bull and cow.  Their milk, dung and urine have miraculous properties, some which will even tackle cancer.  We relished their butternut squash soup, very organic, very local—in fact, from the farm. Monks visit farmers.

A final obligation was to stop by at the home of a family.  A second family joined.  To get there I actually walked from Yonge and Steeles to Yonge and Sheppard, a perfect five kilometres.  A couple, Bully and Amala, hosted a few of us for a kale and chilli supper.  Renunciant people visit homes to try and inspire. This is a young couple  and they are artists in music.  Upstairs hangs a fine painting by Amogha Pandit on their wall. It portrays monk, Chaitanya, dancing with associates.  Monks are meant to appreciate devotional artwork when rendered.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Thursday, December 6th, 2018

Varadero / Toronto

The Last Papaya

Light raindrops moistening our backs were the final goodbye gestures from Cuba's north-shore sky.  From the resort, ‘Memories’, Prana, Ananda and I boarded the bus for the Varadero Airport.  We are leaving behind us a wonderful group of people who feel sometimes very isolated from the rest of the family we call bhakti-yogis.  Unfortunately, one of our young men, Leonardo, is stricken with dengue fever, a mosquito-induced, sometimes fatal disease, and he's alone in intensive care.  May he overcome that hurdle.  Please help, O Divine Master.

On the bus, we re-connected with travellers making use of  the same deal as ourselves.  You have one week to go all out with your senses.  There's the beach, sun, sand, drinks, live music, all-you-can-eat food, internet—the works.  Those of us on the yoga mission stayed clear.  Our friends, who a week ago arrived with great anticipation, now, on the bus back, some part of them seemed drained, a trifle disappointed, not fulfilled, ready to move on.

I am not saying that the three of us are better, but I will say we were on a different program and we relished every minute of it.  The dance and chant in the tunnel, the wedding in the woods, the organic veggies cooked with love, the people eager to learn, and all of that in densely-populated Havana.

Perhaps my sweetest dessert, on the menu of all we did, was to speak of Prabhupada, our guru, and all he did for me and the world. He did have a remarkable impact.

Now, on a flight back to Canada, Ananda forks in his last chunk of Cuban papaya.

May the Source be with you!
4 km

Wednesday, December 5th, 2018

Matanzas, Cuba

Last Fall Day In Cuba

The goat, a baby, was lost from its herd and crying for help like anything.  Enroute to Varadero, our party of three made a stop-over in Matanzas, the "city of intellectuals," as people say.  We made our way to the peak elevation and to an old church where tourists love to be trapped for an hour or so.  The view is exquisite.  Great place for a picnic.  Also, excellent for a kirtan.  We did the above with devotees from the area.  Animals come up here to graze, ranging from horses, to cows and goats.

One goat, as I said, a baby, was led astray. He was anxious for Mom.  A horseback farmer noticed the panic-stricken goat, came over, swooped him up and brought him back to his domain—the herd.

Oh, we can be lost.  As souls, disconnected from the world of brahman, we are lost, separated from our Great Master.  We have to work diligently to get back to our home of freedom.

When back at Memories Resort in Varadero, Ananda and I had a swim and breathed fresh air; Havana is not a place for that.  We had someone behind us, a Canadian dude, start talking to us.  Because of the sikhas, the back tuft of hair we both sported, the fellow made a connection between us and some famous kick-boxers who evidently have that pony-tail.  I clarified who we actually were while in our swim gear.  From here on we got to talking about control of the senses, yoga with mantras, and agreeing to co-operate with the universe through dharma, and how then, although small, a mere cog in the universe, we will get the power and freedom which we deserve. 

"We need to approach it all with humility."

May the Source be with you!
5 km