Saturday, 29 March 2008

Sunday, March 23rd 2008

Sunday, March 23, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

The day opened with a genuine walk – a Fun Walk funded by the Government Division of Parks and Recreation. Raj Bamsi of that division, a Mr. Kamal Panday, a member of the Kwa Zulu-Natal Parliament, shared a seat with me to start this 7km walk in conjunction with the Chariot Festival. Short speeches kick-started the walk (or run, whatever you wanted). As in the previous night’s program I indulged a bit in cross Canada pilgrimage talk. People here are curious about the grizzly bear encounter, a road experience I won’t easily forget. The hour and a half trek had my attention taken up by a freelance journalist and while I told of the grizzly bear story we landed on topics more personal about his domestic situation which is not perfect. I offered some suggestions about agreeing to disagree on matters involving his spouse when a strain arises in a conversation. Too often two people or two groups of people each insist on rightness and the opponent being wrong. As a sacrifice or service to the Lord often times you will find that compromise plays a major role in arousing a peaceful situation. What I mean by that is not necessarily reducing one’s own standards in order to please but allowing the other party to be as they are allowing space for them to grow.
Deep down inside I felt a huge appreciation for one monk on the previous day’s interview. It came to me now as a reflection but the person interviewed right next to me was Partha Sarathi and even though he has attended this festival in robes his usual attire is army fatigues. Yes, he is an American soldier as a sergeant stationed in Iraq. His stories of sacrifice and the optimism he maintains despite the life of utter austerity is heart wrenching.


Saturday, March 22nd 2008

Saturday, March 22, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

People had come from all parts of the South Africa to experience an expanding program. Each year the Festival of Chariots (Ratha Yatra) grows in Durban. I was asked to lead the chanting in the front chariot on an approximate 5 kilometer stretch of the part concrete, part beach side procession. Canadian born bhajan singer, Vaiyasaki, led the middle chariot, and the final chariot, where much of the attention is given, was led by Dutch born, Kadamba Kanana Swami, an enthusiastic monk who spends much time in this part of the world.
A true highlighter to the event at North Beach was the sannyasa initiation of an indigenous Zulu follower of Krishna. Jagat Guru has led a serious monastic life for a good number of years and so on this eventful day gained the honours of receiving this title of renunciation. He is a fine person and is a level-headed type of person; very worthy. He is black and was born Zulu. At the ceremony his new name given is Bhakti Nrsingha Swami. This ceremony was a huge attraction.
Including the procession, I was able to scale a good…


Friday, March 21st. 2008

Friday, March 21, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

It doesn’t matter where you walk in Durban; the ground under you begins to shake. This earth-shattering sensation that I’m talking about is reminiscent of rock concerts that I used to attend over 35 years ago. It’s these mini-bus taxis that blast out pop music with a thump that reaches optimum volume levels. They are everywhere! The pulsation is pervasive – a Durban trait apart from any other place I have been.
It was our first day of the four-day Ratha Yatra event at North Beach. A most healthy turn-out of human beings came to engage in this 20th anniversary event for Durban. It is no small picnic. Indradyumna Swami, an American monk, initiated this program two decades ago, and has gone on to become a master of grand-scale spiritual festivals held in Poland and now indoor festivals in Australia, something called “le Carnival Spiritual.” It is attracting people by the tens of thousands and affecting a change in the culture of current times. Bravo to him! My robes became ghee drenched during a ceremony to honour a deity of Chaitanya.
My morning walk was a quiet trek through residential Chatsworth on this Good Friday and also Gaura Purnima, the birth of the golden avatar, Chaitanya.


Wednesday, March 19th 2008

Wednesday, March 19, 2008 Durban, South Africa

Do monks get involved in weddings? In my order, yes, most certainly! In fact, my comrade Bhakti Chaityana Swami acted as the father to Syamesvari, a young woman in the local community, and formally gave her away to her new husband Savyasacin at the ceremony this evening. I also participated but in a more minimal way. As an invitee, I attended the program which recognized the mutual bond between this lovely couple. Savyasacin is from Canada and is a sincere seeker. In a short address I emphasized that such a union has less to do with romance and fantasy functions (such as the wedding ceremony) and more to do with complementing each other in personal character growth and becoming responsible human beings, of which the most important function is self-realization. Srila Prabhupada taught the central point of married life is the Supreme Force whom we identify as Krishna, the speaker of the sacred Bhagavad-gita.

My day ended with working or rehearsing on a play until 2AM so there was less walking executed today. I’m feeling guilty.

Tuesday, March 18th 2008

Tuesday, March 18, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

This morning I sat down as usual to the class delivered by the presenter for the day. The verse from the book “Srimad-Bhagavatam”, Tenth Canto, Chapter Seventy-four, Text 15 was presented by Bhakti Chaitanya Swami and I found it to be a subject that was very interesting – eye brow raising even. The verse takes us to the huge Rajasuya sacrifice which was held in Hastinapura (current Delhi) at the time of establishing Yudhisthira as king of Bharat, greater India. At the event commoners and the more elite engaged in merrymaking. One popular habit was to smear a substance combined with oil, yogurt, tumeric, and butter all over each other’s bodies. People used to do this to the opposite gender. In particular, this activity was also a practice with courtesans. Prostitution occurred in the ancient cities of India and as we have all heard before is the oldest profession in the world. I am to assume that sannyasis (or monks) were excluded from this party habit. In any event, it’s interesting.

The Bhagavatam is full of intriguing tales telling of old customs. One of my favorite stories involves Lord Shiva, a massive ceremony and in-law dynamics.

Incidentally here in South Africa at the market place you can purchase a spice called mother-in-law revenge and another one called mother-in-law exterminator.


Sunday, March 16th 2008

Sunday, March 16, 2008 - Durban, South Africa

The temple in Durban is an octagonal shaped building which is surrounded by a moat (no crocodiles) and a path around that. It makes for ideal pacing in a safe environment. It has always been considered that circumambulation of a temple graced with an interior deity is very auspicious. It’s recommended to go clockwise.

My assignment in Durban where surfers adore the Indian Ocean waves has little to do with getting wet but rather diving in the ocean of devotion. The annual Festival of Chariots takes place on Easter weekend and I will be training youths in two dramas, “The Age of Kali” and “Vamana”. It’s my second performance with “Vamana”, the walking avatar. In some respects, I guess I should be meditating on him daily invoking inspiration and blessings.

While weather here is unusually overcast and monsoon-like, back home in Canada, at least in Toronto, there is record breaking snow fall. It is the most severe winter in decades with storms. For some these irregularities which are global register as major karmic reactions to us humans. For me I’m grateful to rehearse in temperatures that are pleasant instead of the usual steamy conditions at this time of the year. Whatever the weather, service goes on and that is the joyful ocean that I’m swimming in.


Friday, March 14th 2008

Friday, March 14, 2008 - Lenasia, South Africa

My trek to the Lenasia temple started off on good footing. It just so happened that Flora, a middle-aged black woman who is hired by the temple, met me at a juncture of two streets and was also taking to walking all the way down. I was fortunate to learn of all the shortcuts through this walking companion. I notice that the blacks walk more in South Africa than the whites and browns. That is to their credit.

Many things were accomplished today. One of the young men, Angel, booked me to use my voice as Morpheus and Neo from the Matrix and Master Yoda from Star Wars. Initially when he asked if I would do it I was apprehensive, for his online play called “Illusion” he required a more North American accent so I consented after he had me view some of the films. Truly I’m not keeping up with these character heroes. Culturally I froze in ’73 when I joined to become a monk. But I “winged” the voices. Angel was pleased.

In the evening a healthy turnout of members came to the temple for an informal program. We held an exhilarating chanting session and people felt some positive inspiration at the subsequent talk about the cross Canada walking glories.


Friday, 14 March 2008

Thursday, March 13th 2008

Thursday, March 13th 2008 – Johannesburg, South Africa
I’m glad to have landed. My extra overweight baggage (costumes I came with and more acquired) meant that I had to change my Canadian notes for rupees. This involved four trips back and forth from the airport wicket in Kolkata to the security and finally to someone who could exchange. It took four airline assistants to do this after I checked in. After the exchange was finally done and I made my way to the immigration customs line someone tapped my shoulder. It was the foreign exchange man who said “I gave you 100 rupees too much!” So I dug in submissively into my pocket without questioning him due to the fatigue and gave him his required note. The only consolation to the inconvenience from lack of efficiency was the smiles officials gave at the end of the ordeal and the gesture of a happy “Hare Krishna!”
Sometimes the public views monks of the Krishna order to be compatible to airports, as Hollywood films have portrayed, but I will choose to refrain from any comment on that.
I ventured on two walks today, one on Nirvana Drive to the Lenasia temple and another in section 3 of Lenasia neighborhood. Upananda my host who accompanied me on the second walk remarked how it has been years since he set foot in this region where he grew up. Everything, “all travels happen in a car,” he said.
“Why don’t we change that and start noticing the world around us at a speed where we can comprehend our surroundings?” was my response.
“I’ll try” he said sincerely.
The evening hours was spent in the atmosphere of youths (60 plus) engaged in kirtan, chanting and drumming. Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, New Zealand born, is the spiritual leader and mentor of South Africa. He is guest speaker along with myself to address these young enthusiasts. For them being caught in the shelter of meditative mantras is the safest place to be and that was one of the major points that the two of us monks made.
9 Km.

Tuesday, March 11th 2008

Tuesday, March 11th 2008 – Mayapura, India.
The morning Japa walk along the Tarampura Road and down Jackal Trail (my name for the trail between the fields where these wild dogs frequent) allowed myself and an assistant monk, Suta Goswami Das, to meet a beautiful female. Her name is Laksmi Priya and she is a soul in an elephant body. Soon to be accompanied by a friend Vishnu Priya , the adolescent mammal was required (after a lengthy search and red tape) for use as a traditional processional elephant for the Mayapura Village. The reports on her is that she was an abused animal while living in the jungles of Assam. There are regular reporting of the endangered species of India in the media. Pouchers and human encroachment I have been told are the major causes of the elephant decline. It is grossly sad that some of the majestic creatures so mentioned through sacred text and folklore from India are depleted to in some cases to three and two digit numbers. The Bengal tiger and the Indian rhino are two animals that may vanish in our lifetime.
You have to ask “What are we doing with our planet and its natural residents?” Our answer is “Not enough” I met the gentleman who was in the team of securing the elephant and he confirmed the Indian government’s guilt for slow or no action.
Laksmi Priya seems happy in her new plot of land with trees all about, a sheltered shed, a large tank for her daily bath. She is eating well swapping sugarcane stalks before consumption. The elephant keeper has his new quarters as well.
I am happy that I have a quiet place such as this to go and visit. When you have a bit of senority amongst the monks and a portfolio for pleasing the crowds with dramatical performances it is difficult to walk the same campus of Mayapura and not get approached sometimes every few steps. Everyone is very sweet, of course, but there is a need for peace in the day. I’m sure Laksmi Priya enjoys her new serenity. I hope it stays that way. In the morning a young married couple took diksha (initiation) into our community. Initiated are Atitamunushya (a name for Vishnu) and wife Saurashukti (the power of the Golden One).
5 Km.

Sunday, 9 March 2008

Monday, March 3, 2008

Mon. Mar 3, 2008 - Mayapur, India.
I share a room with a friend, Revati Prananath, in the guest house called the Gada. This morning the people next door to us went frantic. They were in a panic yelling and screaming from the veranda and it drew much attention. Revati and I rushed from bed to see what the problem was.
“Bat! Bat! Bat!” they shouted. Sure enough one of those winged friends made his way into their quarters while on his night-time hunt. Revati was able to calm them down after the bat, with a fair-sized wing span made a glorious exit from their room. The poor thing I believe, was more in a state of shock than the people, and likely all he was trying to do was to do a favour by reducing the mosquito population. We often times do carry phobias that are mythically based.

The evening launch of “Kunti and Karna,” a play based on the Mahabharat and performed in the Samadhi auditorium was a huge success. I had been engaging a good 2 dozen youth in the production. I was proud of them. A number of my monk friends (swamis) praised their performance. One of them said I should do this full-time. Perhaps its something I’ll increase in my life’s output but I could never give up marathon walking.
7 KM

KUNTI AND KARNA - Part One (Clip)

KUNTI AND KARNA - Part Two (Clip)

KUNTI AND KARNA - Part Three (Clip)

KUNTI AND KARNA - Part Four (Clip)

Thursday, February 28, 2008

Thurs. Feb 28, 2008 - Mayapura, India
There is rarely a place on earth where you will find a town or community where practically everyone wears tilak (an earth-based substance) marked on the forehead and has mantra beads dangling in a small bag from their neck to fall in their front. Even some security guards don the beads and seriously chant on them a fixed number of times every day.
The area of Mayapura is a Krishna Conscious setting. It is unique. There is little mental agitation here, at least speaking on behalf of myself. Stray dogs do enter into the premises and they conduct their regular dog fights but even they manage to curb their tendency to bark in the early morning hours making the atmosphere peaceful. Characteristic also is the regular kirtans, sounds that block out illusion. Here there is little discussion on mundane talks; you don’t hear about the Iraqi war or the US political election race.
A disciple or student of mine, Kuruksetra Das, took a major leap through matrimony. It was an arranged marriage; in other words, highly traditional. The ceremony, lasting several hours in the evening, was pompous. My friend Ambarish, the great-grandson of Henry Ford, attended the program held at a nearby Jagannath temple. Fortunately I had the chance to speak to the wedding crowd. It is naturally a way to offer support to a newly formed family. As I took an evening stroll on the Mayapur grounds, I was approached by a security guard for a set of mantra beads and it just so happened that I was able to give him my extra beads. I showed him how it is to be used and he was most grateful.
7 KM

Sunday, 2 March 2008

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Wed. Feb 27, 2008 - MAYAPUR, INDIA
The walk down Tarampure Road where our beloved guru Srila Prabhupada himself walked, is a section of a routine walk that leads to the Jalangi trail and then to the home of Vaikunthanath, a kindly elderly gentleman who runs a beads and bead-bag business, in the area. This morning fellow Canadian pilgrims accompanied me to the house after treading through this path lined with sunflower and sugar-cane fields. We stopped at Vaikunthanath’s home to see his family, immerse ourselves in some kirtan chanting and indulge in boiled date tree juice. The juice, comparable to maple syrup is a natural ambrosial nectar offered by these benevolent trees. It is a short season for tapping the date (ras) trees, just like a generous cow delivers liquid goodness at specific times. Fortunately that time is now while I am here in India. Some of our companions are enjoying the nectar for the first time, and for them it is an unforgettable treat.
The bulk of today was discussions on strategic planning for the society of Krishna Consciousness. A great amount of thoughtfulness was applied to the subject.
My evening was another type of mood, like most nights. It is practice time with seventeen young men and the shaping of a scene for a production ‘Kunti & Karna’. The boys relished the blocking moves used during a battle scene entailing stick fighting, archery craft and wrestling.
I, as the director, am having a great time.
6 km

Tuesday, February 22, 2008

Tues. Feb 22, 2008 - MAYAPUR, WEST BENGAL, INDIA
I had been out of commission for three days. My back had been thrown off. The excess travel, perhaps too many hours sitting in chairs, the bone-shattering four hour drive from Calcutta to here on a poorly maintained road, the cold draft of air in the middle of the night - any of the above or all of the above are the cause. The usual jackals yelp in the night. For anyone not accustomed to their nocturnal cries you would consider their screams to be nothing short of eerie and hair-raising.

Yet this dhama or pilgrimage place, the birth place of Chaitanya, known as the father of chanting, is all rather transcendental; doves, cuckoos and other exotic birds grace the morning with their songs. Walking is put to the bare minimum and with that, it means leaning on to a companion’s shoulder. I can only commit to a small amount of time for drama practise and hope that to and fro from my room to the Samadhi auditorium I will catch an acquaintance. The rest of the time is in bed. Fortunately an excellent massage therapist who resides in the complex, Osadhi Mantra, is giving me treatments and so I’m back to recovery.
It is humbling being confined to a small place. It is a far cry from being on the open road in a place of wide open spaces. Being anchored by a bed is the way to recovery. In life we are all warriors and all warriors must retreat from the battlefield when severely wounded and heal before making another attack.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Mon. Feb 18, 2008 - INDORE, INDIA
My walking and chanting commenced at 2:15am. On this last day it became so evident that monk bonding was one of the strong benefits to our stay in Ujjain. The group was of a size (20-25) that was reasonable. There is no greater achievement than having such good reinforcing company. The facilitators Rasamandala, Anuttama and Braja Bihari, all did excellent work.
Thanks to our founder Srila Prabhupada that we have such fine people, both the facilitators and the students, of which I was one.
The full five days of association was a self-assessment experience, something that people of our order, whether renunciant monks or married brahmanas should never be exempt from. By observing our lives through an introspective process we become more aware of blind-spots and can then work to correct bad habits. There is always the need to establish integrity and then to re-affirm.
My journey back to Indore Airport was by way of a rented van full of young monks who became somehow inspired by the chanting sessions I had the privilege to lead. We passed by wheat fields, soya fields, guava groves, and periodically appearing was the Ksipra River which is seasonally dry as it is now. I pray to not dry up (devotionally) like the river.
6 KM.