Thursday, 31 January 2013

Wednesday, January 30th, 2013

I Actually Grew Tired

Toronto, Ontario

I actually grew tired after a mere five kilometres on foot. Everywhere it was wet and damp and there was no place to actually sit restfully for a break. When I reached McCaul Street, I saw the massive door to a church open and light poured out of it offering a welcome.

I climbed the stairs to the church, Saint Patrick’s by name, entered the foyer which revealed once again open doors, this time to the church hall itself. I helped myself to the back pew and chanted softly on my beads.

A parishioner, a woman, maybe 65 years of age, came to me with a curious stare and spoke.

“Are you Catholic? You’re Hindu aren’t you?”

My intense dyed robes must have drawn her attention. I said, “I’m a Hare Krishna, it’s related to Hindu.”

“But you’re not Catholic.”

“I was raised Catholic.”

“Why did you leave?”

“I didn’t, I just added on Krishna.” She went on in her subtle probing and with her stare of disbelief, so I continued, “You see, Krishna Consciousness taught me to be a vegetarian and I’ve enjoyed a deeper sense of philosophy.” She was holding her rosary all this time, so I showed her my japa beads. “I chant on these,” I said.

“What do you get out of it?” she pressed on quietly.

“A communication with the Lord.”

“What are you communicating?”

“I’m asking for every opportunity to serve Him.” And that was pretty much it. There was no introduction or farewell. She retreated toward the altar and walked there with a look of continual disbelief.

This young man who was kneeled at a pew nearby heard the entire hushed conversation. In a rather stoic way he looked at me and then finished the actual conversation quite spontaneously, even though he wasn’t a party to it, and said, “May the Lord be with you.”

“And with you too.”

My fatigue was over, I was enthused to continue the walk in the unusually moderate climate.

Om Tat Sat.

9 KM

Wednesday, 30 January 2013

Tuesday, January 29th, 2013

I’m Likely The Only Bead Chanter

Toronto, Ontario

It’s practically t-shirt weather, although damp, as I found my way walking in what’s called The Annex area, with beads in hand. They are a glorious string of 108 beads, which act as an aid to my chanting. The word ‘bead’ hails from the German word, bidden, which means prayer. The word is very similar to the Dutch word I’m familiar with, when as a child raised by a family from the Netherlands, we would pray on the rosary at the time of Lent. To my recollection there are 54 rosary beads which is half the number of what we call japa beads. That, of course, shouldn’t matter, the half number, because the routine is cyclic. Once one revolution is completed, you just do another round of prayer.

While embracing my japa beads in the right hand, privately chanting my prayer and thinking of the good fortune to be able to do this, a young man was about to pass by me on the sidewalk. He used his right hand and had just put a light to his cigarette. When we actually met he blew out his smoke, and in a relative sense I’m sure he felt to be a lucky dude himself. To each his own.

“I’m likely the only bead chanter on Davenport this evening,” I thought. By this time of night, 10 PM, few pedestrians walked the street with a higher ratio of people as motorists. Surely those whizzing by at the steering wheel are not embracing a mala, as a Buddhist or Hindu would call it, or a Jew bearing a tefillin, a small leather strap for prayer, or a Muslim clutching on to a tasbih, while a Christian might have a rosary. You sometimes see one of these holy instruments dangling from the rear view mirror as a kind of talisman offering a protective power.

I, indeed, do feel fortunate to have my japa beads as my security blanket. I can’t help but project into the future with the anticipation that more prayer with an instrument of such will become a practice of many. How we could use that help at the current perilous time. And when is it not perilous in this precarious material world? The great master of chanting, with and sometimes without beads in hand, was Sri Chaitanya. He recommended that we all do as much chanting or praying as possible.

7 KM

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Monday, January 28th, 2013

From Here To The Royal York And Back

Regina/Toronto

If Regina is an iceburg, then Toronto is a slushburger. From Regina’s frigid frontier, I flew into Toronto, which is commonly known as The Melting Pot (for ethnic cultural reasons), and now, perhaps, for it’s regular snow meltdown; it’s kind of messy.

Weather affects our lives all the time. When is there a day that you don’t check up either on line the forecast (the lazy way) or peer out the window (which is more honourable) or just stick your head out the window (most intelligent)? It’s likely a daily affair, like sticking your big toe in the water before going the full dip.

The lid on the eye-of-God, the sun, went shut – night time. When I decided to enter into the world of splash, catching me at the door was a couple from our neighbourhood who had just come in from outside. They indicated that it was ugly outside. I let them know that whether pretty or ugly, I go into it with a bravado.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned from weather changes,” it’s don’t let it intimidate you”. I believe that those who try to shake off Mother Nature by avoiding her are the ones that get sick. Of course, the word of caution can be given to not over expose yourself to the elements and we should certainly “dress for the occasion”. I often times have to remind myself that I’m not God and do not transcend. But generally, I find people all around me getting sick while I remain immune. It’s often the same people whose immunity is not built up for a lack of a willingness to embrace nature. Let’s face it, most of us are stubbornly trapped in our boxes whether it be the home or conveyance.

And what’s with all the running on a treadmill when you can be working up a sweat outside? For much of the world’s climate it should be no problem. Some days in Regina at 30, 40, or 50 below, it’s understandable. But really, breathing in those bad human fumes from the guy next to you on a passionate pace with a tread mill, it gets pretty bad, please give me a break. I’ll stick to the sadhu, holy man’s approach. I’ll continue to go outside to breath in God’s air and feel His wind and lick His sweat with my tongue stuck out (and raindrops did fall this night).

And when a car dashes by to create a splash of slush to cover me, I’ll say to God, “Thanks for reminding me I’m not You. Thanks for the lesson in humility.”

9 KM

Sunday, January 27th, 2013

The Mention of a Queen and a King

Saskatoon/Regina

My Saskatoon hosts, Kasyap and Panchami, had put together an excellent kitchery brunch after a great trek up their street and back. Temperatures have become more tame as of late (only 10 below), my first winter visit ever in Saskatoon imposed a scary 50 below Celsius with the wind chill factor. That was 3 years ago. You wouldn’t dare attempt the outside for any serious length of time. Locals who do daily walks customarily go to the warm mall for trekking inside before shops open. I did the same. The place never had a monk visit before, so one shop owner told me.

The kitchery, a great mix of rice, lentils and veggies, sat well in the tummy during a 3 hour southern direction drive to Regina. Regina was a name of Queen Victoria, yes, the British ruled here.

Our destination, a small temple on Retallack Avenue, is situated in a Cree neighbourhood. Perhaps there’s a mix of Ojibwa and Metis people here as well. This humble temple is a regular stop for me and today it’s kind of special, since a younger man, Darshit, was going to receive his initiation. I believe I went into the overtime in speaking about the significance of diksa (initiation). I made sure he understood that he’s now an actual member and that his primary guru is also my guru, Srila Prabhupada, the founder.

Making this message clear is critical in the sense that if you want to have cohesion in a society like ours, then one umbrella under which to stand will give hope of longevity. Without recognition of Prabhupada’s preeminent position, this society often referred to as a movement, will certainly move in all different directions, divisible by numerous initiating gurus. That, we don’t want.

Darshit received the name Dasarath, after the great king and father of Ram. Dasarath ruled well after a lengthy term in northern India in the era known as Treta. He was a virtuous monarch. Congratulations, Dasarath!

8 KM

Monday, 28 January 2013

Saturday, January 26th, 2013

Hot Dancing

Calgary, Alberta

If you are familiar with the various chapters of the Bhagavad Gita, you may recall chapter 15 where it describes a banyan tree with its roots up and branches down. It is a rather mysterious section of the Gita.
 
This evening Jason's dancing at the kirtan reminded me of the banyan tree because his feet were up and his hands were down. Our kirtan was getting warmed up and just to make it "hot", knowing Jason to be a break-dancer, I asked him to come to the centre of our circle to ignite the night. With him coming to our event I was determined to get the most out of him, and to take our program to another level. This wasn't going to be a cute little pious conforming type of bhajan, but in the direction of a party-rocking kirtan. That it was!
 
I really had not a super clear idea where to take our guests until they came and I could see them. The program earlier at the Lakshmi Narayan Mandir threw me off a little. I was informed I was going to spend 2 hours with the youth of the area it turned out the age range was from 8 to 65. I didn't mind I just had to make quick decisions and make a few mental adjustments in my approach. We ended up making every thing interactive with Kirtan memorization and a theatre workshop. Acting out the images found in the Gita based on a number of images. It all worked out fine.
 
The realization I had was that the subject of the Gita is for all in as much as Kirtan is for all.
 
Back to the sweaty evening (and host Kashyapa deliberately cranked down the heat knowing many bodies would come to heat up the place). We all sat down and I took the opportunity to present a krishna consciousness 101, a basics on belief and thrust. The questions flowed from Matt, from Ramesh, and from others.
 
At Prasadam eating time Jason demonstrated that he is not just a dancer or dancing instructor he also knows a few things about life. Ramesh, the young Nepalese fellow with a lot of good questions, looked to Jason for some directions. Jason borrowed my drinking cup and said while holding that cup. "This is your comfort zone, this is where you are, but the magic happens here" he said raising his free hand outside the cup indicating we all excel when we stretch ourselves and go beyond what you think are our limitations. That was quite helpful for Ramesh coming from The Lord Nataraj, the king of the dancers - (a name for lord shiva).
 
7 KM

Friday, January 25th, 2013

Sunken Feet, Hearts High
 
Saskatoon, Saskatchewan
 
When our feet sunk into the hardened snow about 2 inches deep, I made a remark to 12 year old Jay, my young companion for the hour, about the sound. To me he responded, “Yeah, our walking sounds like the pressing on Styrofoam.”
“Jay,” I teasingly admonished,“I’m not sure I like that analogy.
We took to the comfort of a meadow park bench to enjoy the strong sun and the pure white snow to savour in what dismal grey winter people of the coast won’t ever know. Yesterday the whites of my eyes turned red from this over exposure, but I was willing to go out today and try it again.
The pond at John Azant Park is covered over by snow, but we peered at it as if we were on it with fragile ice on the surface and we considered what would happen should the ice crack and we fall in. Jay knew the solution being an air cadet in training. So, he got off the bench and demonstrated what to do in such an emergency. He punched the snow as if you would the ice and then crawled within that snow as if you slid over the ice. He stood up after the demo and shook off the demigod dandruff, snow, only to reveal to me that he dreams of becoming a pilot one day. Naturally, I encouraged him. I certainly have no intention of imposing on him monastic life if it’s not his calling.
Jay and I returned to his house where we readied ourselves with his dad, Kasyap, for our evening venture. Our walk in the 20 below degree weather was over, but the sangha at the” Divine Goddess”, was to begin at the sun’s departure.
Amber, runs the Goddess Shop, with it’s books, candles, posters, incense, icons and Buddhas on shelves, now all pushed to the perimeter of the shop to make way for our evening of lotus posed curiousos. Indeed, the space got filled up in no time and the walking monk became introduced before speaking. I gave anecdotes of trek adventures and of pilgrimage. I told of the simple life on the road amidst black flies and of the soul’s travel from body to body and how to make good with the little one should insist on having. I told of the benefit of non violent food and how it makes a difference when you consecrate it by implementing a practical method. Chanting followed and oh my God, how the people absorbed and loved it. And like Jay, who was crawling in the snow earlier on, they were crawling in the purity of the Name. Then all participants left the Goddess Shop feeling a real spiritual high.
7 KM                             With Jason at "Divine Goddess"
 

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Thursday, January 24th, 2013

The Squared Circle

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

Rick Titan was a rather well established wrestler with WWF. That type of entertainment, however, just wasn’t fulfilling enough for him. Not long ago he had met our devotees while they were chanting next to the Bow River on a grass patch in Calgary. He enjoyed the kirtan to the extent that he asked to sit down on the grass along with them. Since that magical moment he’s been reading the Bhagavad Gita, “It’s the best book I’ve ever read,” he’s been saying.

I had the pleasure to meet Rick on the previous night’s program in Calgary where a packed room in a huge office suite became our venue. People wanted to hear about my pilgrim pastimes as it was a fresh new audience. Hence, I delivered the goods and mixing in some philosophy and leaving everyone with the consideration that we are all wrestlers. After all, who doesn’t try to wrestle the rascal mind?

Tonight I spoke at another function in another city and province – Saskatoon and Saskatchewan – and specifically on the topic of the Gita’s five subject matters. Yoga students and the Hindu faithful came to hear. One question a man was perhaps wrestling with was as follows:

“What is the distinction between karma, vikarama and akarma?”

Answer in brief:

“Karma means action, and its inherent reaction. Vikarma refers to action that is whimsical or casual, with no regulation and no long term vision. Akarma is action that involves submission to Isvara, God, producing no reaction and which awards freedom from birth and death.”

It was an attentive group. I was grateful to the Laxmi Narayan Mandir people for opening the doors to their facility. I was in a position to help people who found themselves in some philosophical head or arm lock.

By the way, Krishna enjoyed wrestling as a youth.

7 KM

Wednesday, January 23rd, 2013

How We Space Things

Calgary, Alberta

I have been staying at a suburb home in the north east of Calgary. I’ve been also doing a daily trek whatever the weather. And why did I today walk apart from duty? Well, the neighbourhood looks like a Courier and Ives Christmas card, “It’s downright pretty” with crystal like trees and white satin like snow thrown into beautiful mounds by Mother Nature. I like to be in that midst.

But I must admit, there’s something drab about burbs. I can comfortably say that the modern day layout of cities is very non-Vedic. They’re also not practical. Modern cities, which include suburbs are for cars, not for people. I’m going to quote from an article in The Globe and Mail”

“Throughout our whole history, people have walked for transportation. We deleted that,” says Dr. James Sallis, a behavioural psychologist. “We designed that feature out of the world for many many people and now we have the evidence that our planning community design decisions and our transportation decisions are reducing activity and contributing to chronic diseases. “

I like more of what he says, “Every older city is walkable. If they were built before cars they had to be.”

The question in the article asks, “How does this translate into healthier behaviour?” Answer, “The brain is not our friend when it comes to physical activities. We are kind of programmed slothful. As we age, some of the neurons that connect movement centers and reward centers die off, so we lose our ability to get pleasure from activity. That’s why we need spaces that invite people to be active. We need to feed the pleasure center of the brain through our design.”

Sallis also suggested that residential and commercial areas should not be separated. Everything should be walkable friendly.

My thoughts (and of course I agree with the above) are that community is important, and it must be infused with space that can also heighten your spiritual power. How about an acoustical kirtan hall, smack in the middle of a well planned community?

8 KM

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

Burn No Incense

Calgary, Alberta

The title above is meant to be a bit of an attention grabber. “What?” you might say, “leave the incense alone? This is sacrilegious.” Maybe it is but if what I say has good reason behind it then maybe the message could mean the prolonging of your life. My doctor from Burlington, Ontario conveyed to me that one particular order of Buddhist monks in the orient all got cancer from having exposure to burning incense. And recently when speaking with a friend of mine in Texas, he expressed that an acquaintance of his was diagnosed with lung cancer. He was not a smoker nor anyone else around, and then it hit her that the incense she had been using for her pooja (daily religious rite) must be the source.

I’ve been visiting many temples over the years locally and you need not look up to the ceiling for all the accumulation of black soot, one of the sources being the burning of incense. The use of three one foot long sticks makes sense for a breezy outdoor type of shrine where fumes that are actually perfumes can easily escape into the atmosphere and leave no tarnish. Surely, the aroma is pleasing to the Krishna deity, but should a powerhouse of three smoking sense be always the standard in closed and sometimes small temple rooms? And when lit several times a day?

Frankly some brands of incense just stink. I don’t know about all of you meditators out there, but I’ve been gagging lately from the over induced stuff, and I prefer a pine scented mountain air scenario. I like my visits to Saranagati where I can see the winter green needles being offered to Krishna, and once offered, those aromatic needles make their way to your nostrils with a pleasurable explosion. It’s all natural and organic.

This leads to my question, have you checked the ingredients on the package of your incense lately? If there is no list, you have every reason to be a skeptic and denounce the product. You know as well as I that profit hungry manufacturers do anything to fill their coffer and that the expense is people’s health, and even in the name of using devotional paraphernalia.

Today I had met a number of families. Some of whom I visited and some who came to hear me speak. Practically all of them burned incense for their pooja. A good number of them took my card, The Walking Monk; I’m hoping they read this blog which encourages them to think twice about their package of smelly sticks.

You have to ask yourself, “Do I have something worship worthy? Or is it no better than a pack of cigarettes?” and you know what they do. Of course I’m suggesting that we should light incense and offer it to your deity, but be selective, be smart.

10 KN

Wednesday, 23 January 2013

Monday, January 21st, 2013

Getting To Know Him and His Method
 
Calgary, Alberta
I hadn’t picked up a particular topic to speak from until I arrived at the home of Rakesh. “You need to know your audience” is my prescription in order to be effective in delivering a message. My hosts, Radha Madhav and Swasti, who drove me, are from Fiji, but I was aware that Rakesh and family are from the Punjab. When I entered Rakesh’s living room, the four walls were lined with people from, my guess, North India. They were seated in lotus position, were smiling and offering pranams. I introduced myself and then went around the room asking everyone’s name and where they came from. It was obvious origins were India, except for their lively kids who were born in Canada. The Punjab and Hariyana states were well represented. Few people from the north know of Chaitanya, or at least, may have faintly heard of Him, so I opened up my talk by now introducing Him.
Chaitanya is a Krishna incarnate, a revolutionary and an avatar for the age. I went on to explain His being contemporary to Guru Nanak, the founder of Sikhism, and Mirabai, a noted female saint – both known in North India. Chaitanya roamed by foot through the subcontinent of India and was prevalent just over 500 years ago. His approach to spirituality was so relevant then as it is now. His particular brand of bhakti (devotion), entails mainly the singing of mantras to the beat of drum, so that’s what we did in Rakesh’s living room apart from speaking of Chaitanya’s effectiveness, His miracles, His charm and purity.
I felt it was my job to give these nice and attentive people acquainted with Chaitanya, who’s also known as The Golden Avatar, and whose grace and method can touch all hearts.
6 KM

Tuesday, 22 January 2013

Sunday, January 20th, 2013

A Harmony

Edmonton/Calgary

Where there is no clear sidewalk, the earth seems crispy and crusty. Thin brittle ice patches release a sweet sounding crackle under the feet. With wind-chill, the temperature is -22 C. The air is dry and clean. Thank God for all of this. It was at the end of the day that I had this opportunity to shake hands with the good side of nature.

I had been in these two perceivable competitive cities, Edmonton and Calgary, both barons of the oil industry. In fact, this whole province is laden with a beautiful snow whiteness. Underneath, it’s another world, a crude oil blackness.

I had delivered one message to the 2 communities. I spoke from the Gita explaining when the five basic subjects practically work in concert with each other, you’ve got a perfect scenario. When the jiva (soul) looks up to the ishvara (master soul) and executes actions (karma) in a timely (kala) way through the medium of prakrati (nature’s energy) then freedom can be achieved. This is the actual philosophy of the Bhagavad Gita. When you channel all your resources in service to Him, perfection is accomplished.

This message of harmony sat well with the two communities, in both Edmonton and Calgary, to the point where after sitting, literally, they were ready to leap up and they did, to dance for Krishna. In both centres there were requests for me to come again really soon. They say that not enough swamis come around. I expressed that I would do my part to change that and to welcome other teachers of bhakti yoga to their domain.

The day was full with the meeting and talking to people. As every day, I find the need for down time. As much as it is enlivening to mingle with people, there’s also a want to balance by contacting the elements with a walk and a chant.

7 KM

Saturday, January 19th, 2013

On a Christian Radio Show
 
Edmonton, Alberta
Fred has been dealing with schitzophrenia since he was young. He is regulated in taking his medication and has also prescribed himself to chanting Krishna’s mantra since the 70’s, although, he’s admitted to me, “It’s been on and off.” He is liked by the community here for being a good helper.
After a radio interview with Drew Marshall today, Fred and I went to walk through a quiet industrial park. Why quiet? Because it’s Saturday. Few businesses are open. Fred did great with chanting as we walked.
I had waited for this walk anticipating the interview for Drew’s Christian based show. While indoors it had made sense to read one of Steven Rosen’s latest books, “Christ and Krishna: Where the Jordan Meets the Ganges”. In a spiritual cultural atmosphere, you would never call anything or any incident a coincidence. Everything is divinely arranged. I thought it was interesting that I recently acquired this excellent read, and at the same time had been slotted on my first time Christian radio show.
The interview was at 1:30 Mountain Time, live, and opened up with the song, “My Sweet Lord”. I couldn’t make out the vocalist, it sounded like James Taylor. I could be wrong. Then Drew introduced myself along with a Reverend Lillian and Tim, who I believe is a regular on the show. Drew had mentioned about his visit to our Toronto temple at Christmas time. He asked me amicably the same question on the show as he did when he visited us. It went something like this:
“So, Hare Krishna. It conjures up images of bald heads, robes, tambourines, airports, selling flowers and so on.” I explained about our historical background and how our guru, Srila Prabhupada, came from India to teach a higher consciousness.
A question came, “Do you believe in God?” Answer, “Yes.”
“In one God or many?”
“It’s monotheism. One God, but many manifestations of the one God.”
“What about Jesus?” I answered that we have acceptance of Jesus and that Krishna devotees see him as their guru. We say he’s an avatar. To that, Drew mentioned about James Cameron, the film director who named his latest blockbuster after this Sanskrit word. The interview went pretty smooth.
I must admit that I was ready to be thrown a curve ball. Something to the sound of, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one cometh unto the Father but through me.” It is that exclusivistic statement that so often a Christian follower poses.
Well, in Steven Rosen’s book, he explores the quote from John, 14.6 of the Bible, translated from the original Greek as meaning, “I am the way, the truth and the light and no one presently comes to the Father except through me.” The critical word appears to be erkatai. Rosen explains that this is an extremely present tense form of the verb.
Anyways, such a curve ball never came on the interview. No such challenge. I wouldn’t have minded, frankly.
11 KM

Sunday, 20 January 2013

Friday, January 18th, 2013

Good Season

Edmonton, Alberta

Winter really is a good time for contemplation, for meditation, for planning. There’s something about the winter that’s great. Maybe it’s the quiet that kills the passions and the coolness that arrests the wildness. Though it’s Friday and a mad rush with automobiles persists with weekend anticipation, walking, which has a standard moderate pace, brings me a calm.

At Edmonton’s south east end, by Radha Govinda’s Cultural Centre, I braved a consistent obstacle course – traffic, water puddles, snow banks, ice patches and no cleared sideways – made it kind of fun and challenging. The air was good and it was a 5 degree plus temperature. It’s definitely not the proper condition for delicate dhotis (lower body robes), and I find myself apologetic to those who know me within our devotional community who may meet me as I’m just about to leave or just having returned from the building. “The sweatpants are practical,” I explained.

The only other explanation, and a more solid one that I delivered today came in the shape of an eveing discourse on the five basic subjects of the Gita. In alphabetical order they are, ishvara, jiva, karma, kala, and prakriti, which is translated respectively as the source, the soul, action, time and nature. Few people came to listen at the Cultural Centre, but they came with great questions.

Winter is a good time for this stuff, contemplation, meditation, planning, and for questions and answers.

5 KM

Saturday, 19 January 2013

Thursday, January 17th, 2013

He Was Bold

Toronto, Ontario

I would say he was bold doing what he did.

I had completed about 30 correspondences feeling some cabin fever and the need to get out, so I ventured south on Yonge Street to King, and then turned back. At College Street, there he was zipping by, one of our members, having just returned from an enthusiastic drum lesson at our temple, he was enthusiastically chanting the melody to the maha mantra. He had no musical accompaniment, it was just himself and his voice. He was oblivious.

He was also very loud and if happiness was to have its last chance before doomsday, he had it, all over his face. I turned to catch his attention shouting, “Haribol!” and then, “Haribol!” once again (a phrase we use quite commonly), but he just kept going and turned a corner at a fast pace. People were moving about at that corner, it was cold. The drizzled snow, the kind that annoyingly itches the nose, was coming down, causing pedestrians to go at a faster than normal speed. People obviously heard him, they looked at him at least twice, and me, who was anxious for his attention.

If anything I felt ashamed that I wasn’t applying gusto to the mantra like he was. I was like a mouse. It was hopeless trying to catch this one person singing on the street for two reasons: he’s in his 20’s, I’m 60, he was going fast. Secondly, he just wasn’t able to hear anything except for his own chanting. And besides, his toque was blocking his ears from any external sounds.

I thought, “This boy is in ecstasy, let me not disrupt him.” It’s not often that people sing on the streets, and less so if they haven’t had a few drinks or even one. Knowing this devotee, he’s as clean as a whistle when he comes to honouring our Krishna Conscious taboos. I was happy for him.

His courageousness reminded me of the time that I was about to become a monk. It was around New Years in ’73. I was hitchhiking northbound towards my art college. I had sported long hair and beard, which was typical in those days, and I had unabashedly sported stark white tilak (earth based sacred substance), on my forehead, looking like some wild warrior. I had no apprehension about it, and in fact, nor did motorists. It was a cinch getting rides. I felt proud being a rep of Vishnu, with such loud markings on the face for all to see.

I was happy to have been at Yonge and College this evening, having heard the devotee chant the maha mantra. It made my day seeing and hearing the street chanter. I was struck by insomnia, however, afterwards. It’s rather usual.

8 KM

Thursday, 17 January 2013

Wednesday, January 16th, 2013

Tana Was Found
 
Toronto, Ontario
Tana was found (refer to yesterday’s entry). A neighbour saw Tana, a Siberian Husky, missing one leg, meandering in the park where she lost track of her owner. The neighbour brought the pet back to her home.
“That was a display of neighbourliness,” I said to the relieved owner, the name of whom I don’t know. You get to know the dog or the master, the saying is, ‘You love me, you love my dog’.
I really enjoyed the trek today taken at dusk or near dusk taken at 4:30 PM. Admittedly, the days are slowly getting longer. By the time I left Moore Park and then Rosedale Valley Road, it was clearly dark 2 hours later. I had chanted that whole time. I got my walking and chanting in for the day.
What else?
It struck me that having been away from Canada for a week and in the safe haven of the devotee community of Houston for that time, I’d been cut off from mundane goings on. “What’s going on with the news lately?” I thought. Even though a friend of mine, a temple goer, recently said, “I’m on a news fast,” I was curious to know the latest. The last breaking news item that I recall was the tragedy in Connecticut where innocent children were shot to death in a school. I had asked one of the younger monks in the ashram to pick up a news paper. “Here’s a dollar.” He came back with the Toronto Star. The jist of the news wasn’t really that exciting, yet as a leader of a community, I feel obliged to be a little informed. I was merely reminded of the trivial nature of the global scene. More unrest in the middle east, a renowned champion cyclist admits to steroid taking, and after a long strike, the NHL National Hockey League gets back into action.
I became informed but I didn’t become enlightened. This is a confession from a cynic of sorts. Even cynics may have something truthful to say.
 
I looked at the back cover of a book by Carl Woodham, entitled: A God Who Dances: Krishna for You, before retiring for the evening. There’s a quote there from existentialist Nietzsche, and the quote is, “If they want me to believe in their God, they’ll have to sing me better songs… I could only believe in a God who dances.”
Reading that was good news.
10 KM

Tuesday, January 15th, 2013

Losing Yourself
 
Toronto, Ontario
Losing something dear to you can be the most unnerving thing. Losing a friend or family member through death is critical, or even for a monastic person to have his or her japa meditation beads being misplaced and not recovering them can be a great loss. I’ve experienced it.
Today while trekking the Belt Line Ravine, an elderly woman I met was also trekking into the ravine with two dogs. She ended up losing one, and in a kind of panic she asked about her 3 legged Siberian Husky that goes by the name of Tana. I was not quite sure how to appease the dog owner, I tried, at least I wished for Tana’s return.
I guess the worst thing you can lose is yourself. That appears to be the situation for most of us. Somehow or other we’ve got ourselves into entanglements of all kinds. Our souls get buried in the mire of maya. Maya means illusion, or that which is not. Maya manifests in the form of mistaking the body for the self, hence, the soul proper becomes obscured.
As we learn from the Gita, the soul cannot be destroyed by any means, but it can in fact become covered over by layers of deception. Why would anyone want to lose their soul? Why would anyone want to deny their very own self? Yet, it goes on on a mega scale.
“Don’t lose your grip or traction,” I had to remind myself while making my way through the ice lane trail. “Don’t lose your grip on life, your purpose, your being. Trust in the reality of the spiritual self. I am a spark of life, a spark that doesn’t become extinguished… ever. If I engage in devotional service I will keep that spark glowing. Once I stop thinking about other’s needs and zero in only on my bodily needs, I’m doomed. The spark becomes concealed.
I do hope that Tana is found, even though I may learn she could be gone for this life.
Let’s not get lost.
9 KM

Tuesday, 15 January 2013

Monday, January 14th, 2013

I’ll Take a Person Over a Machine
 
Houston/Toronto
While in Houston I had the opportunity to meet Alfred Brush Ford, the great grandson of Henry Ford, the genius inventor of the automobile. Alfred (also known as Ambarish) is a devout practitioner of bhakti. We happen to be friends. In the course of the dialogue I mentioned to him, “I hope you don’t mind me saying this, but I don’t like cars.” And he admitted, saying in response, “I don’t care for them either.”
We did not get into the reasons why, we didn’t go there. It was assumed that industrialization in general has taken a toll on a more agrarian and devotional lifestyle. He one time gave a comment in a discussion we had in Florida that technology has changed the world.
Who can deny that?
And, as I made for my boarding pass at the Houston International Airport, I had to cope with one of those self service machines. All went well until at the end of pressing a button a zillion times, that I must pay for my checked in baggage with a credit card only. The machine doesn’t take cash. So I, as a simpleton monk was stuck with a blank look on my face, and a big question,“What to do?”
I searched for an assistant who was helpful and said, “Just keep your baggage here and go to that machine (pointing to another one) where you can get a short term credit card.” Now, I’m a monk and I don’t have credit cards. “Thank you,” I said, partially meaning it. I was resentful and I guess I showed it somewhat. Apologetically she said,“Sorry, but that’s the way we do it now.”
Somewhere, someone, someday, I hope that it will be explained to me how such matters are supposed to simplify life. It may take a kalpa (Hindus and Buddhists know the length of time I’m talking about here) to be convinced about the advantages of such impersonal approaches. In the mean time I will clench my teeth or grit my teeth with a fake smile and learn the art of tolerance. After all, what is perfect in this world? Personally, I’d just rather talk to people for a minute than to deal with a mundane machine for 5 minutes.
Chant Hare Krishna and be happy.
5 KM

Sunday, January 13th, 2013

Who You’re With
 
Houston, Texas
It takes hours to let adrenaline come to a calm before hoping to achieve real sleep. Last evening our crew of actors from Toronto, in collaboration with Houston youth, staged “Gita: Concise”. It was presented before a tired audience, members who sat in for meetings all day. But, they were a captive group and they let us know that they approved of the approach and the concepts used. We got excited.
Just to assist in the calming of the adrenaline, I resorted to the usual technique of walking. It was a gamble dealing with weather because of the on/off showers. Sing Lung, one of the devotee actors from Toronto, joined me in the residential street stroll. Here is a genuine human being. Sing Lung has headed up the Krishna Club at York University Campus for several terms. He loves chanting on his meditational beads and overall enjoys engaging in bhakti yoga and the devotional service that comes along with it. He takes lessons in modern dance, especially break dance. This makes him a fit candidate for the dramas I compile. He does this slinky rendition of The Mind in the current drama. When he makes his appearance with all these contorted images, it just creates an outburst.
Sing Lung is a superb fellow as an artist and a human being. When I count the quantity and quality of people over the years that have tagged along next to me or I to them, I can say it amounts to a lot. I am grateful for the good company. I sometimes venture alone, sometimes with others, the balance is good.
2 KM

Saturday, January 12th, 2013

Planned Celebration
 
Houston, Texas
I like the phrase that came from our guru, “Even if everything seems hopeless, I still don’t give up hope.” This is how it was put by one of the presenters at the meetings in Houston. That’s inspirational.
I sat in with a committee that brainstormed on what we could possibly do to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Krishna Movement, founded by the person who did not ever give up hope, His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. He took the practice of bhakti, which is as old as nature itself, the science of devotional service, from the heartland of India, and transplanted it to the west. Perhaps the word ‘transplant’ is not the correct word, maybe ‘grafted’ is a more appropriate word because he added to the culture of the west an eastern branch. It was definitely a new and refreshing branch, this life of bhakti, devotion. It was nothing short of something like the giving of an olive branch (and I love olives).
A convener to the 50th anniversary group is a young bright devotee from Boston, Maha Vishnu. I offered my idea of taking a walk from Boston to New York City, the 50 year mark of when our guru landed on American soil was 1965 in September at Boston Harbor. This specific service of a trek would be a solo walk with a back up person who would drive, contact media, provide lunch and take up numerous other things. Each evening we could hold a program at some center or studio and conduct kirtan and memories of the early days. The evening program could be highlighted by a special guest who may have been an early participant and spent time with “Swamiji” in the 60’s in New York and Boston.
I believe such a program to be hopeful and so I threw the suggestion out there, hoping for support. Indeed, the devotees at the round table responded well to the idea. The planning of such an event, the 50th anniversary, warrants attention as a significant historical mark reached by a spiritual organization.
6 KM

Friday, January 11th, 2013

After A Long Day
 
Houston, Texas
After a long day at a leader’s session which involved a presentation by myself on my pilgrimage in Cuba and a drama practice, I took to West Street going east. I crossed a major juncture where you end up at one of the monstrously large parking lots so common in the US. At the plaza there I met a young couple sitting with some colourful liquid in their hands. They were seated outside a cafĂ© and they called for my attention.
“Are you Hare Krishna?” they asked. I was trekking, but they pulled me in because they said the right thing.
“I’m a member,” I admitted. They were curious about what we do in our nearby temple. They were also serious when they asked me if we brewed beer in our sanctuary. They had a certain perception about us I guess, and it wasn’t necessarily a bad one. They like drinking, in fact I was wondering why they hadn’t visited us already.
“What do you believe?” they wanted to know.
“We are all spirits,” I started off.
“I like that… “ said he.
“We are on a journey… “
“That’s great,” said she.
“I went on and explained the essence of our practices that it takes on the form of mantra chanting. I presented to her a card with the maha (great) mantra on it. She attempted the mantra. That little endeavour, even while being a little tipsy, was an act of service to God. I would have loved to have spent more time with the two. I do find that speaking to people in a not so straight state to not always be so productive, but then again, I should hope by my little endeavour to reach out to some nice folks, was also a small act of service. I could have brushed them off when they called me over. In all honesty I do like to connect with people every day of my life, people that are outside my comfort zone.
Let me correct myself, connecting with anyone on spiritual terms, however big or small, is my comfort zone.
5 KM

Thursday, January 10th, 2013

Meek Little Friend
 
Houston, Texas
In my exploration in the neighbourhood near the temple I couldn’t get to know people so well. Runners pass by me, also a woman with baby in her stroller pass by me. An elderly man in a pickup, relaxed there, just taking things in. He nodded and said hello. At Bayou City, a large fitness place, folks were working out. A young couple in a parked vehicle by the park were a little friendly with each other. And of all things that stood out to me on this humble pedestrian expedition was this beautiful sole red mushroom situated in the midst of a patch of green grass.
He was just that, a red mushroom. First of all, I had never seen a red mushroom before. I had to ponder, what’s his purpose? The answer that came was ‘to provide food for some creature or creatures’. And then I thought another response could be ‘to just be there and just be beautiful for others to see’.
This reminded me of the message given by Romapada Swami in the morning class about sva-bhava, this is a Sanskrit term that refers to an individual’s purpose or nature. For the red mushroom I had concluded that the little guy was there to give joy to someone, which he did – me.
A question that often times comes to me from people is ‘what is my dharma, duty or purpose in life?’ Implying, ‘What career do you think is best for me or how do I know what is best for me? In which direction should I go in pursuing a contribution to society?’ To this, I say something like ‘If you are doing what you like to do, then consider the activity to be natural.’ This then, refers to the sva-bhava of an individual.
There are four basic human types psychophysically according to the Gita. People need to explore, especially when young, one’s sva-bhava in order to hit the right track.
My little friend, the 2 inch tall glossy red mushroom, may be one day liberated from this world. In the meantime he’s doing a small service. At least, he, my meek little friend, caught my interest and he helped me to develop appreciation for the creator.
5 KM

Wednesday, January 9th, 2013

Example Is Best
 
Houston, Texas
A progenitor of the world has fathered many children, and they were in turn expected to do the same –populate the world. The children, all boys, were groomed as youthful monks who performed austerities and were anticipated to be future family men. They were well behaved, cultured individuals. They were pious.
A lifelong monk came to the location where the young men were leading a simple existence. He examined them and finds them fit candidates for a higher level of education, such as seeking liberation from this world. The young monks eagerly consumed the information and become determined that they will be celibate for life, much to the dismay of their father. He had another program in mind. The boys took to the unpleasant approach of disobedience to their father. They wanted to transcend, which is the ultimate purpose in human life. Education does, or should lead to this point – transcendence.
This interesting story (and there’s more to it) is what I was speaking about from the book, Bhagavatam, Canto 6. The message I was trying to emphasize was that while it’s good to be pious, it’s more important to eventually transcend and to go beyond levels of piety and the conventional life of being proper and good. The class today was not scheduled for anyone to give, but I was there and was happy to sit there on the chair and speak to a group of eager souls who wanted to hear an important message for the day. In the life of a monk, one is not just set to do some walking on pilgrimage, but it’s about teaching through precepts and examples. So I was doing the precepting, we just have to make sure that we’re going to try to be the good example as well. So, having the opportunity to speak to people on the topic of spiritual life just reminds me that I must walk my talk.
5 KM

Friday, 11 January 2013

Tuesday, January 8th, 2013

Texas Ain’t What It Used To Be
 
Houston, Texas
The usual impression of Texas is of cowboys and aliens, of oil, of dry desert and cactus plants. But coming for a landing on Flight 8111 on Air Canada, on the flat airfield revealed something else. It’s monsoon like out here; the clouds are thick and rain is dense. Going down the tarmac I came upon white, black and Hispanic employees. Once being met by Anish and Ganesh, two young men from our community here, we drove down a series of highways to reach the Krishna temple on West Street.
We saw no horses or cowboys with hats. Images of what you might see from an old Clint Eastwood movie are totally dispelled. We are in Houston today.
I caught up on sleep in a nice apartment assigned to myself and three others yet to come from Canada. I then took the opportunity to chant japa on my beads in a large cavernous room, the future site of the actual temple. I could envision in the months to come a space full of deities, of pujari priests and of music and sounds sublime. There will be a softness to cover the current hard concrete in the way of drapes and colours. It will be a space for the spirit, defying the mundane. It will transform gorgeously.
Rain persisted while I insisted, and not being perturbed. I kept pacing in this space which will soon see the finest incense bellowing in the air. So I paced in the joy, knowing that this will be a new destination point for pilgrimage.
In stepping out off the property I could see that Houston is definitely not a place for getting on your saddle, but rather it’s about getting in your car. Not everybody is up for a steak dinner, in fact, in Houston, like many cities in North America, vegetarianism is on the rise. And as far as pedestrians are concerned, I don’t see a whole lot of them, but at least through automation, people will be drawn to a temple that will be magnifique, as it is already challenging the square boxed architecture of the neighbourhood with its towering domes.
4 KM

Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Monday, January 7th, 2013

Today It Was Jessica

Toronto, Ontario

Today Jessica was the victim of slippery trails. My walking team, volunteers from our community, has expanded to four – a monk, Uttama, myself, a young man Hitesh, and Jessica. No one was really prepared for this feat, hence, some footwear lacked traction. It was Jessica who flew up in the air and landed happily, we laughed.

I warned everyone, even reminded myself that you must learn how to fall. It’s like life, expect some tripping around in this world, we’re kind of clumsy by nature. An elderly woman with her Husky dog remarked that it’s difficult to get a grip. “Walk along the unpounded snow,” she recommended.

Indeed our pedestrian contingent paid heed to her words. We realized that the Earth, that is our foundation, is so much taken advantage of. Indeed the Earth on which we walk is not something you can always have implicit faith in. There’s erosions, floods, earthquakes, and then it gets covered with la neige, which creates a whole new sensation. When Bhumi, Mother Earth, disappears before our very eyes, you have to question the concreteness of our world, the ground beneath.

The Vedas describe disillusion, nature’s elements consume each other. Earth, water, fire, air and ether swallow each other. And then finally the conglomerate of all the elements becomes consumed by the source, Vishnu. The gigantic Vishnu has taken horizontal postures in divine slumber and lies there pregnant with all that is matter and all that is spirit; that includes us, the infinitesimal atmas, spirit souls. Eventually, we could come back for another round of trying to get some grounding. When we turn to the source and go for the shelter it provides for us, we can then bid farewell forever to all the mundaneness. That will be a glorious exit.

8 KM

Monday, 7 January 2013

Sunday, January 6th, 2012

Crack!

Owen Sound, Ontario

The sound of a mrdanga drum breaking cracks my heart. Such happened this morning in the home of Garuda Vahan, my past cross country walking support person. It happened in this building, an old church that had been turned into a Pottery Barn, now an open concept apartment. Garuda’s son, Tulsi, picked up the clay drum. The strap broke, causing this precious musical instrument to hit the floor… CRACK!

I could let one heart attack go, but this was the 2nd drum crack within 24 hours. Last evening our best sounding drum was placed in the trunk of a car destined for a home program. When reaching that place, our drummer opened the back door, causing the drum to roll out, CRACK! OUCH!

My consolation to this is looking out the window of the arched window at the fresh snow fall. The view opens up to beautiful Georgian Bay. It’s relieving somewhat. When I turned around I saw the Niagara Escarpment behind me and I’m told that there are hundreds of trails on top of this ridge with its old limestone rock. More comfort.

When you attempt to play a cracked terra cotta instrument, it has lost its tone. Tulsi tried to keep a happy face of optimism. Okay, but these musical treasures, mrdanga drums, are a little hard to come by, they are not available like a slurpy drink found in the local convenience store. New drum means a trip to India and to an exclusive workshop in a remote village somewhere in West Bengal.

Since this beautiful sounding percussion becomes the heartbeat of kirtan that consoles the soul, it becomes a heartbreaker when a tiny damage is done. Fortunately two other mrdangas were available to compensate for the loss of one. The Hannah family who hosted the program along with Rajesh approached the kirtan with such enthusiasm, that we ultimately overcame any sorrow.

Jaya! (Victory). Heart Repaired!

0 KM

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Main Feature

Scarborough, Ontario

I will soon be addressing the issue of itchy feet, antsy body and restless mind by doing some real travel. I relish the ravine hikes done locally, but it’s time to move on and accept the mendicant’s curse. I’ve been spending time with families at their homes conducting satsang, gatherings of enlightenment. Last evening it was a home program where ten young families attended. Tonight, it was at least 25 families. Tomorrow it will be a trip to the northern city of Owen Sound for more of the same, chanting and dancing and with families. It was within no more of 2 minutes of arriving home from this evening’s satsang that I received a call. “Jack is going fast. It looks like he’s going to pass away within minutes.” And so it was within minutes that I arrived at Scarborough General Hospital to see Jack and his immediate and extended family. Before arriving, the family, being attuned to such preparation for when a dear one is about to depart for a better world, Kith and Kin were engaged in japa, chanting on their beads. Jack’s mom, 86, just arrived from Guyana for a last exchange with her son who is dying from lung cancer. She was also chanting.

This is the highlight of our culture – the chanting. It’s our heartbeat, our lifeblood and prime pulsation. This main feature of all events has been a full swing function for 3 generations of families for the Krishna Consciousness movement. Historically, the use of mantra power has been prevalent for not hundreds but thousands of years in the subcontinent of India. Whether someone was expressing themselves through dhyana yoga (meditative yoga) or sacrificial ceremonies or elaborate rituals, through the ages the consistent feature of Vedic piety was sound that liberates.

Whether in the midst of families or singles or amongst the trees, prairie grass or snow, the mantra Hare Krishna will be under the divine spotlight for me.

8 KM

Saturday, 5 January 2013

Friday, January 4th, 2013

Don’t Be An Ass
 
Etobicoke, Ontario
No one wants to be called ill names, however guilty one may be of some wrong doing. A harsh word lodged at you is an ultimate attack on the ego. There are colourful words out there that might very honestly be characteristic of an individual. It’s hurtful when reality strikes in the form of derogatory nomenclature, when a word like ‘ass’with a tail end term happens to land at the side line openings of your head.
In the literature of Srila Prabhupada the phrase ‘ass’ is often used to denote the classic image of a labour intensive workaholic who is like a beast of burden – like a mule or donkey like creature. The word in Sanskrit for such a person, mudha, pronounce ‘moodha’. Generally in an ashram setting where I live such pejorative terms are rarely used towards each other. We try to get along. The word mudha is used however in the sense of describing what might be a brain dead, routine bound person. Mind you, hard work is favourable, but when divested of real purpose in life, one has to question.
Here’s an excerpt from the Gita, 7.15, the purport:
“The mudhas are those who are grossly foolish, like hardworking beasts of burden. They want to enjoy the fruits of their labour by themselves, and so they do not want to part with them for the Supreme. The typical beast of burden is the ass. This humble beast is made to work very hard by his master. The ass does not really know for whom he works so hard day and night. He remains satisfied by filling his stomach with a bundle of grass, sleeping for a while under fear of being beaten by his master, and satisfying his sex appetite, at the risk of being repeatedly kicked by the opposite party. The ass sings poetry and philosophy sometimes , but this braying sound only disturbs others. This is the position of a foolish worker who does not know for whom he should work. He does not know that karma (action)is meant for yajna (sacrifice).”
Again, work is a good thing, but it doesn’t need to take on the flavour of being a zombie.
3 KM

Thursday, January 3rd, 2013

Puneet’s First
 
Toronto, Ontario
I promised Puneet I would take him on one of those slippery and sliding treks down a trail. He took me up on it and so off we went down snow and ice. The night was lit with the snow, for Puneet whose rather fresh out of India, this was a remarkable experience. For him, it was a silvery silence like he’d never known before.
Being a bachelor, Puneet could manage the time with me which were our own moments for quiet. We agreed to hearing only our mantras as we clutched on to our meditation beads. We saw no soul down this ravine and apart from each other, heard no soul other than two raccoons in a tree brawl. The jet black creek contrasted the white around, it was stunning.
The trail seemed to be ours, and yet it wasn’t because someone had laid it out for us and for others. Guess who? We just happened to be the happy users. At slopes we struggled to get up and down, tree trunks were our saving grace, they were our anchors for an unsteady footing.
I recall this one slope that I tackled in ’95, the year before I took my first trek across Canada. I had taken prudent strides and tried to grab any semblance of bush. Once I reached near the summit of the slippery slope, a skunk stood there with his tail rising. He readied to spray his harsh juices. I had decided at that point to let go and to be detached from my prowess at the hard labour done. I slid right back from where I came from at the base, going backwards, reluctantly of course. I then waited for the furry guy to move on before I made another attempt at ascending. I thought it was a wise move. I just had a good laugh thinking about it. Perhaps in a future walk, I’ll explain the reason for my sudden and subtle outburst. We had committed to silence and to chanting our japa mantras on this ice and snow journey. All was good.
8 KM

Friday, 4 January 2013

Wednesday, January 2nd, 2013

Something to Consider

Toronto, Ontario

We have all heard sad stats of the screen immersion by our kids – things like the average child in North America spending 15 – 25 minutes playing outside each day, and some 7 ½ hours in front of a screen. Another discovery is the 80% of 5 year olds who are computer users.

An article was forwarded to me showing negative effects of the lack of outdoors, author Kevin Charles Redman wrote about research done by psychologists on a word play called “Remote Associates Test” or “RAT”, a study on creativity and intuition. Whatever studies have been done on the human brain to do with technology is limited, less than even the brain on drugs – the many social psychologists are concerned about the negative effect the screen exposure has on our neural circuitry. I felt a lift reading this article after I returned from almost a 2 hour jaunt in the snow bound ravine. I felt I was doing the right thing. This one professor of cognition at the University of Utah, David Strayer, expressed that his thoughts were more fluid and that the brain felt more limber on back country trips while his undergraduates also felt a mental boost from camping trips. To quote from the article, “The RAT was easy to administer – no laptops involved. 56 students were given the test; half took it before their course began and half took it midway through. The results were striking. Students who took the test after a four day immersion in the back country scored 50% higher than their course mates.”

As I read this and more, you can imagine my elation. If science is totally behind the culture of doing what’s more natural, perhaps this kind of information on the experiments and results could penetrate the educational channels much more. I am saddened that at the same time we have the high percentage of non adventuresome folks for natural settings, for walking, etc.; we are in a sedentary slump. It would be interesting to see the long term effects of being in the trenches of technology, especially when devoid of any spiritual inkling.

8 KM

Wednesday, 2 January 2013

Monday, December 31st, 2012

A Mental Award
 
Toronto, Ontario

Every day of my life I like to pick out a personal ‘hero for a day’.
My criterion is that the candidate must be do something inspiriting, something to reflect the qualities of a saint. This can apply to anyone, in or outside the jurisdiction of the ashram that I live in. I do not consciously look for the individual that demonstrates traits of humility, tolerance, patience, hard work, or resilience in the form of being encouraging, maybe even smiling a lot. These people just show up, perhaps they are sent to me to give me a lesson.
I sometimes catch a glimpse on the street of a less fortunate soul who can emulate a quality of strength through transcending the cold or the lack of attention given by the public. To get to my ‘hero for a day’ for this last day of the year I internally honour the visitor to our ashram from Vancouver. His name is Patrick. His origin, I’m not sure – African decent to be certain. Having volunteered to hold the massive speaker on his shoulder in order to amplify our kirtan chanting, Patrick became that hero in my book. After some time he shifted the weighty object from shoulder to the top of his head, obviously a smart move. During the countdown to mark the end of an interesting year, Patrick held it there, it seemed like forever. Our kirtan was not held in an indoor venue, but our usual spot, in front of the prestigious Old City Hall. The temperature was below zero. Snowflakes of the crystal kind slowly descended from above. There were not many, but they were queued at the height or climax of the kirtan. And then, after the fluffy flakes landed (flower petals from the gods) hefty snowballs shot in the air. There was no malicious intent. People were in a good spirit (on spirits).
One of those great white balls of glory hit Patrick, smack in his beautiful black face and beard, while his full dreadlocks were liberated from the onslaught. I peered over at him having viewed one of those flying objects that smacked his face. I was curious as to his reaction. All I can say is that he took it so well. He broke into a contagious smile. It was all just part of the celebration. I would say that this was my last most impressive image for 2012. My mental award goes to Patrick. Thank you, Patrick, for being such a good sport and reflecting the glow of the soul.
10 KM

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Sunday, December 30th, 2012

The Garbage Truck

Toronto, Ontario

The garbage truck made its clamour consuming his food. The one who fed him was his driver. The truck seemed hungry and it moved along at each block enjoying tasty morsels of plastic and paper goods.

I was there along Yonge Street in the evening when the mechanical monster stopped at every municipal street bin. It was remarkable the timing. The truck would stop and the driver pull out grabbing a full bag to toss in as my walking pace brought me right there. The driver saw me in sync at each interval, but his glance was blank. The truck seemed more animated than him, I’m sorry to say. At least they looked or worked like a team. I don’t consider that the guy has a loathsome job. Being a monk, and a happy one, I like my vocation, and I would say that I’m not really envious of the chap’s good salary. I appreciate it that he’s working.

I made my trek to reach the Sony Centre, 4.5 km from the ashram. My hand was on my beads the whole time. For half of that distance I was connecting with the garbage man. And while I’m doing my dharma, praying for a better world, he was doing his dharma, cleaning up what other people rejected. It’s service in some shape or form. Time was running late, there was only 60 minutes remaining before the last day of the year was to dawn. It was a good day, very full. Krishna sent me great people to work with on our production back at the ashram. Patrick, a sound expert from Vancouver, volunteered his time. Fil, as an actor, is just great as Arjuna, and so was Jagannatha, pulling off his Krishna role in a smooth way. Sagar and Sing are swanky dancers, and Yogendra is the adorable elephant God, Ganesh.

We are all playing parts in a drama. In the late night walking I passed by someone who’s a beggar, someone is a police officer, someone is a garbage collector, and I am the monk. We all play some role.

Somehow if we could rock and role it out in Krishna’s service, there will be some peace.

9 KM

Saturday, December 29th, 2012

Another Wedding

Markham, Ontario

Another wedding got underway; this time it was a young couple, a Croatian fellow and his young bride Pranesvari from India. We wish them well.

As a service I am asked to say a few words at such a ceremony. I always feel empowered with a Gita in my hands when I open to a page of magic and wonder. The verse is sometimes random that I select, but this morning at this wedding, I was choosy, being inspired by the early reading from verse 7.14.

Daivi hi esa guna mayi… explains that the three modes of material nature as goodness, passion and ignorance are categorized as the divine energy of God. They are not listed as mundane, but as divine. This struck a curiosity in me upon my first reading and I’m sure it does others who read this passage. It’s easy to comprehend that a good walk is divine, but how can death, a feature of this world, be divine? Can a heap of garbage be divine? Can a devastating war be considered divine? Ultimately, yes, because the source of this all is divine. There is something sacred behind everything. This concept is a very interesting one to explore.

Of course, the wedding is a divine or spiritual event, specifically, because Krishna is the chosen center of this relationship (and by now I guess you could pick up that we are using the word divine as a synonym to the word spiritual).

With this logic “everything is divine because it’s source is divine”, Can we then label everything as such? In one sense you can, because what is not linked to the absolute? Perhaps we can settle for the terminology, ‘divine’ and ‘more divine’.

For the evening I partook in another more divine event – a satsang, gathering of chanters in Markham, in the home of Dwarka. What I like about the lead singer Ajamil is that he keeps to traditional melodies. That’s a rarity. These melodies invoke the right mood or spirit.

8 KM