Thursday, 30 June 2011

Wednesday, June 29th, 2011

The Street, the Lake, A House

Barrier Lake, Alberta

Prairie dogs are actually cute looking gopher like creatures that burrow holes in the ground. They let out this sharp squeak of a sound when they sense danger. That's just what several did upon seeing me, not in unison like coyotes or wolves howling, but at interval spurts.

"Squeak!" stated on warning the others. "Monk on the lose," was my interpretation. It triggered more to do the same.

Two crows, apparent proprietors of a group of blue spruces, hang around the same area where I trek along 68th Avenue each day. They perch on their branch, fuss a bit, soar higher to a municipal lamp post.

What other images came today?

Well, a couple necking at Barrier Lake, a chosen venue for them and us. Our Calgarian hosts, Radha Madhava, Svarti and their daughters took to their first summer break. Along the lake's trail, the man and woman, with firm intent remained in strong embrace, unphased by us passersby. It came to my head, "I could have been there, certainly had done that, but put such entanglement behind."

Along with a city slickin' lot, we picnicked on lasagna so good and then trekked an uneven terrain until we reached a wind-free nook to sit and chant. The group of us then piled worn boulders to form inookshooks of Vedic deities, Jaganatha, Baladev and Subhadra.

My actor devotees, Laghu, Gour and and I practically became a deity threesome, stiff after a quick dip in the glacial waters. It's all fun in nature's domain. And in the evening an enthusiastic group back in Calgary heard our message from the Gita's Chapter 10 in a domestic setting. Also fun!

I found it most interesting that a follower of Zoroastria-turned-Vaishnav had spent the day with us. Pracetanna has ancestors committed to Zoroaster who appeared in the world 6th century BC. When Pracetanna explained this Persian-based tradition to me I could understand that the transition from sun-worship to Vaishnav ways was not extreme.

6 KM

Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Monday, June 27th, 2011

Liquid Beauty

Calgary, Alberta

Last night our actor devotees, Laghu Hari and Godrumagoura, presented the play, "Liquid Beauty". It was a new rendition of an ISKCON classic which I helped to script. It was presented to a group of seventy people crammed in the basement of Radha and Svasti's home.

Here is the story as presented by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, found in the book, "Science of Self Realization".

Once a man who was very powerful and strongly built but whose character was very doubtful fell in love with a beautiful girl. The girl was not only beautiful in appearance but also saintly in character, and as such she did not like the man's advances. The man, however, was insistent because of his lustful desires and therefore the girl requested him to wait only seven days, and she set a time after that when he could meet her. The man agreed, and with high expectations he began waiting for the appointed time.

The saintly girl, however, in order to manifest the real beauty of absolute truth, adopted a method very instructive. She took very strong doses of laxatives and purgatives and for seven days she continually passed loose stool and vomited all that she ate. However, she stored all the loose stool and vomit in suitable pots. As a result of the purgatives, the so-called beautiful girl became lean and thin like a skeleton, her complexion turned blackish and her beautiful eyes sank into the sockets of her skull. Thus at the appointed hour she waited anxiously to receive the eager man.

The man appeared on the scene well dressed and well behaved and asked the ugly girl he found waiting there about the beautiful girl he was to meet. The man could not recognize the girl he saw as the same beautiful girl for whom he was asking, indeed, although she repeatedly asserted her identity, because of her pitiable condition he was unable to recognize her.

At last the girl told the powerful man that she had separated the ingredients of her beauty and stored them in pots. She also told him that he could enjoy those juices of beauty. When the mundane poetic man asked to see these juices of beauty, he was directed to the store of loose stool and liquid vomit, which were emanating an unbearably bad smell. Thus the whole story of the beauty-liquid was disclosed to him. Finally by the grace of the saintly girl, this man of low character was able to distinguish between the shadow and the substance, and thus he came to his senses.

This man's position was similar to the position of every one of us who is attracted by false, material beauty. The girl mentioned above had a beautifully developed material body in accordance with the desires of her mind, but in fact she was apart from that temporary material body and mind. She was in fact a spiritual spark and so also was the lover who was attracted by her false skin.

8 Km

Sunday, June 26th, 2011

Widening Your Consciousness

Calgary, Alberta

The community of devotees here enjoyed the premiere of our bhakti variety show. Slightly over an hour long, our no-name show was delivered by our little drama troupe, unofficially known as Swami Productions, to congregants at the Radha Madhav Cultural Centre on Edmonton Trail. They laughed, cried, clapped and stomped. What was normally allotted as a time for pravachan (discourse or talk) was actually replaced with drama, comedy and dance. The effect was powerful. Philosophical truths and devotional sentiments struck brains and hearts.

I was restless after the show. Adrenaline, I guess. I used to walk from the downtown, the Cultural Centre's address, to the NE of Calgary off of 68th Ave, via Memorial Avenue, I guess you could say I scouted a small portion of Calgary's endless suburbs.

The city has a vision, otherwise, it wouldn't plan to have such a wide median between the existing road (68th) and the sidewalk. Clearly, city planners anticipate expansion of the road. Since the 70's this oil rich province and now with the discovery of the controversial tar sands of Alberta's north, there has been incredible economic growth. The prairies have unlimited space for growth. As long as oil is sought after with a persistent supply and demand, Alberta, the province, will continue to boom.

I would like to see expansion but of a different nature. Widening the scope of a higher consciousness is what Alberta could use. Some of the remarks from the youth affectionately lodged towards me were, "Hey Orange Man", "Buddha" and "Peace be with you, Man!"

As trivial as these remarks may be, their good nature behind them can indicate that expansion has begun.

7 Km

Saturday, June 25th, 2011

A Teenager Wants To Grow

Brampton Ontario

The young teenager didn't want to be left out. His two older sisters were taking the bold step towards receiving diksha, a spiritual initiation. I agreed, as their candidate guru, to arrange for the future procedure for July 17th to be conducted at the Toronto Islands. One of the sisters, Patsy, has a career, and is married. Nalini, is single, and just a bit younger, has been following in the footsteps of her Dad, in business.

Their younger bro., Sanatan, didn't want to be left behind. He has been chanting a prescribed 16 rounds on his meditational beads for some time, a prerequisite for diksha. In addition from any intoxicants, does not gamble, or engage in illicit sex, and avoids eating meat, fish or eggs.

When I met Sanatan's father whose name I remember clearly as Willy back in the early ninties there was some resistence to tossing the meat out of the diet. Literally "throw out" were words strongly suggested by a friend of mine, who told Willy of his freshly bought chicken lying in the fridge's shelf. Willy reluctantly took the bird's dead body out of the fridge and tossed it in the garbage. As soon as the coast was clear, Willy, who was a new comer to Krishna Conciousness, went to the supermarket to purchase another chicken when my friend left the home.

It took sometime for Willy and family to adjust but gradually such dead animal body parts were kicked out of the diet. At the time of conversion Sanatan wasn't even conceived. To this day he doesn't know what chicken tastes like, let alone a drumstick. Lucky him.

"Why can't I jump on the band wagon with my sisters?" he thought.

So with encouragement from his dad, now Vaishnav by name, his mom, Janaki, Sanatan asked if he could be initiatied along with his sisters. After analyzing his situation I said, "Yes, why not?"

Sanatan was happy that he would now have officially, and in spirit a guru. According to the Gita to advance spiritual life one seeks the aid of the guru.

7 Km

Friday, June 24th, 2011

About Love + A Couple

Mississauga, Ontario

I am reviewing a book, "Heart and Soul Connection" by the Grihastha Vision Team which is a Vaishnava guide to marriage, service and love. It will be released in the coming months. In a section planned by Uttama Dasi on the subject of arranged marriages I found something interesting she said regarding a study on arranged marriages.

"A study by Dr. Robert Epstein published in the January/February 2010 issue of Scientific American Mind had some interesting observations. Among other things, it noted that in most countries marriage relationships are entered into based on bodily attraction and feelings of love. Unfortunately, those feelings decreased rapidly within 18 months. In many arranged marriages of India, he discovered that although feelings of love were not a component in the beginning of an arranged marriage, those feelings quickly grew. It is understood that if compatible persons are matched, love can develop. He observed that after 10 years of arranged marriage, the feelings of love were often twice as strong as the more common types of marriage that had been based on initial "chemistry".

Uttama remarks that this demonstrates that love can develop from mutual service.

Mutual service, not necessarily an arranged marriage but compatibility -- yes, is the case of a young married couple, Vibhu and Shastyna, who invited me to their new home in Mississauga. It's a thirty year old building but has been nicely cosmetically treated by Vibhu. What some colours in the form of paint will do?

In any event, here is a sweet couple, who both liked kirtan, Krishna and gulabjamoons (an Indian sweet). They've been married now for two years and the relationship is "good" says Vibhu who drove me and two devotees back to the ashram after a fine ceremony, a blessing for their new home.

I'm really happy for them.

Om Tat Sat!

6 Km

Thursday, June 23rd, 2011

Tinsel in Toronto

Toronto, Ontario

This weekend the International Indian Film Academy awards will be held in the city. It's the first time Bollywood's equivalent to the Oscars are held outside of India. Canada is excited about it. The event promises to pump millions into the economy. Excuse my monk sarcasm but I imagine there will be glitzy pagentry, like Hollywood, and will not do much for boosting enlightenment. I wonder if ever there will be awards for art some day?

How do I know about what's on? Well you catch glimpses of it here and there. I've heard there are other versions of Hollywood in the world. Pardon me, but the cynical swami won't hold back on cursing those mechanisms that promote the in-your-face NO NO's that any _ollywood can produce. Frankly I can be more entertained by staring at a piece of birchwood, maple wood or oakwood or a piece of driftwood. Hollywood/Bollywood, NO! I feel relieved of the craving to play into the tinsel trap.

Thank God I've got my own superstars, such as Devamrta Swami and Baddha Hari, who are in town for purposes of more wholesome presentations of bhakti and kirtan. I also have my own outlet for artistic expression. After a lip-smacking meal with the two guests we sat down for a dance presentation by Godruma Gaura based on Chaitanya's verses. Later in the evening along with Gaura and Laghu Hari of South Africa we laid out our dress rehearsal for the play "Nandulal", the story of a blind saint. The presentations have moral fibre which is a lot more than high budget films of porn and corn can offer. One day we might be able to give vaishnav arts a chance, a chance to hit mainstream.

If by some fluke I meet a Bollywood megastar this weekend I will be most happy to talk to that person about the benefit of spiritual contents in art forms and in one's life.

10 KM

Friday, 24 June 2011

Wednesday, June 22nd, 2011

He Accepted

Toronto, Ontario

My day winded down with a walk through the park and with a frequent visitor to the temple who wanted to seriously take up spiritual life on a full-time basis, in other words become a monk. Knowing his personal situation I recommended that he take his time.

"Why not try 'monk for a weekend' first?", I suggested.

The person has a steady job and I personally don't believe in encouraging people towards making sudden jumps because based on experiences people often bounce back as fast as they came in for reasons of not being mentally prepared. There are, of course, exceptions to the rule. In this particular case it just may prove in time that the aspirant has a genuine calling.

In a flashback at looking at myself I will declare that I have had no regrets about my radical departure to monistic life. At age 20 I had a promising first year in college in fine arts. There was one month left to go to complete that semester and that first year. I made an abrupt decision one afternoon while walking on the shoulder of a road after due deliberation. I couldn't forget those guys, those monks that I met. I couldn't forget the books by Srila Prabhupada, those mystical works of literary art. The food. It was vegetarian and delicious. I was swept away by it all. It was all so natural for me.

I informed my art teacher about my decision. I packed my bags, went to the ashram in Toronto, moved in and never looked back. But that's my story.

"For the time being, hold on to what you have and keep Krishna in the centre," I advised my friend.

He accepted the advice.

8 KM

Thursday, 23 June 2011

Tuesday, June 21st, 2011

Reactions

Toronto, Ontario

I don't know if you could call him eccentric, but with no intro at all, this guy started talking. Sri Kantha and I were on foot westbound on Marlborough Street as he came towards us going eastbound. He was just two metres from us when he began to speak about some famous pilot from the 2nd World War. Quoting the pilot he said something to this effect, "Life is a place where you learn and death is the place where you burn." Now I admit to possibly misquoting some scramble of words, but the point I'd like to raise is that here was a total stranger that came right up to us and began to philosophize. It was profound enough what he said, perhaps our devotional attire set him off to share the profundity. Personally, I thought it was rather sweet.

On my second trek of the day (it's solo this time), a young Caucasian male whom I never met before came to me at the street light to say, "How are you, Swamiji?" Some quick kindness was exchanged and the lights changed. This type of interactiveness happened once again. A young white bearded fellow approached me to say "Namaste". I asked him about his devotions and how he was doing on this longest day of the year. I gave him an invite to the upcoming Ratha Yatra, hosted by ISKCON. There were more pleasant exchanges like this and I trekked back to the ashram thinking of the warmth and openness I have received from various souls. Unfortunately this type of reception may not exist everywhere on the globe. Upon returning to the ashram I received an email from someone from France, about an attitude that comes from at least one sector of the society there. To repeat her words, "The anti-cult movement is still posting public notices, warning people to watch out for their friends and family members if they use too much incense, are vegetarian, travel too much and don't like everyone else. They could be in a sect where a sinister guru will take advantage of their weakness and innocence... that's France 2011."

God bless France. We were there once.

10 KM

Wednesday, 22 June 2011

Monday, June 20th, 2011

The Cart

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I dared the drizzle at an early hour. Walking by residential habitats and up along Quinnpool and north completing blocks and blocks of this boxes I finally landed my laurels on a porch-swing at the home of Manu and Satarupa. I swung and listened to my whispering mantra when in the stillness I heard an increasingly common sound of these times. It started with a rattle, obviously the wheels of a rickety shopping cart, grating over uneven pavement. I stopped swinging. I didn't want to disturb the oncoming man's business, referring to the fellow pulling the cart.

Bottles were inside a hefty plastic bag that was shaped to settle into the rectangular metal box. The street-light allowed me to see the operation of the man and his conveyance and goods (or bads) moving across the street at Willow and Clifton. He crossed the street, then passed by not noticing me. I must admit I was eyeing his paraphernalia more than the person who appeared hidden in his coat.

I then wondered what the man's rest-of-the-day would look like. Would he be making reversal trips like this during the night to early morning? Will he do his own recycling? Will he be getting coins/peanuts for all his endeavours and sort through that too?

I've seen this type of passing person before. I remember in Dallas while on an early morning trek seeing a wheel-chaired man pop out of a wrecker's yard carrying on his lap whatever little scrap he could.

A sigh of empathy came to visit me then, as I sat on the swing a little longer, now swinging again, and with some deliberation on my mind. Where will destiny take the man with the cart? And as I thought like this the clatter of the cart's contents became less pronounced as he moved further away from the ear's distance.

10 Km

Sunday, June 19th, 2011

People in Progression

Halifax, Novia Scotia

December 12th of 2010 was the last time I spent time in Halifax with our community. Im thrilled to see the spiritual progress being made with certain individuals. Corey, 23, is one of them. As a walking partner on past occasion I got to know him somewhat. He's maturing. His mum, Denise, came to partake in our evening program. What a lovely soul.

Heidi, is a special person. Employed in a dental lab, she gives equal or more importance to her spiritual life. She commits herself to two hours of mantra meditation everyday. Recently she sold her stockpile inherited LP's but held onto George Harrison's "Living In the Material World." With genuine sentiment she broguht with her the LP to let me see.

Joseph, is also getting results from chanting daily on his beads, but he also wanted to let everyond know that he has a passion for guitar, so he brought that along to our evening gathering to back up our kirtan. With Father's Day on his mind he left our program at some point to do the dutiful thing, to see his dad.

I won't forget to mention Savitri, who turned 65 not long ago, and who received her initiation on that day in December. She resides in a home next to the commons where she conducts the regular Sunday program. What I gather from hearing her is that she was very much a free spirit when she immigrated to Canada years ago from Holland. She'll be the first to admit that she's been more free now that she is practicing Krishna Devotionalism.

My major impression of the day was to see these folks move on with their spiritual developement. Oh! Let me add on Hemant and Askwat who trekked with me near the Commons, as the sunset. And there were two more people whom I came upon in my morning walking session. Having come out of a party two young women with streaked purple hair were lost on the street seeking direction. They were intoxicated when I led them through several street blocks to the Commons where they wanted to go. They didn't exactly join me in mantra meditation but perhaps in the future they will consider the power of this extraordinary sound vibration. Perhaps they will consider the spiritual path.

13 Km

Saturday, June 18th, 2011

Back At the Atlantic

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Coming down the escalator to the airport baggage pick-up level I could see a handful of happy greeters. Once reaching the group it was a spontaneous all-at-once-hit-the-head-to-the-floor gesture, a custom upon seeing a monk or sadhu of some sort. I also bent over in reciprocation after receiving a garland of greeting. Those outside our little bhakti circle were entertained to see us robed folks, uninhibited, doing our thing.

I’m here to spend the weekend, in Halifax. Delivering some classes in the science of devotion and leading some kirtans is what is on the agenda. Rain became a deterrent for walking and with the lowly temperature it’s hard to envision the actual soon to arrive summer solstice. Of course, where we are here in Canada’s Atlantic coast line. Anything can happen weather-wise.

A young couple asked for some coaching in the home of Manu and Satarupa, my hosts. Asking for advice on the topic of relationships does have some space in the portfolio of a monk. Unless you are a hermit type of monastic person you do have some obligation to counsel your students. The main emphasis behind any advice is to keep the spiritual component in the centre. Never sway from that.

The request for some advice is also a reminder that I’m to review a draft to a new book “Heart and Soul Connection”, a guide to marriage service and love. This valuable publication is the work of a Grihastha Vision Team who’s asked that I critique it.

So, let the rain come for this weekend while I will read, teach, chant and have some healthy food. And if I’m lucky I can trek a trail during a dry period.

0 Km

Saturday, 18 June 2011

Friday, June 17th, 2011

Rap It Up

Scarburough Ontario





I don't follow the rap music scene so when one of our younger monks, Marshal, tells me that he sold a book "Perfection of Yoga" to muscian K'NAAN in downtown Toronto I most definatly do not know who he is talking about. Marshal was in ecstatsy though.

The closest I ever get to rapping is when Prema Dwani prayers are uttered, after a chanting session. I can't help myself but to spice up these long reverential word of glory with a tiny bit of my own pop rhythm. When I take the lead it is received with openess and welcome. Only one traditionalist spoke quietly with me in India last spring, expressing doubt. My mild defence was "In my country people rap. Also our guru Srila Prabhupada worte that one can sing as is done in one's country."

I incorporated a small toned down verison of the rap at a recent home visit where a family had three deaths occur. One after the other. While attending the funeral of a brother in the U.K, the couple was informed of an uncle's perishing and on the day of attending his funeral another close relative passed away.

Had the couple not had a strong sense of spirituality they might have fallen into depression. I felt the obligation to be with them for awhile in the company of others from our ashram. The chant and the subsquent subdued. Prema Dwani rap rendition pacified the family. Now tonight a birthday was honoured in Scarburough. Young Hari das turned 18 and a big gathering came to give support to a fine young guy. I was curious if Haridas knows Alice Cooper's "I'm 18" with lyrics "and I know what I want." But Alice is from another era. Haridas is likely more familiar with K'NAAN.

10 Km

Thursday, June 16th, 2011

Get Behind the Festival

Mississuaga Ontario

I encourage all families with the summer's celebration of the Ratha Yatra, the Festival of Chariots to give support. Each night for several days now I have gone out fund raising for the local event, hosted also as Festival of India. It is out of the range of a monk to do so. Monks in our order are enthusiastic to promote such a terrific culture-changing effects. Running now for a creeping up the 40th year (next year in Toronto) the highlight of feasting, chanting, dancing, and other feel good activities make it a unique attraction. There's no meat, fish, or eggs in the food. You find no drugs or liquor. It's family fun. Sex has it's place, but not here. No innuendos even.

Yogis especially in the bhakti (devotion) category converge. Karma-free food and crowd pleasing drama and dance acts fill the stage. And you get your walking in. In many cities a procession that accompanies temple-like chariots go a distance of anywhere from 5km/3miles to 10km/6mi.

You sweat, you work, you play, dance, and sing, all in the spirit of devotion. And the superstar to turn up is someone by the name of Jaganath, a massive wooden iconic personality representing Krishna. He rocks! And so do many more people at their east meets west flowered ahimsal(non violence) killer kirtan program.

I'm personally crazy about the Ratha Yatra/ Festival of Chariots. It's my summer hightlight.

As I was saying, each night I return on a trail at night after having fund raised and friend raised. Myself and these other stalwart devotees set out for Mississauga to see potential donors. We meet with generous hearts.

So from a monk who is making an appeal, for assistance I ask you now to support your local Ratha Yatras it is an enriching experience for thsoe who attend. You can also take home a book and do yourself that favour to read, apply and make spiritual progress.

8 Km

Wednesday, June 15th, 2011

H.I.T Hang In There!

Toronto Ontario

It had been a message going out there loud and clear for the last two days. There was something weird in the air, the stars, maybe the eclipse. I had been receiving emails, phone calls, and office visits over varying tough issues that compelled victims to cop out, quit, take to the forest (as in Arjuna) and just give up. Whatever the issue was people wanted to resign. And I was saying "No way!"

No one retires from responsibility. I realized when I was talking to the four or so threatened-to-quit folks, whether to do with a relationship, some routine task, or to do with the mission. I was talking to myself.

Everyone goes through periods where you want to throw in the towel, where you feel like saying "Govinda I shall not fight." We know it's wrong, to retreat from the battlefield of duty but you just want to say, it anyway. Maybe someone will hear your frustration, empathize, and encourage. In that sense it's not so harmful to voice the agony. You realize then that you have friends who will say, "Listen, take a break, chill out, get some rest, chant Hare Krishna and with a little time you'll be alright and back at the job."

I did mention to one person (and here's where I really had to be talking to me) "We can't be spineless without guts and heart." We all visit this type of dungeon but we also need to walk out courageously into the fight. Those who know the Gita know what I am talking about when I say "Look, you have a choice, be "Arjuna before" or "Ajuna After." The "After" effect of hearing the speaker of the Gita speaks tons of truth to us all. We got the strength.

So I've been suggestion the H.I.T approach. Hang in there. Let reason and time get you through. Then move on.

11 Km

Wednesday, 15 June 2011

Tuesday, June 14th, 2011

In Material Life...

Toronto, Ontario

An excerpt:

In materialistic life we cannot control our senses and mind. The mind is dictating, "Enjoy your senses in this way", and we are enjoying our senses. Materialistic life means sense gratification and this sense gratification process is going on life after life. In the many varieties of life there are different standards of sense gratification. Krsna is so kind that He has given us full liberty to gratify our senses.

We living entities are part and parcel of Krsna, and therefore we have small particles of all His desires. Our existence being a small particle of God's, we have small particles of all His qualities in a minute degree, just as a small particle of gold has all the qualities of the original gold. Therefore, our enjoying spirit exists because it is there in Krsna, the supreme enjoyer.

The Vedanta-sutra says that everything originates in Krsna. Param brahma, or the Absolute Truth, means "that from which everything is generated." Therefore, our desire for sense gratification is coming from Krsna.

- From a lecture by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, 1971 Sept. in London, describing the origin of desire.

My desire for the day was to take to some walking, however, a lengthy bus rid and other responsibilities ate up all time but for 3 humble kilometres I managed to squeeze in.

3 Km

Monday, June 13th, 2011

Farewell You Two

Montreal, Quebec

The torch is being passed on. Today Phillip and Tanya are leaving. Phillip who hails from Lebanon will be taking his soon-to-be-bride, Tanya, to her new frontier. The community here is feeling the sweet-sour sentiment of separation. They are two devotional people, artistic, mature, very personal and have been very much involved. They will be leaving but with the torch in hand to take whatever they have learned from this devotional home, here in Montreal, to their future home.

After a joyful kirtan chanting session on Ontario St. the day's culmination brought us to this, a going-away-party where devotees were expressing their sentiments and appreciations for these two selfless human beings. For a good two hours people came forward behind the microphone to engage in the practice of devotee care and to speak from the heart.

Perhaps ten years, or even five years ago such a scenario would not be a reality. You would have an assembly of people giving glory to the guru and that is rather appropriate. It was often times the status quo to do so and to leave the regular rank-and-file devotees to be somewhat ignored. So I was happy to see this arrangement of loving expression being directed to the deserving two persons, Phillip and Tanya.

May they prosper in a two-pronged way, spiritually and with facility to be empowered to spread a higher consciousness in a very intense part of the world, the Middle East.

11 Km

Tuesday, 14 June 2011

Sunday, June 12th, 2011

The Will To Do

Montreal, Quebec

Henri Matisse once said, "when you're out of willpower, you can call on stubbornness."

Willpower came out of the older couple seated behind me on the drive to Montreal in a Megabus.

They were determined to travel the six hour distance to see the Grand Prix car races. I overheard the man say, "I wonder if the races are going to go on despite the rain." This was said as water was beating against the bus wind shield.

Indeed the race car organizers had the conviction to carry the mood that the show must go on because as I arrived at the bus depot and was taken to Montreal's ashram on Pie-IX Blvd I could hear the vibration of the cars - a constant hum, a little shy of the vibration ommmmm. Only the 'O' was missing. It went on for hours - this buzz sound seeping in through my window. "God, what willpower!"

I had recently received a phone call from an earnest devotee from British Columbia asking about developing the strength to stay committed on the vow of chanting. I very much felt the urgency in the caller's voice, "How can I get determined?"

I had to quickly respond and for that had to think. Let's try this. Determination is preceded by desire. If that is strong then our conviction should be strong.

"How can the desire be strong?" you might ask. To achieve that we must understand the need. You raise the conviction through the power of need. You must believe, "I can't survive without this. I need the spiritual protection from illusion's toll."

Analyze and rationalize that if I don't have my defenses up I will become vulnerable.

Think like a warrior, a spiritual warrior and be determined to kick the enemy known as MR STUBBORN and succeed.

3 Km

Monday, 13 June 2011

Saturday, June 11th, 2011

Always Thinking

Toronto, Ontario

Devotees from Scarborough organized a boat cruise through the lagoons of the Toronto Islands. It carried about 300 hundred people, young and old. Lunch was packed for all and it was scrumptious, but the special feature was the chanting on the main floor. Just to catch some air I decided to reach the open third floor. A man followed me and asked a question.

"I have been told that when you chant you should not think. You only hear the sound vibration of the maha mantra and that's it," he expressed hoping for a clarification.

I really appreciated the question It was honest and an innocent enquiry yet I looked him square in the eyes and told him frankly that it was ridiculous, that this instruction is a bit misleading.

"If I was to say the name "Obama" immediately an image of the U.S. president's face flashes in the mind. When we say the name "Krishna" some visualization mentally should be there unless we are totally distracted. Absorption in the Absolute begins with the use of the tongue. From there all the other senses follow. It would be a hard task to arrest the mind, to numb images. The mind is an instrument that is always taking in and storing data, like a computer. It depends on what you feed it. If I was to say to you that I was sailing on the water and spotted an island, then these images would be conjured up in the listener's mind as I described them."

In other words I rejected the notion that the mind should or even could be stilled. In the Gita Bhagavan (Krishna) states "always think of Me" so that especially holds true for those who utter His and not otherwise, "I explained to the man.

He seemed to approve.

By the way the sailing was great, so was the walk from the dock to the ashram.

10 Km

Saturday, 11 June 2011

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

Searching

Toronto, Ontario

Sri Kanta from Z├╝rich came to visit us in Canada for the first time. He's here to accompany Uttama Sloka, an outstanding monk from the Ukraine. With a fascination for the wilderness I agreed to take Sri Kanta down a trail in the best that an urban area can offer. I took him down my training path at dusk.

He was most keen to see North American wildlife.

"You're not going to find bison in the city. No moose and no bears. If lucky perhaps fox, maybe coyote but most likely raccoons and skunks."

He settled for that and was prepared with camera in the left hand while his right was immersed in his japa beads.

"These are nocturnal creatures and that's why we are roaming in the nights," I explained. I had a long day of administrative tasks and so this wind down time was perfect for me.

Unfortunately the best we could find, after two hours walking, in the dark were no ring-tailed creatures or white-on-black stinkers but a woman. Resting her laurels on a bench of a dark park was a young woman with her arm extended. If it hadn't been for seeing her lit cigarette I would have tripped over her stretched out leg.

"Are you guys Buddhists or something?" she queried.

That was the beginning of our dialogue with a very nice person who identified herself as a vegetarian. It was also the end of our search for wildlife. (Sri Kanta struck it lucky the next morning when he photographed a plumb raccoon nestled in a tree)

Eventually we will be searching for Krishna. As the Goswamis of Vrindavan were gripped by the mood to look for God in amongst the trees perhaps we may follow in their footsteps.

11 Km

Friday, 10 June 2011

Wednesday, June 8th, 2011

Water and Sand

The Beaches, Toronto

Jonathon from Florida, Madhavendra who's local and I took to the boardwalk, a slightly over 2 km trail along Lake Ontario, there and back. I'm always impressed with the folks you meet there. They're friendly. The air is relatively good. It's peaceful. Waves gently lap against the shore.

What I admire of these people is their determination towards fitness. A daily yoga team was in action, weight-lifters at Balmy Beach club were strutting their stuff, dog walkers were at their duty, finally joggers whizzed by us. I guess we fit into the category of being "japers", meaning our threesome were engaged in chanting japa, (chanting on beads). This we did while walking. We were getting fit in two ways. The walking explains itself. And secondly, there's the chanting. This is where it gets interesting.

We hear that chanting purifies. What Madhavendra relayed to us was that once a psychologist had done a brain-scan of him while chanting japa and took note on the monitor that the squiggles on the graph were very unique. Apparently a part of the brain was activated that he had never seen before. I guess that unique segment of the brain was doing some exercise.

It might be daring to say but we were exercising a body component that others on the boardwalk were not.

One thing that others did not do was to take a dip in lake Ontario. I did a solo on that. The water's chills explains the reason for the solitary endeavour. This was done not as a way to show off but reenacting a childhood pastime. It was invigorating as much as it was to chant on a wooden trail where our guru, Srila Prabhupada had walked 36 years ago. Swimming in the waters of the Great Lakes and lying on her sands have always been the places where I would wonder, "Where is God?" and "How does He appear?"

10 Km

Monday, June 6th, 2011

We Met

Toronto, Ontario

This man walks his dog every day religiously. I've seen him at his daily regimen for about twenty-five years. Occasionally we stop and chat. He's in his sixties and expressed mechanical issues with his body. Each time we talk I learn more about him. I was delighted to hear he's a big time artist.

"I was with a community of forty artists. The camaraderie was quite phenomenal. That closeness of communication terminated in the late eighties. The computer came and everyone became alienated. The good company was over."

Being at that age it is common to gripe about things, to ponder on the times you were comfortable.

We spoke about the golden years or what we knew of that twenty year time frame from past was from 1945 to 1965. "dad worked and provided for everything. The mortgage was easy to pay off. Mom looked after our personal needs. You had a brother, a sister, a dog, a cat and a car."

"Unions were strong then," said my friend whose name I haven't yet got to know.

We talked on. He wanted to know about my passions for walking: "What's your purpose for the cross nation walks?" he never bothered to ask before.

"I walk to create a spiritually friendly environment, to encourage people to consider the spiritual side of life." I didn't express fully the words I wanted to. I would like to say, "To create a sankirtan friendly environment." (Sankirtan meaning a spiritual synergy particularly to do with chanting)

Essentially the idea is to let the public see a monk (the more monks, the merrier) and to then strike a curiosity which is innate in all of us. Spirituality is a human right.

Our last piece of conversation entailed my friend recently being visited by a follower of Jehovah who was sold out on the end-of-the-world doomsday scenario. We both agreed that it's not just religious zealots that prescribe to Chicken Little theories. Y2K was a corporate ploy that wreaked of the same deceptive odour.

"It's a great way to make money," said my friend chuckling as we parted ways.

9 Km

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Tuesday, June 7th, 2011

Snap!

Toronto, Ontario

"Snap! Crackle 'N Pop!" It wasn't the sound of rice krispies exploding in the cold milk that I heard. I don't eat that stuff.

At 4 AM the sound came from above - with a thunderous volume. The gods were displaying a light and sound show. The threatening rain was a deterrent to my venturing too far away on foot from the ashram as the rowdy party ensued above.

The sky was the stage for a real drama, short, but real. The cracking with resounding echo and strobe effect that I physically witnessed seemed a precursor to the reading of this morning's Bhagavatam verse.

Our small band of monks, about a dozen, sat down to hear about a major conflict between one of the gods and a demon. the demigod, Indra, wielded his thunderbolt weapon in the battle against Vitrasura, a demon of extraordinary valour. According to the text, Vrtrasura out shone Indra while in action by the use of his eloquent philosophical insight and his expert use of weaponry. Tridents, clubs, and thunderbolts were divine weapons employed in the field of action. Sparks flew. You could just imagine the fireworks.

Vrtrasura's strength was so intimidating that all the gods were retrieving. It became apparent to him that they were avoiding the struggle of battle. "Struggle should be welcomed" was our message to the monks after the reading. And our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had emphasized that in order for there to be victory it must be preceded by struggle.

What we learned from the display of explosions in the sky and the Bhagavatam message on ground level was that in this world there will be clashings. In the choice of battles, particularly the battle of mind and senses, must be accepted and in the end may we be victorious.

8 Km

Tuesday, 7 June 2011

Sunday, June 5th, 2011

Are we losing Our Attraction?

Vaughan, Ontario

At the work place of one of our members a large room designed specifically for a satsang program (spiritual gathering) was the venue for our chanting session. It was predominantly a Punjabi group. One elderly man, 92 years of age, posed a question:

"Is the movement of Krishna Consciousness losing it's attraction for the people of non- East Indian origin?"

My answer: "Certainly there is a great amount of enthusiasm experienced among Indian people for devotion to Krishna. It is natural for them, as Krishna devotion is inherent since childhood. The first people to take to this process when the Krishna movement started in the west were youthful Jewish and Christian Americans. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, ignited this awareness with their help. However, in more recent years there has been, by circumstance, an emphasis towards catering to devotional immigrants.

"My particular observation is that the world is changing and that the novelty and wonder that Krishna Consciousness provided in the sixties somewhat waned. Our administrators in Krishna Consciousness haven't always stepped up to move with the world of changing attitudes. The interest in spirituality has always kept alive. The marketing has been weak.

"Recognizing this weakness a few thoughtful persons in the local area decided to take a fresh approach such as opening an Urban Edge Yoga Centre, offering vegetarian cooking classes, conducting intimate chanting groups and Gita classes geared towards a new audience. There has been some level of success in this endeavour. Some attendees at Urban Edge have taken to the process very seriously.

"There is hope for more international involvement."

After a rather full day of speaking, counselling, sharing and cleansing I lay down to rest at 11 PM, but I couldn't go to sleep. I couldn't understand, why the restlessness? It suddenly dawned on me. I hadn't walked, not even a few metres. I had taken a long ride from Ottawa. So I pulled off the bed covers and went for a walk until becoming tired.

7 Km

Saturday, June 4th, 2011

Some Happenings!

Ottawa, Ontario

"How is your dharma doing?" asked the white-haired Caucasian man over the sound of our kirtan. Our small chanting processional group was stopped at a red light when the question come to my ear.

"Absolutely gone. I'm doing my dharma right now. And how is your karma?" I asked him.

"I guess I'll be coming back," he said admitting his succumbing to the world again through the process of reincarnation.

"That's what happens to us."

"How do you know for sure?" he was curious. "Can anyone testify to that?"

"There are those who have come back."

Half joking he said, "I'd like to meet them," when the light turned green permitting both pedestrian and motorists to move.

We were near the Rideau Centre and the market square of Ottawa when the exchange took place. It's always interesting to see and hear people's reactions. Also earlier on in the town of Russell, where Anthony and I stayed overnight, a japa walk got someone really inquisitive. Coming toward me from behind in this sleepy hollow town the motorist slowed down substantially to catch a view, forged ahead and did a U turn just to make sure he saw what he saw.

A second motorist stood arrested at a blinking red. There was no traffic whatsoever to wait for. Only until I got close enough did the driver make a 45 degree turn, then stop, rolled down the window and say, "Now you have a good day, eh!"

"I sure will, and you likewise."

If someone asks if I like this kind of attention the answer is a resounding, "Yes". It's not that I reek self-aggrandizement here. I'm not particularly photogenic. I'm happy people are taking notice to the tradition of renunciation. I believe it provokes thoughtfulness and inspiration.

17 Km

Friday, June 3rd, 2011

New Words

L'Orleans, Ontario


Here's a new word - "Prunch". It rhymes with "brunch" which means eating in between breakfast and lunch or late morning. Since those of us in the Vaishnav tradition eat sanctified food known as prasadam, we took the liberty to consider that time of day and the type of food we consumed to be called "prunch". It was delicious!

Anthony and I were hosted at the home of Kacper and Vraja in the town of Russell. Avocado and tomato salad wrapped in chappati bread, excellent kichari, a mung dahl with rice and veggies, also smoothies and mango. This kind of meal, this "prunch", means a lot to Anthony. It's not that he's on the spiritual trail as a food fiend. Being with him now for the last week has allowed me to understand that his affinity for Krishna goes beyond the cravings of the palate. He's keen with the philosophy, food, friends and realizes the natural phenomena of karma.

With walking through the town of Russell and hitting a bike trail, a former railway line, you could see signs all over the place; signs which read "Dump the Dump NOW!" Apparently the town is being proposed for a dump site and residents are not swallowing the idea. I spoke with Anthony and Kacper about karma being like trash. "You try to dispose of it but no one wants your dump. You have to take care of it yourself."

A second walk for me with the boys was along the Rideau River in Ottawa at Strathcona Park. Just before a great meal (should we call it 'prinner' instead of dinner?) Anthony spotted a black swan. It took our attention as it did a woman about 60, who started to converse with us. She had heard of kirtan and how it curbs karma.

Our evening led us to a community centre in L'Orleans run by a Transcendental Meditation group. They had completed their session of meditation when we sat in a circular fashion with invitees for kirtan. It began soft and low in pitch and gradually built up pitch level, volume and even the stance, from lotus pose to standing and dancing. It was a small group, nine of us but quality folks they were, to the exception of myself. Let's exercise modesty.

After kirtan we enjoyed snacks or pracks.

10 Km

Saturday, 4 June 2011

Thursday, June 2nd, 2011

To Ottawa

Highway 401/416, Ontario

Anthony and I descended the temple stairs of the temple to walk to the UTS University of Toronto School where we would be picked up by a student teacher for the overnight car ride to Ottawa, a smooth four and a half hour sail on asphalt. We chose to save money, which in my case doesn’t belong to me. All that you do in the life of a monk is to function on behalf of your guru. Nothing belongs to you, even the funds that you carry or hold in the bank belongs to the guru. You do what you can to be frugal.

Instead of spending $78 on a one-way bus fare or $100 plus on a train or $300 on a plane, if you can spare $30 for a shared car ride then that’s what you do. The principle is nirmana, nothing is mine.

When Anthony and I did reach our pick up spot to meet the driver, Patrick, we hauled our meager luggage into his automobile’s trunk after which Anthony graciously insisted on paying my $30 as well as his. Another passenger, Carrine, drove along with us. Patrick noticed my robes, a freshly dyed new set of clothes, but my vocation didn’t interest him and so c’est la vie, that’s life. Being a Phys Ed student and teacher he did take some interest in my marathon walks across Canada and other countries. But the conversation went only so deep. So be it.

Some folks tread deep waters. Some wade in where it’s shallow.

Before dosing off I reflected on my last impressionable image as Anthony and I left Govinda’s Dining Room at the temple. Under the facilitation of instructor, Rami Bleckt, seventy Russian enthusiasts of the Ayur Veda science sat with eyes closed chanting the maha-mantra “Hare Krisha Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare. “

I believe they were absorbing their peace.

4 Km

Thursday, 2 June 2011

Wednesday, June 1st, 2011

Young Man, Sanjay

Woodbridge, Ontario

The story today is ultra simple, about a young man, Sanjay, whom I've known for about 20 years. He's not interested in monastic life, in fact, when I visited his family last January it was an engagement event. Now he's happily married. He voiced to me last night that he needed a monk's blessing in order for the relationship between himself and his new spouse, Shivi, to be a solid one.

At that time, in January, I mentioned the need to keep the spiritual centre in place and everything would be alright. I'm sure Sanjay walked into the wedding venue thinking it is an important walk exchanging vows and for uniting the couple and making the commitment.

I'm very happy for the two of them. As a belated wedding gift, I gave Sanjay a music CD, Ekalavya's "Inspiration Explosion" an excellent upbeat fusion piece. I particularly wanted Sanjay to enjoy the first track, which echoes, "Chant, chant, chant/ Chant the holy name/ your life, life, life/ Will never be the same."

I urge Sanjay to give some portion of the day to chanting. He has received Krishna Conscious literature in the past, has access to meditation beads. I certainly don't want to pressure or impose but implore, I will. What is it that will ground him in a deep way apart from wife, house and kids? Just a tiny bit of sadhana (spiritual workout) will make all the difference towards establishing a good physical and spiritual balance.

6 Km

Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Have a vision

Toronto Ontario

Back in the city again and the world of passion play. People have forsaken jumpers and jackets in response to a record heat for this day, 41 Celsius or more is the reported high. The question is, "who isn't outside this evening, walking or cycling?" People are finding a new gravity in parks and green spaces. Condo dwellers abandon their boxes. Shade is truly appreciated. All races, genders and ages are out and about. For a time (from 7pm-11pm) I did not feel alone, rather I was surrounded by people everywhere. I hate to use the analogy but humans are like mosquitoes. When hot weather hits we wake up from our slumber and go out doing our business. Some people in fact do suck blood.

Anthony took to walking with me. He's in his early twenties and is serious about his spiritual life. He has some vision and sees himself playing a major role in advancing Krishna Consciousness for himself and others.

Anthony and I walked through Queens Park. A young Buddhist monk cycling and wearing shades gave a nod of respect. We reciprocated. I guess he has some vision for himself and sees beyond his sunglasses.

We bumped into a friend. He shared a story. "You can use it if you want." He said.

"Two men were walking. One was blind, the other not. The one who could see said to the blind man, 'There is something worse - going on in life without a vision.'"

11 Km

Bear sighting in Thunder Bay

Wednesday, 1 June 2011

Monday, May 30tth, 2011

Turns His Back

The Canadian Shield, Ontario

In his book, "Miracle On Second Avenue" Makunda Goswami quotes Shakespeare's "Julius Caesar" :

... "Tis a common proof,

That lowliness is young ambition's ladder,

Where to the climber-upward turns his face;

But when he once attains the upmost round,

He then onto the ladder turns his back,

Looks in the clouds, scorning the base degrees

By which he did ascend."

This description of Mukunda's past of "turning his back... Scorning the base degrees" is very much the story of everyone's life who joined the Swami, Srila Prabhupada, in his Mission in the late sixties and seventies, myself included. In deliberation of past errors I personally feel very relieved to put sin behind and feel no compulsion to revisit it outside the occasional mental perusal.

As our drama/kirtan group drove back home via the Trans Canada Highway through some real vistas of splendour, of lakes, forests, and the most ancient rocks in the world I dwelt on the point Mukunda made. He shunned yesterday's illusions and looked to tomorrow's realities. Actually I have always admired Mukunda as an outstanding monk and devotee. Come to think of it, I have so many "cool" brothers and sisters. They are such savvy saints.

5 Km

Sunday, May 29th, 2011

Stealing Blankets?

Thunder Bay, Ontario

I trekked down Golf Link Rd. when the local police approached me. It was a black police cab that pulled over. The officers were curious.

"Hello!" Said the passenger police. I was wearing my thick saffron hemp robes with my chauddar (monk's Shawl) wrapped around my upper body to address the morning chill.

"We got a report that someone was walking down the road with stolen blankets from the hospital," continued the officer. "But I guess..."

Before he could say it's a false alarm I cut in with an amused defensiveness while looking at my robes, "I'm actually a monk and these are my robes."

They then burst into laughter. I relayed how I was suspect as an escapee from a penitentiary where the inmates wear orange and on another occasion where I was suspect of being lost from a psychiatric ward. The report then was that I was with another person (it's true, another monk) and that we were old ladies.

The police laughed even more being informed that I go through this kind of stuff. We conversed and they went on their way wishing me a good stay in Thunder Bay.

At the Yogafest held at Lakehead University, friends from the New Age circles turned up. The event featured astanga yoga, laughter yoga and even japa yoga. One woman there Karen, is a teacher of ballet skiing. Serge, an elementary school teacher, has been reading the books of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, and appreciating their contents. Sweet folks!

It was so much a day of laughter and smiles. To culminate the program the bhakti (devotion) portion came into the hands of our troupe. Our drama, "The Jaganath Story" called for the entrance of the three deities of Jaganatha, Baladeva, and Subhadra; each appearing on the stage in a mystical way. As anyone who is familiar with them knows, there is something euphoric about these images. They sport oceanic smiles and with their varied colourations people came after the show with remarks came approving the point that God comes to represent the white races in the form of Balaram, the black races as Jaganatha and brownish pigmented folks as Subhadra.

At least that's how it came to be interpreted.

For my intro as emcee, I told the story of the suspect blanket thief and everyone had a good laugh.

15 Km