Friday, July 8th, 2016
The public is responding to today’s article in The Muscatine Journal, entitled “The Walking Monk,” and subtitled “Traversing the U.S. on foot.” It was written by Emily Wenger.
MUSCATINE, Iowa— Bhaktimarga Swami, also known as "The Walking Monk," passed through Muscatine on Thursday as part of his walk across the U.S.
The 63-year-old Swami hopes to encourage people to connect with their spirituality through walking.
He began his trek in New York City and plans to finish his journey in San Francisco in the summer of 2017 after taking a break during the winter months. He timed the end of the walk to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Summer of Love.
Although his entry into Muscatine Thursday was greeted with rain, everything around him, Bhaktimarga Swami said, reminds him of his spirituality.
"So when you're outside walking seven hours a day on average you can't help but see the spiritual things that creep up around you, the rain has a message to tell you," he said, "Davenport to Muscatine has been one of the most beautiful days."
While walking to Muscatine on Highway 22, Bhaktimarga Swami said he encountered a curious police officer, and people who have offered him rides along the way. In those interactions, he said, he has seen the kindness the Midwest has to offer.
"The people have been very kind, mostly I would say, with offering rides. And then I have to disappoint them and say I can't cheat," he said.
The Swami became a monk in 1973, and said the introspective walks he has been taking for 20 years are a way to raise spiritual awareness.
"It's my calling," he said.
What Bhaktimarga Swami has noticed most is the kindness from people along the way. While traversing the U.S., he said he has had a place to sleep every night.
"The people are phenomenal, they have been really kind," he said.
Every day Bhaktimarga Swami walks around 20 miles, sometimes beginning as early as 3 a.m. to avoid the worst heat of the day. He has friends who follow him, and occasionally check in.
"He checks in sometimes just to make sure I'm still alive," Swami laughed.
He also takes occasional detours from his walks, to drive to a nearby temple to speak, but he always begins where he left off.
The Swami has crossed his home country of Canada three times (actually it’s four), and he said the Iowa cornfields remind him of home.
"The cornfields are what I grew up with," he said.
Cars have caused a disconnect among people, Swami said. Returning to walking allows personal connections to form.
"The automobile is cold, you don't really see each other," he said.
He hopes that the universal understanding about walking will help raise people's spiritual awareness.
"It is a kind of non-denominational approach to spirituality," he said.
The Swami is an instructor of bhakti yoga. Bhakti means "devotion," and he said the objective of yoga is connection with the divine.
"It's a very old traditional practice that has roots in India and like the Mississippi it flows through all people, countries, nations, and races," he said.
He is also a director and playwright of "morality stories" based on ancient Indian epics, which he said are a spiritual outlet for his creativity. Bhaktimarga Swami said walking across countries sometimes reminds him of these plays.
"When you put your feet right on the ground and you meet everybody and you see the way their hair blows, you see the skin color, you see the face of the individual whatever it may be, grumpy or cheerful, that's like having a drama in itself," he said.
That drama crosses boundaries of religion, and Bhaktimarga Swami said that while appreciating differences, the unity of people is most important.
"The diversity is beautiful but we really have to look at is the oneness factor," he said.
While moving across the country, Bhaktimarga Swami hopes to remind people of the need for human connection.
"The intent is to try to encourage people to slow down the pace of life and get connected to their soul," he said.
Beth Van Zandt took a photo whose caption reads. “It’s not every day you see a monk walking down the street of Muscatine, but, Bhaktimarga Swami of Chatham, Ontario, Canada, walks along Cedar Street Thursday in Muscatine as he treks across the United States, walking from New York City to San Francisco. He is a member of The International Society for Krishna Consciousness and has walked across Canada three times.”
May the Source be with you!