Friday, 27 March 2009

Wednesday, March 25th, 2009

BHAKTI IS WHAT CONNECTS

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Every day since arriving in this Maritime city there has been interviews with journalist students and radio broadcasters with the university. Not a flood of them mind you, and not prominent outlets but humble and meaningful endeavours by students of Dalhousie University and King's College.

Mandee, for istance, is a yoga teacher and runs a two hour radio show weekly on the subject. She frankly admitted that the term 'yoga' is so much misunderstood. The common public impression is limb stretching on a yoga mat. "It goes much deeper", she explained to me 'off the air', and she asked me to clarify that 'on the air'.

In brief, the Bhagavad-gita, the most authoritative yoga book reaffirms that yga with all its different levels culminates with the principle of bhakti. Bhakti means intense devotion or feeling for the Absolute. Regular yoga practice tends to lightly touch the heart aspect of the yogi.

To put emphasis on bhakti, I conducted another session of "9 Devotions" at Dalhousie University. As an opener, I informed the group of attendees that nine processes or ways to improve your life and allow you to move ahead were the recommendation of a very young person. It is said often that great things come in small packages. Well, here we have a small five year old boy, who conjured up these remarkable methods beginning with attentive listening and clear responding. The boy was actually a prince who's name was Prahlad. The story of his life can be found in the book Srimad Bhagavatam, also known as Bhagavat Purana.

In many respects, the 9 methods of devotion is the target of all yoga practices which have the aim 'to connect' as Mandee, the yoga instructor, puts it.

3 Km

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Tuesday, March 24th, 2009

MUSICIAN’S INCLINATION

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I explored the city a bit walking North on Robie St. to St. Mary’s University, then a divergence on Spring Garden St. and back to Quinpool. Not a serious distance. A limp can’t be helped from time to time. It’s subtle, but it’s there (I’m diagnosed with osteomyelitis and a doctor friend recently said it could take months before cured).

At bus stands a big ad promoted “Il Divo”, the popular all male operetta group of singers, coming to town. At the bulletin board of St. Mary’s, renowned Cape Breton songstress, Rita McNeil, will perform a concert. Less known, but promising are the up and coming Strange Boys, a bluegrass band doing a circuit in Nova Scotia who also share an interest in spirituality. Dan, Jeff and Adam, members of the band, came to see us in the ashrama loft on Quinpool for a cooking demonstration, followed by eating participation, philosophical inquiry and last but not least, breaking into devotional instruments along with chanting. Dan took a crack at harmonium; Jeff at kartals (hand cymbals) and Adam, at mrdanga drum.

They all did marvelous at their newly-found music.

I was moved by their philosophical questions. Artists have always felt at home with spiritualism. It is not a chore for them to penetrate this field. Consider some of the world’s best music compositions. They have been assembled and performed by spiritually empowered persons.

I am not sure where the Strange Boys will end up musically, but they certainly feel comfortable with Krishna.

6 Km

Monday, March 23rd, 2009

JEFF THE STAR

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Jeff just amazes me. He let his wandering mind get anchored in higher consciousness just a few short months ago. He’s Canadian born and is a real brahmin in the sense that he conducts good behaviour, thrives on bhakti disciplines, he’s peaceful, reserved, yet speaks when necessary and really cares for people. Recently he took to the culinary arts and is doing splendid. With the assistance of Yamuna’s daring cookbook called “The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking”, Jeff, our new Halifax monk, is churning out great preparations. In the evening with time he set aside for himself, he meticulously jotted down recipe details in his personal notebook.

To verify his natural brahminical inkling, he has also taken well to memorizing Sanskrit mantras and singing standard songs that are familiar to the tradition. Frankly the melodies, tunes, the language whether Sanskrit or Bengali, are heart melting and have an appeal that can favourably entice any soul searcher.

Jeff, or Bhakta Jeff (devotee Jeff), as we call him, is in good hands with companion Nitai Rama. You just can’t find better people in the monkhood business than these two blokes. They are inspiring indeed.

The evening culminated in a modest trek in the neighbourhood near Quinpool Avenue with Bhakta Jeff, but the snow blast of the hours restricted our time out. Winter is stubbornly exiting the reason, but it IS exciting.

The Bhagavad-gita instructs to live with duality. ‘Titikshava’ is the word. Tolerance.

Jeff is a very tolerant young man. Jeff is a star.

1.5 Km

Monday, 23 March 2009

Sunday, March 22nd, 2009

Hello Halifax

Halifax, Nova Scotia

David Vest is a trucker who rides the treacherous route in Canada’s northern Territories. He is my flight neighbour on Air Canada Tango headed for Halifax. David told me about his job that on the winter’s frozen tundra you can drive for hours, see no people (especially pedestrians) and maybe pass two or three trucks in the course of one day. If you run into mechanical problems you could be a goner. You would freeze to death as there may be no help or rescue.

“In two or three weeks der won’t be no highway. It will dissolve. Everything will thaw and melt”, said David who lives in Gander, Newfoundland.

To greet me at the airport was Nitai Rama. He arranged for my stay at the tiny Halifax ashram on Quinpool, a flat one floor above a vintage clothes shop called, “This and That – Recycled Fashions”. Nitai was telling me about his success along with new monk, Jeff, on their special Indian sweet stall at the downtown Market Place. It’s a regular feature and is a big hit at the crowded Saturday venue. The sweets are unique and the monks here are a little reserved to sharing how they are made.

A group of twenty guests crammed into the ashram indulging in a killer kirtan (chanting session). We really developed the dance accompaniment. Preceding that was reflection on the verse 2:40 from the Gita wherein Krishna expresses that even the smallest endeavour made on the path of devotion is a permanent asset for the soul.

It was a very encouraging message for the group.

2 Km

Saturday, March 21st, 2009

Full of Life

Toronto, Ontario

Perhaps the greatest love for many of us bhakti-yogis is public chanting. I wish I could share with you the reactions of people at Kensington Market as their faces lit up – in some cases a mean to a beaming look upon seeing our small procession of fifteen joyous chanters. In reality, any market place that sprawls with folks and displays no entertainment just cannot be up to people’s expectations. Except for a young chap pounding at his braced djimbe, we provided not necessarily a show of professionalism but an explosion of joy. People gobbled up the happiness that bounced from our drums, accordion, hand cymbals and voices. As I said it is hard to describe the spontaneous response emanating from the shoppers and strolling crowd at this popular multi-mix of people.

Part two of today was a satsang, devotional gathering, in Markham, Ontario, a suburb. Our driver was Soraya, a new devotee to our ashram. What really tossed us passengers into a state of laughter was when Saraya’s GPS attempted to navigate towards our destination and we found ourselves not in Markham, but another suburb, North York, at a beer store.

You just can’t depend wholly on man-made machinery.

Our satsang included a demonstration on devotional dance. It seemed to be a real treat for hosts Bala and Padma and their guests.
Bhakti yoga is full of life.

2 Km

Friday, March 20th, 2009

Straight Walking

Mississauga, Ontario

This is my first limpless walking day. Hurray! I trekked through sunshine in Eglinton Avenue West, the Jewish quarter, the Jamaican quarter and then the Italian and Portuguese neighbourhoods. It was 10 km of pure joy walking and chanting.

The host to the evening satsang, devotional gathering, was Acharya, a Russian born Krishna man. He picked me up midway to his Mississauga house managed by himself and wife, Sabrina. Once guests arrived I sat to speak from a verse of the Bhagavad-gita, 18:47. An interesting look at this statement compels us to understand a person’s prescribed duty or life’s obligations more clearly. The Gita analyses four different classifications of people – the thinkers/visionaries, the administrators/law enforcers, producers and labourers.

A question came.

“How do you know your prescribed duty or which of the four groups do you belong to?”

Abbreviated answer: “1) Analyze what you like to do; 2) Observe the nature of your parents and see that in most cases their inclinations reflect in you; 3) Consult with caring peers; 4) Consult with guru; 5) Study the qualities of each group as found in chapter 18; 6) Make an astrological check; 7) Take direction from God in the heart.”

Another question.

“Why are there so many religions, so many Gods?”

Abbreviated answer: “God is one, but known by different names. There is one sun and it is also known by different names.

“Chapter 17 of the Gita explains the cause and effect behind different spiritual paths. There are various paths to accommodate the various natures of people according to three modes. Obviously some faiths are more tolerant of others while some are less. That also depends on the influence of the three modes of nature, which are satvic (in goodness), rajasic (in passion) or tamasic (in darkness).”

10 Km

Thursday, March 19th, 2009

MANTRAS AT THE CATHEDRAL

Toronto, Ontario

Since the catfish injury, I have adjusted my schedule cancelling morning walks for afternoon walks. I am relishing the ‘wee hours’, if you will, for japa chanting in the temple room with other monastic members. I am happy to see some slight progression made by the efforts of resident dwellers who meditate on the mantra together.

This togetherness was also felt by our small afternoon walking party at a time when the passions of the day start to wind down for some of us. We made our way to St. Michael’s Cathedral and were surprised to see a decent turnout of afternoon prayer people. Our group of three made ourselves at home at a pew to chant Hare Krishna while others were kneeling at prayer and moving to an icon, then to light a candle. The earnest plea of help or praise which one can call either prayer or mantra is the same intent to the same powerful person.

While sitting at the pew, I felt inner peace recalling the morning’s presentation by Ksircora, a lovely god sister, disciple of Srila Prabhupada, who told her story on coming to Krishna. The session called “Those Were The Days, My Friends!” gave her this week’s spot to talk. She mentioned that she and her friends were looking for the Truth in 1974. This took them through psychedelic journeys. When they met a young monk on Yonge Street to tell them of the glories of Krishna, they got sold on the concept. It drew some warmth and memory when she said that young person was me.

5 Km

Wednesday, March 18th, 2009

A VINTAGE VISIT

Toronto, Ontario

The afternoon brought our small japa chanting party to Kensington Market, a multicultural enclave of modest and colourful shops. Three of them, Flashback One, Flashback Two, and the third (I forgot the name, perhaps you can guess…) are owned and run by a South American friend, Kuladev, known by locals as Roger.

The shops carry old vintage clothing. Roger wasn’t in either of the stores, but upon entering one of them as a search for him just to say, ‘hello!’ we spotted a 60’s juke box. In the 60’s we thought these music machines were high tech. When you consider that sophisticated machinery today holds thousands of music tracks in a tiny i-pod , and when you look at this monster, you start to feel that the world has indeed changed and that perhaps I’m getting old.

In any event, Glen Campbell, who was just too much of a ‘square’ for me when I was young, sang his song from the box. We are all observers of passing phases. Things do pass fast. But the mantra has been around forever and will be around to stay.

6 Km

Saturday, 21 March 2009

Tuesday, March 17th, 2009

WOMEN WITH KRISHNA

Toronto, Ontario

Nitai Priya, one of our female devotees, was invited to speak at the University of Toronto at on of the student clubs on “The Role of Women in Krishna Consciousness”. It has not been her fist time to present this topic to a group of people. Before going she asked if I had any remarks to make that could possibly add to her presentation. She did say that on former occasions the audience primarily women, would ride on the wave of saying that women are better than men.

So I got started, “First of all, we are not men nor women, but spirits with a body that has a particular type of function that is complementary. And while male bashing has become popular in recent years, do think twice about appreciating both genders. After all the chairs we sit on, the microphone you use, the room and building in which you sit with its heating or air conditioning system have all likely been manufactured, assembled and delivered by men and is repaired by men. Let’s appreciate and develop a balanced view.

In the Bhagavad-Gita Krishna lists good memory, fine speech and intelligence as feminine traits. Naturally there are qualities found on both sides of the gender table that are worth taking note of. In Vedic culture, many goddesses are adored right next to their male counterparts. In the International Society for Krishna Consciousness, women share the same responsibilities in their service to the public. Many women are administrators and many take up priestly duties.

Some members carry views that are discriminatory and have personally formed attitudes, but our guru, Srila Prabhupada, on the whole, demonstrated fairness if ever there was provocation. The point he repeatedly made was – “WE ARE NOT THESE BODIES!”

We went for a short afternoon walk with a small traveling party, and passed by Toronto’s famous Casa Loma, possibly the largest castle in Canada. It was built by a man for his wife. Certainly, women have inspired great endeavors throughout the ages.

3 Km

Wednesday, 18 March 2009

Monday, March 16th, 2009

SMALL TOWN ENCOUNTERS AND INSPIRATIONAL NEWS

Owen Sound, Ontario

I had previously walked through this city of 22,000 on two cross Canada walks. It had been a quiet night and morning spent in a 150 year old pioneer home at Gordon’s home, friend and god brother, Gopan. The sun shone. Gaurachandra had errands to run in the downtown. I decided to trek and later he would catch up to pick me up.

It is common enough to see members of the Mennonite community. Two young males in conservative haircuts and black attire passed by on the street. The monk look was new. Courteous gestures prevailed. On a cigarette break, a young clerk from a store asked, “What does it mean?” referring to my robes.

“A monk’s clothing. Hare Krishna.”
“What do you believe?” he asked further.
“In the afterlife…you are given another chance, a chance to improve. And there is a Divine Intelligence doing good things, hoping and helping you to improve.”

He made his last puff, excused himself, and gave a handshake before getting back to newly arrived customers.

An inspirational piece of news captured my eyes. Jodi Mitic, a 32 year old corporal with the Royal Canadian Forces, lost his legs below the knee in a mine explosion in Afghanistan, and now has carbon-fibre prosthesis. Mitic ran for a charity run on his new feet which have a shape like short, curved skis. A picture shows the man glowing.

In the military spirit, his superior Gen. Walter Natynezuk said of Mitic, “When times are tough, we just suck it up and get going. We put our game faces on and do not feel sorry for ourselves.”

What a great day!

13 km

Sunday, March 15th, 2009

A TRIP TO BRUCE PENINSULA

Wiarton, Ontario

Gaurachandra, a monk of Hungarian decent and I drove north early enough to escape the oncoming traffic for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade. Midway between Toronto and Wiarton, a three hour drive, Gaurachandra expressed an interest to stop and catnap. This meant I could have my moment of liberation in the form of walking. The route was Highway 10. The sun was bright and I was dressed light. Snow and ice were on the throw and you could hear water trickle and rush in many directions. A reflection came to me.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, took his cane once and poked holes in ice puddles. He went at this persistently on a walk with some of his students on a fresh and frigid morning in Europe. When asked about his doing this, he replied that it is the nature of water to flow ant hat similarly it is the nature or constitution of the atma, the soul, to serve.

I hope that with spring upon us some soul will consider their natural proclivity towards service and seek opportunities.

Upon arriving at our destination in Wiarton, we pulled up at Gould Street to meet the Hannah family of which Garuda, 61, is an avid walker/talker. Before conducting a small service of chanting and speaking, I asked for more walking and so the Hannahs and guests indulged. With that accomplished I looked at our audience of a remarkable range from 6 to 60. How to make the message of spirituality in a way to stimulate everyone? I asked for a copy of “Krsna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead” and I charaded through a chapter. It worked. In fact, the kids were very jacked up. I guess I was perceived as a fun monk. Three of them came at me with a tickle attack and I had to beg the ambushers to back off. Only granddad Garuda could call them off.

What a day!

6 km

Tuesday, 17 March 2009

Saturday, March 14th, 2009

Markham, Ontario

Involve the Experts

Devotion to the Supreme is an open expression of love. There are multiple ways to express it. There is a need to practically regulate the various expressions. Here’s an example:

Chaitanya the great master of chanting, out of his sheer popularity, was receiving many many offerings of personally prepared food by his followers. Upon receiving a prep his assistant was asked to store it and He would eat it later. As a monk Chaitanya regulated eating and did not succumb to the level of gluttony. He did not want to show disrespect to the cooks and donors so He procrastinated the eating. When the stalk pile of food increased to an extent that it was ridiculous and followers hounded the assistant for Chaitnaya’s opinion on the taste of their prep, His assistant became anxious. “I don’t want to tell white lies, that you had eaten and liked what they cooked.”

So Chaitanya agreed to sample the food and of course enjoyed the love of His people through eating what they had prepared. The job got done and “feedback” reached the donors ears. Thank God, the sanyassi (monk), Chaitanya, had a friend to regulate things expertly.

In relation to this story I have seen over the years many people come to offer their devotions to the various temples. In each community you have a number of people who all want to contribute to the temple’s d├ęcor based on individual taste. If there is no regulator you end up with a hodge –podge of interior decorations. Seeing this trend I had decided that one person or small committee be assigned to encourage the participation of others in their devotion to the cause but one decision must be made as to colour, accessories, ornaments, furniture, etc. otherwise you have a mess. So an artistic committee was formed and the matter was settled for the temple.

The evening brought us to the home of Subha Vilas where a few of us more senior devotees were asked to tell of vintage tales of devotion. Nostalgia seems to warm hearts.

0 Km.

Friday, March 13th, 2009

Toronto, Ontario

Back up Person

The weather’s nature is to be transitional. It then transitions the surface of the earth by making it either dry or wet, thick with vegetation or barren, eroded or piled.

In testing an urban ravine for walking I concluded along with Brahmacari Devadatta , and Brahmacarini Nitai Priya, a female devotee from Vancouver, my walking mates for the day, that this little haven of a forest was muddy and too icy. Staying street level where it was flat and dry was obviously the favorable route.

Tomorrow our choice or opportunity will change. Time transitions all things in this world. It alters circumstances.

In the evening Devadatta and Nitai Priya and myself sat down to watch a recording of a past dramatical production when I worked with the youth in Houston just as we had done the night before in viewing Nitai Priya’s direction for the play, “Vamana”, something I had written. She has recently arrived form Mayapur India where she worked extremely hard at piecing together this production of a duration of 45 minutes. I was scheduled to do this myself but because of circumstances controlled by time (an infectious catfish wound) I was forced to cancel the trip to the land of Dharma.

It is very satisfying knowing that someone can function and preserve a certain style of presentation should I be absent. Her attitude is, “the show must go on!” And so it did.

3 Km

Saturday, 14 March 2009

Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Toronto, Ontario

THOSE WERE THE DAYS, MY FRIENDS!

We can't take much credit for anything, but as His agent, God gave the idea to this humble head to initiate a program, "Those Were the Days". To make it less cliche, I tried "Those Were the Days, My Friends!" I suppose you can't win with either. In any event, I had a desire to welcome the now maturing members of our society, or better still, the pioneers of higher consciousness to the west to try their hand at sharing with words their past inspirations.

Our guest was Lila Katha. To our local monks she is known as "the cake lady" because she makes these fabulous egg-free cakes that could sweeten up any old sour-puss. Now with all ears, the monks of the temple are hearing from her beyond sweet things. Born in Quebec, she had decided with her boyfriend years before to join a spiritual society. Eventually she married and moved to a rural community in West Virginia, and gave birth to three boys.

Life was rigid and the daily compulsory body shower was without heat in the winter chill. The community kitchen offered oatwater for breakfast while pokeweed was the natural vegetable growing locally to substitute Indian subjee. In the floor below them were cow stalls full of those moo-juice producers. Lila told us in her presentation, "Wherever we went, people noted that we smelled like cows!"

She had us listeners excited about miracles and mystical experiences, but her strongest message was one of service to others, to guru and Krishna. I especially appreciated her loyal commitment to morality and duty. She had challenges in her life, but she always shrugged off worry and pain to replace with a forward march. She is a trouper - a real one and she made friends with us all.

I got enthused listening. I managed on this day, with still a limp, an enjoyable...

6 Km

Wednesday, March 11th, 2009

Toronto, Ontario

SUPPORT AND LOVE

Professor David Miller of the Department of History Studies at the University of Toronto explained to a small group of us monks about the years when he witnessed our monks working hard to establish ourselves. Just as we were about to sit in his classroom to teach of spiritual teachers, Madhavacarya and Chaitanya, and as students were settling in their seats, he brought us back to the 70's. At that time, he was teaching in Concordia University in Montreal when Krishna devotees found themselves in court. The issue was over distribution of spiritual literature and encounters with the police. Professor Miller had come to offer help in establishing a greater understanding between the authorities and the monks. When Prof. Miller went up to the stand to offer his historical perspective on Krishna Vaishnavism, the judge protested, "I am not interested in hearing this", dismissing the theologian's offer.

I was given a good hour to speak and expand on Chaitanya's life and life as a monk who sometimes takes long treks. The finale was a kirtan, chanting session, which students and teacher took to fully. I then invited Prof. Miller to attend our summer walking festival, Ratha Yatra, which he graciously accepted.

Anyone who has in the past stepped up to support the spiritual mission is very much loved by those devotees, and I'm sure, by their Lord.

0 Km

Tuesday, March 10th, 2009

Toronto, Ontario

HARVARD DR. SPEAKS ON THE KRISHNA MOVEMENT

On the calendar for the Krishna devotee community is something called "Gaura Purnima". It is our actual New Year and commemorates the birth of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. It was he who conducted a demonstration, a peaceful civil disobedience march to oppose the injunction against public chanting. His mission was successful as he was able to capture public sympathy at the turn of the 16th century in West Bengal. What Gandhi was hailed for over four hundred years later, Chaitany had established long before. Gandhi had struggled for national independence, whereas Chaitanya wrestled with political powers over the right to freedom of spiritual expression in a public setting.

Unofficially, the Hare Krishna movement started from here. In the words of Harvard professor, Dr. Diane Eck:

"The Krishna Consciousness movement is part of an important and distinctive tradition of devotional faith, the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition which began in the sixteenth century with the great saint, Sri Chaitanya, but which participates in a much older movement of devotion dating back to at least the second century B.C.

The devotional faith is called bhakti, which means devotion to God, or love of God. Bhakti expresses the relationship between human beings and the Lord. It is a relationship of shared being and of natural love.

The Bhakti tradition found a full expression in the ancient Bhagavad-Gita, 'The Song of the Lord'... and existential dialogue on some of the most deeply significant human questions... What is human life? What is transcendence? How can one be actively engaged in the world without being ensnared by it?"

4 Km

Sunday, March 8th, 2009

Brampton, Ontario

THREE PATHS

I had received a call from a Vancouver devotional enthusiast who is combing through the Bhagavad-gita for about the third time. Ralph Waldo Emerson describes the Gita as "the voice of an old intelligence." My caller is exploring the beauty of its message and with particular reference to the personal versus impersonal spiritual direction to take. To explain a bit deeper, in spiritual searching, one may be drawn to the aspect of the Absolute as a force or energy of light or may be attracted to God as a supreme divine person. Both thrusts are historically pursued depending on one's particular attraction. Much clarity on the topic of these two paths is elaborated upon by the purport of Srila Prabhupada.

What was fascinating to my caller from British Columbia was the discovery of a middle path referred to as paramatma realization. On this path of transcendentalism, the yogi sits in solitude and feels a satisfaction in having the presence of an impartial God manifested in the heart. On this path there is little sense of emotional feeling, but more a sense of 'being' as a soul accompanied by a supersoul, God.

I chose this very topic, the middle path, to speak on at the ISKCON Brampton Centre. As the Gita itself confirms in Chapter Six, the path of devotion, the realm of personalism, the notion and practice of service is most favourable amongst the three paths and is the most emphasized in the Gita. For the rest of the evening I had been moving my mouth more than my legs. A second talk about a pilgrim, Madhavendra Puri, at ISKCON Toronto which I delivered helped me to recall the extraordinary life of this personalist ascetic. From what we know of Madhavendra's life, there were no options open towards the various approaches of God for him. He was profoundly in love with the Absolute.

And when we speak of success on the spiritual path, love (or prema) is the thing.

Thursday, 12 March 2009

Saturday, March 7th, 2009

Richmond Hill, Ontario

"A MEEK MOUSE"

Naresh is from Kashmir and he's 59 today. Some of us members of the Krishna community descended upon his home (by invitation) to celebrate the occasion with chanting and a tasty grainless feast. An additional spontaneous feature to the event also manifested. I'll explain.

Most of the attendees to the lively program are seasoned followers which means they have been participating for thirty years average. Seeing that much experience was in our midst instead of a small talk delivered by myself to address the group I thought let's try a game at interaction. I proposed to the group to open-up with a topic and deliver one minute of a message on that topic and then go around the room asking each person to continue with the theme expounding on the message. One person blurted out, "I'm too nervous." So our topic was obvious, "Nervousness - Why and What to do about it?"

I nervously began and as we went around the chain very decent responses come from all. When we completed one revolution much wisdom pervaded the atmosphere and there was a sigh of relief from the more nervous, while others spoke confidently. The consenus amongst the group was that nervous, lack of confidence or stage-fright (whatever you will call it) stems from the bodily conception. When we appreciate our true essence "I am not the body but spirit", there is less apprehension. The world is full of a population of shyness. I was personally a victim of uncertainty and fear and expressing this through jitters in my hands when I first joined to become a monk. Eventually through the kindness and love of the Krishna community I gained confidence and now have little fear of getting behind a microphone, except when in front of peers. I believe I'll remain permanently paralyzed in front of my monastic peers. Why? I have a profound respect for them and I feel like a meek mouse before them.

Wednesday, 11 March 2009

Thursday March 5th, 2009

Toronto, Ontario
"The Hind-Jew"

Each day health gets progressively better, as far as leg mobility is concerned. To help me in the foot-recovery department is Maheen, a Sri Lankan cab driver. He spends 2 or 3 hours at the ashram everyday cleaning pots in kitchen, cleaning the washroom and handling garbage. Bless his soul. When I was in the prime of pain he would massage my infected right foot. Bless his soul once again. Now that I can manage to walk some distance I asked Maheen to take me to a spot in the downtown, where I would be forced to make it back to the ashram instead of walking some convenient loops. I measured a distance of 4 km, and while taking a walk (with a limp of course), I had time to reflect.

During the morning sadhana, or spiritual exercise, a presentation was made by Barry Brown, a journalist, before a group of us monks. I had intentionally invited him to speak about his passion, which is the India-Israel connection. I had known Barry for years. He was a former monk and he is also known as Baladeva, as he was initiated by our guru Srila Prabhupada. Back in 1975 he and I traveled together as monks in the southern states while on our mission most endearing was our getting arrested and jailed for 3 days; the charge being soliciting literature without a permit. That was an interesting time. I won't forget Greensborough, North Carolina and the deep south, where some people are not always so deep.

In any event, Baladeva and I and a third monk used to travel and stay in motels. We would open up the motel rooms' dresser drawer and pull out the Gideon's Bible or St.James version - Whatever they had. We would read some passages and then see some Vedic connections with ancient Indian culture. Incidentally Baladeva introduces himself to people nowadays as a "Hind-Jew". Being born Jewish and then coming to Krishna Consciousness I believe that he is really on to something when he speaks about his theory including dates and people of the pre-Jesus era. Surely the true traditions, that is Judaism and Hinduism, both having existed for thousands of years, have much in common. In his presentation, it was evident that not only these two paths he was putting into parallels, Baladeva referenced a book, "Anacalypsys" by author Geoffrey Higgins, where he says that once there was a world religion that worshipped the negro god Kresna. Higgins further went on to say that Stonehenge was a temple where Kresna was honoured. That's very interesting material, Baladeva. Keep-up the good work on your reserach.

4 Km

Saturday, 7 March 2009

Monday, March 2nd, 2009

Norwood, Ontario

En-route back home from Ottawa, Surya, the monk who drove me to and from stopped for another needed doze to break up the five hour drive. At Norwood, a town of population 1300, there is a large house which Surya and I was trying to find. In it dwells one of the largest Krishna families on earth. Unfortunately, I couldn’t locate the home of the McAllister’s who represent 1% of the town’s population. One of the McAllister girls, Vraja, one of twelve kids told me that technically, her mother was pregnant for 108 months or 9 years.

What I have to say about this family is that here is the most incredible progeny. Smiling faces like you have never seen. I have always appreciated this clan and I’m sorry to miss them now.

I braved a four kilometer walk on Hwy 7, a major achievement since the catfish encounter. This is God’s grace.

While walking (with a limp), I dwelt on the topic of appreciation or more so on the lack of it. On the previous night, I read some short historical facts article in a local Ottawa paper. The capital city of Canada, Ottawa was founded by Lieutenant- Colonel John By. He was responsible for building a carving of a 202 kilometer canal through wilderness of rough bush, swamps and rock terrain. The canal was hatched after the War with the Americans in 1812 and was to be the safe supply route from Montreal to Kingston, avoiding the St. Lawrence River, a vulnerable route. 50 dams were built and 47 locks constructed.

Colonel By was highly appreciated for this major engineering feat. (Remember there was no high tech around that time.) When he returned, to his native England, instead of receiving knighthood British authorities blasted him for some over expenditure. In 1836 at 53 he died, a broken man with his character smeared by the press. He spent his last years trying to clear his name. It was sad to read about a man who had given his blood and was not appreciated for his services.

It is a fact that man can be colder than an iceberg and emit more venom than a serpent.

Certainly anyone who cultivates spiritual life demonstrates signs of encouragement or praise for others. Appreciation is the mark of maturity.

4 km

Sunday, March 1st, 2009

Ottawa, Ontario

The day was glowing with sunshine and my driver companion is graced with the name, Surya (the Sun God). Warmth was abound, to the exclusion of temperatures. Minus 20 Celsius was the fresh gauge for the day en-route to Ottawa, Canada’s capital city. It was my first ‘real’ trip since Guyana a month ago. I could, for the first time, fit a shoe around the right foot without pain. At some point of the five hour journey on scenic Highway # 7, Surya needed to pull over and take a break.

I took a good hard look at that right foot in the front seat of the van with the vibrant natural light of the sun cast upon it. As expressed before in the culture of India the general public attempts to touch the feet of a sadhu or monk.

Now I may be a monk and hole-y might better describe the roles of the foot. It does have the resemblance of a cross between a war zone and the moon’s surface. To put it in plain English, “lotus feet they ain’t”! I have been battling with wards, tiny craters and some old skin is finally making its way as if dangling and ready to drop. That part two description is actually a sign of glory and I certainly gave all assistance to further shedding. This is not meant to be a gross-out but the confession of a marathon walker’s dilemma.

You don’t know how liberating it was to open the van door window and fling flakes of dead skin to land on crystal snow. It should have happened in slow motion with some appropriate music to accompany it. I felt like a butterfly bursting out of the caterpillar stage.

The rest of the day shone until night when our gathering of bhakti practitioners
at ISKCON 212 Somerset E. danced away like “jubilant peacocks” to the sound of the maha-mantra.

I did feel like a new man (monk).

Tuesday, 3 March 2009

Friday, February 27th, 2009

Let’s Not limit the Notion of Charity.

Markham, Ontario

“Those three kids, street kids that acted in Slumdog millionaire now have money that will be put into a trust so that they can have a decent future. The movie producer is helping them with that and that is real charity. Not this promotion of vegetarianism and saving the cow.”

So argued a woman to me at an evening gathering at a residence of one of our congregational members. It was a deja-vu. Particularly her unwillingness to acknowledge animal cruelty and dismissing it as something not to be concerned with. The lady had a n attitude that remained unchanged for over twenty years since I’ve known her. I had had the same argument with her before.

I was on my first visit and outreach engagement since the catfish stung me and here we start with a fight. I did not dispute the slumdog Samaritan act, in fact I supported
The work of the movie producers in helping the kids. My point is let’s extend compassion and see that animals also have rights being psychologically and biologically like humans.

I took the stand, “The cow is our mother.”

“I don’t agree”. She protested.

“Is nature our mother?” Let’s broaden our perspective on the concept of motherhood”, I suggested.

She was kind for listening to that point and courteously (in a motherly fashion) said, “I don’t want to continue right now because dinner is waiting. “ Although not the host she did extend her hand to show me where dinner was being served. The smorgasbord array of delicious items was comprised of raita, a yogurt based prep, spiced rice with butter, paneer subji, a curd and tomato curry, lassi, a milk drink and more. Much of the prasadam dinner was dairy-based from the cow. I hold my ground on the position of seeing that animal slaughter is an exploitation to the cow and bull. Protecting animals and prescribing to a meatless diet is charity. And that’s no Bull.

Thursday, February 26th, 2009

Encouraging are the Words

Toronto, Ontario

Today I picked up speed although I would still classify the brief walk as a stroll. Patrick, a regular temple-goer, agreed to be my walking companion through posh Yorkville area. He set the pace to his normal speed but I had to remind him if you want a partner then you have to slow down.

Patrick has as interesting mind and is meticulously analytical with names and numbers carefully calculating subtle meanings behind what he observes. I personally have a hard time keeping up to his analytical brain. I just find it fascinating that the world has within it such incredible diversity. Patrick is unique but I’m glad to have someone near me on the stroll.

While On Yonge st. we bumped into Devadatta, one of the brahmacaris from the ashram on his way back from yoga lessons. Deva is taking an intensive course in order to be able to train people in concentration, relaxation and ultimately a focus on bhakti, the science of devotion. With the coming certification he will be recognized as a registered yoga teacher. In my heart I want him to do well and to become an outstanding yoga master.

As Patrick and I proceeded on we encountered at least three homeless people. It was they who seemed to have no apprehension about saying those two magic words upon seeing us, “Hare Krishna”, in a cheerful tone bounced off their tongues. For me it was the sound of cheerleaders saying, “keep going! You’re doing good and you’ll get back to regular walking before you know it.”

God was speaking through them so it was profound.

3 Km