Sunday, August 7th, 2016
‘The Walking Monk’ Hangs up Shoes in Nebraska
Allison Sommerfeld, #4165, a police officer, pulled over and offered to shake my hand. She read the following article in today’s “Journal Star” by Lindsay Esparrago:
Bhaktimarga Swami has trekked across Canada four times covering over 17,000 miles on foot.
Often known as “the walking monk,” Swami followed his first walk from his homeland of Canada in 1996, by traveling across Ireland, Israel, the Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad, Guyana and other countries, to promote simple living and peace.
It was in 2016 when the 63-year-old Hare Krishna monk told himself, “If I don’t do the USA, I’m not a complete monk.”
So he’s living up to his reputation as “the Forrest Gump of Hare Krishna,” he said with a laugh.
In honor of his spiritual teacher, A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Srila Prabhupada and his contributions, his decision to walk was final. Prabhupada brought the Hare Krishna tradition to the U.S. at the age of 70. The walk celebrates the 50th anniversary of his guru’s introduction of “green style living” to the 50 states.
With his bright orange robe -- often mistaken for an orange prison jumpsuit -- and his tan, go-to Crocs, he embarked on his 3,000 mile journey from New York City to San Francisco.
But on Saturday night, after his stay in Lincoln, Swami has decided to put his U.S. excursion to rest until next summer, when he will return back where he started in Lincoln and continue on to San Francisco.
He thought Lincoln’s “middle of the country” location was the perfect stopping point for now.
His reasoning is simple, much like his lifestyle. Beyond his marathon walking and duties as a monk, Swami keeps himself busy as a Bhakti yoga and mantra meditation instructor. He’s also a playwright, producer and director of live “morality theatre” -- productions based on enlightening tales from ancient India.
“I’m just breaking it up,” Swami said. “I have a lot of other responsibilities as a monk. It’s a pretty busy community.”
His choice to stop after he reaches York on Sunday has nothing to do with a nervous breakdown or his legs giving out, he said. Each day he walks 20 miles in about 10 to 12 hours, sometimes getting up as early as 3:30 a.m. Even when the hills get tough, his body doesn’t quit.
Swami said walking long distances does anything but remind him of his age. In fact, he swears it makes him feel younger. Sending a message to the youth is one of his main explanations as to why he chooses to walk.
“I want to encourage a healthy lifestyle,” he said. “We move really fast and we need to slow down. Everybody knows that, but we all need reminders.”
His reminders often come in abrupt ways as he’s walking along highways, dirt roads and bike trails. Aside from encountering at least one police officer each day and scheduled speeches and programs from time to time, many people come up and question him -- his chance to spread peace and knowledge.
Who he calls his “support person” is one of the youth he has influenced to live spiritually. So much, that 21-year-old Mandala McAllister came from Canada this time around to join in on the adventure.
McAllister drives a van a few miles ahead of Swami, checking on him every three miles to see if he needs water or any assistance. But even the 21-year-old has tried to keep up with Swami’s pace and failed, McAllister said.
But the interactions and lessons are all the same, he said.
“There’s so many nice people to meet,” McAllister said, “and I get to spend time walking with the monk. He helps me out with my spiritual life. It’s a really different experience from experiences of today’s day and age.”
It’s all about the people for Swami, too. Since his departure in the spring, Swami raved about peoples’ hospitality. Not once did the two have to camp out because strangers always offered a place to stay.
Swami said he resonated with his stopping point of Nebraska, much to his surprise. The cornfields and “farmers’ country” reminded him of home. Though he observed constant change in Nebraska -- rural and urban, conservative and liberal company -- he said he also noticed “stability in this part of the U.S.”
His journey isn't over and neither is the conversation he's started. Swami thinks he's done just enough to pick back up where he left off in Lincoln next year.
“If you just drop little seeds of interest, you get people to think more about the other side of life,” Swami said. “Giving them a little hint goes a long way.”
May the Source be with you!