Saturday, 31 December 2011

Thursday, December 29th, 2011

Perceptions Outside

Toronto, Ontario

Winter has hit. Colours have shifted from green to white. It's a component of change and a symptom of cycle, an aspect of duality, the way of this world.

These truths of nature's phenomena are so evident when you step outside of the indoors. I had spent hours inside today caught up in the world that was imposed upon me. And then that illusion broke for another. I needed to get out into the elements. Yes, the elements - I have always found them to be a good way to meet Krishna. It becomes like an immersion into the vibrations of a temple, only outdoors.

When it's slippery and wet, pedestrians are more cautious. When it's cold heads are tilted forward and down to avoid snow. The body tenses up and shoulders tighten. It is also the time for an earned austerity. That could never be bad for anyone. The experience has to be taken as such, otherwise it is regarded as inconvenience.

When you are a renunciant, you look forward to sacrificial opportunities. It brings you closer to Him. When you see the sun or the moon they are His eyes. And when it's nighttime, He's wearing his shades. When it's too hot or too cold in His living room (the outdoors) it can only remind us that we are not these bodies and are beyond that.

6 Km

Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

Follow That Doctor's Instructions

Toronto, Ontario

While one of our young monks, Yogendra, was giving me a night time foot massage, I was reading some memories from our guru's students. The following is what Brahmananda, one of Srila Prabhupada's students recalls in regards to his walking:

"Prabhupada had a serious stroke on Memorial Day weekend when everyone had left New York City. Prabhupada couldn't function. We didn't want to bring him to a hosptial, so I called my family doctor, but he was out of town. I started making random calls, but everyone was out of town for the weekend. Ultimately, an old Jewish doctor came to see Prabhupada. The devotees were walking around barefooted, wearing jeans and T-shirts, chanting. We had no furniture, just a carpet. The doctor couldn't figure out what was going on. Meanwhile, Prabhupada was very sick.

"It took the doctor a long time to understand what was going on, what to speak of examining Prabhupada with the stethoscope and this and that. Afterwards we asked, 'What's wrong?' He said, 'I think the old man prays too much.' We said, 'Oh. Yeah. Okay.' The doctor said, 'He's got to get out. He's got to get some exercise.' Prabhupada could hear him from the other room. 'In the mornings he should go to the park for a walk.' then the doctor left.

"Eventually Prabhupada went to the hospital. When he came out we took him to a rented house by the seashore in New Jersey where he recovered. One day he announced, 'Now I will take a morning walk. That doctor said something valuable.' We thought the guy was nuts. 'No, no. He has given a good instruction. I will take that up.' Prabhupada proceeded to take a morning walk and Prabhupada always took that morning walk, no matter what his condition, what his health.

"When Prabhupada was in a hotel in Switzerland, it was snowing. Prabhupada couldn't go outside for his morning walk so he took it in the hotel corridors, walking and chanting just as if he were outside. When Prabhupada and all of us were injured in an automobile accident in Mauritius, we had aches and pains, but the next morning he went on his morning walk. Prabhupada followed that doctor's instruction."

7 Km

Thursday, 29 December 2011

Tuesday, December 27th, 2011

The Kissin' Kind

Varadero, Cuba

There is the parting of the family in John Steinback's novel "The Grapes of Wrath" when the line comes out (I can't even remember the character's name) "we're not the kissin' kind." It's a tragic closing to a story of the Great Depression. In Cuba, it's the contrary. Everyone here is the kissing kind' so welcoming and warm and Latino.

It's my final day in Cuba so for the first farewell in Havana our group circled and sat in front of Calixto Garcia's monument, a replica sculpture of the 19th Cuban hero who staved off the Spanish. The history is interesting. Americans got a footing in the country and opened up Cuba as a summer resort, vacation and gambling destination. That all went on until the revolution in the fifties. Casinos were closed. The US moved on and Las Vegas then became what it is.

Now back to the circle where we expressed each others' association (without kisses) but with some instructions. Our communities in Havana and Matanzas have their humble beginning so all efforts to advance personal and public spirituality need cooperative implementation. If a kiss can take the form of instructive whisper, then that's what we dispatched.

Edelmira from Raidio Taino interviewed me for her show. Her questions were open. "Is ISKCON growing in Cuba?" "What is involved in your initiations?" and lastly, "Are you planning a walk across Cuba one day?" I wish all interviewers were like her - the motherly kissing kind.

Our day wrapped up at the Varadero beach for water fun. Here we created a water circle and discussed the tales of "The Mahabharat" until time rushed us off to the Matanzas group for a healthy meal and discussion with doctors and healers who inquired about my teatro espiritual.

"That's a project I love to talk about - therapy for the youth participants. It gives them a hope and a richness they might otherwise miss." We bid farewell and left the group for my flight. And, of course, there's always a smacking of lips to the cheeks to babies and adults alike, also guy to guy. I left that circle with a more softened heart and an internal tear of hope and prayer that love for Krishna will take hold in this land of loving people.

7 Km

Wednesday, 28 December 2011

Monday, December 26th, 2011

Water, Fire, Air

Havana, Cuba

Our small group of japa walkers were set off for the Malecon when two tall big burly men noticed the robes. They stopped and asked for blessings, which we delivered.

Fishermen and young couples take advantage of Cuba's longest beach, the sea wall. I imagine many dreams lie on this beach as well, as people look over the Florida Strait's waters and the sun rises to their right with saffron smokey clouds drifting across ethereal skies.

Dreams can be so deceptive. Anyways, my dream since being here was to have a standard big fat North Amercian vegetarian meal. That's my weakness. Probably Cubans eat more modest but appropriate amounts. I don't see much obesity here and no malnutrition.

Our first speaking presentation was held at a community centre, Jaimanitas. Some of our congregants attended and also some new folks. We led them in chanting, dancing, philosophic/Vedic of course, and in surya namaskar, salutations to the sun. Oh yes, the sun is ever present here. I asked for feedback after the session and the consensus was that the attendees in general were joyful. On our return I offered to say to our young and slowly growing group that when making presentations to the public, there is no need to use the sledgehammer effect. Friendliness wins the game and not fanaticism.

On previous visits to Havana I made contact with the Indian Embassy. Today I went again for an unscheduled visit. It was interesting that deligates there knew that the sacred Bhagavad-gita was on trial in Russia.

In the evening Matanzas and Havana devotees converged at a doctor's home on the sea side. There Iksvaku conducted a standard ISKCON fire ceremony for two new initiates. Edelmira, a local radio broadcaster, took on the spiritual name of Elavati under the auspices of godbrother monk, Hridayananda Goswami (while in his absence). And Armando of Matanzas, who's 63, took the name Arjavam which means 'honesty' as found in the Gita.

To light the wood, camphor in plenty was supplied, but our outdoor uninvited guest, the wind god, posed obstacles. We were down to the last available match, when suddenly Agni, the fire god, kicked in, which made everyone present pretty cheerful.

13 Km

Sunday, December 25th, 2011

Dreadlocks, Books and Mantras

A La Mar, Cuba

It doesn't seem to matter how calm are the ocean's currents, waves tend to leap over the Malecon sea wall and leave a slippery sidewalk. Joining me today on the slip 'n slide were Janardan, Das Avatar, Muni Srestha, and Santiago. We passed by security guards and with a nod, smile and salute, continued walking. My robes remain to be a curiosity, even for couples leaning on each other at this Lovers' Lane. It hits them with a dose of reality I guess. And since I prefer to expose my japa beads instead of keeping them in a bead bag (the last time a boy mistook it for a money bag and ran off with my 38 year old beads), it seems to quiet the street party goers, at least, momentarily. Perhaps it reminds some of them of church.

Off to A La Mar, our community went for a spiritual happening. It turns out it was Rastafarians and us, making music and matras at an outside residential street. We worked seperately and then merged together. Neighbourhood kids were very inclined to get in on the fun, but it was Iksvaku's father, Devaraj, 87, who stirred up the most excitement in the weather's comfortable low 20's temperature - Celsius that is.

In Cuba, music always permeates the air; an upbeat Rumba genre. I understand the government is down on hip hop music. Lyrics tend to denounce 'authority'. It looks like our style - kirtan, is accepted for now. People came forward to purchase Bhaktivedanta Book Trust literature and carry home with them mantra cards.

Early evening was spent at one household where devotees asked of details about the ten famous avatars. I only covered two in fine detail as that's what time allowed. Devotees were curious to know where to find such information as they wanted to know more.

We did come up with a system to keep in memory the 10 avatars, unless you know the Jayadev song quite well. There are 4 animal avatars (fish, tortoise, boar and lion). Then there is the avatar that by behaviour defended animals - Buddha. There are 3 avatars with the name Ram - Ram, Parasurama and Balaram. Finally there's a brahman - Vamana and the ultimate ksatriya - Kalki.

At least, this is one way to remember the list.

13 Km

Saturday, December 24th, 2011

Cuba's Alright

Havana, Cuba

Transportation to various sat-sang speaking engagements has been kind of fun. Vintage cars as cabs have been our way of getting around apart from the walks along the Malecon, Havana's north side sea wall. A 55 Dodge model took us from Matanzas to Havana and once arrived, a 57 Ford model continued the service, compliments of Iksvaku. They are not in a souped up condition and their exhaust sends black clouds in the air so it's a mixed triumph and defeat experience, but an experience nevertheless.

There are meagre hints of Christmas tinsel and Hanukkah celebrations hardly can be seen or heard, yet a party spirit pervades the atmosphere. The Ecological Park got busy on Havana's west end with families taking advantage of the green space. Kids are up in fashion in Cuba with the Emo look disproving the myth that Cuba is totally cut off from the rest of the world.

A modest group of 20 people formed a circle upon the grass at the park to undergo a session on 9 Devotions. Well received! The dominant factor we discovered about our group was that since our goal is to exit from this world for the other-worldly scenario, to earn this privilege, we need to get along with each other. A consensus was that we didn't want to see dissension, that as a small group starting up a Krishna bhakti culture here in Cuba felt they couldn't afford to have neophyte tendencies to disturb us.

A second meeting of the group was at the home of a mother, son and daughter in law. They are so eager to learn so it came natural and unplanned for me to introduce to them the mantras of the text, "Brahma-samhita". We sang and sang, "Govinda adi Purusham Tam Aham Bhajami" which means "I honour Govinda (Krishna) the original person."

Can I say one more thing about Cubans aside from their receptivity? They look in great physical shape.

9 Km

Friday, December 23rd, 2011

So Far, So Good!

Matanzas, Cuba

I had arrived at 9 PM the previous night at Varadero, Cuba. Customs was a no interrogation experience. After all, my body is Canadian and Cubans like Canada. there were only friendly questions some of which were asked three times over by three different officers. It began when I was in the line up. Of course, I stood out from the rest of the tourists with a rather Chowpatty orange colour. I was also asked by several Canadians on board about 'my faith'. "Buddhist?" they asked. When customs asked what I do in Canada I told them a no lie situation. "I'm a Bhakti Yoga instructor." This was my third visit to this land that has imposed upon itself a place of mystery.

My first engagement was at a Matanzas household where friends were invited. We spoke about the story of Dhruva from the book, Bhagavatam. Dhruva was a focused, determined young warrior who would on occasion have a fit of anger. We spoke about the boy last evening and this morning to the group. I also entertained private minutes with members of the group, addressing their personal needs and issues. Iksvaku, a Cuban born American, was there with me to assist and translate. What a pleasure it was to be with a less-complicated folk. And if having less produces these kind of people, I would opt for their company over most of the western world.

Finally, our third presentation since arriving in Cuba entailed a verse memorization session, expressing and detailing the Gita verse 18.42 which describes the attributes of peacefulness, self control, austerity, purity, tolerance, honesty, knowledge, applied knowledge and religiousness. All three programs met with success which included some prasadam, blessed edibles - a trite bland if I might say. But I loved the fresh tomatoes and cucumbers. Of course, Cuba rates as the number one organic food grower and consumer in the world per capita, so I've been told.

6 Km

Friday, 23 December 2011

Thursday, December 22nd, 2011

Fast Car, Tough World

Toronto, Ontario

This car just went out of control. At 3:45 AM I felt a thud. A female driver headed west on Dupont, crossed the street, went up the curb and into the park behind our temple. She zipped but 2 feet from our Prabhupada maple tree and went crashing against a mature tree, sending the car up in smoke and flames. It became a spectacle for those up at that hour. The woman survived as ambulance came to take the injured driver. The fire brigade put out the fire in no time. City TV came to report and police did their report. By 5:15 all was done, and the plot of land, the scene of the accident, right next to our building, was cleared of any mishap. The efficiency in dealing with the accident is commendable but the major point of reality here is the closeness of death. I could have been walking right there when the car sped along tearing up the grassy terrain and leaving a scar on the tree. The vehicle could also have struck our building leaving damage had it veered towards our temple.

The precariousness of life is interesting when you hear that a Utah truck driver who won a $380 000 Lamborghini in a convenience store contest crashed the sports car six hours after he got it. He now plans to sell the 640 horsepower convertible because he cannot afford the insurance taxes.

Tough world! It's a reality that's confirmed in the Bhagavad-gita. "Dukhalayam asasavatam" are two Sanskrit words meaning 'misery' and 'temporary'. Hence, the predawn episode is a mere reminder.

I'm off to Cuba until late December when I return on the 27th. Hare Krishna!

8 Km

Wednesday, December 21st, 2011

Welcome to Kali Yuga!

Toronto, Ontario

Welcome to Kali Yuga, age of darkness!

When there's a threat of rain (looks like no white Christmas here) I'm inclined to trek a street with awnings and stay close to an underground mall where no walking impediment is known. I chose to turn a right on Yonge, but it wasn't all dry. It was a sleazy strip where I stepped over a stream of human urine trailing off into branches. A transvestite lay against a shop letting it loose. A man stood at him /her to say, "You shouldn't be doing that." Well s/he didn't take kindly to that and blurted out the most non-Christmas remark imaginable. Not good for a monk's ears.

At one crossing in that area a newsstand window revealed a headline about two young Dutch men engaged in cannibal sensation as part of a culinary experience. Surgically, flesh was taken from each and then gobbled up. Bon appetit!

"I don't want you near me again," shouted the young woman to her night partner as I walked by the couple who lingered in argument. Happy Holiday indeed!

Sights and sounds of our decadent but decorated season. Night time stuff. It invokes both my disgust and sympathy simultaneously.

I could have chosen a left turn and avoided the entertainment but then I might get spat upon by nature. Someone would probably say, "Oh come on, Swami, what you describe about decadence is just the tip of the iceberg."

Maybe so! I'm rather glad to have been born and raised in more simpler times. I'm also grateful to be in a safe environment, staying in temples, ashrams, and homes of the more pious. If there was anything beneficial about this and my other walks its that it always enhances gratitude.

7 KM

Thursday, 22 December 2011

Friday, December 16th, 2011

The Story of the Missing Benches.

Vancouver, British Columbia

It was with a mix of humour and wrestling of mind that the following brief story was born here:

Once upon a time a considerate priest of the temple decided to make his place of. worship and meditation a more people friendly place.  Instead of assuming that all pilgrims coming to visit would take a lotus position by sitting on the cold marble floor (and that especially the elderly just couldn’t be so austere), he decided to shop around for some benches.  After investing hours and hours of searching he came upon the perfect seats.  They were black, smart looking, cushioned and fit just right, between deco pillars against the wall.  The Brahmin priest was happy and most important, so were the elderly.  

But someone was not happy.  It was a mystery at first that the comfy benches would disappear and be placed in a storage area of the temple.  It was finally found out that one of the temple monks was disgruntled and saw these benches as ‘looking cluttered’.  He took the liberty to remove them, not considering how vital they were for people over 50, or others with physical issues.  Attempts at negotiations and reason failed.

The concerned priest decided that this issue be brought to his temple committee of wise persons who decided unanimously that the benches return.  The benches were placed back for the convenience of other, and with a notice tagged onto one of the benches reading, “Utility is the principle!”  A quote from the founding father of the Hare Krishna movement, Srila Prabhuada.

The committee was curious as to whether the smart benches would make their way back to the storage parking lot, where they would be neglected and be ‘out of service’.   Much to their amazement, and especially the Brahmin priests, the benches remained and all those hind quarters that reaped the benefit that those smart benches offered, lived happily ever after.

8 Km

Wednesday, 21 December 2011

Tuesday, December 20th, 2011

Toronto, Ontario
Back onto familiar sights – Victorian homes  - Nice!  Corporate buildings.  Not nice!  A pedestrian with skates wrapped around hockey stick.  Okay!  Wind.  Okay!  Night.  Okay!  Back to the ashram.  Great!  Morning sadhana.  Great!  Breakfast baked potatoes.  Yum!  Phone call from Raja.  “Yamuna’s gone!”
That was hard to hear.  Yamuna, my godsister.  Sister or mother to us all.  Pioneer of Krishna movement in the west – passed on in Florida.  I know she had a struggling heart.  I’ve visited her at her rural Canada home at Saranagati numerous times.  They were powerful moments.  Dina, her partner, was also there.  I needed to just be alone.  I was tired from lack of sleep and 2 hours walking.  I lay down and I thought of this saint Yamuna whose voice is heard daily in thousands of places around the world with the recording “Govindam adi purusham.”  “A lady of fineness.”  That phrase came to mind and then a poem to follow after I awoke from a nap.
To Saint Yamuna
A glance from the master
And out of disaster
Came lady of fineness
Of gentleness, kindness
With a voice of grace
In her servant’s place
She’s going home
Ending her roam.
There’s no substitute
Feeling is destitute
A chef’s gone
A friend is gone
Her song’s ever more
At the 7 AM score
From the voice of grace
No flaw to trace
She would shout, “More Gaur!
More Gaur!” she would shout.
This very awesome devotee, Yamuna, is a big loss to the world wide community of devotees of Krishna.
10 Km

Monday, December 19th, 2011

108 / Be Ready

Over Mountains, Prairies, Lakes, Canada

I was happy to note my Air Canada flight was numbered at 108. 108 is the figure for the number of Upanishads, Vedic texts. 108 is also the count for Krishna's major confidants. It's an auspicious figure.

I looked out my window and like all air travellers (call me The Flying Monk if you will) and below imagine what it would be like if I was dropped from thousands of feet above. My chanting would probably be the most heart felt ever and I likely would not complete one round on the 108 beads even if my dhoti (robes) bellowed out like a parachute allowing me an easy sail downward. Of course, the cold would take my life before I landed on either mountain slope, hard soil, tree branch or a frigid lake.

You can't help but have such thoughts run through the mind. Sudden departure of life come to people all the time in the form of foul play, nature play or accidental incidents. In such circumstances, there's so little time to call for help and to adjust to psychological surrender.

I was taught in my first days as a monk to always have those japa (meditation) beads with me. In the plane the beads, which assist my chanting, are in my bead bag with either my hand inside fingering them along or I have them stowed in the seat pouch right in front of me. The point is that I must always have them in my presence as I do my arms, legs, head, torso, and so on.

By 2:30 PM I landed at Pearson Airport in Toronto. Proceeded to the carousel for baggage pickup and then caught a glimpse on the screen of what I missed in the last few days, news wise. It's reported that hundreds of people in the Phillipines have lost lives in a flood and hundreds more are missing.

How precarious it is living in our world! How essential it is to have those 108 beads on a strand that will ready me for whatever catastrophe.

3 Km

Monday, 19 December 2011

Sunday, December 18th, 2011

Light Bright

Burnaby, British Columbia

Okay! So you have six powerful young men around you who are armed each with lightweight mrdanga drums the shape of cement mixers that you see on construction sites. It's there hollowness that makes for the booming sound once those young men start pounding away. The men were poised. The ritual began. The beat began as well.

The ritual is actually kirtan which was the same pleasant ordeal that we came back with from Robson Street in downtown Vancouver. Now an even greater resounding occurred in the temple off Marine Drive, challenging the world of maya once the mantra began. "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare." I led the chant by God's grace.

The energy was explosive. All of us in the room were swaying, some even swooning. It's what happens every Sunday night, only perhaps tonight, everything was more ecstatic. Kids are off from school and people have their holidays. The atmosphere is light and bright because of the sound. You can't help but move and be moved by the power that relieves.

Someone showed me a quote recently from a 17th century English dramatist, William Congreve, who said, "Music has charms to soothe a savage breast." People turn to sound for its power to soothe, but here in the kirtan it does more so due to its transcending nature. What a relief it must be for those who go through a grueling week. That's what makes the Sunday crowd here so elated. And then to complete the event is prasadam, delicious sanctified food. The whole thing gives a buzz that lasts the week.

This program, the Sunday feast, with a diving sound, philosophy and great people to meet is a world wide happening. Everyone is welcome! Come during the holiday!

We Vishnu a Hare Krishna and a Hari New Year!

10 Km

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

Raincouver, British Columbia

Russia Going Bad

I was conducting a 9 Devotions workshop at a gathering at the condo of Miguel and Raman Reti when Miguel was telling his story of how he met her.

"I had attended one of those Landmark Forums wherre you go to this transformational experience. I had then met Raman, who I call Christelle, and it was love at first sight. We talked and got to know each other. I told her I wanted to kiss her but she said, 'I don't want to be kissed by a meat eater.' So I decided to give up eating animals which was difficult at first. Then I said I wanted to marry her and she said, 'If you want to marry me then you have to follow Krishna'. I asked her, 'What do I have to do for that?' And then she explained that in addition to not eating meat, I should not take intoxicants, not gamble, and have no connections with other women. I told her I don't do these things anyways. So that's how Krishna became part of my life."

Thanks, Miguel, for your endearing story.

In the afternoon, a small group of Krishna devotees held a chanting party on Commercial Drive when I spotted Jason Crummy, a fellow from Newfoundland, whom I met on my 2003 trek across Canada. He was hitchiking near Montreal River in Northern Ontario when we met. He chummed with me for a couple of days, and even camped out at night with me. What a pleasure it was to see a walking partner from before.

The evening program held in Langley, a suburb, was hosted by Robert and Banke Bihari. We reflected on the verse 12.17 of the Gita where Krishna states, "One who neither rejoices nor grieves, who neither laments nor desires, and who renounces both auspicious and inauspicious things - such a devotee is very dear to Me."

Additional reflection for me today constituted as sadness over the likely banning of the most sacred Bhagavad Gita in Russia. Apparently the Orthodox Church, being influential there, is driving the ban, declaring the Gita as a text that promotes violence. Nothing could be further from the truth. When you look at the history of the world, India never attacked anyone. Rather, aggresive empires from outside declared war and seized much of India. It is a pacifistic culture by nature, being nurtured by the Gita's philosophy. As I walked to Marine Drive for a stretch, I found it rather annoying that such legislation by the Russian government would be even considered.

8 Km

If you'd like to help support this cause you can go to the link below and sign this petition, and please feel free to share this link.

Once you sign the petition - you will receive an e-mail asking you to confirm your vote. This is very important - otherwise it will be cancelled.

Saturday, 17 December 2011

Thursday, December 15th, 2011

Star Light

Venables Valley, British Columbia

Though clouds might be lurking in the valley, bright shining stars always punctuate the sky above the village of Saranagati. There are also luminaries found in the valley itself; only they are humans. They are especially the kids. It was my second day for drama workshop with the students at Govardhana Academy. For sure, they shine.

As part of an exercise to learning lines for a drama production, I had them memorize in Sanskrit, another one of my choice verses from the Gita. 9.29 reads like this:

"I envy no one, nor am I partial to anyone. I am equal to all, but whoever renders service unto Me in devotion is a friend, is in Me, and I am also a friend to him."

The contents of this verse leave us with an apparent contradiction, and here is the justification behind the dichotomy that is explained in the commentary by author Srila Prabhupada:

"Any person in this material world may be very charitably disposed, and yet has a special interest in his/her own children. The Lord claims that every living entity - in whatever form - is His child. And so He provides everyone with a generous supply of the necessities of life. But, for His devotees, He gives specific attention."

And here's more to think about:

"When a diamond is set in a golden ring, it looks very nice. The gold is glorified and at the same time the diamond is glorified. The Lord and the living entity eternally glitter, and when the living entity becomes inclined to the service of the Supreme, he looks like gold. The Lord is a diamond, and so this combination is very nice."

May the intent behind this verse and your time and thought to it allow you to glow and become like a star.

9 Km

Friday, 16 December 2011

Wednesday, December 14th, 2011

Winter Valley

Venables Valley, British Columbia

Wherever you go in the village of Saranagati, located near the town of Ashcroft in Venables Valley, your likely to roast. That is, inside any of the dozens of homes of its residents, the fire is lit; local wood of pine or fir, has been cut to fit and to power a stove.

I went through a toasty session, a drama workshop, inside Govardhan Academy, the small village school. It was a Krishna Conscious approach to theater for youngsters at age 6 - 15. Outside the quaint building which has everything that deyfies rustic, rural back in the woods Canada, including a phone, computers, toilets, a kitchen and everything modern, there is the raw winter.

After my session with the students, they went outside to experience the "win" out of winter. Unlike Vancouver, anywhere east of the town of Hope, the white and briskness of this season becomes the stark reality.

Nirguna and I craved for that winter flavour, feeling no intimidation whatsoever by the radical change of climate here. We had a purpose in trudging through snow that was falling profusely from the sky. Those wet flakes sent an itchiness to our noses. At the south end of the valley, we came upon a yurt, a circular domed home owned by Stanur, and Narayani and family. It is remotely situated and to drive there you require a good four-wheel-drive vehicle with either snow tires or tires with a snug chain wrapped around them in order to grip the snow.

Because we began to walk the trail at 9pm-after a group reading about saint Bhaktisiddhanta, we would have been groping around in darkness. A small flashlight and the pervasive snow with some moon effect, lit up the way for us.

Our final destination on this quiet trek was a visit to an aging cow, Gopi. Under a sheltered cowshed, with her only attendant being a sound recording of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, singing in solemnity, lay Gopi. She was practically non-responsive to our touch of farewell. It became apparent that the only thing that will be moving for her would be her soul. Our guesstimation was that it would be only hours, or minutes before she would take that journey.

Hare Krishna!

7 Km

Thursday, 15 December 2011

Tuesday, December 13th, 2011

A Get Together

Burnaby, British Columbia

A simple six kilometer trek North of Royal Oak from Marine Drive took Nirguna, his fiancee Annique, and I to the residence of Chaitanya Chandra, Manoharini and their three boys. We were greeted at their door by the music they played.

Manoharini was bellowing out on bag pipes to the tune "Amazing Grace". And gracious they were. You just have to see their semi-detached apartment interior. The colours, images, lights and moods throw you into a world of the Ghost of Christmas Past.

Frankly, wherever I am invited, the hospitality is also from another sphere but this added feature of mood setting steals the show from venues of drab, everyday furniture and fixtures.

Some newcomers to Krishna Consciousness and solid veterans of Bhakti filled up the space when we sat to an interactive discussion on verses 22-25 from the Gita. Here they are from Chapter 14.

Bhagavan said, "O son of Pandu, he who does not hate illumination, attachment and delusion when they are present or long for them when they disappear; who is unwavering and undisturbed through all these reactions of material qualities, remaining neutral and transcendental, knowing that the modes alone are active; who is situated in the self and regards alike happiness and distress; who looks upon a lump of earth, a stone and a piece of gold with an equal eye; who is equal towards the desirable and the undesirable; who is steady, situated equally well in praise and blame, honour and dishonour; who treats alike both friend and enemy; and who has renounced all material activities--such a person is said to have transcended the modes of nature."

6 Km

Tuesday, 13 December 2011

Monday, December 12th, 2011

Make A Smart Turn

Burnaby, British Columbia

Whatever the route, there’s always going to be an intersection. I purposefully try to avoid street lights and busy corners where I’m forced to stop. I prefer to coast along on foot without hindrance. I don’t like to interrupt the flow. Eventually, and inevitably though, there has to be a stop (or an Arret, as the sign reads in Quebec).

Life is so much like this type of walking. I found out myself from doing three treks across Canada, if it’s not a street light, a dead end or a cul de sac, it will certainly be an ocean to arrest you. We’ve got three of them, the Atlantic, the Pacific and the Arctic.

The good thing about stopping is that it sets off a moment of reality, puts you on to a different mood, a new train of thought. This could be healthy, and I like to parallel this to life. Of course if you don’t stop at the light, you could turn into a pizza.

I had the great opportunity today to look at two separate instances of teenage boys who hit a cross roads in their life’s soujourn. You don’t have to go far back to process your own past, as an adolescent, when you struck a brick wall and you were forced to think things over and make big decisions. You pondered, should I go right, left, forward or in reverse? It’s still clear in my nostalgic head the imagery of Oz’s cowardly lion who read the sign that said, ‘I’d turn back if I were you.’ Most decisively it has to be determined what’s forbidden territory and what is safe.

I once took a bus trip through the foothills of the Himilayas on route to Deradun, when our bus stopped at a river. There was no bridge. The driver decided that the river was dried up enough to cross. Despite puddles of water and potholes everywhere. It was a rough crossing.

Back to the teenagers at their intersection: I tried my best to build a human sensitive bridge so they could cross over or jump over the hurdles. I offered some practical advice and encouraged them to have their spirituality take the lead. It was a good exchange. Move ahead! Watch where you go! Stop! Make a smart turn!

15 Km

Sunday, December 11th, 2011

Curb Apparent Evil

Vancouver, British Columbia

A frost spread itself over the ground's surface leaving a white sparkle effect on grass and road. I did hear a coyote yelp. It was the time of Brahma Muhurta, the moment before dawn, when I took to trails under the Skytrain and elsewhere. The environment spelled out 'ominous' until I interacted with humans. The morning rolled out a series of upheavals.

It began with meeting Raghunatha, who had been jumped upon and attacked by a half crazed drunk person. Raghunatha had just returned from the hospital when the incident happened after last evening's amazing time of chanting. From here on on the hour, concerns and reports came to me of inauspicious goings on. It appeared to be full moon reactions so I could surmise. One of our courageous women in the community here responded to hearing of the multiple mishaps to individuals by saying 'kirtan!'. She was implying that loud and hard chanting, the kind that penetrates through the walls of madness, will bring some resolve and peace. I did not follow the news to the world events today for sure, as far as individuals were concerned I sensed a heap of mind snapping occurrences, which were all too coincidental to be true. According to the Vedas, the moon does have incredible impact on the mind and therefore it is a time when it's at its fullest for us to hold tight on to the mantra, literally, means mind's subduer.

A small group of us stormed the downtown at the Robson and Granville area of trumpet and drum and melodic voices. Hey, the sun shone, and people smiled to the cheerful sound.

10 Km

Saturday, December 10th, 2011

Mantra and Moon

Vancouver, British Columbia

A trumpet, two mrdanga drums, a pair of hand cymbals, some clapping and powerful voices permeated the ether at Vancouver’s hip strip, on Commercial Drive. Our kirtan chanting party moved joyously up and down the street, delivering the great mantra of deliverance. As we passed by cafes, restaurants, hair salons, chic clothing shops and such, the occupants inside looked as if responding to a happy tremor.

From there we moved to Unity Yoga, a center off of Commercial Drive, where twice a month, bhakti yoga takes the stage. The scheduled event drew a full crowd, 30 people or so, who took well to our message of the Gita, from 2.17. Done for the first time was a choreographed dance to the chant which involved every human being in the room. The mood was just a carry over from our joy on the street and I hoped that the same contagion had rubbed off on all those who had tended the event.

Given that we entered into a full moon period and an eclipse in the early morning, kirtan was a powerful counteracter to such inauspicious luminary occurrences. After a fruitful day at the temple, the street, the enchanting program at Unity Yoga, I layed down to rest, and as my eyelids got heavy, I reflected on the magical image I saw this morning while on that early morning stroll. It was 4 AM Pacific Time, and the moon was practically like the yoga room – full. I entered the temple for morning kirtan, and then exited at 5:20 AM to view that ball in the sky once again. By now, his eyelid closed on him to over half his circumference. He looked sleepy, as I was.

Let coyotes and wolves howl and let Rahu the dark planet, swallow the moon, but let the kirtan resound and make the world shine.

9 Km

Friday, December 9th, 2011

Let’s Move

Burnaby, British Columbia

There’s time to be mobile and time to be still, but too much of either one seems to throw most people off balance.

An acquaintance of mine here in Burnaby described to me, “I’ve dug myself into a deep deep hole, it’s hard to get out.” My friend, Bill, was saying that he had been depressed for weeks; it’s clinical depression. I offered him the opportunity to walk with me. He agreed, but not so happily. We took to a walk by a community garden area and then tread along on some waste land, and then some regular retail shopping mall strip. The scenery was not too exciting, although BC has some of the best nature esthetics in the world, but that wasn’t important right now.

The walk, the mobility of muscle, the oxygen and especially the talk, all contributed to ‘coming out of the blues’. I was happy to see Bill’s transformation. It was day three since I was trying to crowbar Bill out of his lodge. Well, he made it and he felt better for it. I’m not a therapist, but a type of sadhu (holy person) who likes to be on moving legs at certain times of the day. To Bill, I urged, “please try this prescription every day.”

The wind moves, but not always. It also sleeps. Cars moved and passed by us, but they need their break too. Much of the world stops at nightfall and picks up again at daybreak. Some living entities do it in reverse and are on a night shift. At the ISKCON property in Burnaby, the tiny mole moves and builds his mounds, then he goes to sleep. There is also something called a vole on these temple grounds that are very mobile. So everything moves and also has a tendency to stop. In most cases, movement is the healthiest situation.

Dr. David Frawley wrote a book called, “Arise, Arjuna” about getting active, coming alive, doing one’s dharma, and paying heed to the words of Krishna. First Krishna talked to Arjuna and then he encouraged action. Because they were friends, the talk was natural, and because they were friends, they ended up moving together.

Let’s move, but with some decent breaks.

10 Km

Sunday, 11 December 2011

Thursday, December 8th, 2011

I'm Sure You Have...

Burnaby, British Columbia

I'm sure you've experienced it like I have; that short and brief moment when you think you're being followed.

It's nighttime and you're walking on the street (like I was tonight on a Burnaby sidewalk). It's dark and you are coming towards a street light with its rays casting a shadow; actually, your shadow. It looks and feels like this tall and growing person is behind you and approaching you. He's bigger than you, he may attack you and kill you. In a flash fear hormones explode. You turn your head towards him, nothing's there. You are relieved that it's your shadow. You now feel safe.

Safety is a big factor in people's lives. I had picked up a free Metro paper from a news stand. Once I got to my guest quarters, I browsed through, flipping the pages. You get the usual sensational hype, and much of it instills fear and mistrust in each other.

Some attention grabbing headlines for an ordinary day. Former junior hockey coach pleads guilty to sex abuse. Body Found in Burnaby Identified. Man In A Wheelchair Attacked. Remains of Diver Found 26 Years Later. Some articles are not at all bad, though the subject is chilling. For instance, the one about China police cracking down on child trafficking rings. Apparently tens of thousands of children each year in China. Although, a positive article, it still addresses the unsafe situation for women and children especially. Indeed, we live in a world full of fear, safety is a big issue. So you wonder sometimes. I may be walking and chanting but there's still a chance of becoming victimized. Guardian angel, God, or Krishna, are well wishers and protectors... Still there are surprises in this world. Nothing is totally physically secure, until we shed the body for a permanent one.

Who doesn't want such top security?

7 Km

Thursday, 8 December 2011

Wednesday, December 7th, 2011

From Baby to Baby to Baby

Burnaby, British Columbia

"We come like a baby and we go out like a baby," said the voice of an elderly man. I was in the palliative care unit of the Burnaby General Hospital when the comment came out from behind the bed curtains as he was speaking to the nurse.

I suppose it's one of those comments that is heard by those who tend to patients in thier last days. So I, making that pastoral visit, which goes with the brahmin's territory, also hear such truthful remarks.

Kapil, aka, Keith Neale, was a patient I had come to visit. It was only today that the doctor informed him that a few days remained for him. Kapil said to me that he was shocked that his time was soon coming. Yet, he didn't show it, I knew so little of him, only that he was a very steady pujari (priest) at the local Krishna temple. He gave me some biographical details about himself. He gave up an executive life for a devotional one. A lump recently started forming behind his ear and he was diagnosed with cancer.

I was impressed with how he's handling this turn of events, taking it like a hero at 63.

I was also moved by the spirit of Michelle, 70, who is also a member of our community in Burnaby, and whose waning days on this planet are a reality. She is one floor up from Kapil. She was speaking with some spunk about her happy days of serving and visiting the temple. The major theme of our topic at the hospital could be titled, 'Enough'. Enough meaning she wanted to go. She wished that patients could graciously leave this world, to not prolong their stay through modern technical hookups or any other superficial means. Her point was "Let the next life open up to you." It was not totally clear to me that she was in such anguish as to leave her body now, but she was certainly speaking on behalf of thousands, perhaps millions of people whose stay in this world has been prolonged. When in fact, they wish to die and depart for greater hopes.

This concept of life after life is something that gives that extra drive, especially if it promises an improved situation.

Michelle chose a big topic that warrants such big talks and thoughts. I thought about it more as I walked from the hospital back to my guest accommodation. In the Gita Sri Krsna explains, "As the embodied soul continually passes in this life from childhood to youth to old age, the soul similarly passes into another body at the time of death. One who is self realized (spiritual) is not bewildered by such a change." Bhagavad-gita 2.13

4 Km

Wednesday, 7 December 2011

Tuesday, December 6th, 2011

Grey Day

Toronto, Ontario

The day is grey, just like the previous one, and the one before that. That most dismal of colours is on a roll. It's out of our control.

I roamed Cabbagetown, the place of early Irish settlers. Cabbages is what they grew and hence, the name. Potatoes failed them. A new veg arose.

I passed by Pembroke St. In 1975, our beleoved guru, Srila Prabhupada, took residence in an apartment there for two to three days. His visit was cut short due to a meeting that became scheduled with Indira Gandhi. Prabhupada had to rush back. That sign, when I read it, caused a yank at the heart strings. There was 187 Gerrard, once an ashram, now a house. It's where I joined. I also walked by a billboard. There was a friend of mine posing as a homeless person for the Salvation Army. He is gestured as reaching out for a blanket neatly folded above him, yet beyond reach.

"Hey, Durward, you're all over town, as a poster boy, relaying the message that there's hope."

Hope is a topic we discussed this morning during our Bhagavatam lesson at the temple ashram. Without searching for a dictionary definition I openly asked our dozen attendees. The replies came, "It's something for the future." "It's light at the end of the tunnel." "A promising sign." "It's Krishna reaching out."

As we analyzed this great virtue an optimism was rising. Apart from the greyness of colour, darkness came my way. A friend from PEI wrote, "I have Parkinson's, a type they can't cure." Another message said, from another devoted soul from Halifax, "I'm having surgery. It's a risky situation." A phone call from BC told that a family I know is breaking up. Through all of this, the japa chanting made it possible to bear challenging bits of news tolerable.

As a renunciant one cultivates a feeling for others, it compels one to wish well those sufferers of this mundane existence. It stimulates compassion and empathy. Without these components the world has no heart.

9 Km

Monday, December 5th, 2011

Who Can Claim Perfection?

Toronto, Ontario

We all have human frailties. I have plenty. Gurus in our order list or identify four major defects found in humans.

1. Our senses are imperfect.
2. We have an inclination to cheat.
3. We are constantly deluded, for instance we surmise that the body is the self.
4. WE are all prone ot make mistakes.

Hers' one of my personal weaknesses. I sometimes start to fade while someone's talking to me. My eyelids get heavy and they begin to shut until I realize (or the person talking to me realizes) he/she is losing my attention.

"Are you fading?" asked my friend who was seated across from me at a table.

"Yes. I'm tired, sorry!" I said and I was tired from lack of sufficient rest the night before. I didn't have the guts to say that I wanted to have more of a two way dialogue which was clearly not happening. That was another weakness. I could be frank and be less polite.

You learn something about yourself as time passes, or you should be. I learn new things about our neighbourhood. On my walk today I explored at least two locations in our vicinity where I'd been walking for years, locations where two of my favourite artists (during the time when I hit adolescence) churned out masterpieces of acrylic work in a studio that I pass by regularly. It was a personal discovery. I didn't know all this time what's right under my nose.

What else did I realize about myself? Well, maybe age is slowly creeping up. At A group reading of the Bhagavad-gita, a length of two and a half hours, in Sanskrit through transliteration, on this Advent of the Gita, I realized I couldn't read with a gusto as before. Partially it was not the greatest lighting arrangement for which to read the seven hundred verses, but it was also a slow stamina deterioration.

I took the lead with the reading but my recitation was not the greatest and pronunciation, not the best. It was an offense to the Sanskrit language what people were hearing and therefore in pursuit of following, they in turn were left confused. After reading the first twelve chapters with six to go, I asked the crowd, "Shall we recite in English? Let's vote." So we did. Only one person preferred to stick to the mother tongue while the rest vied for rendering it in a language we could understand.

We all admitted to a weakness in pronunciation of the divine language. What to conclude? We're not perfect. If we were, we'd be God.

5 Km

Monday, 5 December 2011

Sunday, December 4th, 2011

How Christmas Is Treated Today

Toronto, Ontario

A friend of mine, Barry Brown, aka, Baladev, whom I used to travel with in the States while we were both brahmacharis (monks) in the seventies, sent me this poem. It reflects the way many of us feel:

Was the Month Before Christmas

Twas the month before Christmas
When all through our land,
Not a Christian was praying
Nor taking a stand.
See the PC Police had taken away
The reason for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing
About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feeling, the teachers would say
December 25th is just a 'Holiday'.
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit
Pushing folks down to the floor just to get it!
CD's from Madonna, and XBOX, and i-Pod
Something was changing, something quite odd~
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa
in hopes to sell books by Franken and Fonda.
As Targets were hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word "Christmas" was nowhere to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Payless and Sears
You won't hear the word "Christmas", it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-si-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen
On Boxer, on Harper, on Watson, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter
To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith
Forbidden to speak of salvation or grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded
The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate "Winter Break" under your "Dream Tree"
Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say
Not Happy Holiday!

Thanks, Baladev.

8 Km

Saturday, December 3rd, 2011

It Can Be Done

Markham, Ontario

I've felt so few encumbrances the last four days and I had to wonder why? Then it came to me. An inner voice spoke, "Hey, Swamiji, you haven't been in a car for that length of time." And you know, the voice was right. I've felt so liberated as of late.

If I had my way, "If I was mayor of town," as I put it to a table of people sitting around it, "I would eliminate all automobiles." Some heads bobbed as nods of approval. My confession is that I will not enter into the political field, not in this life. It's alright to dream.

For practical reasons, I and a small team of two other monks from India, a veteran vaishnav Subuddhi (our fabulous temple coordinator and cook) and one tall Gujrati pujari (priest), Guhya, made utility the principle. We used a van to drive through a superficially laid out urban sprawl. It was in Markham. What we perceived as our feat to achieve this Saturday evening was the obligation to attend three functions at once, or at least to squeeze them into a decent time frame.

Miracles, be what they are, make their ways into our life every day. Our time management played in concert with the miracle and we somehow or other covered all three venues in one evening. On top of that our inclusive Sastra Dhan (scripture sponsorship) program for the Bhagavad-gita was exhausted after the second program. It's a great program designed to engage people in the giving mode of delivering something so precious.

The words of Sri Krishna are indeed precious and it may be worthy to mark on one's calendar the advent of the Gita. December the 5th is the day by lunar movements and the best way to celebrate this master book of yoga is by reading a section and then sharing it.

All blessings!

8 Km

Sunday, 4 December 2011

Friday, December 2nd, 2011

As If For the First Time

Toronto, Ontario

A good number of people cast over themselves a cloud of sadness at Christmas time.

If we are wise, then there is no need for lamentation. Krishna tells Arjuna in the Gita, "You are talking like a learned man, but you do not know that one who is learned - one who knows what is body and what is soul - does not lament for any stage of the body, neither in the living nor in the dead condition."

Quoting further form the Gita 2.11's purport, this is elaborated upon. "It will be clear that knowledge means to know matter and spirit and the controller of both. Arjuna argued that religious principles should be given more importance than politics and sociology, but he did not know that knowledge of matter, soul and the Supreme is even more important than religious formularies. And because he was lacking in that knowledge, he should not have posed himself as a very learned man. As he did not happen to be a very learned man, he was consequently lamenting for something which was unworthy of lamentation. The body is born and is destined to be vanquished today or tomorrow; therefore the body is not as important as the soul. One who knows this is actually learned and for him there is no cause for lamentation regardless of the conditions of the material body."

I was floored when I read this message this morning. It's something which reached my eyes dozens of times before but somehow or other it was so impactful as if reading it for the first time. The words 'does not lament for any stage of the body, neither in the living nor in the dead conditions' stayed with me as I walked one of the city's larger cemeteries. It was dusk and all was fine.

9 Km

Friday, 2 December 2011

Thursday, December 1st, 2011

The Case of the Bull

Toronto, Ontario

It has been a mild November. Leaves are still the dominant reality, and not snow, as they are strewn by Mother Nature on her own surface. Six men, I say 6, were blowing leaves off a front yard, with their very un-macho noise making machinery. That struck a nostalgic nerve of a yesteryear to a leaf raking back flash.

On Mount Pleasant Avenue the traffic speed lulled to make way for paramedics in a rush. The sirens gave alert. On into Moore Park Ravine, my daily pilgrim path, and I spotted yet another hornet's nest to add to the count of five days before. Hey, I'm counting 'days' too.

One woman in the ravine held one dozen dogs on leashes. I said to the dog sitter, "That's a little bit over-kill, isn't it?" She broke into a smile and agreed. Another dog owner expressed that his pet loves it down there, "And so do I," about himself.

At Evergreen Brickworks a beaver enjoyed his simultaneous bath and swim. My near presence to him didn't phase him at all.

Back up to street level and I pass by a newsstand where I caught a glimpse of a headline. Apparently the Ontario Government will pass legislation on anti-bullying, especially targeted for the school premises. Anyone caught being aggressive could face expulsion. "That's progressive implementation," I thought.

I also thought of the bad rap bulls get when we use the phrase 'bullying'. I was raised on a farm. Bulls are nice creatures. And for almost 40 years I'm linked up to a culture that adores cows and their counter parts. In the secular society we call somone whose physically mean a 'bully'. A graphic expression of anger is explained as 'a bull in a China shop'. In Spain the national sport is to kill a bull and everyone rejoices. And when we express disdain, we say, 'B.S.'.

Poor things! They deserve a better reputation.

Our temple ashram is on the verge of acquiring milk from ahimsa cows, meaning cows that won't be slaughtered. Unfortunately the bulls are 'sent away' if you know what I mean. If reason has a place you can say, 'without the bull there will be no milk, him being the breeder.' and that's 'no bull'. Oops, I caught myself. See how conditioned we are. I believe we should start a Bull Pride campaign.

In India the bull represents dharma. He's labelled as the Father of Duty. I believe India's got it right. His reputation needs boosting. He deserves some R.E.S.P.E.C.T. Sing it out, Aretha Franklin! Let's stand up for the old boys!

9 Km