Sunday, 27 February 2011

Friday, February 25th, 2011


Mayapura, India

I had expressed to the room of 75+ people that I have certain passions. As facilitator of a Creative Arts Initiative I spoke daringly ( you see, speaking to peers in volume is a little intimidating for me). I mentioned that I have passions apart from walking and one of them is the arts. I've been called different names for this reason. Put "Walking Monk" aside. There's "Dancing Monk", "Singing Monk", and "Drama Swami."

I addressed the group. "We have a great team for the initiative. And here's our vision statement.

"To inspire, nurture and network artistic talent, thereby creating a fraternal community spirit for artists, thus attracting the public and patrons of the arts through quality presentations. These presentations will serve to bring to life the cultural and spiritual values of the Vedic teachings as delivered by Srila Prabhupada."

This vision statement appeared to get a positive response from the group. They also reacted well to our name which is "VANDE" meaning "Vaishnava Arts for a New Devotional Era."

The presentation that was made to introduce to the body of senior men and women at this year's AGM was made on the previous day. It kick-started all other presenters. I contemplated on the positive reaction while walking the rural lane behind our temple. It was soothing contemplation. Now our group "Vande" need only act on the initiative.

Proposing to do something is one thing. Acting on it is another.

7 KM

Thursday, February 24th, 2011

Gopal from L.A.

Mayapura, India

His first words were, "Come in!"

I had rung his door bell in anticipation for a trek to see the elephants. His voice was deep and grave. Being a very effective facilitator yet very busy, Gopal Bhatta expressed to me on the previous day that he hadn't had the chance to get out of the building. Has been immersed in meetings. So I suggested to take a break.

"I'll take you to see the elephants." He agreed. Along with two monks (brahmacaris) Gopal and I took to the path when fog lifted and the sun poked into the sky.

Whether the brief walk opened up chakras for Gopal and cleansed cobwebs to get him out of his congested feeling, whether the few minutes observing the two elephants' bonding inspired him or not, I personally felt honored to be in the presence of such an empowered soul.

It was certain words at the end of the day that were delivered to the entire body of AGM members that were inspiring. He stressed fair points to implement the mission for improving the spiritual quality of life:
1) Be result - oriented
2) Be risk - oriented
3) Exercise co - operation
4) Enjoy your service/work

An additional remark he made in regard to the status-quo is to "Make a new normal."

Pilgrims have come to Mayapura for a purification through the techniques of chanting and hearing. In addition to this, encouraging words come our way from a person who is highly analytical in his sincere effort to improve and heal an ailing world.

Thank you, Gopal.

5 KM

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

I Fudged

Mayapura, India

I misjudged something today. I saw a fellow, a devotee in dhoti, whiz by in his scooter. He parked not far from where I had been pacing on foot when I questioned him.

"Can't you walk?" I asked. Disgusted with these motorized conveyances I just couldn't contain my attitude.

Defensively he spoke, "I actually do, Maharaja." I didn't wait to here an explanation on why this sacred campus called Mayapura is taxed by just another noisy machine that's dangerous, a pollutant and the cause of much more grief. Perhaps it was a rare journey for the bikes or maybe he was running a very important errand.

In any event I went about my business and made some attempt towards a mild apology. When he said "I actually do," without sarcasm I respected the man saying in assurance, "I'm sure you do," hoping that still the messages of cutting down on traffic would be nice. It was our guru's vision at one time that residents in Mayapura would either walk or travel via canals on boats. I don't believe he cared for all the high tech madness for travel. There was talk of an airport; if I recall that was his wish, however, some areas of quiet and safety should have to be honored. I'm confident it was his vision.

It was and is a bit annoying to see the increase of scooters and such.

My mind calmed to receive a new release in the way of books by Torchlight Publishing.

Mukunda Goswami's "Miracle on Second Avenue" details the Hare Krishna arrival in New York, San Francisco and London 1966-96. As one of the earliest of the stray hippie genre of people to join, the author really pulls you in to those magical days of the 60's, the flower power, the days of wonder and change.

The read is great. I really recommend the book. It's candid and Mukunda Goswami is an admirable monk who speaks about his pre-monk adventures as a devotee.

6 KM

Friday, 25 February 2011

Tuesday, February 22nd, 2011

Out of Maya in Mayapura
Mayapura, India

The scenery isn't all that great for walks these days. How could it be? I've been mainly pacing back and forth on the floor of our building passing by pilgrims' doors at pre-dawn. In the distance I can hear the cry of the jackal. I can hear the sound of a rolling snore that penetrates through the door. I'm chanting softly in order to avoid prematurely awakening others.

Scenery is indeed limited, however, what a chanter hopes to achieve is to see through the mind's eye something sublime. Images of the guru, of Krishna, of devotional friends and devotional places or visions of anticipated acts of service are what you aspire to view. Call it inner vision, if you will.

Apart from the pacing along the corridor doorways the service of the day requires trekking from building to building. At each venue you can register a moment of what's grave or what's light. In one building on the campus as our meeting session began, we were told that there was a major earthquake that hit New-Zealand. The unfortunate news was that the beautiful deities of Krishna were damaged at our Christchurch temple. Moreover 65 people did perish and many are missing.

In another building one of our dear monk peers, Niranjan Swami, called me "Boogie-marga" after I led a chanting session. I took no offence. If anything it was an affectionate compliment.

All in all time spent in Mayapura is so well worth the visit. Once the sun does rise, the land, although ultra-flat, does possess the beauty only to be found in a rural setting. What a terrific break from urban concrete! May green prevail here in spite of the progressive construction going on to establish a city of a Vaishnava community.

5 KM

Monday, February 21st, 2011

The Room
Mayapura India

The walls of the conference room where meetings are being held are adorned with gorgeous sketches of our Guru, Srila Prabhupada. Other than a map of the world his piсtures are the only visuals to grace our presence. There is also a murti (statue) of him with fine detail on the face. His all-pervaisive pressence is most appropriate here. It is in this room that brainstorming takes place on this top floor of the conch building. Devotees from all over the world are converged each day for strategic planning. Those great souls who have all proven themselves through responsible undertakings are here to encourage, nurture and inspire each other in the mission of the guru. For a break-off session I was linked to co-ordinating a Creative Arts initiative. Our group of seven decided on a name "Vande" which stands for "Vaishnava Arts for a New Devotional Era." We even came up with a vision statement within a relative short amount of time. Things are moving along so far as visionary dreams are concerned. There is still a long way to go. My feeling is one of confidence in the mission department. Our aim is one -to please the guru and to affect a change in soceity improving the spiritual quality of life. As he wrote in his seven purposes "to check the imbalanced lives" of today. And the method is to inform about the virtuous pastimes of Krishna. There is nothing fancy about the conference room used by Krishna delegates who come from around the world but there is definitely beautiful work going on within the walls of this special place.

5 KM

Tuesday, 22 February 2011

Sunday, February 20th, 2011

Moods in Mayapura

Mayapura, India

Before coming to Mayapura every year I prepare myself psychologically for the variety of moods I go through. There is the mood of anticipation. What surprises will come my way? This year the stunning reality came when seeing the superstructure of the local project manifest. The temple being built will be the size of St. Paul's Cathedral. It appeared to have shot up out of the ground since last year's visit at this time.

It certainly wasn't shocking to hear that three young teens were found climbing the 300 foot crane the night before. They were not applauded for their foolish stunt.

Also the spirit of joy fills the atmosphere, especially in the morning. Devotees get particularly excited about the morning sadhana and the sacred worship of the best of plants, tulasi. Chanting, drumming and dancing is at its best. You are a true wallflower if you don't move to the sound of the drum beat.

There is also the mood of fatigue. By the tail-end of a six-hour long meeting (with a break of course) I guess I looked quite tired and perhaps a trace of bitterness. Two of my peers during the session smiled at me with some pity knowing my impassioned love for meetings. Naturally, there is some love and that is love for the guru and the mission and that's why I exercise some loyalty. I guess I looked so off that I could be used as an instant souring agent that turns milk into yogurt.

The great rehearsals with the youth from 7-9AM and 7-9PM are exhilarating. It's a positive mood. Then there's the mood of disgust. From our room #506 in the Gada Building you hear the sound of hocking when the locals grab all of the phlegm of the universe and spit it out. It just sounds like rakshasas (monsters) having a hay day and competition. Who can be the longest, loudest and then throw it the farthest? These incredible sound effects tend to make their way through the plumbing system.

It's all so colorful. It's all so fun! The moods end in peace by night. The mind is tranquil.

5 KM

Monday, 21 February 2011

Saturday, February 19th, 2011

Naughty & Nice

Mayapura, India

Megabytes! That could be a play on words. I went for a brief walk accompanied by some devotees to the elephant section of the extraordinary spiritual retreat of Mayapura when somewhat unsupervised we edged our way toward the two gorgeous elephants . One of them, the older of the two females, Visnupriya, grabbed one of the boys' camera case, coiling her trunk around his torso in order to grab what could be a delicacy.

He tried to restrain but she was determined to grab the potential snack. She succeded and chewed and crunched. Doug was bold and tried to retrieve the useful commodity but Visnupriya wouldn't let up. She was biting the contents. She employed mega-bites and mixing saliva as the camera bag with contents of plastic memory cards inside was partially exposed from her mouth. Hmmmm! Maybe that's how elephants never forget. Perhaps their memories are sharp because they eat memory cards? Highly unlikely!

After a good chew she offered the contents of her mouth back to the donor, Gaura. Gaura wasn't exactly a happy camper. The cards were rendered useless. Each of his dozen or so cards had so many megabytes of RAM (Random Access Memory.) Gone forever!

We all were amazed by Visnupriya's voracious appetite. We were also actually quite worried she was going to swallow her curiosity. But no, she smartly rejected that meal.

Elephants are incredible. In parting from the elephants company the elephant jokes started to come out. One of the boys, Laksmipati asked, "Why are elephants so wrinkled?"

We couldn't guess. Answer: Have you ever tried ironing one?"

There were more jokes. Sharing jokes is a way of bonding. As we left Visnupriya and her younger friend Laksmipriya behind, we saw them bonding, rubbing each other, showing the kind of love that elephants do. They are Krishna's creatures, totally adorable.

4 KM

Friday, February 18th, 2011

Man On Line

Delhi / Kolkata

I never would have believed it if someone told me that you could have a fairly comfortable rest in the Delhi Airport. A carpeted clean floor, quiet corridor made for a perfect bedroom. As vairagis (renunciates) our party of four had no problem with such conditions as lying down in simple circumstances dozing for a few hours in the night.

As the sun rose, the airport became more active. We also rose. With a delayed flight it allowed time to wander and wait. At moments like this it's always a good exercise in patience.

Sitting next to me was a man with a computer going on-line. We chatted. I asked him if he was en route to Kolkata for business. Politely and with a smile, he answered in a very special way.

"No, it's not a business trip. It's service."

I came back saying, "Oh, I'm sorry. You work for the government in public services?"

"No!" He said to clarify a point. "It's a service that I do as I am with a company."

"Oh! I think I understand. The word business is somewhat harsh. It's like saying 'I don't work, I see it as play or recreation.'"

To that remark he lit up even more. I expressed to him that I do my devotions and it never ever appears to be a drudgery. The remark resonated so well with him over the choice of words. I thought 'wouldn't it be great if the whole world would see their engagement as a contribution. You have to love your work or employment. You sometimes hear people say, "I gotta go to work." Wouldn't it be brighter and in the right spirit to say, "I get to go to work" as in no cynicism implied?'

The man reminded me that we approach each task with joy. And as he smiled away carrying himself well-mannered it now became time to board.

2 KM

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Female Warriors


It's my wild guess that roughly a modest 3 kilometres was covered by our group of 3 and then 4 once reaching Brussels (where we met Gaura of Pennsylvania) through long airport corridors. It's not my real idea of walking because you don't have the outdoor oxygen or the reflexology that rough sidewalks, snow, grass or gravel provides but it is something.

Our airline is Jet Airways and plenty of passengers, many of Indian Hindu origin, recognize my sadhus attire. It invokes nods, "Hare Krishna" or "Jai Sri Krishna" remarks and conversations of sweetness. It was a tolerable travel because of the exchanges and the fixation of Doug and Marshall, my other companions, on devotional reading and chanting aside from the sneak peaking on the movie screen. Doug indulged in "Wall Street."

What I did ponder several times in the day was a provocative event to do with nuns. It was close to home somehow. Madhavendra, our ashram co-ordinator in Toronto, told me of when he attended the Brubeif school in eastern Ontario, near Ottawa. The English sector of the government was trying to run the nuns out of this Catholic-mentored school. When a government delegation came to attempt an apparent subtle siege the nuns stood in line, like warriors, each holding a lethal pin in their hand. The delegates, avoiding what would be a scuffle with les femes gladiators, turned around and went away. Life went on as normal.

I can just picture it. It must have been hilarious to have been there.

I like spiritual warrior stories.

3 KM

Photos from the japa walk on the 15th of February, 2011

Wednesday, 16 February 2011

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011

The Kindest of All

Over the Atlantic

The most kind of all sadhus (holy men) is being honoured today. Obscure to most people (because in a secular world who cares for the faithful?) but most sacred to those of the Gaudiya Krishnaite tradition, is the magnanimous personality, Nityananda Prabhu. Today he was born in the village Ekachakra, West Bengal.

In the 15th century a remarkable revival of bhakti took hold in various parts of India and Nityananda was a very forward saint who charged into a challenged form of dharma at the time with his outgoing nature. Like his close companion, Chaitanya, Nityananda, who was about 12 years Chaitanya's senior, enthusiastically and actively spread a consciousness of Krishna when exploitative tantric yogis took advantage of the simple minded.

Nityananda's routine was to go door to door with his friend Haridas, a former Muslim practitioner, and encourage folks to take to mantra chanting. His most famous interaction in this regard was with a couple of drunkards. Jagai and Madai, were born as brahmans but took to 'wine and women' as they say. Madai severely injured Nityananda when he approached the two liquored fellows, imploring them to alter their ways and take to the process of chanting.

Chaitanya, hearing of the trouble created, dashed off to the scene and was prepared to vent the ultimate chastisement (death by destiny) upon Madai, when Nityananda, with his bloodied forehead, begged forgiveness to Madai's behaviour. He plead, "You have come to spare the most fallen souls. Here is a most degraded one and he needs your kindness. He needs a chance."

Chaitanya quieted as a response to Nityananda's plea. Madai and Jagai both took to the rehabilitation given to them by Nityananda's kindness. They went on to become spiritually prosperous leaving behind their lowly ways.

Nityananda is very kind and although his passing took place centuries ago, one can still feel his presence and influence. Therefore, devotees around the world recite his name along with Chaitanya's in order to become recipients of his special kindness.

7 KM

Tuesday, 15 February 2011

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

Tecumseh Speaks for All Times

Toronto, Ontario

Okay! So I'm in a rush and I have to put something out there. Tomorrow I'm India bound. On today's trek I thought of heroes. One of my favourite warrior heroes is King Bhismadeva from the Mahabharat and I've quoted him. But I also have my secret heroes to do with my birthplace, Chatham, Ontario. Just down the river from where I grew up an admired warrior, Chief Techumseh, was shot at war in 1813 and died on the spot. And like Bhisma, Tecumseh was not just a warrior, but an eloquent philosopher and speaker.

Here's what Chief Tecumseh said which is truly inspirational.

"Live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about his religion.
Respect others in their views and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and of service to your people.
Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend,
or even a stranger, if in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people, but grovel to none.
When you rise in the morning, give thanks for the light,
for your life, for your strength.
Give thanks for your food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason to give thanks, the fault lies in yourself.
Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision.
When your time comes to die,
be not like those whose hearts are filled with fear of death,
so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time
to live their lives over again in a different way.
Sing your death song, and die like a hero going home."

7 KM

Monday, February 14th, 2011

Our Latest Monk

Toronto, Ontario

Our latest arrival as far as monks are concerned, is a mellow fellow from Slirguri, India and who spent two years in Birmingham. India, being the land of excess sun; the U.K., of excess rain; now Canada, his latest assigned place of residence, he now sees excess snow. So observes the young man in his twenties.

His name is Uttamananda, and I'll refer to him as the mellow monk, because that's just his disposition. I insisted that for an afternoon walk that our mellow monk wear pants. The day was windy. A dhoti (robe) is cold. The salt and wet areas ruin the delicate cloth. Gladly he took to trousers while the rest of us four ashram residents were snuggled up for fresh air and ready to do favour to our lets and bodies.

We headed for the Rosedale section of the city and then a ravine. Our mellow monk was charmed by the hairy and happy running collie dogs, three of them, who couldn't resist our petting them. "Their noses looks like fox," he remarked after giving some affection to the anxious collies.

It was Doug, who was amongst us, who posed a question to our mellow monk and me, regarding dogs.

"It says in the Gita that a dog, a dog-eater, a cow, elephant and brahman are supposed to be the same. How is that?" he asked.

Given that the samples Krishna identified are unilaterally very different from each other, the question has some validity. So we discussed that although the physical structures and mental and intellectual capacities vary so much, each creature mentioned has a living force - a spirit. That becomes the common denominator. There is the anti-material particle in all forms of life and hence that is what should make us harmonious.

The message discussed melted our thoughts and turned us all into mellow monks.

7 KM

Monday, 14 February 2011

Sunday, February 13th, 2011

Love Is Around the Corner

Toronto, Ontario

With Valentine's Day coming up I was asked to speak about love at a yoga centre. I opened up with a brief narration about the life of Valentinus, a resident of Rome, who was imprisoned for his Christian beliefs. While in jail the jail keeper developed an affinity for Valentinus and then introduced his daughter to him. The woman was blind. Valentinus and her fell in love. As the story is told, her eyesight had returned miraculously. His trial proceeded and he was given an option, either he believe in the Romans' gods and be freed or keep his Christian convictions and die. Valentinus decided to keep his affirmed beliefs and hence he was prematurely reincarnated. He died being in love with his wife and with God.

The talk kept rolling as the topic of love/lust is so intriguing for people. At question time a hand went up and one of the attendees expressed her sexual orientation as bi-sexual. The person wanted to know the Krishna Conscious stance on such an orientation and was relieved about two points as I addressed the topic.

First of all, I mentioned that the Krishna Conscious movement is underway to make a statement about its position on same gender relationship. Secondly, our founder and guru, Srila Prabhupada was accepting of anyone who demonstrated interest in devotion regardless of gender orientation. He always encouraged devotional activities and that that needed increasing whereas sexual activity, even heterosexual, is to be reduced for superior engagement. The idea is to reach the transcendental platform and to place less importance on physical romance. Through the process of bhakti one becomes content to love the Divine Spirit, Krishna, as one's eternal companion. No partnership can claim eternality.

The woman responded with happy tears.

10 KM

Saturday, February 12th, 2011

Feathers and Kids

Mississuaga, Ontario

The day was complete, so complete. Of course, I walked and that was before 4 AM. Then morning sadhana followed - a subtle regimentation of mantra-listening/reciting, then worship and dance. And dance I did later in the day. It was native dance. I had seen native Pow Wows in my life, but few. The largest of its kind is a massive annual convergence of First Nations People from across Canada in Toronto and I was there. What their dance has in common with Krishna might sound surprising. For a rehearsal of "8 Verses", which are the written illuminations of mantra master, Chaitanya, I incorporated native dance to the third verse addressing humility, tolerance, respect and fortitude - virtues that are universal to all.

One of our actors, Savya Sacin, donned a rented chief's costume. He looked like a real chief with feathers and all. I offered a short demonstration to him on native dance, an insert after the third verse. I consider myself fortunate. What swami gets the chance to show dance steps that are outside of one's own cultural realm?

In truth, I find native dance to be very pure, wholesome, passionate and folk-like, unlike the licentious stuff of today. Anyways, the rehearsals for this new skit allowed me the creative outlet I sometimes need.

The crown of the day was a birthday party for three kids in our community. Bless their innocent hearts! It's a monk's obligation to be there for them. They are the flowers of the universe.

7 KM

Saturday, 12 February 2011

Friday, February 11th, 2011

A Trail of Life

Toronto, Ontario

Lorne Vineberg is a personal friend who dines at the temple ashram's dining room from time to time. He handed me a CD of violinist Oliver Schroer, a friend of his who like me is also a walking pilgrim. I was delighted to receive the music (very spiritual). It's exquisite!

Perhaps the most talked about pilgrim trail in the world is the "Camino de Santiago", an eleven hundred year old pilgrim trail which makes its mark through the landscape of France and Spain. Oliver trekked between May and June of 2004 a thousand kilometres. The history in short of Santiago de compostela is the legendary burial place of St. James the Apostle and in the year 815, a hermit was led to the grave by shimmering, miraculous lights. The bones were identified by the gourd and the scallop the apostle always carried. A church was built over the tomb. Oliver, who trekked with friends, wrote, "El Camino, the road, a metaphor for a spiritual voyage, is also a very real physical path. It is a muddy trail through a forest. It is continuously changing in shape, colour, texture, mood... the one constant is the sound of footsteps. We crossed physical landscapes of mountains, fields, valleys and forests. Fellow pilgrims are from every continent."

On my walk, pilgrimages of a similar sort, I've met people who had the pleasure of being part of the walk at Santiago de Compostela. People testify that it's life-changing which to my ear hits a sensitive chord. I would like to see caminos everywhere. One acquaintance, Karnamrta, a gifted musician herself like Oliver, took that train last summer and loved it.

Long treks have that power to transform and you can't really understand it until you put your feet on the ground and move forward.

The easy listening of Oliver's CD reflects what was so experiential for him. Before his passing a couple of years ago, he wrote (and played) about the wisdom that came from his walking, "I hear the wonder - and the struggle - of getting to know the earth one step at a time."

6 KM

Thursday, February 10th, 2011


Toronto, Ontario

At noon our Haligonian monks and Torontonian monks along with our two young nuns, who recently arrived from Cleveland and Calgary, sat down with me for a reading about Chaitanya, who as a pilgrim, stopped at the home of brahman, Adwaita, for a relieving meal. All who listened to the narration delighted in the jovial exchanges between the brahman Adwaita, and Chaitanya's associate, Nityananda. They would bash each other with words.

It was this impression of light-heartedness that was an obvious norm for devotees. Spiritual life doesn't necessarily entail a glum or grim practice. While an approach of sobriety is standard, it can be punctuated with laughter and jokes. Personally for me life would be intolerable without humour. Humour is something our guru, Srila Prabhupada, engaged in. His mission which is serious in its conviction has layers and layers of lightness in order for it to have risen and grown. Stories of joy that shaped the movement are like the yeast in the bread.

My walking today involved a visit to Malabar's Costume Shop in preparation for some drama productions held in India. Bhakta Jeff is a serious monk, a young Canadian, who accompanied me to the costume place. It's a fun place. Jeff agreed. As part of his service he is accustomed to running errands, purchasing food for his fellow brahmacharis (monks) amongst other things. It was a first for him to see all the unique attire that changes a person's look and character. The place is shelved with masks, make-up, hats and props of all kinds - a little like a circus or dreamland. Naturally we tried a wig or two on his bald head. It was good for a laugh.

The life of devotion is always up. Those devoid of it have every reason to be downtrodden because you will die and everything's over.

In devotion we have a new life, a new day, a new dawn, a new chance. We keep chipper and cheer up each other.

5 KM

Thursday, 10 February 2011

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

Wednesday, February 9th, 2011
Toronto, Ontario

I had walked my allotment of distance west on Dupont, south on Christie, east on Bloor and across-over to the temple ashram. At the edge of park, Christie Pitts, is a massive lit up image of a tiger. To my speculation it's a symbol of Korean pride at the base of Little Korea. He's fully formed out of lights and sits content.

I thought of the contentedness of godsister Bhadra Priya who is being cremated tomorrow in Florida. I sat down for twenty minutes to write this poem in her honour.

Leaving Us Today

Dear Vaisnav, you are leaving us today
To take part in a much greater play
Fleeing from this world, a mix of sweet and sour
To ascend to the realm of the Higher Power.

It's hard for those who knew you well.
It's not for us to say or for us to tell.
We can't be greedy demanding your presence
We take from you and capture the essence.

Inspire you did and that we'll remember
From the start of the year to the end of December
You were loyal, determined, fixed, and straight
And overall your devotion was great.

You have cut the bonds, to join the One with the flute,
The One who claims He's the very root.
Let's sing! Let's dance! seeing you off
Let's be elated which is never enough

Bhaktimarga Swami
(in dedication to my godsister Bhadra Priya)

Wednesday, 9 February 2011

Tuesday, February 8th, 2011

Montreal, Quebec

Shelly Cook became a nun in the latter part of '72 or early '73 in the Krishna Consciousness movement. She joined the ashram, a rented Victoria home on 187 Gerrard Street, in what was known as the Cabbagetown section of Toronto. There on the second floor resided the women that she befriended while the men occupied the 3rd or top floor. Shelly became initiated as Bhadra Priya by His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada in late September of '73 when all but five to six people stayed back from the usual crammed quarters of the ashram.

Our thirty-five, or so, residents had left for "sankirtan", street chanting and distributing magazines and our home-made-family-business incense sticks. Shelly (or after referred to as Cheryl) and I stayed back for the ceremony, a fire sacrifice, as we called it then. My name was John and I became Bhaktimarga. Her name, Bhadra Priya, stayed with her for the time she was living with us in Toronto and during her stay in the ashram near Wheeling, West Virginia.

She was always dutiful, loyal and got along with all of us in the ashram. She first came as a genuine spiritual seeker and when she found Krishna she got hooked. I remember she was the ashram's photographer. She loved to take pictures of the deities of Krishna. A friend described her as "simple, solid and positive."

What is unfortunate is that she had to leave us. She was struggling with cancer for the last three years and was finally called to leave for a more painless life. She will be missed by many of us.

Bhadra Priya was born on Nov. 9th in 1946. She did leave ashram life for a time and worked with the Toronto Transit System as a driver on one of the city's main routes for over twenty years. She put her heart into what she did. She was an avid spiritual reader. The last days spent were in Alachua, Florida with godsisters and friends. For the last hours people were chanting around her. It happened the way she wanted.

And for me, I always, always admired her strong sense of sincerity. She really was an inspiration. Hare Krishna!

4 KM

Monday, February 7th, 2011

Slush and a Fresh Cab Driver

Montreal, Quebec

Yves Prescott is a hotbed of information about native culture, being part Mohawk. We've been friends for years, ever since shortly after I became a monk in the 70's. Recently he's become a wealth of info about African history, a result of currently working in an African art gallery. But today we bounced to the history of an earlier Montreal in the area just east of Centre-Ville, where the Poles and Anglophones had settled. We trudged through streets of slush, primarily Ste. Catherine's admiring an architecture of yesteryear. The facades and turrets of certain edifices reflect a French influence. It's nice to see the style of past tastes. It certainly puts modern attempts to shame.

Yves and I had to detour numerous times the newly formed ponds of slush at street junctures. Never is there a dull moment in the matter of trekking. It takes expertize to keep dry feet in such conditions.

Our dry-foot walk culminated with a chanting session at Pie IX Boulevard temple, then a talk I conducted from the Gita. As we completed a well participated discussion, a woman came to me. I won't mention her name as she would appreciate the privacy. She told me she enjoyed her recent trip to India except for near the end. She had a not-so-nice experience with a cab driver.

Because of television, movie and internet portrayal of western women as loose, men of the east often misunderstand. This rather tall and powerful man stood outside her door of the cab as she descended the vehicle. He expressed to her demanding more than just the cab fare. The woman who is well groomed and has 20 years of martial arts training make a plea to Krishna for help. With her hand she gave him an ever-so-light push (as she described it) and this sent him landing several metres away. He was flat on the ground. She was startled, so was he and several witnesses as he struggled to his feet.

"Where did all that power come from?" people wondered.

What was most amazing about the narrative was just a short true tale about self-defense but the victim's humble spirit behind her telling.

"Did I do the right thing?" she asked.

"You sure did, but in the future do travel with a companion. There's protection and you can then share talks and experiences together."

3 KM

Monday, 7 February 2011

Sunday, February 6th 2011

Oh Happy Day!

Russell, Ontario

Gaurachandra and I slept the night at Russell's Music Academy, also the home of newly-weds, Kasper and Vraja. I woke up very content from the previous evening's successful workshop on the nine steps of devotion. As mentioned in a part entry to this blog, if my memory serves me correctly, there is often times a tendency within a devotional gathering to routinely execute the process in a formal way and to forfeit the heartfeltness of bhakti itself.

When assessing the workshop I asked the participants which aspect of the presentation they liked the most. The consensus was 'befriending someone'. It appears that while we give all of our reverence to the Divine (Krishna) we may forget the people around us who are also expressing adoration. It's easy to lose sight of the need to acknowledge the others around us. Let's not forget the parts and parcels of the Supreme as we remember Him.

The joy I felt from the participants' happiness carried over into this morning and as I explored practically every street of the town which had been snow-shovelled minutes before I trekked its sidewalk. Indeed snow accompanied my japa journey as it does fairly regularly these days. Once completing the trek I volunteered to shovel the Academy's driveway with pleasure. Pushing snow out of the way feels like removing karma from the heart. This chore merely extended these feelgood hours.

Gaurachandra and I drove off to Montreal for the evening's Open House program which included initiations of candidates into the process [formally]. Kasper and Vraja from Russel also came. Kasper asked me what gives me the fire to forge ahead, to which I answered, "All the nine steps (beginning with hearing and chanting) and which includes pushing snow (and karma)."


Saturday, February 5th, 2011

Big Time Exploitation

Ottawa, Ontario

Enroute to Ottawa along highway 7, a brand of the Trans Canada Highway, I was fortunate to step out of a car and walk a humble 3 kilometers. My companion, Gaurachandra, feeling the effects of driver's drowsiness, needed the break while I needed the stretch. I walked the town of Marmora and beyond. Dog sled competition were taking place as the townsfolk converged for a Winter Fest.

Dog sledding was learned from the natives. While trekking I thought of the Ojibway living in this very area that I walked my short distance. As a sequel to our drama of last summer "Lonely people" I am preparing a new script "Greedy People." There is countless evidence that Europeans came here, learned from the First Nations people how to survive, but exploited them. The research for the topic greed led me to a "Touch the Earth" by T.C. McLuhan about indigenous people, mostly chiefs, declaring how they are forced to change their ways. It's an eye-opening read. Here's an excerpt from Chief Luther Standing Bear:

"Our first resentment was in having our hair cut... Short hair being the mark of gentility with the white man, he put upon us the mark, though he still retained his own customs of keeping the hair-covering on his face. Our second resentment was against trousers, based upon what we considered the best of hygienic reasons. Our bodies were used to constant bathing in the sun, air, and rain, and the function of the pores of our skin, which were in reality a highly developed breathing apparatus, was at once stopped by trousers of heavy, sweat-absorbing material aided by that worst of all treatments- red flannel underwear... Many times we have been laughed at for our native way of dressing, but could anything we ever wore compare in utter foolishness to the steal-ribbed corset and the huge bustle which our girls adopted after a few years in school?

"The Indian, essentially an outdoor person, had no use for the handkerchief; he was practically immune to colds and like the animal, not additced to spitting. The white man, essentially an indoor person, was subjected to colds, catarrh, bronchitis, and kindred diseases. He was a cougher and a spitter, and his constant use of tobacco aggravated the habit. With him the handkerchief was a toilet necessity."

In another excerpt by Chief Red Jacked of the Senecas who made an address to a council which included a young missionary named Cram. Here we get to a point about greed.

"Brothers, our seats were once large, and yours were small. You have now become great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country, but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us."

Red Jacket moved to shake hands with the missionary; Cram refused saying, 'There was no fellowship between the religion of God and the Devil.' The Indians smiled and retired peacefully.


Saturday, 5 February 2011

Friday, February 4th, 2011

The Beauty of the Sear

Toronto Ontario

We had completed an event "An Evening of Bhakti" organized and performed by this city's own bhajan group "Gaura Shakti" I was introduced as special guest for the program. Once the mic was handed to me I raised a mild protest "How could that be? I live here!"

Within the walls of our temple ashram in Govinda's Dining Room an evening of chant, dance, and try to trance took place culminating with a tasty chow mein (we stretched the concept of the meaning of "eastern"). Yoga students from curious groups broke from the strick asana formations to ride the smooth wave of kirtan.

At 10pm during mingling period I realized thta I hadn't yet hit the sidewalk for the day. I donned winterwear and took to walking, as self-obligation. But while body was street-bound for some while, mind stayed in the room where kirtan permutated the others. "What a soothing experience!" I thought.

My mind walked back to nine hours before when I sat at a table of the same room talking with someone about the same thing I had two weeks prior-surgery.

"The stitches pinch, don't they?" I remarked.
"My doctor said he was proud of the sear he created" said my visitor a patient of a form of cancer.

"Okay" we thought. Doctors have to revel in something. I guess its something like a warrior who boasts of his wounds and scars. The history of war events in India tell that a wound is a mark of heroism. One Rujput Queen refused her husband's entrance into the palace since he returned from battle with no injury. I guess its the sign of chivalry.

Before retiring for the night I looked at my hernia sear and had to admit my innate-quary at seeing it as a beauty mark. What to do? Beauty is in the eyes of the beholder. I'm so programmed from my generation. I still don't necessarily regard even a tatoo as "cool." Forgive me for my being so square. Conditioned that I am I try to see the beauty of God, His form, His name...

I really got to see "the scar" and the beauty of the name as I completed my mantra meditation for the day. The clock struck midnight. I rested.

8 KM

Thursday, February 3rd, 2011

The Banyan Tree

Toronto, Ontario

The other day when visiting a family from the community I read a tale which is in the realm of children's books but which is applicable for any age group. It's entitled "Perfect Creator" and its moral behind the banyan tree. It is produced by Sri Vaikuntha Enterprises. I wanted to share it as its about a man who went on a walk. Here's as I read it:

"It was a HOT day. Ramu began the long journey to his uncle's village. On the way, Ramu saw a huge banyan tree spreading its branches, welcoming him to rest under its shade. Ramu lay down on the cool grass, reveling in the shade of the old banyan. As he rested, he looked up at the branches of the tree. He noticed the tiny fruit on the huge banyan. He said to himself, 'I believe that the great Lord is the most intelligent of all. But why did He create a huge banyan tree with such small fruits?'

"He thought of the pumpkin creeper in his backyard. The creeper was slender but its fruit was so BIG! He thought, 'Surely the Lord has made a big mistake! The huge trees MUST have large fruits and the small plants, tiny fruits.' the cool breeze and the soothing shade of the banyan tree slowly lulled Ramu into a deep slumber, when suddely...

"He awoke with a shock and shook and shook with fright as he wondered what hit him. he thought, 'If it had been been bigger, I would have been hurt badly!' He folded his hands in prayer and thanked the Lord, 'You are the wisest! You made this great banyan tree for weary travelers like me to rest under but its fruit tiny so they may not hurt anyone resting in its shade. I shall never doubt your creation again. you are the perfect creator.'

"Ramu thus understood that God is perfect, and everything created by Him is perfect."

8 KM

Thursday, 3 February 2011

from "The Three Lives of Bharat" drama

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2011

Black Night

Toronto, Ontario

"Crunch! Crunch!" goes the sound of the feet over fresh laden snow. The rhythm remains uneven though, as some of the sidewalk is revealed having been shoveled and scraped, then salted.

The trekking was essential after a meal of hot ravioli and delicious wraps with hummus. Thanks to Adi Kurma and Amala, the cooks, all went down well. The walking encourages it all to burn in the furnace of my stomach while moving through the evening's new moon air.

The sky is black; the ground, pure white. In a tiny parkette, someone has taken to the ice gliding over its hard surface and in this family friendly neighbourhood of Annex walkers, equal the number of motorists. "Jaya!" I say in my heart denoting the sign of victory. With the onslaught of a blizzard earlier on automation has been retarded or halted.

Nature seemed to have won the arm wrestle with man tonight. To that gain my soul leaps with the expression of "Jaya!"

It will remain so, nature's dominance, until the morning rush of passion when I will be in the temple singing with monastic brothers, the song, "Vibhavari Sesa". The author, Bhaktivinod Thakura, remarks, "The night has come to an end and the light of dawn is entering. O jiva soul, rise and give up your sleep."

Those words are meant for me as much as for anyone else. We are cocooned in our ego. The sleep is very deep like some of the snow I'm treading through.

"Crunch! Crunch!"

4 KM

Wednesday, 2 February 2011

Tuesday, February 1st, 2011

On the Street and At the Stairs

Toronto Ontario.

I had walked an awesome ten kilometers day walking downtown while simultaneously searching for luggage with prospects to purchase for the coming trip to India. The pieces of luggage I inspected weren't impressive from a durable point of few. When ending up in Chinatown I actually admired modest prices while the quality there was unchanged. My search for baggage wasn't my preoccupation.

I peered at the construction going on in the downtown while trekking. I am astounded by the costs of condos going up. While some have a going rate of 1/2 million it wasn't uncommon to read the signeage from 1 million to 17 million dollars. A Canadian dollar these days is neck to neck with America. So That's astronomical. And this is the way people prefer to live? In a box? In the air?

When I completed my physical work-out I returned to the precincts of my nesty room at the peak of the stairs of the temple ashram. I unlaced my trekking shoes and readied myself for my indoor slip ons. There at my eye level is a penantrating look at a master picture by photographer Haidee Malkin, showing a woman from India, squatted down at her produce of fruit and veggies. I had delibrately hung it there as well as it's mate a photo from rural Gujarat displaying a turbonned farmer employing two oxen yolked to a turning device for irrigation.

The reason I said "deliberate" is that I wanted to always remind myself of what our guru challenged his students to do- to support and implement natural living entailing the securing of land, the production of food and placing value on the animals.

In the long term, I don't see sustainalibility in condo culture, no more than I do in condoms culture. It's all rather unnatural isn't it?

10 KM