Wednesday, May 27, 2009
The block next to our temple on Avenue rd. just southbound has anchored at least two posh clinics for plastic surgery. I noticed in passing by that one of the buildings called, “Elements”, now has a smart looking stone Hindu godess (likely Bhumi) or, Mother Earth set in front of it. She stands there holding a flower. She seems grounded, content and committed to perpetual youthfulness.
The elements of nature will always be around and I’m afraid that in due course the sun, rain, wind, snow and ice will do their number on the gracious statue just as they will do to our own bodies. We will wither and dwindle.
There are a lot of bucks that are pumped into altering body parts, firming up, stretching skin, cutting and replacing. Most people don’t take pride in wrinkles, sagging arms and breasts, protruding bellies no more than a brunette or a blonde’s hair turns silver. Since sex is played up in people’s lives so much there is a compulsion to do something about aging. But evading it isn’t necessarily going to build character.
When leaves drop in the fall it is a sign of awakening to the reality of a period of sobriety of the season ahead. When aging shows itself it can be taken as an indication to prepare for the afterlife. When will we focus on the spirit?
As I press ahead leaving the earthly goddess behind me I come upon another anti-aging clinic two more blocks away. I just have to ask again, “shouldn’t there be a wiser way to spend time and money and invest at least a small portion in our spiritual life?” Spirit matters! It won’t quit on us.
We had a good chuckle hearing from our peers, a couple from B.C. about the early Hare Krishna days on a farm. The tale was about a bunch of youthful city slickers who were trying rural life out in the sticks. Partha and Uttama, a successful married couple who travel the world on behalf of the G.V.T. a not-for-profit group of outstanding devotees who prepare people for greater potential success at married life were relaying their pastimes in agrarian Bridesville bordered on one side of the property by the American border.
It seemed that in those days of trial and error their affiliation with Agni, the fire God, was intertwined with activities. At one point the communal outhouse whose contents were piling up because of winter’s frozen and hardened ways the gaseous fluids meant for loosening up sufficiently was not working. When one contributor to the piles come in the dark and struck a match for a candle in order to aim properly. Guess what happened? An incredible glow lit up the night in that spot which sent the contributor on his feet. It was his last visit to this house of glory. The combustion came as a real surprise to him.
None of us monks who were listening to the story questioned the devotional sincerity of the Krishna pioneers, rather, their daredevilness astounded us.
I recall walking through the hamlet of the Bridesville in the summer of 2006, years after the farm was sold. Little did I know then that this was sacred ground where some interesting devotional experiments took place. The area felt special.
Tuesday, May 26, 2009
The ravine is graced with nettle, ivy, lilacs so fragrant, a wild garlic-mustard of strong scent and low and medium cover and much more of what I can't identify. There is a tamarack, a deciduous conifer that sheds needles in the fall. Upon emerging from this trail I entered the residential enclaves. One family relaxing on their veranda spotted me.
"You've been hiding." remarked the woman from her easy chair. She has been seeng me over the years on japa meditation walks which later evolved into marathon walks.
It was a day for walking for many as the city had establised its tenth annual event of 'Doors Open', a program which welcomes the public to see historic buildings. As I ascended the steps to 243 Avenue Road, our temple, I could feel the excitement. Guests had been entereing all day, coming to hear about the architect's skill and the beauty they had created. What seemed to be of greater intrigue to the public was the newly adopted guardians of this limestone structure which was first erected in 1896 by a Presbyterian group. Now managed and owned by the Hare Krishnas, the public has come to find us to be exotic and different.
I heard one person remark that thirty years ago she used to see us on the street and perceived us as a collections agency. Our tour guide had a laugh and explained that whatever aggression was there has been toned down. Another person after munching on pakoras, hearing from us, seeing the sights of the building and taking in the vibes, remarked, "I now know why so many of my contemporaries came to join Krishna Consciousness back in those days."
"I'm off to a wedding, a grand wedding", I informed the passenger next to me as we landed at Pearson Airport.
"Someome you know?" he asked.
"Oh, yes, they're like my kids."
Minutes later I found myself in the main hall of the temple which was gorgeously and tastefully decorated. Happy faces and energetic bodies were scurrying about making ready the fine arrangements for the marriage of bride groom, Vibhu and bride Shastyna, both second generation Hare Krishnas. He is French Canadian while she is Mauritian born. A lovely couple, really !
All their friends looked as if in royal apparel, loyal tradition in sarees and dhotis. Just after a procession of best men led by a bangra drummer a visiting swami from Florida, Ritadvaja Swami. I liked what he said to the crowd.
"you might wonder what a renounced person has to do with a ceremony wich involves wedlock?"
Then he took an excerpt from the Bhagavad-gita purport of 8.5 "Vivaha-yajna, the marriage ceremony, is meant to regulate the human mind so that it may become peaceful for spiritual advancement. For most people this vivaha-yajna should be encouraged even by persons in the renouced order of life..." The message was that two people coming together in a prescribed sacrifice meant for achieving the Supreme Lord. Hence comes the term "tightening the bonds that free us."
I mentioned to Vibhu, the bridegroom, about not only how lucky he was to have his partner but just how safe it is to be settled. He understood that one good woman with God is sufficient to calm body and mind.
Congradulations Vibhu and Shastyna !
Sunday, May 24, 2009
YOU CAN CHANGE
When you are a sannyasi (monk) in the tradition of India, you could get spoiled rotten with the delicious meals offered to you. In the suburb housing development called Monterray, I am hosted by a Fijiian couple, Radha Madhava, Swasti and their two daughters. Their idea is to kill the swami with kindness. At each meal (3 a day) a feast of prasadam is provided.
I must insist on two meals. The number of preps offered are about an eight course for dinner and lunch. I must insist on a 50% cut down. Of course, their generosity is all done out of love. Like anything, one can go overboard in the love department just as much as we hear about excess hate in the world. At least the food is in excess. My tummy can only handle so much. Better that we churn out some food for the needy (which this family does).
I read with interest an article about the confessions of Canada's former leader of the Ku Klux Klan who renounced his abhorrent views. In the eighties, James McQuirter, KKK orchestrator in Canada, was very active in denouncing anyone non-white. For his setting 'hate' fires by burning crosses and drumming up allies of intolerance, McQuirter eventually got arrested for murder conspiracy.
What's interesting is while he was in prison, he had a change of heart. He now looks at his past with shame and disgust. He explains that he is a living example of someone who can change.
The story is encouraging for anyone who wishes to give up bad habits. We can change!
“You are on your mission, aren’t you?” I asked Elder White a young man of the Morman faith. Clad in white shirt, tie, and smart suit White answered with an as a -matter -of -fact “I am”. The Morman from Utah don’t have to travel too far north to come to Calgary.
I had spotted the clean cut man, “unmistakably a Morman,” I thought while walking with others in a north-east suburb of the city. He had heard of Krishna and of a gorgeous Krishna temple in Spanish forks, Utah, U.S.A.
He asked about Krishna beliefs and values so I conveyed the answer and added what I knew of the Morman, the church of the Latter Day Saints. By now his mission companion joined us. Elder Willkie introduced himself and asked about the origin of “Hare Christian’. Out of innocents he mispronounced the word “Hare Krishna”.
He also asked about the colour of my robes. ‘’The saffron is reserved for monks in the renounced order. It stands for peace and freedom,” I said.
The two Elders, who were rather young , maintained a very respectful disposition towards us .The exchange was mutual. In the few past years I have heard our leaders in meetings express their appreciation for the social management of the Morman system. For instance one of the appealing aspects of that communities’ way of doing things is having their young men on a two year mission where they visit people’s homes to present their view of life and persuade people to join their membership. Another attractive feature I admire is the care given to their children and the arrangement of marriages, house and career.
In any event my walking companions and I had a rather pleasant encounter with two young chaps on the spiritual path.
In the evening I facilitated another workshop on the nine devotion at the yoga passage on the 11th avenue. People had great stories to tell regarding their life.
Thursday, May 21, 2009
My guestimation for walking is about 5 kilometers comprised of pacing in the basement of the Krishna centre in Edmonton. It is surely not the same as walking outside but you take what you can get. I’m not dressed for the weather.
A short break from indoors came in the form of a spin in Nitin’s car. Nitin took Revati, a dear friend, Sudhama, one of the two resident pujari or priests and I downtown. I wanted to show Sudhama, the newly arrived pujari from south India, what designers do with window displays involving composition, lighting and color coordination. I often look at Holt Renfrew displays as a source of inspiration for creative flows of energy. I pointed out to Sudhama that he might get ideas that he can implement at the Krishna centre where there is a shrine/altar of deities’ named Radha Govinda.
When colours don’t match well my mind goes momentarily in a rage. So when it came to preparing a setup for conducting the Nine Devotions workshop the clashing coloured pillows had to be stashed in a closet. Chairs had to be positioned in a curved shape facing the facilitator’s chair. Extra clutters of things were also removed to accommodate an open spacesiousness to avoid distractions.
It is hard to work in an environment where there is chaos. Psychologically there is enough chaos within us. It is no lie when we say that the mind is a cesspool of thoughts. We don’t need to enhance the garbage.
When ones surroundings are neat and orderly then the chances of calming the mind are increased like anything.
The woman next to me on the WestJet flight looked out the window in disbelief. There was snow covering the flat land of Edmonton. “I’m just wearing my flip flops,” she said indicating her unpreparedness for the unusual cold for late May. I was also not so ready for this. It restricted me from walking this day. I did manage to pull off a few extra yogic back stretches (indoors) to address muscle spasms in the lower back.
I sat for a minute contemplating on the machinery or my body. I’m contending with watery red eyes, a poison ivy rash on the right arm which is mildly spreading and a stiff lower back. “Welcome to this physical world with all its quirks,” I thought. “Its inevitable being here going down the road of this material world with its interesting twists and turns. It doesn’t help feeling sorry for myself. “I am just going through passing phases, part of which is aging,” I thought.
I had spoken to an elementary school teacher and friend on the phone from Windsor. Tom has been teaching for twenty-one years. He was expressing how his students see him as a dinosaur being in his late fifties (like me). For his own consolation he sprang back and exclaimed, “kids like dinosaurs!”
I admit that his remark cheered me up as he always does especially at the end of any of our telephone conversations. Tom always takes advantage of my role as a monk and asks, “Hey, can you put in a good word to the big chief Vishnu for me?”
“I sure will try, “I said with such positive exchange I jumped and splashed in the pool of optimism reminding myself that I am not this body but since I must live in it let me live up to 108 and continue to render services to others. Let me become a dinosaur.
The sun drew many people to the streets and trails, its Victoria Day, a holiday and so people were leisurely walking, gardening or sipping coffee at outdoor cafes. I chose Mount Pleasant Cemetery as a walk through connecting ravines, the belt line trail (an old railway line) and Jewish community residential areas as promenade place.
In a ravine a young dude asked, “Where is it from?” referring to the robes. “from India” I said.
“I ask because I had a custom made set of clothes made for me in Mumbai. I love India it’s wicked man." Said the young white dude. The dhoti (lower garments) is very comfortable.
Further on down the trail another male Caucasian greeted me with a Namaste. The world is slowly changing, and the west is opening its doors to Eastern ways and to and Eastern salutations.
A man from Goa got off his bike to say “I know about your marathons” From there on we struck a friendly jog.
On and on it went.
When weather works and people are off work for a day, you have a perfect recipe for happiness. People just come closer to God in such a scenario.
I made a spontaneous house call to a family, lay members of our community. Their son and daughter Shawn and Julie are bright gifted kids, recognized for their studious nature, upcoming scholars. That’s always a good feature to have in your community, bright young, fresh youths.
Seventeen years ago a super enthusiastic devotional man from Orissa who immigrated to Canada years before wanted to bring back a charm from his childhood. It was an event called astha-prahar, a tradition of chanting the Maha Mantra without stoppage for twenty-four hours. Raja Saranghi the initiator of this virtuous and electrifying program passed away three years ago from a brain tumor.. Those who knew him felt his presence at this year’s venue at the Bharat Seva-Ashram Sangha located near the airport.
Popular amongst global new agers is a charismatic group that holds regular spiritual events near the Toronto Airport attracting people from all over the world for transformational experience. It’s called “The Toronto Blessing”. Now the 17th annual 24 hour chanting has been adding to the blessing-somehow!
For the 24 hour mantra chanting devotees come from Montreal and the States to cram themselves in a tiny but quaint hall. People of East and West Indian decent, people of Ukraine origin and Israel, English, French and all kinds of backgrounds participated. Whenever I am slotted for the use of the microphone and to lead the chant, I make sure to make it an inclusive experience. I pass the microphone around to give practically everyone the chance to sing. When it comes to moments of great identity I encourage people to come forward and to express their free lance dance. Some folks are shy so I will pull them into the circle of fun and let the shy guys understand what a real ice-breaking experience is.
Everyone then becomes enwrapped then in a special ecstasy and tastes a break from this mundane world. It is definitely an intoxication that is not found in the form of a bottle, capsule, or herb. It’s a love for the divine.
Tuesday, May 19, 2009
Manitoba holds the title for the largest convergence of snakes in the world. The red sided garter snakes hibernate in the multitudes in limestone bedrock dens for the same lenth of time that a bear hides for the winter. When the females come out of the dark den, the males approach them which causes an incredible cluster of snakes resembling balls of moving spaghetti.
The courtship of thousands upon thousands of them is what attracted a group of us to look in awe at one of mother nature's fantastic wonders. Most people have a phobia about snakes but these guys are quite harmless. Since the day was cool, overcast and rainy, we could not see the maximum effect of snake conglomeration, but we are told that the local Highway #17 is usually covered with snakes who make their journey for 10 to 20 km slithering around after mating to search for food. If you think this is creepy, how about at peak mating season when they crawl all over your feet?
I'm inclined to think of the numerous snake images outlined in the Vedas and how in almost all cases the snake portrays some act of benevolence. There are many support companions of Lord Shiva who are all cobras. Sesa-naga, the massive thousand-hooded snake that holds up the cosmic world and keeps a balance. And there is the ancient story of the collosal serpent Vasuki who assisted in churning the milk ocean in order toevoke some of the great treasures of the worlds. Snakes generally have a bad rap, but in the Vedic stories you find mostly positive profiles.
Ther snakes were a joy to see. No bites, no poison. The poison I feel comes from a plant. Yes, from the West Virginia trip I contracted some juices from poison ivy. So the rash is on. On my right arm.
Walking a nine kilometre stretch in Winnipeg became a challenge. Midway through came a nasty cold rain that would not let up for the entire day. The snakes were a highlight in addition to the Nine Devotions workshop conducted in the evening. There was a wonderful response from the people who attended.
Monday, May 18, 2009
Weather patterns are odd. By now prairie farmers would have seeds in the ground. Cold persists like never before although forecasters predict a baking summer ahead. In my mind rings a voice with a hindu accent humerously saying, “What to dooooo?”
Nature is running wild these days and so is the world. The national Post newspaper reveals front page news about the crazy race for North Pole occupancy. Canada and Russia have been neck to neck in the stake for what promises to be a northern region hotbed for minerals. The war in Sri Lanka appears to be drawing to a close leaving an indiginenous tamil community in disarry. Further agitation from Pakistan left one million people displaced from their homes in the haunting terrorism of the day.
Lots to think about while enroute by flight to home. Only, Kirtan, chanting, appears to appease the mind. An astounding devotee from Toronto Rupanuga, had arranged a satsang where monks and family folk had been invited for chanting at his home. It put a great cap on the day.
While I’m wearying with back pain and poison ivy rash I think of the much greater disturbed world around me. There is no guarantee that world unrest will end. It’s perpetual yet we do whatever we can to avert it or at least pray or act for damage control.
Our ISKCON Centre in Regina is not in the best part of town. To reach there for conducting a “Nine Devotions” workshop I walked through the inner city section called Moccasin Flats. I spoke to a 20 year Old, Dwight, who expressed that although Saskatchewan the province, is experiencing a boom reaping the fortune of it’s Northern tar sands, this neighbourhood is more of a down. He revealed how one day someone (unknown to him) shot bullets at him. I had to question the authenticity of his story because sometimes it’s hard to distinguish a drug experience from reality.
In any event one of our participants at the workshop told of how when he first met Krishna Monks in the mid seventies he was encouraged to attend weekly sadhana, spiritual practice. One day he went to the building where the monks conducted programs but he saw they were gone. From that point on he left Krishna Behind until thirty five years later when he retired from government services last year. Years later he accidentally stumbled upon the ISKCON centre and noticed that the front yard needed sprucing up. He was shy to approach the current facilitators of the centre so he thought to render service quietly concerned he might not be accepted.
Subsequent to his finding and wishing to help he drove around a few times with purchased mums in his back seat. He drove around the block more than twice to make sure no one would see him. The police became suspicious due to the drug lording and prostitution that takes place in the neighborhood. The police stopped him and questioned him for doing these rounds.
He explained about, “the flowers for the church.” The evidence was there. In the back seat were flowers ready for planting so he was compelled to stop hesitating and get to gardening. Finally, Jagannatha, the centre’s president discouraged the stranger who for days had been cleaning the garden and was now adorning the front yard with some flowers.
This person has gone on to become the greatest help.
It is remarkable how some people become absent from devotional service and then come back decades later to be a full-fledged participant.
Thursday, May 14, 2009
Sioux Valley, Manitoba
Before I became a monk, I had a keen interest to involve myself in social work with indigenous people. Well today came up and through a Winnipeg follower, Caroline, an opportunity manifested itself. From the airport at Winnipeg, I was whisked away in an SUV by Daruka, another follower, and Caroline.
We hit the Trans Canada Highway westbound to a First Nation Reserve called Sioux Valley, population 1,500.
Our objective was to meet the chief and elders of the community with our proposal which was to establish drama performance with their youth. On many reserves the indigenous youth encounter difficulties with substance abuse. Here would be an alternative or an approach towards hope. Through theatrically telling a story of wisdom which incorporates narration, traditional Dakota or Sioux dance, song and drumming, we could engage such youth in something positive.
The meeting went well and the Valley council saw this project as a favourable endeavour. I relayed to them the Vedic story of the warrior boy, Druva, and how this tale could be applied to a regional local experience. In any event, so far so good. A date for this undertaking is yet to be nailed down. The family that hosted us, Lee and Helen, residents of Sioux Valley, were most charming. As a token of love, they presented to Caroline four Saskatoon berry bushes.
So, guess what? Our day ended planting those bushes at 10PM hoping the great moon would offer its nourishment to the new transplants. Caroline’s backyard became graced with those indigenous plants of pride.
Eric took a shot at living in the ashram thirty-six years ago for a six month period. He found it very austere lying on the floor as his bed and the early rising at 3AM. Eric had left his beads behind, went on to get married and secured a maintenance job at a major hospital.
This morning he came back for the first time now that he is retired. He came back to purchase japa beads for chanting and to revisit his home of thirty plus years ago. He exclaimed that the interior of the building has changed. (It looks better). And I explained that now we use beds.
Eric is entering into that period of life when one wants “to get spiritual again.” He was here prior with darker hair. Now it’s white. He just wants Krishna again.
It is heart warming to see this type of thing transpiring.
For the baby boomers of Krishna Consciousness (that is the persons who were drawn in the late sixties and seventies) life is narrowing down and we have time to think about our spirituality over almost anything else. Eric is going through a metamorphosis- a healthy change. When you hit 60, by then you are naturally introspective.
Eric is from the city of Oshawa which is a good forty-five minutes (by car or a good walking marathon day and a half) away. I connected him to a god-brother, Drupada, who lives there. I felt Eric was on his way to being looked after.
It’s the young and also retired sectors of society and the people in the middle that have spiritual needs. No one should be left out.
Today was a return journey back to Canada by automobile from West Virginia, Pennsylvania and New York State. Before departing with the monks of Halifax, I received a flood of compliments from spectators of the “Eighth Boy.” Our crew had worked hard. We were a tight group and the play about Krishna flowed well from scene to scene. The hours put in paid off. I sat in the passenger’s seat content with the outcome of the previous night while enjoying the company of four monks with me who contributed to the success of the drama.
Jaya Keshava, an African American, played comic roles and dances. Monks Dustin and Dean danced to hip hop music as cowherd boys. And level-headed Jeff was our man on sound cues. We treated ourselves to a divergent trip to Niagara Falls. The Falls truly are a great wonder of the world.
Speaking of drama, the Queen Elizabeth Way, a major artery into Toronto, became blockaded by Tamil protestors. Emotions have been triggered within the community whose motherland, Sri Lanka is torn by civil war. My heart pours out to the Tamil community who are basically hard working people of a pious type. It is puzzling that such ethnic cleansing motives still exist in the modern age with the Tamils as the target.
When is the world not a drama?
When the blockade persisted, I insisted on walking back to the temple the rest of the way, to explore streets I never ventured to and time to think of the world of drama.
Moundsville, W. Virginia
With a mud slide as obstacle course at my favorite walking route, I am restricted to walk the perimeter of the pond. It’s okay. However, the life of a monk is not always so simple. One can be very much in demand. It can be hard to have some time to yourself. Passersby seek attention, a glance, a blessing, words of advice. One is then obliged to reciprocate which takes time.
Sometimes individuals wish to share opinions. One very respectable gentleman at the “Festival of Inspiration” offered to say that the world is producing a culture of wimps. Apparently in the states some schools are looking to cancel physical education. Certain psychologists say it is too competitive and harmful to young people. The matter is being seriously considered. “Competition helps individuals learn to lose from time to time and that defeat establishes humility,” said the supporter of athletics.
I’m most inclined to agree. It is necessary to prepare our youth for the tough world. It is a sure sign of the times that any slight provocation can cause a weak person to cower and be unable to stand up to press forward. What to speak of resisting the sex drive and all kinds of drives originating from the other senses. We wonder if the words training and discipline will become obsolete. It doesn’t seem right that humans should turn into mush. Powder is the next stage.
Srila Prabhupada, our guru, encouraged competition and saw it as an asset for young men and women. He encouraged competition to engender the co-operative spirit among team players.
One highlight of the day was a presentation made by Ramesvara, a staunch member in the seventies, who made an exit for a time but has recently returned to the circle of devotees. He detailed an amazing historical event of when seventeen hard bound books were mandated to be published or printed as hard bound masterpieces including new plates or pictures for each volume. All this was to be completed in an unprecedented eight weeks. This was to be executed at the request of our guru. He was training our people at the publishing house to be strong and vigilant and to know what it is to be under pressure.
Pressure is inevitable and it comes to us uninvited. When first hearing of our guru’s request to speed up the publishing of the book Caitanya Caritamrta on the life and teachings of Chaitanya, the publisher remarked that it was impossible.
Prabhupada remarked, “Impossible is a word in a fool’s dictionary.”
Wednesday, May 13, 2009
Moundsville, West Virginia
Devamrita Swami delivered an excellent message at the annual "Festival of Inspiration" to attendees about action. His words sounded familiar like the echo of a God. In the Bhagavad-gita Krishna pulls his friend, Arjuna, out of a state of despondency and depression and encourages him into the mode of action. Krishna accomplished this through convincing words.
Our charismatic monk, Devamrita, used the same technique of sweet persuasion by identifying the problem of apprehension some of our people have to exposing bhakti. There is great truth in what he was saying. There has been a situation of low self-esteem amongst some of the members of the Krishna Consciousness society. With people living in such excess for some decades a complacency has somehow affected us all and for lack of a better word "contaminated" all sectors of society - even communities of faith and spirituality. You might call it an all-pervasive "evil" or a "product of darkness".
The encouraging words from Devamrita's mouth rang real for so many of us listeners. "People are eager to know." "The time is right" "Everything is favourable". These were the types of statements that expressed a sense of "strike while the iron is hot". There is a sensation of urgency arising from economic failure, disease, lethargy. Some change is wanting. That new wanting is bhakti, devotion.
In 1995 I felt a great sense of urgency - of what Devamrita was talking about. So I decided to get on the road with robes and meet people to tell them of this bhakti.
I circled around the pond in New Vrndavana in West Virginia reflecting on the need to get out and get active. Devamrita Swami hit it right-on.
Moundsville, West Virginia
Some people call this place "Mudsville". Near this very ordinary village is a popular retreat for spiritualists. Certain seasons, all except for summer, attract excess water which moves the soil. On day one of our stay here, japa walking enthusiasts joined me in a chant-and-walk experience in a valley road gradually making our way to a river at the base of McCreary Ridge.
Spring air and sunshine put an all-attractive spin on this impromptu event. Like all roads that we roam there are obstacles. In this case a serious mud-slide made it impenetrable. Oh! Some of our walkers gave it a try but if you had any interest to come out clean you would turn right around. Topsoil that shifted from rain exposed the dominant clay of the area.
We then did make that 180º turn to eventually find the perfect nook softened below by fallen oak and maple leaves laden from the fall. Instead of the walk we settled for a sit-down. Next to us was a cemetery, ancient by North American standards. A local told us that buried here are the first European settlers intolerant of indigenous folks.
On this special day devotees of Krishna honour the avatar known as the lion/man incarnation. A renowned monk in the community, Radhanatha Swami, spoke about the particular qualities of saint Prahlad who became the exemplar of tolerance and calmness. Despite being a victim of severe domestic violence he pulled out of such turmoil unscathed and sought shelter of this incredible Lion God.
In these days of stress evasion those who are fortunate to read of the pastimes of this young boy can derive inspiration from hearing about stress tolerance. A Canadian author wrote a best-seller book "Stress is Good". Pressure pushes people to higher levels. This doesn't mean to say that abuse is encouraged but something called tapasya is. Tapasya is a self-imposed voluntary inconvenience. Austerity is the favoured life-line of the ascetics.
Prahlad went on to be a family man and a monarch. All the while that he ruled he never forsake the principle of tapasya, austerity. It made him a firm individual.
Saturday, May 9, 2009
So much green vegetation sprouts out of the soil at this time of year. When the saffron sun of the morning peeks, the energy explosion of green becomes obvious. Black squirrels scurry everywhere. This morning a baby raccoon clung to his tree, holding on for dear life, not sure what to make of us strange creatures. It has nothing to do with our robes. It has to do with the fact that we are homosapiens. We are nothing to be feared.
For the evening, our acting cast for “The Eighth Boy” partook in an intense seven hour rehearsal. Being volunteers, it can be a real trying time getting everyone together but, our crew understood the urgency in preparing for the “Festival of Inspiration”. It ended up being a super tight team experience. At times like these, you can say that magic is real. When co-operation reaches optimum levels like this, it is practically not the material world anymore.
When attempting anything in this existence there is prone to be problems. During our practice, there were two intense moments where things were rolling on very well when suddenly, in the dark, someone accidentally tripped over the cable that ran our sound and lights. It was an occurrence that could have engendered cursing. But “No!” The level of synergy, harmony was such that we were determined to start again.
I admire the group that I worked with. They came at some level of inconvenience. They came without signing a contract. They came without receiving a salary or stipend. The fact is all members of the acting cast and technical crew have a heart. They have something special called bhakti, devotion.
It just so happened that a professional actor walked in to see me right at the moment that we started our first rehearsal run through of the play. It was a bit rough, as the group was “rusty”. From his perspective, everyone was doing just fine. Frankly he said, “You’ve got a good thing going here.”
“If that’s so, then it’s because of the intense desire to ‘give’. “I’ve got all these devotional people to work with,” I said.
Because I know I will be spending a considerable time of the day in a sedentary fashion, I consciously plan some mobile time on my feet. There’s that need for balance. So that’s covered in the morning.
Today I was set for a documentary interview on the topic of “The Last Rites.” Keith, an independent film-maker, with assistant Dana, penetrated rather deeply with questions relating to the closure of life. But even more so, their questions diverted to all realms of Krishna Conscious activities. It was stimulating for me and for them.
After a three hour sit down for a glorious session, including a meal of bitter melon and veggie curry, it was time to stretch our legs and exchange appreciations. Naturally I’m content for the exposure and opportunity to speak on an old tradition that believes in a soul’s migration from one life form to another; when, at the time of expiry, the body is either cremated or left for burial.
Spiritual leaders have always taken the responsibility to care for this most critical stage in life, to see to a relatively peaceful exit from this world. When you think about it, it is such an important task. Methinks the rule of the priest is underrated these days.
Monday is the day at the ashram where the residents sit down and, as attentively as possible, hears a recording of our founder speaking some message of truth. Today we were hearing a selected class Srila Prabhupada gave on Oct. 1/76. The topic dealt with a warrior’s option to kill or spare the life of a captured foe. Today’s story dealt with Arjuna, waiting for the consent to end the life of Asvattama, the son of Arjuna’s martial arts guru. Arjuna had held down Asvattama while making his decision after due consultation with his wife, brothers and Krishna himself. The final verdict was; the murderer of the Pandavas children, Asvattama, would live, considering how his mother would be distraught if she lost him.
These are the sensitivities that arise amongst the ksatriya or warrior class in the times of ancient India. Prabhupada went on to discuss the heinous acts of intrigue amongst royal members in the not so distant times in the family of Shah Johan, Auranzeb during the period of the Taj Mahal’s construction. Royal blood is often regarded as rival blood by someone from another kingdom. It becomes a different dynamic when an ambitious prince, for instance, extinguishes his own brothers and even holds hostage his father, feeling under threat of not gaining the throne.
Our guru expressed that so much mistrust exists in the world. On various occasions he explained that because of our bodily identity there is mistrust. There is always the fear of when will my life be taken or, for animals, when will I be eaten. Fear is pervasive in a world where one concludes, “I am this body.” This is, of course, a mistaken notion.
My walking today remained within the neighbourhood of bursting buds and blossoms that flair like royal egos.
Tuesday, May 5, 2009
When Antonio Banderas came to Toronto to shoot “Take the Lead”, a film based on a true story of a school teacher who took some ghetto kids and jacked-up their spirits through dance, he not only “cut the rug” but the movie producers tore up the rug to replace it for a good hardwood floor.
The two owners of this old ballroom located on floor 3 at 2 Carlton St. are two happy yoga teachers, a sister team, Cynthia and Kimberly. “This large room received a new floor,” they explained to me as we were talking about the success of this evening’s program. Where Antonio had strutted his stuff, we now conducted an entire bhakti program, which included chants by bhajan band “Gaura Shakti’, a talk about devotion, eating marvelous prasadam (veggie food) and ecstatic dancing by an entire yoga community. The floor was put to good use.
Deva Datta, whom I sometimes call the moody monk, was the principle organizer. He did a splendid job. Because of his powerful presence, a beautiful orchestration of mobilizing people took place. To the beat of the mrdanga drum, folks took to dancing like ducks take to water.
My morning was equally as exciting. I spoke to a group of Unitarians from Brooklin (not to be mistaken for the mammoth city in the U.S.) about the philosophy of Krishna Conciousness. From their gentleness and kindness I could appreciate that here were a group of brahmans. And I told them what I thought. “You are brahmans by nature and you know by your own inclinations that you are caring people. People are drawn to you for your strength of character. By the qualities that are outlined by the speaker of Bhagavad-gita, Lord Krishna, you are brahmans. And brahmans have an obligation to inspire others and to give.”
In any event I spent a day with brahmans and yogis. That’s good company.
Monday, May 4, 2009
Enjoying your Prema
Walking territory was the grounds of the country’s largest university, Toronto’s downtown U of T campus.
A group of youth, brahmacaris and I observed the stop light at an intersection. Lit up was the upraised palm of the right hand. In the Vedic culture of India this is a symbol of a blessing coming from a superior. Usually divinities in the form of deities stand with the right hand palm extended for a benediction and often show a smear of red kunkum powder over that palm.
In any event, the image of the red stop image for a pedestrian took on a different meaning for us. When you really think about that STOP HAND, it is indeed a blessing for those who honour it.
My afternoon was time well spent, sitting as director to the drama “The Eighth Boy” in preparation for ‘The Festival of Inspiration’. It’s a great crew and my main choreographer, Nitai Priya, recommended using Michael Jackson’s foot stepping from ‘Thriller’ for our demon scene. So I said, “Yes, it should work.”
To put the demons within out of their misery, our head traveling monk, brahmacari Jaya Kesava, two more men and I headed for a gathering of the Prasher family, a very outgoing Punjabi group. The family has opened a massive room for puja, worship and bhajan, devotional song. We were invited to speak, sing and enjoy their great food.
The highlight of the day was speaking to a curious chap at the benediction hand.
“You guys are monks?”
“Yes, we are,” I said
“What do you believe?” he asked as he lit up his smokey cigarette.
In so many words I explained that our objective is Prema, love of the supreme. For some reason he held that word in his head. As he gestured to leave us he said, “Well, enjoy your prema!”
The cook in the pizzeria was reeling his dough in the air and thumping to our beat as we passed by. The two store attendants, with their chic clothes, suddenly lit up, looked at each other and broke into big grins as we passed by. The jeweler tossed a generous wave of the hand as we passed by. And the enthusiastic photographer took shots of us as she walked backwards on the street, accidentally falling into a back-roll but quickly springing back up into action.
These were just samplings of responses by people towards our chanting party on Bloor Street.
Organizing the chanting parties is Krishnadas, a devotee and successful family man, who arranges time for this sought-after activity. He and his godbrother, Dharmaprana, a monk at the temple, look forward to being the main core of the chanting group. Both are approaching 60 but are not discouraged by the energetic activity of chanting on the streets to the sound of Krishnadas’s drum. They welcome anyone to join in this joyful expression of the soul. We are very fortunate to have such mature men who demonstrate their loyalty to this chanting, which is normally the exercise of the youth.
We can credit Chaitanya, the early sixteenth century avatar, who introduced this light-hearted brand of spiritualism to the world.
One very positive way to engage the mind and avoid distractions while walking is by reciting shlokas. The Bhagavad-Gita is a rich source of shlokas, verses rendered in the ancient Sanskrit language, the mother tongue of many European languages. In the Gita there are seven hundred couplets in Sanskrit, each carrying a strong message.
If you simply take a catchy phrase from one of these shlokas, so much is told about the realities of life. For instance, the phrase sookha dookha refers to the dualities of the world, meaning happiness and sadness respectively. A jazz band picked up on this perky phrase and decided to name themselves “The Sookha Dookha Band”.
Yam yam vapi smaran bhavan…(Gita 8.6) is a sweet sounding line that addresses reincarnation, “Whatever you are thinking of at death that state you will attain in the next existence.”
If it’s not the sound then the message is captivating. For instance, one of my favourite sayings from the Gita is Krishna’s commitment about support. He says about our shortcomings, “I preserve what they have and carry what they lack.” For one approaching spirituality in a sincere manner, there is a guarantee of a mystical backing. That is very reassuring.
There are different shlokas for different folks. What is your favourite phrase or verse (shloka) from the Gita?
Use it when walking. It’s powerful.
We slid and got wet and muddy. The base of the ravine became the passage for late April rain as we, a group of five monks, marveled at this concept. You have earth which grips. You have water which flows. You combine the two and you have a slimy, slippery substance which causes one to slide. It seems to be a spring texture.
We met an elderly couple on this slippery trail. With binoculars in hand, they were immersed in a popular hobby – birding. They told us they had viewed several species. Spring does that. It invites a vast array of our feathered friends. Birds flock like crazy during this season.
The couple expressed that they are lovers of these creatures. They complimented us for our food which they had dined on at our temple a while back.
I relished today’s trek like anything because of the good signs, including the muddiness and especially the good company. They were young men interested in developing there spiritual life. The setting is perfect. Buds are bursting on trees on this forested Old Milkman’s Lane which passes by the former brickworks factory and edges by Mount Pleasant cemetery.
I’m a sucker for these trails. Whenever I see a forest I immediately think, “Oh, here’s a place where I can chant, a place where it becomes easy to adjust our consciousness to a better state.”