Friday, 23 November 2007

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Tuesday, November 6, 2007 Winnipeg, Manitoba
I guess I reiterate the case of the robes and how they are so eye-catching. They excite or alert the people who notice them. About three years ago I visited Orlando, Florida and stayed with a monk colleague, Trivikrama Swami, an American who took to monastic life as a Hare Krishna devotee in the late 60's. I ventured off on my own, walking through downtown. As I was nearing the core of the city, I was approached by a young chap who pulled over in his vehicle. He was a photographer, Michael Brown, on assignment for National Geographic covering the side of Mickey Mouse's domain that you never see. Michael asked me if I would be interested in being photographed viewing some of the sites of the city, both good and bad. I agreed and so the following day we roamed around the city for hours in various neighbourhoods with Mike clicking away on his state-of-the-art camera. Between shots we naturally talked about our different lifestyles with mutual respect. The photos never did appear in the National Geographic, but my point is that robes, comprised of dhoti, kurta and chadar, caught this young proffesional's eye, leading to a friendship.
While taking my daily walk in Winnipeg, this time on Portage Avenue again, I met a woman who was thrilled to spot the robes.
"Are you Hare Krishna?" she inquired.
"Yes I am," I replied.
"I have a sister in the movement. Her name is Sanga. And I'm Tracy....."
The robes did it again.
This evening I did a talk and slide show at a venue on Maryland Street. "Pilgrim power" was highlighted. The attendance was skimpy to start off with but eventually the room filled up. My objective was to attempt to mentally take the audience on the road and try to see the world differently.
7 kms

Winnipeg, Manitoba

Monday, November 5, 2007 Winnipeg, Manitoba
I was walking towards the home of my hosts for tonight's satsang, home program, when I met curious young man at the corner of Sherbrooke and Portage. As I stood there waiting for the light to change, I looked at the figure standing next to me.
"It's cold," said the oriental man.
"Yes, it has suddenly turned into winter here." After nature's dumping of hail-stones the snow flurries came.
"This is the first time I've ever seen snow," he remarked with a child's excitement in his eyes and in his voice.
"Get ready, there's more to come." I had wanted to say in an Al Jolson tone, "You ain't seen nothin' yet," but I didn't think he would understand the style or the word 'ain't.' "What country are you from?"
"Viet Nam," he replied with a smile.
We talked a little more but it was time to part and time to walk. Walking keeps you warm.
It's always the robes that initiate the friendships. Had I been wearing regular civilian clothes, the chance of meeting this fellow were slim. Another gentleman pulled over at McPhillips, got out of his car and offered a ride. That's rare in the city and in the dark. It was the robes.
Finally I reached the home of Varun and Prianka where chanting took prominence during the visit. The small gathering was pleased to pleased to recieve the sadhu (monk) as is customary for East Indian families.
7 kms

Wednesday, 7 November 2007

Lake Shebandowan, Ontario

Sunday, November 4, 2007 Lake Shebandowan, Ontario
It was the first frost felt since spring. Two associates from our mission: one Vaisnav, a father of four and devoted
to wife, hails from Brampton and the other, Nitai Rama, a monk stationed in Halifax, trekked with me on this brisk
morning along a segment of Highway 11. The sun hadn't yet glanced over treetops and not even one motorist could
claim having witnessed us delayed trick-or-treaters trekking. Yes, we were in our favorite apparel, our robes. Our
purpose for being in this northern resort area where monks rarely tread, was to attend a spiritual retreat. It was
more than a three day relaxation and break from our respective urban regions which included more delegates.
Strategic planning for the coming year was our agenda. The venue here at Lake Shebandowan is a paradise with a
serene waterfront presence at each of the cabins: the moose manor, the wolf den, and eagle roost. So review and
stategize we did.
Nearby in the city of Thunder Bay, Dr. Jani had organized for us a presentation on kirtan, chanting, at the Resting
Frog Yoga Studio in the evening. Approximately forty people turned up for the group chanting session. And chant
they did with utmost enthusiasm.
I opened up the presentation appealing to the group to put aside the misconception that we are the body, rather
we are consciousness. In 2003 in my trek across Canada, Benjamin was my companion for forty-five days. As the
childhood friend of George Harrison's son, I asked him what he recalls about George having visited his home
frequently. The late George Harrison, a bhakti-yoga himself, told the young Benji once, "Just remember one thing-
you are not this body!"
5 kms

Toronto, Ontario

Tuesday, October 30, 2007 Toronto, Ontario
As I have some managerial responsibilities with our centres across Canada and now including Miami, Florida, it has
me grounded at desk and chair for a portion of the day. Telephone and computer assistance work becomes routine
work in addition to overlooking other administrative affairs.
This evening was a fine time at the Yoga Studio situated near Yonge and Bloor. Thirty enthusiastic spiritual seekers
come to hear about yoga walking and pilgrim power. We spoke about everything from bear wncounters to police
interaction, from foot pain to body exhilaration and from many road challenges to winning them over.
After the talk we all engaged in a fifteen minute session on japa chanting which was followed up by a fine
indulgence in some splendid food, all vegetarian and all blessed. It was meant to be a 2 hour session but everyone
was relishing each others company so much we went way overtime.
10 kms

Windsor, Wallaceburg, Ontario

Monday, October 29, 2007 Windsor, Wallaceburg, Ontario
Windsor is the Canadian counterpart to Detroit as a former stronghold of the automobile manufacturing. Inlike
Detroit it is neat, clean and relatively safe. A so-called productive casino, one of the countries most lucrative (as
I've been told) inserts a strange element to the city. Devadutta was raised here. His father still resides there. As I
have expressed before, I believe that while a monk leads a life of virtual detachment there should be no case for
disposing of humanism altogether. After all in the renouncing order one should feel enough self-confidence and
conviction in one's path spiritually that communion with kith and kin should be no threat. Devadutta's dad is most
supportive of his son's chosen spiritual path. Only if there is acute antagonism lodged against a spiritual seeker
should such association be rejected.
After the drive to Windsor and a warm visit to se his dad, Devadutta drove me to Wallaceburg. It is truly a
father/son day. I'm at the Health Unit or facility for hospital care for my dad who is 88 and dying from lung cancer.
Five siblings have come here to visit a father who is truly virtuous in many ways. As mentioned before my sense of
God-awareness was instilled in me by him so you could say he was my first guru. Just a brief visit for three hours is
not enough to express my thanks.
Devadutta mixed well with my biological family. At his best he is very sociable. I feel closer to him in some respects
being like a spiritual son to me and sharing the same living quarters in our Toronto ashram. He remarked that I have
a good family. In my mind I pondered that he has a good dad. He sure did load us down with juices and fruits for
the trip back home. We arrived at midnight and slept in a bit. It's no sin.
3 kms only

Detroit, Michigan

Sunday, October 28, 2007 Detroit, Michigan
Devadutta is a good soul and resides in the Toronto ashram. He has so many good qualities. He is appreciated by everyone except on certain moments. He is sometimes considered the moody monk. He is in good spirits today and has become my driver for a trip to the Motor City, Detroit.
The 401, Canada's busiest busiest highway, is pleasantly quiet on this fine morning while being smooth with only the occasional bump. The midway point from Toronto to Detroit on this thoroughfare is a place called London (population 200,000) Randy, who works at a printing press operation in London, is a practitioner of bhakti yoga and listens to bhajans, sanskrit songs, while at the job all day. He has hosted Devadutta and myself for a brunch of wraps. His walls are adorned with Beatle posters and other introspective-type musicians. Naturally we talked about the positive effects of spiritual music.
By mid-afternoon, Devadutta and I were at our destination, Detroit. I was asked to lead kirtan, the chanting session at the ISKCON Centre, the former home of auto baron Mr. Fisher. A scheduled group of students froma Michigan College came to observe and learn something about the oldest sustainable faith on planet earth, sanatan dharma, or Krishna Consciousness. I had the privilege of speaking on the subject of Vidura, a monk who roamed the subcontinent of India during the time of the Mahabharat. He left the Kaurava palace out of disgust. Personal insult was thrust against him by a selfish nephew, Duryodhana. This is all outlined in the epic, "Mahabharat," and it was my chance to extol the glories of a sadhu or holy man that I so much admire.
P.S. The Detroit community is warm and upbeat.
no kms on foot- lots on wheels

Toronto, Ontario

Saturday, October 27, 2007 Toronto, Ontario

It was an exciting day at the temple where I reside at 243 Avenue Road. One girl, who in her younger years, used

to visit the temple along with her parents, is now getting married. Her name is Geeta and the temple filled up with

family and friends. Two senior citizen buses pulled over in front of the building to make a visit. The place became

packed. In circumstances like this you give your best hospitality. Smiles and encouraging words become contagious.

People then leave feeling satisfied.

Even greater satisfaction stems from the menial tasks such as the clean-up after the party ended. Sweepin,

mopping and co-ordination of such with the volunteers extended the joy. From 4PM to 6PM our first rehearsal for

the upcoming play "Rolling the Dice' tok place. This time I am out of the director's chair and am taking up an acting

role as King Dhrtarastra who is a blind monarch who is overly ambitious and illustrates partiality to his own sons and

ignores the needs of his dependant nephews, the Pandavas. Stepping out of one's own comfort zone and leaping

into another body or personality through acting is the best out-of -body experience you could have.

From 6PM to 11PM was a satsang house program held in Mississauga, a suburb of Toronto. The hosts invited friends

over for mantra demonstration and then participation.

Aside from walking there are some extra curricular activities. The stretch that I did stroll was Yonge Street. With a

weekly insomnia attack I ventured the street while chanting on my beads. It was not the monk's hour but witches

hour. I set foot at midnight. At that time pedestrians are plenty.

Four young dudes were dressed as milk cartons. It was a milk promotion. All you could see was legs with large-size

boxwear to conceal everything else. Only a hole remained for the person in the costume to see where he was

walking. When a black dude walking practically next ot me saw Mr. 2%, Mr. Half and Half, Mr. Homogenized and Mr.

Soya Milk, he got a chuckle out of it. The last one, Mr. Soya Milk, he had become annoyed with and explained why.

"Soya milk-I hate the stuff. It's no good. Look at Buddha (referring to me). He doesn't like it."

"I'm not Buddha. I'm Hare Krishna." Still agitated but also curious he mistook me for saying, "Christian what?"

"Hare Krishna!"

"Oh! Hare Krishna!" The agitated dude switched moods and became as mellow as a gentle kitten. He smiled and

cozily placed his head at my chest and repeated the phrase once again, "Hare Krishna." It almost seemed like he

was ready to purr.

7 kms

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Sunday, October 21, 2007 Toronto, Ontario, Canada

My training for marathon walking took place in this city at Moore Park Ravine. Toronto is a city that is relatively flat

but it is graced with the natural seetings of ravines. When strolling in them you would find it hard to believe you are

located in an urban situation. It is truly one of the city's treasures and for many visitors the ravines remain a best

kept secret for some unknown reason.

The colour and smell of autumn leaves is a treasure for sight and scent combined with the Indian summer airs that

bring out the best in the occasional pedestrian here. If you were to meet the same kind of passerby on Yonge

Street, the city's main thoroughfare on foot, you would swear that they were not the same person. Like a switch

that goes on and off, change the environment of someone and you change the person. It's like the difference

between night and day.

My guru, Srila Prabhupada, explained that the country is the mode of goodness, the city is the mode of passion and

the brothels are the mode of ignorance. It's a blessing to be able to escape from traffic aggravation in order to

release and relax in the ravine. One more thing that Prabhupada emphasized in relation to environment and the

modes of nature is that the temple atmosphere is beyond any mode of existence. It is one of transcendence.

Ultimately it is your own consciousness, or state of mind that determines the person. Physically you could be

strolling through a gorgeous nature trail but your mind could be in the gutter.

8 kms
Tuesday, Oct. 16/07
Paris, France
This is a one day stop-over in this very fashion- conscious city. Regular chanting sessions held at subway exit Ste. Eustache by local Krishna devotees means that we are seen routinely in our traditional robes, dhotis for the boys and sarees for the girls. Just to compare responses from Soweto to this bar/café culture was remarkably distinct. People were tolerant here. In most cases our little group appeared invisible to many even though to my ears the chanting was soft and sweet. Indifferent might be the appropriate word. At least in this section of town every day life seems rather imbalanced being devoid of spiritual expression.
As far as balancing acts are concerned, bartenders at the outside cafes really know how to balance their drinks on a tray with one hand and outstretched fingers. I guess some people consider the feat cultural.
Truly though, when we speak of culture we must be speaking of depth and dimension. How can life have dimension without the spiritual element?
Sunday Oct. 14/07
Soweto, South Africa
It was a two day event held yesterday and today and it’s called the festival of Chariots. Local people in the region of Mofollo Park had never seen anything like it- especially - the images in black is Jagannatha and accompanying forms are Baladeva and Subhadra. For them the sound was different, the beat of a different drum and that was enough to encourage many onlookers to jump into the fun of a procession moving party. One monk indicated that I had a knack for dancing like the black, “where do you get this from?’ “Some influence of past karma I guess”, was my response. A high point for me was reuniting with sannyasis (monks). To name them there was Kadamba Kanana Swami, the organizer of the event , Devamrita Swami, a black sannyasi who hails from New York and Kavichandra Swami, also from the U.S. who spends considerable time in the western coast of South Africa. Locally based is Bhakti Chaitanya Swami and like the others, he is a gentleman.
The length of walking today and yesterday was the length of the festival’s route, an approximate 5 or 6 kms. at the most.
Thursday, Oct. 11/07
Lenasia, South Africa
I never would have believed that there would be a chill more intense than in Canada.
This is Africa, the land of sun and heat. Central Canada had reached some roasting days and when I left it was hot, but here…it’s cold.
Rsi , my host in Lensia and I walked the length from Lenasia South to Lenasia Proper. We rapped about the environment around us and also took to chanting on our beads. We passed by an assortment of residential neighbourhoods including squatters’ camps (informal settlements). I don’t know to call it a situation of abject poverty since some dwellers own a fancy car but it certainly is another world.- a realm of crowdedness and unkempt conditions. Highway K43 is flanked by barrenness, a red rocky terrain that leads us to Nirvana Drive where the Iskcon Lenasia temple is located.
My assignment in this area of Johannesburg was to assemble in marathon-time two dramas for the weekend. The first practice was a team of black youth who utilized body language techniques and mime to re-enact the pastime of Krishna’s birth. These youths illustrate excellent body agility. Also their sense of rythum is something I’ve always marveled at. All players are from Soweto and their presentation will be something refreshing for the expected attendance of black folks.
The second drama practice centered on the symptoms of the era in which we live. Like “The Seven Deadly Sins” of Christian theology a Vedic version of personal vice portrays lust, anger, greed, madness, envy, and illusion, the agents of Kali, the master of corruption. The players here are from Durban and Soweto and I never tire of watching the organic reshaping and remodeling of a drama that has been tackled before. The lines for the character of Lust are interesting. “ I merely impel a man to enjoy himself. Then as he hopelessly struggles to satiate desires that are insatiable, I consume him.”
11 kms.

Sunday, 4 November 2007

Cuba to Canada

Thurs. Oct.3/07
Cuba - Canada
I am leaving Havana and flying back to Toronto.
I will not miss the diesel fumes spewing out of exhaust pipes. And I will not miss dog dung on the streets. But I will miss Cuba on the whole. The fine features of the place are the absence of billboards and ads of sexploitation, avocadoes, the Spanish architecture of Cathedrals and old model cars. I find the real treasure of Cuba is the people. They are genuine, warm, and display mutual respect for one another. In my communication (as best as I could do considering the language barriers) the exchange was great during walks. The saffron robes were a delight for many people. I was not seen as a threat or even any kind of tendency as such. I am looking forward to future visits.

Santa Mala, Cuba

Wed. Oct. 3/07
Santa Mala
People on the spiritual path often times read signs indicating what the future may bring and seek direction as to what project to pursue. Since my arrival to Cuba I have on the off-time been scripting a play, “Vamana” who is the walking avatar. His story is told in the book Srimad Bhagavatam in the second canto Eighth chapter, author Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. It’s fascinating.
There have been some quiet hours which allowed me to accomplish covering several pages of script. What brings me to the thought of “signs” is that by chance yesterday’s driver, Jiva’s brother-in –law is a theatre producer. Today in the home of a family in the rural district of Santa Mala the hosts were a couple, a filmmaker and she an actor of the stage.
This all just leaves me with something percolating in my head. A future stage production, perhaps! This is part of a portfolio aside from pilgrim walking. Theatre of the spirit has been my preoccupation for sometime and plenty of walking and chanting are times of inspiration that contribute to the making of a drama.
Most people, I believe, look for signs but not all trace them back to the source. I believe that’s important.


Tues. Oct. 2/07
Nature is always astonishing! This morning’s japa walk took Jiva and I to the Malecon once again. Though there is a slight breeze, sea waves crash against the sea wall and spill over with extended spray to hit two lanes of traffic.
Near the city of Matanzas nature there attracts tourists to the Bellamar cave. Jiva’s brother-in-law drove us there. A short history is that the Spanish proprietor of a piece of land had his Chinese hired hand, Mr. Wong, do some work and in the process his iron bar fell into a pit. The proprietor found enough courage to climb down and discover a wonder of crystal magic as he lit his torch. That was in 1861. As we climbed down our eyes captured a surreal appearance of pillars of lime and other deposits, stalactite and stalagmite. Some formations were hanging as if chandeliers a few meters long. Apertures leading to more darkness gave the distinct feel of another world. One large hole looked as if the sage, Vyasa, might be sitting silently inside. Three pools of spring water represent immortality; the pursuit of love, and the last is for those who dip in to take a sip and may be granted a divorce. Only the first pool may have some appeal for a monk who wishes to remain as one.
Matanzas is an old city of Spanish colonial charm. You go back in time. And like all of Cuba the old models of cars particularly from the 40’s renews nostalgia. How does a Hare Krishna monk fit into all of this? Well, it doesn’t seem to be a problem for people here or in Matanzas or Havana. The folk just have a built in piety. In the morning as I sat outside of the guest house clad in my swami garb waiting for Jiva, a woman in well overdone make up stopped at my spot, spoke something in Spanish and handed over a Cuban three pesos bill. “Gracias”, I replied


Mon. Oct 1/07
Edwardo is a young muscular black man who spotted me walking along Malecon Ave. He decided to join me. He was friendly, spoke some English and offered to be a self appointed guide to parts of the city. He asked for nothing and respected that I was “praying on the rosario”, (as he put it). He stayed with me a good while. I believe he just wanted some company and generally finds himself a bit lost. I met a woman at the Indian embassy who wanted to talk. Her complaint was on behalf of capitalism. Complaining goes on everywhere. There is no greater contagious disease. Whether in the first, second or third world, whining is all pervasive and it means usually that we don’t count blessings.
I would also rate gossip on par with complaints. Yes, two diseases that keep us firmly in illusion’s grip are rumour-mongoring and whining.
Evenings are spent chanting with people. I usually beat a rhythm to the mrdunga drum, lead the chant and have a good rest after the work out.

Friday, 2 November 2007

Sun. Sept.30/07
If there is any food that is in abundance in Cuba it’s the avocado. A new surprise to me is a fruit resembling the papaya in shape but tasting like the chicoo that you get in India. It’s called mamey and it’s definitely fit to be offered with the recitation of mantras before a deity or picture of Krishna just as the cooked food is offered. Jiva Goswami Das is my trusted companion to conduct this simple process while I’m here.
While I see no homeless folks an occasional dog does not have such luxury. A small stray dog decides to tag along with Jiva and me as we chant on our beads as we walk through the streets. Calypso/Caribbean music subsides all around at about the time we tread on our heels, 5am. People are curious about the robes. An elder gentleman even called them ,”Elegante!”
Another piece of information about Cuban culture that is very conducive to a monk’s lifestyle is the prohibition on pornography. Prostitution is also against the law. Another favorable note to the people here is that I see very little obesity here, nor did I see anyone scrawny. They look quite fit.
So far as taking care of my health goes it’s a standard 10kms a day walk or more. Unique today was foot care; Jiva today took an hour and a half to scrape away at what seemed like tons of dead foot skin. It was an accumulation of months of lifeless skin and it was time to dispose of it after that trailblazing marathon. Jiva took a pumice scraper and grazed away at regions I would not be able to see. He worked hard.
It would be nice if all the bad karma and bad habits could be eliminated at a single sitting like this.
10 kms.
Sat. Sept.29/07
Havana, Cuba
Customs security asked me how I know people in Cuba. “Friends from Canada,” I replied.
My room is in a guest house on San Lazaro and is spacious enough and air conditioned. Weather outside is hot and humid. The notice on the wall of the room reads the conditions of renting in Spanish, English and French. One of them is underlined. “It’s completely forbidden to visit the apartment of persons which are less than 18 yrs. old.” This is of course, one of the signs that the government exerts a control over; controlling promiscuity isn’t a bad thing.
Upon meeting the guest house master and seeing people in their everyday carefree style releases any tiny tension I might have about communist governance in Cuba. I find people pleasant and rather warm. I had even met Simon Cridland, the Canadian consulate at the Embassy. I wanted to let him know I’m here, that I walked Canada thrice and had my eyes on Cuba for the future. He was gracious.
The early morning walk along Malecon, the wide street edged by the south shore of the Gulf of Mexico, was a chance to meet folks. Jiva Goswami, a Cuban devotee, accompanied me. A large billboard in Spanish read with a close–up statue of Liberty, surprised….. remarking, “What? You have given freedom to terrorists?” Officers along the way return my nod or salute. The robes I’m in are a fresh sight for the locals.

I see no homeless people like those in India or even in North American cities. Food is somewhat hard to come by which is a contradiction in this fertile land. Christiana Bauhman, a retired German Canadian, was my flight partner enroute to Havana and she loves Cuba but concurred that Cuba is a land of contradictions.