Sunday, 30 December 2012

Friday, December 28th, 2012

There And Back

Toronto, Ontario

I was asked to speak on plans for happiness at The Bhakti Lounge by coordinator Mangal Aarti. Instead of looking for a ride to the 3 KM destination, I decided that a walk would be superior, it would trigger thoughts on the subject. There’s something about moving your limbs and catching the air that the brain likes. At a quick clip I paced my way down Yonge Street while gathering quick thoughts. I had 30 minutes to reach the venue and to have at least a few points to present, “plans and happiness”.

Once I arrived I sat in a circle with tea lights all around as people came to fill in the spots. We began the chant “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare, Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare”. And then a talk – my talk – no – God’s talk. I’m an instrument. I must remind myself that I’m an instrument, I’m a parrot, I repeat His message. I might be able to do it in my own oration with individual personality, but I am obliged to present the message as it is.

So I began.

“You’ve heard the saying ‘if you fail to plan then plan to fail’. Right?”

People set their plans for happiness. It’s particularly like that in this holiday season, but let us bear in mind that happiness is such a relative term – short or long term – there is a need to take a ‘wholistic’ approach to this. You can’t just invest in the body and neglect the soul, after all, happiness comes from within. You don’t require external channels to realize the absolute joy inside.

I reminded the group from my previous visit, “We are not these bodies. We are spirits. Let’s feed the soul.” And so that we did – with kirtan, chanting. As usual, everybody loved it.

A rapid return in 30 minutes to the ashram got me in time to rehearse with the actors and techies on a new drama, Gita: Concise.

6 KM

Friday, 28 December 2012

Thursday, December 27th, 2012

Bridges Over Rivers

Toronto, Ontario

I walked on the bridge over the river Don, this structure is quite expansive and spans over the wide valley including the relatively narrow, what seems more like a stream. I got this sudden chill about mid way through. The swift rush of chill had nothing to do with below zero temperatures. I had a flashback of a fellow I knew who threw himself off this very bridge some years ago. He used to visit. He would just come around to the ashram from time to time. He loved prasadam, our very blessed meals. He was rather reserved. He was an active member of the growing vegetarian society in Toronto. He became a big promoter of the non-violent way of life. Unfortunately he couldn’t find it in him to be gentle to himself. God bless him.

Anywhere you stand from this bridge you can see its rather steep or deep fall. Others have taken their life on this bridge. In response, the city decided to run substantial rods vertically along the river’s edge, making it practically impossible in making the bridge an option to life or death. Also, years ago, when I was driving a vehicle in Winnipeg for our mission (yes, I used to drive), I took a bridge over the Assiniboine River. There was a traffic jam, and at that time a native woman was leaning on the bridge’s wall. She was standing there and looked confused. She had flung one leg over, readying herself for a jump. At this time, I was only a few metres away, and I hollered out my window, “Don’t do it – Krishna!” She turned her head my way and flung the leg back. I got my chill and I’m sure she got some sensation too.

Other motorists must have seen the obvious, but they seemed more keen on moving on with the traffic. That is not to say no one cared about a life or death situation. With bumper to bumper traffic and things moving along, it was the last I saw of her, but my last image of her through the rear view mirror was that she began walking along the bridge to get to the street level, thank God.

Bridges are effective channels for travel. They can also be can easy avenue to opt out of life. That’s why I had moments of fear explosions. Personally, I’ve always seen bridges as beautiful through ways providing a panoramic scenery. It’s like the use of a knife, you can use it positively for chopping up veggies or it can be used destructively. The mind is also in the same category, either degrade yourself or elevate yourself. Through guru we have a bridge that takes us to God. Without direction we are forced to trudge through troubled waters.

5 KM

Thursday, 27 December 2012

Wednesday, December 26th, 2012

Boxing Day with Invisible Boxing Gloves
 
Toronto, Ontario
 
Members of our community, the younger sector, were in a frenzy to get some books out on the streets. While the passion of Boxing Day sales persisted (from what I could see, mostly electronics and clothes were the attraction), books like The Higher Taste and the Perfection of Yoga were flying out of the hands to reach shoppers.
“Yonge and Dundas is crazy,” said Manish, an accomplished artist from our community. It was so congested people were looking and finding bargains and they came in droves.
I also found myself being in a shopper’s mode, but not by choice, for a stage prop I needed for a new production, I also took advantage of the outrageous sale prices. I ended up haggling with the merchant to get my bargain. Generally, it’s not my nature to do so. I really prefer to dodge purchasing goods all together and to keep to monastic tasks, but you do what’s necessary, right? It was interesting– what I would call a fierce psychological tug of war over the price.
My trekking through the Kensington area, Chinatown and the downtown to make this purchase was not in vain because always, always, you make your journey in pilgrimage and qualify it as such by walking and chanting simultaneously. What followed the shopping was the show that must go on, at least the rehearsal. That’s how I ended the day –preparing for a showcasing of the message of the Gita in dramatical format. My 2012 Boxing Day was highlighted with a family reunion. Two sisters, siblings and a whole cousin dynasty, Corry Riken, my cousin, hubby Eric, posted a get together at their downtown Toronto apartment or condo for the holidays. At these types of familial events, I can actually overlook a dead bird on a platter scenario, and I could also highly appreciate the great clan and cousins that I grew up with. We always loved each other. We were moral and we weren’t the swearing kind.
9 KM
 

Tuesday, December 25th, 2012

Whenever I Sense A cold

Maple, Ontario

Whenever I sense I’m coming down with a common cold, which is happening, I take a few steps to attempt to stave off the bug. Maybe my routine will be of some help.

1. I especially snuggle myself up in bed at night to the point where it’s almost a sweat experience.

2. I consume food that’s hot in temperature.

3. I also enjoy, despite popular opinion, a mug of hot milk because it heats up the body.

4. I take a little extra rest.

5. I will also, despite popular opinion, brave the cold weather outside, bundled up of course, if the cold is mild and go for a hard walk. This provides warmth and clean air in the place of the dead sickly air of the indoors.

6. Finally I ask for someone in the ashram to give me a good head massage using mustard seed oil. This really does heat the head.

While Vineet, one of our ashram dwellers, was providing me this last service, a head massage, he was relaying how he helps his elders in the state of Gujurat, when on parikrama (pilgrimage). In that part of India there’s a very sacred place called Dwarka, it’s Krishna’s city, and it attracts millions of people who go on foot pilgrimage. Vineet assists his elders by providing leg and foot massage.

Massage is good for many things, including the stimulation of the airs in the body. Walking and massage go so well together, and when you have a cold, I’ve found that mustard oil feels like gold when under that condition. Anyways, these tips as well as chanting to keep up the spirit, you might like to implement.

7 KM

Tuesday, 25 December 2012

Monday, December 24th, 2012

More Than One Guru

Mississauga, Ontario

Jambavan came up from Michigan with his good wife Samvit and their great children, which adds up to 7 kids. Jambavan is an accountant. He’s also a pakha Brahmin, meaning, an exemplary priest. After our evening gathering of devotees from the Mississauga area, I chose to walk a distance from Bristol Road to Mavis and then Eglinton toward Toronto before being picked up by a party of our downtown devotees. I had time to contemplate on the greatness of this Michigan family.

What makes them great or at least unique? The proof of the pudding is in the eating, the offspring. They are not only orthodox in attire with dhoti and sari, and also hairstyle (the boys are shaven except for a tuft of hair in the back) but they all look like angels.

I guess ‘old school’ would be the best way to describe the bunch. Mom and dad are revered because they offer a soft line of discipline and a whole lot of love. Whenever the family comes up to Toronto, they seem to win the hearts of the community by dint of their simple, sweet behaviour.

Personally, I’m glad to see the sizeable number of siblings. It’s like an old Irish or French catholic family. By the way, Jambavan himself is part Polish and Italian and grew up in America. At the evening’s event, held at the home of a Punjabi family, the Grovers, he spoke a few words on the well-known verse which honours the guru, vande ham sri gurun… an invocational mantra. We find the word gurun which in reference to the guru in plural sense. He went on to explain that the spiritual master in realistic terms does not refer to one person only. In most people’s lives, your first spiritual teacher is plural. For instance, father and mother are the early ones to give guidance on the physical and spiritual path. It is often thought that the person who awards you diksa, or initiation, is the one and only guru. This couldn’t be further from the truth.

The second speaker, Subhavilas, a spiritual peer, also spoke and pointed out the relevance to our founding guru, teacher for Krishna devotees worldwide, whose name is Srila Prabhupada. He is everyone’s guru. The book Bhagavatam canto 11 brings to the reader’s attention multiple gurus which includes the dog whom we learn loyalty from, and a bee whom we learn frugality from.

My walk in the dark was truly light and bright due to the fact that I have been in the presence of angels and was reminded of the gratitude that must be channeled to the multiple gurus in my life. In my own personal life I’ve been blessed with the help of several mentors who by their words and behaviour have provided inspiration.

Jaya to the many gurus and jaya to the many kids.

7 KM

Monday, 24 December 2012

Sunday, December 23rd, 2012



A Fellow came Knocking

Toronto, Ontario

A fellow came knocking at our temple door asking if the AA meetings are still being held. Yogendra answered the door and mentioned that likely the meeting for Alcholoics Anonymous likely is taking place across the street at the church of the Messiah. People often mistake the two buildings as they are similar in architectural design and have a similar exterior Kingston limestone.

Thinking very swiftly about the situation, Yogendra responded to the fellow, saying, “But I do think you’ve come to the right place.” The fellow took up the offer, sat through and listened to the message of the Gita, participated in the chant, and the food – all special features of the Sunday open feast.

That was last week. His attendance at AA was missed. He decided to come to visit our place the following Saturday out of sheer curiosity for more of this kind of mantra medicine. He really liked, once again, what he heard, saw and tasted.

This is not to say that AA meetings are not helpful. Their systematic approach to getting people off the bottle is effective and has helped many a victimed soul to conquer and lick or kick the habit. In mainstream society, liquor has become a major addiction. The other day, corey from Halifax, while on a walk with me, mentioned that sitting down is the new cigarette. Indeed, sedentarianism and smoking are current addiction, but they are nothing that a good daily walk couldn’t cure. Drugs and sex are additional addictions, taxing the people of Kali Yuga. Recently someone asked me if I’m a healer, and I responded by saying, “Yes, in the sense that I prescribe a medicine called mantra medication. Take this name and apply it to your lips and tonge and you can get healed and get free from birth and death.”

Our new comer is getting something out of all the chanting. It might be a cure of param dhstva nivartante, a phrase from the Gita that means a higher taste upstages a lower taste. In this regard, our friend must really be benefitting from coming to our spiritual gatherings. It goes to show that the spiritual component can be so vital to a person’s well being.

Would it make sense to put up a sign outside our door which reads, “Welcome All With All Your Addictions”.

7 KM

Sunday, 23 December 2012

Saturday, December 22nd, 2012

Kirtan Smoke

Toronto, Ontario

It was a smoking program. I mean to say that the kirtan chanting was hot. No one smokes a cigarette in a temple. Little incense was lit, so there were no clouds of anything, but kirtan does clear the air, including the cobwebs of the mind.

Ajamil, a passionate Bengali bhajan singer and I teamed up along with Dhira, a golden voiced boy from the Ukraine, to heighten hearts at an evening at Hindu Prarthan Samaj. This place is acknowledged as the oldest Hindu temple in Toronto. The community with its church turned temple near High Park, played host to the pioneers of Krishna consciousness in the late 60’s. A group of American monks showed up at the doorsteps of the Hindu temple for shelter. Their intent was to open up a chapter of Bhakti Yoga, Krishna consciousness, in Toronto. The temple on Fern Avenue showed its benevolence at that time and now it seemed only appropriate to say thanks. Our humble beginning of Krishna consciousness with its seed planted had grown into a lotus flower of devotional activity. Today we enjoyed the participation of hundreds of people. Our smoky evening was a reunion of the two communities.

I decided after the event to trek back home through the Annex district and including Little Italy. I did this not only to clear the cobwebs of the mind but also to clear the pipelines in my machinery, body, after eating a mountainous plate of rich North Indian prasadam, food; our reward for conducting a hot or exhilarating kirtan.

9 KM

Friday, December 21st, 2012

Resilience

Toronto, Ontario

The enthusiasm was oozing over. Anshul was supremely excited about the day, Winter Solstice? That it is, but that was not the reason for his joy. The world did not end today? That’s true, the prediction proved false, but that is not what inspired him so. The reason for all the zealousness was that he and several other young men and women from our community were going out on a marathon.

Anshul, in his electrifying energy, stumbled and tripped while carrying a box of Bhaktivedanta Book Trust publications meant for the book marathon distributions. The box slipped from his hands and fell onto the stair landing creating a thud sound that echoed in the temple room. A group of us were focused, hearing presentation on the infamous stroke of the sword against the pillar of Hiranyakasipu, Anshul felt himself humbled in a stumble.

I ran to see the source of the sound and there I found him on the landing, but maintaining a resilience as ever, unphased by the fall. He picked himself up and gave an oceanic smile. It’s people like Anshul who reflect a group of youth that are on fire to share Krishna consciousness.

Internally, it has been declared that this month is a book marathon with emphasis on passing out Bhagavad Gita and other publications on Bhagavat philosophy.  Anshul was anxious to get out the door. He was fighting with time in a haste to get to his destination.  Anshul delivered books to a crew of four, headed by Menaksi, who had set up a book kiosk at Union Station, and they ended up selling for the day 450 books.. Not bad for the sale of spirituality. I guess there are some bright lights at Christmas time.

5 KM

Saturday, 22 December 2012

Thursday December 20th, 2012

Will There Be An Aftermath?

Pickering, Ontario

Every ashram seems to have its own conspiracy theorists, if not one, then more than one. I asked our local unofficial theorist, whether he bought into the latest hype about the supposed Mayan theory that the world would end on the 21st. Harakumara is his name and he’s been involved in devotional service since ’72. His response, which came out with a laughter was, “No way, anytime you put out a specific date, you’re setting yourself up to be a target.”

I had also struck up a conversation with a young fellow on the commuter Go Train concerning this topic, “Do you believe we will be here tomorrow?” I asked. “Yes, I’ll be here,” he said, humoured by the question. We both went on about doomsday scenarios and the impact that initiators of such theories have upon the public. It is rather incredible the power that is born from someone’s thought or concept which transforms into speech and then action. When Orson Welles narrated so expertly, The War of the Worlds, of aliens attacking the Earth over the radio airwaves, people became so convinced. Indeed, the power of speech was such that many Chicken Littles suddenly hatched all over the place.

Personally, I will stick to the Vedic literatures to reference the world’s end. According to those revelations, it’s a very long wait. It offers a round figure of 420,000 years from now when the elements will consume us all. The world will be so spoiled that the universal toilet will need a flushing. It might be a challenge to those who make a schpeil about annihilation, but I would suggest to do sufficient homework before you declare to the world that our shaky ground will totally crumble. Check the character of those who speak and are on a doomsday mission. We have our saying in our devotional circles, “guru, sadhu and shastra”. In other words, “consult with the master”, the teachers of the spiritual and holistic tradition, and the sublime written teachings of timeless truth.

I feel empathy for the golden tradition of the Mayans who have been slightly slandered by all the propaganda. As I compile this blog’s entry news has come out that Australia who is hours ahead and well into the morning of the 21st, that the kangaroos are still jumping. Let’s wait ‘til the day ends to see what happens. I’ll be hopefully chanting should devastation strike us suddenly.

5 KM

Friday, 21 December 2012

Wednesday, December 19th, 2012

WOW!
 
Toronto, Ontario
 
I relished reading the latest volume of the Back to Godhead Magazine and an article by Satyaraja, aka, Steven Rosen about the Universal Form, “The Universal Form – Revelations and Implications”. The article gives an account of the all expansive, awe inspiring multifaceted imagery of all you could dream of. It is delineated upon in chapter 11 of the Bhagavad Gita as a manifestation of Krishna’s cosmic potencies. The form which is fathomless puts the observer, Arjuna, in awe; first the reaction of reverence and secondly a response of utter fear.
For those who grew up under some influence of the 60’s counter culture, you may recall Jimmy Hendrix’s album cover, Axis is Bold, where his face is featured in place of Vishnu. Those who tripped on acid (not me, true confession), may relate the multifarious images with origins from India. It was the kind of image you could find in a hookah pipe shop where you could pick up strawberry incense, patchouli oils, hippy sandals, or maybe an elaborately carved wooden round table with 3 legs. You still can find a shop such as this like the one I passed by on Bloor Street on a walk today. At best it would draw nostalgic sentiment. In any event, Jimmy’s superimposed visage stood central.
The idea of an infinity of faces is explained by Satyaraja as having manifest in the sky according to Vedic documentation on five different occasions. Each occasion reveals some unique angle, a “momentary eyesight… to see the unseeable”,something cosmic or out of this world.
I, personally, could imagine such imagery of a universal scale being thrown up onto an open prairie sky backdrop. That I could envision when walking through that area. One Hindu Punjabi man I met said, “When I first moved to Saskatchewan, this is the virat rupa,” implying the infinite nature of the universal form. Whether you fantasize this image or are fortunate enough to have His dharshan(viewing), it is meant to invoke a sense of meekness, humility, for the recipient. It makes our so called substantial world seem so puny and insignificant.
The Universal Form. It’s Wild! Outrageous! Wonderful! Wow!
10 KM

Tuesday, December 18th, 2012

What Gift To Get?
 
Toronto, Ontario
Here’s a great idea for a gift (I know I’m sounding like a commercial, anyway), how about this – a set of meditation beads including a pouch to put them in and instructions included to know how to use them?
That was the idea George Harrison had to be included in his album “Living in the Material World” way back when. Since it’s holiday time with Christmas and all, there must be someone out there that you might know that could really benefit from the sound vibration when using japa (meditational) beads.
It was about 10 years ago that I spent one afternoon walking with Dhananjaya, who was a personal friend of George. We were walking in Mayapur in Bengal at a bumpy Tarampura Road when Dhananjaya, a Scotsman by birth remarked that the road “is literally the pits”. We got to talking about George.
Dhananjaya mentioned that George’s album folds out because George had the intent to have japa beads put in the slip cover to be sold along with the record. For some reason the beads never made it as part of the package. There is one song on the album, “The Lord Loves The One Who Loves The Lord” with the lyrics of the album along with all the other songs. Apparently that song was in dedication to our guru Srila Prabhupada.
Dhananjaya who was a real kind hearted type of soul and who has been generous with his life as a Krishna conscious constructor also mentioned about George’s benevolence. He said that at that time when “Living in the Material World” was released, George was in the habit of giving copies of Bhagavad Gitas to his friends as well as personally handing out beads for their experiential experiment. Both are great ideas for gifts for those you love. I guess sometimes people exhaust themselves of what to get for someone like Uncle Joe who’s got everything. I just wanted to share this idea.
7 KM

Monday, December 17th, 2012

What Is The Soul?
 
Toronto, Ontario
One of our visitors to the ISKCON centre, where I reside, offered to me a lift to anywhere I needed to go in the city, so I said, “Drop me off in Kensington Market. From there I’ll do some walking and eventually make my way back.”
Kensington is an interesting destination for free thinkers, curious browsers, where there are coffee shops, shops for neat trinkets, vintage clothes, sushi eateries and such. Of course I’m not really there to do any of those things, nor do I get ensnared by the Christmas hoopla, although I can appreciate the original spirit behind it. There was a buzz in the air with money turning over. Shoppers are busy, they are rocking, but souls are not necessarily rolling. The purchase of items which puts many shoppers into debt cannot provide the stimulation required to keep the inner self happy. There exists a basic ignorance of one’s true identity.
When I finally returned from a much needed walk and chant, I opened to a page from the Gita that offers so much in the department of knowing one’s self, and so here is 2.17, the verse and a portion of the purport:
“Know that which pervades the entire body is indestructible. No one is able to destroy the imperishable soul.”
Purport:
“This verse more clearly explains the real nature of the soul which is spread all over the body. Anyone can understand what is spread all over the body; it is consciousness. Everyone is conscious of the pains and pleasures of the body in part or as a whole. This spreading of consciousness is limited within one’s own body. The pains and pleasures of one body are unknown to another, therefore each and every body is the embodiment of an individual soul and the symptom of the soul’s presence is perceived as individual consciousness.” -Srila Prabhupada
5 KM

Halifax - Dec. 2012









Some more pics from recent visit to Cuba









Monday, 17 December 2012

Sunday, December 16th, 2012

The Girl With No Problems
 
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Her problem was legitimate, “I’m not interested in having a TV. I don’t need a microwave or a dishwasher. I don’t care for so much furniture. I have no aspiration in acquiring a Porsche, in fact, I’d rather walk to work. I could easily be a home person. I could have lived in the 50’s, I’m not from this time…”
On and on she went explaining her misfit life, her not fitting into the crowd. The young woman was sitting next to her husband (both devotees of Krishna) when she expressed herself articulately after dinner. I was listening to the apparent problems she has with the materialistic world in which we live. I was happy hearing her speak for the sweet way in which she denounced modern amenities. I really wanted to say, “Man, you have no problems.”
Both she and he concurred on the principle of KISS (keep it simple sadhu). I admired their harmonious feeling toward the principle of avoiding clutter in their lives. You don’t see this attitude very often. What truly seemed to work in her favour to get to this point of realization was when she was raised by her parents in relative affluence, “I could get anything at my disposal,” she explained. It just wasn’t fulfilling enough for her, the world of things. In fact when she met some monks in downtown Halifax two years ago, it was a genuine God sent experience, “These are the kind of people I want to be with.” She then came to a gathering of devotion and soon after ended up marrying one of the boys who was on a retreat with one of the brahmacharis (monks).
As I heard her tell her tale, I persisted in being deeply happy for her. I relayed to her hubby that he had a golden girl. I accompanied the couple to “The Hub” making it the third stop for the day where chanting and philosophy permeated the atmosphere within the walls of two homes and this one weekly rendezvous spot. I managed a brisk walk with Corey, and avid unicyclist, between venues.
Reverting back to the girl with no problems, she actually has this worry, “I don’t like to do what other people do or want, I’m different.” Of course, she has my applause as she enjoys kirtan, reading the Gita, serving God, and other such non-mundane endeavours.
4 KM

Saturday, December 15th, 2012

Wild To Mild
 
New Glasgow, Nova Scotia
The world is a stormy place. A troubled 20 year old Sandy Lanza, shot and killed innocent elementary kids while at school in a quiet Connecticut community. It’s earth shattering news for sure. We are looking at a person with a very disturbed mind. Don’t we all have our own individual turbulence within – turbulence of varying degrees?
I had trekked a proud 11 KM along the Saint John River headed south in a pre-storm and pre-dawn condition. An owl hooted in the distance. My footsteps were crispy sounding over dry snow and ice. All seemed peaceful though. The water was tranquil; behaved. But that can change at the snap of a finger by those dictating the elements. Waters can turn rough, winds can be abruptly sweeping, and suddenly travelling in it can be tense.
Mukunda and I were caught in the midst of a mediocre blizzard after I hopped into his car. We were destination bound for the New Glasgow library. When we arrived, the personnel was more than pleasant.
“Oh, so you brought the snow with you!” said the man at the desk. He had the biggest most welcoming smile.
Before taking a seat at the conference room, two reporters from two different papers calmly questioned me about the pilgrimage achievements I’ve made. I’m not in the middle of a marathon at the moment. Still, the story of a monk had enough human interest for it to become news worthy. Also, given the fact that the nation had been plodded 3 ½ times by yours truly.
My responses were recorded and photos were taken. I was set now to speak about pilgrimage, Vedic philosophy and to conduct mantra meditation. I was impressed that 20 people braved the storm to come to listen. The mantra we chanted,“Hare Krishna”, won hearts as was intended. The mantra always calms the deranged and stormy mind. After the program was completed, the friendly guy at the desk remarked, “Hey, everyone that came out of that room seemed so happy, what did you do?”
“It’s not my doing, credit goes to the chanting.” Mukunda and I left the building and entered into a calm and cool outside.
11 KM

Friday, December 14th, 2012

Clarify, coach and council
 
Fredericton, New Brunswick
The Saint Mary’s Boat club off of The Arm Waterway was the site of my trekking. I managed to make the most out of a relatively small area in which to move around. I took to the wooden deck built around the clubhouse, repeating circumambulation. When I got tired of that, then I made my circles in the square tennis court. I also took to walking the grass itself, to whatever limited stretch the park had to offer.
The mission is always to move my machinery every day in order that it may continue to operate nicely to the service of Krishna.
So for His service today, I anticipated a 4 hour drive with Mukunda to Fredericton to meet with a wonderful couple, Ron and Tiffany who are expecting their first child together. We had a great meal together which included her freshly baked short bread cooking which are offered to Krishna to become prasadam.
I do have a particular fondness toward this couple, it was Ron who joined me on the walk last spring. His coming was a real treat as we talked about everything under the sun. Here again we engage the couple in conversing in everything dealing with the topic of comparing Christ to Krishna and about what constitutes illicit sex life.
It is my pleasure to clarify, coach and counsel anyone who may ask for it, as long as concerns remain within the realm of what a renunciant could offer. Mukunda is also a young newlywed, partnered with a fabulous Hladini Shakti, a local girl. It is important for me to give some attention to young family folks who are just beginning to gain a footing in life, and to ensure that life should be spirit-centric.
 
5 KM

Thursday, December 13th, 2012

A Thing Happened
 
Mississauga, Ontario
A funny thing happened on the way to the airport or rather at the airport. I was notified at the ticket counter before heading for Halifax that I was 12 hours early. The error was mine. My scheduled PM time was mistaken for AM. “Don’t worry,” said the lady at the counter, “it happens all the time.” A sigh of relief was followed by a call to Rajasuya for a pick me up and then a stay at his home. In a jiff he came and there I was made to relax, eat and then walk, all my choice of activities, really.
At Sugar Maple Park I did roam. The sap did not flow but there was some residual moisture of recent rain that muddied a great trail. The kilometre long path with sub-branches is frequented by school kids. Two young boys were talking about Batman. A young couple after class strolled along at a snail’s pace appearing to prolong their moments together. Two middle school girls were exploring bugs in a rotted out tree.
The sun shone and I wanted to make the most of the stretch so I walked the windy trail and rewalked it back and forth, just as I reword the mantra over and over again. What doesn’t get repeated in this world, either by action or by word? I’m sure students do the trek to and fro between home and school every day. Yes, repetition is everywhere. The newspaper recycles stories of crime and achievements. Only the faces and names change. The sun rises, the sun falls. Everywhere there are examples of repetition. The Vedas, the books of incredible stories and philosophy that are so much a part of my life, record cosmic tales of truth that get spun over and over reminding us of God’s divine plan to address the demigods, creators and destroyers of this world, with a ‘repetez s’il vous plait’. According to the Gita, recycling is also expressed. This holds true for the soul which passes from one body to the next. From this recycling process we should become exhausted eventually and come to a Why? What can I learn from visiting the same place over and over again? Maybe I could do something different. Maybe a little more attention could go a long way. At least that would have helped me had I looked at my ticket more concisely and gone to the terminal only once.
We have to continue to roll out the questions. “Do I want to come back? Do I want to be recycled. If I could wrap up the reincarnational process in this life, what do I have to do?”
5 KM

Saturday, 15 December 2012

Wednesday, December 12th, 2012

Coyotes Are Back
 
Toronto, Ontario
Coyotes are back. That’s great news! Especially because it is in the core of the city that they have decided to make their habitat. We should rejoice, after all, we’re in their territory. Two years ago a coyote swallowed someone’s Chihuahua. The owner was outraged, if not sad. There was also an opinion by the public whether the predators should stay or not.
With my walk on the Belt Line Trail today, I had come to know by certain signage along the way that these beautiful wild dogs are roaming the ravines. It looks like the city has decided to accept their return. How mature. It was also Pat who told me about them. Pat and her hubby Tracey I’ve known since ’96 when Tracey drove his transport trailer across the country and bumped into me. I was on my first walk then and that’s when I met the couple. I consider them pilgrim friends. By some providence we are repeatedly crossing paths. It just so happened that I was not wearing my robes in order to spare them from mud splatters. Pat spotted me miles away anyway. She knows me by now. I never really get the chance to talk to Pat or Tracey about spiritual subject matters, but it’s always about nature. Tracey, who now owns his own trucking company stood up for devotees of Krishna several times in conversations with others. He told me of at least two instances where he came on with a tone like that of a powerful ksatria warrior speaking in our favour. He tells of how one fellow trucker had spotted me on the highway and that I should have been run over. When Tracey heard that he felt like a hungry coyote going for his prey. In other words, he defended me. For this reason I like Pat and Tracey.  Whenever I meet them,  I like to meet them on the trail and I hope that one day I’ll see a few coyotes on the trail right here in the heart of Toronto.
7 KM

Cooking it up in the Kitchen





 

Tuesday, December 11th, 2012

Colours In All Holiness
 
Toronto, Ontario
Saintliness is not the monopoly of the saffron clad. In our tradition (origins, India), saffron is reserved for the celibate monks. In other traditions the colours range from light to dark in anything you can find from the rainbow. When you consider the Buddhist renunciants I’ve seen (mainly at airports) men will sport yellow or some dark ochre colour depending on the religious order. Perhaps there’s more colours I haven’t noticed.
In Christianity (my childhood background) it was the Capuchin monks that I got familiar with, they look like Francis of Assisi, with robes that cover their entire body including full sleeves and a hood attached. Many priests in the other orders are dressed in black. And in early Canadian history, a group of Jesuits if I’m not mistaken, known as ‘Black Robes’ hit the shores of the Atlantic coast with their jet black attire and matching imposing and rimmed hats.
I recall on Yonge Street years ago being approached by a man in blue jeans who made a threatening and silly remark about my dhoti and overall apparel. He said, “Jesus never wore a dress,” referring to my clothes. And I replied, “He never wore jeans, sir.” It was a moment of culture clash I guess you could say. Over this last weekend a saintly man, Nityananda Das, from Dallas, came to visit us in his dhoti and kurta (origins again from India) and he was in white. White is also a colour of the pure. He is a happily married man and his two sons are both recently married. In our tradition you can be a family man and be a priest at the same time.
Nityananda is an impressive guy. He was born in Fiji of Gurjurati background and he comes across as a highly professional devotional person. He’s articulate, sophisticated, and stand upright in an approximate 6’3” stature. His wisdom and assertiveness was much appreciated in regards to speaking powerfully about a harmonized effort to advance higher consciousness. He comes across not only like a Brahmin in his delivery, but also like a ksatriya (a king). We welcome NItyananda back for more of his precious association and his white lightening passion.
7 KM

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

Monday, December 10th, 2012

That’ll Be The Day

Toronto, Ontario

There’s this real smart looking building that I pass by daily on foot. It has this stunning bell tower, and over all, the entire edifice is just handsome. There it stands at a prominent place at Yonge and Summerhill. It was a former train station in the days of yore and the days of York (Toronto was historically known as Fort York). The structure is now a bustling liquor store, I like it there. When it rains and I need somewhere to walk and keep dry, the building’s substantial awning provides enough shelter that I can pace back and forth and chant on my japa beads. And when it doesn’t rain I use the bench in front of the liquor store to sit on to chant my gayatri mantras (silently) in front of a kinetic deviced water fountain. The water fills at an upper level and then spills over with a splash after it reaches a certain leverage. The fluid sound cuts through the sound of the nearby traffic.

I guess every yogi finds his/her spot. In the Gita its recommended that a spiritual practitioner find a secluded place and lay kusha grass on the ground and cover it with deer skin and a soft cloth. The seat should be neither too high nor too low. One’s body posture should be straight and one should be subdued in mind, devoid of fear and have no thoughts of lust.

My seat in front of the old train station is not as described above. It is as hard as you can imagine being made of concrete. It’s also cold, but solid and conducive for reminding you that austerity is alright. After completing gayatri mantra I take a moment to watch the folks go in and out to make their purchase. They are respectable people judging by their attire. It’s just too bad it has to be booze that everyone appears to be so enthusiastic for.

I hope one day other people will join me at Yonge and Summerhill sitting there chanting mantras. That’ll be the day.

7 KM

Sunday, December 9th, 2012

Watch Your Step Please

Brampton, Ontario

How important it is to have traction when feet are in motion and to see to it that you have a good grip on the ground.

That truth analogous to, gripping on to the reigns of dharma, values and principles couldn’t be more applicable in life. It just so happened that I was unprepared for the slippery asphalt under my feet. I could have easily made a fall. The footwear lacked the traction necessary to address the near freezing rain which covered the ground. And so, with an evening attempt at walking, it became more of a cautious stroll, a baby step trek at times.

I reflected on the talk I gave at ISKCON Brampton this morning asking the group of listeners whether they thought that Bollywood film viewing enhances their spirituality or not. I asked point blank, “Do you believe that Bollywood is good for your spiritual life?”

I saw smiles of confession, the consensus was clear. The heads started nodding, “No”. Admittedly, motion picture material generally goes in the direction of sensuality, maybe it’s even erotic, I don’t know. I’m a monk and I didn’t peruse through these things. It might have been noted that I asked the question in the first place because I know the people are more than peeking at the stuff.

Coming from the spiritual point of view, the Bollywood subject matter lacks morality for the most part. It’s a slippery route. If you read or watch the Mahabharat, you’ll get your dose of violence, but the romance is rather tame.

In general, exposure to mundane activities is always a slippery slope to take. You get your traction and grip in life through nitih, morality.

We just need to watch our step.

5 KM

Saturday, December 8th, 2012

Fox and Fiddle

Toronto, Ontario

I don’t believe that any mosque, church or temple could boast the amount of attendance that bars and nightclubs receive. It was a rare Saturday night that I found myself rendering my legs the service they need on Bloor street when I happened to look through the window of a packed house pub. It was the Fox and Fiddle Bar. Naturally it is that time of the week that people chill, and those are the kind of places they go to. I generally don’t peep into windows of religious places, partially because they are less welcoming. They usually have intimidating walls, no large windows in which to catch a glance throught. The overall message seems to be that we are exclusive, not inclusive. Places of worship are also located often where there is no foot traffic and where you require a car. Someone might argue downtowners show little interest in the spirit. Religion draws people who live in the burbs. That’s arguable, our cozy litte Bhakti Lounge at a downtown location is on a second floor over a restaurant and you’ll see something happening there every night, whether it be a kirtan, Gita siscussion, a yoga exersice or a veggie cooking demo. It’s a happening place.

As I trekked more this eveing on the same street, I walked the pace of the younger browsers and chcristmas shoppers, window shoppers included. It was so clear to me that Christ was not really on people’s minds. In fact, the reality of aggrandized smells hit my nostrils. There was the occasional whiff of alchohol and the invisible cloud of marijuana sometimes in the air. You know, this is all gratification stuff that monks dare not engage in.

It put a neat closure to my day. After the promenade, I looked to the Gita for real comfort and in curiousity looked up the subject that often people ask me about. In verse 17.16 Sri Krishna addresses the topic of the mind and what would help tame it. Here is how it is translated by our guru, Srila Prabhupada:

“Satisfaction, simplicity, gravity, self control and purification of one’s existence are the eausterieties of the mind.” That’s the clear simple statements, that’s profound. It’s really the purport for the verse that provides more insightful material of the subject of the mind. I love it. It’s given me food for thought on what to sermonize on the next day when a crowd will come to one of our centres in the burbs.

7 KM

Monday, 10 December 2012

Friday, December 7th, 2012

Then and Now
 
Toronto, Ontario
It becomes so obvious how the culture’s shifted when I look at the attention given to dogs.
While I was walking the Rosedale residential area, I overheard a man who was walking his 2 dogs on his one leash in conversation with a young teenage girl about her dog on a leash. They were stationary at a point where I was passing by, I could clearly catch a piece of the conversation. He was inquiring what breed hers was and then praises of each other’s dogs began. As usual (I’ve seen it time and time again, the dog is the conversation piece, the point of reference, the initiation to communication. I had a flashback to the 50’s when I was young, to seeing families together in a yard. To seeing baby buggies and mothers talking and even sharing the breastfeeding to each other’s babies. That was baby boom time and the shift now is dog boom time. I may be repeating this story from a past entry but I can’t help noticed the changes for better or worse.
As I continued walking, I at one street juncture, I almost bumped into a Philippino nanny who was pushing a baby buggy. I concluded within that infants are still being produced. The difference between the Rosedale of the past and the Rosedale of the present is that the biological moms are working now and can’t give the time that parents used to give their offspring.
For better or worse?
7 KM

Thursday, December 6th, 2012

Some Word – A Gift
 
Toronto, Ontario
Mayy eva mana adhatsva are the words I wanted to share today. Being December, the time where many places in the world there is a giving notion, here is my giving.
From the Gita (which was spoken in December, we have these words, mayy – upon me, eva – certainly, mana – mind, adhatsva – fix. Put this together and it reads like so:

“Just fix your mind on me” God is speaking here in the verse 12.8.
This is a tall order or suggestion – surrender your mind to me. The return is good though. Check this out – the next line , mayi buddhim nivesaya. This means, be intelligent about it. Spirituality doesn’t require blind following. How is surrender of one’s mind intelligent? Well, ultimately putting all our eggs in one basket – into secularism, does not work, it’s dumb. It’s smart to invest into the soul. We are all going to die one day. It’s as blunt as that. It’s the naked truth, the soul is what’s left.
Let’s get back to the return or the benefit. Here we go – one more Sanskrit word, nivasisyasi means,“You will live with Me.” You will get to live with that divine person. Birth and death will be at cycle’s end. So the deal is to “go spiritual” and move to safety and satisfaction. You can take this “sharing of words” as just words if you want, but apply it that at least you’ll feel lighter and more free.
Legs are for walking and words are for contemplating and hopefully for applying. Some years ago in 1995 I contemplated an 8,000 km walk. I applied, it was done. I have no regrets.
Apply yourself, try something, go spiritual. There’s nothing to lose. Live happily. This December, share the gift of the Gita.
10 KM

Wednesday, December 5th, 2012

Last Day in Cuba

Varadero, Cuba

We were remarking to each other how the creatures at the sea work so hard for their food. Bird's in flight scan the water's surface and search. Crabs lightly prance over wet sand, very hungry. Then we saw this dog, or rather his derriere, as he was shooting out sand from between his legs. He was working feverishly for a moving morsel. I guess it was his scent that detected the crab buried in the sand. He could hear something moving, He was digging with those two front paws and was so concentrated on his work. We were impressed with his determination and his obliviousness towards us who were practically standing on top of him looking at him with amazement.

Eventually he gave up the hole he enlarged and then darted for the next crab hole, going at the same pace of earnestness. "Life is tough in the search for food" was the realization Hayagriva and I came to as we took our last day's trek along the beach at Varadero. It had become a daily affair: being observers or an audience of such little wonders.

When we made it to the resort's buffet it wasn't much different, not so much the hard work for aspiring food and picking at the choices but the enthusiasm that goes behind the satisfaction of tongue and stomach. While there and being part of it all I tend to feel a little gluttonous, guilty at least knowing that outside the resort area the local people have so little.

Sweet people they are: the Cubans. Because of their more meagre situation, you don't see the obesity as in some of our tourists. They look pretty fit. Some spiritual injection to check out such imbalance will help out. I guess that goes for both tourists and non-tourists.

Our last hour at the resort was spent sitting and reading at the pool where practically everone looked like a monk, being covered or wrapped by the same pinky-orange towel. I was just catching a final nap before the flight home. A woman from Chili walked by and then stopped when I was reading the Gita and asked, "Hare Krishna?".

"Yes that's right!"

"You are here as well?"

"Yes, that's the idea: to spread a higher consciousness to as many places as possible." After all we can't just give all attention to tongue and stomach. We've also got a soul to look after.

The final, final hour at the Varadero Airport was spent with our thirteen person group waiting for our metal bird and getting a small entertaining session from young Dhruva (6) who was doing his Michael Jackson dance interpretation.

9 KM

Tuesday, December 4th 2012

Ego Blown Away

Varadero, Cuba

Don't we all know how detrimental the ego can be in taking us through darkness? You don't have to be a spiritualist to spot the enemy #1. In the Gita the ego, known as ahankara in Sanskrit, is described as that entity that misconceives everything. The ego says "I'm in charge of things (nature)." when in fact, it's the reverse. Nature is controlling us.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, used to use the word "puffed up" to make the point about inflated pride.

Hayagriva and I walked that beach once again and there we found a blow fish washed ashore. Surely his little atma (soul) left that body for another. He lies there lifeless. Since the beginning of the trip Hayagriva has been the one to step into trouble. Dung, thorns, shells and just missed squids, jellyfish and now a camouflaged fish. The blow fish expands himself into the resemblance of a balloon looking more menacing than he thinks he is and he has these spikes all over his body as perhaps a third defense mechanism.

Yet proud as nature has made him he must resort to eat humble pie like everyone else. He must perish.

A group of people, other beach walkers, noticed our fish friend after we left him and circled around flashing their cameras. I guess they gave him some honour by doing so.          

One thing that checked our pride in also a most natural way, was when six members of our devotee community of Matanzas came to meet with our Canadian group just outside of our resort. We converged to have a little devotional gathering. It was high noon and yet the tree we chose to shelter under provided ample shade. As we took delight in sitting under the tree's shadow and reflecting on verse 9.2 of the Gita the sun checked our pride. He moves quite consistently, as you know. He had us circling around shifting our behinds in order to avoid his scorching power.

You have to ask yourself, "Where is physical comfort anyway?".

Thank you, Sun, for reminding us of the inconveniences of life and putting us into the lovely spot of humbleness.

The time arrived when the sun went to sleep and the moon woke up. Our group from Canada spent our last evening at the resort for a special treat at the italian cafe. A veggie pasta meal was anticipated and while waiting at the finely done upstable the mariachi group playing music started the night's entertainment by our table side singing "Jare Krishna Jare Krishna Krishna Krishna Jare Jare/Jare Rama Jare Rama Rama Rama Jare Jare."

Besides us, all the other folks begin their meal while being serenaded to this ancient enchanting mantra.

7 KM

Photos from Cuba



















Wednesday, 5 December 2012

Monday, December 3rd, 2012

Sea Wall to School Hall

Habana, Cuba

My old friend, the Malecon, the sea wall on Cuba's north coast in Habana, allowed me to walk by its side. I introduced Hayagriva to this fourth-time-around visit to the wall where couples hang out in the evening. Both of us looked suspicious as we carried our meditation beads in their pouches. As we walked along the seaside across from an embassy, security took notice and radio waved some message to each other as we passed by them. Suspicion is still a reality especially in Cuba's capital where very strong political statements are made that span municipal billboards. When we left the Malecon to adventure into a residential street a squatting man raised his eyebrows and asked about the pouches, or what we called bead bags. He admitted that he thought they were a gun with bullets. Three years ago a young lad mistook the bag for a money holder, yanked the bag off my neck and ran off with it; never to be seen again. He must have been disappointed at its contents: a strand of 35 year worn down meditation beads.

I relayed my story about suspicions to a group of 40-or-so theology students under Professor Hans guidance at a university hall. The pouch I demonstrated with beads was a new image for some of them. The presentation was geared around the philosophy of the Bhagavad-gita and it took a clean one hour to explain the text which outlines a soul's great moment of doubt. An equal amount of time was taken for answering questions.

To recall a few of them:

1) "You mentioned that the Bhagavad-gita lists some of the traits of the soul. What are they? Can a soul's material dharma and spiritual dharma be combined? Are Christ and Krishna the same?"

 "To answer the question in a nutshell:

1) The soul possesses the attributes of sat: eternity, cit: cognizance, and ananda: pleasure

2) The Gita's message largely encourages to use your material talents in the service of God.

3) Christ and Krishna are one and different. Their purpose is the same: they are different individuals. in the Gita Krishna declares Himself as father to all and Christian theologians, at least some, declare Christ as the son of the father.

7 KM

Sunday, December 2nd, 2012

Beginning With Roosters

Habana, Cuba

The rooster population must be greater than the humans. They sang in concert resounding  much like the consistent howling of jackals which I hear in the Bengal countryside early in the morning. It was a symphony.

Hayagriva, Sahil and I, preparing ourselves for a long drive to Habana, took to trekking on a modest paved road which is a major artery into Rodas. Here, we were definitely in the countryside and not in India (although we spotted these white humped Indian cows grozing). There, we were in central Cuba where sugarcane is plentiful yet does not reign supreme to boost the economy. Tourism has taken over. Rodas, however, being kind of a tucked away town, sees few foreigners. Hayagriva and I are in saffron and Sahil is a tall big-boned Punjabi boy raised in Canada. We are a curiosity.

Inquisitive too was our host, Merci, the doctor. Her friends, who happened to come by after our trek, came out with classic questions. How to address the mind which is helter skelter? What caused the soul to arrive here in this mundane world? How to achieve a sense of peace, safety, and sanity in this wild world?

All questions were patiently addressed and we compare the nature of the mind as being like a rascal monkey, a ridiculous clown or to money, never staying in one place very long, then it seemed to resonate beyond every nationality. To put things in light perspective this explanation charged a laugh, at least a smile, as much as it did when Hayagriva on our trek, accidentally stepped in some horse dung to which I remarked “El Grosso!”.

En route we went to Habana by car and we did indeed admire a major method of transport by the locals: horseback and sometimes buggy as well. As we entered the precinct of Habana we could feel another universe. Smells of oil, diesel and such, permeated the air. Old models of dodges, chevys and fords charmed us. Our destination in Habana was the home of a community member at one of these beautiful in town estates, a stately-looking house which had seen better days. It reminds me of those well-built mansions from the British period in Kolkota.

There we conducted a kirtan in a lush green courtyard followed by a fire ceremony and an initiation into our spiritual community. Raphael accepted  the sanskrit name of Raja-vidya (king of knowledge) and Regis accepted the name Raja-guhyam (the king of secrets). Our Canadian contingent was also there and was the force behind the feast and other areas of co-ordination.

Once again they were impressed with the warmth of the Cuban people being less tainted by the greediness of much of the rest of the world. Viva Cuba!

8 KM