Friday, 30 July 2010

Tuesday, July 27th, 2010

Today’s Impressions

Toronto, Ontario

Today I absorbed in hearing and reading the things of the day that impressed me the most. David Ellis, a friend who occasionally visits the temple’s dining lounge called Govinda’s, relayed to me that he has begun a 9.5 Km run everyday.

I read in one of those small daily newspapers called “24 Hours” that according to a poll opinion amongst Canadians that 54% believe the Islamic burqas should be banned in the country with 73% of people in the province of Quebec agreeing so.

One thing I heard orally that didn’t necessarily impress me but stressed me is that two of our principle dancers in a soon-to-be performed “Krishna: The 8th Boy” drama had to bow out because of other commitments imposed upon them.

The thing which mostly grabbed my attention is a quote from a book, “Into the Mystical”, a recent release by a dear friend, Robert Taylor (aka Bhumadev). Here’s the excerpt about his own personal soul searching.

“I perceived, with exceptional clarity, that the self could not possibly be a product of matter – that I, the observer of the outer world, was in fact a pure conscious spiritual being inhabiting the ever-changing material frame. This is eloquently expressed by the Jesuit philosopher Teilhard de Chardin in his immortal saying, ‘I am not a human being having a spiritual experience, I am a spiritual being having a human experience.’ “

3 KM

Thursday, 29 July 2010

Monday, July 26th, 2010

Plug Away

Toronto, Ontario

Some people do struggle with their spirituality. They are wet or dry; wet meaning immersed, involved or engaged in their God consciousness, and dry meaning there is a lull period in spiritual progress. This could be a time of inactivity or even a time which is referred to as the dark hour of the soul.

I invited J. Kay to walk with me north on Yonge Street to his job. He was talking about his entrances and exits and how he wants to overcome them.

Desire is very strong. If you want something bad enough you are likely to endeavour to that end. In Sanskrit the saying is eko bahunam yo vidadhati Kaman. The All-powerful One can fulfill all desires. The thing is He also has desires. If we are sincere in our effort to make spiritual progress and yet a small desire creeps in and starts to fester, the Lord in the heart favours your continual spiritual growth over your mundane wishes and as policy helps to fulfill that which is best for the individual.

“You keep plugging away, J. Kay. Drdha-vrata, or determination is what you have going for you. It is like the road. It points in a direction. It may meander but eventually it makes it to a final line,” I suggested.

Recently, a person saw me in the orange/saffron robes and asked, “Are you a member of the Dutch soccer team?”

“No!” I said, “I know they lost the game to Spain, but they were very determined, weren’t they?”

10 KM

Sunday, July 25th, 2010

Detroit Hope

Detroit, Michigan

The major walking for the day was a back and forth pace in the Fisher Mansion, now a beautiful temple. According to one of the tour guides, Mr. Fisher, a major unionist for the auto industry, had this space as his ball room dance floor. While I am chanting in my pace the rest of our devotional drama crew was inside exploring hidden passageways in the building. “Let them explore”, I thought, “it’s a gem of a building. Let the ‘child’ come out of them. In a few minutes they (Nitai, Goura, Laghu and Nitai Priya) will take part in a fire ceremony for a first initiation.

The South Indian community shows real strength in numbers while there is a trickle of blacks and whites that come to savour in the joy of kirtan chanting. Today, Peter became initiated as Prthu Das. He has been coming for two years and has been expertly guided by Afro-American, Yugala Kishor.

Yugala tells me that he has been going down the street at the park by the edge of the Detroit River. Members of a gang meet there as the sun goes down. Bravely, Yugala comes armed with a mrdanga drum in hand. He sits himself down on the grass and starts his chanting. The gang members laugh – at first. Then Yugala talks to them. They are happy for the friendship. They intimate to him that they are saddened with the gangster image that has come their way. In fact, they reveal that they want to come out of it. When they hear Yugala talk about the science of higher consciousness, they become so hopeful.

I told Yugala that I would like to help him help these kids who at the moment are lacking in good positive extra-curricular activities.

There is hope for Motown.

0 KM

Wednesday, 28 July 2010

Saturday, July 24th, 2010

To and In Michigan

Novi, Michigan

It has been a good trip to Michigan so far. We are not anticipating any trouble. Our drama troupe had popped by to my memory lane. On the Canadian side we drove down Old Tecumseh Road, my first walking trail ever, to and from school. We stopped by that school which is still standing but no longer operational. St. Peter's Church, established in 1802 is right next to it and is still functional. We also took a break in Chatham, my birth place, and also a destination poinit for former African slaves and the end of the underground railway line. Jim Burgess, my bro-in-law, was manning his bookstore when we went in to do the human thing – see a relative – and with pleasure.

After the border crossing at customs (since 911 things arent' the same) we had practiced for today's performances at the Iskcon Fisher Mansion, then slept at the home of Bhakta Guru in Canton, Michigan.

The day did start with lightning, and its affiliate, rain. The Ratha Yatra festival got off to a wet start but with a dry invocation. The Mayor and city councilors participated with us indoors at the Novi Civic Centre. Monk, Romapada Swami and Bhaktivasudeva Swami with monkess Malati and I were all in a neat row. Overall, the festival was joyful, well managed by a great group of people.

At the end of the day, I felt something was terribly amiss. And that was that no walking other than the procession had occupied the day. So I was committed to trek for two hours towards the home of our host, Bhakta Guru. Sing Lung from Toronto took to my side. We were surprised by one thing, Michigan is relatively flat which is perfect for cycling and walking yet consistent ride-walks in these prim and proper residential zones are few and far between. A sidewalk will go two or three blocks and then abruptly end. It would manifest on the other side and follow the same pattern.

Michigan people are nice. The state is the bastion of the automobile but at present is not pedestrian friendly. I pray for the day when the whole globe can be a haven for pilgrims and their feet.

8 KM

Friday, July 23rd, 2010

Better to Be Safe Than Have It On Your Saree

West on the 401, Ontario

I had contemplated the safety measures taken for our ashram dwellers. Bearing in mind that one of our senior monks from India, Aindra, had lost his life, a victim of a gas leak from a propane tank that fuelled flames, I questioned just how safe are our ashrams and temples.

In the 90's we lost a pujari priest to serious flames arisen from Diwali candles placed on the altar floor. A flame crawled up his dhoti and then it was all over. A young woman visiting from the States was cooking when the end of her saree caught on fire from the gas range at the stove. She survived but the burns were serious enough. I have heard of more fire horror stories in addition to this. In general more could be done to protect the people in such sacred domains.

We also hear of lives being lost to the waters of the Ganges. Almost every year a bather, one of our pilgrims, is swept away by the serious currents of this turbulent but holy river. Perhaps safe docks for bathing could be constructed or designated zones be established. What about life guards being engaged at least during heavy trafficked festival times.

It seems fire and water continue to consume our family. There is, however, another culprit or cause for the death of the spiritually bound and that is ourselves. How many death tolls have you heard of that have been the result of nighttime driving or over fatigue behind the wheel?

While we have our mantras to protect our souls, some time needs to be reserved to look at the practical end of things. Securing safety is a use of our God-given intelligence. There is no guarantee for security in this world but those who are thoughtful (sattvic) make an effort.

I would put this subject under "Devotee Care" and reserve some time to see to the increased safety of our monastic people, the deities and people in general.

0 KM

Thursday, July 22nd, 2010

Clown and Monk

Toronto, Ontario

We have all heard the saying that the whole world loves a clown. I think that the phrase could be "the whole world loves a monk" and not that there is anything in common between the two professions. I say this in regards to the public affinity for the renounced person. I can give testimony.

I took to an afternoon walk near the old Brickworks Factory. The trails out in that area are really great. So were the encounters with people; joggers, cyclists and walkers. The warm greetings may have something to do with the decent weather, its holiday time or just the fact that the natural environment becomes conducive for amiable exchange.

I do believe it's more than that. If it is your intent to be friendly then the reciprocation will come. In other words if you send out warmth then it will come back to you. It becomes interesting to see who sends it first. It's kind of a warm bombing that goes on. You just have to have the ammunition ready before blasting it off. In any event people seemed real cheerful with the monk – me.

After a two hour trek, I stepped into a drama practice for an upcoming performance of "Krishna, the Eighth Boy" at Meadowvale Theatre. I was conducting the practice when I saw that one of the devotee actors could push out more emotions and feelings of wonder because his part called for it. To help him an idea came to mind. We imagined, "Let's be cavemen who spent our whole life in primitive darkness. We were somehow discovered by civilized man (so-called) and put into the room where we were practicing and were let loose to explore."

The three of us who went through the pretense of wonder and discovery through analyzing textures, colours, soft foam, light switches and what they do, did bring out the excitement I was looking for. Just as we were wrapping up our little exercise on one of our monks from Assam poked his head over to look at us. He was curious about us after hearing the sounds of wonder which came in the form of grunts, mostly. He had a good laugh and so did we. I guess he thought we were clowning around.

Hmmm! Perhaps the gap between clown and monk had closed.

9 KM

Wednesday, July 21st, 2010

The Woods, The Peace and People

Thunder Bay

It was the first time ever that I walked to an airport, all the way to the departure’s entrance of a terminal. It’s a small terminal , mind you. From my host’s home it’s a mere 8 kilometers from Mountain Rd. to the airport and much of that stretch is boreal forest on both sides of the road.

I was reading about this boreal forest as the top protected woodlands in the world which take in an area from New Foundland all the way to British Columbia. It’s those boreal song birds that make those unique sounds that melt the heart. They vibrate like miniature flutes. In my mind I picture cowherd boys, mischievously hiding behind those trees, tooting their hollow pipes.

When you find yourself in a social network on a daily basis you feel the need for some solitude. That’s why in most cases I walk solo or perhaps with a companion making that time practically a time for silence save and except the chanting on beads. This chill out time is absolutely necessary for keeping sane and saintly. The woods in the north are ideal providing the solitude that is so essential.

Now the latest in Cross Canada marathons is a Mr. Dave Nash. He’s running 60-70km a day to raise awareness about equal shared parenting. He just came through Thunder Bay and informed people there that the current legal system drains families emotionally and financially through court battles. According to Dave the law needs to change to spare kids of the sad war that happens in the home.

It sounds like something worthy. I pray that the spiritual component becomes an option for consideration during such struggles that people go through.

8 KM

Thursday, 22 July 2010

Monday, July 19th, 2010

Go Tamal Go! Go Go!

Toronto, Ontario

One special assignment for me today was the preparation for a narration of Chaitanya’s eight verse prayer called “Shishastakam”. With the English translation I read the famous devotional lines queued to music selected by hip hop dancers, Tamal Krsna.

Tamal, from Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, was a former teacher of dance. With a little persuasion he became convinced to take it up for this devotional try out in preparation for Detroit’s Ratha Yatra festival. He and I are collaborators on this dance narrative. I’m glad the arm twisting on him worked because here I could see a person of skill who needed to channel his gifts.

One contemporary of Chaitanya, Rupa Goswami, expressed that the highest form of renunciation is to use your talents and assets in the service to the Creator. If you have some extraordinary shakti (power) it can only be wasted away if not used in the service to others. Each and every one of us shines in a certain category of activities. Why block or suppress this sun?

If the sun wants to shine, then let it. Don’t cloud it over with inactivity or with ego. We are expected to be animated with our propensities.

Tamal was apprehensive in the beginning but then began to realize the worth of dovetailing or channeling your abilities in the service of others. I could tell he was burning with desire inside to display his talents. Now it could be directed to the soul rather than for a selfish purpose.

So this Saturday, Detroit will see an exciting new approach to hip hop.

Go! Tamal, Go! Go Go!

7 KM

Wednesday, 21 July 2010

Sunday, July 18th, 2010

Some Friendship

Toronto, Ontario

“I read ‘Autobiography of a Yogi’. Is what you’re doing something like that?” asked the chap on Augusta Avenue.

“The source is India, of course, the same place where yogis come from. We are bhakti yogis,” I explained while on foot with a doctor friend, Murari Gupta.

“Paramahamsa Yogananda,” he recalled about the author of the classic book.

“Yes, there is a philosophical difference, but you will find there is a life of detachment and simplicity expressed in the book. Our approach emphasizes devotion to Krishna. Hare Krishna!”

The young man was intrigued and so were so many people on that day especially at the Toronto Islands on this second day of the Festival of India. One couple was in tears when he and she saw Murari. The reason? Two years ago at the festival time this couple was making their way to the beach when they stumbled upon the event. They met him by accident (or karma) and were shown around, took the food etc. Since that warm introductory experience they have been coming around to our ashram so steadily, participating in numerous spiritual programs with us. He and she come to volunteer on washing the skyscrapere of pots. They chant. They are addicts of devotional services now; their lives transformed.

And all because they were searching and it was in their astrological stars or just plain good fortune to have met the doctor, Murari, who prescribed a satisfying medicine, some warmth, charm and attention. That’s all it takes. Offer some friendship and deliver the goods- Krishna.

8 KM

Saturday, July 17th, 2010

Proud Parading.

Toronto, Ontario

The gay pride parade hit the streets here just two weeks ago and today was followed by Jaga Pride. “Jaga” refers to Jaganntha meaning “Lord of the Universe” and although devotees of Krishna cannot monopolize the lord of such colossal real estate, someone is devotionally tending to him.

Jagannatha is a large wooden image of Krishna with a happy face and penetrating eyes. He does with pride sit a top a large chariot resembling a temple on wheels. With this arrangement he does not walk but employs himself in a most transcendental gawk. He has two other eaves-dropping friends who are more like a royal companions parade in line with their brother, Jaganatha.

The siblings also made of wood and very smartly painted, are Baladeva and Subhadra. Each sits upon their own chariot to re-enact a two-thousand year old event, a chariot pulling procession copied from the procession at Puri, India. The British were taken by a storm when they first saw the massive procession conducted by Brahmins, the heads of what was considered something like savage pageantry and a display of big-time idolatry.

Perhaps there was a pinch of pride in the attitudes at the time. Experience tells that even Brahmins can be a little puffed-up at times.

In any event I remember telling one of our former mayors of the city, Barbara Hall, that India claims this two thousand year old program. She responded by saying that it was remarkable. “Toronto is only two hundred years old.”

Barbara was great. She took a coconut along with select dignitaries and smashed them one-by-one on the street to break it. She was simply following tradition here, an inauguration of the ceremony, an act of service or humility.

Also part of customary tradition is the king of Orissa’s sweeping the street just prior to the chariots rolling down. Imagine that! The epitome of pride, a king, takes to the modest role of sweeping the dusty streets of Puri.

That’s anti-pride stuff! That is inspirational.

10 KM

Friday, July16th, 2010

A Poem for Aindra

Toronto, Ontario

This evening we were informed of the loss of another saint. Here is a poem for friend, Aindra.

Aindra, a true monk
Suddenly did depart
He was a great wonder
Who stole many a heart.

Committed to the name
He drew so many in
He taught, You don’t stop
And you surely don’t begin

Just keep the sound a float
Through day, moon and night
In clear atmosphere
If we hope to reach some height.

He was a Vrindavan star
A Kirtan king
A sadhu of sound
Who knew how to sing.

Author, H.H. Bhaktimarga Swami

7 KM

Thursday, July 15th, 2010

Freeing the Guy

Toronto, Ontario

Have you ever freed a soul? I can proudly say I have, on several occasions. When the night is on and you move your feet through the wooded streets you sometimes hear a voice in distress. I found this courageous little raccoon had climbed in to this tall trash bin and helplessly couldn’t make his way out. I could only hear a struggle, the sound of claws, gnawing at something in a vain effort, then I saw him. He was frightened and wanted liberation.

I carefully proceeded to tip the bin to a level that this little one could see pavement. Well, he dashed out of there as fast as the soul might leave its body for another one. It felt good seeing him go. I wondered how many hours in the night he was held in captivity? The little fellow didn’t have a chance to escape unless someone cared enough to release him. Then it came to my mind as I was trekking on, “I was trapped in a trashy bin of material desires for so long and it took the care of a kind person (our Guru, Srila Prabhupada) to release me. How many life times I have been engaged is unfathomable? The grace of guru is also unfathomable.

The next time I hear a scratch or a squirm from a night time friend I will selfishly help that creature if I can to escape. If only to put me in a moment of gratitude.

8 KM

Saturday, 17 July 2010

Wednesday, July14th, 2010

I Got My Satisfaction

Toronto, Ontario

I was sitting at the main office with a smile on my face. In fact I was super happy. Why? I was watching the next generation busying themselves in preparatory work for the weekend's Ratha Yatra festival. They were moving at high speed on phones, also texting, decorating, loading, unloading of goods and so on. One co-ordinator entered the building with a bravado saying, "I'll come and see you, Maharaj as soon as I can, but I first have to put out some fires," indicating that some ironing out had to be done.

I was watching this group of focused youth doing everything except ironing clothes. It was a pleasure to see. It was not a gloat from my side while I sat on an easy chair seeing them in perspirational work. I had offered to help but the response was, "We'll take care of it."

I felt almost as if out of a job. I was in their seat for years multi-tasking like crazy. Now they were taking on the burden of love with a gusto. Except for the occasional lending of advice to them, the next-generation-organizers, I had the freedom to go around and encourage them and other volunteers.

In any event the place is abuzz with service and that's the way it should be. Our neighbours are noticing the fervor fir "doing". One local girl said, "Oh yeah. I saw your trucks parked and ready for action."

It happens every year that young and old bhaktas, devotees work in harmony (with a few glitches here and there). It is so satisfying to see.

4 KM

Tuesday, July 13th, 2010

Some Impressions

Toronto, Ontario

"They are Hare Krishnas," the young parents pointed out to their two kids of pre-school age. "We are teaching them about religion," addressed the couple. "that orange colour means it's Hare Krishna?" they asked me for confirmation as I walked with two young teenage boys.

It is always a good experience for our youth to see the curious response from the public. I also like to the boys to see that you don't have to be shy about your spirituality. In many ways people envy the boldness. They seem to take well to seeing what in their eyes could be a living Buddha.

As the three of us desceded the steps of the cooling ravine we were greeted by the other walkers who had the same intent as us which was "to chill". With soaring summer temperatures people are compelled to gravitate to cool regions. Cool people and a cool forest makes for a perfect heaven.

In the story of King Bharat, a person we are emersing ourselves in being the main character in our drama, we hear of his affinity for forest life. The one weakness he had was a lack of company or people who were spiritually-minded. I believe it is fair to say that Bharat suffered from isolationism.

The dynamics of the forest changes drastically when you are "with" as opposed to "without" good spiritual company. Everyone can use moments alone but it needs to be kept to a minimum.

8 KM

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

Monday, July 12th, 2010

A Fatal Step

Toronto, Ontario

A call came in this morning from Pundarik, wife of Murali Krishna, a dear friend, whose brother just passed away. Samuel Griffis, 48, was hiking in the Buffalo, New York State area at the edge of a cliff when he lost his balance and fell a good 150 feet. He didn’t survive.

It was painful to hear about Samuel who was an athletic type, for the outdoors, a vegetarian and friend of numerous monks. What we are to learn form this mishap is that fragility is part of our existence and as we have mentioned before “there is danger at every step”. In Sanskrit padam padam yad vipadam refers to the precariousness of the situation.

Naturally, the family is grieving and so I suggested we give a dedication, a mangal arati, a morning ceremony in his honour. I offered Pundarik my condolences, of course, and asked if there was anything more I could do to ease the grieving. Sam’s family just need a lot of support now.

The topic of birth and death came up once again today through a presentation made to a group of mature people, some of which are retired. Mr. J.W. Windland organizes yearly a visit by fifty students who come from all around and as far as Washington State, to have as he puts it, “an experience”. The experience is not of death as that will take its natural course.

Three folks wanted to know what the chant was all about and more so what we, the followers, were all about. A good number of these attendees have a Christian background but are curious enough to have some experiential Krishna Consciousness.

I would say that whenever I do such presentations, fifty percent of questions revolve around the topic of walking once the audience has heard that pilgrimage went across Canada thrice.

The meal we served in the end left these experienced people satisfied. As they left the building and descended the stairs to reach the sidewalk, I recited mentally, padam padam yad vipadam na tesam. There’s danger at every step.

12 KM

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

Sunday, July 11th, 2010

Two Men at the Sidewalk

Montreal, Quebec

I was headed westbound on Notre Dame Blvd. Then on Ste. Catherine towards the temple. A man who was squatted in front of a storefront, his head hung low, saw the robes as I strode past him. He raised his head at a tilt and said, “Krishna!”

Another chap on foot coming towards me began begging alms. “I just need a slice of pizza.”

“Yeah, right!” I thought, but I said I couldn’t help, shook his hand as a friend. It didn’t come spontaneous for me to utter a name in Sanskrit for his purification. I reasoned that for now a gesture of friendship was enough.

I met two down and out persons who might have a chance some day and then I thought of those two fellows during a reading of the book, Chaitanya Charitamrita. In the section Madhya-lila, certain passages describe the great master of mantras, Chaitanya, as arranging food lines and personally distributing prasadam (divine food). He was serving his followers but then he noticed some people outside the lines who were poor and were not his followers. He then from the goodness of his heart, arranged for them to be fed.

Chaitanya was so inclusive and not exclusive. At the end of the reading I asked the listeners at the temple to recall what lessons or directives came from the texts and corresponding purports. The responses were good, but of all the remarks made the quick helpful response by Chaitanya towards the poverty-stricken struck me the most. And I’m sure it did others as well.

4 KM

Saturday, July 10th, 2010

In Montreal This Weekend

Montreal, Quebec

Today is the day of Ratha Yatra in Montreal. This city seems to attract cultures from around the world. It’s French language insistence doesn’t deter Francophones from accommodating so many events. This weekend the city hosts the world’s largest jazz festival. Posters throughout the city are boosting Milesmania. That is referring to Miles Davis, a favourite of mine. In 1973 when I became a monk I put Miles and other masters of music to the side for devotional music, kirtan and bhajans.

Our Ratha Yatra is modest compared to the Jazz Festival as far as attendance goes. Those who come to our event get charmed in a unique way. Leonard Cohen, poet and vocalist revolutionary, came to the Montreal event three summers ago. He informed me that he met the Swami, Srila Prabhupada, in the sixities. Cohen stayed to hear some of the chant.

Like all years, Ratha Yatra creates a buzz for many different kinds of people and in different ways. It literally means Chariot Festival and that is most definitely what it is. It is a singing event, a food festival, a cultural display and a rope-pulling project and it is also most emphatically a walking venture.

In fact, it dawned on me that here we are on St. Laruent, making that turn at Mount Royale, and on foot with hundreds of pedestrian pals. Undeniably we are looking at a very happy walking festival.

10 KM

Friday, July 9th, 2010

She Scores!

Toronto, Ontario

She is a sweet singer with a golden voice. I consider her one of my spiritual daughters and now with the news she brought me, the paternal instinct became further enhanced. Her name is Karanamrita and she popped into Toronto to attend a wedding which I was not able to attend (although regrettably it was a marriage for another spiritual daughter).

Karanamrta has been singing for the yoga kirtan circuit but she admits to discovering a love for a whole new kind of activity – walking. She tells me she just returned from the famous Santiago walk in Spain. She covered hundreds of kilometers on foot and her plans for more of the same are just brewing. Tuscany is her next stop for a wanderlust experience.

I asked her why she was doing this and in so many words she conveyed the need to see herself more, to go deeper inside and see the divinity in everything. She spoke about the rhythm of the road, the freedom that walking offers, the reflection that comes about and the toughness it builds internally and externally.

We both concurred on the principle that very few people know what you are talking about on this subject until he or she applies to the process of carefree walking itself. It is rather uncanny that something so simple like walking could have such a mystical edge to it.

I would go so far to say that the magical harvest reaped from simply moving your feet IS a best kept secret. I have heard from many peers, spiritual bros, who have confessed to doing less car travel. Now I have found a daughter who has taken up seriously to marathon strides.

One day she covered 51 km. That’s an accomplishment, Karnamrta. Keep singing those songs and keep going those miles.

6 KM

Thursday, July 8th, 2010

Some Pride

Toronto, Ontario

It does happen. The tendency to be proud and to display it is very strong. Here is how I got hit with it this very day.

I woke up at 2 AM, showered, donned my dhoti and wrapped my chauddar around me in such a way as to expose some torso because of the heat. I set out for walking and chanting on my beads thinking proudly, “I’m such a good boy, waging war on the mind doing my mantra meditation so early. I’ll return to the ashram to wake the other monks at 4 AM. After all not all twelve residents take the morning sadhana so seriously and therefore, show up a few minutes late. They seem so dependent on me.”

All was still and silent through the quiet Rosedale neighbourhood where I chose to walk and where air conditioners were running hard. A good hour and a half passed and I made my return to the ashram. I knocked from door to door but received no reciprocation from anyone. Every last door was locked. Not a sould responded to my call. “Wise guys!” I thought. “They can hear me but they are feigning sleep on the pretense of working hard the previous day. Perhaps another excuse is that the heat is restricting sleep.”

Anyways, I was thinking all of them. I then looked up at the main clock at the end of the corridor realizing a discrepancy with my new digital watch. I was off by an hour. The main clock read 5:05 AM. I was surprised.

That meant that everyone was already up, had showered and were already in attendance in the temple room finishing some recitation. Therefore, I ended up being the late one. Nevertheless, I did feel some embarrassment.

I do get guilt-ridden when missing any morning spiritual practices. It is very important to me and it is important that I benefit from the grace that comes from attendance in addition to being the example.

8 KM

Saturday, 10 July 2010

Monday, July 5th, 2010

Another Great Ratha Yatra

Toronto, Ontario

I picked up a copy at the reception desk of the “India Observer” newspaper. On page 18 is an article called “Another Great Ratha Yatra” written by yours truly. Here it is:

Every summer the city of Toronto hosts events that appear to the public like layers upon layers of flavours of delectable ice cream scoops stacked onto a delicious crusty cone. There are events such as a Caribana with the flavour of the islands’ music and dance; the Jazz Festival with its New Orleans musical flair; reflections of Athens with the Greek festival; the light heartedness of the comedic Just For Laughs. The scoops keep coming. But perhaps one of Toronto’s best kept secret events is Ratha Yatra (translated as “The Festival of Chariots”), which has its rootes deep down, stemming from the eastern part of India.

There’s everything “Indian” about Ratha Yatra festival like the large temple-domed chariots with colours loud enough to make you gawk for a while. There are sari-clad ladies swaying to music and men who take to serious finger tapping on two headed drums. Then there’s the food; everything hit by some spice, yellowed with curry, and beckoning you to want seconds.

And there’s also everything not so “Indian” about the festival, like the usual Toronto potpourri or kichari; people participating from (I hate to say the over-used phrase) all walks of life. There are men in pants as well as dhotis. African djembes are popping out beats in the air. Ancient mantras are vibrated sometimes with the twist of Bollywood, but you’ll find vocals in crooner tones as well, and sometimes catch a dash of rock on the instrumentals.

Here is one of the most stunning attributes of Ratha Yatra – it’s booze free. Please don’t get me wrong. There’s no free booze. In fact drinking is taboo here. And if someone is found ‘high’ on something he or she may even be escorted out, lovingly of course. That is unique!

The event is billed as a chance to “Feed Your Soul” and it’s the spirtual overtones that make this party stand out. What to do? You can’t make any excuses for the overtones because anything that is sourced from India, especially the oldie-but-goodie stuff, has that undeniable mystic edge to it.

How so?

Well, for case in point, let’s just take the original story of the Ratha Yatra itself. King Indradyumna was a man hoping to get closer to God. He heard of an extraordinary beautiful icon of Krishna secretively worshipped by a tribal chief in a place tucked away in the eastern hills of the district of Orissa, India. The king was intensely curious but his search for this sacred icon went in vain when he discovered it missing. The icon was never found (Maybe hijacked by the chief?). The king then took the next course of action.

He commissioned the most expert sculpture of the time to carve out of a wooden log an image of Krishna in whom he could repose his love. Since Krishna is usually never alone, two companions, Krishna’s brother and sister, Balarama and Subhadra respectively, were also whittled out of the one log. The monarch could not get a better-packaged deal. In the end, you have a happy king who accepted three, very crude and simple, but adorable images who reflect the joy of each other’s company as demonstrated by their wide eyes and oceanic smiles.

Now, how does a chariot ride fit into the story? The Puranas tell us that once, on a solar eclipse, the three famous siblings, Krishna, Balaram, and Subhadra went on a journey via chariot to the north in Kurukshetra. This pleasure ride is reenacted annually in the city of Puri situated on the shores of the Bay of Bengal. It’s an event that has gone on for at least two millennia and pilgrims come from far and wide anticipating a chance to pull one of the three celestial ropes attached to the chariots.

There you have the story in brief.

What if some innocent bystander was to come along and ask, “Just what is this all about?” Well, I would say, “It’s a rope-pulling event but much more. One day, Krishna, along with his brother and sister wished to go for a pleasure cruise to catch the favourable breezes and receive their followers. This momentous occasion is being re-enacted right here on Yonge St. moving south to the Toronto Harbour. It’s a story from India. If you pull the rope you’ll make the king happy.”

By the way, Toronto, which now boasts the 38th Annual Ratha Yatra festival, has no monopoly on the program. Ratha Yatra – the festival of chariots – occurs in cities around the world and is sponsored by ISKCON, better known as the Hare Krishna movement. And the Toronto community just happens to host one of the largest Ratha Yatra gatherings in the western hemisphere. If you travel around and check those other sites, then you’ll see that the added feature here is the ecstatic kirtan (chanting session) as it moves and resounds uproariously at the bast of Yonge, under the Gardiner Expressway. The youth call it the ‘Toronto Tunnel’. That portion of the event is like the cherry on top of all the flavourful scoops of ice cream.

Oops! I forgot about Centre Island. I don’t know how we can fit this portion of the event on top of the cherry. That takes a whole new ice cream cone by itself. Let’s call it a tofu mango ice dream. Oh, and the kitchen department did inform me that the free feast on the island includes delicious edibles for vegans as well. Other features are Yoga Meltdown (an outdoor yoga festival), live theatre and music, kirtan chanting, exhibits, and an active kiddie corner too.

To wrap this up (before the ice cream melts), I have a confession to make – I have been involved in Toronto’s Ratha Yatra almost since its inception. The event is growing and seeing a good future. We just don’t need city strikes and torrential rains to visit us for this splendid outdoor event. The history shows that spirits have never been dampened. It’s extremely popular. It’s high energy. Throughout the year, wherever I go in the GTA area, dressed in my robes, I have people come up to me reciting like a mantra “Hare Krishna Ratha Yatra, Centre Island”. That’s a good sign, because they and their family members and friends have had the experience of their lives – a good time, a social gathering and a pilgrimage of sorts.

Do come and pull the rope! Make the king happy!

Ratha Yatra: Festival of India

Saturday, July 17th and 18th, 2010

Parade starts at 11 AM on Saturday @ Yonge & Bloor to Centre Island.
Festivities take place on Centre Island all weekend – Saturday 12 – 9 PM and
Sunday 12 – 6 PM

Wednesday, July 7th, 2010

Hot Days!

Toronto, Ontario

It is steaming hot and a trip, a short drive to the lake at 5:15 AM offers some relief. Today it is Lakeshore west where a trail lies in the area of Sunnyside Beach. It is rather nauseous in a way with traffic whizzing by for the greater part of the trail.

Kayaks glide along the water for those who have found the paddling a meditation. And gulls take breakfast spotting it from the air. At least one did swoop down to make a catch, a tiny flopping doomed fish. Prey and predator were moving frantically until the swallow was completed.

Back to the ashram and you’ll find the heat is on again. We Canadians are not so accustomed to the high 30 degree Celsius weather with the humidity factor. Most of my day is preoccupied in working on our latest production, “The Three Lives of Bharat”, a drama set for outdoor stage in Montreal this weekend. It is very engaging keeping me out of trouble. The actors perceive it as hard work but work they love.

Between practices the water intake has increased. The tap runs more these days for making lemonade and for taking extra showers. This ordeal cannot compare to the scorching heat of India’s balmy weather and when I reflect on what was sweltering days of my youth working for eight intense hours a day in the tobacco harvest. That was the ultimate austerity. As a student earning a small income I learned much about toughness from the tobacco field work. In some ways the physical workout and good sweat set the stage for my Krishna consciousness.

I’m grateful for the hard work.

6 KM

Tuesday, July 6th, 2010

Place of Pilgrimage

Toronto, Ontario

I make it an annual trip there. It’s not far. East on Lakeshore Boulevard is a trail which is a place of pilgrimage. In the summer of ’75 our guru, Srila Prabhupada trekked here on the same boardwalk that we now have the fortune to experience. Edged at the beach of Lake Ontario is plank against plank set in the sand.

Since that time, now 35 years later, hundreds of thousands of people have lightly pounded on the same path as this pure devotee had done. Some benefit does come to the numerous walkers and runners that tread the same track of this most remarkable soul. Wherever the great pious soul wanders a spiritual power is deposited. That power can be absorbed by all subsequent foot travelers. That is their good fortune.

One of my favourite verses from the book, Bhagavatam, regarding sacred space is as follows:

Bhavad- vidha bhagavatas
Tirtha bhutah svayam vibho
Tirthi kurvanti tirthani
Svantah-stena gadabhrita


My Lord, devotees like your good self are verily holy places personified. Because you carry the Personality of Godhead within your heart, you turn all places into places of pilgrimage.

7 KM

Thursday, 8 July 2010

Sunday, July 4th, 2010

Nothing Wrong With That

Up-State New York

Wherever I travel to attend a festival I’ll meet someone who will ask, “Did you walk here?” and I’ll say, “I wish!” It has become a common joke, which I consider flattery really.

It becomes an embarrassment when you can’t boast doing even a measly four kilometers like today. You make the best of everything. Here, we are, five of us adults, crammed in a small Hyundai, meant for four people on a ten hour trip. So I’m reminded of our Inuit people of the north who would for some months know only darkness, stay in their igloo nestled under animal skins and have a tiny light fuelled by whale oil. They would lie there and tell stories to pass the time away.

Our situation going through Pennsylvania and New York states in our small car isn’t anywhere near as austere. We do have stories to tell – lots of them and so passengers and driver discussed a touch about each others’ marital status. One person expressed the satisfaction of being single. The others in the vehicle likely will be betrothed down the line. For myself, well, the writing is on the wall. I’m single and I intend to stick to vows.

I have expressed even recently in Halifax to an eager gathering of fifty young people, “some of you will choose to remain single and celibate and there is virtually nothing wrong with it. For some of us we have got stuff out of our system in a previous life. You may consider that you have another purpose in this life than having families and the sweet bitter entanglement that goes along with it. There is nothing wrong with that.”

I implied that such persons don’t have to be made to feel guilty and that a spiritual centre will fill the gap that would lead to loneliness.

4 KM

Tuesday, 6 July 2010

Saturday, July 3rd, 2010

Festival at the Susquehanna River

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

I felt so honoured to be present for the memorial anniversary of the passing of my dear monk friend, Bhakti Tirtha Swami. It has been five years since his leaving us. In retrospect I see him as the personification of the principle ‘unity and diversity’. His presentation, style, dress code, demeanour was bold, daring, fresh, different. He broke through conventional boundaries and would open up topics that some of us would be shy to talk about. He was like a chameleon adjusting to diverse situations and all the time so much advocating a ‘oneness’ factor. He would emphasize unity, harmony and cohesion; to work as a unit.

At the samadhi tomb of the Swami at the Gita Nagari farm where the service was held, I was asked to speak something and this thought came to mind, “Here is the embodiment of the philosophy of Chaitanya “achintya bhedabheda” or, simultaneously oneness and difference.

For the afternoon our party drove to Harrisburg, Pennsylvania’s capital city, for their summer’s music festival. Incorporated into the festival was a mini Ratha Yatra. Swamis from other parts of the US came such as Bhakti Caru, Veda Vyasa Priya and Chandrashekar to enrich the program with their presence. I spoke with Gauravani who is doing the kirtan (chanting) circuit traveling and singing. He shared time on the stage with our drama troupe for “Lonely People”. He does that excellent singing presentation with his group.

One thing that was novel was hearing Chandrashekar Swami quote a Christian speaker as the swami and I had a casual talk, “There’s a God-shaped hole in the heart that only God can fill.”

6 KM

Friday, July 2nd, 2010

Top Ten

Port Royal, Pennsylvania

Before the long haul to Pennsylvania by rented car, I squeezed in two and a half kilometers on foot in the town of Russell, Ontario. Our driver was Nitai Priya, but passengers, Gaura, Sing Lung Wong and myself had time to kill. Usually it’s my job to insert the spiritual element into these trips. So I asked everyone including driver if we could act as a self proclaimed panel of judges on coming up with our top ten favourite pastimes of Krishna.

Here is what we came up with; our top ten (and not necessarily in order favourite to less favourite):

1) Krishna kidnapping Rukmini
2) The gopis (cowherd maidents) blocking Krishna from leaving their village, Vrindavan.
3) Krishna smiling while his friend, Arjuna, was confused.
4) Krishna washing the feet of attendees at the Rajasuya sacrifice.
5) Krishna consuming the meager rice of poor man, Sudhama
6) Krishna’s mother, Yasoda, looking into the mouth of her son, and seeing the cosmic form.
7) The bumblebees that spoke to Radharani, Krishna’s confidante.
8) Krishna duplicating or cloning himself as many cowherd boys.
9) Krishna massaging His elder brother, Balaram’s legs.
10) Krishna wrestled down the bulls to win Princess Satya as His bride.

Dear readers, what are your tope ten favourites? I would like to hear from you.

3.5 KM

Thursday, July 1st, 2010

At Parliament Hill

Ottawa, Ontario

Every year near the war memorial, a short jaunt from Parliament Hill, devotees of Krishna set up a stage with awning and sound equipment on this day. It’s Canada Day, the birth anniversary of a nation and at 6 am, the modest stage is assembled to contribute to the celebration.

By the time our small Toronto delegation of five had arrived, the Queen had already completed royal renderings but the kirtan (chanting) was in full swing. We merged with the vibrant chanters. Within minutes I was led to the microphone. My dear friend Mahajan hit the keyboard and went for seventies funk playing to the Maha-Mantra.

The chanting drew in the public. One Japanese young woman jumped into the enthusiastic dance circle. Her companions insisted on staying outside the loop. They periodically tried to pull her away from her ecstatic dance. She fought back fiercely but lovingly resisting the oncoming advances of her friends. This was so entertaining to watch.

I had sensed that the kirtan was mellow previously and that the chanters were up for a change of rasa (mood). They were so happy when we shifted gears. And the dancers? Well, our Canadian flag pole became the limbo stick for those who wanted to go as low as they could go. A competition sprang out of this, and all the while the chanting sound was rising from the crowd.

Those that didn’t make a sound stood sedate and others engaged, jaws-dropped, seeing the fun approach to spiritual expression. It was nothing dull or drab.

I began to think that Chaitanya, the father of kirtan for the age, was the master-mind behind making spirituality so very attractive. What a blessing it is to be a part of this experience!

6 KM

Wednesday, June 30th, 2010

Walk on Behalf of Someone

Mississauga, Ontario

From the window of her moving car the young blonde shouted out, “Are you a monk?”

At that moment a large van wedged its way with in the lane between her and the sidewalk. She vanished and couldn’t here my response which was, “I’m the real McCoy!”

I was on my way to the subway to take it to the end of the line. From there I trekked a good ten kilometres through the suburbs of Mississauga not just for an adventure but as a dedication to a deceased devotee, Sukadev, who passed away just the day before.

Dedication walks are extremely powerful. The walker sets himself or herself as a form of prayer simply through the act of walking in honour of someone. Putting leg power into the well-being of a loved one is a strong way to communicate with that person. I recall in 2003 while on one of the three Trans-Canada walks I decided to dedicate one day to Keshava Sharma, one of our shining youths who is very active in service to the community. I walked to wish him well.

That day happened to rain for eight straight hours which began as if on cue with him with my first step. It got so wet to the point that I could not sit anywhere dry and it was practically all countryside meaning there was no place for a break. I ended up trekking those eight hours straight with 40km under my feet investing them, in a subtle way, to a young guy who deserved the dedicated attention.

I take such reflective walks as moving prayers.

If there was time for a second question to come from the blonde such as, “What do you do as a monk?” which is a natural follow-up query, then I would say that one of the things monks do is to walk in dedication.

12 KM

Sunday, 4 July 2010

Tuesday, June 29th, 2010

To A Lovely Person

Toronto, Ontario

One of the senior members of the Krishna community has passed away this morning. Dr. Gelda, also known by his Sanskrit name as Shukadev, was driving home from the club when his heart failed. Fortunately his automobile safely spun into a parking lot. He was 85.

Shukadev loved Srila Prabhupada, the guru of the Hare Krishna, who became the most influential person in his life. He would share with family and friends the story of the 70 year old swami from India who embarked on a ship in 1965 coming penniless to New York City. He would tell how this great spiritual pioneer became know as Swamiji in the beginning and later more reverentially as Prabhupada, attracted the hippies, artists, musicians, intellectuals and free spirited youth of the time and set them on a path of positive direction.

I ventured over to Trillium Hosptial where Shukadeva lie. His family of two generations his junior and friends were there in mourning. We chanted for him in that crammed hospital room, the emergency department.

Shukadeva would have been happy to know that his departure a huge shipment of Prabhupada books arrived at the downtown Krishna temple; books that land in the laps of some lucky readers who chose to purchase them. I was impressed with the monkey chain formed by the young men of our community to carry heavy box after heavy box of these books. They looked like Hanuman and the Simian army carrying boulders to build the causeway over the Indian Ocean. They were loving it.

Shukadev is smiling because of the book invasion. I was happy to see the fun myself.

Condolences to the family of Shukadev who has a lovely heart.

9 KM