Monday, 19 May 2008

Saturday, May 17th, 2008

Saturday, May 17th, 2008 - Carriere, Mississippi.

The golf coastal currents of air offered moderate temperatures with the company of the sun. At recent classes, I have conducted from the book Srimad Bhagavatam I have been preceeding my talk with the reading of Prabhupada's purport implementing sherades and completing statements. It is a game techinique and someone may question whether the approach challenges the gravity or seriousness of the trancendantal subject but like this morning it allowed listeners to become very attentive and so it warrants some merit.

An additional walk of herbal education conducted by Vid Bhuj an incredible specialist in the field provided unique brightness to the day. I became pleasantly surprised to find a walker that I had been corresponding with. His name is Avadhuta, an Hispanic Massecuchettes-born monk who walked from the Canadian border to Ecquador and suffered from a serious car accident terminating the trek. Doctors claimed he would be bed-ridden for the rest of his life. His recovery is remakable and he attributes that physical comeback to chanting, walking and daily swimming. I met him at a small lake which locals frequent. After drying off we had many things to share. This certainly gave further light to my day. The day completed with a performance of "Demon", a play I wrote eight years ago and rehearsed with local residents. It was well appreciated and although not totally on the level of profesionalism that I like it nevertheless was a devotional rendering, warmed the audience and offered good team building.


Wednesday, May 14th, 2008

Wednesday, May 14th, 2008 - New Orleans, Louisiana, USA

It was mainly a day at the airport. A delayed flight from Toronto furthered delayed me for the connecting flight at Chicago en route to New Orleans. At least the travel to the Jazz Capital of the world was lively due to the conversation with co-passengers to either side of me. Both of them were residents of New Orleans and they had so much to say about the Katrina disaster and the losses they personnally experienced. They say it will take 20 years to get this city back to where it was. I asked about the population and I got mixed answers but ranging from half to two thirds of what it was. Life and our belongings are fragile. Are we ready for disaster of any kind.. Food prices in the world are rising and our environment continues to challenge what we have grown acustomed to with regards to wheather expectations. It is hitting extremes. China and Burma were just shaken by earthquake and cyclone dynamic. Do we wonder where we are headed...Fortunately I had come to learn that the youth are taking some interest in self-sufficiency at New Talavana, my destination, at this rural community near Carriere, Mississippi. The tap water is gloriously drinkable and curiously I find many creepy-crawlies (bugs to me) moving out of the hole and cracks in the quarter I'm staying in. I put on no distance on foot today but my host Haridas did take the time generously to address my fungal issues at the bottom right foot.

Monday, May 12th, 2008

Monday, May 12th, 2008 - Toronto, Ontario

It had been a rainy few days at the New Vrndavan retreat for the Festival of Inspiration. It has restricted trekking and even when drizzle-free moments were real the puddles became hurdles. Chanting and walking was partially indoors in the temple or the large lodge. Upon the return back to Toronto the phone started ringing and that anchored me to the ground for some time. Restlessness set in and a briskful stepping through Moore Park Ravine and beyond my original training ground brought companions Devadatta and Jennifer Layne. Deva, as I mentionned before, is sometimes considered the moody monk but he remained more upbeat today. Jennifer, who is residing in our ashram in Vancouver is also in a happy state. She performed marvelously as Aditi, the mother of the demigods in the production "Vamana" presented the day before in West Virginia. I felt an inner ecstasy still very excited about the standing ovation received.

Two young teenage boys cycled past us in the ravine but then stopped abruptly and yelled back in a most well wishing tone "Hope you have a good journey". I thought that was sweet. From a seminar held at the Inspiration festival words of truth flowed. Here are some;

1. About things that have happened to you, you can be bitter. But no, you can be better.
2. Dont be upset with the instrument of your karma!
3. Enthusiasm is contagious.
4. Most people today are drawing in information but are starving for knowledge.
5. Always appreciate, never expect.
6. Vision is the art of seeing the invisible.
7 Children laugh 400 times a day. Adults, only 15
8. Moodiness is selfishness magnified.
9. First impressions are moments of truth.
10. If you can't be on time, be early.
11. I am everyone's servant.


Tuesday, 13 May 2008

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008

Wednesday, May 7th, 2008 - Cleveland, Ohio

“Never was there a time when I did not exist, nor you, nor all these kings.” - Bhagavad Gita, 2.12

This was the chosen verse to speak from before a recepted group in Cleveland. A weekly meeting of chanting enthusiasts occurs at the home of Dayal Nitai, Tanya and their son, Jayananda. There are no monks here, except for myself, but serious practitioners are there.

A first time visitor came to listen, but mildly challenged us with the myth that our diet lacks protein. Like all of us before we entered the arena of a higher consciousness, the new guest was weaned on meat and potatoes. Anyways, the feast section of our gathering was left to do its own magic as well as the chanting. I wish him well.

The morning trek was a group effort by several young devotees of New Vrndavana. One of them has been particularly kind to nurse the base of my feet which are challenged by some viral invasion of planters wart and callouses. My routine treatment is to soak the feet in apple cider vinegar, treat infected areas with oregano oil, eat my leafy greens and be diligent about it. Maintenance is a feature in the mode of satva, goodness, and preservation of the body (as well as feet) must run alongside the fuelling of the soul.

Insomnia attacked me once again. It runs about twice a week. To remedy this I chanted on beads while pacing back and forth under a gazebo’s shelter as rain poured down ‘til 1 am at Bain Park in Cleveland, Ohio. It was very quiet.

6 km

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008

Tuesday, May 6th, 2008 - Moundsville, West Virginia

It was the final day for meetings before devotional colleagues would be dispersing to their individual geographical areas of service. I decided not to go on an outdoor walk while chanting but to soak in the power of concentrated monks intensely chanting in the sanctuary or temple room together. This collective effort is potent.

Our final session involved establishing our personal Codes of Conduct during future meetings and to facilitate this session were two members of our order who were expert at team building and problem solving. Brahma Tirtha (aka Harvey Cohen from the book “Perfect Questions, Perfect Answers”) and Braja Bihari are masters at bringing out the best from group dynamics. Braja Bihari is the “Ombudsman” for our world organization. I had suggested to the group that when there is a small disagreement (or a large one) between two parties or people, that two people out of the group could act as mediators and hence, establish an “Om Buddy System”. I wasn’t being factitious. It was well taken.

In the evening I was slotted to speak about pilgrim walking to resident and visiting folds at the New Vrndavana community. Some people became inspired to aspire for the more simple mode of life. In fact one chap from Illinois, Matthew, decided to cut off his dreadlocks and shave up after the talk. This was an unofficial gesture and involved no ritual, but he did come one step closer to monk-hood.

The fellow who shaved him, Lotus, had secured a new pet. A local cat chased a possum and during the ordeal, dropped a baby from the litter. Lotus now holds her as a pet. At least for now he is keeping her in the ashram, perhaps until the ashram authorities find out. We inspected the baby rodent and as far as we could tell, it’s a girl. I suggested we name her “Laksmi” which means “the goddess of fortune”.

2 km

Sunday, May 4th, 2008

Sunday, May 4th, 2008 - Moundsville, West Virginia

I had the good fortune to lead the chanting session for the first kirtan (chanting session) of the day. I like to start the mantras slow and easy then build it all up, speed and volume, to a crescendo. All attendees, sixty or so, were very responsive. This is truly the way to begin a day – chanting and dancing to drums and hand cymbals. What a good positive note from which to start a day! This beats sitting down most of the day, which is compulsory during meetings. Long sessions of discussions were never my cup of tea, but it is necessary for someone to do the job. My tendency is to be fidgety and antsy and to want to pace at times at the back of the room. At sessions such as strategy planning it is a time to observe diverse individuals play out their intelligent thoughts through words and body language. It’s a drama always without unwanted tensions. At least I didn’t observe any quarrel, only slight disagreement from time to time. My contribution is meager but respected whenever there is something to be said to add to future plans.

With a young monk from Miami, we ventured a dirt road through the hills. Turkey vultures sail and swirl in the air hoping to spot moving meat. After all, who is not on food search. The loft of cabin four is my accommodation and next to my pillow on the inner wall is a group of chicks nested in that wall. When mum or dad enters the hole through the exterior wall, there is tremendous excitement. A chorus begins and wings flop, swishing against the wall. It’s meal time. That’s what most of us live for. We breathe from meal to meal.

Certainly, human life holds a purpose higher than this!


Saturday, May 3rd, 2008

Saturday, May 3rd, 2008 - Moundsville, West Virginia

It is the meeting of the monks that brings me here. At a splendid rural retreat called New Vrndavana you have all the elements of a piece of heaven. Doves coo and so do peacocks make their sound. The air is perfumed with powerful emissions of lilac scent. After a two hour circumambulation of a small man made lake, a swan's habitat, it was time to enter the rustic temple for the 5 am arati (offering to images of Krishna and Radha, male and female aspects of the Divine).

Our subsequent gathering or meeting of the monks (nuns included - we call them 'matajis') held as its objective, "What are our own operational improvements in order to enhance the world situation.” One monastic friend of mine recently told me that the new religion in the world is environmentalism. There is an unequivocable passion about it and I am personally elated that we, as a group, are addressing the spiritual economics behind this passion.

In the writings of Srila Prabhupada, the notion of simple living and high thinking surfaces again and again. For many social reasons floundering endeavors at rural rustic life have embarrassed us in the past, however, a steering to this familiar road is definitely warranted. We need to revisit self sufficiency like we have never done before and perhaps dialogue and learn some ways from those who have success stories by which they live.

Is anyone willing to step forward to roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty?

10 km

Wednesday, 7 May 2008

Thursday, May 1st, 2008

Thursday, May 1st, 2008 - New York State, USA

The world is changing. The west is more eastern and the east is more western. While people in the eastern hemisphere have explored the fascination of MacDonald's for some years now, the people of the west have opened their lives to Indian food, philosophy and behaviour. As a small party of us hit the early morning freshness of air, a white Canadian stepped over from a residential Toronto sidewalk to come closer to us with a greeting of head nodding, the type of thing pious people in India might do when seeing oncoming sadhus (holy men). While treking and chanting, a white Canadian jogger offered his pranams (folded hands) as he passed by. Over and over again I encounter these cross-cultural experiences. The balance of the day was spent on the road through New York State,Pennsylvania and West Virginia enroute to a spiritual retreat in New Vrindavanain the hills of West Virginia. In a car with other devotees of Krishna, we engaged in chatting and chanting while viewing the changes of nature out the window. Each piece of scenery seemed to beckon exploration by someone, as if Krishna's creation was whispering, "enjoy me with your eyes, your nostrils, your feet and hands for a time..." but that was not possible from the moving car,only through the eyes.


Sunday, April 27th, 2008

Sunday, April 27th, 2008 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Before the previous day's restless nightime walk, I had participated in a satsang at someone's home. The group was largely a mature sector of our community. I could see more people on chairs there than I would have seen with the same group ten years ago. While the community ages, the vibrancy remains as the next generation is a buzz with the same higher consciousness. When I first became a monk, all of us unwed men and women in '73 were virtually young. It was a goung movement; our takers were young. Even the occasional immigrant from India coming to us was starting life in the city fairly young. Now, I see different generations, three instead of one. We now have greater depth. The youth organized today's Sunday open house featuring two kirtans (chanting sessions which they lead), cooked and served the feast and presented two dramas. They are also the force behind the summer's Festival of India, a major event. Such dynamism, verve and hope! I had met the two parents of a twenty year old boy who is showing much interest in spritual life and naturally they were at the feast to see what their son is implicating himself in. Generally, people have fear of change, but when the change is beneficial, fear then dissolves. I could see their concerns become less of an issue after they moved through the experience of a blissful event.


Saturday, April 26th, 2008

Saturday, April 26th, 2008 - Toronto, Ontario, Canada

So, spring has sprung and there is nothing like it with the explosion of nature's colours and smells. But with a restless night I ventured to the streets of downtown for japa meditation where the smells and sights there differed from those of the ravine. It is remarkable that after years of chanting there is not the least attraction to party pleasures. One person, a yoga instructor that I recently met, explained that some years back when he was a bouncer in a club, he would meet all these nice people on their way in, and by the time they came out two hours later, they had transformed into monsters; we are talking here about the effect of intoxication and the gross adverse impact it has on people's lives. Speaking of yogis and more gentle folk, our local group of youth along with volunteers come together each night this week to rehearse "The Gita". We had some fine talent which had the good fortune to perform at the Convention Centre's Yoga Show in front of yoga enthusiasts. The job was well done. People witnessed the greater depth of Vedic life and not just the display of arms and legs stretched over a yoga mat. They watched real living and breathing theatre- theatre with a message. After the performance, a couple came to us and said, "We have been trying to sort out the Bhagavad-gita for years, but you have made it comprehensible through entertainment. Thank you." She is a yoga teacher herself, and he is a sundancer who hangs from trees as a form of going mind over matter.