Tuesday, April 28, 2009
It’s hard to part and leave a spiritual community after bonding with members over a few short days. Like all places, whether tropical like Hawaii or facing the frigid elements like Canada half of the year there is something that is constant regardless of the place. After exchanging hugs with god brother, Suresvara, I would put a finger on that something. It’s the ambient flavour that Krishna delivers in all His homes. And as I walked a final trek on this Hawaiian trip along one of those world-class beaches while Surya, the sungod, peaked over the glimmering liquid line, it was Krishna’s flavour in the form of sound that provided the Bhakti touch.
At the Houston airport one employee I had approached for inquiry mistook my question for saying something about the Midas touch. The Midas touch refers to a repair company that offers excellent services for your car. I actually didn’t say anything about the Midas touch as she, the employee, was perhaps thrown off because of my non-existent southern droll. She did blush a bit when the question was repeated.
The mistake, however, triggered a thought about the Bhakti Touch. Wherever I travel I get the experience of the Bhakti Touch. To describe it, well, it’s warm. It conjures up the experience of sound referred to earlier, the food we call prasadam, the sound of bells and drums, the smell of champaka flower incense, images of flowing robes, a euphoric guru, books of ancient message and people of devotion who smile, hug and touch the heart.
The Bhakti Touch has nothing to do with anything mushy. It’s for real and it’s not mundane.
Mark Twain called it the most beautiful place in the world. Ramananda, the local temple co-ordinator, and I walked to a cliff in Nanaii State Park situated next to Old Pali Road over looking the oceanside beyond green valleys. It was red volcanic rock sprinkled one time by more red.
The top and the base of the cliff were blood stained when at the turn of the eighteenth century warring tribes muscled for power and sovereignty over the Hawaiian Islands. Spears, muskets and more formidable canons caused the defeated tribe to take a forced leap off the cliff. Warriors in the hundreds were laid to rest after the fatal jump. The history made at this cliff flavoured this destination with colour tainting the beauty of the place.
We learned that red was a favourite colour in those times and a symbol of monarchy expressed through attire. Coats for the royalty were made from feathers plucked from live trapped birds which were then released. A tourist interpreter also informed a group of tourists while we browsed that brothers and sisters would marry and any children born deformed would be eliminated.
History has so many shades.
Meanwhile, our own little devotional group at the Iskcon Temple made preparations to present “The Gita” drama preceded by talks about walks. I am referring in particular to the cross Canada ventures. The chanting session was an electrifying experience before the sacred images of Panca Tattva, an angelic looking group of divinity who epitomized ‘perfect balance’ just by their mere symmetrical setting. The super feast topped off the Sunday open house program attended by an ecstatic group of happy faces. With all of this, our modest devotional community added a small something to Hawaiian history.
Waikiki Beach, Hawaii
The public at Waikiki are accustomed to the chanting party coming through on the streets. At least shop owners are. The tourists turn over constantly and they are from all over the world.
With some seniority on my side, I tried to implement some standard of orderliness to the party of chanters, which seemed to have some positive effect.
My preference as a venue would be to a quieter park area where you might find more sober humans and hence more thoughtfulness.
Of course, people have slipped into bad habits. Perhaps you have heard it- a habit is like a cozy warm bed, easy to move into but hard to get out of.
Here’s another one. Habits are like a thread. You keep adding and they turn into a rope.
How about this one. Habits start by being too weak to be ‘felt’ and then end up being too strong to be ‘left.”
Whether booze or drugs they consume a person and then spit him or her out.
Here’s a last one. Before you realize that you have got the habit, the habit has got you.
Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, most empathically encouraged abstinence and to explore a pleasure within. Encounter a higher (spiritual) taste and all else appears so secondary.
Hawaii is an interesting place. It harbours natural beauty parallel to high end habits of humans. I see lots of spiritual facilities in Honolulu. Waikiki on the weekend at dusk isn’t much of a place for a monk.
It’s my first trip to this chain of islands and I’m enjoying nature’s ventilation like anything. I am housed in a small cabin beneath a massive banyan tree situated in the backyard of the Iskcon House. Krsna Prema, my host, treated me to the staple food for the Hawaiian Islands, taro, a root crop given the Indian touch as a pakora with chickpea batter. A second treat was a ride to Old Pali Highway, an overgrown road- turned - trail at a marvelous panoramic lookout for ocean and mountain vistas.
A local chap discovered chameleon mates, a horned male which was carried on his hat, and female rested on top of his index finger on this scenic trail. The lizards who were very docile, donned the most beautiful green blends I have ever seen. The chap was not intent on taking them on as pets. “they are high maintenance,” he remarked. He was just taking them for a ride before releasing them back to their habitat.
A memorable moment to capture my mind about today was not just the outdoors but the book “Bhagavatam” discussed indoors. It was the story of a king, Citraketu, who lost his only son to the heinous act of poison. So our discussion with peers led to losing loved ones. I contemplate the loss of good souls in my life, personalities such as Bhakti Tirtha and Sridhar Swamis who passed away while in their fifties. What they did was leave good memories. There has to be something positive to relish and to dwell on that is stored in our memory banks. The past is not all bad. Some inspiration does come from probing into the past. When I think of the contribution our guru made for me personally, I get emotional.
The only thing to be in anxiety about when looking in reverse is when we wallow in the excess sense pleasures of our bygone times. We may be temped to visit our darker past.
Over Choclate mountains USA
A man off to a diving exploration via air travel identified himself as Mark and with a smile asked if he could sit next to me. He is a teacher at a university in the engineering field. While waiting for our flight I asked him how he found his year of teaching.
“Pretty flat,” he said, referring to very quiet students. “Not every entertaining.” Although he measured this year’s student crop as ‘reserved’ he admitted to them “we are here to learn from each other.” I found it rather unique for a teacher to say that. Perhaps I was quite programmed under the old British school system in my childhood and had the exposure to authoritarian rule for the most part.
There were those teachers that you could get very close to and they would share their world with you. They would be “one of the boys” practically. I recall one of my teachers, who would play football with us outside of school hours and tell us how much he liked the Mamas and the Papas as much as we liked them. He was cool and we learned from him while at the same time we (his students) met with the usual formal protocol.
My new made friend, Mark, a professor seemed to exude that kind of vibration of warmth and humility and command a respect simultaneously. It is like the mountains I look at below me during the flight. They look beautiful with their peaks and valleys. It’s a great texture.
Someone can be a top executive, top in his field, be a king or a queen or a guru but if you can't be a little human, can’t share or express some friendship you can be as flat as a prairie.
Mark admitted that his students although a little non- responsive, were people he respected and loved. He struck me as being a real teacher and not just a cash earner who passed some exams some years back. I spoke to him of dharma and karma and of after-life. He was thoroughly interested which is one of my main points. He was a teacher who is still a student. Once you give up inquisitiveness you are a dead man.
Happy diving, Mark!
Some Montreal monks have come to check out our Toronto ashram, test out their new van and come to see visitor Devamrta Swami. Our visitors, Anubhava, Jagannatha and Veda Vyasa accompany me on my favourite monk trails. First of all, there was a promenade to Casa Loma, a palatial castle stop on a hill, as we softly chanted with the aid of our meditational beads. That was at the crack of dawn. By mid-afternoon, the boys were set for some real grassroots Hare Krishna activity teaming up with three monks form Halifax drumming on mrdanga and djembe drums while singing the maha mantra at popular Kensington Market. Shoppers and shopkeepers took well to the monks having fun doing what people often expect of us.
I had also introduced the boys to a Rosedale ravine, a real treat- a trail that takes you in the midst of nature within the centre of the bustling city. There was also time taken to address issues with Anubhava, the Montreal temples co-coordinator, to discuss individual concerns of discontent. As much as you find there are triumphs on the spiritual path, you find challenges.
One time a person asked me abut troubles in spiritual communities. I responded with a candid “wherever there are humans there will be human nature that leads us to complications.”
In the sacred Gita, Krishna speaks about this mundane world as a troubled place of misery and struggle.
There is always fewer struggles in the company of supportive peers who
tread the spiritual path
Devamrta Swami asked me over breakfast how I felt the world is doing. What immediately came to mind was that the sandwiches we were eating were great. Naturally, he anticipated that I push beyond the horizon of the condominium corner where we were seated. So I tried to say something.
“The liberals and conservatives are constantly in an arm wrestle.”
“Dialogue is always a welcome sign. If the arms are held together holding equal power I see a balance. The arms need a chance to rest though. We can’t always be arguing. My dear swami friend nodded. I did not reciprocated with the same question. We just moved into different directions in our conversation.
When I thought about the arm-wrestle after the quick breakfast and a quick tooth brushing session before the dentist would spot and pick at food particles at my appointment, I really had in mind that amongst spiritualists there are the free spirited and the tight wads. It seems to go across the board whether secular or religious, that you will find loose and stiff opinions, on matters of all sorts and kinds.
Devamrta held his own charm as usual in our brief communication. “A passive warrior “is the title I would give him. He has a day off from speaking engagements but is poised to prepare and speak to a group of people in the corporate community the next day. He gloriously breaks ground with the stretchy yoga community and now with the stiffer ‘white collar” groups. He can very expertly raise the consciousness of people from the two extreme backgrounds.
We all get rated for what we do. The moon and sun observe us. Stars and other luminary objects watch us. Crows in trees and squirrels as well keep a watchfulness over our movements. People too. We get judged by them.
The newspaper media in Canada is looking at Barack Obama, U.S. President, and giving him a rating after one hundred days in office. They gave him a score B. It’s an opinion of course based on right or left wing subjectivity. The President is accountable to his citizens and not just Canadians but most certainly, the U.S. and the world all over make assessment on his work. Then there is ME. “I” need to be assessed. Perhaps the worst opinion makers on our own selves is our selves. We do need assessment for our own performance level if we hope to improve and impact the world favorably.
We need to know “How am I as a citizen of the earth? How do I fare with peers? Am I a good husband, wife, parent, peer, student, teacher, employer and employee? “We need to know more than just what we project about ourselves.
It’s unhealthy to take an Absolutist stance on things and to carry Holier Than Thou attitude. Conversely, asking everyone’s opinion for everything or asking for permission to cough or sneeze is an unwholesome extreme. That would lay a case for paralysis.
Today the weather was extreme. Rain poured. Wind whipped. My passion to walk was extreme for a solution I chose to walk the underground shopping concourse. I didn’t have to fight the extreme elements. I just came to a compromise (even though I love the out-of-doors)
Always shoot for a balance. Assess but, beware, not to over-assess. Who has the time? Life is short!
Saturday, April 25, 2009
Durban, South Africa
They were smoke signals – signals of devotion. Outside my room I could hear laughter, wood crackling in fire. It was early morning – 3am. I peered out of my window and noticed the blotches of light set against the darkness. I was curious so I made my way outside to get closer. There were 108 lit fires each cooking generous amounts of breyani, the local’s favourite food. Today’s batch of breyani would feed 25 000 people or more, satisfying the palate with this combination of patra rice, sugar beans and a mixture of vegetables. Later this is to be followed with a tasty split-pea dhall.
The dozens of cooks and assistants look forward to the yearly Chariot Festival and the labour of love behind it. I spoke with the cooks and the people feeding wood into the happy fires, heating each 75–litre pot. They all smelled smoky and so did I. While we are on the topic of cooking in devotion a fierce devotional cooking demo competition took place at the outdoor stage between two seasoned monks, Bhakti Caitanya Swami and Bhakti Brnga Govinda Swami bedazzled a huge crowd with their expertise in culinary skills, talking up a mouth-wateringly good rap food that is vegetarian and then offered to Krishna.
According to the organizers, the biggest draw as usual on site is the drama. “The Eight Boy” pulled in a full house 2000 capacity and even got my good friend, Vaiyasaki, a fellow Canadian and chanting leader, excited, “Put it on Broadway – as is.” He was serious.At the Festival, each year there is lots to see and do. There are lots to see and do. At every stall or stage at North Beach, someone is cooking up a storm.
Thursday, April 23, 2009
Both in Brampton and Toronto I conducted initiation ceremonies for those acknowledging their membership into the International Society for Krishna Consciousness. But before all of that I took to the street for a straight liberating walk west- bound on this quiet Sunday morning. I stopped by the Gopal Mandir, a small Krishna temple on Dundas st. looking particularly very Hindu- like with dozens upon dozens of icons of Krishna and other gods cluttered together on platform surfaces.
The preist of the place is a black gynaese devotees who was kind to show this humble pilgrim the washroom and offer an apple. Bless his heart. With the trek in progress the apple gave fuel and the residual juices left on my right hand fingers enthused a lonely raccoon sitting atop a low garage to come forward to sniff the sweetness.
Raccoons have been my buddies since the days that I took up my self-styled training for walking long distances. These furry creatures’ presence have always been a source of excitement for me when the walking path could be very quiet. It happens that I need a break from humans and substitute them with trees, plants, and animals.
The evening aarti (ceremony) at the Toronto temple culminated with a remarkable full participation at Kirtan (chanting). Drums rolled, lungs activated and legs and arms flung in the air.
Life is great in the devotional lane.
While a dear god-brother came to town, monk Devamrita Swami, to deliver a talk on the environment and it’s relation to spirituality. I was pleasantly harnessed to an appreciation dinner. It was not me that was receiving the “Thanks you’s” although it is common in eastern culture to always give adulation to the priests. I was at the other end of the table, so to speak, acting as one of a host of facilitators expressing gratitude to donors and community members.
The two words “Thank-you!” mean so much to so many people. It provides the fuel to carry on. Any heart-felt expression along the line of offering gratitude goes a long way. What is heart-wrenching is the fact that most people go about their daily routine doing things for others and rarely receive a “Thank-you”.
When people express that their stress level is very high it often means that life’s drudgery isn’t tempered with words of kindness and gratitude. Most people deserve to be honored. Gifts are given, parties are thrown, trophies and plaques of honor go out to those who gave some sweat.
It was an honour to give honour to helpers over the past year when a temple committee here cooked a great vegetarian feast, set up a fabulous- looking dining room, gave some tokens and gifts and expressed some sweet words.
Our guru said, “Thank-you!” thousands of times in so many ways demonstrating the quality of what a perfect gentleman should be.
Every now and then this Muslim cab driver spots me downtown as I trek and Chant. When he sees the robes he stops and chats. He had been up for hours driving passengers with booze on their breath. Connecting with a sober monk is a breath of fresh air for him.
He’s a pleasant man. I leaned over the side of the car speaking to him through his open passengers window. He likes the spiritual reinforcement. We part on amiable terms.
With further walking north on Yonge st. I met a chap dressed like Johnny Cash, all in black. He was young, physically attractive, and was curious about monasticism. We talked for blocks and blocks as he posed questions that came to his receptive mind. Eventually we hit on the subject of human nature’s appetite for sex.
My position was that the tradition I represent condones responsible sex. He interpreted it as meaning, “safe sex”, or the use of condoms. I expressed that it is abstinence unless married and “married to one” that we prescribed to. I suggested that the world could look at sexual union with a fresh outlook. Chapter nine of the Gita recommends that all that we so must have a link to the Divine.
My new friend in black insisted that “safe sex” is fine and that impulsive action is natural. I insisted on the advantages of planning for all actions including sex.
Anyways I ended up going my way and he left for his apartment.
Maybe I’ll have a second round with him someday. It will be fun
Monday, April 20, 2009
Flying from Johannesburg to Amsterdam and then to Norway was a fine couple about to retire from their years at work. I sat next to them enroute to Amsterdam. They had their heart set on seeing the Northern lights as a life-time dream. Gail the lady constantly wanted to see out the window, with a wonder like a child to see and explore. It would be hard to identify her age on the basis of interest in life.
She was keen to know about the Vedic perspective on the “life-after”. To receive a body after donning a human body was totally acceptable to her. The choices or options for new experiences in new bodies are practically unlimited. “Human life is a special prize”, I explained. “It’s a real achievement; however, we can grossly misuse this position. And if we do then most certainly we slide notches downward to less-rational thinking beings.”
Gail was interested in the book, “Coming Back” published by Bhaktivedanta Book trust to do with the topic of transmigration. She reminded me twice about getting the book from my luggage in the overhead. I promised that I would fulfill this obligation.
While Peering out the window I felt the feel of migrating and as my mind moved through different thoughts I could appreciate the statement from the Bhagavad-Gita that we all travel through different states of consciousness and born out of that are different bodies wrapped around the mind.
Saturday, April 18, 2009
Durban, South Africa
After the exerting Easter weekend at the Chariot Festival we usually organize a small PPP (post production party). As a group the young performers of the plays over the weekend converge for a bonding time over food, smoozing, chanting and some form of recreation (I confess to a good game of soft ball once a year).
It was a good evening in particular with a group that jells so well together. Our stage manager, Krsna Chandra, is the life of the party being a professional comedian. “Laughter is the medicine that cures all ills is sometimes the saying. What is ill is this world of struggle. As the Gita points out “we struggle with our senses and especially the subtle mind.”
What makes light of this grave and serious world is humour. It’s the obvious antidote. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, employed humour in his dealings when needed. As a matter of fact, he consistently pulled the strings of sobriety, wisdom and warmth. Humour is definitely a component of warmth. It is a necessary ingredient in creating the encouragement that we hanker after.
The great contemporaries of Chaitanya, who wrote books on the science of devotion declare that humour is a feature of all of us as well as a feature of the Creator. Yes, even God had a sense of humour.
Durban, South Africa
Today was the final day for the Chariot Festival in Durban. A second “return trip” like the one held in India’s east coast city, Puri, is re-enacted. I had the pleasure to be there this time and to lead the chanting in front of the middle chariot. It’s an honour. Many youths devotionally flaunted their drum playing. The event culminated with popping fire works. I thought about the extraordinary creative nature behind the invention of fireworks originating from the Orient. Whoever came up with the idea must have been empowered. Sometimes these inventions are a fluke.
There is one monk who comes to see me every year on my visit to South Africa. His name is Vraja Krsna, Croation born, and he showed me an article from his monthly publication Ahead of Time. There were excerpts from Bhakti Tirtha Swami on the topic of the Renaissance, a very expressive, creative and exploratory time. I found his comments interesting in regards to an overlooked phenomena of this idealistic and inventive time.
“Probing beneath the enthusiasm and idealism” he says, “the Renaissance actually set the stage for increasing conflict between individuals and nations. If we look at the biographies of some of the renowned personalities of that time, we find many of them were not just exploring new techniques in art and literature but were also exploring new outlets for their carnality and greed.
We can be very intoxicated by accomplishments that we as individuals may have been involved in and in the name of progress we may have developed certain comforts. The question remains even with the technology of today and the tagged on conveniences born out of it – are we truly peaceful?
Despite all the avenues of sense gratification tried over again and again, withoutspirituality, mundane achievements always fail us.
Thursday, April 9, 2009
Durban, South Africa
To walk in South Africa you might consider your neighborhood. My place of residence at the temple in Chatsworth (near Durban) is situated in a mediocre-safe vicinity. I will not be shy to say as the sacred texts, the Vedas, say that in this material world there is no safe place. At every step there is potential death.
Going “goom goom” as it is said in Hindi or “round & round” is the most secure path custom-made to circle the temple. Clockwise circumambulation around sacred ground has been a practice since time immemorial for pilgrims.
A brief amount of walking is all I have time for. Today’s rehearsals kept me going for a good twelve hours. It’s no burden for me as long as cooperation among actors and technical people prevails. A film director who has worked with some of the screen greats such as Richard Burton, Allan Bates, Rod Stergis, Johnny Depp, and others told me about his career. “It’s an obsession. It’s not work at all. It’s an obsession.”
And that’s certainly the way I feel about drama in spiritual consciousness. There is so much to gain from performance with a message and what to speak of the good passions behind a theatrical formation.
Thank God that our guru, Srila Prabhupada, gave me so much support to transcendental theater.
Durban, South Africa
I come here yearly to participate in the Chariot Festival where I lead chanting kirtans, deliver classes in Bhakti Yoga, and spend the greater percentage of time engaged in drama presentations with the local actors and aspiring actors from the community. To my satisfaction I have a Zulu native of South Africa who has a background in acting. He has played major roles such as Othello on the professional stage. Reggie told me that he would spend three months working on a piece with acting companies before the presentation to the theater.
I apologized to him for our quick assembly of drama. “We have four days before we step on stage,” I said. He was fine with that and graciously accepted a script I gave him for the first day. I had not pre-sent it because the organizers and I were not quite settled on the second play to be presented at this year’s festival, known historically under the name Ratha Yatra.
The piece Reggie had agreed to take the lead role in is the drama “Nandulal” which highlights the story of the blind Vilvamongala. It is a play written and adapted for the stage in 1981 by Andy Fraenkel, also known as Sankirtana Das. It’s a touching story about one person’s way of dealing with personal lust.
In flight over Africa
Somehow it happened that I ended up on the KLM flight from Amsterdam to Johannesburg in a middle seat with a fairly large woman on one side and a thin woman on the other side. Traditionally monks or nuns for that matter stick to the company of the same gender. In circumstances such as now I have no choice. We might consider that the situation was not one of orthodox practice and that I am not necessarily keeping company of women. It is well engrained into the monastic culture to see everyone as family and at least to me the elder of two women I saw as a sister and the younger, my daughter.
Throughout the flight, which is austere (the only walking is to the toilet and back), we struck a little conversation. Only near the end did them and I open up, particularly to the younger one. She was curious.
I asked her, “Have you heard of us?”
“Yes, I attended the wedding of my friend, Arun, in your temple in Toronto last summer.”
From that point on we talked about the entity of marriage. The young Caucasian woman expressed that there is something essentially missing in today’s education. We both concurred that the subject of life is not taught and of the responsibility found within it. We also both agreed the preparedness of lifetime partnerships, learning to be committed and to discuss and compromise and sacrifice needed far more attention. It was a congenial conversation.
Personally, this topic of remorseful coupling and dysfunctional families disturbs me also daily. I am disappointed in the easy quitters, especially when children are involved.
The other evening Sivarama Swami spoke to his birthday crowd about how his upbringing was one of support and kindness, and being so sheltered he thought everyone had the same experience, until he got older and looked around him.
I could practically tell the same story. When I moved to the city 36 years ago to take up residence with the monks, I realized that many of the colleagues came from broken homes. It is unfortunate.
These days I prescribe to people to check out the Grihasta Vision Team, a group of professionally trained counselors in the art of learning to strengthen the bonds that free us.
Sunday, April 5, 2009
A rap poem (song)
I travel on a bus in the summer each year
With spirit sons and daughters that is very clear
In June we set-out together to gather all our gear
We anticipate fun, only 'skitters to fear
Now Manu's in charge - the captain of the ship
He makes sure it'll be a super-great trip
At night we drive at a very decent clip
Fuel-up the tank and take a chip with no dip
Two buses there are; one for girls, one for boys
They're all past the age of having their toys
There may be dreams of Lexus or Rolls Royce
Hey, let's not get distracted but sing with a voice
They are talented indeed, incredible skill
They're angels who perform with the aim to kill
They sing and dance whether it's Jack or it's Jill
Sita or Ravi, they all know how to chill
They mix service with pleasure and see it's all one
Rafting bunjee jump or swim, it's all fun
Clean, cook, cut, paint until the work is done
It's work, fun, work, fun, work, work, fun, fun
We travel through the whole of the North continent.
Putting on shows with quality content.
We seek blessings from above and get His consent
The audience is convinced these guys are God-sent
Now the bulk of them all are the second generation
They play hard and work-up a seal perspiration
All in the name of the Krishna fixation
Roads east, west, north, south - all through the nation
Now they all get to meet with the swamis on the bus,
Whose life is easy, not to make a fuss
It's an interactive time, the learning is a plus
Question and answer to clear-up the mental puss
Before the youth embark, they're at a crossroads
Maybe taken to illusion in the overloads
It's easy when young to hit the lower modes
By the time the trip is over they seek divine abodes
It's an empowering program I know you'd be impressed
Each summer rolls by, youth concerns as then addressed
Growing in this world can make you real depressed
The guys put on a dhoti when it's time to get dressed
Spirit sons and daughters - a happy bunch indeed
They're out and about where there's a planted a seed
I look at them all like a strand of japa beads
And one of these days they're gonna take the lead
Chorus: The youth summer bus tour, the youth summer bus tour, the youth summer bus tour...
I dedicate this song to the Youth Bus Program which I travelled with and supported through association and directing plays. This year I decided not to travel with this great bunch of youths.
I'm flying to South Africa on KLM.
No Km but KLM
Today was the birth anniversary of Rama, a prominent avatar and whose name we chant so regularly (as in daily). He is remembered through reading the Ramayana text, a fast until sunset and then followed by a feast.
Coincidentally it is also the birthday of one of my monk colleagues, Sivarama Swami. It is his 60th. It makes me feels like a baby (I'm 56). Maharaja, as his friends know him, came to visit Toronto where his mother resides. It was quite a fine celebration in the home of his childhood friend who also turned 60. Robert Lantos, an established film producer in Canada, had travelled to India with Maharaja and picked-up on the spirit of the place leaving the impressions that India does.
Bhakti Brnga Govinda Swami, another dear god-brother, also flew-in for the commemoration.
The program begun with the lighting of candles and a rabbi breaking bread and offering wine in traditional standard. Alternative arrangements were made for us monks.
In truth the two mothers of the birthday were honored. Family and friends came close and in some ways so did Moses and Krishna (through their respective devotees).
But a word about our birthday Swami, Sivarama is someone who has his feet firmly on the ground and with a tall stature opens his resonant voice commanding attention for what he says which is always soft, deep and very Krishna Conscious. He's a great example of saintliness.
I decided to walk from the Forrest Hill home to the temple at the time of departing for a measly.
While walking on Yonge St. a young fellow remarked, "Hey man, that a soothing colour you've got on. It goes with the skin and everything." "Well, thank you!" I said as he crossed the street.
Another man in corporate attire walked-up next to me and to my face asking, "So, do the robes work?"
"They are very comfortable," I said.
"How about the cold?"
"Well you wear extra..."
"There is nothing like a good pair of good old long johns," he chuckled.
"So what is your group doing?"
"Maintaining a community, working with youth and instilling some moral values," I answered.
He came on with another question, "Are you winning the battle?"
"You mean the battle of materialism?"
"Yes," he asserted.
"We are putting a small dent in this world of materialism," I assured him.
"That's all you can do," he said as if he was behind us in our humble effort.
It was a final and perfect comment coming from a new friend.
The theme of our discussion for the morning Bhagvatam class was fear. The sanskrit word for fear is bhaya. It is one of four proclivities natural to all of us which include eating, sleeping and mating. Fear is an unpleasant emotion stirred-up by some encroaching danger or evil. It makes you hesitate, to cower or shrink. It is often conjured-up when we are alone.
The beautiful thing about Krishna Consciousness is that one is really never alone and that the protector, Krishna, is present. Omnipresent! Srila Prabhupada, our guru, expressed a weakness in us, his students. He said, "The problem is that you don't fear illusion". How true this is! For renunciants or those who aspire for spiritual progress, fear is a must. A vigorous or healthy, sound fear for the things that entangle us in self-indulgence is a quality to embrace. And if we are genuine in our approach to spirituality we will shun temptations and stay protected.
Some folks I've met avoid any opportunity for spiritual participation as if it's the plague. For them it is actually fear that they experience - a fear of losing sense gratification whereas a spiritualist encounters fear for gaining sense gratification.
There are a whole lot of people who fear walking a few city blocks. It is common enough that for picking up a few items at the local convenience store it means hopping in the car and driving to that corner store. This is misplaced fear and at all costs we should try to avoid such unhealthy fear.
People love to share their future ideas with you. It ranges anywhere from marriage, to a physical move or money making schemes. As a person in the renounced order of life you may wonder why a monk would even bother to give the time of day. Well, the reason why it is important to lend an ear to such mundane causes is that people seek some kind of blessing from a monk. Plans may fail but a common belief is held by the public is that the more you stack in your favour, the more your project has a chance to succeed.
My comment to people at such times is to plan well, go forward with conviction but don't be disappointed with the results if it doesn't reach your expectation. A key verse from the Bhagavad-Gita supports this mind-set. "Be attached to one's duty and not to the fruits of one's duty." In other words live in the moment of responsibility. You may not be happy with the outcome of an endeavour. Be happy with the endeavour.
It's like walking. Don't be too anxious about the final destination but enjoy the walk.
To cap off to the day Tuesday evenings there is a reading circle of the Gita at the Pie IX temple. From 7:30 pm to 9 pm thirty or more spiritual seekers dwelt on texts from Chapter Four to do with the various types of sacrifices that exist in the world and that more important than the sacrifice of material possessions is the cultivation of knowledge.
Constant rain seemed to move the last traces of snow, though stubbornly clumps of the film covered stuff remain tucked under north shadows cast by buildings and trees. Winter is being ushered out and cyclists, pedestrians and motorists get excited by the change.
Personally, I have always enjoyed the drama of seasonal change. Variety is the spice of life.
My day became stocked well with tasks that included receiving guests with personal issues and not even enticing some of those who wished to talk to do so while on a walk. I am a fan of fresh air and good respiration.
One person who came to visit me has been a friend for many years - Yves Prescott. Yves has native blood and always reminds me of native culture and customs. Though he is proud of his heritage he is expert at drawing from all traditions, impersonating practically anyone. He really has got all accents down from my part of the world and like any comic is able to express the futility of our modern world in a most humorous way.
Yves knows his city well and is a store-house of information. And about Montreal, it was here that the famous escape artist, master magician, Houdini, died at one of the city's hotel lobbies. A casual admirer wanted to test Houdini's invincibility and gave him a punch in the stomach. The master of escapism was caught off-guard and quickly thereafter was set-up for a new body.
Life is fragile.
Saturday, April 4, 2009
Halifax, Nova Scotia
While waiting for one of our boys, Damodara Gopal, approximately 26, to arrive from the U.S. at 1 a.m., Nitai Ram, the in-charge monk in Halifax, was typing out a new script. I had been on a writing marathon since arriving here. Weather was posing restrictions for serious outdoor walks. Damodara wanted to talk to me. He expressed that as a celibate monk for some years now, and having just returned from a management training course, he felt like he wanted to "move on" and take-up more responsibility. To my ears there is a joyful resonance. Young monks like to move a bit and also go for some challenges. It's a healthy sign.
This is how our modest Halifax centre started less than two years ago. Two adventurous saffron-clad men lived in a tent as starters, then got welcomed into a home for free rent for a short while, and then rented a house in a not-so-great part of town. Growth came incrementally. It's a success story.
Now Damodara wishes to explore a new horizon - his old stomping grounds in Montreal. He feels confident about the move and asked for approval and blessings. Well, he got them. Young monks need freshness of opportunity while making secure what they had started prior.
The desire was deep and sincerity strong. I just feel really fortunate to see the monks move strategically.
I received a call that one new monk from Halifax, Dustin, is enjoying his travels with a big, black, beautiful monk from the U.S., Jaya Keshava. He expressed specifically that he is not interested to go back to Halifax. His rationale was that this is where his maya (illusion) is. He fears that he will get entangled in worldliness again.
So we were up to accomodate him and admit that he should not return but continue the travel.
So decisions are sizzling over where he should stay in order that his growth could continue.
Another Canadian brahmacari will be returning from an India retreat. These men are an opulence.
I think this monk shuffle has its plus points. At the same time some grounded monks must co-exist while the antsy ones move about.