Monday, 29 November 2010

Friday, November 26th, 2010

Bagels and cream cheese

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

How accents change from place to place! I was driven from Toronto, to Buffalo, then flew to Boston to catch another flight to Baltimore, only to be driven to Harrisburg for a beautiful lunch at Tamal's, a friend. A last drive landed me near Port Royal in the state of Pennsylvania. At each stop you note variations of English. Fortunately, all people share the same air, clouds, sun, earth, water and space.

My few moments with these elements at the tail end of the day allowed me to tredge through plants and weeds, lightly hit by fall frost. Traces of human being was scarce in my private little valley of the day. Signs painted on trees nearby forbade entry. "No hunting! No trespassing! Violators will be prosecuted!"

Deer droppings and tracks do give away the fact that fur and hooves pass through here. I had also come to produce new tracks, making my mark over the soft and moist soil.

I reflected on my conversation with a retired Bengali couple at the Baltimore Airport. With little information about their own provincial hero, Chaitanya, they became curious. As they ate their bagel with cream cheese, I recited the song of Bhaktivinode who authored, "Sarira avidya jal..." I refrained from giving the translation which states that our tongues are uncontrollable. I didn't want to offend, only befriend.

As far as Chaitanya is concerned the couple were aware that he is the revivalist of many things, most notably he established the social gatherings of kirtan (chanting groups) which is now custom as tradition and which is currently experiencing a great welcome around the world. And these people do sing sincerity even though when you apply that anglo-lingo to Sanskrit it sounds a bit weird.

Rest assured one's utterance of sound is judged on the basis of sincerity of purpose and not pronunciation or accent.

3 KM

Thursday, November 25th, 2010

We can start to live

Toronto, Ontario

Perhaps the most familiar verse from the Gita which Hindu folks relate to starts like this... Karmany evadhikaras te ma phaleshu kadacana... One guest from Gujarat, India, a doctor, began to recite the verse expressing the importance of duty. To put it in simple terms, this verse translates as, "One is entitled to perform his/her duty and not necessarily the results."

He said it with a smile. I took it that the verse was his life-line and I was happy to hear that he didn't prescribe to the tune so common with the entitlement generation. He is among the ranks of people who believes in work and earn. Of course, for some people it becomes a question of "how much?" At least the mood here is "I am a contributor first, an enjoyer second."

While in Jerusalem recently an Orthodox Jew who had accrued some Vedic wisdom said to me in an amicable way, "You have to follow your dharma (duty)." And Krishna strongly advised his warrior-friend, Arjuna, that rejection of dharma is sin; that it's evil.

I like the scramble of letters or rather the reversal of letters to the word "evil". Do not be evil, but live. So when we master dharma, duty or responsibility, then we really begin to live.

7 KM

Sunday, 28 November 2010

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010

A walk and a bow

Toronto, Ontario

My feet brought me to Bloor St. West into the heart of little Korea. Like the rest of the city this enclave is geared up for Christmas distractions in the window displays. I say “distraction” because I am in the ranks of many humbuggers who feel Christmas’ essence is gone. Spirit has been sacrificed for commercialism. The Jesus spirit is still a factor in many people’s lives though and I can very well respect that. Having just come from the holy lands of Jordan river, Jerusalem etc. I feel a stronger affection to him. I believe he did not teach sectarianism.

I spent part of the evening with a reverend who came to visit the temple. Here was a situation of shared spirituality. The reverend was keen to learn some of the techniques of bhakti (devotion), so I showed him the method of chanting on beads, explained the importance of offering one’s food and the value of eating only sattvic food. Upon departing form the temple room he saw me bowing in obeisance which inspired him to do the same.

“Is this the way it’s done?” he asked as he reverentially had all limbs meet the floor. We agreed to meet again after I returned from my next trip which will be to Pennsylvania.

The whole purpose for him was to enrich more what he already had. Admittedly so, I felt all the better too being in the company of a brahmin-type of person.

The day started with a walk and ended with a bow.

6 KM

Photos from Argentina

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Tuesday, November 23rd, 2010

The Service Attitude


The middle-aged good-looking man in front of us turned around and asked about our yoga clothes. Dhruva, my monk assistant, and I were standing in line at the Buenos Aires Airport when this Antarctica tourist from Philadelphia struck the curious question. When we told him of our Krishna Consciousness he identified himself as a former follower of Yoga Amrta Desai.

"Oh, yes," I said, "Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had a gracious meeting with him in the 70's." I remarked to Dhruva how this yogi truly appreciated Prabhupada's bringing bhakti (devotional service) to the west.

We ran into our new friend again at the Atlanta airport only to share space in another line-up. Here it was a curse. Although boasting to have a huge facility the service was weak. The line-ups were long and slow and our boarding time for Canada was fast approaching and very little effort was made to help us despite appeals to the service people. I bless those people though, for their tardiness. I learned from them what not to do when dealing with the public. Since I'm a member of an organization I serve the public and sometimes become embarrassed with the lack of quality in service. Service is the thing, so we are taught by our guru.

By evening time after settling down back home, I decided for a much needed walk. Leaving Roxborough St. to cross Yonge St. a woman with three children approached me.

"I used to see you guys in Vancouver. Do you need something? Donations? Is the church looking after you?" I answered her questions letting her know I'm fine and gave her an invite to our Sunday Open House. I was touched by her warmth. Speaking of warm versus cold, another woman walking her dog told me not to mind him as he came for a sniff.

"Oh, don't mind him! Are you warm enough?" as she saw my attire. Perhaps I gave the "poor monk" impression, although the late November weather didn't feel to be its usual knippy self.

Not but five minutes later a van with two adult women (again) demonstrated kindness. "Can we give you a ride somewhere?" was their question. I admit I was floored by the hospitality and this was in a rather snobby neighbourhood.

"No thank you. I'm a monk and I walk every day. You are very kind." They left in smiles.

I learned from this batch of people how to express the service attitude. Now Michael Moore might say that there's a difference between the U.S. and Canada. But I don't necessarily agree. Everyone is good-hearted. Grumpiness sometimes stands in the way.

8 KM

Monday, 22 November 2010

Monday, November 22nd, 2010

Consider the Best

Buenos Aires, Argentina

Last evening's kirtan (chanting) was just from another world. Led by Ajamil of Bengali origin the locals gave it the Spanish spunk. It was preceded by a second presentation of our play, "El Testigo." The actors were marvellous in their performance. Imagine, they were given their scripts two days prior to Saturday's presentation. Lines were to be memorized, dance steps to be learned and stage blocking was also from scratch. It's a 50 min play. They were empowered.

I again was asked to speak from Canto One of the Bhagavatam centered around the story of a bull, a cow, a king, and a culprit. Basically you get a good notion of what is the primordial Kali-yuga from the text. The age of the present time, Kali, is dark. I saw symptoms of it on the last two morning treks. Not far from our temple, in a very decent neighbourhood, outside and under a condo's awning was a baby, a mother and father all fast asleep on the sidewalk. They had blankets and little else. I almost stepped on them accidentally.

Yesterday I saw families with cardboard boxes and fires being lit just outside a massive fortified cemetery wall. They live there. I'm still having a hard time getting over my very sheltered 50's up-bringing to wake up to this reality of Kali-yuga. These images are creeping up more and more. On my last visit to Mumbai a local man told me that 50% of the population there lives in these conditions.

It simply makes you feel grateful that you have such wonderful prasadam to eat every day. Still you wish you could do something about the deplorable conditions of others.

I didn't bother to mention about the images seen during the class. I only stressed the need to appreciate, to be grateful and counter non-productive habits of complaining and self-imposing harm. So much can be said about the self-indulgences of today. Sure it feels good when you indulge. It feels just great! That greatness eventually gets crushed like powder and gets tossed into the air and into oblivion.

Please! Please consider the rhapsody of kirtan. Por favour! Please, oh members of the age of Kali!

5 KM

Sunday, November 21st, 2010

Things Fall

Buenos Aires, Argentina

From the temple address at Ciudad De La Paz 493 I decided to head straight south for my walking route. I came upon an area of large trees. Because it was morning many drops of dew landed for a soft splash. One drop that was rather large, of substance and colour came down to target my shoulder. A bird! It meant I had to change attire before delivering a message from the Bhagavatam book.

Okay! Let's talk about my fall from the spiritual world. Or let's speak on something divine- God's descent to the material world. Things are falling all the time. Autumn leaves leave their branches to plummet down. The law of gravity is always in full swing.

But when an avatar makes his appearance to this world of naughtiness it is for a mission- to pick up souls who have fallen and to help them ascend to their original position.

Sometimes we use the term "fall down" or "to be fallen" in reference to an individual who was on the spiritual path but who then went off track. These phrases are a type of lingo we use in ISKCON circles. It is possible to endeavour spiritually but a casuality could visit us to the point where we are weakened. We say, "He fell down!"

One brahmacari (monk) whose name is Prem asked me how I remained single and celibate throughout my life. He is serious about that path. "It's in my blood- the monk thing. My father wanted to be a priest and my mother wanted to become a nun, until they met each other." He is hoping not to meet a nun.

I responded to his willingness "to keep it simple" by mentioning three things.
1) Be shy of worldly things.
2) Always keep busy, engaged in devotional service.
3) Render a service that keeps you happy.

These items will help you to succeed.

6 KM

Saturday, Novemver 20th, 2010

Fun and Security

Buenos Aires, Argentina

The Ratha Yatra (Festival of Chariots) is growing in Buenos Aires. So claims the organizers. It is my fourth consecutive year attending and I can see the expansion myself. Each year at spring, which is now, in Placa Francia park, joyful and soulful people come for the procession and a stage events capturing what life is truly meant for- recognizing the greatness of Jagannath, the Lord of the Universe.

And since the terminology speaks for itself the festival is a global reality. I was asked to deliver a message from the stage. To inform the public that Ratha Yatra once was a program limited to South East Asia. With the introduction of Ratha Yatra to the west, San Fransisco in '67 to be specific, by our guru Srila Prabhupada, the festival caught on like wildfire to spread internationally.

It is events like these that demonstrate love. "Love and trust" were the term he used to express what should be the cultural norm for his fledging movement. Indeed pilgrims who came, and some from Paraguy, Brazil and elsewhere, have their trust raised.

Most unfortunate it is at these events that rogues take advantage. I've seen it time and time again. You get a bunch of pilgrims attracted to a sacred event and theft to be the concomitant factor. One of our monks got robbed. It is a given that there's always someone to spoil the party. You might call it party bashing or pilgrim pirating. It's something inauspicious.

It's times like this that reminds me of the value of a "Ksatriya" element- security. Wherever there are people, protection is needed.

I cannot say that spirits were brought down totally because one of our seniors had an incident, but caution needs to be applied in all circumstances.


9 KM

Friday, November 19th, 2010


Buenos Aires, Argentina

Some night clubs are still going strong here at 6 or 7 AM. Dhruva and I accidentally stumbled upon some of these joints when some party goers were making their exit from a rave cave. "Hare Krishna!" screamed the happy bunch of girls who high-fived us. Some of the boys remained more sedate but didn't refrain from saying the same- "Hare Krishna!" I will bet you that Krishna Consciousness was the most popular religion on the street for at least two city blocks during the time we trekked through.

It's powerful. Presence means power. Wherever you go, stand, or walk you are likely to have influence and if there is no personal gain or hidden agenda you are likely to make a positive impact. At least, I would say the people we met became pre feliz (happy) more so than the effect that the booze and pot were having on them. Who knows, as they were parting for their individual beds, Krishna, or at least two of his monks might pop up as images from the mental mix up of their dreams.

Later in the day I again dwelt on the theme of the power of presence when a man from the community here, a journalist, volunteered as an actor for our play "El Testigo." Like the title, many people will testify what lasting impressions dramas have on their lives either by viewing or performing in it. The fellow told me that the story about a person having difficulty establishing a relationship due to the family objection is the story of his life. "It could not have come at a better time for me to participate in the play."

The story was close-to-home for our friend and the way his problem became resolved was adding Krishna. Allow Him to be present. Make Him inclusive. Permit Him to factor in. That makes the difference.

I was in a state of feliz knowing that the actor was benefitting from the lesson in the story as well as getting a few tips on stage acting.

5 KM

Friday, 19 November 2010

Thursday, November 18th, 2010

Art and Trash

Buenos Aires, Argentina


We are in South America, Buenos Aires to be precise. Halifax monk, Dhruva and I made the flight to the land of tango, here to contribute to kirtan chanting for the annual Festival of Chariots as well as staging a drama, in Spanish, of course.

My dear friend, Gunagrahi Swami, introduced us to our cast's volunteers for the play "The Witness" the tale of a walking deity. This is an exceptional group, type caste to the tee. We toiled happily for some afternoon hours up to the point where my eager legs wanted to hit the streets for some exercise.

Since last year I've seen the graffiti culture increase in this colossal city of 16 million. Some of the work is sheer "art." Some of it I would describe as "art" with an "f" in front of it. Some of it is downright disrespectful cheap for-kicks displays when it comes to being the target of people's homes and business buildings which are the livelihood centres of people.

I remarked to Dhruva that the trashy spray, marks the beginning of the end of the culture of mutual respect. It's a sign of Kali-yuga indeed. I sometimes ponder that the liberal leniency as status quo just isn't working out in a world that boasts of order.

I don't mean to point out that Buenos Aires is exclusive or unique in this barrage of messy colour. It's all pervasive although you might not find it in a disciplined place like Singapore. I am airing out a kind of grumpiness that I feel is justified. I am, like millions of people on this planet, not alone in certain opinions. I hanker for change and search for hope.

I see no solution to problems but the spiritual outlet. As an individual I see the need to intensify my spiritual endeavour hoping to effect positive changes.

I look at a last wall before retiring for the night and with a doomsday spirit, admit that the world of sense gratification on its own just isn't fulfilling people's needs.

3 KM

Wednesday, November 17th, 2010

What's Right After Doing Wrong!

Toronto, Ontario

Drops of water hampered a wishful long walk this morning with my monk assistant, Dhruva, but drops of nectar in the form of instructive inspiration sprinkled on our courageous hearts as we read a passage from the Bhagavatam.

From Canto 6 we read of the humble position of Yamaraj, the High Court Judge of Death. He took the responsibility for the mis-judgement of his agents. His agents, known as Yamadutas, were taking up their tasks seriously by sentencing a chronic offender by the name of Ajamil. Apparently they had overlooked the fact that the man had taken to the mantra chanting of the name "Narayan". That sound vibration uttered by Ajamil at his dying moment spared him of an intense suffering due him.

The agents judged wrong before a final verdict was made. The circumstances were unusual. Yamaraj apologized for the mistake and asked to be pardoned.

Yamaraj is a high-placed person in the Vedic pantheon and is regarded as on of the twelve revered authorities in the science of devotion. Regardless of his high post he made the effort to be humble.

In our discussion over the passage our tiny group of 8 persons, or so, came to the realization that every day each and every one of us makes millions of mistakes, big or small. Rarely do we make apologies, and rarely do we say "I'm sorry" and if so in a heart-felt way. It seems right that we recognize errors (to err is human) and take some responsibilities for misbehaviours or wrong things said. It appears to be a good practice. Can it be considered that in some perceptive way when one utters "Hare Krishna" one expresses some guilt for past wrong doing? "I did some wrong. Can I make it up to You?"

3 KM

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Tuesday, November 16th, 2010

Does Satan Have A Face?

Toronto, Ontario

I trudged along keeping warm with comfy hemp sannyasi clothes through the dark morning when I started another walk. "Jeeze" she said as she didn't expect in her quiet protected Rosedale neighbourhood to see a person so well covered in cloth and only revealing the head. My face-alone image took her by surprise.


I returned to the ashram and on my desk I opened to a page from the publication "Ministry" a journal for pastors. The article by Rael O. Caesor was interesting, exploring what ever happened to the face of the devil? "Where in the world is Satan the devil" was his question. The personification of the master deceiver seemed to be vanishing from Christian theology. The devil first became know as he is in the late stage of Israelite religion according to theologian Brent Ehrman. Another author pointed that the roles of Satan and God are a scriptural unity and "Satan is part of a divine cabinet in which all the members are not good."

The author's thrust was that there is less mention of the sleezy character in dialogue and sermons today. People think less of a personality as opposed to an evil force. Who can deny that Satan or Maya as we say in a Vedic context exists in some form in every person and every society? Some folks will have fun debating whether there is a face to that evil or not.

I am simply content to know that God is personal and He has a face.
Here's a poetic quote from the saint Bilvamangala.

"Sweet, sweet is my dear Lord's form,
Sweeter still His face, so fair,
But His honey-scented gentle smile
Is sweet beyond compare."

7 KM