Monday, 30 May 2011

Saturday, May 28th, 2011


Thunder Bay, Ontario

At the fifth annual Yogafest in Thunder Bay our small cast will present the BHAKTI aspect of the six hour show. I tell people, "You've heard of the DaVinci Code right? Well we are presenting Chaitanya's Verses." This is a 10 minute dance piece that seems to excite audiences wherever we take it.

Godruma Goura from Pennsylvania and Anthony from Ottawa are the two dancers that move through and dance out the illuminating verses, 8 in number, to accompany them in a second drama, "the Jagannatha Story" are Madurya Shakti, a Concordia U. theatre student and Nitai Priya, a multi - talented performer.

I had a look at the local university paper, "The Argus." It appears that crime is an issue in this city amongst youths. So, I thought about it. There's a perfect way to engage the wild nature of early adulthood -- take to some performance. Look at what you have -- youthful energy and channel it through dance, song, drama, music, martial arts.. Organize yourselves ( or allow yourself to be organized ) by grouping with peers for the purpose of striving for excellence. Establish a synergy and send a message of consciousness - raising to the public.

Before treating our crew to a reshowing of the film, "The King's Speech" (an inspiring piece of art) and rental courtesy of our host, Dr. Jani, I read a portion of the book, "Krishna, the Spreme Personality of Godhead". Although the episode of "Krishna" which we read captured Him in a setting with his friends in a younger than adult age, the point of teaming, grouping (whatever you wish to call it) was something He was immersed in. The point is that in His life, Krishna endowed playing or working together with peers in some sort of wholesomeness. Much can be said about the downside of the duldrums of dark - room computerism and texting endlessly by virture of being outdoors and making the best of it.

I believe it is a strong message that needs reiterating. Explore the out-of-doors and/or take up projects that build teamwork. It's so important in building up a healthy and strong social-intercourse for the world. And that is what we should all be aiming towards.

5 Km

Friday, May 27th, 2011

I was there before

Sault Sanit Marie, Ontario

It's an approximate 1,700 km to Thunder Bay, which I venture to every year for a Yogafest. Devotees volunteered to act, dance, and sing at the program which is now in its fifth year, a rental car got us to this northern city which promotes itself as "Superior by Nature." "Superior" refers to the gigantic lake at whose head it rests and "Nature" defines the unique wilderness around this town of 100,000 people.

We stopped at the midway point at what is the city of Sault Saint Marie and what people call the Soo. A Gujarati family hosted us for lunch. It was stops like this as well as gas up time or nap breaks that allowed me the chance to hit the road for walking installments.

Wow! We spotted bears along the way, four of them. I also looked at places as we whizzed by on the Trans Canada Highway, places that struck a memory chord. There's what's left of the abandoned barn where I managed to catch a rest and there's the stream where I swam with George; yogi George who I learned recently found frozen to death as he lay down some where in the Alps. And there are the wetlands near Agawa where we harvested cattails and wild sweetpeas to cook and consume while living in our simple style on the road. And as we approached Old Woman's Bay I recall the location on the highway where a police officer was very belligerent with me. On the lighter side there were silly signs, moose droppings and inookshooks, rock men.

The scenery really is stunning and makes what would normally be a long gruelling drive a rather pleasent excursion. Luckily I was able to knock off nine km for the day. It's all the mercy of Krishna.

9 Km

Friday, 27 May 2011

Wednesday, May 15th, 2011

A Soul

Toronto, Ontario

He was about ten years my senior and as my pace for walking overtook him I had many questions and thoughts milling through my mind about him.

Is he homeless? No! He's dressed rather well to mediocre. He was hobbling. There was a sadness about him. His head was bent by the neck tilted to the side and almost resting on his chest as he walked. Something clinically not perfect here. I wanted to make eye contact, to offer at least a nod but he was set in moving ahead and didn't notice me. It wasn't really an aimless walk. In fact he forged ahead reather determinedly.

I meandered several streets chanting on my beads when I came upon him again. This time it was face on but he still didn't notice me. It seems he was on a wayward whimsical route as well. I looked back as he trailed his way down a lonely street with a hobble and his head buried to his chest.

It was night. Where was this soul going? I only imagined he has a history and a karma that is unique to anyone else. Whether it is to be shared or not who knows? It crossed my mind that he knew pain. I admired him though for his walking about -- this mystery man. "He's making the best use of his situation," I thought.

Krishna, please bless him. Bless him a lot. He may have no friends except for you.

6 KM

Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Tuesday, May 24th, 2011



I was being driven to Miami Airport when a devotee passenger asked about my year of becoming a monk. "It was in '73." "How about initiation?" he asked. "Same year." He asked aobut the second initiation, known as a brahminical (priest) order. "It was '74." "How about your third initiation?" Here he was referring to the acceptance of the sannyas order (celibate for life and to teach). "Now that was years later, in '84"

He was curious or maybe even facetious when he asked me, "Is there a fourth initiation?" "Yes, death!" To that remark my questioner went hysterical. As I explained, "you just might receive liberation and if not, that then a new body, a new order."

Our car stopped at U.S. Airways for me to secure my boarding pass. As I picked up my luggage the devotee known as Krsnadasa asked another on, "Will you write about this in your blog?" "Hey, I probably will."

He just liked the 'death line' so much. We bid farewell, exchanging obeisances, hugs and "take care!" remarks.

After a flight with stopover at Charlotte, I was picked up at the Toronto Airport. I asked my driver, Madhavendra, to drop me off before reaching home so I can walk a distance. For 6 kilometres I trekked (4 later in the day). A thought came to my head.

Life is like a deadline. You take a good shot at this life, then you die. "It's a test," I remember telling Krsnadasa, "you then are initiated into a new existence."

10 Km

Monday, May 23rd, 2011

Near Perfect - Near Fun

Miami, Florida

Down Main and Douglas Rd. we went at the hour of brahma-muhurta (pre-dawn). Three devotional men and one devotional woman tread this path through a banyan tree-lined district. Affluent homes, private schools and religious institutions, a synagogue, Episcopalian and Catholic churches occupy plots of waterfront with the Atlantic to one side and the commutes road to the other. A touch of Vrndavan, India, marks this place with peacocks cooing at almost every one of the greenish urban blocks.

Garga Muni, one of the devotional men, bursts into a laughter as we are trekking. Just out of the blue he chuckles and then explains himself

“It just doesn’t get better than this,” he says, implying that the atmosphere, time and company was near perfect. I was inclined to agree. In particular good company or what is referred to as sanga is critical to establishing our spiritual development. The spiritual bond with people is essential. Such was expressed by the great teacher of devotion, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. His directive was to keep company with the spritually evolved.

In the afternoon a group of devotees took the value of this good association to include some water-fun at Biscayne Key beach district. It was another exploration of bonding and something that Mahaprabhu participated in, in a matter of loving exchange. His final retiring phase of pilgrimage was Puri in the state of Orissa. There, He lost Himself in water-play with His spiritual associates.

I wanted to say this to verify that my associates and I were not just in frivolous illusion. There are times for us to be less formal and the need to bring in the human touch.

9 KM

Sunday, May 22nd, 2011

Cooling Off in Miami

Miami, Florida

Being in a Canadian body, I hanker for coolness to contend with Florida’s heat. This is happily accomplished by catching the ocean breeze in the early morning and at night. That’s also when to walk.

In the day the natural regime is “stay indoors”. Keep cool with a fan (or two) and sip fresh papaya juice with powdered cardamom seeds sprinkled inside.

I had my “rounds done”, meaning that I had completed my prescribed chanting with the aid of meditation beads on a 108 beaded strand. I had done sixteen revolutions or “rounds”. This brings about a mental coolness, a necessary preparedness for discussing some hot topics for the day.

Malati, a God-sister, dressed in her usual saffron sari, and elders of the Krishna community here had ample dialogue in the guest room in which I’m accommodated. It was a healthy mental and intellectual exercise. I felt like my brains were working. Only once during the course of our discussions did I ponder tomorrows drive to the ocean.

In the evening Cuban born, Iksvaku, officiated as priest to a fire sacrifice. He stoked the fire in the small brick structured Kund or fire pit of sand. In the usual style and procedure of feeding the fire with ghee and the utterance of mantras the ceremony of diksha (initiation) was firmed up. A member of the community, a strong-bodied, soft-hearted Jose received a new name, Jaya Dharma.

He has become the recent hero in the community by giving an extraordinary face-lift to the Temple’s exterior. The interior will soon begin. Devotional service can be executed in multiple ways. Adding welcoming colours to the building was his way of serving. Anyone endeavoring on the spiritual path should ask, “What is my service?”

Saturday, May 21st, 2011

Stand But Be Tossed

Miami, Florida

Well, the earth still stands. Another Doomsday prophesy went up in smoke. We will hold our breath until a new one surfaces. In the meantime we shall chant and serve Krishna and the world.

I filled out the blue slip, a Customs form to enter the United States. The questionnaire asks if the purpose of the trip is business and I checked it as “No”. The actual intent of my visit to Miami was to offer and receive sanga, spiritual association. While in the air I considered that if the world dissolves would American Airlines Flight 2173 be immune to devastation? Where would we Land?

I did land and was welcomed at the Miami ISKCON Temple, newly painted and looking good. In the evening a town meeting was called or as we call it, Istaghosti, a gathering of devotees who were speaking from their hearts about what they love about the Temple and secondly, what areas need improving? It was a good exercise which involved people volunteering to assist in some restructuring. Now we merely need to see the follow-up. In the process, a few “trees were shaken” so to speak, meaning that in some indirect way, individuals were challenged. Again such an exercise is good.

As I was saying to Jonathan, a Krishna novice, who very enthusiastically took to walking with me and another monk, Johnudvipa, “It’s good for trees to be tossed a bit by the movement of the wind. It strengthens the tree.”

6 KM

Friday, May 20th, 2011

What to Do About Doomsday Scenarios

Milton, Ontario

She is a young mother who was diagnosed with cancer a few months ago. The news hit her with gloom. Her husband was extremely supportive while their young son, age 4, knew little about what’s going on.

Fortunately with treatment and a whole lot of care and encouragement from the community (and God) she is now cleared of cancer. In appreciation of the remarkable support from all, the couple hosted a satsang (spiritual gathering). I was asked to attend, to speak, to chant. By the end of the evening the couple expressed their gratitude to all. The gloom was gone.

As I had wound up my talk speaking from the Gita 10:8 I asked for questions and a gentleman raised his hand. His question was, “What do you think about the doomsday theory? According to one group tomorrow the world ends.” Smiles came to the faces of some while others looked rather unphased.

My answer: Doomsday is everyday. We can die at any moment. We can prepare ourselves for that personal time in crisis, however Chant with an open heart. Fix the mind on the absolute. There is no reason to believe that May 21st is an apocalyptic date. Nothing verifies that from a Vedic perspective but what is certain is that each and everyone of us is mortal. Let’s immerse ourselves in a culture of encouragement and service for His pleasure.

0 KM

Saturday, 21 May 2011

Thursday, May 19th, 2011

I Had Mentioned

Toronto, Ontario

I had mentioned about and idea for a new play, something to do with an android that was cloned from a real human if that’s even possible. “The idea arose when I was walking”, I said as I confirmed it to three persons at a play practice. The most inspirational times for me, so it seems, are when I’m in the middle of a rehearsal or when I’m walking.

Oh, and it can also happen during kirtan chanting, in front of deities or while devotionally dancing. The more I think aobut it the more I realize that a light bulb can turn on in the head at almost anytime. At least I would like to believe that inspiration comes often when strolling or trekking. Reflection is deep at that time. I recall conceiving the idea of a cross country walk while I was walking. And then there’s the stayovers in Ottawa. One of my favourite routes of all is the trek along the Rideau and Ottawa Rivers and including Parliament Hill. It’s an impressive trail. It’s a well known fact that the country’s most popular Prime Minister, Trudeau, took a walk on this trail during a snow storm and got the inspiration to quit his job, which was a long reign.

I reflected on my time in Mauritius which was recent. While walking Bloor Street in mid evening, I got jacked up just thinking about the enthusiastic walkers there. Then my mind shifted to photographed images of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, walking on the boardwalk of the Beaches in Toronto in ’75. That alone inspires me to continue the promenade.

I sometimes see people depressed. Even one of our monks was feeling down the other day and I urged him, “You need some inspiration. Go for a walk.” He eventually did and felt better.

10 KM

Wednesday, May 18th, 2011

More of Teeth, Less About Feet

Mississauga, Ontario

I asked the young dentist, "Which avatar shows his prowess by displaying the teeth? I put him on pause for a few seconds until his father, who was by his side, seemed to get the answer right.

"Narasingha?" he speculated.

"Right you are," I said, confirming the extraordinary and majestic half-lion half-man image whom one can read about in the book Srimad Bhagavatam.

Bobby Bakri, the dentist who was affectionately put on the spot, thumbed-up his dad's answer, and who is well read on the story of the lion-hearted avatar who came to give protection to the child-saint Prahlad. Bobby agreed that you cannot get a better set of teeth than those of Narasingha.

It is a yearly event that a small band of us Krishna devotees visit Bobby's dental clinic for chanting, veggie prasad, juice and dialogue (after hours, of course). Bobby and father reciprocate with a kind donation towards our Festival of India event for July. Bobby went on to discuss about sharks who have their threatening teeth. He relayed that ocean fish experts say, "Even if a shark's teeth are all busted, his jaws and teeth grow back again."

It shows that sharks are rather resilient as ocean dwellers. Do note that sharks are identified as THE aquatics of the ocean. Krishna states in the Bhagavad-gita, "Amongst aquatics, I am the shark."

Now, back to the clinic. It's cozy, friendly, and as each room gets visited by our little chanting brigade we are confident that when we sing through our dentures and to room to room, the facility gets surcharged with spiritual power. Come to think of it, chanting is the supreme function of the mouth and teeth.

8 KM

Wednesday, 18 May 2011

Tuesday, May 17th, 2011

Awesome People

Toronto, Ontario

The fellow objected, "Hey, I'm an aboriginal and you're doing that in my country?"

It was my pranams (hands folded together) that he didn't like. I had walked by the trainway station-turned-liquor store on Yonge St. when the fellow stood by asking for change. I held up hands in the pranam gesture when he blurted out the remark. Now I could have responded with a "Listen, everyone's an immigrant here. You're ancestors may have came 10,000 years ago through the Berring Strait and my parents come from Holland after WWII, but we are all a result of migration." Of course, I dind't want to go there and say that. It's important to keep your cool - it's a monk's obligation.

Other remarks on this cheery afternoon were more pleasant. "Hey, Buddha! I love yah!" yells a guy across the street at Summerhill Ave. He threw a manly kiss. then a woman by the name of Fiona recognized me, "Well, I haven't seen you for years." I told Fiona that turning a corner at her home has been part of my walking route for years. She didn't know about my three treks across Canada.

"Well, that is amazing. You know you've got my favourite colour on."

I invited her to the temple as she was in the middle of gardening when she first spotted my saffron clad robes. She's considering the invite for the future.

I was met by many smiles on this day. I don't know why it was so special. The weather has been sombre, overcast for days, but somehow through the mystery of Krishna the bulk of pedestrians, gardeners and shoppers were just awesome.

8 KM

Monday, May 16th, 2011

Nature and the Source

Toronto, Ontario

Oh, Nature! You are so interesting! Today you created a new surface on the sidewalk. With your wetness and your wind and your weight you hurled buds and blossoms to the ground, changing its colour and texture.

Crocs don't take a liking to the slippery dynamics you've created. One must walk with care.

Oh, Nature! Our guru used to trigger our thoughts when he asked, "Who's nature?" I have a nature, everyone has a nature. Sometimes people say Bhaktimarga's nature is so and so. That means it's the way I am. It denotes a unique attitude, taste, preference, etc.

When I think of nature, which you cannot avoid in the out-of-door, we see it as mysterious, unpredictable, sensational, flickering.

It's easy to give nature the adjective "divine", because there is something very pure about it, yet sometimes it turns against us. It kills us. It also gives us life. It is sometimes hard to figure out.

If we look to its source we may detect something wild and wonderful in it. Some Sanskrit words beginning with 'a' come to mind when deliberating on nature's source. Words such as ananta (unlimited), ajita (unconquerable), aja (unborn), adhoksaja (incomprehensible). There are so many words which describe nature's divine source.

Oh, Nature, as you move along, so many events pass with you. Damodhara and Radha Krishna were just married. Subuddhi is celebrating her birthday. Dave got out of prison. Someone is dying and someone is being born. you are the witness and the agent behind all of this. That is how it stays. Credit goes to the One who made you.

7 KM

Sunday, May 15th, 2011

Trails and Messages

Cleveland, Ohio

I left New Vrindavan today. It is a pilgrimage place designed specifically to encourage meditation on Krishna. My visit had expired and I made sure that I had a minute or so to express to the new management under the able guidance of Jai Krishna, a devotee from Switzerland, that this meditation can be enhanced if there was the development of nature trails on the property. Pilgrims could come anticipating treks through nature's foliage.

"Let the city folks have a real retreat, see God's country, have a good workout and above all be in an atmosphere conducive to spiritual consciousness. These trails would be a great place to chant."

I suggested the same to Radhanatha Swami, an American monk who spent a good portion of life here in the seventies. He then suggested light heartedly, "I guess you'll need to spend more time here." "I don't know about that," I responded, thinking I'm spread out thinly enough with the continual travels.

I left with Akhilananda and Madhavendra Puri of Toronto for Cleveland. Once we arrived at the city's east end at the home of Krishnanandini and Tariq, we sat to discuss verse 2:45 from the gita. The divine words of Krishna amplify the intent to go beyond the numbers 2 and 3. The figure 2 refers to the dualities of life - hot and cold, good and bad, praise and defamation, etc. The figure 3 refers to the three conditions of life - goodness, passion and ignorance.

Krishna is saying to Arjun (and to us essentially) to rise above the 2 and the 3. This is where the word 'transcendence' is most applicable. The message is that we must go beyond and become truly divine. It's a message that the gathering in Cleveland so much enjoyed listening to, and it's something that always needs reminding.

9 km

Sunday, 15 May 2011

Saturday, May 14th, 2011

To Warren and Salem

Salem, Ohio

With no time to trek I dashed off to Warren, Ohio with Akilananda das, to visit our young Arjun at the Correctional Services. The day was just cracking open at 6 AM and we drove the curving road of West Virginia to reach Ohio. Near Salem we saw a hawk soaring from above and clutched in his claws was a small bird. It's ma or pa an angry crow swirled around the hawk as both in flight moved with their own desperate purpose.

For a break we parked near a convience store, munching on tofu sandwiches when a woman caught notice of our robes.

"Hare Krishna! I was asked to see you guys at the Village in New York thirty five years ago," she said. It was her flash back for the day and there maybe many more as it is with the nature of the mind to reverse time and excelerate ahead with our thoughts.

Once Akilananda and I reached the prison, a cheerful black woman by the name of Abigail asked about our order. And interestingly enough a white woman by the name of Abigail explained her time in India on a student exchange program. She was in Hyderabad and expressed how she felt safe in India and is eager to return.

Arjun was our reason for the visit and he was so pleased to hear about the response for his oun showing of his pop art masterpiece , a four foot tall temple made of popsicle sticks. We relayed to him how our guru, Srila Prabhupada, approved his visa to the U.S.A. in 1965 when India's president Honourable Radha Krsna, approved it on the basis of his pious work counselling inmates in India's prison. Initially he was refused but after visiting prisons was his visa granted.

With our return journey back to New Vrndavan retreat in West Virginia we stopped at Akilananda's home in Salem and popped into seeing a friend who is an attorney. He was intrigued with the three time walking journeys across Canada. I made a point to say that the walk is always a pilgrimage, a way to reach people and inspire to be inspired.

3 KM

Friday, May 13th, 2011

Both Sides of the Creek

Moundsville, West Virginia

Water trickled down along the cliff's edge. There has been an excess of rain and hence water starts travelling downward from high above to hit different elevations before reaching the creek below, a local waterway that determined the reversal of my walking direction.

I met Adi Garee at the creek with his young son and daughter. "I walk here everyday to challenge diabetic inclinations" he said.

"You are wise to do so," I said. "What is the name of the dirt road that we were on?" I asked.

"I don't think it has a name so you can name it. Some people call it Creek Road , but you can give it a name," he said as if it would be a secret I thought.

"This wouid be an honour." "Wet Road" or "Mud Road" "How about Jewel Road named after all the jewel weed growing along it's side?" So at least between he and I we left it at that.

A vehicle stopped at the creek where we chatted. It was on to the home of Yudhisthir, a resident of the area. I had been invited to what's called an "electric kirtan" with lead singer Tee Kay. Getting on board allowed me to pass the creek "no bridge lies here you have to drive through it"

Meetings all day at the Krishna Lodge were meaningful, a major topic being "how to address the needs of our two current audiences, "Hindu and western" but it was the third day of a long session and by its end I started to get restless. Visiting Yudisthir who an expert at tunnel construction (he's gone through 15 different wheel barrows moving tunnel dirt), meeting the great people at his home and listening to plugged bhakti music was just what this monk needed to finish the day with calmness.

But let me report on the initial steps of the day's walk before I close on these words. Our dear divine couples, Mr. and Mrs. Swan, now have babies. Four eggs hatched and as I was about to turn the curve on the path at their nest I heard the chicks showing signs of life.

What does this day bring to mind? Someone is born and someone will die, and someone else will try to make sense of the two. That inquiry can lead to an epiphany of life.

8 KM

Friday, 13 May 2011

Thursday, May 12th, 2011

Restless and Stormy

Moundsville West Virginia

The sun greeted us with a bleeding red. He moved so fast with a passion, above the hills summit. So impatient he was.

There was something in the air, in the night past, a restlessness that restricted a number of us from a good sleep. Rompada Swami was one of them along with myself. A lack of phyiscal activity and too much chair sitting for meetings will do that for me. Meetings can be a curse while they are necessary and a responsibility. It would be good to incorporate downtime or chill-out time doing something creative together as a group as part of our recession.

I was given a specific sedentary service in addition to six hours of sit down discussing by laws, trademarks, and also including more visionary subjects. I was asked to give class from the Bhagavatam Canto 10. And in the evening I was asked to offer the first grains (kheer) to the six month old Hladini. Her parents whose names are Mary and Hotus arranged a venue, as they are visiting from the Carolinas. The samskar(sacrament)annaprasanna was done. Simple but sweet was the method.

As the day began with passion, so did the night. Humidity attacked us all day and now for its grand finale thunder and lightening came to interaction. It was dramatic and eventually ceased to a calm.

6 KM

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Wednesday, May 11th, 2011

Committed Couples

Moundsville, West Virginia

There have been alot of talking about parenting, coupling, and overall healthy relationships. Husbands and wives have united here at ISKCON's Moundsville country retreat, New Vrndavan, to take advantage of the seminars, a spin-off of "The Festival of Inspiration." These seminars are basically a reinforcement of the family unit. Called the Grhasta Vision Team these successful couples from various locations in North America do not exactly renew their marriage vows from decades past but they are here priming themselves for marriage counselling to others.

There is a great need-an understatement.

My personal admiration goes out to the cause and to those who have taken it up. It is a brave challenge. The war on the family is on. The state of ruined relationships that had potential to survive is disheartening. However, in spiritual circles such as the Grhasta group (grhasta meaning married person) is created.

This past weekend, and the follow up last two days have been encouraging for hopeful future couples as mentors sharpened their tools. I have sat in on some of these seminars as time allows and have come out feeling that warriors against the weakening of families are now well prepared.

I have made one observation about a couple I adore who are just totally committed to each other. I see them ever day in the waking hours as I do my walk, a loop around the lake.

This morning they were sitting together. Usually he was swimming in that very lake at whose edge they live. He enjoys the swim, actually more of a glide, while she is under a tree resting. He is most patient and she, maybe more. There on a pile of her homemade nest she roosts. She's expecting. She's a swan, a white swan and so is he. Each night they rest by each other's side expressing full loyalty.
Good role models, I'd say

5 KM

Tuesday, May 10th, 2011

In Order

Wheeling West Virginia

I don't always bother with names to county roads. We just walk them. Today the Miami crew and I took to the curvy northwest direction down a valley. We dropped in at a ghee factory and just beyond that a barn of mature cows and bulls, referred to as "aging cows"

Ghee, cows, country trails, walking. You can't get more satvic (mode of goodness).

For day two of Wheeling our chanting party set oursevles up at a park on the Ohio River. Not only was the spot more pretty than the previous day, people were also pleasant along the natural ambiance. A municipal statue of Walter Reuther, auto union leaders, and father of a friend, Lekhasravanti, looks over the the river.

It was the first time I had a violinst to play along as we broke from sitting. Allan a novice devotee of Puerto Recan decendt played a sweet violin as we passed by the city arena, and entered the "vibrant warehouse district".

I was rather pleased with his sound. It grabbed my attention a tough thing to do especially due to my meticulous nature when doing street chanting. Today as in all times in the public I insisted on a standard of discipline beginning with playing of the instruments to the way of the walking down the street. There must be some formation. I may tend to be a trite artistically militaristic about it. Our devotees are not always too accustomed to the approach.

"Two by two, two lines please." I shouted over their responsive voices to the mantra. Somehow they accepted the command until I must say it again because the lack of order has become a habit.

I believe in "Take order and there will be order."

12 KM

Monday, May 9th, 2011

Feeling Out Wheeling

Wheeling West, Virginia.

"Absence makes the heart grow fonder," was the theme of the class from Canto 10 of the book, Bhagavatam. Dravida, an expert at Sanskrit recitation of spiritual-evolved verses, was the morning's pundit. He affirmed that topic of a lofty nature is interaction between Krishna and His most cherished devotees involves being aware of thier confidentiality but to take a cautious path when entering into such mysteries. Such topics could be taken as mundane affairs and perceived as cheap. The phrase he used to describe premature advances into spiritual confidentiality as "sahajiya" which means easy. In any event Dravida's delivery was insightful.

After the class and a bulky breakfast a small band of pilgrims including myself and a brand new monk from Miami, Allen, set foot on an abandoned road trails in the area-trails that led to more abandonment. Homesteads now left to nature's whim were sights we came upon. Even the home, where our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had stayed in the seventies, still for the most part it remained intact.

Wander we did. Explore also. Plants of numerous kinds intrigued us. Signs of wild life by way of footprints and feces made us aware. People rarely hit the trail of our journey. Tics did land on us and our diligence at flicking off the little unfavorable bugs was a must. They seemed to like my legs. Upon returning for a shower before a chanting party engagement, these lyme disease carriers ended up crawling the with of my dhoti(lower robe). Disposing of them was not easy.

We spanned ten kilometers of bush trekking. And then three more in the city of Wheeling in the shape of a chanting party, caught people's interest. Here also in the city a human being is hard to find. The streets appeared to be abandoned. Motorists were abundent.

As we moved along these streets with our forty-strong chanters, both men and women, I caught at an eye's glance a piece of history from the municipals plaques. Apparently the famous cross country US trekkers Lewis and Clarke camped out here at Wheeling on the Ohio River in 1805. Their adventures were well recorded. Also of interest was that the American Civil War began here in the hills of West Virginia, near this area.

Rich history. Yes. And now Wheeling's downtown maybe all the more rich with some awesome sound vibration in the air.

13 KM

Tuesday, 10 May 2011

Sunday, May 8th, 2011

Popsicle Stick Temple

Moundsville West Virginia.

He worked at it for a good solid three years. It's a masterpiece of a job. Constructed entirely of popsicle sticke, match sticks, and tiny tulasi neckbeads with a nail clipper as the tool is this four front tall beautiful mini temple. The intricate work of what resembles a South Indian mandir is rather astounding. It lights up inside.

The architect's name is Arjun who lives in prison in Warren Ohio. Arjun suprised me when I first met him through his mentor Akilananda, in many ways. For starters he never set foot inside a temple, ever, and that's because he never knew about Krishna Conciousness before he entered prison. In fact he inquired his spiritual name over two years ago during an initiation held at his home prison. His sentence terminates in a few years when he will be 46. He was charged with manslaughter.

Arjun regrets the art of violence and has a change of heart. This is the second thing that is rather overwhelming about his approach and attitude towards life. Wardens at this correctional services centre love Arjun. His turn around earned him a confidence that placed him as art director of that place. Absent makes the heart grow fonder.

More heroically he is sharing his gift of devotion with others. Bruce is a 6 foot 4 inch inmate who has caught on to the charm of Krishna Conciousness. Bruce is vegetarian and is now chanting daily along with Arjun. This is the real "jailhouse rock."

In fact this day, May 8th, really did rock.

Our drama crew performed on the level of par excellence. I was so proud of the cast and crew. What remarkable feed back we received! I was in ecstasy. Seeing the cast strutting their bhakti stuff on the stage was like eating sweet honey cake with eyes and ears. But seeing Arjun's towering mini temple was the day's icing on the cake.

11 KM

Monday, 9 May 2011

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

Good Day Learning

Moundsville, West Virginia

What did I learn at a conference here? My notes reveal some stats including remarks -
everything from pro-vegetarian data to quotes from the guru. Here are just a few:

Alcohol kills more than AIDS, TB and violence.

The unexamined life is not worth living. Aristotle

Preach always, if necessary use words. Francis of Assisi

Smile is the universal form of communications

Service is not viewed as a frill.

Sucess is the by-product of preparation.

Life is a series of first impressions.

In the U.S 1,000 teenagers attempt suicide everyday

2.2 million people are in prison at any given time. (U.S)

The only thing you are really in control of is your attitude.

Do not be upset with the instrument of your karma

Additional Message:

A minor insert to do with walking: I circled around the lodge and temple buildings and came upon the dumpster at the temple's north end. While passing by that dumpster I surprised a deer who dashed off into the bush. I thought I might find a racoon there on my next revolution. Sure enough the next time around I found a raccoon scurrying about on top of the dumpster unit. My next thought was "mayb I'll see a possum next." Sure enough at the base of the unit there was a possum.

Now that was a mystical experience if ever there was one

2 KM

Friday, May 6th, 2011

"Im Here"

Moundsville, West Virginia

Im here to attend the Festival of Inspiration. My contribution is filled at the top of the attraction DRAMA. And so after a long over night drive into the U.S. and a brief rest our actor cast of 11 took seriously to a practice of this year's on-the-road theatrical presentation, "The Three Lives of Bharata."

Oh I felt guilt about the direction I gave in the practice. I expressed this guilt to a good friend here at New Vrndavan retreat centre which is set in the beautiful hills of West Virginia.

"No," he said reassuringly, "its necessary to be assertive at times."

"I believe I cracked the whip, so to speak, too hard at some of the crew," I confessed.

"As long as love is given in th same dose," he remarked

My inner-thought was "I hope I'm able to accomplish this so-so, half and half policy. Better figures would be 10-90.

I felt guilty about one more item - the lack of walking. What's to be done? It is very austere reframing this routine due to time taken in by car, air, train, or sailing. That type of travel can surely de-regulate the walking effort. It can also be a little selfish just taking yourself into consideration when visiting pilgrims want some attention. There might be five hundred of them this weekend and there are five swamis to be divided amongst them.

This is the life of sacrifice so when you want your serenity much of this serene mess msut be re-defined to include interaction with pilgrims.

3 KM

Thursday, 5 May 2011

Thursday, May 5th, 2011

A Mouse In Our Temple

Toronto, Ontario

A church mouse had made his presence at the cozy lounge corner of our temple room. He was small and cute but staggering about, I don't know why.

It was slightly embarrassing, you see, because a school teacher came a moment early as students were just trailing in. The teacher adored him until he was caught in a cup by one of our brahmacari monks and released in the park near the Prabhupada tree.

We were compelled to wonder what good fortune the little critter has gone through being inside a temple, hearing mantra meditation and perhaps having the luck to nibble on some crumbs of sanctified food, prasadam? The other question arose, "What kind of pious or devotional activities did this little guy perform to bring on this auspiciousness or good fortune, being in a sacred space?"

It was saint Bhaktivinod who expresses in one of his songs that he didn't mind being in a bug's body so long as he would be born in the home of holy activity. There would be so much merit and benefit in that.

It happened that where the mouse did his little dance, at the cozy lounge corner of the temple room, that two groups of students from Thomas Merton Secondary School sat to hear from our humble self about the Absolute. Prodded on by the teachers to offer some advice to the grade Eleven pupils, I was inspired to say, "I know some of you are checking out the options of enticement out there. There's parties and other forms of experimentation but as long as you maintain a spiritual base you will always be protected and be fortunate.

6 KM

Wednesday, May 4th, 2011

The Word "Splendour".... Hmmm!

Toronto, Ontario

In reading a passage from the Gita, a purport Chapter 15.12 makes use of the word 'splendour' in a most appropriate way. When describing the sun as splendourous, it fits. When describing the moon, well, to use a secular saying, 'I'll drink to that'.

However, the Doubting Thomas in me surfaced when the word 'splendour was applied to electricity. The demon that I am rejected this choice of word used by my own beloved guru. The power of electricity would seem to be appropiate. That terminology or description would get my current going, but 'splendour'? No way, Jose!

When my dear visiting godbrother, Partha, described this phrase and expressed it in the context of of the Creator being the world's electrical source, then the light bulb inside suddenly lit up. Of course, that's it. When you plug it all into the socket of the Absolute it all takes on a different meaning. Out with the mundane thinking and on with transcendental vision.

In further deliberation on this topic I expressed to Partha one of the reasons for my passion for walking. "It brings you to the point of appreciating the word 'splendour'." When you get out you feel air, the sun, rain, snow. You see the sky, the stars, trees, grass, rivers flowing, etc. It's a confirmation of the might and beauty in our midst, the wonder and the splendour. When walking in the out-of-doors, everything starts to make sense.

6 KM

Wednesday, 4 May 2011

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

Different But One

Toronto, Ontario

These days I don't have to feel guilty about being like an animal. How so? Well, when taking to walking I have not always a set route to take. I meander any street and follow any wayward direction. It's animalistic. It's fun and adventurous. I do make sure to stay on sidewalks though, and avoid trespassing.

These days I don't have to feel guilty about chanting my mantras with some volume while walking. In these times every other pedestrian makes noise talking by themselves. Of course, they are on their cell. And they are rather loud about it. The culture is definitely changing with so many wires and gadgets to be connected to.

These days I don't have to feel shy about being dressed in traditional attire. The world with its cosmopolitan flavour welcomes the diversity. And so when I went to the dental clinic, the employees there and patients smile but don't bat an eyelash over the "different look" because that notion is dissolving. You have got so many people in any given place that are so diverse in belief and look that anything goes.

Personally, I like it this way. The variagatedness is like on of those ice cream shops with multiple flavours - an incredible range - and yet its all icecream. To draw perhaps a cheesy analogy, humans have become quite diverse in look and outlook and yet we are all humans.

Nay, we are all spirit souls.

5 KM

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Monday, May 2, 2011

Starting a Shop the Right Way

Toronto, Ontario

In north India it's commonly called havan. In the south people refer to it as homa. In the English speaking ISKCON world we call it a fire sacrifice. From the Sanskrit language (the mother tongue of many) a fire sacrifice takes on the term agni-hotra.

We conducted one today, a very modified version from grandiose renditions of India's ancient past when brahmin priests were in abundance and pious maharajas (kings) sponsored such events. Our venue for such a ritual was at the Blugod Tattoo Shop which has been open now for some time. But owner Jovani Cannibas considers the real opening to be at the time of blessings.

I received a request today for conducting a marriage. The couple are legally betrothed but they have yet to receive the Vedic ceremony, the one that brings on the blessings.

You know, some people have got it right. You can't just move on in life on the power of documents, paper signing and legal bindings. These things may ensure some security but they don't necessarily give life.

I explained to Julie, an employee at the tattoo shop, and who attended the richly conducted fire ceremony, that this rite is the real start, the real ignition. The fire and the mantras to accompany it are there to purify the atmosphere and to extinguish negative energy.

As I and two brahmacaris (monks) took the trek back to the temple ashram I contemplated on how awesome it would be if all shops sharing the street with the Bluegod Tattoo Shop could start business with a light and mantras. Then actual life could be infused and some karma even go up in flames.

4 KM

Monday, 2 May 2011

Sunday, May 1st, 2011

Two Worlds

Toronto, Ontario

A royal wedding, Bin Laddin's death and a national election is what a mundane world is engrossed in. They are relevant but relative. Over the Internet devotees were drawing an interesting comparison to a more Absolute world - the marriage of Sita to Rama, the death of mega-demon, Kamsa and citizens happy with a life-long Vedic monarch. This all makes for lively discussion.

Back to our world. A group of us took to a late-coming spring walk. If Toronto is the raccoon capital of the world, there is no reason to doubt. A whole group of them perched on lofty branches had their loud screeching party. It certainly caught our attention. And to add to Sunday morning joy a brilliant red cardinal bird appeared to follow us monks on our trail. "Is he looking for a mate?" asked one of our renunciates.

"Yeah, everyone's got a problem," joked another one.

Monks can joke too.

Our evening temple open house program featured the launch of this year's Ratha Yatra season. You could feel the intense spiritual drive motivated by a youthful committee who unveiled this year's (the 39th) promotional image - a bearded happy-faced wheat-toned Vaishnava male suspending in the air a musical drum in celebration of the colourful event. The image has that Oriya-edge to it and it looks great, not mundane in the least.

I had to sit there feeling blessed about the culture of transcendence that I'm part of. I became a monk thirty-eight years ago and have had a chance to flip both sides of the coin. I've seen the mundane and swam in the insane. Now I'm locked in God's arms and things will never be the same. There's all these beautiful bright images and a spiritual way of viewing these objects.

2 KM

Saturday, April 20th, 2011

The Glory of the Mic

Toronto, Ontario

One way to draw the public into chanting is to hold a microphone out as pedestrians approach and aim it towards their mouth. When put under the spotlight individuals appear to swiftly formulate a remark that is like a bullet but which is meaningful. I was somewhat selective when aiming as I said to the person, "Any quick message for the world?"

I was out at the corner of Spadina and Bloor Streets with a chanting party. I was leading the chant with a microphone attatched to a small Roland amplifier when I would hold out the device to a prospective candidate. Its somewhat unpredictible what people would say and you would expect being put on- the-spot and having a bunch of Hare Krishnas chanting in front of you that it would likely be a message of "love, peace, goodwilll" or just plain old "Hare Krishna!" That's what transpired.

That became our experience yesterday. With perfect weather in our midst and it being Saturday we found this a more inclusive approach and provided all the ingredients for positive remarks by the public. Of course, you must approach with a smile and then the contagion begins. Often times a chanting party puts itself out on-the-limb into an "us and them" type of paradigm. A gracious gesture of putting a mic to the mouth allows involvement. We found that people, in fact, felt honoured. It was a little trick that worked.

At dispersement time, 2:30PM, three participating monks and I walked the twenty minute convenient stretch back to the temple ashram in preparation for a great evening event.

I was handed a microphone once more for the day. At the temple some members had organized a cultural evening with Channdan Dance Co. and Toronto Tabla Esemble. Being the swami present, I was asked to express opening remarks. With that mic I was heard and with that mic I invoked a command.

All in the service of Him, of course.

9 KM

Friday, April 29th, 2011

Krishna Robot

Toronto, Ontario

It was the first time I was called a "robot". What can you expect from a bunch of drunken party animals? When you're roudy and your faculty powers are somewhat distorted you become a little daring and bold in what you say to someone who looks a little different. I was trekking and chanting eastbound on St. Clair Avenue at 3:15 AM when the group passed by me in their vehicle. The simple thrill of name-calling for one take wasn't quite enough. The party U-turned a few times following my course and gave me more of the same. Oh well! What to do?

The day previous, early again, brought with it a different encounter. I trekked Younge St. near our temple ashram when a loud-speaking group huddled in slurred conversation when they stopped suddenly and gave out the happiest "Hare Krishna" you ever did hear. It was most welcoming.

What else to do with walking, encounters and monks? Well I'm happy to see two fine visiting brahmacaris, Dhruva and Yogendra, taking to a regular work-out which entails some yoga and varied forms of exercise. They came back from India rather sickly. I'm no doctor, but my layman's diagnostic says that they need to build up their immunity and strength. It is now a part of their schedule which I'm very happy about. After all, if you are in a spiritual institution you want to see it's members happy, holy and healthy.

We want to see strong robots for Krishna.

6 KM