Tuesday, 30 June 2009
"I admire anyone who can walk in them", said the young guy to his girlfriend, referring to toothpick thin high hells worn by a woman they just observed in passing. I too agree that it is practically a mystical feat being able to accomplish such a task. Walking on stilts would be easier.
The street is Yonge St. I wasn't aware that today the Gay Pride Parade has passed through here in the afternoon. Eventually I found out that it attracted seven hundred thousand people which is three-hundred thousand short of the city's Caribana. In three weeks our won Jaganatha Pride Parade will roll down on the same street but in terms of numbers we are a little behind others although we might boast the largest Ratha Yatra in North America.
The Metro Newspaper captured a picture of a girl in blue portraying Krishna in London's Ratha Yatra. The picture was dispatch globally. She had a huge smile.
Parades, Processions draw crowds. As a kid I remember the parade organized by the Shriners. I loved the beat. Other big draws are the Santa Claus and St. Patricks' Day parades held at least in this city. The thump and rhythm of marches and drums becomes synchronized to the heart beat. The worries I mostly have about our own Ratha Yatra procession is "Will our participants sufficiently smile?" or "Will we overly display plastic bottled water when handed out to processionists to address their dehydration. Plastic bottle image is not a good profile for a spiritual organization..
When in Durban, I got extremely upset that hundreds of balloons were discharged into the air creating a refuse problem for the future.
Highway 50 became the location of a Ratha Yatra festival hosted and organized by the Hindu community. The sun blazed on us chanters as we were propped up on a cart with Oriyan sacred images of Jaganatha, Baladev, and subhadra behind us. The harmonium pumped powerfully, hands slid and tapped on a mrdunga drums and kartals (hand cymbals) clanged to back up mantras.
After the sun moved to the West, I was transported to the temple for a photo art gallery exhibit. The photos excellently captured impressions of India. Photographer Haidee Malkin was excited to have her best shots on display in the temple's Govinda's Dining Room. People came and feasted their eyes on spirit-catching images of rural and industrious India. The attendance was predominantly non-Hindu. They, however, got to see classical Indian dance and also were entertained by mantra chanting by musical group "Gaura Shakti".
I had a few minutes on the microphone. People were shocked when I recommended that the best shoes for long distance walks are crocs.
While these function took place our youth were engaged in a sankirtan festival. Twenty two youths hit the streets with homemade veggie friendly cookies and soul friendly books for distribution. There was no discrimination as to who gets these little treasures.
Response was good. The sun shone.
Was I happy to see Josh (short for Joshveer) from South Africa newly arrived. This young chap is leading man material for some upcoming dramas I'm planning to stage. I've worked with him in Durban and I slipped the idea by him when he was back in his country, "Why don't you come to Canada? We could form a serious troupe." And so he agreed and had arrived just hours before I returned.
As is usual, I introduce newcomers to my favourite japa walking trails. "It's a whole new foliage here for you, Josh. That's a maple tree. It provides the greatest syrup. There's poison ivy. Stay away from it. Here's a mulberry tree. Pick! Aren't they tasty? IN the pond you see goldfish. Oh! A turtle! Natvie blue wild flower. It's chickory. Maybe it's not foreign to you. Look! A red winged black bird, very territorial! There's some squirrels. They look like cute rats with bushy Hare Krishna hair tails at the end." for Josh, it's a new world - a change from monkeys, zebras, lions, elephants and everything African. He is surprised to see few homes with walls and barbed wire around them. "It's all very open, Josh."
After the initiation walk, he had to deal with jet lag dynamics and rested.
I received a call from Vrnda, our spiritual facilitator in Winnipeg, that a dear godsister, Ghandiva, student of Srila Prabhupad, is in a coma and doctors inform that she will not revive again. Ghandiva has been struggling with health issues for some time including diabetes. She was one of the earlier pioneers for establishing the consciousness of Krishna in Mumbai. She spent some years living in L.A. and the last years in Manitoba, Canada.
I make an appeal to all walking monk readers to please throw a prayer out there for this good soul who lives in a desperate situation at the moment.
Please wish Ghandiva well.
Sunday, 28 June 2009
Burnaby, British Columbia
My last day on the west coast came to a beautiful closure. Before embarking on a red-eye flight back to central Canada, a hefty turnout of devotees from the Vancouver area partook in a Nine Devotions workshop. When asked which of the nine was their favourite the consensus was 'befriending someone'. I guess in the current world of alienation when loneliness can attack even people who have some devotional connection, getting to know someone or 'making a new friend' (as we call it in the workshop) this ice breaking session is really popular.
A type of lightness pervaded the temple room. The session was treated with respectful casualness. Sometimes places of worship (temples included) can ride on a stigma of formality and breed a kind of frigidity. This is ironic since places or reverence are built for people. Sometimes we forget what people's needs are. Those needs are usually not just a list of rules.
Speaking about persons who have gone through the process of alienation, while waiting for the flight at the Vancouver airport, monitors were informing sleepy passengers about the death of Michael Jackson. He certainly meant different things to different people. He affected a generation of people and likely his signature 'moon-walk' is here to stay for a while until a new way of walking becomes gimmicky enough to substitute.
I dedicate some mantras to Michael who had it very hard in this life.
Friday, 26 June 2009
Saanichton, British Columbia
From my brother’s home a five minute walk takes you to Centennial Park. There are great looping trails there. I spotted a slow slug. He was huge. Fern bushes were large. Cedar trees were towering. In this virtual rainforest you find everything large. Everything is sizable except for my bhakti, my devotion.
It struck me. There I was attempting to give focus to the sound on my tongue, the sound of the name, but I was unable to give much attention to it. I cannot scapegoat my surroundings and blame it for my lack of concentration. It is my own determination to listen that is weak. My lips had been moving and sound was produced but I wasn’t hearing much. “Woe is me!”.
Soft rains came to nourish the porched area. The cleansing rain gave hope. My will strengthened and more focused sound came out of my mouth.
My evening was slotted for attending a twelve year old’s birthday. The hosts, a family from Fiji, arranged the program. I was expected to sing and to speak – to say something uplifting. My personal challenge was to make a presentation that would be of particular interest to the kids that were to attend. So I decided to choose a story from the book “Krishna” and read and act out or charade out the blanks. It worked. It was a hit. The kids sat in front of me with adults behind. The end result was a clearly focused audience. Lots of laughs. Then time for an overview of what was read. Some serious reflection followed. Then a chanting session with innovative dance steps had everyone jolly.
Spiritual life does not have to be grim.
Wednesday, 24 June 2009
On the previous night we awarded two women diksha, or initiation. It involved the verbalizing of vows, new names given, a fire ceremony, chanting, rituals, a feast and a talk. In the talk I emphasized to the two initiates the need to see the founder, Srila Prabhupada, as their principle guru. "I will not stand in his way!" I said, "I am his helper."
The feast at night (although I restrained quantities) took its toll on the tummy. I rose early and took to the trails, one of which is situated under Vancouver's skytrain. This is where I engage in chanting on my beads.
With morning spiritual exercise (sadhana) done, I headed off to Vancouver Island and its capital city, Victoria. With these associates to accompany me, we were helpd for an extended time at Tsawassen's ferry dock. We were waiting and worrying about being late. We met Tim Lawson, an ex-hippy formerly from Ontario.
"I was with you guys in Hamilton in the '70's. I spent a week living with you, with my guitar, chanting," he said. He described himself as an artist at large. He handed a card with a message on the back. Perhaps you have heard it before. It's called:
In this life there are only two things to worry bout.
Either you will be rich or poor.
If you are rich, there is nothing to worry about.
If you are poor, there are only two things to worry about.
Either you will be healthy or sick.
If you are healthy, there is nothing to worry about.
But if you are sick, there are two things to worry about.
Either you will live or you will die.
If you live, there is nothing to worry about.
If you die, there are only two things to worry about.
You will either go to heaven or to hell.
If you go to heaven, there will be nothing to worry about.
If you go to hell, you'll be so darn busy shaking hands with all your friends, you won't have time to worry!
SO WHY WORRY!
Although I find the message cute, I take the liberty to comment by saying: I hope to find my friends in a better place.
In the evening, a lively program was hosted by Krishna devotees. It was the first time that I actually gave a talk before kith and kin. My brother Paul came over to the program.
Burnaby, British Columbia
"PLEASE DO NOT FEED THE COYOTES!" reads the sign which I daily pass on foot when visiting our Vancouver centre. The sign further says of the wild dogs that roam in this Byrne Creek area, "THEY ARE OBSERVED AND APPRECIATED FROM A DISTANCE!"
The point is if you feed them, you spoil them.
One of my walking companions informed me that cats don't survive at the devotee community nearby because of the canine creatures. And the hairy remains of a squirrel alongside our trail was evidence of coyote hunger.
The topic came up several times in the last few days on why some monks will leave the order. It does become disturbing news when you hear of an apparent dedicated and loyal person who 1) weakens and 2) strays from the mission. There are several reasons for these happenings. One cause for departing from principles or disciplines is isolation. A sannyasi or monk may be busy in the mission in some part of the world with not much peer association and hence he may find himself starting to eventually weaken and cater to some hidden desires and then take to some bad habits.
Another cause for swaying from self-discipline is the adulation or over-praise that oftentimes goes along with the territory. When you are in a position of spiritual authority, people will offer a great amount of reverence. It can be intoxicating.
Other culprits are over-endeavouring, over-eating, associating with the opposite gender. To be more detailed on this, one scenario could be the following: You are a monk in a man's body. You just gave a fabulous talk to a group of people. They were inspired and one particular woman in the group was as well. She wanted to talk to you about something personal and you agree to meet her at a place and time. You meet in a private office, and then there is a second meeting, and a third... The writing is on the wall.
Those of us in a position of spiritual influence must carefully guard against those things that weaken us. One way that people can help the monk to remain strong is to allow us to carry a sign that reads "PLEASE DON'T OVERFEED THIS MONK!"
Tuesday, 23 June 2009
I grew attached to the Seattle community and especially the children. Children always give us hope, and that's why it's good to have them around. Anyone who thinks that children are a nuisance are a nuisance themselves. They vibrate tremendous optimism.
When you are a man in a spiritual community, you automatically become a father. On this Father's Day, I had the golden opportunity to reflect on this type of fatherhood; because, being a life long celibate, I cannot claim to be a biological one. I still feel like one though.
After leaving the Seattle community almost tearfully, as the kids jumped up and down with their "good-byes", I could now ready myself for more of this parental spirit upon approaching the Vancouver community, with its' share of youngsters. When you travel, you are never devoid of people, and especially the little ones.
I had to ponder on my own personal fatherhood, which is in a unique category. I would compare the spiritual dad to something like carrying on the responsibility of a lighthouse. Tradition has it that the mother gives the milk, and the father brings the bread. Dads do more than that. Fatherhood is like the lighthouse of the other day. You give light and direction when things are cloudy and dark. The ideal dad is like that. He's a coach. He points the way. He is a guru.
Popular media loves to highlight the bad man,...the mean father. But there are lots of good fathers in the world. Few people report them. Happy Father's Day!
No matter where he is in the world, I have always admired the smooth operation, despite an incredible work-load, of my monk friend, Romapada Swami. He is this year's chairperson for Krishna Consciousness world-wide and has a lot on his plate and sometimes it's not too palatable.
The night before, I was sharing the cabin space with him, ready to lay down my weary body at 10:20pm. He was engaged at his makeshift office in the next room. He was looking at the screen on his laptop. The news that appeared before him was tragic and nothing short of nightmarish. He sunk back in his chair but gave a smile. He told me what the news was and indeed it was sad.
I told him that I could never do his job, taking in so much negativity. "You have to smile and take things lightheartedly, otherwise you can't keep going." He said.
"I would not be able to sleep in such circumstances." I remarked.
The swami indicated that we all have to go through these things and it was God's mercy. I must admit that I sometimes carry a slight "attitude" towards American people for their boisterousness and sometimes just bad manners. I must also be careful not to be too stereotypical in this regard.
But this human being, this monk, this American swami from New York, is not ordinary. He's a thoughtful, caring, and sacrificial person, who has won my respect all the way for taking on a heavy burden for the sake of helping humanity.
Thank you, Romapada Swami for being an inspiration to me and others. Thank you for your good association.
Sunday, 21 June 2009
Our group of thirty or so participants divided into teams who were determined to trek. Those interested in a short leisurely walk in the bush were part of the team on The Sita Stroll. The more daring were on the Ram Run. And the most bold tackled the trek on the world’s longest land spit, a five and half mile stretch were called the Hanuman Haul.
I gave the names and decided to walk the spit, which culminates at a gorgeous light-house made in 1857. Our team fought the wind, some ocean spray, and dodged bird poop. Driftwood on the shore were works of art. Caspian terns, a unique bird, nest along the spit. Seals were curious and came near us, but stayed in their natural habitat, the water.
When we reached the lighthouse and met the keeper, he asked where we were from.
“We need to see Hare Krishna’s at the airports,” he remarked.
“We switched to lighthouse for now ” I said.
That gave him a chuckle for sure. Another keeper showed off his t-shirt which read “I’ve seen the light.” The most elevated of the keepers was third. He was at the top of the lighthouse tower (ha,ha) giving us a tour of that bird’s eye view. Our team was an all-male team, except for Aditi, a small ten-year old. She became our hero for the day. Her dad, Nandasuta, seeing the vast benefits of this type of walking committed himself to making it a daily routine. Aditi startled us all, a second time, when after covering a twelve mile (19.8 km) distance walk for the day, engaged in a dramatic reading where she joined her older soul brothers (monks). She read the lines for Krishna’s gopis (milk maidens) and did a marvelous job!
Victory to Aditi!
He sat there like a wise old sage does in a cave of the Himalayan range. Still, up high, above everything, content, and contemplative he sat perched on a bare branch with a white head and dark brown body, a bald eagle right near our cottage. I asked Kalakantha, a soul brother who also came on the retreat, if he had seen an eagle recently.
“It’s been a long while,” he said.
So I pointed to the large bird and Kalakantha looked on with awe. The bird didn’t seem to be disturbed by our endless gazing.
We, however, became distracted by other things, such as the lavender farms in the area, and the great aroma wafting from them.
Without getting too carried away by our surroundings including one of the oldest light houses at the end of the largest spit in the world, near our rented cottages, we set out to our most important task which was to give ourselves (us senior men & women) our time and realizations to patron donors of our Washington community. We spoke of our guru’s- personal revelations which were sweet, instructive, engaging, and deep.
Kirtan (chanting) was very participatory as principle facilitator, Hari Vilas, churned out powerful honeyed melodies from his harmonium, When it was his turn to speak, he relayed to us his time in Paris when in an unzipped robe, bald and all, he approached the chief administrator of Olympia Hall, a prestigious theater almost impossible to book. By some miracle he got the hall booked. He introduced himself as the Beatles’ agent and how the Beatles’ and their guru, Srila Prabhupada, were going to meet in the venue.
There was little promotion as the Krsna monks had no money, but people came and saw the guru, minus the Beatles. A deception it was, but we had a good laugh.
Vancouver, British Columbia
The very ground that we walk upon has the most beautiful colours, aromas, and formations. While en route to Sequim, Washington, for a retreat, I stopped in Vancouver to catch a car ride. My driver, Akrura, and his family took me to the showroom of their business, Hari Stones Ltd. In this one of the three outlets located in Surrey, a Vancouver suburb, you will see displayed some of the best pieces of granite that this earth has to offer. Massive slabs, of granite, marble, and slate, grave their warehouse and showroom with astounding colours and natural designs. Deep penetrating reds and greens form veins and splashes of eye-opening wonder. In some of the slabs you see fossils, crustaceans, or shells, embedded into the ancient pressurized rock that hails from India, Turkey, Brazil, Italy, Canada, and other such places.
People may wonder what a monk and rock have in common. Well, my response to that would be that I highly appreciate the awesome aesthetics of nature, with the creator behind it. I also had the good fortune to stroll a trail in the great cedars of the west coast. The smells, heights, and hues of these green giants struck my sensitivities once again.
I endorse the travelling and walking cultures once again as it enhances our gratitude for what’s around us. There are as many great wonders in the world that we find in our midst. We just need to stroll and look around.
Thursday, 18 June 2009
Shyam accompanies me in early dawn walks. Being from Israel, he finds it cool here. He's all bundled up. For me, it's perfect. With the sun out, I was thrown a thought, "do we deserve it this good? This perfect weather?"
I recall a comment made by a monk senior to me when I had just made that bold decision to try life in the ashram (monastery). He said, "You get what you desire and what you deserve, you get two D's."
I had to think about that. An individual has aspirations for the future. They could be healthy or harmful aspirations. Then, karmically, we receive punishments or rewards based on our behaviour from the past. The current and the past impact us to the point where the future becomes determined.
So we have a situation where we are reeling back and forth from negative to positive 'karma' and then there is another principle called 'grace'. It's something we have not deserved nor perhaps desired. It appears to be an unearned favour. It's grace or mercy that gets many of us through this nasty whirlpool of good and bad.
Sometimes we must beg for this grace. Let me correct myself. It might be a good idea to always beg for grace.
While I moved southbound on Yonge St. on foot, a young couple stepped out of the shop just in front of me, now also going south. the man of about thirty and of south east Asian origin noticed me, gave a 'hello' and whispered something in his 'woman's' ear. they both smiled and carried on walking. Minutes later, he turned around and told me, "You did my mundana when I was one" ('mundana' is a head shaving ceremony done in the Hindu tradition as a rite of passage when one enters into childhood and sheds babyhood).
"Are you sure I was the priest that cut your hair?" I questioned.
"Yes, I'm sure. My father told me much later on," he said.
"Well, I see that it all worked out well. You have a good crop of hair on your head (laughter). When did I do this? Do you recall?"
"It was supposed to be in '81", he said.
"When you have children, you know where to go", I said.
We parted with additional laughter. Moving on to Union Station where subway, commuter and regular trains all meet I coincidentally bumped into Professor Joseph T. O'Connel and wife, Catherine. Prof. O'Connell asked if I'm on any walking marathons these days. He had just come from New York and while on 5th Avenue, accidentally ran into the Chariot Festival which is quite the electrifying event.
I do hold him in great honour. During our great struggle in earlier times to establish the authenticity of Krishna Consciousness in the west, as a scholar of religious studies, Prof. O'Connell would speak eloquently on behalf of the Gaudiya Vaishnava tradition in the '70's', when the public became curious and often times suspicious of surging religions like ours.
Prof. O'Connell once wrote, "In my judgement, it is indeed fortunate for these individuals (followers) and for the society in which they live that there has been available this outwardly exotic but inwardly authentic and well-rounded way of communal life."
Wednesday, 17 June 2009
Our visiting Sanyasi (monk) has been Bhakti Ragahva Swami, perhaps one of our very best examples as an ascetic. He is extraordinarily passionate about the need for establishing economic stability through agrarian living. The swami spends considerable time in Cambodia, not far from tourist attraction Ankor Wat. I understand he is planting seeds in the hearts of those who would consider planting seeds in the ground. Most of the congregation are immigrants from India working in business or professional capacities. But they were listening. It was not a case for deaf ears. What does filter trough their minds is, “how can I possibly think of becoming a farmer, or even a gardener?”
It is a fact that few people think of becoming or leading a life in rural glory and giving themselves a good physical exercise with the earth, wind, fire, water, snow, space. As a statistic 1% of Canadians are found to be operating farms.
So what is the use in talking up the “Ghandi, Weave your own cloth”, way of life? Bhakti Ragavha swami is trying to set us up for disaster preparedness. Sustainable communities is a daring and bold step into progressive life. Chances are that when we see a wholesale breakdown of modern society’s system then people will spring into action as you may not survive otherwise.
While walking with an Isralie companion through usual bustling art gallery district of Toronto I wondered, “what if it all crumbles due to a retardation of economic flow?”
As a monastic person you have little to lose but in a more philanthropic mode what will happen to everything else?
On the previous night a program for Bhakti-yoga was cancelled. Our new following in Scarborough (east Toronto) was renting a space with another spiritual organization but the group became somewhat jealous when they saw members of their group gravitating to our sessions. The end result, our going there weekly is no more.
Everyone Likes Bhakti!
What was original today was a retreat at the Hart House farm where Devadatta was an instructor for a yoga class while I taught a workshop in Bhakti-yoga. Our twenty registered guests had a great time. They especially scored well in their composing prayer and poetry. They also had an incredible knack towards remembering details of friends newly-made and relaying those details before our group. Where it went really awesome was during Kirtan time. Chanting and dancing were activities that were relished beyond description.
The food rated high. To our surprise our cook, Shyama Mohini came up with a Kheer made from Soy milk mixed with vermicelli noodles. It became our dessert. The only stumbling block was a nature walk when the mosquitos forced our group to change direction. Otherwise, yes, everyone loves Bhakti. It comes so natural.
After a flight from Columbus to La Guardia, then a cab to the John F. Kennedy airport in New York catching a flight to Toronto and waiting in line at Canada customs. I was ready for my legs to hit the ground. Whew! The sun shone. Great! I asked my pick up person, Devadatta to drop me off for a break from machines so eastward bound I go on St. Claire Avenue.
A road construction crew was busy at re-enforcing the street car rail lines. The city has several street car lines especially running east-west. As a toddler our guru, Srila Prabhupada., living in Kolkata and looking at the tram car system got the idea to stand on the tram rail line, hold a stick that would reach up to the perambulator power line and then be able to move him just like the street car. So it is recorded in his biography. It gave me a laugh.
There is a marked difference between the two countries, Canada and the U.S. The U.S., a determined free way shopper culture leaves Canada lagging a bit behind in this area. Canada is a preserved multi-cultural experience whereas the U.S. is more of a national melting pot. The U.S. is louder and says what’s on it’s mind where as Canada is a bit more reserved and conservative. These are just obvious observations.
Deep down inside we are all spirits. To our detriment we rubber-stamp our souls as American, Canadian, Hindhu, Christian, man, woman, etc. But we are none of these identities, we are spirits!
Sunday, 14 June 2009
My dear spiritual pal, Akilananda from Salem, Ohio, came to the Cleveland Airport to pick me up and drive me for an hour to a Correctional Services Centre. The two of us had planned to meet Aaron Catlin (now Arjuna) who is serving time in prison.
While in the waiting room a young woman came next to me to ask who we were.
“Hare Krishna!” and so I explained.
“When did you join?” She asked after introducing herself by the name ‘Liz’.
Akilananda answered “In 71”.
I asked Liz, “Where were you at that time?”
“My mother wasn’t even born then,” she laughed out her words.
We then got to talking about reincarnation which she firmly believed in. In fact she admitted that at times she feels very connected to snakes and that she herself was in the body of one.
Another woman waiting to be escorted to see her inmate friend was also curious about us. Within a dialogue with her she expressed that prisoners are often feeling guilty about what they had done and believe that God will not embrace them.
“But that is not the fact!” I said.
She concurred, “Yes I believe that God does come close to them.”
Our meeting with Arjuna went well. I was happy to hear him say that it was Krishna’s mercy that he’s in prison. “Everything is for a reason,” was his mood. “Good stuff, Arjuna!”
Outside of the prison I had taken a walk in the area surprised to see some abandoned homes which were in good shape.
Our evening brought us to Prabhupada Manor in Cleveland where we discussed about anxiety, some of which inmates experience a lot.
“Anxiety you can receive but anxiety you must not give.”
TUESDAY JUNE 9/09,
He walked a good five KM to meet me at the temple only to take on another seven KM with me down the ravine by the Brick Works and then as we departed he tackled another five KM back to his home. It had been a while since he had put his hand in a bead bag fingering the beads made of neem wood while chanting the Maha mantra.
Once a monk now a journalist, Baladev did extremely well at keeping up a walking pace with me and focusing on hearing the sound vibration of transcendence. The only thing that interrupted his chanting was this long loud burp he let out. “Ahhh! The sound of satisfaction perhaps!” I blurted out. “You ate well?” I asked him. A smile!
I did proceed on to say that since we just had made a bit of a climb on the trail which tends to go up and down a certain part of his machinery got activated which doesn’t normally. I suggested that some trapped gas got mobilized upon stretching a lazy inactivated part of his body.
According to Ayurveda practice there are five major airs in the body and then some minor ones which move in different directions within our bodily frame. Sometimes they vent from above or behind. I was happy about the burp and so was he. The volume of this burp was a sign of released air. It didn’t seem to scare the squirrels so it was harmless.
So that’s what happens when you walk. There may be gaseous dynamics from above or behind but it’s a healthy sound apart from the mantra.
7 KM for me. 17 for Baladev.
Some days can be taxing trying to sort out issues that may arise within communication at home base or in the province or the country. In addition to my regular activity of raising consciousness to various parts of the world I have as part of my portfolio, a spiritual supervisory responsibility over the Canadian centers of ISKCON. People are what they are whether spiritual or secular, by nature, they are people.
Disagreement is such a signature for the age in which we live. Stalemates are across the board in human society. One time a film producer, David Schultz, asked me, “You have conflicts within your community?”
“Of course, we all are under the influence of human nature”, I said.
“Now that’s the perfect answer”, Dave said.
From the stand point of the Gita, Krishna speaks about desire and hate that causes the soul’s stay in the material world to begin with. He also relays to Arjuna the influence of the three gunas upon the soul, they being goodness, restlessness and inertia. Elsewhere He speaks of our struggle with the six senses including the mind.
Conclusion: there is a lot that each and every one of us carries on our shoulders, karmically speaking.
For today’s walking excursion Dustin and Nitai accompanied me near the Brick Works trail. We trekked through some tight spots, deliberately. We choose some steep sections where branches and vines were held onto for dear life.
We are suckers for adventure.
It was not an ordinary day at the temple. There were several international guests with us and included in the list a musician with a golden voice. Strumming his guitar was Atmaram, a Spanish devotee, who travels the globe doing the yoga circuit. What was arranged was a mini concert for Atmaram in the peaceful atmosphere of the temple. Although traditional mantras and bhajans were sung the more European contemporary stringed guitar was the instrument used to create tempo and rhythm as support to tamboura, sitar or vina. Such fusion of east and west can be most palatable to the ear.
Dovetailing is the word used by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, to describe the utilization of skills, talent, ability, wit, resources, etc. in the service of God. Wherever your strengths lie there is this golden opportunity to use them as an offering – a service.
For the Sunday open house program this principle of dovetailing was well channeled not only by Atmaram but also Keshav Sharma whose youthful enthusiasm and personal communication skills are applied as the mc of the event. Devotees who are inclined to perform pulled off a great drama. And it’s not for me to judge but if something is amiss in the program for instance our guest speaker was late, late, late and hence I volunteered to do the spontaneous thing standing in for him. Somehow I respond to spontaneity well and so I find myself in such circumstances. Perhaps that’s a skill and a way of dovetailing.
After our drama presentation of “The Witness” our actors were so pumped up with excitement that the only way of calming down was walking and so a spriteful walk became the method to escort one of our female brahmacarinis to the bus station for the midnight run back to Montreal. I got a chance, like so many, to dovetail a strong propensity in me – walking – once again.
Friday, 12 June 2009
SATURDAY JUNE 6/09, TORONTO, ONTARIO
Many great moments of truth arise when I find myself conducting a play practice such as a session today on working out details for the drama “The Witness.” A person who I handpicked for a part ended up not being fit for the role. He was relieved when I suggested he consider another minor role. Initially I was reluctant to say something to him fearing he might feel rejected. Perhaps I would even hurt his ego. All went well after his internal tension and mine subsided and the truth of one’s niche was revealed.
Some actors are less co-operative and don’t take to direction as well as others. That’s normal in any facet of life or any sector of society. Sometimes it doesn’t matter how much you repeat an instruction the recipient is able but not willing to take the direction. These become great dramatical moments and they can be spontaneously explosive, rarely though in a devotional atmosphere. It has happened.
When it does your cast can freeze during such fireworks which are both special effects. You get both the animate and inanimate going on at the same time.
At such times the art of patience has its chance to manifest and when the dust settles one may be given the opportunity to unfreeze uneasiness and activate again what you are set out to do – to perform. After all, the show must go on!
The jumping into the rehearsal again, engaging in the project is what cures all. It’s the project that must prevail over ego, the mission that overrides everything. It’s not the actor but the entire cast that counts.
I had insisted that our group of resident men and women in the ashram take a crash course in hospitality. Sometimes you hear complaints from the public who visit for darshan (viewing the image of Krishna) or from those who wish to learn about Krishna Consciousness. They complain about an inadequate greeting or no greeting at all.
I had observed that some of our renunciants got either very busy with their services and therefore do not tend to the needs of the public who appear either in person or by phone sufficiently. Some of our monks living in temples tend to be very hermit oriented which ends up not being very compatible when your temple or ashram is frequently visited. Another factor to consider was the aging factor where in the case of our ashram in Toronto, one resident monk is in his seventies, one in his sixties and somewhat handicapped while others are moving up in their fifties. Most of our young monks are in Halifax. It is actually hard to pick from our selection a front receptionist.
So these are some of the services at hand.
Fortunately, our community is rich with bright-faced youth who have a good report in public communication. Perhaps we have hit on something there.
One of our ladies in her early thirties, Nitai Priya, who recently moved here from Vancouver, is a trained receptionist. She put together what we needed, a crash course called ‘Hospitality 108’. Over a few days starting yesterday, our in-dwelling monks are participating in an interactive and fun program to better be able to take care of public needs.
That’s a relief! Let’s see if reception improves.
Monday, 8 June 2009
A brahmacari (monk) junior to me asked me the previous day if I would offer him some blessings to bow out of the morning sadhana, a standard ashram regimen, in order to concentrate on doing extra chanting on japa beads. Since the day was recognized as a day when one has an option to fast entirely including the abstinence of drinking water, this well-intentioned monk asked to be granted his special program. The fasting of grain is compulsory.
I had to frankly admit to him that although a complete fast is good, what was more important was adhering to the regular morning program in the good company of the other monastics. "This was the mood of our guru and we have an obligation to fulfil it." There is always a danger within the boundries of an ashram when individuals take too much independence. Solidarity is key in the smooth operation of a successful ashram. In many respects it is much like bootcamp. We are a unit. We eat together, work together, play together. Unity should be the theme.
On the same note I was invited to attend an evening dinner with a family of three- two parents and their teenager. Our talk over a great meal, centered on improving the communication amongst them. There was a ittle bit of "airing out" but it was all done with a view to increase understanding and listening. And as in all cases of even slight provocation, humility is always an ingredient to provide an excellent recipe for living peacefully.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Insomnia clutched me once again so I hit the streets of the town to chant the maha-mantra and get that early start on the days prescribed number of rounds on the beads. By physically moving I would get a little fatigued and then eventually fall asleep.
A van pulled over. I was feeling a bit uncertain with a late Saturday night/overlap Sunday morning exchange with someone. The driver rolled down his window. I stopped.
"Whenever I see a monk I'm inspired to want to help. Do you need a lift somewhere?" asked the man with sincere intent. I explained my insomnia and my chanting. I would say he was appeased to have just met one of us "guys with the cloth."
Thunder Bay is not a big city but it does have a Casino. I ended up walking near it. People were clustered outside together talking in louder than normal volume, a symptom of drinking. Some of the talkers went on pause upon seeing me but then quickly resumed nocturnal wrangles.
Daylight sent all of our troupe on their feet and onto today's engagement- more practice and then the performance of "The Witness" held at Bora Laskin Theater. The drama was preceded by a presentation on Laughter Yoga and one chanting session by a hypnosis therapist. Thunder Bay's Yogafest had a line-up of unique presentors.
Sunday, 7 June 2009
Thunder Bay, Ontario
Boulevard Lake is a very popular body of water, spring fed, then dammed before its waters reach Lake Superior. The locals boat in it and runners and walkers circumambulate it. Our visiting troupe of actors and singers walked the hour trek while taking in the maha-mantra which is a commitment we have all made for life. I have been doubting the global warming theory for some time and today, like other recent days, are just below average temperature. Our Israeli members with us have come to understand the need to walk with some gusto.
The balance of our day was indoors at Lakehead University practicing for the drama "The Witness" the story of a walking stone deity. How fast this sacred image moved on foot is unknown to me but the lake does most definately express the power of a deity. We can draw no limits to the various ways in which the Divine can be manifest. This deity now stationary has His home in a town in Orissa, India. I had every intention of viewing this famous deity back in the ninties. Unfortunately there are limitations to viewing by the public! Because I was classified as "gauri" (white) I was not permitted to have darshan (a viewing). It was a bit disappointing after taking a 22 kilometer trek from Puri to get to the temple of the Shakshi Gopal deity and to be refused entry because of skin color.
You will find traces of racial discrimination in parts of India even if you are a full-fledged monk and you have the robes and the life-style to prove it.
If our guru, Srila Prabhupada, demonstrated such prejudice when he initiated his soceity in the sixties then people like me would not have stood the chance to develop and spread the consciousness of Krishna. He was open-hearted about those who were seeking. He gave people a chance.
Thunder Bay, Ontario
It was Dustin's birthday. He's one of our Halifax boys. He was employed serving drinks in a bar. He knew how to mix drinks but know he found out about mixing Krishna into his life. He shaved off his hair to be a monk. When you are Twenty one and still single you still have time to take in adventure. Since joining several months ago he has traveled with another young monk to certain regions of the States stopping at temples. In many ways he was becoming a man for all seasons by learning various devotional arts, the songs, philosophy, musical instruments.
When as a boy Krishna attended His school and learned sixty-four arts. For Him such skills began early in His life. In the case of Dustin it takes a greater amount of time to learn due to the compounded karma accumulated over lifetimes. Our desires bury us into dullness of consciousness. Like Dustin we are all ensnared by the illusions of the world.
At least Dustin was smart enough to pull out of the shadowy pursuits of this world. He is a bright young man and we are fortunate to have him in our troupe of performers at this weekends Yogafest. He is a great actor and dancer and picks up on things quickly especially in the area of co-operation and willingness to serve.
In the Gita it is said "yesam tu anta gatam papam..." If you have done something virtuous in the previous existence then that will bear fruit for the next existence especially in the conviction to move on in your spiritual life.
I believe this applies to Dustin.
Happy Birthday Dustin.
Baby lake, Ontario
Wherever I could squeeze in a jaunt I would, when our driver would gas up the rented van or he would stop at a store for juice and washroom break before proceeding the long journey. It took us seventeen hours to reach Thunder Bay.
Our group of eight were destined to this city to contribute to the cultural presentation of drama and kirtan at Sunday's Yoga Fest. It was a congenial group. We read the signs of places along the way and adored some of the names "Mom Lake," "Baby Lake" and then "Dad Lake" all three bodies of water come one after the other.
We caught a great glimpse of a bear. He stood in a frozen stare at us. A fox was more fidgety. It looked to be a half-bred with color grey and red. We treated ourselves to that coldest of all lakes, Lake Superior. A dip and bold swim strokes got lazy passengers blood moving. The vistas were stunning and 'new' for everyone but myself. Central Canada is a best kept secret and away from the world. So pristine it is. Half of our crew came from Israel. They now live in Toronto.
I guess you could say that all my passions are becoming fulfilled. I'm traveling. I'm with a group. We sing, dance, do drama and all of this on the platform of spiritual pursuit. It's about the most perfect set-up.
Recently four women came to join us in the ashram. Of course, the ladies have their own quarters on the west side of our building while the men ccupy the east side. There is no reason for one generation facing a particular direction other than male population being greater, with the count of 14 and the east side offering more accomodations. The women did not all come come to our door at the same time but showed interest all around the same time.
It is good news to have this addition to our membership. It does indeed enhance that family spirit. My woe is that there is not always sufficient personnell to train newcomers. Two of them work ouside and offer a donation as rent. They are taking advantage of the morning sadana before dashing off to their employment.
In this case also not much attention is given to the single fellow who resides now with us day.
It's lively when all residents are punctual for the early bird service at 4:30 am. Some deliquency is there and recently chronic slackness has been warned. Shape up or ship out. Ashram life means fun life, enriching life, but discipline must be a component here or otherwise the experience of some healthy transformation does not fructify.
It is a blessing to have the company of the new people as well as the 'were new people' (I don't want to say "old") relish the morning classes. Naturally not all ride the same level of enthusisam. It's all very individual.
I had contemplated the problem of lack of superiorism for new candidates. Some interested men who want to give monastic life a try are encouraged to go to our Halifax ashram where more personal attention is given. But what to do for those in toronto. When you think about it, it's the nicest problem to have. People wish to experience. We are not fully prepare!
Jarvis sreet was the route I chose to walk on, and the venue for my thoughts. The city councilers decided today that one lane on this heritage street will be marked as a place for trees, a wider sidewalk, pedestrian sidewalk and a section reserved for cyclists.
The city percieved that there was a problem and so they discussed, decided and made a poling rule firm. Not all people like the decision, especially motorists, but the decision was passed and everyone will have to follow. Rules in the ashram need to be better enforced. In the same way that city council's decision is final and all must follow.
Saturday, 6 June 2009
North York, Ontario
The last surviving Titanic victim, Millvinia Dean, of Southampton, England, recently passed away at age 96. Such was the news as sent by "The Associated Press." At two months old she was placed in a bag and put onto a life-boat while her father passed away into the icy water back in April of 1912.
Today i attended along with my assistant monk Bhakta Dustin, a funeral for a dear, dear Punjabi lady. If anyone knows this communitythey are tightly bonded and come together in great numbers to support each other. The lady's name was Amrita Prasher and four generations of family participated. As preists of their community we were invited to conduct the chanting portion of the ceremony. I was asked to lead the chant "Om Namo Bhagavate Vasudevaya" in front of the coffin which was carried by Amrita's surviving sons.
What was unique about the procession was that along the way to the crematorium fireworks were let off. This display was a way of saying that Amrita led a happy and full life. Her departure was glorius. Even the funeral director found the fireworks as a rarity- a first.
Naturally there were tears and wailing went on, but for the most part a happy closure was put to the life of a very nice Punjabi lady.
It has been my custom whenever someone new comes to the city to introduce them to one of the ravines of the city. It is always with beads in hand that we take on a trek through the tranquil greenery of urban madness. Today I took with me Dustin and Nitai Priya through one of the more challenging trails. Since they are my kind (nature buffs) I saw that they were fit for this very "physical" path.
It is the season of Ratha Yatra, the Chariot Festival. It has been my thirty-sixth year of the majestic wheels turning. The endeavor to host such a program requires funds. Part of the portfolio of a monk might be to fund raise but actually it is more like friend-raising. With a small car load of devotees we took to the suburban streets of Markham and made visitations to three prearranged homes. Our obligation was to sing and speak Bhagavat philosophy for a few brief moments. We also offered as gifts to those homeowners devotional subject matter and each place refreshments were given out of mutual love. Oh, yes, their donations would come and to deal with the practical aspect of things, a charitable donation receipt was given to the donor on the spot.
I thoroughly enjoy the making-friends part. The greatest difficulty always is being in a stuffy car en route somewhere. Foot travel is always superior.
Friday, 5 June 2009
Etched on the edge of a large cliff on the bay of Lake Superior is the image of an old woman's face. That's how the bay east of the lake got its name. The long drive from Thunder Bay lead us to a much needed break at the vista of natural elements- rock, water, sky, mist, and sun. Our troop of eight decided to experience a trail taking us through a woodsy terrain. Two of us opted for extra rest. On went the rest.
We came upon an ancient man-made depression in a section of well-worn boulders. It was formerly a site for vision-questing. While chanting softly on our beads we admired the diversity of green vegetation. The sweet smells of the forest excited our nostrils. We were also curious to see if we could spot a moose on the loose. At least one foot-print revealed that one of these largest of the deer had recently roamed this quiet trail. We were out of luck to spot one on this challenging path but there were no regrets. The beauty of sites and each other's sanga or company, compensated for it. We had to be content to have seen a fox, a bear, a beaver and ravens on this trip. After two hours of trekking over jagged and smooth rocks, roots, twigs, carpets of moss, dry and soggy soil we headed south via our van.
We had secured a copy of the Chronicle Journal and cheered upon seeing Krishna on the front page. Our actor/dancer Nitai Priya captured the attention of the photographer as he clicked and digitally framed Gopal, the walking deity from the play "The Witness." We cheered again to see more photos on page three with a supporting article. We relished in the thought of the great response from participants in the Yoga fest the night before. During this moment of happiness, lo and behold, a robust-looking bull moose dodged our vehicle and as if in a dance, dashed his way into the safety of trees.