Monday, 31 October 2011

Saturday, October 29th, 2011

Warming Up

Burlington, Ontario

In fighting the common cold, I’ve found that walking is the way to combat it. It warms up the machinery, the body. I spent the night at a devotee doctor’s home, and mentioned to him that I’ll likely get up at an early morning dark hour and make my way down the Burlington trail, so I did. I warmed up my heart to Krishna through chanting, while warming up my body through mobilizing the legs. Along this beach side of Lake Ontario, rabbits were leaping about in happy numbers. I didn’t seem as a threat to them, it was their territory and their time at 4 AM. They were willing to share it.

A young couple (humans this time) passed by, and I wished them well, “Good morning, or good evening, whichever way you look at it”. That remark sparked some giggles. They got warmed up and so did my rabbit friends in the excitement at Fishermans’ Pier. For the balance of the day, my concentration was focusing on warming up to our guru, Srila Prabhupada. On November 14th, 1977, he passed away in Vrindavan, India, and corresponding to the lunar calendar, the anniversary happens to fall on this day. With ambivalence, I approach this day feeling cool and warm at the same time. It is understandable that sadness hits the emotion. As the day rolled out, with three programs attended, and all in his honour, I felt a growth of appreciation for his great contributions to the world. As I was hearing others speak, and I was obliged to the same, the heart softened somewhat. I have moved from Burlington to Toronto to Brampton and then to Mississauga for these events. I guess you could say that something stoked up inside. It is possible to warm a cold hearted someone like myself when the topic is so endearing as the pastimes of guru. One reaches the inevitable; you can’t help but feel the chills go away.

9 KM

Photos from October 25th, 2011 walk

Friday, October 28th

Some Power at the Power Plant

“For my training in doing long-distance walking I explored the trails of the Greater Toronto Area. One of them took me along the lake, which curved away form the coastline to accommodate the building and the complex we are in right now and I wonder what go on in there?"

After saying Happy Diwali to a crowed of 200 at one of canada largest nuclear plant, these where my words. I was asked to be the guest speaker to employees here who where from various ethnic backgrounds (mostly your standard white canadians) to say something about Diwali. Being introduced as the walking monk I opened up with the above words and then continued.

“On the new moon of this time of year is a celebration of good over evil when King Rama had slain the demon Ravana and returned home, when the spirit of surrender over comes the atmosphere, to resonate a mood, "Oh God, from this day on I am yours!" And when the public approaches a fresh start of resolution, burying the ego and attempting an inner and outward peace once again. Diwali is celebrated in India once a year but for those wishing to see it stretched out you make Diwali the time you wake up each morning with a mood that benefit us all lets all celebrate.

I had five minutes to talk and so the message had to be succinct and to the point. At the end, everyone followed my lead of peace with two chants. “ Shanti means peace so lets come together on that : Shanti Shanti Hari OM Shanti. Hare Krsna Hare Krsna Krsna Krsna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” Response was great! We lunched with the group and organizers of the event who where employees with a Hindu background. I met and spoke with chief staff members, one of whom is about my age and is the same Dutch background and who’s wife teaches yoga. We hit it on well. The program wrapped up within an hour and a half.

Another day was lit up and this time with Diwali cheer.

7 Km

Thursday, 27 October 2011

Wednesday, October 26th, 2011

Our Peace in the City of Conflict

Haifa Israel

The dream to reach Nazareth today had to be shelved until a future Israeli trip. We would not reach there because of time constraints considering the flight home tomorrow. Bala Krishna and I reverted back to completing the coastline adventure to Haifa, a significant-sized city in this wondrous country.

An Israeli devotee Audaria drove up from Harish to locate us and join us, but his endeavor was in vain. Regretfully his tires got stuck in the sand and he remained stranded like that for hours until someone on that quite beach turned up and assisted him.

The bulk of today’s affairs were in Jerusalem, where we met with Eli and Igor, two well-read men who are very inclined towards Krishna Consciousness. I asked them how they became attracted to being conscious of Him and they replied by saying that the search for Indian food led them to a Hare Krishna cook book by author Kurma Das. One thing led to another a finally their staunch approach to Judaism made room for an additional belief in chanting and in Krishna.

Eli became our guide for a tour within the walls of older Jerusalem he encouraged our party of six to hold kirtan at the top of the tower of David, so we did. We were brought to the crypt in honour of Mary Magdalene, to a German basilica, a mosque and finally a lunch at Greg’s Restaurant where we settled for fabulous salad and sandwich. Both items on the menu were consecrated by way of mantras as a way to bless the food as prashadam. It was an on-the-spot implementation. Thank you Eli and Igor for a great afternoon and telling us about the famous temple in India, where they worship rats-a place of pilgrimage you stopped at on your visit to India.

The evening sat-sang was held in Ariel, a final one on this trip. Our verse learning today expressed another opulence of the Absolute. From the Gita we have verse 10.20 which reads, “I am the Supersoul, O Arjuna, seated in the hearts of all living entities. I am the beginning, the middle and the end of all beings.”

That brought everything to a bright finish.

20 Km

Tuesday, 25 October 2011

Monday, October 24th, 2011

Ruins Revisited

Caesarea, Israel

King Herod walked the aqueducts that Bala Krishna and I walked upon. His patron was Caesar Augustus, and that's how this city of past splendour got its name. The ancient place was completed in 9 BC. It has a ten thousand seating capacity theatre, and a hippodome, where chariot races entertained crowds up to 30,000 (remember Ben Hur?).

For a special treat after walking 20 km, southbound to this spot beginning from Havonim, we decided to treat ourselves going through a virtual time machine. There were palaces, a major temple, ancient bath houses and more, all partially intact. A big part of imagining the glory of prosperous times was to also capture the natural unpleasantry. The place was seized over and over again through the Romans, Byzantines, Arabs and Crusader period, to the the early days of Zionism.

Conclusion, the world is an unstable place. Reading from plaques of what history tells, we were reminded of the world's fragility from Vedic stories of power swaying from gods to demons in their constant back and forth tug of war.

When you walk through stretches of land, the past always surfaces, telling of those who made their mark. Even now as we exist we are contributing to history in the making. Bala Krishna remarked that in the future people will look at our current architectural ruins (they may be disappointed), we concurred; as we were annoyed with contaminated streams of dead fish, we were forced to wade through in order to keep to the beach trail.

I pondered on the eat, sleep, mate, defend cultures of always. We were there and we will come there again. We will meet a Herod again as we did in the past, and so on we go until something changes. The Gita informs us that when ambitions are broken, when hatred dissolves and real love for the Divine is established, then the vicious cycle ends.

20 Km

Sunday, October 23rd, 2011

A Day At the Med

Ashdod, Israel

Commencing part two of an Israeli trek, it is dark, 5 am, when the three of us left on foot for the Mediterranean Sea. Last year at this time of year I covered about 80km along the coastline, and so now I have the opportunity to do more distance.

Having spent the night at the home, a ten minute walk from the seaside, Jagannatha, Bala Krishna and I walked right out the door, equipped with our japa beads and not much more than a cell phone. Oh, and I should mention, there was a fourth companion - a cat that followed us for many blocks and beyond along the beach with us. At one point that terminated, and he was gone, vanished.

We came upon an ancient Arab ruin, it was an old fort, which once had an elaborate chamber system along with a moat. It was from the Byzantine period from about 600 - 1000 AD. Israel is a place of surprising discoveries.

Shalom, was our greeting to beach walkers, and sometimes it was Hare Krishna, or Haribol. Assuming they know such salutations. We, back down to three again, were most relaxed in this setting of clean water and the sun, air and space. It is indisputably one of the best trails I've ever been on. As always, there are reminders of life and death. A crab adrift to the shore moved slothfully, and a dead sea turtle left were his armour and skeleton - a soul that moved on to another form.

Our well built companion, Jagannatha, found each beach walking a trite strenuous, even at the midway stretch of 10 km. You have to break into this activity of walking, like breaking into a new pair of shoes. A swim gave relief before leaving the sea at Ashkelon. Just beyond this state you have a Palestinian district, and it was inadvisable to walk there. The place is famous, it's well known and goes by the name, Gaza.

The two men with me told me of their compulsory time spent in the Israeli army, 3 years for young men, and 2 for young women. The occasional security plane flies overhead on watch. As mentioned prior, we are living in a troubled word. Bala Krishna informed me of Kadafi's death, which involved a public execution. Bala Krishna is far from being a sadistic type, but he asked if I might want to view it on the internet when we got the chance. I thought in the beginning, okay, but I was in the midst of a meal, and so the conclusion was no.

Traffic to Ariel is the same as anywhere else in the developed world on a work day; pathetically slow. At the end our satsang was well worth the 2 1/2 hour drive. There, we talked about baby Krishna's pranks. Who ever thought that a car would be efficient?

20 Km

Saturday, October 22nd, 2011

Israel Here We Are!

Tel-Aviv, Israel

Via a flight through Amman on Royal Jordanian, I arrived at Tel-Aviv in the late morning greeted by smiles, flowers and a packet of wrapped Middle Eastern halava. I indulged in the sesame sweet and in a great dose of aloe vera drink, a favourite. We headed for the home of a Krishna devotee family, Bhakta Das, Gandhari and their daughter for a blessed meal dominated by two types of olives. Yummy!

After a snooze for catching up on lost hours of rest we headed for Tel-Aviv beach promenade and for the regular weekend sankirtan chanting at this prominent spot. People did rally around us and many joined in, especially to the dancing to mridanga and djembe drums. My perceptions about Jewish orthodoxy being prevalent here were dispelled. There is enough liberality here to allow devotees to “fit in”. One devotee said that with two gay pride parades held in the downtown annually makes this city the gay capital of the world. He also said many prostitutes frequent and reside in the area of the downtown Krishna center. To balance this measure many tourists with families make a point to take in the sea breeze, the sun, sand and now to stumble upon the chanting party.

One bare-chested young fellow with a goatee reminded us of Shiva the God of dissolution. His Tai Chi - like movements in the midst of our chanting endorsed our Vedic fun. One lanky tall woman with lengthy hair tossed her strands about in a type of beautiful abandon moving to our reggae slanted kirtan.

Bala Krishna, coordinator during my stay in Israel, said that the chanting should end in order to honour the final program, a sat-sang (devotional gathering) at the center. We trekked a short kilometre to the spot to conduct a talk on the Gita’s verse, “of purifiers I am the wind; of wielders of weapons, I am Rama; of fish I am the shark and of flowing rivers I am the Ganges.” The verse rings like a mantra and has a message so profound: whatever is prominent in the atmosphere that is a representation of God.

2 Km

Friday, October 21st, 2011


Mumbai India

Whatever may come your way, is meant to be. It’s always a test. How will you contend with the good or bad situation as it stares you in the face? In the Gita we are informed that sad and asad(good and bad elements) come of their own accord. The question is will you duck or dodge these realities or will you deal with them?

I find it rather helpful sometimes being in the presence of stray dogs; I guess you can call them beach dogs at Juhu. One young fellow with japa beads in hand, spotted me and asked to be with me on the trek south bound and then back. We walked and eventually were confronted by these nasty dogs. You just can’t “let all sleeping dogs lie” even if you try. A mere settle sound of grasping the sand with your feet perks their ears or the moving shadow that you cast could stir them up. Sleeping dogs may even hear my chanting over the sound of the crashing waves and now there are two of us unconsciously riling them up. Well, they woke up and came our way, two or three at the time. My young companion was a bit more frightened than I was due to lack of experience, I guess. You try to ignore the dogs but they edge their way towards with a mean bark. Goose bumps crawled up the spine but I must say, the chill I felt compelled me to chant with more intensity. In that regard our daring dogs were God sent. Thanks mutts!

It was my last of treks at Juhu for a while. Next year’s fall trip to India will likely be to Tirupathi. I will miss the association of God brothers and sisters, the presiding beautiful deities of Radha Rasabihari, the good Prasadam (blessed food), the friendly mustached man who takes care of aligning our shoes as we enter the temple, and of course, I’ll miss the beach at Juhu where I have been chanting.

There is more sand to trek. Early tomorrow I make the flight to Israel to trek the east end of the Mediterranean. Yes, more walking, more chanting, more devotional company.

8 Km

Friday, 21 October 2011

Thursday, October 20th, 2011

The Now and What Could Be

Mumbai, India.

Because it's India when you walk along and because people respect the saffron cloth they will put palms together and wish you a good day. Because it’s India you might find a well-crafted sand sculpture of massive Ganesh set in the sand of Juhu beach(which I reverently circumambulated). Because it’s India you may bump into a young Brahmin by the name of Shastri who is also walking at an early hour, memorizing verses from Gita.

This and more is what make me melt in my heart being in the place of Dharma and a culture of its own kind. It’s sad that much of the deep values become buried under the influence of Kali-Yuga of darkness.

Traces of piety still linger but with the fast approaching I-centered lifestyle you wonder how long it takes before India loses a total grip on order, sometimes referred to as dharma. At lunch a few of us around age 60 were talking about the more innocent times of the fifties when we grew up in the North America. One devotee, Tamohara, from Florida, remarked how people find it puzzling that he’s been happily married for forty plus years. Being an expert in family counseling and having some facts down he said that particularly in ’72 stats show that in North America the divorce rates escalated.

In any event, our discussion entailed the co-relation between degradation and the disintegration of the family. Tamohara added another comment saying that stats confirmed that with industrialization when women entered the work-force, that was also the time of less inter-dependency. “Just in our life-time we’ve seen so much decline”, he said.

There are plenty of dark signs out there that are symptomatic of various forms of deterioration. Much damage is done. What to do?

We need to look to a regeneration of things and insert into our own individual lives a spiritual rejuvenation. Band aid mundane methods have failed society. May India take the lead in a spiritual resurgence and if not, perhaps its diaspora may.


Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wednesday, October 19th, 2011

Beach, Friends, Monk & Verse

Mumbai, India.

You must watch every step you take. You want to stay dry so you are
prudent about dodging waves as they roll in. You watch every step you take
because the beach is not all sand. There is debris, natural ocean stuff,
and otherwise, human snack remains and even feces. You watch every step
because the terrain is sometimes uneven. Drainage from the condos creates
minor creeps. In other words your eyes need to be planted to the ground.
I met Mahesh who is young and speaks English. He lived in Canada for two
years and worked at a call centre. Not surprising. Reflections of “Slum
dog.” I also met a group of young men, the second day in a row. They had
been hanging out at the beach since 2AM (now it’s 4AM) to attend the
mangal arati services at the Juhu temple. They expressed in broken English
and Hindi how they wanted to be purified. I could tell by their stylish
apparel that they are part of Bollywood pop culture yet they craved for
some piety in their lives. I felt it necessary to befriend and encourage

As mentioned earlier, I have a roommate who hails from Spain, Yadunandan
Swami, is a relatively new ordained monk in the sannyasa order. Immersed
in education he is the principle of Bhaktivedanta college, a short
distance from Brussels. He completed his Masters degree at the University
of Wales and specialized in theology and Religious studies. For his
thesis, he has written on the topic “Vaishnava Sannyasis in Modernity: the
life and challenges.”

I looked through his paper and most interesting was his list of ten major
reasons for persons parting from the renounced order within the tradition.

A personal highlight for the day was a revisit to the last verse in
chapter 11 of the Bhagavad-gitaText 55 reads as such: “My dear Arjuna,
he who engages in My pure devotional service, free from the contamination
of fruitive activities and mental speculation, he who works for Me, who
makes Me the supreme goal of his life, and who is friendly to every living
being – he certainly comes to me.”

7 Km

Tuesday, October 18th, 2011

Until the truth is known

Mumbai, India

The news was troubling to everyone. Coonspicuous by his absence is one of our finest monks, Bhakti Vijnan Swami. He is not present at our Mumbai meetings because he’s fighting a battle on his home front in Russia.

Apparently Russian authorities are claiming that the sacred teachings of the Gita incite “extremist” attitudes. Practitioners of bhakti-yoga are potential terrorists.

Please! The charge is extremist.

In India there is a history of pacificism. On the one hand you have centuries of brute force entering in, with minor resistance. On the other hand you have rejected outsiders coming in as genuine refugees. Always accommodating, always open-armed, all embracing and always warm - that is mother India.

If anything is violent about the Gita we may not necessarily deny the aggressive connotations in its contents. A war did take place, at Kurukshetra. Moreover the reader of the Gita is to glean the more relevant message of challenging the enemies within. There are kama(lust), krodha(anger) and lobha(greed), they need to be harnessed. That, in all frankness is the implication. It’s a good message and deserves universal application. In any event the charge is false.

This is what is troubling my mind as I plod along by Juhu Beach. The world is full of misunderstandings because perceptions are imperfect. Such is the world. And yet the combat cannot cease until the truth is known.

7 KM

Thursday, October 13th, 2011

Stay On

Toronto, Ontario

I received a call from someone in the States expressing what a strain it is these days on the financial level. “Either you’ve lost a job or you’re working 10-12 hours a day to hold onto what you have,” she said. The unemployment rate is up to almost 10%. Discontentedness is strong as evidence by protests by Wall Street. Many have lost their jobs and homes and are not left with such high hopes. Bank firms live on fat profits while the average person struggles like anything. People feel cheated and exploited.

Welcome to the material world and the system of capitalism.

Any ‘ism’ does have its defects. We plod along in life waxing and waning, from profits to losses in any scenario, it’s the way it is. To those who have taken up the fighting spirit against injustice, “Keep it up!” But ultimately we do need to keep our sanity, isn’t it, while going through all this gruel.

The caller’s name was Vaidehi, which is a name of Sita, the same damsel, consort of King Rama. The epic, The Ramayan, details how Sita was kidnapped by the demon Ravana, whose vain effort to exploit this great goddess of fortune led to disaster. It seems Ravana had little scope for dharma, acting outside the boundaries of righteousness. During the stressed ordeal, Sita kept her composure because of her constant, positive contemplation on Rama.

The Vedas of India constantly tell us to stand up for dharma, doing what is right, and to stay cool in the process through positive reflection, keeping in good association, and chanting the names of Rama and Krishna.

Take heart, Vaidehi, and hubby, Ram. Hang in there! Stay on track.

6 Km

Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Monday, October 17th, 2011

They Want to Hear

Mumbai, India

The tide came high in the night. Enough beach front remained for pacing to and fro while chanting japa. Barking dogs kept me in a restricted distance for this pacing. "That's okay!" I thought. You know the saying, "let sleeping dogs lie." It is very applicable here.

In the pacing I do pass by a group of young men who chatter and play cards. They don't bark, rather they insist on saying, "Hare Rama Hare Krishna!" You know it's India, it's special.

Much later in the day I did not divulge in this rather ordinary experience when asked to speak to a class of brahmacaris from Pune, who had come to stay in the Juhu Ashram for 4 days to facilitate the leaders at our meetings. This group of bright boys insisted on hearing of some more gripping pastimes I had on the road on the marathon walks. They wanted to hear the adventurous side of trekking. What is it like? How do you deal with people, with the harsh elements, wildlife? They were curious to know as to how the day to day procedure works.

Being young monks the appeal of 'the simple life on the road' was strong. Hearing of the detached nature of the roaming lifestyle provided an inspiration. It's always important to intertwine the philosophy of the Bhagavat with pedestrian pastimes.

"Does the walking increase your Krishna Consciousness?" asked one of the students.

"Most definitely," I explained with words that I feel could never sufficiently describe the feeling. You really have to go out there and do it.

My roomate , Yadunandan Swami, from Spain told me prior to my leaving the room to deliver my presentation to the young men about the magical effect of the famous Santiago de Camino walk that has been taking place. He told me that Krishna devotees have tread that trail. This of course, had wet my appetite for lusting after that trail. It just seems that there are trails that beckon walking addicts towards them.

Hmmmm! Let's see when I can blaze that trail!

7 Km

Sunday, October 16th, 2011

The Message to Share

Mumbai, India

I am twenty minutes at the temple of Radha Rasabihari - prepared for the opening of the gates at 4:30 AM. At that time I'm already hot and sweaty. I had been at the beach chanting on my beads with the ever-present mild waves of the Arabian Sea next to me.

There is rhythm in their sound just like there is a tempo in the temple, a sole drum playing to the sound of mangal arati, the morning worship. All over India, bells, gongs, drums and cymbals are heard at that auspicious hour. In that sense India is mystical. All these sounds arouse the Supreme and His sleeping conditioned souls.

At 1:30 PM I was called on to speak to 300-400 people, congregants of the temple. My message about surrender from 18.62 of the Gita was translated into Hindi. People were really attentive. At the Q&A a listener asked a question, "you were introduced as a person from Canada. Why is it that God doesn't appear in Canada?" According to him avatars only appear in India. To respond in brief I indicated that the verse implies that God is in everyone's heart. Hrdi means heart. If there are 30 million people residing in Canada, then God is residing with each of those human souls what to speak of being present in other species. There is a constant presence of Him in all things. We can't limit Him to Canada.

The next question (more of a comment really) had to do with the responsibility of those born in India. The conclusion from the book Chaitanya Charitamrta tells us that if you are born in Bharat (India) you have a birth right to share wisdom with the rest of the world.

I encouraged our crowd to take up as a seva or service the mission to share knowledge of the Absolute - that it is their natural obligation.

6 Km

Saturday, October 15th, 2011

Back at Juhu

Mumbai, India

Bubbles explode in your face. Balloons bob up, down and sideways. Monkeys on leashes do jumping tricks for a rupee or two while their master whips the hard-knotted rope back and forth to strike the dumaru, the small drum of passion affiliated with Shiva, the God of dissolution. Rides for kids delight their eagerness. Cotton candy and smells of spicy goods permeate the space for sight and nostrils. Young couples stay arm in arm.

I hear the occasional "Hare Krishna" or "Hare Rama" and "Namaskar," only because I've come onto the scene of this wild carnival. Other than that the rest is normal at Juhu Beach after the sun falls on a Saturday night. The water with its ocean waves fascinates people. They are never daring enough to go in for a dip. It fascinates so long as you stay out.

This is my usual trekking territory when I come to Mumbai. It is a mere seven minutes plus walk, darting chaotic traffic (or one rounds length of chanting of the 108-bead strand) to get to the sand and ocean from ISKCON's popular temple. Dignitaries and Bollywood stars come to the temple weddings and other functions continuously going on here giving the place a vibrancy.

It is this fine facility that has become the annual venue for spiritual strategies, which I believe is possible only because of AC circumstances and a whole lot of integrity tossed into the bowl of brainstorm. We have monks here representing a global picture and on top of that male and female leaders of an administrative and teaching kind.

For now, having come a day early for such meetings, I've been putting my foot marks in the sand, acquainting myself with a different environment preparing for brain-butting and heart-hugging. It's always a pleasure to step into a different zone of existence in order to look at your own world of activity and see from a different light. To keep alive I don't think we can do without the objective outlook.

We are here to share ideas and dreams and to see if we are on track with the wishes of the guru. It is a meeting of ISKCON's Governing Body Commissioners (GBC).

6 Km

Friday, October 14th, 2011


British Airways, Atlanta/Europe

There was no walking today except for going from one terminal to another to depart for Mumbai, India. There was so little exchange with passengers because on both flights to and from Heathrow I had the seats on either side to myself. One flight attendant with a smile did say, "Hare Krishna." Another one, this time a woman, asked if I could be served on the flight by a woman.

"Because the Swami Narayan group forbids it, correct?" I asked.

"Correct," she replied.

"There is no problem for me. We are all spirits - in essence. I can appreciate the principle others abide by but our guru was a swami and he accepted the services of both genders." She nodded, smiled and left to attend to others.

I got to thinking about that some more. If tradition would have its way then our guru would naturally show more rigidity but he was so magnanimous. He flew atleast 10 times around the world and received the assistance of stewardesses. He gave a lot of personal time to guide his female disciples, his young western daughters. Then one day he told one of his female students that she would not be able to sit so close as she had been previously. Due to western conditioning and being unfamiliar with the etiquette towards an elderly monk, she had been innocently unaware of her familiar behavior. She complied from then on and some kind of standard was set in terms of how men and women communicate with each other in a spiritual setting. This model has been in place for centuries within ashrams in order that there be no distraction. Traditionally ashrams were for men.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, gave facility to accommodate women, in separate quarters, of course, as a compromise. He saw how young women in America were also curious to learn and so he gave provisions. In the mid-seventies some extremist attitude arose creating some divisions. Prabhupada sought to dissolve those attitudes to leave a feeling of inclusiveness.

0 Km

Friday, 14 October 2011

Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

Be Mean About Being Clean

Toronto, Ontario

Today was someone else’s turn at walking the trail. Coming from the same part of India as the previous day’s monk, this monastic remarked favourably about how people are always cleaning (someone was blowing the dead leaves off a yard). This was a compliment, of course. We trekked down a ravine and took the same trail as I did yesterday with the other monk.

Today’s monk remarked, “Oh, the trees are all golden!” as if he had discovered a new planet. He said nothing about numerous dogs being walked by sitters. After coming from the ravine and reaching the normal ground level, we trekked the wet grass of a park. He looked at the tidy nature of the place and remarked that it makes the mind so peaceful.

I mentioned to him that our guru, Srila Prabhupada, liked everything to be neat and that on one occasion he wondered why the temple front yard was overgrown when all the other neighbours had theirs well maintained? In fact he insisted on cleanliness. When you go to Mayapura, our ISKCON headquarters, you see the grounds are kept looking respectable. One year I went to the Bahai Lotus Temple in Delhi. I lined up with the rest of the many pilgrims there. Inside the sanctuary it was rather cavernous and vacant, yet clean and peaceful. I believe many people go to see the grounds and are amazed by the lack of congestion, the openness, and the smooth laid out lawns. It’s pleasing.

This is a mega part of spiritual life – to always endeavour at being suchi, or clean. The atmosphere around bears heavily on a person. If you want to make rapid spiritual progress then work at keeping your interior clean as well as your environment.

I have one more monk to take out on a walking venture for his impressions and this is before I leave for India which I’m looking forward to. There are many places there that are cluttered but I love the people. There is this enchantment about the place you won’t find anywhere else.

14 Km

Wednesday, 12 October 2011

Tuesday, October 11th, 2011

Get Out!

Toronto, Ontario

We have a very sweet and staunch brahmachari monk from Bengal who agreed, with very little persuasion, to go for an eight km walk. For the most part, he's staying in the ashram building and doesn't get out to see the world too much. I thought to do him the favour to go down the "David Balfour Park" trail to get the out of door experience, the fresh air, and all of that. His services or daily chores keep him indoors mostly but I'm bent on imposing a little change. I also thought of the 'bad outside' world is something to confront. Not to shy away from it would be helpful. After all, we were just down a nature trail.

Sure enough, although he's been in the west for a few months, cultural conditioning is deep I found. Some amount of culture shock still did exist.

He laughed at the pampering of dogs. A number of dog sitters came down the trail. To my defense I would have said that in India, dogs are so neglected, they are let to stray and are pathetically diseased. He was amused to see some of the iron sculptures as we passed by the Brickworks. With a background in fine arts, I found the rustic renderings to be rather creative. I didn't say much about it.

I pointed out the rich colours of the trees, being autumn, but our dear monk devotee made a comment, "They are all yellow." It sounded as if it looked bleak to him.

In reality, the stroll and all he saw was somewhat a fascination to him. Here's the one thing that really got to me and where I had to respond. When he saw a man pick up his pet dog's stool (responsibly), he remarked, "In India, if you touch a dogs stool you will take bath immediately." I said, "If this were India (meaning this trail) you and I would be sliding on dog feces all the way along because no one cleans up after."

To say something redeeming about impressions, he did pick up on the kindness of co-walkers on the trail. I was glad to have him as my walking companion over any one else. He was chanting and started to see the good in the things around him. I think the walk did him good and I'm going to invite another young brahmachari the next day down the trail. His duties also keep him in the ashram for too long.

When I think about it I spend considerable time encouraging our ashram dwellers and community members to get out the door, meet people, perform sankirtan (public chanting), distribute books on spirituality, take care of your health. The message is, "Let's get out, get out, get out!"

10 KM

Monday, October 10th, 2011

Calgary, Alberta

Stole the Show

If you are an outdoor kirtan enthusiast, you really must try the following, given the circumstances apply:

Find an urban river or a creek with a bridge structured over it, and if there’s a good trickle of pedestrians taking advantage of its walkway, plant your kirtan party at the base of one end of the bridge, and chant away. At the Jaipur bridge from Calgary’s downtown that connects to Prince’s Park, our colourful chanting group positioned ourselves, where bridge walkers could clearly see us below in musical array.

One person was pumping the harmonium. Two were on mrdanga drums. One took to playing karatalas (hand cymbals), one struck repeatedly a tambourine, while all of us used our voices to chant the popular mantra Hare Krishna. It was a powerful presentation and a perfect venue with rocks, water, autumn bushes and trees as a natural setting. Ducks and geese came swimming towards us to hear us, and humans promenading were halted by what they saw and heard. Leaning at the edge of the bridges rail was our spontaneous audience. But the most astounding aspect of our devotional show was when Lyle came into the picture. Who is Lyle? Well, he introduced himself to us and said, “I’m Native, eh?” I stay at the home shelter. I’ve had it rough all my life, eh?” He looked a bit weathered, and had a deep scar on his left cheek. He abruptly left the rock where he sat to speak to us, and came back 10 minutes later with a gift. The gift was a tiny bouquet of wild flowers, hand picked, held together with a weed twine. He casually placed it in front of Gaura Chandra, our harmonium player, stepped forward to sip water from the Bow River in front of us, and then raised his arms in the beautiful ritual style. He returned to his rock, pulled out his harmonica and played with us, or tried.

If you ask me, Lyle stole the show. He demonstrated real bhakti, devotion, without having read anything about it. Bhakti is of course an innate thing, and after we took a break playing, and let him play solo, he terminated by saying, “You know we’re all connected, there’s no separation between us.” We couldn’t argue with him on that.

This touching encounter happened at the base of the bridge, the bridge called Jaipur Bridge, in Calgary. Somehow, Lyle showed us how to enhance our Thanksgiving.

6 KM

Sunday, October 9th, 2011

Three Sisters

Canmore, Alberta

Three Sisters are a tri-peaked mountain set east of Canmore. A local person describes them as guardians of the valley. To me they appear like three nuns standing at the threshold of a convent.

We are at the edge of the Rocky Mountains, you can’t find a more heavenly place to talk about lofty things. Even though our Inn where our meetings are held are within a valley, our true purpose for coming together is to attain sangha (each other’s company). Like minded, our group is. We are all not only from the same country, Canada, but we all have the same spiritual passion. This passion goes twofold. Each and everyone of our attendees carry a concern for his or her own destiny. We seek love for Krishna and liberation from this world. Our second passion is generated towards the world. We wish to share what we know about Vedic knowledge, which in truth, is meant for everyone. To share that wealth of information requires planning. On the second day of our gathering, our group representing fourteen official centres, big and small, are speaking on how to improve the guardianship of both our own individual souls and those of others who are seekers of the truth.

For those who come to this touristic area of mountains and wildlife, it is advised to be wild smart regarding elk, bear, coyote and cougar, to learn how to avoid encounters, and how to handle attacks. Similarly, we have our souls to protect from self serving agendas that come from within.

It seems the Three Sisters are there watching over us during our break period to remind us of how important guardianship is.

12 KM

Saturday, October 8th, 2011

Canmore, Alberta

Meals and Walks

It was a long day yesterday and it included a great meal at the end, a grainless one. Traditionally every fortnight, we honour a fast from grains and also accept a turkeyless meal (it’s Canada’s Thanksgiving Day weekend, yet we are staunch vegetarians). The evening also included a talk I gave from the Gita, 9.26, at the Radha Madhava Cultural Centre. We acknowledge in this verse the type of food items acceptable to our Lord Krishna. Food of a sattvic (mode of goodness nature) is what is preferable. Veggies, fruits, grains, nuts, and lacto foods. The emphasis for offering food is on the intent, bhakti is a word that appears twice in the verse. What is bhakti? It is intense love, devotion.

For walking, my host, Gaura Chandra, an Italian born Krishna devotee, took me on a trail in the Monterey neighbourhood of Calgary’s east end. Prairie breezes were low, but were there. A second trek was held in Canmore, a small city nestled in the beautiful Rocky Mountains of the Bow Valley. Meaningful meetings of the Canadian ISKCON AGM were conducted at the Ramada Inn. We discussed great topics, both fun and sensitive, such as working in the cohesive spirit, to education of sexual misconduct on the pastoral level. Another great meal was provided, reaching our tummies, and it had a definite thank you status. It was sattvic and flavourfully good. In the room next to us at a banquet wedding meat was served, offering a different kind of odour. Interesting juxtaposition!

Generally at this time of year, it does come to mind that thanksgiving needs to be redefined somehow.

8 Km

Friday, October 7th, 2011

Looking At Me At The Zoo

Calgary, Alberta

Seeing the various life forms at the Calgary zoo, we had a chance to see where we were at at one time. Further more, as we left from one continental pavilion to the next, anywhere from Africa to South America, Asia and elsewhere, we also saw all the places we likely resided at in previous lives.

For instance, at the gorilla section, our small contingent of devotees made connections with those hairy boys and girls, despite the pane of glass between us. One ape with powerful arms rapped his knuckles against our barrier which gave me the opportunity to mirror his move and leaving a half an inch of glass between us smacking our knuckles together. And as I chanted to him, I looked into those mischievous and restless eyes and I imagined myself being in that body. I was there before. Moving on to the North American wildlife section, we leisurely made it to the cougars, when one came rather close with a narrow double fence distancing us. He was agitated. Maybe hungry. I felt that same hunger before.

When we came upon the three Mongolian camels, my ticket donour, Gaura Chandra, noted how those three guys with their two humps were instantaneously drawn to the saffron colour of my robe. They ran towards me, no one else. Were they projecting into their future perhaps? Will they become confirmed monks wearing such garb? Who’s to say?

There’s something adorable about each of the creatures we viewed, and I guess that’s the reason for the attraction. We had visited something familiar, we were looking at me, a mirror.

The Bhagavad Gita states that we (our souls) channel through different bodies. The text endorses that our future senses will be grouped around the mind and our state of consciousness. And what we admire today could be our preoccupation when we die, which could determine our next life. The same Bhagavat philosophy makes it clear that someone was a human and then became an animal because of his state of mind at death, as in the case of King Bharat, who became a deer. Our goal should be to end this vicious cycle of repeated birth and death. The message is that we attempt to steer our consciousnesses toward thoughts of the Divine.

6 Km

Friday, 7 October 2011

Thursday, October 6th 2011

Identifying the Wrong In Us

Toronto, Ontario

This morning our little Bhagavatam group talked about some sins that spiritual practitioners can commit. It has more to do with attitude than an incident of offense, pre-meditated upon or an accident.

The basics of our discussion was the story of the poisoning of the child born of King Chitraketu and Queen Krtadyuti. Here was an obvious offense laid against an innocent child. It was cold blooded murder! We identified crime as such found common amongst the more physical ksatriyas (warriors in the Vedic context). Six aggressive acts committed in the field day of warriors are 1) administering poison 2) stealing riches 3) stealing land 4) stealing another's wife 5) burning another's property and 6) using a lethal weapon to an unarmed person.

Our discussion zeroed in more on subtle offenses, perhaps what brahmins (priests) may be found guilty of. For an exercise we were looking at what to be prudent about in the execution of temple/ashram services, the category we, as a group, more of less fall into.

The number one cardinal sin according to our consensus was criticism of those on the devotional path. Another was the attitude of cynicism. Another sin was stubborness or the unwillingness to bend to time, place and circumstances. Another was to bear a permanent grudge. Taking into account a saying from Chanakhya Pandit, "the beauty of a brahmin is in his ability to forgive," there is the need to let go and bury the hatchet.

Jealousy, contempt, self-righteousness are all symptomatic of our current age. We are encouraged by the Vedic message to become clean in what we do and at least attempt to transcend the lowly tendencies.

8 Km

Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

A Clumsy Great Day

Toronto, Ontario

It was an awkward day being my birthday, when devotees from around the area came to present an over-the-top kindness. Maybe that's harsh for me to say, but following a tradition of praising a guru is more than a western-born person can sometimes stomach. Devotees feel that they want to offer their thank-yous on this one day of the year so I surrender to that sentiment. Their words are genuine and heartfelt.

Complications arise when you feel that compliments come every day of the year. However, our guru, Srila Prabhupada, very clearly established a culture of appreciation and I will declare it most emphatically that in the secular world the average person is not honoured, appreciated and encouraged enough. This phenomena is what seems to lead to rampant depression and a feeling of not being respected and loved.

The reality today is "where is family, friends or community to lean on?" Worst still is if you do have people around you yet the infrastructure appears selfishly hollow inside. You can be in a building with people and feel no closeness.

I can say proudly that I don't feel alone, never in my state of Krishna Consciousness this last 38 years. I believe to have true family because there is that R-E-S-P-E-C-T (as Aretha Franklin sings). My dilemma is whether I return it in a mutual way. I don't think I can fairly determine that.

I really do value my association or company of friends. They are indeed 'kind'. Jagannatha Misra and family gave a pair of five finger Vibram shoes to aid in my walking expeditions. Others gave as well. Much appreciated! Ramachandra, a devotee from London, Ontario, gave me his time. We trekked on a loop, passed the Brickworks and back with perfect 20 degree Celsius weather.

All in all, it was a great day. My short address to those who came to the gathering was, "Please have compassion and share the wealth of Krishna with others."

12 Km

Thursday, 6 October 2011

Tuesday, October 4th, 2011

Old Men and Peace

Toronto, Ontario

When someone comes to town more for pilgrimage than tourist sightseeing, I like to take them to the Beaches boardwalk where our guru in the summer of '75 did walk. A visiting family from Florida and a devoted member of ISKCON's Detroit chapter came to spend a few days. What a blessing to have great guests whose motives are to grow within!

On the perfect Indian summer day, we took to the trail shared by others who had come to enjoy the sunshine and the placidness of the lake.

(Pardon me for being a trite too mundane as one reader to this blog felt spiritual content was lacking. The intent here is to keep the blog new-comer friendly and to see it as a springboard to reach greater spiritual heights. Anyways, here's the mundane-ness and you can judge for yourself if it inspires or not.)

While we took to the trail of the purest of all souls, Srila Prabhupada, we saw an elderly group of men lawn-bowling. We also saw an ancient man soaking in the sun at a bench. I thought of the peace they were seeking. I also thought of that marvelous poem read to a group of us spiritual leaders at an interfaith gathering. Coordinator, J.W. Windland, read Maya Angelou's poem, "A Brave and Startling Truth" and its reference to peace. Here it goes:

And the aged can walk into evenings of peace
When religious ritual is not perfumed
By the incense of burning flesh
And childhood dreams are not kicked awake
By nightmares of abuse

Another stanza:

And when we come to it
To the day of peacemaking
When we release our fingers From fists of hostility
And allow the pure air to cool our palms

That was delivered on the 50th anniversary of the United Nations and now to us.

At the event I had the pleasure to speak on the topic of peace as presented in the Bhagavad-gita. The message there is a step above.

11 KM

Wednesday, 5 October 2011

Monday, October 3rd, 2011

Bah to the Auto

Toronto, Ontario

Something seemed unpleasant on Mount Pleasant Avenue. It was traffic.

I was trekking on it and these mean machines were whoozing by. By that I refer to the regular very ordinary automobiles - all of them. Usually I am numbed by traffic. It is an accepted part of urban life, yet it comes to me in spurts of annoyance when I think, "I don't need this assault." The sounds of engines were never attractive to me, nor the shape of design of them, not even in the best of days when those souped-up fifties and sixties models conquered roads in days gone by. I never cared for carbon-monoxide nor the space a car greedily occupies nor the fact that they kill animals, birds, and humans. Their roads ravage nature and have caused a major shift in the negative layout of people dispersement, bluntly called 'burbs'. Cars are shiny coffins, boxes of impersonalism and have taken the lead at concerns over energy supply. The list goes on.

I snarled within, feeling knots or cramps inside just thinking about the hazardous lifestyle the automobile has created. It was thought that a car would eliminate horse dung issues plus noise of the horses hooves clomping on the concrete or cobblestone but it wasn't a good substitute, not in the least.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, said, "In human society the normal way to travel is by foot, horse, bullock-cart, camel or elephant. Those modes of transportation have been around since time immemorial. Only in Kali-yuga do we have motorcars, and this motor car will not last very long. When the petrol dries up, what use are your motorcars?"

I believe there is a whole lot of people that are on that page of thinking. Perhaps it's a minority that will be like a moon's waxing. I also believe in tolerance, but not when the damage is so astronomical. Only my chanting wile walking offers personal damage control - my grumbling.

11 Km

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sunday, October 2nd, 2011

What Sunday Should Be!

Duntroon, Ontario

Naturopath healers, professional runners, massage therapists and yoga practitioners were amongst listeners to my trekking pastimes in this small town near this Blue Mountain ski district. The time passed by rapidly as I was unfolding the various adventures of walking to the extreme. As usual I interweave philosophy into the presentation. "You must know your audience," as they say, so with this group I had come to understand that most of the participants had some "Vedic" connection, and hence, I could speak rather comfortably using the word sattvic, for instance, and eventually the word "God" and "Krishna".

When speaker and audience are on the same page there is a sense of harmony. Many questions came regarding the practical aspects of the marathon walks as well as the spiritual intent behind them. There were young children present and they also maintained a level of attention that was unparalleled. The chanting session we held at the end went over very well and refreshments to follow were for the health conscious.

My real good friend from Poland, Mahasrngha, cooked pasta for me and baked a delicious carob cake to be shared by all. Rami Bleckt, our host and ayur-veda astrologer, demonstrated his love by staging the event in his home. A real gentleman!

I was contemplating on the thought of Sunday evening being this way for the whole world' that a sense of community be the real experience for the entire human race and that real joy could be felt by all.

As Krishna states in the Gita, "susukam kartum avyayam." Chanting, honouring prasadam (sanctified food), some words of wisdom are all happily executed.

1 Km

Monday, 3 October 2011

Saturday, October 1st, 2011


Toronto, Ontario

Yesterday when our small party of 6 went in procession south on Avenue Road, a well dressed man in his, my guess, 60’s, addressed us as idiots. We didn’t respond. We were chanting and playing instruments while in procession. I was a little irritated by the remark, but left the negativity behind me, and immersed myself in blissful chanting. From thereon, responses by the public were phenomenal. When I described brief negative encounters to a group at a devotional gathering in a Markham home, they were rather surprised. “Someone would call some saintly folks idiots?”

Rejection is to be expected. So is acceptance. Accept both. This world is dual.

In a beautiful pastime to do with Krishna’s friends, these cowherd boys were somewhat disappointed when they were refused food for Krishna when requesting some from Brahmin priests. One time a reporter asked our guru, Srila Prabhupada, “How do you deal with a world that sometimes rejects you?” He made a remark that you simply go on with what has to be done. There can be so many discouraging factors to deal with. It is our dharma, or duty, to keep us on track, even though rejection may be in the air.

Now, there’s this annual event in the city called “Nuit Blanche” where streets are blocked off for pedestrian friendliness. Art displays go on into the wee hours of the morning. It’s quite the party. Well, after our Markham program, a group of us, 20 or so, decided to wedge ourselves into Nuit Blanche with our drums, deities, conch shells, incense, balloons, and anything else artistically expressive. It was done. Boy! How we were accepted! People loved it.

8 Km

Friday, September 30th, 2011

“No” Signs

Toronto, Ontario

One of the ladies in the community here said in a rather familiar way, “Oh Maharaja, you look so bright eyed and bushy tailed!” Appropriate remark? Certainly it wouldn’t fly in a traditional context, but her intent was really good. “Yes, I feel great, having tackled two provinces, Nova Scotia and Newfoundland on foot. I’ve shed some karma and some pounds.”

I appreciate that she was at least consistent when she said, “You’ve got sun on your head and stubbles on your chin.”

Again, well intended. Doctors inform me that after a marathon withdrawal symptoms usually occur. But I can’t claim marathon status this time. I only went for two weeks, and a little less than 30 km per day, which is 10 km less than on the other previous cross Canada treks. I would say though that the legs get a little antsy, and want more than a mere 7 km I did today. Sadly, I have to submit to being back in regular mode. On day 1 of being back I took to the streets of the Rosedale neighbourhood, my original training grounds if you will. Funny to see signs of objection, like anywhere else in the country. This morning it was a sign pegged into someone’s front yard that read, “No Mega Quarry”. In Nova Scotia last week a sign I saw last week on someone’s property read, “No Fracking”. In the north, earlier in the summer, angry home owners set plaquards in their sod that read, “No Wind Turbines”. Behind some of these protests, the Nimby principle applies, “You can do what you want to do but ‘not in my backyard’”. It seems folks are ticked about something.

The posting of “No Smoking” is a common message everywhere. And I give that a thumbs up. But being who I am, a renounced person in a spiritual order, I would love to one day see signs that read, “No Illicit Sex”, “No Gambling”, “No Intoxication” and “No Meat Eating”. That would be a lot to ask of such a campaign. Just one serious attempt that one of the above four would save lives of self destruction, I believe.

If I was ever voted in for political office I would urge in this direction. That would sound scary to a secularist. I can just hear the protests now. I would then bargain for at least discouraging the above kind of bad habits. Let’s settle then for me being some modest spiritualist, trying to promote these values of abstinence and replace them with positive engagements. If even a tiny sector of society could adapt to less self gratification, the impact would be enormous.

7 Km

Saturday, 1 October 2011

Thursday, September 29th, 2011

Monks Farewell!

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Today was time allotted for parting words with the brahmacari monks. Under the good direction of Nitai Ram, most of these men (numbering eight) were novices three years ago. Since their joining they have gained experience at distributing books by our guru, Srila Prabhupada. They have learned cooking, cleaning, giving classes and in the case of one, learned to do havans (fire sacrifice), how to record expenses and income, how to play the drum and other instruments and lead chanting sessions.

We reflected on the grass at the historic Citadel. Experience was our basic theme for the day. Practically all of these young men had their experience at gratification of the senses, but they had changed upon the life of devotion and it was game over – a new experience. Now, with time, direction and trial and error, and a lot of persistence, they have blossomed from the experience.

If you look for a job and you send in a resume which lists that you have some years of experience at some task, that says a lot.

In the morning I led a class and discussion about the experience of twelve great mahajans (teachers) and how in their association one becomes trained or at least learned by taking direction from their messages which are recorded in the book, Bhagavatam.

These boys, our brahmacaris, are enviable. They work well as a group. I’m going to miss them. We spent some time together walking and chanting such as at Phoenix Rising Yoga Centre last evening. May their experience place them in a position of devotional empowerment. They will bear the torches that we currently hold in our hands.

10 Km