Tuesday, 19 February 2008

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Sun. Feb. 17, 2008 - Ujjain, India

Today was another introspective day with respect to spiritual leadership. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had explained that there is sometime casualty on the royal road meaning that when one is on the journey of spiritual evolution there can be a weakness that sets in and effect the practioner to the point of disinvolving himself or herself. Indeed the soul can have its dark hour. This may also be the case for someone who has reached the height of being a leader.
It has been emphasized in the seminar the notion of retaining the servant attitude. One has an obligation to oneself first to see to it that spiritual health is intact. On a plane they advise that you take the oxygen mask before applying to your child or dependent. Similarly if you have students or followers you are expected to be fixed and fit in devotion and then they will benefit.
It is of paramount importance that we are up for self-assessment and that is one of the reason for being part of an initiative that allows for introspection. We also discussed the need for a buddy system, in a way that is conducive to spiritual health.
In the morning I was asked to lead Kirtan chanting but in the process drums were too many, khar-taals as well so midway through I stopped the kirtan and begged to reduce "the noise level". So we started again.
6 km

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Sat. Feb. 16, 2008 - Ujjain, India
The train sounds faintly in the distance. It is 3:10 AM and it could well be 3:10 PM and the same train could likely be heard. Trains are prevalent in India and they have been a vital conveyance for moving people for at least a century or more. The train experience as a passenger is a colourful one. If you are not on a first class wagon and end up on a lesser status it is easy to feel like cargo at a time in the push for space. For the moment I am joyful to be free on the open street, Dewas Road, mobilized by my legs or the converse, being mobilized by my legs. Particularly every hour there is an automobile or a scooter that passes by and so quiet prevails which is so conducive for walking and chanting. My chosen route is the immediate area of the temple going "goom goom" or round and round. It is never my intention to be private but visible. As a monk our life should be an "open-book" or "like a reality TV show", a message that came out of today's seminar. At this hour in the morning who might be watching my moves? The answer is that there are plenty of security guards at particularly ever property site noting that I am there walking and chanting. I am not alone ever. There is always someone watching - the sun, the moon, people, animals what to speak of God in the heart.
6 km.

Friday, February 15, 2008

Fri. Feb. 15, 2008 - Ujjain, India
India has a multitude of rivers, all sacred, according to residents and teachers of Vedic knowledge. The Kshipra River flows through Ujjian and draws millions of pilgrims to this body of water as one of the four annual sites for the popular Kumbh Mela, a festival which honours the pot of immortality nectar held by the goddess, Mohini Murti, as a gesture to offer long life to pious demigods.
It was day number two of a seminar on spiritual leadership and those participating were all leaders mostly monks and including some married folks. We explored the attributes of the ideal spiritual leaders, his or her assimilation of wisdom, its applications and the consequences that arises from not following certain principles and values.
They are good learning sessions and when you consider that 5,000 years ago Krishna, as a young boy, along with brother Balaram came to Ujjian to learn of 64 arts, this location must be well charged up for learning. Sandipani Muni was the name of the guru and it is not hard to feel the influence of such an empowered teacher.
As happened last night the day ended with a Kirtan at my lead. This is God's mercy, of course.
My early morning trekking takes place in the temple's neighborhood.
8 km.

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Thurs. Feb. 14, 2008 - Ujjain, India
A quiet and non-congested place is sometimes hard to find in India but somehow or other Ujjain (Population 500,000. aprox) situated in the state of Madhya Pradesh is one of those clean air retreat friendly cities. The ISKCON temple is situated in the outskirts. The project headed by Bhakti Charu Swami, a Bengali native, carries all the charm of this dear and kind monk. In the morning discourse the swami spoke of how the institution was precedented to work democratically without a single successor. Collective consciousness was the order set by head monk Srila Prabhupada, the founder. This type of governance offers a reasonable checks and balance system and hence some security for participants. Granted there is no real firm protection in this mundane world. Who doesn't claim to be enslaved by life's features of birth, death, old age and disease? I received an email message that one of our members of ISKCON in Toronto just passed on due to a nasty automobile accident while in India. Bless the soul of Bandhari Prabhu whose life was of devotion to family and Krishna. Life goes on as the sun pervades here in India despite the dying dynamics and birth dynamics of this world.
9 km

Wednesday, 13 February 2008

Friday, February 01, 2008

Fri. Feb 01/08 - Calgary, Alberta

Today I completed a poem about my dad (John Vis Sr.)

Dear Creator,
You struck a good balance
When you linked the leaf and petal
Came a man of heart and muscle
Smooth as silk, hard as metal.

With pride he told his pastimes
Of a place of mills and dikes
Which fueled life then and there
With feet on skates and feet on hikes.

Folks then bore brutal war
Watched the stock market crash
Lost jobs but not nerve –
Convictions could never be smashed.

He left the land below sea level
For a promised place remote
Atlantic waters rippled by
Wonderlust was his virtual boat.

He married a lady called Rose
They passed through fragrance and thorns
They begot two guys ‘n two gals
Then a twin was newly born.

He walked us down the outdoor trails
But inside told of birds and bees
He gave us each those daily chores
And how to milk those cows with ease.

He grew those plants with his green thumb
Toiled decades on the assembly line
With different strokes he cracked those jokes
He was just fun-loving all the time.

Patience he learned in a very hard way
He gave us our choices in life
Our music was not to cope with
It gave him some stress and strife.

His was a full life of colour
Sporting half beard and wooden shoes.
He was extraordinary and yet ordinary
An upbeat dad you thought you’d never lose.

His heart froze in the land of the petal
His body lies in the land of the leaves
Oh Creator, rest his soul in heaven
For he was born to give and to please.

H.H. Bhaktimarga Swami
4 Kms today.

Thursday, January 31, 2008

Thurs. Jan. 31/08 - Calgary, Alberta
It was rather shocking news throughout Canada. The newspapers headlines amplified “Cold Reality”. Regardiung 2 toddlers, 1 and 3, found frozen to death lying in the outdoor snow clad in diapers and the father, still alive, frost-bitten on a native reserve in Saskatchewan. Temperatures had reached minus 50 degrees Celsius.
The “Reality” is life’s duality, the extremes and how to cope with them?
I bundled up to a minus 27 degree in the Calgary afternoon chill to do my body some service- exercise and move the body airs around inside. I had brunched with a primary school teacher at the residence of Gaurachandra, a marvelous saxophone player and spiritual man, along with Vanipriya, his wife, and Jagannath his son. Conducive for such chilled weather we had our hot soup while speculating over the decision for Toronto to open a black-only school for black kids.
Wouldn’t this ignite a new segregation? Even racism? Moreover, from a monks perspective isn’t this decision highly bodily conscious? All the decades of efforts to defuse racism seems to now have gone straight out the window. I find such social shifts very interesting.
Our evening event was a satsang, home program, of chanting and encouragement towards chanting.
Chanting is where the real warmth lies.
5 kms.

Wednesday, Januaray 23, 2008

Wed. Jan.23/08 - Dallas Texas
My stay here was on Gurley Avenue in the home of the ISKCON temple’s co-ordinator. His name is Nityananda, Fijian born, and is a gentleman. The temple is gorgeously re-made with a combined gothic church look and vedic temple modification, interior and exterior. My room was a minute walk from this location which has an award winning restaurant incorporated inside. The neighborhood is graced with modest homes keeping the Texas sky large and leaving some presence of Pecan trees. Mostly Mexican families surround the devotees community and it’s not uncommon for someone to maintain a rooster in their yard.
In my early morning japa (chanting) walk I came upon stray dogs and if it wasn’t for a boisterous local man to call them off I might not have been able to proceed.
Monks and married men and women from the Krishna order had come to Dallas for an annual continental gathering for business of our mission. I was pleased to be asked to lead in some kirtan (singing) to commence the meetings set for the following three days. I was also given access to the Dallas community of youth as we planned rehearsals and presentations of the 30 minute drama “Canto 10”.
I’m not much of a meetings person but it is a necessary austerity that helps keep order.
It is a nice service.
9 kms.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Mon. Jan. 21/08 - Blenheim, Ontario
The previous day was spent at McKinlay Funeral Home to have the last glimpse at the man I adored, my first guru, my father. Surely his life force is gone and moved on.
A member of the family booked several rooms for us at Chatham’s Comfort Inn. I took to early walking in robes of course. It was dark and a person reported to the police that someone was walking in slippers and a gown in this 20 below degrees so police came. I undid my hood and explained that I’m a monk and having my last reflective walk before burying him this morning. Respectfully they offered a word of condolence and went on their way.
My three sisters and two brothers attended the last rites at St. Mary’s church, then the burial right next to mom who was placed there in 1992.
Farwell, dad.

Saturday, January 19. 2008

Saturday January 19/08 - Port Royal Pennsylvania
The morning message was based on a verse from Canto 5 of the book, Bhagavatam when renounciant king by the name Bharat fell overly affectionate for a lost fawn. He went so far as to say that the earth is blessed because of the deer’s dainty hoofprints etched on it’s soft surface. You could call it a situation of love sickness.
We all have our moments of extremities and they do lead to trouble. That’s why the safest path to tread is the middle gorund, the path of balance, caution- the path of goodness, satva guna.
The residents at the rural community, Gita nagari, were highly attentive to the message of the verse, thrust towards goodness and the satva guna way of living. The resident peacocks outside the temple confirmed it with their cooing.
The balance of my time there was spent in passion. We had pre arranged some drama practice with the local youth and the piece was called “Canto 10”. There was no time to complete practice sufficiently as there was (don’t know the word) no time to walk.
I’m a little worried I’ll put on extra pounds.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Friday January 18/08 - Harrisburg, Pennsylvania
I am truly spending more time in the air than on the ground these days. However, my brief walk with companion Pandu, is practically like being in the air. My hosts in Harrisburg are Tand Krishna and Lila Katha, an absolutely lovely couple. Their home is at the top of one of those Pennsylvania hills. The January winds offer a chill. Leafless hardwood trees are set against white slopes and it’s rather appealing to me.
In the evening I was asked to speak at a community centre which is a weekly venue for those keen on Bhakti yoga. The topic was verse 10:12 and 13 of the Gita which addresses the preference of the manifest over the unmanifest aspect of the Supreme. I relayed to the group of forty or so people how in my younger years I was wrongly put in prison overnight and a day 30 years ago and while there I met a manifest God.
Truly this prisoner was self-declared and I asked him if he could manifest his universal form as outlined in Chapter 11 of the Gita. His rather questionably intelligible remark was,” I am not up to it now but I’ll do so when I wish to.”
The remark brought laughter to the enthusiastic group. One man in the group wanted to hear about some anecdote from the road so that sent me flying not through the air but through the ether, through time and on those roads again. Naturally we had tales to tell to the gathering and it appeared that they too were transported to a world of walking.
A modest 2kms.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Thurs. January 17/08 - Columbus, Ohio
My hosts for today was Naveen Krishna and family in a Colunbus suburb, upper Arlington in a section of town with zero crime rate. An early morning walk through this neighborhood of well maintained residences and plenty of churches convinced me that I’m in conservative middle-class America and in a safe zone. The irony is that this whole mundane exsistance is fraught with the insecurities of death, old age and disease. This may seem as cynical to say but such truth cannot be clothed. Life is harsh!
My father was the epitome of energy, a robust rock and the farthest point from being a dead – dad. He was upbeat. The pity of life is to see something so powerful diminish and shut down. He is relieved now and so am I. May he be better situated in a new life of (don’t know the word) and I thank him for being my first guru and instilling in me a taste for spirituality that has become a life-line.
My mourning for him is over and I was able to participate forthrightly in a program held weekly at the ISKCON centre.

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Wednesday, January 16, 2008 - Cleveland, Ohio
On the flight back to Cleveland I enjoyed reading articles from “Back to Godhead” magazine. It is a unique bi-monthly journal and features articles on Vedic philosophy, places of pilgrimage, people’s personal spiritual testimonies and more. One of the publication’s purposes reads, “to help discern reality from illusion, spirit from matter, the eternal from the temporary.” For a journal in today’s world it is indeed rare.
As we descended through clouds and the Continental 737’s windows revealed frost-white blotches on the landscape below to contrast Florida’s greenness and in the moments when I thought back on what I just left behind a vision of another new aquaitance came to mind. During the chanting session at South Beach one of the participants was a true pilgrim whom I had read about in a previous “Back to Godhead”.
The pilgrim is Chadrabhagad. She and her husband Avadhuta hold to their credit a distasnce of 10 000 miles when in 2003 they lived from a horse driven cart from Pennsylvania to Ecuador. It was an honour to meet a comrade that I shared a common Karma with. The tragedy as she explained about the project is that in a mountain region two vehicles on a foggy day clashed and startled the horse toppling the cart and injuring the driver, Avadhuta, who became paralyzed. Bless him! They are my heroes.
The scene of the accident was at Cuenca, Ecuador and has halted the project whose goal was to encourage the simple life.
An evening program was held at Cleveland’s west-end gathering center at the home of Dayal Nitai former heavy metal musician. In the evenings message I emphasized the need to always remain connected to spiritually evolved people.
As I was about to leave for a two hour ride to Columbus I received a call from Remuna my assistant from Toronto; ”Your dad passed away five minutes ago.”

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Tues. Jan. 15/08 - Miami Florida
Miami is definitely a favourable destination for those who wish to beat the winter cold. That’s what we found at South beach where tourists from all over the world throng.
Organizers of the Miami temple at my personal request arranged for four vehicle loads of Krishna men, women, and children to perform sankirtan, public chanting on a strip of cafes, bars and bistros. The homeless merrily joined our dance, while the home-owned looked on. Europeans stood neutral but were armed with cameras. Hispanics tended to shake their bodies to our beat. The area is posh but without prana, life air except for chanting. My measure of the place is completely bias.
In the afternoon our walk through Fairchild Botanical garden allowed me to expand my appreciation for nature’s gifts once more. There were chocolate trees and there were Vanilla trees. Traditions valued these commodities to the point where in the case of cocoa Central America used it as a currency at one time. The famous pop artist Roy Lichenstein had impressive sculptures set in green settings. Two of our boys, young and agile climbed coconut trees and helped themselves to and ourselves to sweet coconut water.
Another visit to Vizcaya Mansion, home of the late James Dearing, drew us to elaborate gardens as a way to inspire us in our own garden development around the temple.
The culmination of these walks led me to Coconut Grove for an evening winding-down. I met Robert Simpson, a homeless man of 65. He was actually well dressed, spoke well and was well-read. In India he would have fit in as some kind of Sadhu, a wandering mendicant. Robert did describe himself as transient. I walked him back to our temple On Virginia street and encouraged him to visit on Sunday.
7 kms.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Sun. Jan 13/08 - Miami Florida
My previous day was a joyfully busy-morning sadhana, a brief administrative meeting, an anna prasanna, a ritual for offering a baby’s first grains; a drama workshop to yoga students; a home visit, and a large satsang, a chanting session for a hundred people.
Today was more relaxed. At the Toronto airport Terminal 3 a black Jamaican fellow asked about Hare Krishna. He was surprised that most members are not monks but are family people. The flight to Miami was catch-up time on sleep. Once I arrived it was local devotees to meet, a lovely meal, a two hour rehearsal on a skit for the Sunday open house. I was asked to lead the chanting session, then give a talk (about dhrama) and then host the skit to a surcharged audience.
My evening stroll at Coconut Grove allowed time for reflection on my ailing father. In a poor neighbourhood some folks were taking in the last few minutes of the day with ease on their front porch. Like the fellow at the airport they were curious about Krishna. “Why not say something?” I thought, despite the hour. So I did.
5 kms.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Thurs. Jan. 10/08 - Ottawa, Ontario
Indoor walking can easily be accomplished, as anyone knows, when pacing the treadmill. This mechanical device has become so popular over the last two decades. As I was driven to Govinda’s Dining in the evening I peered out the vehicle window and spotted a health club for students at Ottawa University. The place with expansive windows off of King Edward drive was fully capacitated by students. There were treadmills, of course, and a host of machineries well utilized for pumping up good health.
I certainly can’t be judgmental and say, from the monk’s perspective, that this is all bodily consciousness and deserves condemnation. I’m all for good health. In fact these human bodies are the creator’s machinery meant for maintenance. My preference is those walks in brisk air. It cannot match the indoor stationary stuff.
Ironically I found myself early this morning walking inside Govinda’s is a circumambulatory fashion around tables and chairs during closed hours. It was my way to have the company of the host, Shankar, who was also pacing as the both of us were fingering our meditation beads and uttering the maha mantra.
My brief stay in Ottawa necessitates that I take full advantage of every moment. Being in the company of a good soul changes your life. I can see that from the previous night’s performance that Shankar’s steadfast service at cooking and dishing out his vegan meals has won the respect of student recipients over the last twenty years.
Spiritual walks! Spiritual food! Spiritual companionship! There is nothing as beneficial.
5 kms. Inside.

Sunday, 10 February 2008

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Tues. Nov.20/07 - Miami, Florida
It was a long overnight flight to Miami and so walking had it’s limitations due to catching up from the fatigue it imposes. I’m talking of a sleep after participating in the temple’s morning sadhana. Our benevolent doctor friend Hugo Romeu, aka, Murari Gupta treated myself and the few other resident monks to a motor boat ride off of the harbour at Coconut Grove. We were anxious to see the common manatees, sometimes referred to as large sea cows. The younger monks enjoyed a swim in the salty waters. No manatees to be seen. The doctor did warn that occasional sharks have been known to take bites out of people. Usually though sharks find human flesh foul and little is pursued after the first bite. He did mention that he treated shark bite patients. By this time the boys were out of the water and into the boat. It’s a dangerous world.
One of the top stories of the local paper featured an article, “Detroit, the Most dangerous City.” I recall it used to be Miami in terms of crime. In any event the whole planet is rather insane and dangerous.
The day ended in safe territory, the place where people sing and dance, the temple at 3220 Virginia street.
(Flying, boating, dancing).

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sun. Nov.18/07 - Buenos Aries, Aregentina
The real star of yesterday’s show at the Montevideo monument was a little urchin boy (about 6 years old) clad in smudged sweat pants and no top, his face injured by a recent fall or fight. After spending hours mingling in the crowd he helped himself up to the top of the monument’s base and managed to squeeze his body between Bhakti Bhushana Swami and I. There he decided to remain to see what it’s like at the top. Despite his frivolity he steadfastly kept his ground. Finally after the exuberant kirtan finished he gambled his way to the mic hoping to imitate Ajamaila with an amplified voice. The lengthy kirtan drew us into the night and the show was over but our friend tried to make a last sound. Before disassembling the sound equipment our sound man decided to give the unkept but quiet boy a chance. Our local Mother Superior, Maha Murti, schooled him in a crash course on the popular chant, “Hare Krishna.” He proudly and exclusively delivered the mantra-nothing else. It grabbed the attention of the few remaining stragglers who gave him a cheer and applause. I think it was the greatest moment of the boy’s life.
Today’s venture top the park fueled by local monk, Gunagrahi swami, entailed a three and a half hour chanting session. The park was flooded with craftsmen, musicians and buskers of all kinds. The tango couple were popular but I would see our performance, not far behind in bringing attention, was a show of a different kind.
Reflecting on the day of entertainment from dawn to dusk the robins enjoying spring in Argentina have everyone beat when they send off their melodies at the crack of dawn. When first seeing them on their first day of this trip to Buenos Aries I addressed them while they were perched on trees, “So this is where you guys go in the winter.”

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Sat. Nov.17/07 - Buenos Aries, Argentina
This morning I was driven to the park at Plaza Francia to look at our site for performing. I had been informed that this year no stage would be set up so I was curious how our production , “The Gita” was going to become a reality. A regal monument of Montevideo was to be our backdrop featuring lion and horse images and historic heroes in stone and bronze looking like Demigods and Apsaras. The base of the monument offered various levels from which to make presentations. That was also attractive as a feature and lent itself to a greater feeling of depth. All in all the set up was favorable.
The Ratha Yatra or Festival of Chariots, a component of the Festival of India rolled along several retail and residential streets with hundreds of participants, chanters, shaking the town. Ajamila, also from Toronto, and I took the lead of chanting during the procession. Both the procession and the play were pulled off very successfully. I was proud of the performers. They worked hard and they deserved the praise they received.
The day ended with explosive kirtan in front of the monument with Gunagrahi and Bhakti Bhushana Swamis, my dear friends, playing congos and kartals respectively.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Thurs. Nov.15/07 - Buenos Aries, Argentina
There are favorable breezes in Buenos Aries as I assume the name implies. Myself and several novice monks, young brahmacaris, took to walking with meditation beads in hand on the streets. Eighty street blocks was the distance covered over two hours of fairly attentive chanting. Sidewalks, curbs, and cobblestone streets are uneven so at least reflexology came to us as a natural benefit to the usual lazy feet of the current age. Even for myself accustomed to an average eight hours of trekking during marathons I am experiencing such lazy feet.
My voice and the balance of my entire body is active though. Devotees here insist on my leading the chanting sessions and with that comes innovational dance. The afternoon and evening hours see me directing a drama-“The Gita” in preparation for the weekend’s Festival of India. Fortunately the volunteers numbering twelve amateur but sincere actors shape the play that will hopefully satisfy the outdoor audience at the Plaza Francia. The challenges are plentiful. One volunteer was engaged at his regular job. I haven’t as yet secured an available narrator, an integral part of this thirty minute production. Everything is done in Spanish, so there’s a natural barrier for me. And lastly, one of the female actress at the trail end of our rehearsal was informed that her father was struck with a heart attack. She apologized for her having to bow out. With tears in her eyes and empathy from the cast members we were left with a pleasant hurdle to contribute to a new adventure. Tomorrow would be our last and third day for a crack at practice. We have so little time, the consolation is we have Manyana (tomorrow)!10 kms.

Wednesday, November 24, 2007

Wed. Nov.24/07 - Buenos Aries, Argentina
By the solar calendar it would be calculated as thirty years since the departure of our beloved teacher, Srila Prabhupada. It is a day of serious contemplation. The most significant part of the hour and a half flight to Buenos Aries from Miami was reading some of our master’s correspondences to his students. It struck a humorous cord when in a letter of the 4th of March, 1973 to one disciple in regards to dressing deities or icons in the temple, and the dressing habits of people. “The more you can decorate the deities soberly and not fanatically, the more you become decorated with all honors. At the present moment, civilized man has forgotten how to decorate, therefore this mini-skirt …..Human being means to be decorated, not naked.” He also one time wrote that we live in a topless-bottomless world. He was expressing that he did not approve of revealing too much flesh. In support of the culture where covering yourself and looking good was in vogue a friend once said, “ I remember the times when people used to dress.”
It was interesting when I cleared at customs and was received warmly by the local monks. One of them said to me, “ On your flight there is a famous porn star so a lot of people are out here waiting to greet her. When one person saw us (monks) waiting he joked with us…..Are you guys here to see the porn star as well?”
Of course, I had to chuckle but inside I wondered if anyone had any interest in the motherly types of women who don’t mind dressing, and dressing not to kill.
The reception at Centro Bhaktivedanta on Andonaequi in Buenos Aries was warm like at any latino grouping of people. The drums resounded and all chanted,” Hare Krishna” before they had me take the lead.
0 kms today and that’s the “plane“ truth.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Tues. Nov.13/07 - Miami Florida
On the flight to Miami the man sitting next to me took some interest in my lifestyle as a person in the renounced order. Although we both wore the same brown crocs our attire was markedly different. While he was clad in regular casual wear I donned my saffron cloth.
“can you pick your own color?” he asked. He commented that he liked the colour. I let him know his comment was appreciated and that this colour was reserved for the single celibate men of our order.
As I deplaned I also reminded myself that this life of self-control along with this specific colour of cloth is something you earn after years of comfortable restrain. I say comfortable because for me it has been thirty-four years of experiencing what Krishna explains in the Gita as the higher taste. Travel, whether it be on foot or on flight with the purpose of touching souls, is a great privilege.
The remainder of the day was spent at the Miami ISKCON Centre at Coconut Grove until it was time in the evening to depart for Buenos Aries. I was happy to see the massive smile of our local legal advocate who is also very much a devotee. Apparently a pending and grueling court case involving the temple terminated into a happy settlement.
Legal battles are ugly and in the current climate of social awares they ciontribute majorly to the stress factor.
Over the years I’ve observed the draining and devastating effects that disputes have brought on. Conflict and disagreement are unfortunate indeed but they are components of this mundane world. If we take shelter of our spirituality then it is possible to survive such a trying world.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Tues. Nov.6/07 - Winnipeg, Manitoba
I guess I reiterate the case of the robes and how they are so eye-catching. They excite or alert the people who notice them. About three years ago I visited Orlando, Florida and stayed with a monk and colleague, Trivikram Swami. An American who took to monastic life as a Hare Krishna devotee in the late 60’s. I ventured off on my walking downtown. As I was just about to reach the central core of the city I was approached by a young chap who pulled over his vehicle. He was a photographer, Michael Brown, doing an assignment for National Geographic covering a story on Orlando, the side of Mickey Mouse’s domain you never see.
Michael asked me if I would be interested in having shots taken of myself viewing the features of this noted city, the good and the bad. I agreed and so the following day we roamed the city for hours, the various neighborhoods with him clicking away on his state-of-the-art-camera. Between shots we naturally talked about our differing lifestyles with mutual respect.
The photos never made it to the National Geographic but my point is that the robes of a monk, a dhoti, Kurta, and chaddar caught this young man’s professional eye and so it struck a friendship.
While taking to my daily walk, this time on portage Avenue again, I met a woman who was thrilled to spot the robes. “Are you Hare Krishna?” “Yes I am.” I retorted. “ I have a sister in the movement. Her name is Sanga. And I’m Tracy………” The robes did it again.
This evening there was a talk at the venue on Maryland street. “Pilgrim Power” was highlighted. The show of attendees was skimpy to start off but the room eventually filled up. My objective here was to attempt to mentally take the audience to the road and try to see the world differently.

Monday November 5, 2007

Mon. Nov. 5/07 - Winnipeg, Manitoba
I was towards the home of our hosts for tonight’s satsang, home program When I met an interested young man at the corner of Sherbrooke and Portage. The lights were red, so I waited and looked at the figure standing next to me.
“It’s cold”, said the oriental man. “Yes it really has suddenly turned into winter here”. I replied.
After nature’s dumping of hail stones the snow flurries came. “This is the first time I’ve seen snow,” he remarked with a child’s excitement in his eyes and voice.
“get ready, there’s more to come.” I rebutted. I wanted to say in an Al Jolson tone, “You ain’t seen nothin’ yet”, but I didn’t think he would understand the style or the jargon.
“What country are you from?” I inquired. “Viet Nam’, he said with a smile. We talked a little more but it was time to part and also time to walk. Walking keeps you warm.
It’s almost always the robes that initiate the friendship. Had I regular civilian clothes on the chances of meeting this fellow were slim. Another gentleman pulled over at McPhillips, came out of his car and offered a ride. That’s rare in the city, and in the dark. It was the robes.
Finally I reached the home of Varun where chanting took prominence over the visit. The small gathering was pleased to receive the sadhu (monk) as is customary for East Indian families.

Thursday, 7 February 2008

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Sun. Dec. 30/07 - Montreal, Quebec
I rolled my luggage for a good 4kms down to the bus depot in Toronto ready for a journey to Montreal. Thank God for decent sidewalks otherwise the baggage with wheels could not have survived the torture.
The experience at the bus depot at the peak of Christmas time was nothing but mayhem. Congestion, passenger line-ups were erroneously merged for Montreal and New York, extra buses pulled up to deal with the volume of people but it wasn’t enough, many of us were left waiting, public phones were not functioning with the recent conversion of the new 50 cents charge after the 25 cent hike. I was near the front of the line for the third additional bus when it was announced that now the bus is waiting in another lane. After a mad rush for all to relocate it meant now I ended up at the end of the line. Such disorder! I WAS CONSIDERING A TICKET REFUND AND WENT TO THE TICKET COUNTER. There was no empathy. Fury enflamed me but I found I had no recourse but to cool down, tolerate and drive for humility. I decided to go to the customer services counter. And a woman there lodged her personal complaints in a particularly loud voice saying “ You’re treating me like this because I’m a black woman!” Funny thing is that the person on the other side of the counter was also black. Many things made little sense.
I could not wait to ascend the stairs of the designated bus. Eventually I resolved to “let go” of any bitterness.
A young chap approached me while in line and asked if I was “The walking monk”. Finally I handed my ticket to the bus driver and this was a sure sign that, “I’m in”. I boarded the bus, breathed easy, chanted easy and made my way to 1626 Pie IX Boulevard eventually there to gain the good association of monk fellowship and devotional laypersons. It was the Sunday feast and the spirit was high. It was worth all the trouble.
4 kms.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Sat. Dec. 29/07 - Toronto, Ontario
I was impressed with the turn out of the youths at the Armenian last rites services from two days before. I felt secure knowing that in our world a younger set can generate felling and have a heart.
Not related to this event but to the participation of youth in our own community today persons from New York, North Carolina, Montreal, Edmonton and the locally-bound converged at our acoustically-fine hall on Avenue road to engage in a weekend Kirtan. It felt good.
They sang well and played well the mrdangas (drums), harmonium and hand cymbals. They relish each others company. They cook for themselves and make extra amounts of food for comers to the temple. This is the real richness of life-social interaction with a spiritual center.
I had tackled making breakfast here for two days in a row with the good Devadatta the monk. It was coming out fairly satisfactory.
On the early trek down Yonge street I noticed the news stands with captions surrounding the death of political leader, Bhutto, of Pakistan. The world is troubled and most disunited. May we take a lesson from youths at their best!
8 kms

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Thurs. Dec. 27/07 - Toronto, Ontario
My sister had married into the Armenian community. The funeral of her husband was held at St. Mary’s church on Victoria Park Avenue. The priests of this Orthodox church were kind and seated me on one of their Vyasasanas, a special seating area reserved for clergy. The service was powerful followed by the burial in a nearby cemetery. Hundreds came in their mourning black attire as all were set against pure white snow. This was a black and white film with true drama.
The dominant gesture was hugging and holding as tears ran down cheeks. Stalwart students of this heroic soccer coach could not hold back emotions what to speak of immediate family. Someone with a vile mind had knocked down this Mr. Optimism in a cowardly way with a gun to his head. In all this horror and grimness my angelic sister very much held her composure despite all the internal and utter pain. She was Mrs. Courageous.
I reminded her that the spirit is not slain. It goes on living and improving itself.
The casket lowered. The sudden death that shocked a sector of the earth leaves behind it a trial of questions- “who?’ “Why?” and “What now?”
The sacred Gita informs us that the intricacies of karma are difficult to understand.

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Sun. Dec.23/07 - Vancouver, British Columbia
The startling news of the unjust death of a good father of two boys, husband, jeweler and soccer coach to hundreds of young men left me with an uncomfortable rest. The bight of unease drew me to walking again at a time prior to the 4:30 am temple program. I found myself entangled in the blackberry bushes, thick and thorny at Byrne Creek in Burnaby, a suburb of Vancouver. I had trailed the sidewalk from the temple to a hardwood tree path and then into prickly entanglement. This was of course deliberate.
When bereavement hits me or confusion of some sort it compels me to do just that -throw myself into a maize of nature’s circumstance. I then must labour hard to seek a new path or create one until I reach a clearness. My lips move with the maha-mantra throughout this ordeal. When I finally work my way out of the labyrinth I end up in a great consolation of hope, some resolve and mental peace. It is always a great relief to touch the initial major trail again.
In the morning sadhana at the temple I sat on the vyasa-asan, the seat for the sermon. I spoke on the subject of the the Yadu dynasty and the struggle they endured. In the evening I sat on that same vyasa-asan and offered a word to the congregation about cutting through life’s hurdles and clearing the forest of confusion.

Saturday, December 22, 2007

Sat. Dec.22/07 - Vancouver, British Columbia
My legs were aching to walk and spirit nudging to move. After a gratifying evening with residents of Saranagati Village conversing and chanting I had set my mind to spring to my feet at 3:45 am this morning and get an early start for Vancouver. I find when I focus strongly on a time line for rising the following morning some subconscious force pulls me up like some marionette on the strings. By 4:00am I hit the trail on Venables Valley, then right on the Trans Canada Highway (an old friend) towards Vancouver.
The air was clean. Sage bushes are stilled by the winter chill. Not much moves here in this frozen wilderness, all but for the occasional roaming coyote. Two and a half hours later Rasaraj, acting president of Saranagati Village, spotted me and stopped his four-wheel-drive for our pre-planned pick-up of myself. The drive to Vancouver was fine although snow flurries left us with ethereal white punctuations.
Rasaraja’s phone rang. It was a call and most unpleasant. One of my brother-in laws was shot and killed under some extraordinary circumstances in Toronto. My sister who is an angel of a person must be devastated. The news threw me into a period of silent sobriety as Rasaraj, passengers Dillon and I rode off along the Fraser Canyon into the lower mainland of Vancouver.
12 kms.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Thurs. Dec.20/07 - Saranagati Villages, British Columbia
As usual when a wood chunk is fed to the fire the crackling sound and dancing flames are ear and eye pleasers. Dillon had just finished feeding the fire and being the perfect host catering to the needs of his almost shivering cold guest (me). Dillon’s cousin, Robert, had also come back from work to put his day to some closure. Both fellows admitted to a trite shyness being before a swami but I told them not to worry about a thing. “Throughout my whole life I have always been shy, that makes three if us”.
I had bused it on a five and a half hour ride from Vancouver to get to this serene location nestled in the B.C. mountains. While the boys who are in their mid-twenties prepared a simple dinner for us I was reading aloud from the Bhagavad – Gita, a chapter of the Mahabharat, in commemoration of the anniversary of when the Gita’s Holy dialogue was spoken. I came to the section where Arjuna expressed an apprehension to move forward in executing his duty to fight. Arjun was shy about it.
“Arjuna worried about the celestial weapons he would use, fearing they might somehow hurt even the soul. “ As I read on the answer was clear in regards to alleviating any such fear. No weapon whether fire, the wind, water, or a sharp-edged sword could damage the soul.
It was a full day spent for the three of us although done so in different localities. We had come together in the evening by the fire and my meeting these two young men for the first time finished on a satisfactory note hearing of such sublime words from the Gita.

Wednesday, 6 February 2008

Sunday, December 16, 2007

Sun. Dec.16/07 - Toronto, Ontario
Even though weather was restricting with a major snow storm warning last night a fair attendance made it to Meadowvale Theatre for the dramatical presentation of “Rolling the Dice”. You might say it was a gamble challenging the storm but will find brave people. I have always found extreme climatic calamity to be a humbling experience. Fatalities do hit us though. Police reported no less than six hundred car accidents in the area for Saturday night, and that is certainly unfortunate.
“Rolling the Dice”, was a catchy phrase that we used to utter to the nuance of unhealthy activity. There are usually calamitous results that arise from high stakes involved with the current casino craze. This story, an ancient one, is an excerpt from the epic “Mahabharat” and it does discourage such games of chance. In ancient India, Ksatriyas, warriors, were known to gamble as well as hunt, drink, and womanize. The more virtuous warriors kept such activities to a minimum level. Such was the nature of the Pandava clan who were obliged by invitation from their blind emperor and uncle to participate in what became a rigged game.
There is a world apart between lifestyles of monks and warriors and I, a modern-day monk, assumed the role of the blind Dhritarastra for this drama. I know that many of my acquaintances found a delight in watching their swami dressed in a fancy turban and Kingly garb and playing out a passionate role. Shammy Sohal as Duryodhana, Praveen Bakshi as Vidura and others did a splendid job with their parts. Feedback told me that the message was clear. Gambling is bad news.
Such reflections on the previous night’s performance struck me while trudging through deep snow. My walking partner, Jagannatha, a monk from Miami, was noticing the joyful play people put themselves into amidst the white fluff. It sure beats gambling.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Tuesday, Dec.11/07 - Toronto, Ont.
Over the past few days there have been several visits to homes of congregational members that has kept the stomach content.
A satsang is a program designed for giving and gaining good association., speaking on spiritual topics, conducting some chanting with refreshments to cap off the program. These refreshments are usually very hefty and a swami is advised to bring an entourage to help share in the honoring of delcicious food. Satsang programs are usually held at the home of someone who invites family and friends to participate. The living room or basement facility becomes occupied with people while the kitchen is equally busy. Several years ago the United Church of Canada’s national magazine “The Observer” described a satsang quoting me as a transcendental Tupperware party. Seriously though, they are an enriching experience. When people sometimes ask what has happened to the Hare Krishna’s (“We used to see you at airports or on the streets.”) I can frankly answer that satsangs are one of the vents that keeps us busy these days.
For me the real “juice” of the event is in the chanting and the speaking. The food (prasadam) is a bonus.
Out of the house and into the zone of good clean air, one monk, one nun and I strolled (and slid) through Moore Park ravine. Now white haven, the snow laden tight valley offers an ideal peaceful setting for chanting on beads and accumulating kilometers for good health and mind. But serenity broke when one of us packed a snowball and fired it at another. I cannot exactly recall how the snow warfare broke out but all I can say is that becoming a child for a few minutes is as relieving as a good foot massage.
6 kms.

Thursday, December 6, 2007

Thurs. Dec.6/07 - Newmarket, Ontario
Today was a revisitation to the studios at Asian Television Network. From 1990-96 I co-hosted a regular TV series called, “On the Way to Krishna” produced by ATN for Vision television Network, a religious-based network broadcast throughout Canada and the U.S. At that time “On the way to Krishna” was the longest running TV show on Hinduism in TV history according to ATN’s founder Shan Chandrashekar.
Though this is a proud achievement I sometimes find the term “Hindu” somewhat objectionable. Theologians place devotion to Krishna in the category of Hinduism but let it be known that the name is a misnomer. It is a term imposed upon those of us who adhere to the culture of the Vedas.
I once asked a Mr. Adwani, a foremost political leader of the pro-Hindu Bharatiya Janatiparty, if he and his following would consider a term other than “Hindu”, a label that invaders into India imposed centuries ago when the Sindhu River was pronounced with a linguistics “H” instead of “S”. Mr. Adwani declined to say whether the term will be dropped anytime soon.
I suggested that Sanatana or Sanatana Dharma could be possible terms used to refer to persons who follow the Vedas. He sugegested that “Hindu” was likely to stay although he expressed empathy for the change. After all, the word Eskimo has been dropped for the word Inuit, the chosen word to describe indigenous people of the North. ISKCON has spelled out and addressed this apparent identity crisis to read something like members of the Hare Krishna movement (ISKCON) are a bhakti movement devoted to Krishna which is found in mainstream Hinduism.
I actually had an appointment at ATN studio for a half-hour interview with host Reena Chandarana, to speak about Krishna devotionalism in the context of my own experience, of how I became a monk and why the pilgrimage walking. The interview, to be edited for broadcast next week, culminated in describing the upcoming drama in which I play King Dhrtarastra, the blind emperor of the Kuru Dynasty. The venue is Meadowvale Theatre on Saturday, Dec. 15th at 6 pm in Mississauga, Ontario.
It was a fun interview especially when Reena wanted me to describe life on the farm as a boy and how our animals would naturally end up disappearing one by one which led to my current vegetarian lifestyle.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Thurs. Nov.22/ 2007 - Towaco, New Jersey
Today is America's Thanksgiving Day and I happened to be on the east coast where that first glorious event took place almost four hundred years ago celebrating good cheer between the pilgrims of England and the natives of the U.S. I ventured for a solo walk near the Iskcon Centre of New Jersey amidst a rural festival of still autumn golds, reds and oranges. Squirrels scommered about making noise about their ever delicate step from laden leaves rubbing and rustling. Many homes along this hilly bound region have more than their own vehicles stationed in their own driveways. Visitors have come for planned family reunions. Sometimes the distinctive scent of maple and oak leaves is interrupted by air currents of turkey gravy. "For vegetarians 'tofurkey' is an option," explained Jennifer who earlier in the day described the craft of a designed big bird made of tofu. A nearby Buddhist restaurant offers the entré.
For a monk who bid farewell to the consumption of fowl, fish, and meat 35 years ago, any resemblance of a dead animal has no appeal even if seasoned well. I am content to enjoy the curried vegetable, fine buttered chappatis and steamed broccoli which was all offered to Krishna. I ate such a meal today with a thankful relish. I wish more folks would consider the good option.
As far as family, giving thanks and all that good stuff is concerned, one of my reasons for the trip here is to engage youth in a drama performance "The Coming of Ram". A major theme is children. It gives me a chance to be close to them, to remember what I once was and still might become should I go through a future life again.