Monday, 31 May 2010

Friday, May 27th, 2010

I Will Pursue It!

Burnaby, British Columbia

Nipuna, Chaitanya and I tread the same route as yesterday. We saw the same cyclist as we saw the previous day, and at the same juncture. We also saw a pedestrian on crutches on the same trail at the same time as yesterday. The sky hadn't changed over the two day period. It remained overcast. In other words, the sky was the same. We were walking and we were chanting. Of course, it was the same mantra as yesterday. We would not dare change that.

I had come to visit Vancouver, seeing many of the same community members, all rather happy. There were a host of young kids, very new to me. And I saw changes in some of the more senior folks. Some middle-aged had intensified their hair color. I guess one person had a fresh dye job. Another person's hair had been solid with one shade and now that has been broken up with grayness leaving a pleasant salt and pepper effect. So I noticed some adjustments.

There is the usual crowd, but there are also new faces including a woman who was formerly a Mountie officer, turned yoga teacher, and is now practicing bhakti yoga. It is certainly a welcome sign to see young and new people coming to explore a higher conscious experience. It came to mind that as we journey through life, we encounter the old and the new, the usual and the fresh. Tomorrow, I will meet with young members of our community and conduct a workshop with them.

An idea sprung up. On the Burnaby property, there are a number of senior citizens living there. Why not give them some attention as well? I am thinking about starting up a one night a week program for them where they assemble in the temple room to engage in hearing and chanting. Such a program would be welcome. It seems like the right thing to do.

I will pursue it and accommodate the new and the usual.

7 KM

Thursday, May 27th, 2010

You Are What You Have Thought

Burnaby, British Columbia

It makes sense to follow the trail under the skytrain as it acts as a canopy from the rain. It was actually a drizzle...mercy for the plants. B.C is known as a place of lush greenery. It's flag is marked with the image of the sun which is somewhat misleading. It's a mild climate.

My walking partner, Nipuna, and I passed by a housing construction crew as we left the shelter of the skytrain. One worker was warm with a greeting, and another was just a little shy of being grumpy. It's my speculation that 50% of people who rise in the morning get up on the wrong side of the bed and the other 50% are excited about the day.

Nipuna and I proceeded on. We stopped briefly to read what had been spray painted on the pavement near where we were standing. In bold black it read, "You are what you continually think about." I thought it was a profound statement, echoing a message from the Bhagavad-Gita. For instance, in verse 8.6 Krishna states, "yam yam vapi smaran bhavam...Whatever state of being one remembers when he quits his body, O son of Kunti, that state he will attain without fail."

In other words, if you are constantly processing hate for example, this mood will move you in the next term into a body suited for expressing aggression. If one is motivated by love and kindness, then a body suited to embody these qualities will be the end result. The warning about what you consume is obvious. That word of caution holds true for what enters the mind and the mouth.

It was George Bernard Shaw, who stated, "You are what you eat!"

8 KM

Wednesday, May 26th, 2010

In Vancouver

Vancouver, British Columbia

Westjet Airlines, which I took to Vancouver like all airlines, have their very own travel flight magazine. "Up" rated Vancouver as the number one walking friendly city in the nation. I'm inclined to agree when it isn't rainy. Seriously, I do like walking in this very pretty city. But once I got out of the terminal I couldn't walk. I had to wait. My driver was there. He just missed me. While waiting, I had a chance to meet a member of the band "Fields of Green". Let's call him Steve. (I don't remember his name.)

Steve had his acoustic guitar in his case next to him at a sitting bench. His band plays everything from rock to country music. I told Steve about my love for music and how my Dad always liked to play something on the gramophone like "Singing the Blues" or Lucille Starr. In any event, music became an addiction for me. I told Steve, I floated from rock to folk, to blues, then classical to raga and finally kirtan.

Steve knew about kirtan, its magical sound and potent effect. Apparently, he was exposed to it in his hometown, Kelowna, where he heard the sound "Nitai" and "Gauranga". It's good to know the good vibration is getting around.

At nighttime, sound waves took over the ether in the Burnaby temple. One of the favorite avatars of Krishna devotees, Narasingha, the half man, half lion incarnation, was being honored. The local devotee actor, Peter Konikow, did a great job as narrator of a drama using as its subject this powerful avatar. It seems like Peter always comes up with fresh ideas.

I did manage to squeeze in a fifty minute walk with Nipuna, my assistant during my stay here. We dodged those puddles of rainfall even though the darkness did well to conceal them. The sleep for the night was good. I believe it was the chanting for protection from Narasingha by the community youngsters that saw to my safety and deep slumber. Thanks to the youngsters at the Narasingha festival.

4 KM

Thursday, 27 May 2010

Tuesday, May 25th, 2010

A Walking Prep

Toronto, Ontario

The usual morning trek with the Penn boys and Praveen, didn't happen. Well it did, but without me. They went ahead and entered the ravine only to discover that nature's forces had come alive in the form of mosquitoes with voracious appetites.

My reason for the walking exclusion was to address the hunger needs of the residents in the ashram. It came as a surprise that Tuesday morning no one was scheduled to cook. I volunteered happily. What did I cook?

The menu for this morning breakfast was cereal, milk, fruit, chapatis (flat bread) and kichari. Kichari is what I consider a favorite kind of walking food. It's nourishing, filling, and colourful. It's a meal unto itself. I used to cook it on our camp out Coleman's stove during the marathon walks.

The ingredients I used are:
long grain rice
moong dahl beans
water
sea salt
tumeric
aseofateda
fresh basil leaves
fresh rosemary
ground cumin
cauliflower chunks
broccoli chunks
fresh shredded ginger
olive oil

Directions:

You start with adding your rice and dahl beans to the boiling water. Add salt, a tiny bit of oil and gradually add the veggies, herbs and spices. Serve after the rice and dahl have softened. Serve to the deity of Krishna while chanting some standard mantras. Then eat while it's hot.

When the boys came back from their walk and having completed the balance of the sadhana (spiritual workout), they dug into the preparation. The verdict was, "We are satisfied."

0 KM

Monday, May 24th, 2010

Fireworks!

Kitchener, Ontario

People in Canada, credit Queen Victoria for allowing Canada to be a free nation cutting loose from the British rule. Today was the day known as Victoria Day and although her honor means little to the average person who doesn't follow up much on history. The day has become a good excuse for a holiday. Fireworks were mostly used on this day, perhaps more than any other day of the year in Canada. But that has somewhat shifted since I was a kid. Fireworks have taken over the nightly skies on many other days not just to commemorate an event or a person. The loud noise and splendorous light displays have become a common place event that exists on its own strength.

In the afternoon, I was driven to quiet Kitchener, a city at the edge of Mennonite country. With Ukrainian friends and my young American protege, Gaura, we zipped over this place once called New Berlin to engage in chanting with a family from Kenya. Someone from Belgrade came, another from Hungary, and there was even an all Canadian chap from London Ontario.

What else did we do? Well, we took a serious look at Bhagavad-Gita verse 10.9. Krishna says: "The thoughts of My pure devotees dwell in Me, their lives are fully devoted to My service, and they derive great satisfaction and bliss from always enlightening one another and conversing about Me."

What blossomed out of this verse recitation was a lively discussion of individual revelations from amongst our quiet group. Yes, we were quiet but thoughtful. I was impressed with the explosions of realizations as expressed by the visitors and host family. There was something splendorous in hearing them. In fact, the popping of the fireworks I heard in the distance during the evening's wind down period back in Toronto, could not measure up to the volcanic spewings of truthfulness as voiced by these students of Bhagavad-Gita.

As I walked a few blocks in the night air, it was confirmed for me that fireworks are not a sensation for me. May they remain as an offering to Victoria.

9 KM

Wednesday, 26 May 2010

Sunday, May 23rd, 2010

Sounds In Owen Sound.

Owen Sound, Ontario

One goose was perched on top of the church roof. Another one stationed himself at the house next to it also comfortable on it’s roof. They had a perfect back and forth dialogue. Who knows what they were saying? Cracking jokes maybe? But there they were, up before everyone else. Only this solitary monk walking by (me), a police officer sitting in the cab of his car waiting just in case and a quiet fisherman hoping for prospects seemed to be stirring about in the peaceful, clean harbor of Owen Sound.

I contemplated on the words of the local pastor who came to our chanting session last evening. I was impressed to see her interest and involvement with what appeared as a “different “ religion. In her mind it’s all the same objective-getting closer to you know who? She pointed to the statue on the home shrine of our host and said to her son, “look at the Dalai Lama”.

“We do have some resemblance to Buddhism but there are some philosophical differences. That statue is the resemblance of our guru, Srila Prabhupada”. She was happy to get informed. The engagement at Owen Sound was spiritually surcharged last evening. But in the life of the spiritualist the joy never ceases. Our little drama troupe, whom devotees insist on calling Swami Productions, drove to Scraborough to join the Bangledesh community in a 24 hour chanting session. Our commitment was 2 hours only. Calluses were popping on the drummers hands, chanters strained their voices and all those who danced deposited extra sweat drenching clothes and floors.

It was another day of glory as is everyday.

8 KM

Saturday, May 22nd, 2010

Feel Good Event

Owen Sound, Ontario

Ruth is the mayor of Owen Sound, A small city bordered on Georgian Bay. What a charming lady she is. She and her husband take daily walks beginning at a nearby waterfall and religiously trek and trail. So her bio-sketch tells. I had no reason to doubt. I chatted with her at the Kelso Beach Shelter in the midst of her friends and my friends. We exchanged personal adventures of walking. She was present for a mini-festival.

When the Sun Times newspaper reps came they asked what the festival was all about. Rajesh Kaladia, a Krishnaite from the local area, organized the rather successful program. He wanted me to answer. Instead of grappling for an answer words flowed out even though no one thought to give the event a name.

“It’s The Feel Good Spring Festival”, I expressed rather confidently. Yes, Krishna made me say it. Turns out the journalist is a vegetarian. That became one of the main features of the Feel Good Festival-prasadam, nice veggie dishes.

Ruth enjoyed it. She spoke for a few minutes after being very gratified. Then our drama went on at the ampi-theatre, and a mantra rock kirtan, by the band Rajasi. People were dancing, they had a good time.

My dear god-brothers’, Garuda and Drupada took to walking to Rajesh’s home. The three of us joined Krishna Consciousness at around the same time and the same place-Toronto back in 72/73. Only I stayed single and took the monastic life seriously while they took to family life-seriously.

Anyway, it was dusk. A group of young people partying in the front of a residential home noticed my robes:

“Why the dress?” shouted one of the party goers.

“They are robes, I am a monk.” , I replied

“Well, it looks sexy.”, he said.

I just gave a thumbs up.

3.5 KM

Friday, May 21st, 2010

A Real Treat

Toronto, Ontario

So many registered. Our visiting monk from South Africa, Bhakti Brhat Bhagavat Swami, organized a retreat and people were registering. "Retreat? No, it's not a retreat," he corrected me, "it's Prabhupada's program."

Basically he was telling me that he was simply implementing the good old fashioned Hare Krishna program and conducting a concentrated course of hearing and chanting.

I was impressed because for this first of a four day treat (cancel the word retreat then) about 60 people turned out. Women in sarees and men in dhotis and kurtas, the traditional dress code, came to participate. Some people took time off work to gain something more than just monetary gain.

Bhakti, or devotion to Krishna begins with sravanam, listening, followed by kirtanam, chanting, and that is primarily the intention of this program. One day the focus would be a marathon of eight hours of chanting known as 64 rounds or revolutions on the meditation beads. Each strand of beads has 108 beads to finger with the thumb and middle finger, the main tool for what's called japa.

The weekend would be a four day process of purification. I would not be in a position to be terribly involved due to prior devotional appointments set up. I did take a peek in Govinda's hall where most of the program is being held. Everyone was sitting nicely chanting. Inside my heart I thought, "I wish I could be inside the circle of japa chanters, but I can't sit for very long."

You see, I have a condition. It's called itchy feet.

9 KM

Thursday, May 20th, 2010

Rivers & Parks

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Daruka, Doug and I took more than a stroll along the Assiniboine River and its juncture with Red River. This place is called the Forks where the two rivers meet and for hundreds of years the Sioux and Assiniboine tribes met here for trading goods. How things have changed since those times! you have to imagine how everything had its natural green growth. Now, thanks to the city, a great effort has been put out to revive the waterfront with decent trails smartly marked with interspersed quarry stone from the area. It's all a mix of manicured and wild nature pleasant to walk through. They have created trails of mental peace.

Interesting is a huge constellation dial in a depressed portion of earth. There on the side of this structured wall is imprinted the story of Vamana, a form of Vishnu, who as a dwarf was offered in charity from the demon-king, Bali, three steps of land covering heaven, earth and finally the last step, the head of Bali. This meant Bali's surrender.

There are three engraved images rendered so artistically and set into the brick. Just seeing that became an inspiration for further walking along the Red River.

Again, nice job done on the river parkland. One observation is that although pretty, parks in most places appear to be underused. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, made a remark about that; a rat burrows a hole and the snake comes to live in it. A city designs a park and sadhus (mendicants) come to walk there.

5 KM

Wednesday, May 19th, 2010

Good Press

Winnipeg Manitoba

It excites me when I see Krishna devotees mentioned in the news. For example, some of our monks and lay members were declared 'heroes of the week' in Vancouver for the distribution of that good ol' prasadam (blessed veggies) on television.

I also snipped out of the Chronicle Journal newpaper from Thunder Bay an article highlighting its Yoga fest and our showing of the play "Lonely People". And when I arrived here at Winnipeg, Vrinda, the stalwart guardian of our vibrant and quaint centre, handed me on of the more recent editions of The New Wine Press Collection, a publication for the Catholic Winnipeg Archdiocese, which focused on an Interfaith program. At that event I was the honoured guest speaker giving a presentation on the traditional nine devotional paths. I recall after the event was over how listeners appreciated the universality of or Vedic culture.
Lo and behold the media struck Krishna once again (gently) when CNN announced the list of the most successful people who made it big after 50. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, came #7. It was around his birthday at 69 when he came penniless to America off the Jaladuta boat and started what was to be a fledgling society of Krishna monastics and married folks.

It was all good news.

7 KM

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Tuesday, May 18th, 2010

Quite Amazed!

Narcisse, Manitoba

Today I took to some priestly duties and some that might be regarded as more secular. It’s a matter of opinion, I suppose. Any activity can be transcendentalized even if appearing mundane depending on the intent behind it.

I had covered a good 7 kilometers in the morning on foot in northwestern Ontario before a flight to Manitoba. The walking is always a combined physical and spiritual activity. You walk and chant simultaneously. You exercise and keep from rusting the machinery in order to continue the devotional services for humanity.

Perhaps questionable was the mid-day drive to Narcisse, Manitoba, a place I ventured to last year at this time. What would a swami have to do with a pit of snakes and a trip to the vicinity of the home of 70,000 red-sided garter snakes? Well, let’s say it was a bit selfish. I know internally my wonder about the Creator’s ways became enhanced. To see hundreds upon hundreds of these creatures clustered about dancing with one another slithering in happy entanglement is an awesome sight to see as this place is recognized as the world’s largest convergence of these reptiles in the world. It’s not a zoo here but a natural habitat of a combined four dens that sees an exodus of snake migration after a winter’s hibernation when mating and feeding time begins. During migration neighbors have fumed. Imagine finding a snake in your bed? That has happened. One person found one in the toaster. I was wowed to see this play of nature. My amazement at what He does was indeed enhanced.

In the evening it was a visit to the St. Boniface Hospital in Winnipeg to see a newborn baby and parents. The child was struggling to survive and Mom was assisted with a caesarean cut with a blood transfusion to follow. The concerned father, who was next to his wife with their first child is hopeful and optimistic about everything and the modified blessing ceremony we conducted in the intensive care unit was just what the parents wanted.

Before nightfall a similar home blessing mainly comprised of mantra power also got squeezed in at the apartment of a member of the Winnipeg community. Hare Krishna!

10 KM

Wednesday, 19 May 2010

Monday, May 17th, 2010

What’s Not Sacred?

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Daruka, my former cross Canada support person, joined me for the morning trek around Boulevard Lake. This is not a sacred pool of water or place of pilgrimage such as Vrindavan where Krishna roamed, played and touched every square inch of space. It is a pool of water thousands of miles from India which was dammed to produce electricity over a century ago and ultimately spills into Lake Superior, one of the Great Lakes in Canada.

In Vrindavan, pilgrims circumambulate a temple before entering. In many cases such foot pilgrims take to parikrama marg, the footpath that encircles the entire town. Either that or it is common practice to circle around the tomb of a saint or the sacred Tulasi plant. That is the tradition of revering an object or grounds that are sacred.

Daruka and I are not in India but we had taken to mobilizing ourselves going clockwise around this lake. It is not the Radha Kunda or Shyama Kunda of Vrindavan, two sacred ponds in that district. The two of us must reconcile this dilemma and authenticize our action. Here are my thoughts on this which I have mentioned before:

We have to insist that the lake before us is also sacred. What qualifies it as such is simply that it’s the energy or the product of God. That’s all! This is not to marginalize the well established sacredness of a place like Vrindavan but rather to capitalize on the sacred potency of all that is around us.

6 KM

Sunday, May 16th, 2010

Fourth Year

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Thunder Bay is a unique place in Canada. Geographically situated fairly central in the world’s second largest country, all the country highways funnel through this place. For the three cross-country walks that I’ve ventured, this city is undeniably and most hospitably unavoidable. Today it hosted its fourth Yoga Fest where people come to do more than just stretch leg muscles.

Superior Yoga Fest, named after the nearby glorious lake, is organized by our very own bhakti yoga practitioner, Prem, aka Dr. Jani. The program expanded this year from the use of one auditorium at Lakehead University to include also a gymnasium as well as outdoor grassy sections of the campus.

Our little drama/ kirtan troupe drove sixteen hours from Toronto to insert the bhakti yoga portion of the event. We performed the drama “Lonely People.” It was well received as a provocative piece. Chanting was also highly praised.

At the Yoga Fest’s closing, people enjoyed yoga food which we Vaishnavas call prasadam. Yoga instructors appreciated the masterful work of Prem, the facilitator, and many of the teachers I spoke to expressed their love for kirtan.

After all, the prophet’s passages found in the established books of yoga emphasize that to make yoga endeavours complete (or any endeavour for that matter) kirtan tops it off. Kirtan or chanting is the crown jewel of all yoga activities.

Sunday, 16 May 2010

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

About Our Troupe Group

Thunder Bay, Ontario

Goura walked slightly behind us as we spiraled down Mount McKay on its paved path. He can be a bit of a loner, or shall I say he needs time for himself. He is a reserved type of person with a real big heart. The guy is an extremely evolved human and demonstrates it in the right company. He has great qualities and is a true dynamo on the stage of our devotional plays. I am truly elated to have Goura, the quiet guy from Pennsylvania, as one of our troupe members.

Another member, Nitai Priya is superb as an actress and singer. To a great degree she shows her perfectionistic side and has helped to raise the bar in our performances. If you have seen and felt deep emotions in life then it can be displayed evocatively with ease when needed. Nitai Priya is a hard worker with our drama presentations. Always enthusiastic to help others with acting, dancing or singing, she shows she is in the right place - performing for the pleasure of God. I don't know what I would do without her in her great service to Krishna.

Nitai, our second chap from Pennsylvania, at only 18, puts forward a good team spirit. Both he and Goura who live in the Toronto ashram benefit greatly from the experience. Nitai has a natural aptitude on the stage. He truly cracks me up on his computer addict routine. I am very inspired when a young guy like this volunteers a chunk of his life to service. Rabindranath Tagore once wrote "service is joy". Nitai knows this quite well.

It has been about thirty-five years ago or more that I have wished for having a real team to work with; where the synergy is set just right. I think I've found it. Nothing is permanent in this world. I hope that our little gem of a group will not disappear soon. We are performing to please guru and God.

7 KM

Friday, May 14th, 2010

Caution You Culprits!

Lake Superior, Ontario

The huge black bear that crossed the road in front of our van went slow but cautiously. Four members of our party spotted him while Goura and I proceeded ahead on foot at break time near a place called Marathon, a gold mining town. They were impressed with the massive furry body which was likely a male since they are usually much heavier in size than females.

Bears are out to get food. Within the last month they have been out and about after a likely six month snooze. The are attracted to fish and early sweet tasting plants. After a meal, if they happened to be near a man made trail such as the Trans Canada Highway which this one just crossed, they often leave a stool sample right on the road.

I have seen plenty of this feces business on my walking ventures. It's a sure sign they are around. Spring is a most exciting time for them, a time for adventure and activity, especially food.

Since our trip from Toronto at 5 AM, us passengers have seen dozens and dozens of signs warning us of "Moose on the Loose". The bear is less clumsy about crossing. Moose tend to be dull on the road. In the winter they are drawn to the salt on the road, at dusk and dawn to the relief of the road's breeziness (freedom from mosquitoes) and in the night to an automobile's headlights. Moose cause human death and their own by taking to the road. This is another thing I've seen while trekking along Canadian Highways. Usually the moose gets the worst of it.
This world is a place of trauma for man and beast. "Caution" needs to be always applied. Moose or bear fatality was hardly ever an issue (outside of the bullet or arrow) until the auto industry development. For our convenience we have created major inconveniences for other non human forms of life.

We are culprits once again.

3 KM

Thursday, May 13th, 2010

Veggie Walk

It will be the first vegetarian walk in the city. Scheduled for June 5th, human herbivores of various kinds will be holding a procession on a short section down the world's longest street - Yonge St. (1900 km). ISKCON has been invited to participate. In other words, some of us Krishna monks will be tucked into the group of animal activists and veggie mongers. We are expected to chant and drum during this novel walk. Hmmm! Maybe it will become a yearly program.

Sounds great! I'll be there! I have always loved this type of event where you get to mingle with the radical but satvic folks.

I ventured over to Yonge St., a mere two blocks away from the ashram where I live. It's a usual trekking trail for me, a very straight route with rarely a bend or a twist for miles. I was looking ahead imagining what it will be like on that day of non-violent promotions.

I looked at this street with a different view. It's like a straight-shooting arrow running north/south. For travellers it's a focus line. Without it you would be lost.

Spiritual life is like that. You follow a line, a guru, a disciplic succession. You follow this friendly rigid line and you reach a good destination point, a place where there is no enmity between one living being and another. There is no interest there to kill but to live along side one another in a most harmonious way. In the Vedas we call this perfect other world, Vaikuntha. Christians call it heaven. Other faith groups, some of whom may not necessarily prescribe to the meatless diet do believe in this world of no animosity.

All groups are inclined to accept a path of discipline, a restraint or control of the senses and a path of kindness.

I'm looking forward to the upcoming march or walk, whatever you want to call it. It will stimulate camaraderie. That's worth walking for.

4 KM

Friday, 14 May 2010

Wednesday, May12th, 2010

What can Dualities do?

Toronto, Ontario

On walks I am constantly reminded of life’s dualities. As soon as I step outside I will decide which way to wear my chuddar (shawl). It’s either tossed over the shoulder or wrapped around the torso in cooler weather.

It is a cold May. April was gorgeous. What a reversal of situations.

Here’s another duality. The birds sing incredibly nice at this time of year. What would the world be without those fabulous singers. Yet some of these feathered friends are known to be major carriers of tics who create lime disease. I have a personal friend who spent his time as a monk in our ashram here (before he got married) and who has contracted the disease. He swears it was the little finches that arrived at his backyard that were the carriers. He explained to me that initially he saw them as cute critters but now his view of them has altered somewhat.

After today’s walk and onto some administrative work circumstances put me in a non-hostile disagreement with a colleague. By the time the day was over we were on friendly terms despite an emotional stir. Such is the nature of this world.

On the topic of duality I am always reminded of Chapter 2 of the Gita wherein Krishna states “winter and summer seasons, like happiness and distress , arise from sense perception. From this we learn tolerance.”

6 KM

Tuesday, May 11th, 2010

Another Visit

Toronto, Ontario

A sannyasi monk came to visit our temple today. He was from a mission other than ours while at the same time I’m sure we share similar values. Perhaps in his late 50’s, I spotted him reading the plaques alongside the paintings of Krishna. Minutes later we had the chance to sit and talk.

He told me his name and where he’s from. He explained he’s from Gujarat (the name was inaudible to me). He was pleasant and inquisitive. One curiosity was about our participation on the ethnicity of our community.

“There is a large response from people of Hindu decent,” I explained, “but you’ll find a good number of people from all backgrounds, including local people. The thing about Canada and the U.S. is that they are nations of immigrants who quickly become accepted as citizens.” I referred to the influence and magnetism of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, who came in the sixties, and drew an attraction from people, whether black, white or brown.

The swami nodded his head. “It was the time of the hippies who were looking for spiritual answers. They were on a quest.”

We both were on a consensus. The times were more innocent then, an era also of liberalism and with that comes openness, respect, many good things while simultaneously inviting promiscuity. It is another form of duality. Hence, we are talking about the material world and its very nature of being good, bad and ugly.

The swami struck me as being highly orthodox and well read. After a few minutes he and his two lay member associates decided to part, their curiosity appeared satisfied. Warm protocol followed. As they left the room of our conversation I wished and hoped that I had done at least a fair job at letting them have a good experience.

Anyone who comes to a spiritual center should have a good experience and should desire to make another visit.

4 KM

Tuesday, 11 May 2010

Monday, May 10th, 2010

Outside & Inside

Toronto, Ontario

I was determined to meet the air, wind and sun on this new day. A younger monk, Karuna Sindhu, 28, and I made it a point to do just that. It’s easy to become an indoor addict even with service to God. There’s God within and God without. So out we went at an hour of opportunity. Only it became an extra hour ordeal. It’s just how it happened.

It was Pat, a woman at 50, a neighbour from Rosedale that lengthened our anticipated trekking time. I hadn’t seen her for 14 years. She saw Karuna and I walking through the park as she was walking her two dogs. “Are you the walking monk?” she asked. I didn’t recognize her in the way that she did notice me, at least in the beginning. It’s the robes that always makes it easier for others. She continued, “I met you…”

“Of course, I saw you in Saskatchewan on my first walk (in ’96). You were with your husband who drove a truck,” I recalled.

From there we spoke a bit of necessary trivia. She expressed her love for nature, for travel, for India, and respect for what we do as monks. I wondered what Karuna was thinking about all this light conversation and why it didn’t perhaps reach deeper channels.

Pat like millions of people are willing to have as their friend a monk but not so willing to commit to a particular spiritual practice. But the time may come when she will have her moment of introspection when there will be a need to reach deeper.

I hope that day will come. It’s something we all should do – to reach deeper.

I was pleased to see her and hopefully our paths will cross again. I know her place of residence. “Come on over anytime!” she beckoned.

“I will,” I thought, but only if her hubby is there. I say this because I am a monk.

In the evening Andreas, a student from Equador came to the temple. He asked about seminars in order to learn. (There are millions of people who want to go deeper.) It was so convenient for me to say to him, “Yes, in fact there is a visiting monk from India who is about to start in a few minutes.” I think you can learn something. Andreas entered the main temple room, sat down with a smile and began to listen.

7 KM

Sunday, May 9th, 2010

By the Pond

Moundsville, West Virginia

I had trekked around that peaceful pond at New Vrindavan and came to a patch of grass at the water’s edge. It wasn’t just the soft green that drew me but the sight of the sleeping swan that did. His agile neck was relaxed on his white downed body. He was resting for sure as I was chanting while gently rolling and fingering my japa beads. At one point the handsome guy lifted his head for reasons I’m not sure. Perhaps like one of us on a short nap we make a slight toss or turn. He spotted me but wasn’t phased by my presence. He remained relaxed.

I pondered on all the things I heard our guru (Srila Prabhupada) say about swans - swans versus crows; swans extracting cream out of milk; swans entangling necks in submerged vines. Then Vayu came (the wind). He imposed himself on me, or so I took it. He came forcefully while the swan took no offence to the gutsy gust. That sudden powerful wave of air picked up one small feather off the body of the bird and tossed it in the air. It whirled and whirled like a soul thrown by karma. After a lengthy and lofty journey the feather firstly made the smoothest wet landing on that most placid pond.

There was not even a splash but a mild touch of contact of the feather to the water was my queue to leave that grassy spot next to my snow white friend. It was time for more walking. I did move on to the peacock edge of the pond. Those flaunting boys were fawning their plumage with a pride that I cannot describe.

Many things happened on this special day, Mother’s Day, which began with one of my godsisters, Akuti, leading the morning chant. I had warm exchanges with many brothers and sisters this day. And our dear troupe performed well on the stage with an intense version of ‘Lonely People.’ But the one major warm spot lingered in my mind when I chanted beside my sleeping friend at the pond.

2 KM

Saturday, May 8th, 2010

Moundsville, West Virginia

New Vrindavan is a spiritual oasis in the hills of West Virginia. It becomes a retreat for many pilgrims throughout the year. It also becomes the place for festivities and seminars annually on Mother’s Day Weekend. The program is called FOI standing for Festival of Inspiration.

It is also every year that one particular motivational speaker shares his experience. Some highlights of his talk come right now:

1) Prayers of appreciation are superior to prayers of demand
2) Faith isn’t everything but it rates right up there with oxygen
3) Life is an echo. What you send out comes back.
4) Complacency is the enemy of success.
5) Kindness is one of the highest forms of intelligence
6) Quoting author Jim Collins “The right people don’t think they have jobs. They have responsibilities.”
7) Quoting Ralph W Emerson “The most important gift is to give a portion of yourself”
8) Quoting Rabindranath Tagore “Service is joy”
9) In regards to inconvenience in life, “The brook will lose its’ song when you remove the rocks”

And every year the speaker makes remarks about negative people. This year he pointed out a weakness in pejorative characters by saying, “Many people have a concern about the swine flu but the real issue is the whine flu.”

This latter flu can become epidemical, if not, it already is. We need to raise our consciousness.

5 KM

Friday, May 7th, 2010

A Mother Passes Away

Upstate New York

An extensive car ride restricted my walking. We’re headed for West Virginia. It’s always an issue at customs. North Americans are not accustomed to producing passports at the border line between the U.S. and Canada but recently it has become a reality. Legislation changed that for good. One thing we have learned, perhaps the hard way (from our youthful endeavours) is to always go on the principle of truth. Just tell the truth. “We are going on a spiritual retreat to West Virginia. We will return on Sunday afternoon.” Everything was cool with the customs man asking us questions.

Once we arrived (myself and our little theatre troupe for performing ‘Lonely People’) and settled in we took to rehearsing a skit in one of New Vrindavan’s lodge rooms when a young monk burst into the room. He announced, “One of the cows is leaving her body. Come to the barn!” So we did. There we saw a group of passionate cow lovers chanting by her side. Some of the cow keepers (men) moved her massive body to a dry area with hay laden over the cold floor.

The poor thing had been suffering from some viral problem within the intestines. There she was lying panting away. Emotions prevailed. It did look to me like she had some hours ahead of her. At approximately 11 pm she passed away with loving kindness all around her in the presence of the maha mantra. Her passing was auspicious in all respects. She had given of her service to the world. This once healthy Holstein donated large sums of her good organic milk. Her service will continue into the next life in some form. Her future is likely not to be grim.

The cow, one of the Vedas’ seven mothers moved on.

Thursday, May 6th, 2010

Prisoners Get a Break

Toronto, Ontario

I had a chance to read excerpts from the new book ‘Holy Jail’ by Candramauli Swami. Heading up the prison ministry within ISKCON is a sensitive and compassionate fellow from the U.S. who describes himself as a vanaprastha, meaning one who is grooming himself for the life of a monk. His service is invaluable. For the persons, men and women, who have made a bad decision in life, who acted at one point impulsively and for that found themselves behind bars, they now have a chance to reform amicably. This excellent book includes artwork, poetry, and prose from some of the inmates. It’s impressive how these people who hit some misfortune can express themselves.

One person wrote how we are all in Durgadham, the prison of the material world and how we all are trapped in a cell, this body. Who isn’t a criminal? To a large extent we all are criminals who foul up repeatedly in our surges of lust, anger, and greed.

My adrenalin was rising anticipating tomorrow’s journey to a West Virginian Spiritual Retreat. I tried to offset the resulting alertness by reading ‘Holy Jail’. Instead I was moved to emotion reading about the great work that volunteers do for this prison ministry worldwide. It takes a great amount of patience to deal with prisoners who need extra care. Basically inmates are usually persons who are easily distracted from acts of dharma, duty and obligation. Those who come forward to give guidance and friendship to this oftentimes dismissed sector of society put me to shame.

I have to ask myself, “What am I doing? Whatever it is it’s so trivial compared to the labour of love demonstrated by the prison pastoral workers.

7 KM

Friday, 7 May 2010

Wednesday, May 5th, 2010

What a world!

Toronto, Ontario

Partha and I broke from walking streets to sit by a fountain where we sat to do silent Gayatri Mantras. After those peaceful five minutes, he remarked, “These early morning hours were truly reserved for the spiritualist!” I said I couldn’t agree more. We had strolled the meandering streets of Rosedale at the dawn. It did appear to be “our time.”

As much as we walked through “heaven” I couldn’t help but be taxed by the talks held in the best company of monks in the last few days of the current Kali Yuga overtones. “Kali Yuga” is in reference to the dark days of our present times. I smiled through these talks in my mind.

As a child you didn’t hear of asthma or allergy attacks. You do now. As a child you would never dream of four letter words penetrating mainstream music. As a child growing up in farmland you would never dream of farmers committing suicide in astronomical numbers. You would never think that dogs would replace children and outnumber them visibly on the streets. It would be unthinkable that someone would conceive of the idea that seeds would be modified to not reproduce more. I can go on but I won’t.

Maybe we want to consider “the times they are a changing” but for better or worse is the real question here? Whose time is it really? For the demoniac forces? I should think so. I do wonder about these obvious “wrongs” and feel some level of despair.

What does come to mind is the last verse from the Gita. That gives me some solace.

“Wherever there is Krishna, the master of all mystics, and wherever there is Arjuna, the supreme archer, there will also certainly be opulence, victory, extraordinary power, and morality.”

Tuesday, May 4th, 2010

Your Family Is Now Big

Toronto, Ontario

A monk from South Africa came to visit. He sat us down –2 dozen devout Krishnas and myself. His name is Bhakti Brhat Bhagavat Swami (nicknamed as triple B Swami) and he told of how a monk never leaves home. “He expands the home.”

As he was speaking I recall how I personally felt that way when I became a Sannyasi –a monk. Shortly after the ordainment, people started coming to me for support, strength, advice and blessings. As BBB Swami was saying, “I’m still the same person, only difference is the danda (the holy man’s staff) and the dhoti (lower robe) which is shorter in length than before and is tied differently from that of a monk who may decide on marriage in the future referring to a brahmacari. 3 B Swami recently took the order of Sannyas last December.

In any event the role is that of a fatherly figure. You are a “guru” for the community. The community expects from the Sannyasi some inspiration.

When I started my marathon walking in ’96 some colleagues could not understand my motives. What? Why? How? All kinds of questions came up. What I found interesting was that the public response was often times more accepting of the long walks than what I was receiving from my peers. “Oh yah! A monk walking! Of course! Of course!” was how people thought.
So my point here is that the monk’s clothes are to inspire. More important than clothes is that you are a role model and are to be a guide and a provider of strength of character. You need almost nothing. You live simply and you travel around by the most modest means to send the message that our soul is as important as the body, if not more, so you see the world as your family.

Thursday, 6 May 2010

Monday, May 3rd, 2010

You Stand Out

Toronto, Ontario

Sitting outside at a cafĂ© table the neighbourhood woman spotted us coming on foot, “Is it festival season already?” referring to our summer Festival of Chariots. “That’s in two months from now,” I responded.

“Oh, I just assumed because I saw you in numbers,” she said.

“There’s only three of us here,” I remarked.

“Yeah, but it’s the colour you wear that makes you look like you have numbers.”

I never thought of it in those terms. The saffron can be loud as a colour. It can make you look larger than life. And yet here ego is not the aim. If anything, saffron cloth is meant to exemplify humility, not amplify ‘me’. It stands for and symbolizes simplicity. In fact, for thousands of years wandering mendicants and residential monks have been clad in this passive but lively colour. The cloth does stand out in any landscape.

And for anyone who can admire a sunrise or sunset, you will catch tints in the sky that glow like saffron cloth as if time stared you straight in the face. Frankly, when a monk is in the midst of people, he has a tendency to remind others of the need for change, or improvement, all on the strength of the colour. If ever there was a peaceful colour it would be this peach/rose hue.

As Jaya Keshava, a tall black African, Ramachandra, a family man, though sporting yellow with fine red print, and I took that one hour trek through Rosedale, we certainly did get noticed. The colour did light up passersby like I hadn’t seen in a long time.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, looked absolutely pure in the colour. In some respects he enhanced the beauty of the cloth by dint of his purity.

10 KM

Sunday, May 2nd, 2010

2 Problems with the 24

Toronto, Ontario

I had mixed feelings about the approach to the 24 hour kirtan. In the Tagore Centre where their annual event takes place a fine arrangement is made in the middle of the hall. It’s a four sided altar erected and adorned with deities and fresh flowers. Participants go ‘goom goom’ as they say in India or sounds and round in a clockwise fashion while the chanting is uttered form their lips. It’s an actual walk around the clock. When tired participants sit on the floor and retain the mantra vibration.

In recent years (we are on our 18th annual) a stage gets filled with able musicians. The problem here is two-fold. By having vocals and musicians on stage it becomes an exclusive experience and not inclusive. One group is up (on the stage) separated from the second group, the walkers, or the goom-goomers.

The second problem I perceive with this set up is that the traditional sravanam and kirtanam that is a receive and respond method becomes challenged because of the dispersement of so many microphones. While one person leads the mantra, everyone else should equally respond in volume to the mantra. Currently several voices are amplified by miked persons who respond, hence leaving all others.

I expressed my dismay at this during the vote of thanks and I believe people understood the problem with the current disempowering approach.

“There is merit in tradition” I explained. The method was always sravanam (hearing) and kirtanam (chanting or responding), not sravanam sravanam, hearing and hearing. The mics have become too much, drowning out other peoples’ chances for being involved. Stages and mics need minimal attention.

6 KM

Tuesday, 4 May 2010

UPCOMING EVENT




DRAMATIC PERFORMANCE & DINNER

LONELY PEOPLE - a 'tragic comedy'

directed by HH Bhaktimarga swami

RSVP to Nitai Priya

416-944-9505

Saturday, May 1st, 2010

A Rocking Mantra Saturday

Toronto, Ontario

In different corners of the city, mantras were heard. At the Urban Edge Yoga Centre people signed up for a walk with the Swami (me), so at 10:30 AM I headed a crew of walking enthusiasts through one of the green trails. We began our walk of friendship or bonding with mantras to invoke an auspicious event – to make it a pilgrim’s walk as differentiated from just a happy stroll with nature lovers in Toronto’s central park system.

By that time a 24 hour kirtan, traditionally known as Astha Prahar, was well underway. The biggest pull here comes from the Bengali community. It is the 18th year for this event. It’s the one place in the city where you will be sure to hear women ululating. By the time I reached there in the evening, that high pitched sound permeated the atmosphere along with the beat of the drums and the power of the mantra. That happened in the north-west end of the city.

In the city’s east end, Scarborough, our visiting monk from Germany, Bhakti Vaibhava Swami, who has been around and active in Krishna Consciousness since 1970, facilitated a satsang, devotional gathering. There the main feature was the Maharaja himself, singing up a storm. He’s a gentle soul and despite a serious headache, he managed to charm all in the sound of mantra.

Not a mantra chant but very much related was a seminar conducted by a visiting couple, Partha and Uttama. They were extolling the glories of family values. Their emphasis was on the unique role of grhasta as opposed to grhamedi. Grihasta refers to the life of a Godly-based family person. Grhamedi is defined as a person whose foundation is more ‘me’ centered, a sort of ‘keep up with the Jones’ syndrome. Partha and Uttama delivered the good message of wholesome family life, which in some way is a form of chanting since that is what rich family values are all about. The seminar took place in a humble corner of ISKCON’s basement floor in town.

But perched on top of a glorious hill in posh Forest Hill neighbourhood, 130 early rising Girl Guides ranging anywhere from 6 to their teens, woke up after a day in Canada’s famous castle, Casa Loma, to be entertained by a bhajan group, Gaura Shakti. Those girls, I was informed, took to chanting like ducks in water. “It was so exhilarating,” said a member of the band. Where are you going to see young kids up at 7 AM on Saturday morning in their pajamas dancing in circles and reciting mantras with full enthusiasm?

So it was a Saturday that knew how to rock the mantra.

13 KM

Monday, 3 May 2010

Friday, April 30th, 2010

Hell!

Toronto, Ontario

Today I obliged myself to speaking form the book “Bhagavatham” , in a section of Canto 5 describing the praises of a God manifestation called Ananta. Our morning study group discussed this particular chapter leading up to the subsequent one entitled, “Descriptions of Hell”. That will be interesting.

Dwija Gauranga our local monk drove me to the airport to receive our guests Partha and Uttama who will be conducting a seminar on family life. Dwija joked that we will ask them to give us a class on the subject of Hell. “No correlation intended”, he said.

In the chapter you read about 28 different hellish planets in some detail. There are many renditions or perceptions of what is hell. Common belief has it that it is a place where its hot, an inferno of burning flames. Comic strips have portrayed hell as that hot place with horned creatures sporting tails and carrying tridents and where no pizzas are served or where the coffee is cold. The Bhagavatham presents Hell as being an actual place of torture or punishment and having a geographical cosmic location. To some degree the descriptions are deliberately meant to instill some fear with a view to invoke caution within our behaviours. You might call it a reality check. After all not all acts of love stirs people to the right thing. We take things so much for granted. A dose of, “shock culture” may correct some while not all others.

One way to define hell is a place devoid of loving service to the Divine. Hell could be right where you are.

6 KM

Sunday, 2 May 2010

Thursday, April 29th, 2010

Someday

Toronto, Ontario

I had scheduled 2 pm for a chanting session on the grass at Queen’s Park. The two young monks, the Penn boys, and I conducted an easy going kirtan for those strolling. The trick here is to chant to attract the Supreme Personality, Krishna, and the public simultaneously. Just what mood is to be conveyed? Should it be a presentation of the voice and instruments? Or the heart? Can we accomplish both?

The following poem conveys the mood behind chanting:

Someday

Someday I’ll find You in my heart.
Someday I’ll find You
and come out of the dark.

Someday I’ll find You
as I say Your names.
Someday I’ll find You
and make my claim.

Someday I’ll find You,
and I’ll surrender true.
Someday I’ll find You,
and I’ll know it’s You.

Someday I’ll find You,
and You’ll take me back.
Someday I’ll find You,
surely that’s a fact.

(“Someday” by Satsvarup Dasa Goswami from his book “Soul Eyes”)

7 KM