Wednesday, 30 June 2010

Monday, June 28th, 2010

The Queen Visits

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Our small theatre troupe flew by Westjet Airlines from the Halifax Airport. And on this day as we were leaving this harbour city, Queen Elizabeth II was arriving which was the beginning of a nine day tour through Canada.

Ever since I can remember she has been there. I believe she was coronated around the same time I was born. She’s like a Fidel Castro in that regard, an immortal character. Growing in Canada in the fifties meant that you would see this monarch pictured and framed in a prominent place on the wall somewhere high to invoke a kind of reverence. At school we would sing “God Save the Queen” until the national anthem muscled its way in. “O Canada” became the new song to stand up at. Both songs were uplifting in some way although they didn’t hit the charts for the teenage love-bombing of the time.

The Queen makes her rounds on planet earth more as a figure head than a ruler. The royal crown has been replaced for an outdated hat with gloves to match. But people seem to like her. She’s known to live in big homes.

When I became a monk in ’73, she was the Queen I was most familiar with, until I heard about Queen Kunti, the mother of the virtuous Pandavas and wife to King Pandu. Crammed in our little temple on 187 Gerrard St. in Toronto, our renounced group of young men and women would read the outpourings of devotion that Queen Kunti expressed in the book, Bhagavatam. One monk, Jaya Keshava, showed me his favourite book for reading, “The Teachings of Queen Kunti”.

I agree with him that it’s an ideal book and that she’s an ideal queen.

3 KM

Sunday, June 27th, 2010

Young Men

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

An overnight stay at a doctor’s home landed us in New Glasgow. I had walked the Samson Trail along the river while our traveling party I left sleeping. I didn’t get the name of the river. A Persian cat came to greet me. A dog barked from the distance. A blue jay bird was riled up about something. All seemed natural and almost perfect on this peaceful Sunday morning. Then I met some curious humans when I detoured from the tree lined trail to the small downtown. Three young men pulled over their vehicle.

“Hey, are you a Hare Krishna?”asked the sober driver (the two passengers were juiced).

“Well, as a matter of fact I am.”

“I’ve never seen you in this town before. You should spend some time here and give the Mormons some competition,” he recommended.

“I wouldn’t mind being in your pretty little downtown. You will find some of our monks in Halifax though.”

“Yeah, you guys should do your dancing in these streets here,” he pressed.

The passengers with their bloodshot, hangover eyes were very much taken by the surreal looking person standing outside their vehicle. It could have been a peak moment for them. Anyways, I was happy to have made new friends.

In the late morning a fine young French Canadian Brahmana, Manu, conducted a fire ceremony in his backyard. The first ever Vaishnava initiation took place in Nova Scotia and for a Nova Scotian. Dustin, 23, is a young Nova Scotian who became a monk donning saffron cloth 2 years ago. The colour of his clothes are the colour of the eyes of the chaps I met earlier. Dustin assisted me so much with my personal needs on the February trip to India. He is a fine young man with good character. He received the name Dhruva (pronounced Dhroova).

Dhruva did a super excellent job play acting in our production “Lonely People”. It was the largest gathering at our Halifax centre yet. The feast the local monks cooked up was par excellence, a five star quality.

7 KM

Saturday, June 26th, 2010

To the Quiet Island

Dustin and I set ourselves for an early pace on Highway 102. It’s actually illegal according to the sign board which you see only after trailing it. We decided for an ‘ahead of the game’ approach to our trip as I usually do because I generally get impatient waiting for the rest of my co-travelers. We decided they will come when ready and pick us up.

It was funny. Enroute to the highway on the Joseph Howe Drive, Dustin and I passed by thte Bethany United Church. An outdoor church sign indicated that the Sundays’ sermon topic will be “Shit Happens!” That topic grabbed my attention. What would they be referring to – this material world? I have heard it said by one of my peers that this whole mundane world is one big toilet. It isn’t even debatable.

Speaking of which, today’s destination was Charlottetown. It is one of those places of ‘crap incident’. By that I’m referring to war and struggle of the historical past in the city. It was another one of those French/English collisions of cannon balls flying and shops and buildings being destroyed.

Right next to the historic cannons at the battery in Victoria Park, Nitai Ram, Dustin and I plopped ourselves on the grass for our musical rehearsal in preparation for the evening. We played. And passerby enjoyed.

The performance held in the Benevolent Irish Cultural Centre on North River Road went well. The modest hall reached its full capacity. People were charmed by our chant, our speech and our dramatic performance of ‘Lonely People’. That was our ammunition.

9 KM

Friday, June 25th, 2010

What the Eyes Saw!

Peggy’s Cove, Nova Scotia

They are radiant – the monks of Nova Scotia. Our brahmacharis, namely Nitai Ram, Karuna Sindhu, Jeff, Dustin and Jacob are a real working team. Before they embark on a journey for summer travel (by wheels and not on foot), we took a drive down this popular destination point. There’s one of those old lighthouses, ancient worn rocks and rustic quaint homes of fishermen. As we parked we took in the great ocean air and then went wild to choose which massive boulder to conquer. We settled on one spot for a chanting session location.

Our guys glowed in their saffron attire set against the blue sky. At a rock next to us sat a group of female graduates all in black gowns. This made for an interesting juxtaposition.

One of the boys tapped on the mrdunga drum. Another figured his way along the harmonium keyboard and the rest of us, admirers of Krishna, began to sing.

A tourist asked if the song was a memorial service to the Swissair disaster of several years back when tragically a plane crashed at this cove. The answer could easily be answered: “Every time we chant it is a service whether for something specific or not. Chanting is an offering to the Supreme, the creation and all that’s within. It is always a dedication.”
More tourists were curious. They saw this all as an added feature. People came to see the village with its boats docked, lobster traps stacked on small piers, the lighthouse, the mysterious ocean and now they saw a group of bald monks singing their hearts out.

And we, the monks, were happy to see them.

4 KM

Thursday, June 24th, 2010

Liking Your Shoes

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Our small cast of three for drama presentations this weekend made its way by flight to Halifax. People generally ask after you reach the airport, “How was the flight?”

That’s a hard one to respond to because flying is not so exciting. If someone asks, “How was your walk?” then you have something to report. Since walking was at a minimum there is little to say. My eyes did travel through pages of “What Is the Difficulty?” a book by author Sruti Kirti, assistant to our guru, Srila Prabhupada. I came upon one passage to do with shoes.

Sruta Kriti writes about Prabhupada, “While I was gently rubbing his body he said ‘One of my favourite things when I was young was my shoes. Once, my father bought me a pair of shoes. They were imported from England. They had soft leather uppers and hard leather souls. That was a fortune… I like my shoes very much. I remember wearing them to school.’

“At that point he stopped speaking for a few minutes. I was caught up in Srila Prabhupada’s mood. I tried to imagine him walking around in his shoes. Still massaging his beautiful form I smiled and said, ‘Prabhupada, when you walked to school, did you look at your shoes as you were walking?’

‘Yes, he said laughing. “I would look down at my shoes. I liked them so much, these shoes.’ “

3 KM

Wednesday, June 23rd, 2010

Back for a Day, Preparing

Toronto, Ontario

With two days past the summer solstice the heat can be felt.

I had been walking from Ossington/Dovercourt area back to the ashram and through what’s known as Little Italy. Hey, it seems as I had never left Italy. People are enjoying the out-of-doors. It’s hot and humid.

I caught one person speaking to another about the tremour felt earlier in the afternoon. On the Richter scale it measured at 5.5. From six hundred kilometers to the east of us, Montreal residents felt it as well.

Police are all around in preparation for any protesting potentials. This weekend will be a G20 summit in Toronto. Delegates are arriving from around the world to discuss financial woes. It’s beginning to feel like a setting up for people clashing. Some streets are blocked and police are on guard everywhere while maintaining a friendly demeanour.

It’s interesting. I was walking from a martial arts class. I decided to invest our little drama troupe in taking some Indian Martial Arts called Kala Rupina, a skill rooted from South India. The devotee actors enjoyed the workout which was taken more as a style of dance. I watched.

I guess we all need to prepare for a coming or rather on-going battle with the six senses including the mind.

9 KM

Tuesday, June 22nd, 2010

Going Back

Over Europe & the Atlantic

It was the first day of serious sun for some time. This is unusual for Italy. Smog hit the Milano skyline on our way to the airport. It cleared from sight as we turned north towards the mountains. What a world we live in, isn’t it? Oil spills, smogs and billboards advertising people with clothes almost on…It’s not the clothes they’re selling but the flesh or the sex in your face. It’s appalling!

I know I may sound like an old fuddy duddy but I see this last image I describe as an exploitation of the public. For sure people are not being guided on the spiritual path. On the contrary.

At the Helsinki airport a Chinese man from Canada came up and asked if I was following Tibetan Buddhism.

“No,” I said. “I’m with the Hare Krishna.”
“Oh yes,” he remarked, “Buddhism came from your Hindu tradition.”

He continued, “I remember you folks so active on the streets in the seventies – the hippie days. It was so idealistic then. There was so much anti-materialism.”

I did agree with the man but I couldn’t refrain from thinking that the world has surely stepped up on self-aggrandizement. Having just spent the last twelve days in Italy I dwelt on a sure sign of what I consider a moral decay. Sexual promiscuity is rampant in our modern world – active sex but no kids. And Italy being rated as the highest of the European nations in the category of low procreation indicates that this nation isn’t exempt from moral misbehaviour.

Please don’t get me wrong. I really liked Italy and will hold fond memories in my heart. I’m just witnessing some unwholesome signs. I know I sound a bit like my Dad did when talking to his teenage son, me. He sounded like a fuddy duddy. Here I am making judgment but based on having my eyes open.

On the plane ride back I saw people all around. At least beside me in front and behind I was witnessing the craze for filling out crossword puzzles. I’m not judging that. It can be a wit-tester solving out those games. They are passing their time. I’m chanting on my meditative beads.

5,000 KM

Saturday, 26 June 2010

Monday, June 21st, 2010

It Takes Time to Grow a Tree

Vicenza, Italy

I strolled through the orchard at this ten hectare piece of land called Prabhupada desh. What was a Benedictine monastery is now a Hare Krishna ashram. It's a stately building three centuries old. I was invited to spend a day here in another part of rural Italy before wrapping up my visit to the countriy of olives.

The orchard has a surprising seven neem trees on it. Figs grow here as well as almonds, apricots, apples, plums, cherries, grapes and other delicious fruit. This certainly brings me back to teenage flash-back. Every summer for eight hours each day I worked the orchard in Canada, taking in the good air, having some great exercise, making a little money and getting responsible. Mind you, some of us had serious cherry fights while our transistor radio blared out the latest musical hits of the time. Trust me, we didn't listen to bubble-gum music.

Those were days!

A local resident devotee, Mangalananda, showed me around the orchard. We took samples of the yummy fruit. Then he told me of a sidewalk built in order that "people from the cathedral up the hill could visit our ashram and our people could go to their cathedral with ease". So I ventured there and tried out the new sidewalk. I was pleasantly surprised with the liberal attitude of the community.
One visitor to the community here told me her son was interested in gaining powers such as being able to read other people's minds. Being a yoga teacher she knew well how to answer her son. "It takes lots of work and self-discipline to achieve that", she told him. He was looking for something instant. "I was thinking it's like the neem trees". The seeds came from India. They were planted a mere four years ago. With time with sun, with rain and wind they were allowed to grow and be strong. So if you want to bear fruit or have a good harvest then time and conditions must be right.

8 KM

Sunday, June 20th, 2010

The Wet of the Sweat

Villaggio Hare Krishna, Italy

I am very impressed with the level of sincerity shown by the monks (brahmacaris) in Italy as they converged at this time and place for a festival. One person by the name of Bhakti Shakti, who is not a monk (the give away is his white cloth as opposed to the saffron colour) is a very resourceful and skillful person. I really didn't get a chance to speak with him as he was joyfully busy. Bhakti Shakti heads up this fabulous program where he and ten brahmacaris travel throughout Italy and set up at designated locations in towns a caravan or village marketed as Festival of India.

The recent purchase of a customized stage that folds out of a truck is a new addition to the caravan. A first truck carries a self-contained temple. Other trailers are a set of washrooms with showers, a kitchen, an office and a container to mobilize a beautiful young cow, an Italian breed, her name is Surabhi. Another vehicle carries two large air-blown tents which look very smart. One of them houses a boutique for selling devotional items such as incense, devotional clothes, japa beads, pictures, books etc.

What was most unfortunate about the entire set up for this weekend’s international sankirtan festival was that the daily drenching rain restricted its use.

The entire country is experiencing a reversal of weather conditions. What should be hot sunny weather is actually cool and wet this June. Due to other events occurring such as the London Festival of Chariots and a brahmacari festival held simultaneously, plus moist weather conditions, contributed to the less than anticipated turn out. Still hundreds of people came for indoor fun. A fire yajna (ritual) was held to appeal for a good year to come for the dissemination of Krishna Consciousness. Also an entertaining evening carried on where a Dutch actor, Pari Vidha, rendered songs from musicals and converted them into bhakti-charged tunes such as instead of "Come to the Cabaret" we have "Let's go on Hari Nam".

I believe the greatest moment for many people occurred during the Hari Nam, the chanting and dancing portion of the program. Happy faces and bodies springing in the air was symptomatic of a feeling that people aspire towards. All people there avoided the wet of the rain but experienced the wet of the sweat. The bulk of the surcharged group of chanters were the boys from the travelling caravan. Again, how sincere they are enjoying the good simple life.

3 KM

Thursday, 24 June 2010

Thursday. June 17th, 2010

Numbers Count

Villagio hare Krsna, Italy

Spontaneity is often times the way to go. I sometimes convince myself of this.

One of the local devotees with administrative clout saw me as I walked into the temple room, ran over to me and said, “ You can give the class?” “Now? Today? But I’m not prepared!” “Please”, he pleaded.” “The person assigned can’t do it.” “Alright, “ I surrendered. “Give a little advanced notice the next time,” I said with a smile. There I went rushing into the fastest prayer of all times before sitting on the vyasasan (the speaker’s chair) and viewing a mixed peer and junior-to-me audience. The verse from Canto 3 of the book Bhagavatam was Vedically technical addressing the pradhana, the element of the universe. It’s called sankhya philosophy when the cosmic make-up is analyzed. I ended up speaking mostly about the relevance of itemizing the things we work with, the need to be orderly, to be result-oriented. Numbers matter. To make things interactive I asked the listeners to vocalize the golden sacred numbers given to us by our guru, Srila Prabhupada. here were some of them with corresponding items.

108- beads on a japa meditation items
16 - rounds to chant daily on beads
4 -regulated principals
50 - the age recommended to renounce
7 - purposes of ISKCON
2 - double the distribution of BBT books
8 - 4 varnas and 4 ashramas (social+spiritual divisions)
1 - one mantra, one scripture, one god
10 - avatars
12 - Cantos (parts) of the book Bhagavatam
24 - elements

this is a partial list but these are the numbers that came up first. Numbers are important. In any event the spontaneity went alright. You have to be ready for any service if it calls for it.

5 KM

Wednesday, June 16th, 2010

Speed and Space

Rome/ Milano/ Italy

Perhaps its a European trait-about the road I’m referring to. Aside from the wide and straight autostrade where traffic flies by at an easy 120-130 km per hour the country roads are windy and narrow. Due to heavy rain I was somewhat obstructed from doing much serious walking, but the little that I could do allowed me to appreciate the curves of the country road. You wonder what’s around the corner. The scenery is a spectacular view for the eyes. Numerous hills, part green and part cultivated, gently roll.
The downside to the roadways in Italy is the lack of room for a pedestrian.

It appears the roads are for the machines and not for people. Its a dual deal, pleasant and not.

From the time that I landed here in Italy,I experienced a loving kind of people. There’s an utter softness. Affection smiles at you in the matter of people dealings. But may I be so bold as to say something about the flip side to all the emotion. Hospitality can be sweet, but the other component, a malice, an unwillingness to get along tends to be an undercurrent. Its not exclusive to Italy. It’s a worldwide phenomena. It’s as simple as saying where there is love there is hate, and where there is hate there is love. Of course, this is the mundane world we are talking about. In it human nature prevails. It becomes painful to observe a lack of harmony due to upheld grudges. I understand that there is constant upheaval in the government here. It is so hard to find harmony and unity even though from one point of view everything looks alright. We humans are great at putting up good facades. Nevertheless we must carry on and let bitter and sweet co-exist. Let there be space for both of them. We have no choice in that matter. We can just try to co-operate.

From Rome I took one of those speed trains to Milano. My carrozza (wagon) was virtually empty. I imagine in the weekend it fills up. I spoke to the ticket collector who told me we were going 250km per hr. The train has the capacity to go faster. I guess spiritual life is like that too. We all have the capacity to go at greater speed with our commitment and our surrender, but do we?

3 KM

Monday, 21 June 2010

Pictures from Italy

Tuesday, June 15/th, 2010

Roaming in Rome

Rome, Italy

My friend Madhu Sevita, is not a clairvoyant. Light-heartedly he claimed ‘I was an Italian in my past life.’ He thought
I would fit in with his countrymen.

So here I am in the heart of the Roman Empire feeling somewhat like I belong. Was I a gladiator?

Mukunda and I started out early reaching the Colosseum by 6am before the tourists crowds set in. Hmmmm. It’s impressive, a piece of the past.

Two thousand years ago it was a stadium which held 50.000 spectators. Unfortunately, it was a genuine place of death featuring horror entertainments.

Our next stop was St. Peters Basilica but while taking to walking there you see more grandeur of the past such as god ruins and great architecture preserved. A stop over at the Pantheon where all the gods were once worshiped allowed us the chance to check out the acoustic in this huge dome shaped structure. The sound of the maha-mantra set well in that space.

St. Peter’s was stunning. You won’t help your head from turning every which way.

Every direction displayed art. Personally I enjoyed a modern piece of Francesco of Assisi outside the Basilica near the war memorial.

Mukunda insisted I see at least one more spot, the Crypt of the Capuchins. There stacked together artistically arranged are the skulls and bones of hundreds of monks from the Capuchin mission. Its message is clear though: death closes the gates of time, and opens those of eternity.

Mukunda and I roamed the city, and then returned to his home to a gathering of eager devotees to hear something I might be able to inspire them with. Of course I can’t take any credit for words that enthuse. It’s all the mercy of guru.

10 KM

Monday, June 14th, 2010

Corrections, Ruins and Pasta

Calcata, Italy

At Villa Vrindavana I was asked to speak again this morning from the book Bhagavatam, Canto 4.

The theme of the day was “punishment” and it's place in our world. Its a touchy topic in some way.

Some people have naturally been at the recipients’ end and did not feel that it helped matters. Some people will tell you that discipline is highly necessary in order for there to be correction. We also talked about punishments of the past that have been clearly causes of abuse. Surly the role of Guru is to give direction and correction when needed and physical punishment is never even a consideration. One of the key points addressed in the purport explanation by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, is that all things be done with sensitivity and compassion and as he puts it “without vengeance and with love”

We spoke about the mood of “sentimentality” and how the world with its combination “senses and mind” can get you into trouble. We could try to steer away from self-pity scenarios, be less of a victim and more of a victor kind of person.

As far as how I’m being treated goes, all I can say is that everyone in Italy is very loving. I was taken to a new destination, the home of Mukunda, a 34 year devotee just outside of Rome. He drove me to a conservation area along the Treja River. As we walked the trail he pointed out to me a wild boar with her piglets. Then he pointed up to an ancient town, Calcata (sounding like the city in India). These beyond the thick vegetation on the top of volcanic cliffs is a city occupied by hippies and artists-

A city sat there since 700 A.D

We decided after the trek to drive up to what could have been ruins if it had not been for the rescue of the free spirit people. A patron saint of the town, Antonio, is remembered with a memorial image at the entrance of the tight and narrow nooks and lane ways.

What a charmer of a place this is.

Mukunda also took me to a cave at the edge of a cliff, a place he’s thinking of purchasing.

“It could be ideal as a retreat place” he said.

“Imagine the chanting and the music you could have here”?

I could see his point

Our day ended with some pasta in our bellies, compliments of Mukundas wife, Anubhava.

9 KM

Friday, 18 June 2010

Sunday, June 13th, 2010

At The Villa

Florence, Italy

Out of their kindness, hosts at Villa Vrindavan put me in their finest room out of all the 120 rooms of the building. It’s the former summer home of Macchiavelli, guru for diplomacy who promoted the philosophy “the end justifies the means.” The bulding dates back to five hundred years ago. My room is furnished with Louis XVI style chairs but most important is the Krishnaized state of the room. A murti (statue) of our guru ‘Prabhupada’ adorns the room along with a complete library of his books. The high ceiling is a break from the more clastrophobic planes and buses I’ve recently bean caged in.

Just outside, the room opens up to a lager cavernous room featuring original Iskcon art with one of my favourites, a huge oil painting by artist Jnanajana where Ram annihilates the ogre ‘Ravana’.

President of Villa Vrindavan, a gentle soul, by the name Parabhakti asked if I would speak for the morning Bhagavatam verse. This I considered a pleasure to do after a trek down the forested road in this rural property. I spoke on significant words and phrases that I plucked out of the verse and purport. I asked the crowd “ What it actualy meant by the term ‘touching the lotus feet of the guru’?” It is more than the physical gesture of putting hands to the humble part of the master’s body. The purport explains that it is a checking of false prestige and false ego.

Other words that were higlighted in the talk were “ flattery” and “ regretting one’s wrong actions.”
After the talk there was one thing I did not regret and that was eating a delectable pizza at mealtime. They are thin crusted masterpieces of goodness. As Madhu Sevita would say “ They are glorified chappatis.”

I couldn’t agree more.

3 KM

Saturday, June 12th, 2010


Villaggio Hare Krishna, Italy

The jasmine fragrance always manages to pierce through darkness.

At 3 AM I began walking a two square block of horses and each time I hit a corner near the home of friend, Madhu Sevita, the power of the flower struck me. Here in Europe I find no skunks to contend with, or poison ivy. But what will confront me? This village, Villaggio Hare Krishna, a mere hour drive from the heart of Milano, must qualify itself for being part of the material world. Some duality must exist here. So far it is too much like heaven.

Ah yes! There it is! Humidity! I know there had to be something that was pesky. Well I found it. Rather it found me.

Anyways this early trek plus a second trek encomposing a wider range of homes in the village gave me a tally of 11 km. Three other monks, Swami Gopal Krishna, Janardan and Rudradev were walking friends for part two.

While I’m in Italy I take Madhu Sevita as my boss.

As my sponsor he dictates my moves. We did sit down together and worked out my schedale two days in the Florence area, two in Rome and the balance would be in the Milano area. I happily consented to the four hour bus ride to Florence for their annual Ratha Yatra. The drive went well until two of the passengers were discovered missing. The bus driver pulled over on the auto strada and waited for those two to catch up. They had to walk the distance. The only alternative was for us to go a forty KM stretch ahead at the first possibile exit and go back and fetch them at the rest stop. That, the driver wasn’t prepared to do. So walking was compulsory for them as was our waiting. Deep inside I was happy for them. Walking is superior to waiting.

The procession of Ratha Yatra happened along the Arno River in a park near Florence’s centre. For me it was a great introduction of bhakti (devotion) in the land of Italy.

11 KM

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Friday, June 11th, 2010

Hello Italy!

Helsinki, Finland

Brian and Leana were cool companions to have as passengers. Leane considers herself on eclectic person while Brian is an avowed Buddhist. His llama has him chanting on beads which he was doing while I did the same with my 108 beaded mala. I realised there was going to be little or no time to walk except for airport corridors, which I won’t include in my tallying process.

For fun the couple was carrying with them a figurine in the form of a plastic hollow Iron Man. Brian snapped his camera to photograph Iron Man in his seat-belt strapped down in between Leana and myself on the seat. He has been travelling with the couple for sometime. The photos are forwarded to friends for a laugh.
“Do you feed him as well?” (Laughter)

I then ventured to talking about shilas (ancient worshipable stones representing Vishnu) and how travelling monks carry one or two with them wherever they go. They are treated as if God, they provide companionship and are a way to remember the Divine. I also explained about the three large images of Jagannath, Baladev and Subhadra, wooden icons, carried by chariots resembling temples and how they are pulled manually through the love of their devotees.

Brian and Leana were fascinated. I invited them to the annual Festival of Chariots which is upcoming in July. (July 17th).

Throughout the flight when we were not dosing we compared notes over the different forms of spiritual expressions we were exposed to such as Brian’s Dutch Reform background, Leana’s Viking roots, my Dutch Roman Catholicism and where we are now. This sharing was absolutely fascinating.

We parted at Helsinki. I flew on to Milano. I noticed northern Europeans to be quiet in Helsinki and the more I was moving toward Italy the more outgoing people become.

Hello, Italy, I’m here for a while!

0 KM

Thursday, June 10th, 2010

Moving Toward the Air Again

Toronto, Ontario

The oil leak in the Gulf of Mexico continues to wreak havoc with ocean water and ocean residents. The spill has been haunting us all for one month now.

What a monster we have created! What an oversight on the part of man's passion to extract extreme energy sources? Had anyone thought that crude oil should perhaps remain in the depths below us? What will be the consequences for tampering with Mother Nature this time around?

As I was contemplating this morose subject while sitting in the office at the ashram a man appeared at the door. He was most jovial and expected me to remember him.
“I’m still around”, he said and then it dawned on me that this face was familiar – a face revisited from the mid-seventies. I suddenly recalled.

“How’s it going?” I asked him excitedly.

“Well it’s almost all gone”, referring to his youth. With that remark he lightened
the atmosphere and my grimness was put on the back burner. The visitor announced his name leading on to a friendship rekindled.

The day was tight with preparations underway for my next trip which was tonight headed for Milano. I patiently waited at the airport with an embarrassing mire four kilometres under my heels for the day when I met Brian and Leana, teachers of an alternative secondary school. They had met me at the temple some years ago on a field trip with their students. By divine arrangement they took the same flght as I was on, with Finnair. More interesting was that their seat numbers were 28 E and F. I had 28 D on my ticket stub.

We chatted about the oil tragedy and other topics until the new day began, skipping over a seven hour time zone change. “This is quite usual for me, this travelling about”, I explained to them “you are just getting the taste of swami life, always on the go”.

4 KM

Saturday, 12 June 2010

Wednesday, June 9th, 2010

Two Guys and Spencer

Toronto, Ontario

It was another one of those insomniac attacks. I had no alternative but to get out of bed at this moment of frustration and attempt to walk off the sleeplessness. The clock struck 12 midnight and so I decided to make Yonge st. south my destinational trail. It’s interesting what happened.

I walked past a strip joint. Out came a husky-built middle-eastern-type man who said, “Hey, what’s with the robes?”

So I told him I am a monk.

“What do monks do?”, he asked. While thinking about it I mentioned first what we don’t do such as disrobe ourselves in public. (He laughs). “We also don’t eat meat. In our order, we don’t eat meat. We eat real healthy good-tasting food.”

Just then another fellow walked out of the joint. This guy was much slimmer. He saw my robes and burst out not knowing at all of our conversation and said, “You guys got the best food in the world. I ate at your Govinda’s in Prague.” That was a positive insertion point. I left the two men who were quite satisfied with the encounter.

A few blocks later on my return swing back to the ashram a young man, Spencer, started talking. He lives rather close to our ashram. He describes himself as an artist and plays some guitar. “Oh, free spirit!” I thought.

I started talking about the crazy city life. “Look at all of this mad construction. Will this city ever get finished?”

“Ya know, Krishna left the country side to go to the city when he was young. You’ve heard of Krishna, right?”

“Yes, I have. Why did he leave for the city” asked Spencer.

“To take care of political scandal”, I replied.

Spencer wanted to know more so I explained one of His greatest contributions was to speak the Bhagavad-Gita, a conversation about improving the quality of life. From there Spencer and I got deeper into the dialogue which is consistent with Krishna’s own way with talking to Arjuna.

It was now almost 2am when I finished with Spencer. I went to sleep shortly after bidding him good-bye.

I did wake up for the morning spiritual exercise at 4am. Miraculously there was no problem there and caught up with a lengthy nap later.

I was really happy to have met those three guys at such an ungodly hour. It turned rather Godly.

7 KM

Tuesday, June 8th, 2010

The Dandy Dhoti

Toronto, Ontario

Weather couldn’t be better. It’s sunny with a fresh feel in the air. The Penn boys, Praveen and I trekked our usual streets. I got on Nitai’s case.

“Hey, where’s the dhoti?” (a male’s lower garment).

“It needs washing”, he said.

“Yeah! So! I implied that everyone does laundry. You do it in time. Nitai took it well.

I always encourage the devotional attire. It stands out. People seem to like it. I’ll give Nitai another try. After all he’s a good man.

Laghu Hari, a monk from South Africa, just arrived to add to our transcendental drama team. He’s a great actor and a master puppet maker. As a welcome treat I took him to a fiddle head feast. I make it an annual trip to Oakville where a lovely couple prepare a feast with that main item on the menu. It’s Laghu’s first try at first chute of this fern plant.

Laghu did come off the plane the previous day in his devotional duds. He likes his prasadam food and he likes his clothes (for what they represent).

It was a pleasant surprise to see the most recent copy of “Back to Godhead” magazine, the bi-monthly publication which focuses on Krishna devotionalism. In the June issue an article which I wrote about last summer’s trek through Fiji is featured. I showed this article to Bharat, a young mechanical engineer, who came to visit our ashram for three days. After looking at the photos of the article, showing men in kurta and dhoti, he asked me, “ Can I purchase a dhoti?”

You sure can. I’ll arrange it for you tomorrow.

7 KM

Monday, June 7th, 2010

Monday Usual

Toronto, Ontario

My routine often is to walk a ravine or residential streets from 5:15-7:00 am when I’m in Toronto. At 7am the gates and curtains of the most sacred images of Krishna are revealed. It then is kirtan (chanting) time with mrdunga drums and maybe one pair of Kartals (hand cymbals). Yes one pair is enough, Thank-you! Ear drums don’t require more. It retains a sweetness at this hour of a mere dozen attendees.

This time frame also includes a guru-puja (honouring the guru). Then, as we have held custom here for years, our temple residents sit and listen to a CD recording of our guru, Srila Prabhupada. Hearing this sound challenges the Monday Blues. Remember the gloomy vibes of the mama’s and the papa’s, “Monday Monday”.

Today we listened to a recorded talk based on the Gita’s verse 4.13 spoken on April 2/74 in Bombay. We take notes for 10-15 minutes, put the recording on pause and go around the room asking the listeners to individually say something they recall was said. This part is as exciting as the talk itself.

Some of the points covered were:
1. Krishna created the 4 social and 4 spiritual systems- a structure to benefit human kind.
2. The word “Hindu” is a misnomer created by the muslims. “Hindu” is a word which doesn’t appear in the scriptures of India.
3. The qualities of a Brahmin are peacefulness, self-controlled, austere, clean and honest.
4. That place where there is little sunshine is condemned.
5. India has lost much of it’s brahminical culture.
6. One who eats meat is not very evolved in spiritual realization.
7. However one who does indulge in meat consumption, even if it be dog flesh, can take the opportunity to change.

There were more samples of what was said. It was food for thought.
I do recall Mama Cass Elliot who had a great voice with a great sense of rhythm. It was unfortunately a ham sandwich that took her life.

5 KM

Sunday, June 6th, 2010

At the End of the Trail

Crawford Lake, Ontario

Liberian born, Jaya Keshava, the two Penn State boys, Goura and Nitai, and I sat in the middle of an Iroquois longhouse. It was a reconstructed model of one that stood on that very spot six hundred years ago. Three families used to live here in a domicile made primarily of cedar wood and bark.

Longhouses were smartly built by the indigenous people with a high ceiling for so many good reasons such as seeing that smoke from fire that would rise to cure food stocks and keep bugs away. Longhouses were roomy, cool in summer and warm in winter. Furs were sprawled out on the benches where members slept. For music, drums, and pipes were used. Corn was the staple diet. Men spent more time outside to hunt. These people were named “Huron” by the French, a somewhat derogatory term meaning “peasant”.

Our interpreter told us what she could. She made the point how the garlic-mustard plant is a hazard and currently invaded the forest around. Jaya Keshava, who considers himself a life long brahmachari, looked at me after I suggested that it might be nice to go back to a life like this when things were ultra simple. “How about a place like this for a monastery?” He smiled.

All four of us were indeed transported back to hundreds of years ago as we were taken by the rustic charm of the place. All sounded good except the meat part.

We were shown how to start a fire by striking flint and letting the spark light the fluff of a milk weed pod.

We dreamed on and then exited the longhouse only to enter into a lush green forest of the Niagara escarpment. I told the boys that I need to walk a trail each day otherwise I can’t sleep at night. We thrust forward taking in the smells, colours and textures that are so much meant for the human experience.

I spoke to a group in Brampton about service in love as opposed to service in duty prior to coming to this piece of heaven. Our day was near perfect. As we came to the end of the trail, a sizeable turtle slothfully moved under water just near us at the shore of Crawford Lake. He was reminding us of the gracefulness that once was. His ancient limbs told all about how we should stride in life - slowly but surely. He was like a guru teaching us something that practically goes against the grain of this Kali Yuga, the age of darkness.

11 KM

Monday, 7 June 2010

Saturday, June 5th, 2010

The Attention Marriage Brings

Toronto, Ontario

Radha Krishna and Rashi are two young women from Montreal and Toronto respectively who accompanied the two Penn boys and myself through quiet Rosedale streets during our japa meditation session. We walked and fingered our beads while chanting. Radha came to Toronto for her sister’s wedding. I assume she’s very happy about that. Next Year it will be her turn as the plans are in the making.

Devamrita Swami, my monk friend from New York, chose the theme of relationships to speak on for our Bhagavatham class. He touched on the topic of marriage since it was on everyone’s mind. Guests had come from Ottawa and Montreal.

He brought up an incident about a young fellow newly married in New Zealand aspiring for three children and hoping he would receive the attention he deserved as the principle person in the house. He boasted this is the way it should be. A friend took him to the side and said, “That’s not the way it works. After the first child is born 33% attention you will have lost. After the second it’s 66% attention is gone. By the third child it becomes a whopping 99%.”

Yes, entering into a relationship through marriage it can become the most humbling experience. It’s a lot of sacrifice.

Because of the gorgeous marriage between Casper and Radha’s sister, Vraja, it was a day of shine.

All that glitters though is not gold, and with some pre-marital counseling this has prepared the couple well.

I managed to eat my rations of wedding feast before slipping away to a house program on the east end to read and discuss the marriage of Krishna and Rukmini. The packed room of people illustrated that everyone loves a love story.

7 KM

Friday, June 4th, 2010

Funds Good/ Walking Poor

Toronto, Ontario

There is sometimes a misunderstanding that monks have little or nothing to do with money. This is a myth of course. Monks have dealt with funds and donations of all kinds to erect churches, temples, and to excavate holy places as long as the renounced order has been around.

Today I volunteered to raise funds for this year’s Ratha Yatra, an ancient festival with roots from Orissa, India. Appointments were set up for some of our laity and I to meet business people and medical professionals. This non-toxic, dance-and-chant friendly event which centers around Jaganath, Krishna’s wooden image, is a big attraction. People are willing to give for this magnanimous family festival.

The day was long especially since I was on flight overnight from Vancouver. The fund-raising started at 9:30 am and we didn’t finish until 11pm. Gifts of books and pictures of spiritual vedic themes were given as tokens of thanks for the collection total of $15,000. Not bad! Krishna’s mercy!

All was good. The only embarrassing thing is that I found little time to walk. I managed to squeeze in 3 Km for the entire day car-bound that I was.

3 KM

Thursday, June 3rd, 2010

Rock Repair

Highway #1, British Columbia

As on the way to Saranagati our departure back to Burnaby was hampered by delays on the Trans Canada highway. Rock wall reinforcement by a major contracting company was in full force at locations along this road which I have become all too familiar with. Yes, I have by the grace of God been able to tread this path twice before. The Thompson river with it’s high speed runs tightly along side the highway while on the other side you have this steep cliff with falling rock, which is the reason for this reinforcement.

To execute this feat towards safety the workers suspend themselves like rock climbers and throw huge nets against the side of the wall. Our mode of transport was automobile, but because of the delays Rob, my driver, Nirguna, the passenger, and I could grasp a good look at the work being done.

In order to keep maintenance up, the rock was is in constant need of inspection every season. When it looks insecure the workers are called in to reinforce. It seems they always need to be, “On top of the situation”.

Our own devotion requires a regular review otherwise we may experience a crumbling and a break up of something that was once very solid. That’s why people on the spiritual path accept a guru-someone who is assessing our pacing and walking on the delicate journey of life.

2 KM

Sunday, 6 June 2010

Wednesday, June 2nd, 2010

A Unique Village

Venables Valley, British Columbia

Sridhama is a 13 year old, Canadian boy who just happens to be the only male student in his school at Saranagati. It's a small school. The kids are bright, all of them, the girls and the one boy. I asked him what he thought about being the only guy. He seemed to be okay with it. Now that it's summer there will be more garcons coming to the valley. And after all, the principal is male, a sensitive, well mannered bloke by the name of Kartamasha.

Sridhama told me that he has been running long distance in the valley for two hours each day. That's determination!

I was also impressed with the mobilization of Vishakha, a godsister. She gets around in this rather lengthy valley, either on foot or bike.

The village of Saranagati, population just under 100, is a back-to-basics type of place. Many of the homes lack electricity. For some residents, water is hauled to the homes. Yet everyone seems comfortable. "Simple living and high thinking" was the motto used by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, to describe the way rural life should be. Life can be challenging though.

Yamuna and Dina were telling us that 130 pine trees on one side of their straw bail home were cut down after the pine beetle killed them and another 150 had to go on the other side. The fir trees are also endangered.

As for growing veggies and fruits, almost everyone has some kind of garden. The real big harvest of pride though are the kids in the valley. They are gems and a big reason for Saranagati being here in the first place. It's a great environment for them.

10 KM

Tuesday, June 1st, 2010

In Honour of People and Supersoul

Venables Valley, British Columbia

Last evening, before rest, I took an extra half a kilometer stroll to burn off the birthday cake in my belly. The only thing is one kilometer doesn't always do the trick. Food forces me to walk for digestive purposes. Let me also clarify that it was not my birthday, but the birthday of young Gauri, who turned six. For what it is worth, these short stints become dedications to my stomach and this particular trek, to the birthday person I'm honouring.

The early trek under the skytrain trail this morning, became a dedication to Saraswati, a senior person in the Vancouver community whose health is deteriorating very quickly. She asked that I come to see her in the hospital, so time will be set aside for just that.

My final footing for the day took place in Venables Valley, at the village of Saranagati, where another dedication went to Sita, a young girl born here. She lost her mom last February, due to heart failure. She was not aware that some distance on foot was being executed on her behalf. I don't always reveal to the person I am behind, but my wish is that the effort will bear some fruit and that my dedicatee will grow inwardly.

And as far as dedications are concerned, some of my peers gathered at the house of Kulashekar, who uses his facility as a temple for the community. We wrapped ourselves into chapter thirteen of the Bhagavad-Gita entitled "Nature, the Enjoyer and Consciousness" which highlight the qualities of the Supersoul. In our exploration of the chapter, we unearthed over 50 qualities from throughout the Gita, attributed to this feature of the Absolute, this prominent Soul.

The interactive research oriented exercise was a good combing of the book and we were pleasantly surprised to find out the outstanding qualities of this feature of the Absolute. We all left the building much more aware and hence the dedication is directed to Paramatma, the Supersoul.

Friday, 4 June 2010

Monday, May 31st, 2010

The Goose Without the Foot.

Burnaby, British Columbia

I had heard about the salmon berry. They are tasty raspberry like edibles growing in parts of British Columbia's naturalness. I never tried them before until now. No one can say the monk is in maya (illusion) for munching on them along the trail. Hey, you have to look after yourself and take care so that the machinery (this body) can be productive in the service to the Divine.

My two walking companions were so mercifully picking what they could for me, having superior footwear to mine. The berry bushes were soaked in creek water. Well, a munch turned into addiction and I forced myself to cease indulging.

The salmon berries were an accident. There are more reasons to walk on this mix of wetland and tree-lined trail. We were here to learn something. One of my companions confessed to having an ugly year. He went through personal upheavals and expressed the wish "to quit". At the time of chatting, we came upon a goose snugly sitting on beach sand. I came close and saw the bird shaking. He then propped himself up and started walking towards water but with a limp. On closer inspection, we saw he was missing a foot. The left leg remained a stub. Somewhere he had been traumatized. He proceeded to walk, and then swim, trouper that he is.

What my troubled associate and I gleaned from this is that whatever is your turmoil, you just continue to move on with things. You hold your head high and carry on with responsibilities even if you have to limp.

Within moments, two men passed by on the trail. I greeted them with an, "How are you?"

One of the walkers replied, "It's all good...all good."

His remark we took as an affirmation.

10 KM

Sunday, May 30th, 2010

Dirt and the Stone

Burnaby, British Columbia

I consider it a sin when prime agricultural land gets consumed by mega box shopping outlets. Here in the lower Mainland of British Columbia, You have this rich, flat, black soil; the delta dynamic of the Fraser River. Well, it's getting wasted. It's almost everyday that Nipuna aka Nirguna and I take that meditative walk, rain or shine, through an enclave of a residential settlement in the heart of the fertile soil. It's sad to see that the damage has already been done; that there now exists an encroachment of sorts. Sadly, prioritization of the use of land needs an overhaul.

On a sweeter note, my heart melted to see an older Asian man pull meticulously at weeds from his cultivated garden of green. He nodded to acknowledge the two monks passing by. We mutually recognized him with a pranam bow.

And while we are on the topic of dirt, my dear godbrother, Vijeta, manager of his Jaganntha Puri Express veggie restaurant, delivered a beautiful class on the early days of the Hare Krishna movement, in Mumbai. He and his life long partner, Arya, natives of Toronto, joined the movement in India in the early 70's. Vijeta spoke about the land secured to build the now gorgeous Juhu Beach temple. When the land was excavated for construction, an ancient stone was dug up. It had inscribed in it a message in Hindi, Gujarati or Sanskrit. The stone was given to our guru, Srila Prabhupada to determine what the inscription said.

Prabhupada read it, broke into a smile, and told that the stone was the corner stone to a Hanuman temple. He was saying, "Just see, Hauman is wanting to see Rama and Sita." This piece of stone was a clear confirmation that a temple should indeed come up. And so it happened. A temple was built. The deities of Ram, Sita, Laksman and Hanuman were enshrined.

5 KM

Saturday, May 29th, 2010

All the Best!

Surrey, British Columbia

She made a comeback. Her name is Banke Bihari, a name given to her by her guru. I knew her about twenty six years ago or more when she was a young woman who came to the Toronto temple after being introduced by her boyfriend. She hails from Brantford, the birth place of hockey great, Wayne Gretzky. Who born in Canada doesn't have a love to some degree for this national sport hockey?

Well, I don't know Banke that well to know of her likes and dislikes, but she did like Krishna, and she did like her boyfriend. But things changed. Her boyfriend had many mental challenges. He left Krishna. So did she. Fortunately, she came back after years of an apparent absence of Krishna. She came back as a seasoned person who dealt with the trials of life.

Banke, her husband Rob, and their young son have got hooked onto Krishna and His culture, and are regulars at temple functions. They routinely chant on their japa beads. Banke has become the superstar of the community, in a sense, as the top distributor of the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust Publications, in the Vancouver area. She has got the gift of speaking with total strangers on the street about the glories of spiritual life and of the books that can make spiritual life begin. God has given her this bravado and with that she is receiving great results.

Generously, Banke and Rob arranged to hold a satsang (home gathering). I was their guest speaker and I chose to read about our guru from the book, "Prabhupada Lilamrta". The other guests were immersed in the details about the early days of New York's lower east side when hippies and beatniks were abound trying to sort out life. You just can't find a better story than that of a Swamiji fresh out of India, offering his benevolent hand.

Banke, Rob and Nicolas, all the best!