Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Saturday, March 27th, 2010

“Some good signs”

Dubai, U.A.E

Dharmendra, a member of the local community, took me to Jumeirah Beach, a really clean place off the Arabian Sea. It’s a haven for walkers and joggers. From there we scooted back to the guest house for a change to devotional clothes and a drive to the local Nathaji Temple. Apparently the country donated a hall to the Pusti Marg Society, a Hindu organization hailing from West India. It’s the only temple in the country that’s approved apart from the next door Shiva Mandira, which is situated next to a Sikh Gurudvara. So there is some level of tolerance demonstrated by the Islamic dominated area.

By spending two brief days in Dubai I got the sense that there is law and order in this rather modern city, which recently declared bankruptcy due to the current recession. I had asked Dharmendra at the beach about the sign that read, “No cameras allowed.” His response was that it’s a safeguard for someone who might photograph a woman. There are people who take advantage. It’s to protect women. I thought that was not a bad restriction. I went to a flashback…on my second cross Canada walk, a young woman walked next to me in Victoria. She asked, “Are you a monk or something?” My brother who was just in front turned around and flashed a photograph of me and the pretty young woman. She became highly defensive. She explained that she was photographed some time in public and before she knew it her face was all over the internet with a digitally affixed torso (in the nude). Needless to say she was upset with my brother’s flash. He apologized and expressed he had no such intention.

Now, a little more about the tolerance level in Dubai. On our sixth floor guest house facility, the Arabic neighbour has a five year old autistic boy who comes to our door clapping hands in response to the kirtan. We met her in the elevator where she wore her traditional Islamic garb, and she referred to her boy as, ‘my Krsna.” She had heard of Krsna’s childhood antics and she has become totally charmed. It appears she has no qualms with exploring outside her own culture. This was a good sign.

Friday, March 26th, 2010

“They love kirtan”

Dubai, U.A.E

Night went by swiftly. It was an early rise at 3AM. A shower. Some pranayama. Some stretches. A read from CanAsian Times. It said that according to Swedish research and consulting firm Kairos Future, that Indian youth are the world’s happiest lot with career being their top priority. The study found that even though family in a strong focal point, youths here showed little interest in having a family and children of their own. For those in Europe, a good living environment comes on top. It’s interesting.

At 5AM Topi Manahar came to our guest house room. It was walking time by the Creek. It’s not really that much of a creek but a lengthy salt water inlet. Topi’s feet were burning after our 10 Km jaunt.

Salt water through desalination is the drinking water for the millions of people in the U.A.E. The figure is that 300 million people are serviced by water from the sea on this planet. It is a thirsty world.

I became rather parched myself after being crammed by hundreds of devotees at their regular Friday gathering. Sri Vallab, the facilitator of the program thought that a talk about spiritual walking would go over well. And so it did. A second gathering in the evening, a celebration for the Vyasa Puja of Jayapataka Swami, a senior monk in or society whose birthday was today. It was again a packed house. At this time my topic for speaking was “Guru Tattva, “the principle of teaching the science of the self. I opened up quoting 10.32 from the Gita where Sri Krsna identifies Himself as the original guru. “Of science I am the science of the self.” For these events I successfully wore my swami robes but I was cautioned to not be caught in the saffron by walking to the hall from the guest house, although a short two block distance away. What a happy bunch here in Dubai! They love kirtan, chanting.

Thursday, March 25th, 2010

What and Where?

Dubai, U.A.E

This is a curse. For a second straight day in a row there was no room or time to walk although a great distance was covered (by air). Another thing unique about today was it jumped ahead a few hours due to different time zones. But even more awkward was the fact that I could not don my usual dress code. I was fore- warned that saffron robes “will not fly” in a Muslim country. So plain clothes it was. My companions with me enroute to South Africa, Radha Gopinath and Yashomati, purchased a blue shirt and grey pants. Even a base ball cap came with it. I was re-incarnated.

It’s my intention that on the flight leaving Dubai I will do the Clark Kent routine. It won’t be a telephone booth to change in but I will use the aircrafts washroom. I’m missing those robes. It’s known however, if you change the attire the heart remains the same. It's one of the more profound things said in “The Bhagavad-Gita” wherein Sri Krishna expresses the principle of transmigration. The soul changes bodies just as a person changes his dress. Chapter 2 of the Gita makes it very clear.

At the airport in Dubai we are greeted by Vijay and Jaya Rasesvari, known to us as they have been living some years in Canada. One of my first curiosities here for the two day stay is in which vastra or dress will I go and secondly where can I walk in this new place for the coming morning?

I had a thought….. contrary to the saying “the clothes make the man”. According to the Gita the clothes are not the man and similarly the body is not the soul nor does the body make or shape the soul.

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010

The Hairdo

Toronto, Ontario

David Miller is a professor at the University of Toronto. He had invited some monks for kirtan, chanting and an explanation of Krishna consciousness to his class on the theme of Hindu Modernity. His class was an attentive group and I liked one question asked about the tuft of hair monks sport at the back of the head under the location of what is called brahma-randra. Both Dvija, our star renunciant at the Toronto ashram, and I took turns answering questions.

I took the liberty to explain about the sheeka (tuft of hair on male members). In the Buddhist tradition there is no scope for accepting god as a deity, rather everything is shunyavadi (void).”There is no god”. The totally shaven head of a Buddhist monk reflects this nihilistic concept. The Vaishnavas or devotees of Vishnu, on the other hand, have embraced the concept of the Absolute as a “person” or a being a deity or divinity that one can communicate with. The mark of hair reflects this identity of the supreme as a person. A Vaishnava depends on the will of the supreme and agrees to engage in the sweet surrendering process of Bhakti, devotion. He will not resist. The sheeka is a symbol of this surrender.

The students’ questions continued to come our way but I had to apologize to the group as I was to embark on a flight to South Africa via Dubai. You couldn’t ask for a better “send off” than speaking to a group of enthusiastic students before taking off on a long trip. What really was crazy was that the schedule was such that I just flew in from Miami in the early afternoon.

Oh well, all is well in His service. “His” refers to Rama as today is the birthday of Rama, an avatar in the category of “Leela Avatar”. “Avatar” means one who descends from a higher sphere, the spiritual realm. “Leela” refers to endearing pastimes.

Tuesday, March 23rd, 2010

The Lotus Opens

Coconut Grove, Florida

“Better late than never” said the guru to his disciple. Vishal who is now 72 relayed to me that that was the line given to him by our guru, Srila Prabhupada. Vishal was 30 years old when most others joined the monkhood in their late teens or in their 20’s. Vishal resides in Miami by the main temple.

The main point is that we are all encouraged to begin our spiritual path regardless of age. As the heroic boy, Prahlad, had expressed to his classmates in their kaumar stage (ages 5, 6) the time is now to get serious about real progress. That entity (the soul) which is very difficult to perceive is privileged to become more soulful or filled with spiritual nourishment. Any small endeavour is the greatest gain.

As stated in the Bhagavad Gita, “There is no loss or diminution and a little advancement can protect one from the greatest type of fear.” Fear is a form of uncertainty. Everyone wishes for a sense of security. Well let’s take advantage of that spiritual obligation and get rolling.

Roxanne is a Miami woman entering into her middle age and as she explained “Krishna does it for her.” She had been looking for this for a good long time until she started going to regular astrology classes by Garga Muni, a member or our community. The Bhagavat philosophy teaches that there is a divine entity above all other beings and that we have this dormant love for that personality.

It was this morning that Roxanne decided to come out of dormancy, at least in a formal way, by accepting diksha, or initiation. Dharma, the head pujari, or priest lead this rite of passage with a ceremonial fire and a small group of well wishers witnessed something like a lotus flower opening. Roxanne made her commitment to move forward.

5 KM

Monday, 29 March 2010

Monday, March 22nd, 2010

Open a Coconut and Share It

Coconut Grove, Florida

Ever since I was a kid my mind would romanticize about being a monk. The dream certainly came true. It’s been 37 year s since I joined, late March, something like that in ’73.

With Dr. Romeres I took to walking in the afternoon and with P. Krpa, someone I call a professional coconut tree climber. It was at Coconut Grove that we used as our venue looking for an outlet to access the ocean when two joggers dashed by. Relating to them as comrade marathoners and less as a monk (momentarily), I asked the surgeon, “What about joggers? What’s your diagnosis of them?”

“I understand many of these athletes don’t always live that long. They’re hard on their bodies.”

I asked, “Amongst your patients do you sometimes have wrestlers or boxers?”

“As a matter of fact I just had a wrestler the other day. The problem they have is mostly at the joints – the knees for instance give them a hard time. Many athletes do things in excess but you can’t stop them.”

He was implying that with athletes the passions are so strong a force that nothing hinders them until their bodies tell them “NO MORE” It becomes break down time.

Once we got to the sea access we were anticipating to spot some manatees that have survived the Florida freeze. They are lovely non-threatening and huge creatures. Over 120 manatees were found dead in the area. We were not fortunate to find a living one.

We did, however see dozens of homeless persons who camp out on a nearby island and boat in crude canoes to the mainland to purchase food. What a lifestyle!

By evening we found ourselves in the large ISKCON temple on Virginia Street and what really was going to be an open forum discussion with the community ended up being more of a proposal from my side to implement a monthly festival referred to as the Sankirtan Festival. This program emphasizes outreach through public chanting, distribution of snacks and books. It specifically is designed to be inclusive. As we pointed out “to spiritually be evolving we need to be involving.” It resonated with the group that there’s a need to be inclusive and less exclusive. That is the way of making personal spiritual progress. Let the public have a different taste of the ears, eyes and the tongue. Do something for them and automatically you are doing something for yourself.

15 KM

Monday, 22 March 2010

Sunday, March 21st, 2010

New Season With Sparks

Coconut Grove, Florida

On the previous night everything went right. At a very devoted person’s home (Dwarka is her name) we conducted a chanting session, philosophical discussion and ate great food. By 9:30pm I pressed our group of chanters, Let’s go! I have to leave for a flight early in the morning.” All concerned accelerated their movement. We made it home at a decent time and I got to the airport in time.

With a few minutes to expend I scanned through the newspaper. That happens about once a week. One report tells of the Pope intervening with the scandals in the Irish branch of the Church. Another report honoured Brother Andrea, A popular healer in Montreal, now deceased, and who is practically a canonized saint. Icons of him are up for sale in the market.

Upon arriving at the Miami Airport I felt a pleasant breeze – cool even. It’s the first day of spring in fact. Things did get a little hot though. A few of us had a sit-down at the Temple in Coconut Grove. Some issues were brought up amongst the community members. You could say that there were mild fire-works that flared up, however everything ended up on a good note. Sometimes sages and Brahmins organize a big sacrifice but in the end there is a small fire and a few herbs tossed in. And sometimes lovers may have a quarrel where one threatens, “I’ll leave you.” Then the other person says, “I’ll kill you.” At the end of the day they kiss and make up.

We don’t need to take all disagreements seriously. In the end just keep a cool head. Keep the lid on the pot and let simmer!

Saturd ay, March 20th, 2010

Digging Up Old Stuff

Toronto, Ontario

This morning Raghavendra and I hit the winding residential streets of Rosedale, the place of stately Victorian homes. The walk was awesome as usual. It’s about every morning that I spot a raccoon climbing his way up the bark making that crackling sound as he ascends to a spot and looks down thinking, “I hope they go away!” referring to the strange workers. He looks down with those Zorro eyes and attempts a staring contest with his opponents…us. We accept the challenge. Usually our furry friend gives in, turns his head upward and shimmies his way up another branch. I have been interested in raccoon behavior like this for years.

The bulk of the day was primarily occupied in an exciting archival project indoors. For posterity purposes our colleagues in Canada decided to pull out of Temple storage any memorabilia including news clipping, old documents, periodicals, photos, pictures, movies tapes, slides and anything at all that could be of archival value. We might call the project ISKCAN, short for International Society For Krishna in Canada.

It’s tedious work sorting through vintage stuff but with help it makes the burden lighter. A photographer, Rsi, offered to help me. Yes, we got dirty. We ended up stirring up dust and dirt but it’s rewarding. To our knowledge Krishna Consciousness has been in this city since 1969. In Montreal it would have been since 1967, Canada’s 100th birthday. Vancouver was probably started in 1969 also. In these locations and other places in Canada, like Ottawa, there must be ‘stuff of sentimental value’ that needs digging up.

Generations yet to come will want to know what we went through in the ‘early days’ to establish this higher consciousness for Krishna, the Divine. They would like to know of public opinion and how that’s changed over the years.

It’s an interesting project. Recently an e-mail was sent to us from a Rasananda, one of the founding fathers, you might say, of our Toronto chapter. From the Toronto Daily Star dated January 16, 1971 a caption reads, “Young man quits medicine to join the growing ranks of ascetic Krishna sect.” An intriguing article by reporter Sidney Katz expounded on the Title.

5 KM

Saturday, 20 March 2010

Friday, March 19th, 2010

Pretending to Be Mean

Toronto, Ontario

It was the second conservative evening in a row that I called in a few of our community actors to get the chance to channel their creative energies, and to put out their worst. By worst I mean “be mean”. Be the Kauravas! Jab those Pandavas! Knock them out of their misery! Let greed and ambition prevail!

For those who know the story of The Maharbharat, it runs a classic theme of fratricidal confrontation with Pandavas as the virtuous sector and their cousins as the greedy bloodhounds.

I played for the actors one of those screechy, scratchy electronic dance pieces and I asked those enthusiasts to enact the scene of the vicious Kuru assembly and to move to the beat. Gambling, selling people away and dishonouring a queen in a roomful of men was the actors fixation. All nastiness. The body motions I called for were jerky, sharp, angular, passionate, aggressive and restless.

Not until Krishna enters the room (rehearsed by one actor) did the sizzling sinisterism simmer. Krishna.

It had been a while since our group had come together and we realized what we had been missing. Example I can suggest, “Let’s be mean. Let’s be dirty.” And that we are. We can identify with it, but not to the extreme as the Kauravas may have conveyed. When you do play-act “mean” you don’t really mean it. You can say I know this feeling or emotion but I am different from it.

That’s why the dramatical exercises are so therapeutic. It let’s you separate the you from the sensations.

Now, if only I could separate or distinguish between the sensed and the soul?

12 KM

Thursday, March 18th, 2010

Doubting Where Is the Devotion

Toronto, Ontario

Praveen is an avid attendee at the early morning sadhana, spiritual gathering at 4:30AM. He enjoys the walking, as I do, when we allot ourselves time for mantra meditation. Serene would be a word to describe the world at this time of day. By 7:30 AM Praveen leaves for work. It’s a routine.

Then as is customary, the few of us ashram monks sit for a hearing of the Bhagavatam discourse. We are extremely fortunate to take ear drops of philosophy. But today is different.

As I turn a knob to have the fan run overhead for air circulation I think not of the fan’s revolving motion. It’s nothing new. That’s what fans do. Their propellers spin. My next move was to sit down to hear one of the monks speak from Canto 5 under that fan. Yes, that segment of the multi-volumed Bhagavatam which is highly technical, not philosophical, and discusses the revolutions of the sun, the moon’s movement and other orbital and heavenly bodies that revolve, something like the movement of the fan. There are chapters which delve into Vedic cosmology and the structure of the universe, some of which run parallel to modern science and some of which bear no synthesis whatsoever to current testimonies.

The Bhagavatam is said to be a literary masterpiece of exclusive devotion, therefore, certainly the mind wanders to question about tracing bhakti, or devotion, out of such a mechanistic rendering as found in Canto 5. I had to search for an answer. And here, in brief, is what was revealed (and I say that with no mystical innuendos intended).

When we read of the Vedic version of the universal makeup, we find that inhabitants from any sphere described have their established deity such as Indra, the sun, the incarnation Rama, etc. It appears that no place is divested of devotion. All persons honour and center their lives around some divinity.

And then we read of the sun god, Arunadev, and how with the aid of a mammoth wheel’s axle lodged into a majestic mountain time is told. All this effort which is quite an endurance test is also a matter of devotion.

There is one more thing. When we look at such complexities as planetary workings, it certainly puts you in awe and triggers the question, “What intelligence brought this all on?” And that response leads to bhakti.

So when we peruse through this great book Bhagavatam, it’s like a sugarcane, “wherever you bit is sweet”, our guru used to say. Wherever there is Bhagavatam wisdom, from any page, you will find devotion.

7 KM

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Wednesday, March 17th, 2010

Patrick, Al and the Mantra

Toronto, Ontario

Students from U of T, the country’s largest university, frequently walk through Queen’s Park to reach various building on campus. It was the perfect spot for our little chanting party. Naturally we were trying to give the mantra exposure. Three out of the five of us wore robes, the remaining two had civilian clothes. Students were curious.

It was St. Patrick’s Day. I knew that I could put the mantra to “When Irish Eyes are Smiling” but I thought my co-chanters would struggle with that tune. We settled for the tune to “Amazing Grace.” Incidentally, Patrick is the name of on of our chanters and he very much approved. In fact, the melody blew him away.

When we completed our session, Dwija Gauranga, a super-monk from our local ashram, and I noticed a large bronze statue of Canadian poet, Al Purdy, near our chanting spot. Here’s a poem which at the end reflects some truth from the Gita regarding thoughts that carry over into the next existence.

The Last Picture in the World

A hunched grey shape
framed by leaves
with lake water behind
standing on our
little point of land
like a small monk
in a green monastery

almost sculpture
except that it’s alive
brooding immobile permanent
for half an hour
a blue heron
and it occurs to me
that if I were to die at this moment
that picture would accompany me
wherever I am going
for part of the way

7 KM

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Tuesday, March 16th, 2010


Toronto, Ontario

I passed by a news box stand. The headlines on the Toronto Star read “Everybody Walks”. I was so curious what the caption was referring to. I would have acquired a copy but the dollar I didn’t have and so I simply accepted that I was not going to be reading about this passion I share with so many other people – walking.

Sometimes headlines are not very representative of the article’s contents. They can mislead. The term headlines did remind me of a joke.

QUESTION: Did you hear about the corduroy pillow?
ANSWER: They made headlines.

The most prominent line that I could read on people’s heads was the mouth. If you look at anyone’s face some obvious lines are visible. From the bottom up is the mouth, then the end of the nose, the eyes, eyebrows, and perhaps wrinkled brows on the forehead. There are vertical lines to make up the nose’s ridge. And extending from there you may have, depending on your age, a diagonal line from above each nostril which runs down to reach the edge of the mouth.

These lines can be seen when you walk as you see pedestrians when people are in vehicles rushing by at breakneck speed. What was great about today was the weather and for this reason the mouth line became curved or cupped as smiles. The care culture does rob the individual of details that the radio cannot compensate for.

What I am saying is to avoid the automobile as much as possible and start to see lines and etchings that you would not otherwise.

9 KM

Monday, March 15th, 2010

Mostly Bright

Gatineau, Quebec

The sun’s rays penetrated through the window pane and provided warmth to one of the most glorious Tulasi plants I’ve ever seen. It was very green, and very round. The gesture - the arms of the sun reaching out and crowning the dome of the sacred green was the perfect union.

I had scouted the area at this edge of the Gatineau Hills. It was new territory for me. There was a great Monday morning air and as mentioned, space was sun filled.

As traffic whizzed by at certain stretches of my whimsical route, I felt an ache of compassion fore them – the rushers. My life is simple (tres simple). I walk and give 2 hours to talk with Him (or try). I do it in the sun and in soft wind. There is little care or worry for me except empathy for the passionate faces I see.

It’s a new week started and the agony begins for the rushers. It’s a 52 cycle program, not necessarily nice. It’s a hustle and a monotonous routine for most.

Back in the home with the window pane and the Tulasi green where our three man party rested overnight, Jean Claude was host. He really laid the hospitality on thick with fig pancakes, chickpeas in yogurt and turmeric milk.

For the drive west we broke up our journey, parked the car and stretched legs on an ascending/descending dirt road near Norwood. Cedar scent, intense red dogwood branches set within snow, melt down water gushing forth were sensations as our legs thrust us forward and then back to the car. Spoiled city boys we are.

Now back in T.O. (Toronto) I met Viasesika for his last day with us. He presented his last major devotional charm at a satsang gathering before heading home south. He has contributed much for the hype of bhakti which is the essence of life. I really appreciate his coming on this bright day.

9 KM

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Thursday, March 11th, 2010

Again The Friend

Toronto, Ontario

As she pulled out of the driveway at dusk on Cottingham St. I happened to be there.

"Is this the Big Chief Himself?" she remarked after rolling down the window. I couldn’t make out who it was at first. It was dusk as I said, but I responded, “Well, I’m just a servant of everyone.” As I inched forward I could make out her image. It was my nurse of a year ago who made a daily visit over a foot infection I contracted from a dead catfish. It was she who mentioned on one visit that she had a friend who took to the famous Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. “That friend came out a different person” she said, validating the practice of sacred walking.

In any event, it was a friendly exchange. She always came to visit me with a pleasant demeanour which is a great qualification for a care-giver. Her remark about the “Big Chief”, referring to my “Maharaja”-ness (an honorific address given to a senior monk) was her way of breaking ice. She is expert with people. For me, she reaffirmed the need to give warmth to others. You can learn something from anyone. Everyone whose path you cross has something to offer you. Even the lesson of detachment comes from meeting someone who is obnoxious, for example.

By providence I met my friend as she came out of a driveway (not hers, but a patient’s) to be reminded how kind a human should be. She deals with a lot. When she pokes a needle into someone’s arm the patient says “ouch” and sometimes a much stronger four-lettered word. So she told me. She has to smile through it all.

My friend admired my new pair of crocs (a gift). “Oh, fleece-lined crocs? How nifty!”

“Please come to our centre for some vegetarian food” was my invitation.

“I drive by your temple all the time and I think about your food.”

I encouraged this friend to come to eat food and not just think food.

I hope to meet her again because she’s kind.

10 KM

Saturday, March 13th, 2010

Bravery amongst the Monks and Devotees

Downtown - Toronto, Ontario

Nasty might be the best way to describe the weather of this day. It was overcast, cold rain with wind whipping around corners of buildings. Our group of chanters took shelter of some awnings anchored off The Bay building, a popular shopping store. The public rather liked the chanting and to some extent expressed their approval of our bravery in doing what we were doing. I had the privilege to lead in the chanting.

One of our girls, Shyama-Mohini, demonstrated her loving boldness by approaching cab drivers that would naturally stop in front of The Bay. Cab drivers are one group of career people who are rather receptive to listen to difficult concepts.

Taking the lead of a second party of chanting promoters was our guest, Vaisesika from San Jose. He and seven other troupers, if you will, entered a lower income bracket building on this dreary day and went door to door. The intent was to show a BBT book about spiritual philosophy. One elderly Vietnamese women courageously opened her door only to be greeted by 8 people with tall 6‘ 2” Vaisesika as the alpha male determined to deliver a smile and behind it a book of such value that gold cannot buy. She took their visit as a blessing and accepted the book followed by her donation.

After sometime Vaisesika’s party merged with ours for additional mantra power. When it came time to disperse I decided to walk back to get some daily exercise in. It became a contemplation time so I reflected on the topic of boldness, an issue Vaisesika brought up over breakfast. It was a relief to hear that in our ashram in San Diego a determined Mahatattva, a monk also of tall stature discourages the use of words like “lord”, “sin” and “preach” in formal talks. There are other words on his list.

For years I have cowered at the word "preach" as a part of a discourse and when the words comes up at a GM meeting I feel like running out of the room ( I just may threaten to do so in the future). Why? Well it’s so terribly Victorian old school dated evangelically fanatical and condescending. The word “Lord” an adjective to denote an honorific title is not worthy of someone with a status like Krishna. Here again you have a word which implies something imperialistic. It may be a word that worked 100 years ago but it “ain't” working anymore (pardon my English).

I admire the tall monk from San Diego for his boldness in boycotting such obsolete terms in his ashram. Boldness had come to my thoughts. And then I thought of our guru, Srila Prabhupada and his bravery in taking the risk of a sea-sickeness journey at a prime 70 years of age.

That’s inspiring! It’s all bravery!

4 KM

Sunday, March 14th, 2010


Ottawa, Ontario

My antsy nature led me to Ottawa, a five hour drive from Toronto. My generous driver was Sahil, a young man from our community. The other passenger was Yajna, a monk soon to get married. Yajna insisted on the scenic route as we had a choice. “I’m with you. Highway 7 it is.”

Before departing for the journey, I made a point of at least planting my feet on the ground through walking a 45 minute stretch to counteract the negative effect of sitting for so long.

Once we had arrived at the Krishna Centre on Somerset St. I was asked to speak from verse 18:64 of the Bhagavad-gita regarding the ultimate meditation. Chanting preceded and followed the talk.

For me personally, a highlight of the day, during the drive over, was a serious reading of a book by Lokanatha Swami entitled “Samskrtoccaronam – A Comprehensive Guide to Sanskrit Pronunciation.” This is a new publication and worth exploring. After all, don’t we all need to improve on pronunciation? It’s a beautiful language, and when heard and chanted, enhances your spiritual life. A short excerpt is as follows:

“Om kara (aum) starts from the kantha (throat), resounds on the murdhanya (palate), and ends with the osthya (lips) closed. Similarly, hare krsna and hare rama both begin with “ha” in the throat, resonate “krs” and “ra” at the palate, and end with “na” at the dantya (teeth) or “ma” with closed lips.

Sanskrit is a precise language, which needs to be very attentively articulated.”

Those of us who use Sanskrit in our day may not end up being super precise in pronunciation, but we can certainly improve ourselves in the usage of this root of many European languages.

3 KM

Monday, March 8th, 2010

What the Soil Could Do

Toronto, Ontario

Daruka from Winnipeg knows me too well. He was off to Union Station on foot, a good 45 minute walk. There he would catch a train for Ottawa. He invited me to accompany him. It’s an honour to walk almost anywhere. If I was given an offer for a ride I would feel less privileged. Here, Daruka, who drove my support vehicle in the summer of 2008, wanted some company. Dwija, our first class monk from the ashram, also came along.

There was not particularly great scenery to write about. It was still dark. We cut through Queens’s Park, one of the forested areas our guru, Srila Prabhupada, ventured through one morning in either ’75 or ’76. That’s rather special. The only other thing to get a little bit excited about was the CN Tower in the distance. It glows from pink, to red, to green. In the daytime a person from its peak will see 90% of the best soil for growing anywhere. Only problem is that most of it is accounted for and covered over with concrete. This is the urban reality of today. In any event, Daruka just wanted some association and I was happy to comply.

Daruka went off. Then Vyapaka came in. He arrived from the States. He said that the economy is bad. So we have heard. I mentioned to him that perhaps Detroit, disheveled as it is, should be ploughed under and the land returned to the farmers. Vyapaka, who is an agriculturist, suggested Toronto could do that too, implying that it’s got the quality soil.

Okay! Let’s redo the Great Lakes region. It needs an over-haul. But who is ready for urban agriculture in North America? Is there anyone ready to go the way of Krishna and herd animal and see that the grains will grow and be harvested? Are we ready for good local food?

There is a Whole Foods store, a branch of this popular chain food organic outlet, that Dwija and I passed by. It’s a mere 5 minutes from our temple. They have good natural food but it’s not local. That’s sad!

Spring is in the air and you can start to envision the potential growth of plants beyond concrete zones. Will edible plants and people ever be intermingled or will they always be distances apart?

7 KM

Friday, 12 March 2010

Thrusday, March 12th, 2010

Again the Friend

Toronto, Ontario

As she pulled out of the driveway at dusk on Cottingham St. I happened to be there.

“Is this the big chief himself?” she remarked after rolling down the window.

I couldn’t make out who it was at first. It was dusk as I said but I responded, “well I’m just a servant of everyone.” As I inched forward I could make out her image. It was a nurse of a year ago who made a daily visit over a foot infection I contracted from a dead-catfish. It was she who mentioned on one visit that she had a friend who took to the famous Santiago pilgrimage in Spain. “That friend came out a different person”, she said validating the practice of sacred walking.

In any event it was a friendly exchange. She always came to visit me with a pleasant demeanor which is a great qualification for a care-giver. Her remark about the “big Chief” referring to my “Maharaja-ness” (an honorific address given to a senior monk) was her way of breaking the ice). She is expert with people. For me she reaffirmed the need to give warmth to others.

You can learn something from anyone. Everyone whose path you cross has something to offer you. Even the lesson of detachment comes from meeting someone who is obnoxious, for example.

By providence I met my friend as she came out of a driveway (not hers but a patients) to be reminded how kind a human should be. She deals with a lot. When she pokes a needle into someone’s arm the patient says, “Ouch” and sometimes a much stronger four-letter word. So she told me. She has to smile through it all.

My friend admired my new pair of Crocs (a gift).

“Oh, fleece-lined Crocs, how nifty!”

“please come to our centre for some vegetarian food”, was my invitation.

“I drive by your temple all the time and I think about your food.”

I encouraged this friend to come eat food and not just think food.

I hope to meet her again because she’s kind.

10 KM

Wednesday, March 10th, 2010

Let’s Get On with it

Toronto, Ontario

For sure it’s a rare person who will take to Monasticism. I had a serious talk with two people from our community, one in his sixties and the other in her seventies. It was with concern and the verge of alarm that we looked at a list of our youth, now in their late twenties and some entering into their thirties who are not getting married. It has been a red flag flapping for a while in the wind of current trends.

Unmarried folks in our community in North America, are taking their time to tie the knot. There has got to be reasons for the singles to drag their feet and money is not necessarily the object. In general their careers are set and so are their salaries. Then why the long wait? Mistrust? Fear of sharing? Fear of Heartbreak? Fear of responsibility, kids, diapers Etc?

One thing the three of us (elders if you will) realized is something has got to give. Souls are waiting to be born in good families. We need a new generation to teach and to look after and they in turn will look after us. There are the biological pushings of procreation which is natural and needs to be met. After all a full cycle needs to rotate here, otherwise be celibate, be a monk or a nun.

What the three of us were wishing to do was to grab some of our flowers by the shoulders and give a little shake.” Go through the experience!” It won’t all be gloom. Allay some of the fears and take some preparatory courses for marriage. We are not saying to couples to have a dozen kids either and not to be disappointed at a first try with a date. Continue to forge ahead but please, please do something. Dear treasures of youthful beauty and energy. Let’s get on with it and prosper with God-centric families.

There will be rollercoaster rides, no doubt! We thought they were supposed to be fun and adventurous.

This morning I walked through neighbourhoods that were predominately for singles and then those that were predominantly for families. I trekked as far as a children’s playground and then ventured back to the ashram contemplating this dilemma after our discussion. I was also hoping to see the snow melt more quickly if I might use such an analogy.

7 KM

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Tuesday, March 9th, 2010

The Right Questions

Toronto, Ontario

"Excuse me, sir," said the man at such a time (3 a.m.). I stopped.

"Thank you for treating me like a person," he went on as he reached out for a handshake.

I reciprocated and was poised to listen. He carried on speaking.

"I'm a homeless person for a couple of hours..."

"Oh, for a couple of hours? And you want some money to spend for a couple of hours until you're no longer homeless?" I smacked with some sarcasm. "No thanks," I added.

As I walked away at his reputed sleeze section of Yonge St. and chanted on my meditation beads, I thought the guy to be at least a portion honest, admitting to not being full time "homeless". I also began to think, "Wouldn't it be nice if he could just ask the right question?"

Instead of "can you spare a little change?" perhaps we could revert to something that could bear more substance. Questions such as "What is life all about? Why am I here? Who am I really?" would be true refreshing inquiries.

If all we really crave for in life is a beer, drugs, a coffee or wearing cool jeans, we are missing the point. If our questions circle around such trivial matters, what good do we hope to achieve?

I suppose one of the most gripping set of questions that are meaningful came from Sanatan Goswami, a government person who turned monk. He approached with all humility the great Chaitanya expressing openly that he was learned, well-read, established, well-off, but he didn't know his true identity. He started asking relevant questions seeking answers that would make a transformational difference in his life.

Some of the part and full-time homeless as well as home owners might do well to explore the right questions to ask and eventually through the mature response gain hope and look at the world from a different perspective.

5 KM

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Sunday, March 7th, 2010

There was Sun This Sunday

Mississauga, Ontario

I stayed overnight at the home of Rajasuya. It was practical when all events were happening last night and this day on the west end. Dustin was with me. I let him sleep in. He looked like a ghost challenging weather and time zone changes from the trip to India. Yes, he looked like a pale ghost but he has the heart of an angel.

The early trek was a route that spun me around Rajasuya's house, a right on Cartwright, then a right on Rupert's Gate and back to Cartwright again. In the course of the circumambulation the moon reminded me of my anchor, the rabbit that jumped past me pulled out my passion, the dove's coo pulled at my goodness; all such elements of nature create moods.

There had been three programs lined up for speaking engagements for today. Each host to each venue gave me the freedom to speak on any topic. The Bhagavad-gita was my choice to speak from; all to do with Bhagavan's (God's) connection to this world. From what I see, hear, smell, taste, and touch. I have endeavoured to make the tie between the energetic and the energy (moon, rabbit, dove, etc.) The sun and the sunshine bear little difference. This is a way to see the world, the way that Krishna Himself would view the existence in which we live.

Someone may argue, "When looking at nature there is compatibility between it and its source but when you have to deal with people, the traffic, the greed, etc. it is far more difficult to bridge the gap between the mundane and the divine.

Valid statements; still every adversity and every victory still has the divine hand behind it. That takes a deeper perception.

8 KM

Saturday, March 6th, 2010

Dream Walk

Toronto, Ontario

Someone from the community here conjured up the idea of a "Snow Dream Walk," a trek through the white stuff with people of like-minds. Some young folks from the Urban Edge Centre responded to the email invite when a chalked out route within the city limits would give a chance to these spiritual seekers to build up friendships. Since the inception or ribbon-cutting of the Urban Edge Centre many seminars were facilitated by speakers, cooking lessons were delivered and yoga instructors have guided and inspired people since October. Here was an event renamed to "Snow Melt Walk" where attendees actually got to talk and know one another better over the course of a two-hour period.

I had the honour to lead these pilgrims and to chase the quiet streets for walking as opposed to the usually preferred ravines where it's muddy. My head count to this event was a modest thirteen which is just perfect. They really enjoyed the great air, the sunshine and above all the friendship. This if any (friendship) is a major missing factor in today's life. Again I'm tackling the issue of loneliness, alienation, depression, self-centeredness all items that are tossed together like a bag of trail-mix.

Mangal Arati and Ateet the two front-persons of the Urban Edge arranged tasty food after the walk. It was agreed upon by participants that there must be a repeat performance to this city pilgrimage.

One of the persons I talked and walked with and who goes by the name of J.P. had asked how I considered this type of walk to be a pilgrimage and I responded, "Every walk is a pilgrimage when it has a spiritual intent, when the experience of it has allowed you to grow."

The evening brought Dustin and I to the home of Harinam and Priya, a couple from Mauritius. Families came to chant, feast, and hear of the pastimes of the supreme.

13 KM

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Friday, March 5th, 2010

Doug and I

Toronto, Ontario

Doug and I had slept off a few hours dealing with jet lag. By coincidence we had the same thing in mind during full wakefulness at mid-night, "Let's walk!"

We hit Yonge St. and chanted our japa meditation for the day but intermittently. Doug who moved to Winnipeg from Toronto in '68 recalled phantoms of the past.

"Oh! I remember this place. This was a club where BB King played. I came to hear him. I also came to see the band 'Rush' in this other place. The group 'Steppenwolfe' also had a start in the village (Yorkville) when I was living there."

He continued, "This is all baggage from the past. We don't need to wallow around in it do we?"

"This stuff will stay with you while you leave this body. Now that we have taken to superior music, chanting, we always have something to go to even if 'skeletons in the closet' come to haunt you" As I explained this to him I thought that it’s not the music that was so terribly wrong but the culture that goes with it. And yet it would be hard to separate the two- the music from the culture. It’s a fact that most entertainment takes you nowhere when it's mundane but sound and sights of a transcendent quality really do pick you up.

I'm glad to be back in fresh air country but sad to miss the cultural side of India. I said to Doug, "Wouldn't it be great to marry the neatness of the west and the sweetness of the east?"

"Yeah, it would be good."

8 KM

Thursday, March 4th, 2010

A Cockroach! Agggh!

Toronto, Ontario

It was a long flight for Doug, Max, Dustin, and myself. It was also a long journey for another soul- a cockroach. For him/her it must have started in Tirupati. As I unpacked the little creature was found in a folded dhoti (lower robe) wiggling his legs and then making a dash for outside the established comfort zone- my suitcase. The necessary had to be done. Hare Krishna! Can't let them spread. Absolutely not!

The little guy had a free ride. Thousands of kilometres in the air after crawling inside my travel bag, from Tirupati, to Delhi. There it was a stop over for a day and a half in Delhi to be on the ground. I forgot to mention a brief landing in Hyderabad where more passengers were picked up. After a Delhi stop then in the air to Brussels for another stop-over, 2 1/2 hours and finally a smooth landing in Toronto then by car from the airport to the ashram downtown.

Lucky dog he was! In the package deal were likely free meals, crumbs of prasadam (sanctified food) and maybe some nibbles from a flower garland, a favourite for these crawling things.

Being in the brief association of Vaisnava monks he was possibly privy to the name of God. So, that's why I say lucky.

Unlucky, however, is that for the entirety of his life it was mostly a life of food searching, sex, sleeping and defense. Oh, he moved fast when spotted by a devotee present during the unpacking. He was defensive.

Our response to his appearance was also defensive and it was natural to respond and it had to be quick.

In the world of freedom, moksha, or liberation, there is no need to respond as if things are life-threatening because there is only life and it cannot be threatened. The atma (soul) lives permanently. While we are here, however, it's a different story. Practicality is so much a part of life.

When, our guru, Srila Prabhupada, would take rest under the mosquito net some moments would be taken to help those flying souls move on with a smack onto their new body. They were in good company while it lasted.

Friday, 5 March 2010

Wednesday, March 3rd, 2010

Boom & Boom

New Delhi, India

Things are booming in India. I dare say much about the economy since I have little detail but spiritually Krishna Consciousness is growing. Today I attended the Shilanyas (corner stone ceremony) for the 6th temple in the city. Mind you, there are hundreds of Hindu temples but this is the 6th Hare Krishna (ISKCON) community. In attendance were Gopal Krishna Goswami, Prahladananda Swami, Hanumat Prasaka Swami and my humble self.

There were elaborate ceremonies including a go-puja, worship of the cow (a real one) while her bull calf was suckling from her. The actual location is a district in Delhi called Rohini with population 1 million. Many educational institutions are established in the immediate area. This is all good.

After the event Gopal Krishna Goswami, the main spearhead behind this new project, kindly escorted Prahladananda and I to another section of town, Punjabi Bagh, where a new Krishna Bakery was opened. The three of us monks held scissors and snipped the ribbon for its new business hours. All forty items for sale in this new shop are prasadam (sanctified food). And naturally there was chanting during the ribbon cutting.

I give you the reports not only to let you know of my adventures but also to inform you that despite the advances of mundane capitalism and consumerism, spirituality is also percolating. That's worth noting.

Walking is part of the report. I was just pacing back and forth in front of the Sant Nagar temple and it amounted to 5 km for sure over a two hour period.

5 Km

Tuesday, March 2nd, 2010

Bald Capital

Tirupati, Andra Pradesh

South India is probably the head shaving capital of India. It's also common to see women with clean scalps. Sometimes sandalwood pulp is smeared on their heads to give a cooling relief from the heat of the day. What's with this cultural habit, anyway? Why hairlessness?

Many people cut off their head and facial growth of hair because they wish to present themselves in the most clean fashion, so it isn't reserved just for monks. They are presenting themselves before a reverential deity. In Tirupati the predominant deity is once again, Balaji, and a modest appearance is one way to come before the deity.

Hair is often perceived as a show of vanity. Sculptured hair for women, slick moustaches and perhaps goatees for men are a way to draw attention. In the south people believe in giving some portion of their day/ or life to spirituality. Shaving off hair is a demonstration of subduing that vanity.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, liked his male disciples to be clean-shaven including the head. It's often common for male members of the family to shed their full head of hair when there is a death in the family such as in a well-known photo of Prabhupada when his father had departed. It is an act of mourning.

I can't quite remember how it came up but at one point of my delivering a class out of an interactive approach, I centered on a young man with a Clark Gable type of moustache. It was not an attempt to embarrass him. Somehow or other he took it that it must go as well as all the hair on his head. Just before I left for a flight to Delhi the main brahmacari co-ordinator brought this young fellow to see me at the door.

How to describe him? Well, he was beaming- better still - he was glowing! Outside of eye-lashes and eyebrows there wasn't a hair left on the head. The guy looked like Chaitanya, the 16th century master of chanting and he appeared to have no regrets.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Monday, March 1st, 2010

What We Once Were

Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

Revati gave me an offer which sounded nothing short of flattery.

“Stay here for six months and I’ll guarantee that we will have 1,000 more students.” I do not believe that “my style” as he put it and “charisma” is what really pulls in young men to the ashram. It’s God’s mercy and that’s all. The offer, nevertheless, is an enticing one. Two deterrents are there. One is that I have plenty of responsibilities already at home station in Canada. Secondly I don’t know if I could ever handle the weather here. It’s hot and humid most of the time.

One thing that is critical about my stay in Tirupati is some direction came my way. I had seen a doctor today as I did yesterday. He’s a master at Ayur-vedic medicine. He observed my legs and confirmed something about the left one by the knee region. “It’s started degenerating. The cartilage is going.”

I asked him frankly if I should do any more marathon walking in the future. His immediate response was, “No, Do 10 or even 8 KMs. maximum”.

“Okay! That gives me something to think about. My doctor back home, Dr. Vikas Pandith, had said that my joints at the knees are giving way”. So I’ve been taking capsules for that. Still it may be an inevitable factor that I reduce walking and be satisfied what has been accomplished thus far. “Oh! Krishna, please do confirm!”

Instead of serious walk on the street today I spent considerable time writing. I’m developing a play on the life of King Bharat and I’m looking to make use of animals here – deer, lion, tiger and wild boar. I expressed to Revati a wish to venture to the zoological park, a mere 10 minute drive from the temple. So he took me.

Knowing some of the animal care takers Revati got us to be escorted to the lion, tiger and leopard pens. Amongst them was the largest leopard in the world. Boy, did we get close!

In one scene of the play I wish to use a wild boar. Wild boars and deer were some of the wild life Jada Bharat in the play attempts to stave off from the paddy fields. Boars are quite gross. And to think you and I had probably been through this species in the past!

Anyway we accomplished some walking at this award winning Zoo and also were reminded of what we once were.

4 KM

Sunday, February 28th, 2010


Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

We had them up to the neck in flower petals. I had Krishna, the deity, that is. The temple in Tirupati is presided over by a deity of Krishna as Govinda. He is accompanied by Radha and eight other female gopis (cowherd girls). Revati had ordered two truck loads of flower petals of all sorts and kinds to shower upon these deities. Revati does everything in style and this party which commemorates the birth anniversary of Chaitanya is no exception.

Musicians came from the state of Kerala, eight of them on dolak drums, others on mangira symbols and two men on Nagesvaran horns completed the group which played in the temple and led a procession in this city of about 400,000 in the evening. From this procession I got my walking done.

What makes Tirupati so spiritual a place is told in ancient Puranas. Some Brahmin priests had a debate over which of the three gods that control the universes namely Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu is superior. The sage Brghu was appointed the adventurous one to travel about the cosmos and meet these illustrious personalities. After meeting each one Brghu concluded that Vishnu demonstrated the most humility. Vishnu did so by messaging, the feet of his great devotee. Lakshmi the wife of Vishnu, did not take kindly to this act of Brghu Muni who tested Vishnu’s tolerance by kicking his chest. For this reason Vishnu chose to massage. Lakshmi felt she had to leave and perform austerity. She felt as if she shared in the apparent offence of Brghu.

From that point on Vishnu searched for her and ended up here in Tirupati taking up residence in a tall abandoned ant hill. He never did find her and for this he lamented. Vishnu is also known as Balaji.

3 KM

Saturday, February 27th, 2010

In the Pious Country

Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

Revati Raman had successfully built a gorgeous temple plus a school for 300 students and a goshala, a place for keeping and protecting cows. It just so happens that a friend from America, Balabhadra, is spending a few days here as well. He heads up the cow protection organization called ISCOWP. In particular he trains bulls, ox, where he is stationed near Moundsville, West Virginia.

We were both impressed with the state of the goshala. It was clean and orderly. And one more attractive feature was the unique breed of cows that are indigenous to Andhra Pradesh. The Punganur breed is a small cow in stature, very white in colour and very passive. It is a deliberate effort on the part of Revati to preserve this pure breed. A Leopard snuck into the goshala one evening, obviously hungry but the care taker made enough noise that it scared him away.

For a 45 minutes drive we were brought to beyond the precinct of Tirupati on a pleasant and quiet road through tiny villages to reach a 50 acre plot of land. Mango orchards, cashew trees and tomato fields grace this addition to the very successful project of the Krishna Lotus Temple.

Under an imlee (tamarind) tree Revati, Balabhadra and I enjoyed a very relaxed conversation discussing the world, its people, ourselves and God over freshly cut chicoo fruit and sugar cane juice. Some students, mostly boys, from the 10th standard spotted us and were curious about us. They asked for a monk’s blessing so they may pass their upcoming exams. This we did. We engaged them in chanting and dancing and after the enthusiastic session encouraged them to avoid urban living.

What was impressive here too was their natural sense of respect, clarity of thought and their innocence. Revati expressed that it is rather typical to find sincerity in these youth in the south. They are less contaminated particularly in the villages. He even said that few of his brahmacaris will seek marriage. Most will remain celibate for life. Let’s see. We wish them well.

7 KM

Monday, 1 March 2010

Friday, February, 26th, 2010

At Tirupati

Tirupati, Andhra Pradesh

“I want you to come to show my boys how to dance”, said Revati Raman, president of the fairly newly constructed temple in Tirupati. Raman invited me a few times now. There are currently 80 monks living at the quarters for single men. When I arrived after 12 hours of travel (no walking again today). I came upon one of the most beautiful temples I have ever seen.

If I can offer an opinion after all the travels and I see south East Asians to be the most photogenic people of all. Their cities, however, are eye sores, crammed and, unplanned pieces of metal and concrete with oversized bill-boards every where. There are exceptions such as the architectural wonder of the Krishna Lotus Temple, a blend of the north and south. It is situated a five minute walk from the world’s most visited and wealthy temple. A colleague, Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, from New Zealand explained to me that the deity Balaji (a name for Vishnu) on special days has ornamented on his form 7 million dollars worth of diamonds. It’s a popular place.

Balaji’s temple attracts 10 times what Revati’s temple attracts which is 5 to 10 thousands pilgrims a day. Not bad for a temple that is celebrating its third year. From my room I could see the full scale of the temple and also the face of the Tirumala mountains. It’s a sensational view. As far as dancing is concerned I did offer some dance steps to the monks. They caught on quite well although it was a task to encourage musicians to slow down their tempo in the kirtan (chanting session). The drummers have this passionate crime and they tend to speed upon their own whim. With a little bit of coaching they started to incorporate a mellow but steady beat.

Thursday, February, 25th, 2010

Thinking about Walking

Mayapur, West Bengal.

There was an estimated 3 to 4 thousand pilgrims that left Mayapur to meet at the Yogapith, the birth place of the king of Kirtan, Caitanya. Of course many more people had packed in to the relatively small facility where the famous inauguration of chanting was born. This figure seems to grow year by year when folks from all over the world converge at this hotspot of the sacredness, a place in the Nadia District where an auspicious neem tree still graciously shades walkers as it has for hundreds of years.

Now I cannot boast to having taken many steps today. It’s a bit of spiritual jealousy I have to live with for the day. I did take some steps up to Maha Srnga’s rooftop. Maha Srnga is one of my heros here in Mayapur for organizing mass food distribution in the neighbouring area. I once accompanied him to where he had huge vats of vegetarian prasadam (blessed food). We spooned out that flavourful spicy kichari (curried veg + rice) to a multitude.

Today we had a meal on the rooftop and with a group effort held a diksa or initiation ceremony for new candidates. They were asked to chant daily for meditation, to refrain from meat eating, gambling, intoxication and casual sex. I made the point also to avoid gossip.

So between preparations for tonight’s play and being involved in the diksa program I had so little time to walk. It’s no compensation but I used my voice as a narrator, a computer geek, a French man, a German Vocalist and a deep south American.