Saturday 23 August 2008
If there is anything that is painful for someone who relishes walking it’s being crammed in a tiny confinement. My travels which fall under the non-pedestrian category include air travel. It’s like prison being in a plane. Car travel is the same but less constricting. For the last few days I have been bed ridden, another form of imprisonment. I pulled a muscle in the lower back which made me as stiff as a board. The bright side of invalidity is that plenty of visitors will stop by to offer their good wishes and of course, advice. Suddenly everyone turns “doctor” and your room turns into a pharmacy with everyone’s personal recommended internal or external treatment.
The main therapeutic touch however, is rest and relaxation which is what I am doing. Swimming is one of the recommendations and something close to me as a recreational outlet. I have no qualms about dipping into Lake Ontario, one of those great lakes. An old time monk friend Baladev, advised that I not venture there because of the pollution propaganda. Yet I went to a nice a spot at the bluffs in Scarborougho and found it to be pleasantly clean (water and beach). I would take this venue any day in the summer over a chlorine/urine infused pool. Thank-you!
To be able to do effective service to others and to God our health is a priority but when that fails we can surely do service by chanting.
One of the greatest joys in the life of a Krishna monk is organizing and participating in Hari Nama Sankirtan, processional chanting. Whether at travel or at home such as here, it’s an activity that really does make your day by arousing excitement in others. Our modest party consisted of our Halifax monks, passing through for a day enroute to their city, a doctor and his wife and son form Mumbai, Dhaarmaprana, our local Mr. positive monk who happens to hobble ( a result of a stroke), our local nun, Evelyn, Krishna Das, a dear god-brother; myself and leading the procession was Teddy , a hybrid dog of some kind clothed in a mantra T-shirt and on his leash by owner Shioban, a recent spiritual aspirant.
Our route was the posh district of Yorkville, a place of cafes and fine shops for fancy wear. The song was melodious and the beat and rhythm sweet. Our performance was something new and different for tourists and locals. It brought cheers to their cheeks. Few were willing to join along but listen and smile they did.
Not all people are happy all of the time. The Halifax monks and I took a brisk evening walk to the Greek section of town where we were invited for dinner to a community members home. To get there we walked the Danforth bridge over the Don Valley. The bridge was a popular suicide jump. More recently, reinforcements comprised of vertical bars have made this location a no-option life escape route.
When spirituality becomes one’s life line, suicide chances can decrease because hope has increased.
Saturday 16 August 2008
Sat. Aug. 9/08 - Berlin, Germany
Since the fall of the Berlin wall the residents of this once divided city have made many adjustments socially and it emerges as a powerful city of a population of diversity of 4 million people. The British and allies bombed the city and a great war memorial, ( the remains of a handsome steepled structure, was the site of Berlin’s Festival of Chariots. I was informed by my monk friend, Kavichandra Swami, that young men and women join the mission mostly from East Berlin not West. He credits communism over capitalism for preserving a sense of culture, discipline and a thirst for knowing. Unfortunaltely it is so that capitalism molds people into independent extremists while communism often does the reverse.
The kirtan (chanting) procession was conducted in a prime tourist location. Many onlookers looked with intense interest at swamis, of which there were five of us, and the other saffron clothed monks (brahmancaris) singing and dancing in abandon.
The stage program at the end of the procession allowed me a chance to stretch my legs when German-born Sacinandan Swami, monk with cool charisma, asked me to put a finale to it. What evolved, very spontaneously, was a type of mystic aerobics. I gave the crowd some lessons in movement, an elaboration on the swami step, a common sway that our guru, Srila Prabhupada taught us. The response was phenomenal. Equipment that was rented had to be returned and our permit time terminated so the crowd was in a tiff when it was announced.
Gazing at the towering steeple of the war memorial as it’s mighty bell resounded for miles around I stood there wondering that 60 years ago at the time when Berlin challenged the world under Hitler’s regime would anyone believe that such freedom could be expressed by monks from different places.
Thurs. Aug. 7/08 - The Baltic Coast, Poland
Mrzezyno is the name of the summer resort town that we invaded, not-to-speak, with our regiment of 50 chanters- girls in front with South Indian head dress pieces and waving oriental fans; men in the middle playing mrdunga and djembe, accordion and kartals while more women in the back swayed holding colorful umbrellas. We moved two abreast along the beach where literally thousand upon thousands of beach lovers, respectable families, watched with keen interest, flashing cameras like crazy and being informed about the evening’s show that we were presenting.
The show did go on and with a good attendance. People were browsing and purchasing from the tents, food freshly cooked, books, trinkets, and observed a magic show, astrology, yoga and got philosophical questions answered.
In the past there had been resistance to hosting the Festival of India especially by the church. Skinheads were on time physically harassing the operation but mayors of towns along the coast have given the largest support to the program which also features an entire 4 hour stage show of puppets, dances, and martial arts feats. Thousands did turn up.
The Master of ceremonies, Tribhuvanesh, had told the audience of an experiment – the theatrical production of “The Gita”. So our dream team of actors did their stuff and after the performance when asked if “The Gita” should remain as a regular feature, the crowd gave a resounding, “Da!” which means Yes!
Snails like slimy stretchable cigars migrate in multitudes across the quiet country dirt road and they followed their instinct. Our Guru, Srila Prabhupada, referred to this instinct as the mystical direction of the paramatma, the supersoul within the heart. I certainly had to watch my step in order to honour my ahimsa or non-violent approach to life. Let the migration carry on.
The fields on either side of the tree-lined road were graced with golden wheat flowing in the light wind. I was walking and chanting enjoying a nice peacefulness with more calm than found in Vrindavana, India, a place of pilgrimage so popular for many of us monks. The town of our accommodation is Siemysl, a 20 km drive from the Baltic sea, is a collection of rustic homes and barns where many residents still ride their bicycles to go shopping or to work and where women still wear dresses.
The storks that I have been seeing so frequently in flight here in Poland are also common in this town. One feathered family had constructed a cozy and smart looking nest perched on the highest chimney. (maybe the myth about storks delivering babies came from this area). Indradumna Swami told me that residents in town consider the presence of the birds as auspicious. In any event always watching over us and situated so high they appear to rule the town.
There was plenty of interaction with people especially participants in the festival of India event to restart tomorrow on the Baltic sea. I had train a new actor to play the role of Krishna in the Gita. Also participating in the summer long festival was a band of the best musicians from India. The fellow who is playing a double violin and had accompanied Pandit Ravi Shankar in concert explained that his unique instrument is one of only three in the world.
Saturday 9 August 2008
Sunday, Aug 3/08 - Kostrzyn, Poland
Karanamrta is a second generation woman within the Krishna Consciousness movement. I always refer to her as my daughter. Born to please audiences with her sweet voice at kirtan (chanting) she had her crowds dancing. An inner drive compelled me to reach out for any djemby player I could find and start a chanting circle without a stage but on the ground with people. Before long our humble make shift band of four swelled to a convergence of many enthusiastic chanters and dancers, people in fervour for fun. I was impressed how many people committed themselves to learning the mantra. The final kirtan on the main stage was phenomenal, the participation – remarkable. It is a clear confirmation that mantra power is “the way to serenity” within this age.
The truth spoken by previous mentors who predicted the coming of a spiritual sound and how it would transform the world was something I can now clearly bear witness to.
The organizers of Woodstock in Poland, Europe’s largest open air music event, attracted 300 000 people with 110 000 plates of Krishna food prepared and distributed to the public on the weekend.
Finally a truly rewarding experience was receiving those positive remarks from those who witnessed our dramas over the weekend. It was not always easy to gain a focus from the “plastered” crowd but when our players came on the stage with those black and silver “Gita” outfits it would bait them..
When we think of a place that we have heard of or been to, certain images of that place come to mind.
Before arriving at Poland I’ve imagined cobble-stone streets. The town here has it’s share of some.
It is a surface excellent for the feet – a natural reflexology experience.
I’m happy to see monks in Europe taking to croc footwear. According to Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami, an American born monk now mostly situated in Eastern Europe and Russia they are so incredibly comfortable. My walks in my crocs have been mostly by the rivers in the area as there is a confluence of them in the area. A smooth sailing swan plied over a tributary as fisherman stood by anchored by their bait.
At the Woodstock site clouds broke the penetration of the sun. I was scheduled to speak just prior to our play presentation “Canto 10” when rain was sent in torrents. It meant that our tent had become packed with people in the hundreds sheltered from wetness. It was an opportunity to speak about the glories of a renounced person’s simple existence. Normally our beer induced crowds are not always extremely attentive but I guess the rain itself induced a type of sobriety.
Madhumangal was the night’s MC and was that special crowd pleaser. As “Smalec” (stage name),prior to taking on a new name, he had been known as the Number One punk rocking musician in Poland. It was a case of a punk becoming a monk. We had a way with spunk on that stage. If you have influence and you’ve got a good message then broadcast, broadcast, broadcast.
In the morning I saw a good number of devotees performing yoga on the soccer field facing the sun as it takes its’ rise. Sitting postures, stretches and breathing exercises are amongst regular regimen but japa chanting (chanting on beads) takes precedence over everything. In the early days of our society’s infancy if anyone was seen executing yoga practices that person would be perceived as someone in big time illusion. It was only a misconception that exercise was ever frowned down by our Guru, Srila Prabhupada. He did, however, always emphasize chanting.
My roommates and I were hearing from our swami god brother, Bhakti Bringa Govinda Swami, of the persecutions Krishna Consciousness members were going through in Kazakhstan. He mentioned that he was personally black – listed for five years.
Back at the Woodstock site Poland’s Indian Ambassador Mr Bhandari , spoke in three locations both in our Krishna Village of Peace and in a large secular tent. He spoke well about the principles of higher life values. Coincidentally I had been acquainted with him when he served in a four years term in 1998 – 2002 as Canada’s Indian Consulate in Toronto.
The Woodstock Village is what you would expect – a lot of young people, here generically Polish, German in a so-called free spirit. Lots of beer here. I find the youth friendly towards the Krishna monks. It’s odd not to see one black person or even an oriental in the crowds.
Our acting troupe performed well. The response by the audience at the large stage offered the greatest approval. The work is hard. Some of us were up till 11.30 for recording and at 5am the whole troupe was ready for rehearsal. Well, not all, but 5.30 am.
Our Guru, Srila Prabhupada, taught us to work hard.
Wed. July 30/08 - Kostrzyn, Poland
Organizers and volunteers of the Krishna Village, a series of tents set within a broader tent city are renting four large schools in the Kostrzyn area to house themselves. Many of the volunteers are from neighboring countries near Poland. In my team of sixteen actors only two are polish so when it comes to trying to direct a play with few people who understand the translation of my script it becomes a bit more time – consuming. Basically they seem to enjoy the practices we are having.
In the usage of space I was having the privacy of an empty classroom but when two peers, Caturatma and Adi Karta, both from America, came to move in. The company they provided was most ecstatic.
In my morning meditative japa walk, I ventured to the nearby German border now no longer in operation as used to be with the new European Union approach to management. Bridges over the Odra and Warta Rivers take you to Germany. I spotted storks, which are plenty, in black and white plumes, white geese, magpies and crows of a different kind. On a mini walk through the bush I heard a rustling. It was a hedgehog who defended himself from the likes of me. I tried turning him upside down with a stick in order to gaze at his unique protective device. He clamped up even more into a perfect ball. Our creator does wonders with nature.
A recording for our two plays in Polish is necessary so it keeps us up late and up early for a 5 am rehearsal. No one minds much. The results are what seem to count for everyone.
The stop-over in Amsterdam was brief at the airport before the flight to Berlin. Judging by the sight of the Dutch, the men in particular, I see they are rather tall. With Dutch blood in me I’m reminded that perhaps the extra height was meant for the extra walking. They have got long, powerful legs.
Europe is more quiet than many places in the world. The residents seem reserved. The German country side on the way to Poland is flat but ample trees fill the space.
My host is Indradyumna Swami, American born, who collaborated with Jerzy Owsiak, renowned musician in Poland. Indradyumna is himself a well known monk in the Krishna Consciousness movement for staging large – scale festivals. The second most popular person in Poland, Jerzy has established a “Woodstock” event and our dear monk Indradyumna organizes a Krishna Village which attracts 250 000 youths near the city of Kostrzyn. The event is colossal and 600 devotees from Poland, Russia and surrounding areas volunteer their time to organize the Krishna side of the three day festival.
My legs were itching to walk but plane travel occupied my time. The only solace for them was some drama practice on “The Gita”. I had forwarded a list and catalogue of the plays I’ve written with a synopsis of each and so the festival coordinators chose “The Gita” and “Canto 10”.