Tuesday, 25 November 2008

Saturday, November 22nd, 2008

Sat. Nov. 22nd – Buenos Aires, Argentina

If I am not mistaken, today is the day of the anniversary where JF Kennedy was assassinated. I remember it well sitting in grade school when my teacher had excused himself from being called from the classroom, a very irregular thing. He came back to us five minutes later to announce, “President Kennedy has been shot!” Even though he was not our Prime Minister for Canada, Kennedy was a popular world leader. At receiving this news we were held in shock. Minutes later the teacher announced his death. It was the baby boomers 911 and our little cushiony world had been shaken.

Here in Buenos Aires more happily, the Chariot Festival rocked the city. A very bright-eyed and enthusiastic group of Jagannatha admirers turned up with drums, colorful attire, and baby strollers to soak in sun and fun. I was personally surprised over the three hours session leading the chant and not having lost my voice in the end.

Festival goers enjoyed the free vegetarian feast prepared by organizers at the Plaza Francia. Our hard-worked-at drama “The Jagannatha Story” seemed to draw in the crowd and hit some sentiments. One woman removed her sunglasses at the play’s climax revealing her smeared and dripping make-up mixed with tears. For the credits we brought onto the stage actors and back-up crew who danced to the sound of George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord.” Mahahari , the main co-coordinator tiredly popped into the temple late in the night when all was over regretting that people were asking for George’s music and books on his connection to the chanting, and more of that material had been made available on site. Otherwise, well done Mahahari.

10 Km

Monday, 24 November 2008

Friday, November 21st, 2008

Friday, November 21, 2008 – Buenos Aires, Argentina

Men in orange involved in municipal repair were taking their lunch near their digging spots. Every two blocks you would see a group of them catching a restful moment. I made a few heads turn, for sure, as I passed by with a nod while they reciprocated. Women, too, and school children got curious. If they are all lucky they will see a whole slew of us at Plaza Francia with our drums and mantras, flags and chariot tomorrow.

Our drama group is working hard to invest in hours and details of a beautiful story about Jagannatha. With every effort there is challenge. I’m directing in English with one percent Spanish thrown in while everyone else knows little English. Fortunately our narrator Anna does professional voices for TV characters and Marina has a career in making documentaries. They get by with English. The actors remain strained without their translations. Rather I should say that I’m the strained one. This is their territory I’m in.

It’s always exciting seeing how a production molds together in so little time. – three days. We have people in our troupe that are strong-willed. Rodo is a professional juggler and funny man, and he is a piece of cake to work with, but one of the fellows seems to struggle and I guess it appeared that I was giving him a hard time. He’s taking it well and I believe that by performance time tomorrow he will do well. He’s trying hard.

In any service, steadfastness is a true embellishment. To be steady is the mark of a hero.

10 Km

Thursday, November 20th, 2008

Thursday, Nov. 20th – Buenos Aires, Argentina

It’s my second day here and I had been noticing familiar signs found in most parts of the world. “Coca Cola, Mc Donald’s, Burger King” flank busy thoroughfares as common unused realities. Perhaps it is inappropriate to draw such comparison, but Jagannatha (the once forest deity, now popular temple divinity) is reaching the streets in mobile fashion marking the weekend’s colorful Chariot Festival. As His name implies He is the cosmic Lord, Lord of the Universe, and for some people will rival such above mentioned commercial icons of the day.

Jagannatha has so much to offer and His festival hundreds of years in operation from the place of origin in Puri comes to cast His “happy face” mercy to Argentineans. I had been reading in the “Journal of Vaishnava Studies” the account of Salabega who was an established 17th century poet of Muslim decent. His writings which are entrenched in devotion to the deity Jagannatha are truly inspiring. Although the temple where Jagannatha is fabulously adored it has rejected entry to the non-Hindu born faithful, but this bright poet saw Jagannatha as very inclusive of all. Orthodox priests in Orissa have maintained a rigid policy preventing “outsiders” from coming into this ancient temple.

I had my experience two decades ago when trying to see if I could have darshan (a view) of the famous temple in Puri called Gundica. The security guard stopped me at the gate saying I could not enter because I was Christian. Calmly I asserted my commitment to Krishna and that I bore the robes to prove it what to speak of shaven head. “You are white,” he said. Keeping my tone to a subdued respectable level I pressed, “But three gods adorn this temple one is black, one is golden and the other is white. I am here to see the White God, Balaram.”

The guard would hear no more, held his body attentively square and eyes away. That was my vain attempt to enter.

I’m just glad I can attend a parade like this weekend’s and gain the positive vibrations from the broad smiles of Jagannatha, Balarama and Subhadra. I express my gratitude to our guru, Srila Prabhupada, for bringing these deities to the west and to be known to everyone. They are not confined to South-east Asia, but are visible to all.

6 Km

Satruday, November 15th, 2008

Saturday, November 15th – Markham, Ontario, Canada

At a satsang (spiritual gathering) held in the home of a Trinidadian household hosted by Ganesh and Devarka. I talked about a phone call that I received earlier in the day.
“A mother called me and said that her eight year old son had questions. So, I said ‘put him on.” His first question was, “What is the proof that God exists?”

“You have to read Dr. Suesse?” I asked him and he said he had. You had to never seen the authors but you know he exists because of the author’s book. Similariliy, God exists on the strength of his book, Bhagavad-gita.

His next question was “Have others seen God? I have never seen God.”

My answer was, “It takes a clean heart to qualify. Right now we have to contend with anger, some jealousy, some greediness. These things make it hard to communicate with God because there’s a lot of junk in the way.”

Another question. “If there are so many gods, why have you chosen Krishna?”

I explained that He is all attractive. As a philosopher His book “The Gita” is deep. And besides He’s nice to the animal, plays a great flute, comes across as a fabulous dancer and fighter. He always smiles even during the greatest trials that we go through and He has a tremendous amount of friends and He’s willing to take more.

My young questioner seemed relatively content with the explanations. “Thanks” said Jay. “I’ll have more questions later.”

On the drive back to the asharam rain hit the front window of the vehicle. The rain drops became softer and then turned white. It was snowing.

Having not walked today but for the morning, pacing the front foyer of the temple I had little fatigue or cause to sleep, so I chanted on my beads and paced again until after midnight. I admire the new light fixtures adorninn the ceiling. They cast more lights than the previous ones. I tuned off the switch and walked upstairs to bed.

Overall I had a bright night thanks especially to Jay in the day.

Thursday, 20 November 2008

Tuesday, November 18th, 2008

Tuesday, Nov. 18th, 2008 – Miami Beach, Florida, USA

Staying in the room next to me is a very special monk from New York. His name is Prabhupada Das, a student of Srila Prabhupada. Having come around to see Prabhupada since the sixties he has served the mission for quite some time in America, Guyana, India, Colombia and other places.

Prabhupada Das (we hope the name doesn’t confuse here) tells of a time when he was handed a dhoti (lower monk’s robe) in his early exploration of higher consciousness by his spiritual father, Srila Prabhupada. He approached the young man with a distinct tear in his eye, an evocation of compassion and eagerness to see the young New Yorker take to the saving, or shall we say, safe path.

When Prabhupada Das first started seeing the seasoned swami from India, his Jewish father also visited him on occasion. The concerned father was impressed by his son’s new mentor who mentioned that his son was a little crazy but that he would “fix him up.” In my periodical encounters with Prabhupada Das I was moved by his conviction as a renounced person. He would be the first to admit to transformation.

Incidentally, Jeffery took an upper step this morning. He became initiated into the spiritual succession. As an astrologer he took on the name Garga Muni das, after the name of the astrologer in Krishna’s foster family. Blessings to him!

Wanting to catch some sun before a flight to Buenos Aires, I was driven by physician Dr. Murari to Miami Beach. I guess it wasn’t quite on his mind that there are topless elements there during warm spells here. I would advise alternative walking locations to the sands of Miami Beach for monks.

11 Km

Monday, November 17th, 2008

Mon. Nov. 17th, 2008 – Biscayne, Florida, USA

To catch some vitamin D was my objective in going to a sea side park. While walking on the sea wall my walking partner, Jeffery Brock, a local astrologer, and I caught glimpse of a beautiful manatee wallowing in the wetness of the Atlantic. Lizards of all sorts crawled near us on our venture through the forested area.

While gazing at such wonders watching our every step we simultaneously entered into deep discussion. In fact as we tread towards a famous lighthouse, a spot with historical significance where combat took place between the two native groups, we pondered and discussed the fallibility of even spiritually advanced individuals. Tempted again to walk the sea wall, we contemplated the possibility of falling onto the rock edged ocean side.

Our guru explained that spiritual life is like a razor’s edge – a little inattention to shaving and you draw blood. And as long as we are human we are all vulnerable. The advanced sage, Bharat, was enwrapped in dhyana yoga, mediation and while in the course of his detached ways a fawn distracted him. He eventually became infatuated with the creature and obsessed. It led to his untimely death.

If Jeffery and I spent enough time eyeing at the magnificent gracefulness of the manatee’s motion we might also fall from the wall and become Humpty Dumpties. We can all be hit at a weak moment even though we could boast seniority in spirituality. We can slip because “we are humans.” There is a need to always beg for protection.

9 Km

Sunday, November 16th, 2008

Sun. Nov. 16th, 2008 - Coconut Grove, Florida, USA

Lynnric, a young Norwegian student at FIU in Miami. She and her friend, a young Costa Rican male model had been driving around in the Coconut Grove neighborhood looking for Dharma House, a Buddhist resort. Her intention was to observe ceremonies and ask questions from a spiritual community outside of her own Christianity, as a school assignment. She spotted the robes on me and so her friend, the driver, made a sudden sharp turn to ask about her destination place. I had been walking with physician/friend Dr. Romeu (Murari Gupta is his spiritual name) when they couldn’t resist asking. We had no idea about the whereabouts of the place, but explained about our own Sunday Open House. So Lynn and her friend drove us to the Iskcon temple, where to her surprise were more students doing the same assignment for the same course.

Lynn was detailed about recording all answers to the interview by pen and paper. More students filtered in like a high tide coming in, some from the secondary school level. They all appeared quite excited about the monks and lay-members of our community (largely Hispanic) with our very outgoing approach to spirituality. With approximately seven drums resounding in an actively sharp acoustical room, it was in my estimation, a bit over-kill in the volume department. The mantra was drowned out at times. The students still appreciated the vibe though. Devotees enjoyed dancing and students enjoyed watching. I was not able to cover much mileage on foot but my mouth motored-off plenty to an inquisitive bunch of sincere seekers. For them it was not just a service they saw, but a group of blissful people sprung into action with an important message to tell them.

3 Km

Friday, 14 November 2008

Thursday, November 13th, 2008

Thurs.Nov.13/08 - Toronto, Ontario.

My early morning leg work took me through trendy Yorkville, close to our ashram. “Buddha Forever!, remarks a young fellow as he walks by.

A drizzle began. Another passerby in a giddy mood expressed in hi jovial way, “Hey, isn’t Krishna gonna protect me from the rain?”

I ventured into Chinatown much later on after cooking a large meal at the ashram looking for a personal filing cabinet. While scouring place to place on Spadina Ave. some folks would greet with a nod. From a large window of Lord Lansdowne Grade School students waved. An oncoming class (on foot) about to enter the school yard respectfully gave way for me to walk the sidewalk. “Good afternoon!” was the greeting from three boys at the end of the line.

Four native fellows sitting near the Friendship Centre noticed the passing robes, “Hey that guy’s got a dress on!, ” said one.
“Correction, robes!” was my response.

I stopped by to see a friend, Kuladev, a brazilian, who runs three vintage clothing shops. In his younger years he also tread the path of monastic life and was highly successful at selling vedic literature in Rio, on buses of all places.

It was a great morning and afternoon of human interaction. I’m glad to be alive and to be a monk, a servant to all.

I did find my filing cabinet by the way.

11 Km

Thursday, 13 November 2008

Tuesday, November 11th, 2008

Tues. Nov.11/08 - Toronto, Ontario

There is something quiet about today. Oh yes! Many businesses will be closed and it will be a time of sobriety, reflection, memories, stories of bravery, courage, death, and hope.

As I had walked a section of Yonge St. quite early at 2:50am chanting on beads I found I could be heard, let’s say, a half a block away with no disturbance and rarely a pedestrian to be seen. I paced by endless clothing shops, taverns, banks,, physic reading outlets, restaurants, sex shops and I thought how all this is rather irrelevant to the truth. On this day, Remembrance Day when veterans of ghastly wars are honored for their sake of sacrifice I find it a world of dichotomy. Much later I had asked one of the monks in the temple to pick up for me a newspaper in the evening. Yes monks do read newspapers from time to time. There’s a need to know what’s going on in the world outside the sheltered temple and ashram (monastery). Big news is that Bush and Obama met in the Oval room of the White House to discuss transition. But the stories that really captivated me and pulled my heart strings were the personal war stories by veterans who went through so much. My dad used to tell of stories in Holland when it was under Nazi control. Those were times when people prayed and really did help each other as much as there was dissension, which is what war is all about.

I always relish reading the battle events in the epic, “Mahabharata”. Those events tell of an ancient battle and the curse that comes along with glory. There is always two worlds where we live on earth.

9 Km

Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Sunday, November 9th, 2008

Sun. Nov.9/08 - Brampton, Ontario, Canada

Winter chill has come in finally but with a chauddar wrapped around the torso the 4C is tolerable. When walking at a decent stride the body appears to be a powerful furnace keeping coldness off.

Some of the street names that I pass perpendicular to Sandalwood Street have optimistic names; Fidelity St., and Virtue St. are a fresh sound to designate promenade routes. New subdivisions in the area are featured with man-made ponds inviting water-fowl such as ducks, Canada Geese, the occasional Heron, and sometimes the swan.

I gave a presentation talk at the Brampton ISKCON Center with regard to community and family values, (a favorite topic of mine) and how the chances of keeping cohesion amongst humans is increased with the implementation of mature spirituality. A second talk (this time shared with God-brother Adi Yajna) emphasized the playful nature of the Absolute. The venue was Toronto’s ISKCON center. And after the talk I had the honour to lead the kirtan in the way that it is done by the standards of the past where all participants stand and sway, as opposed to sit, and perhaps step into more exhilarating dance movements.

I see the sitting trend as a slight deviation from the old Bengali-style, Gaudiya chanting sessions. The advantage to the dance to accompany the drums and mantras is that it engages all the senses and as was expressed by a monk who hails from India, Lokanath Swami, “Dancing makes the event complete,” he told me in South Africa.

7 Km

Saturday, November 8th, 2008

Saturday, Nov.08/08 - Toronto, Ontario

I have hope that the younger generation will carry through with what “Swamiji” started. Swamiji refers to the name used to address the founder of the Hare Krishna Movement (ISKCON) in the late sixties by members of the counter culture, flower children, beatniks and hippies in America.

Now Srila Prabhupada, who was back then called Swamiji drew the attention of those baby boomers who were on a search for the Absolute. The public may wonder what is happening with generation two of this freshly packaged version of an extremely older tradition.

As I sat in the temple room to hear youths speak from their hearts and guts about their involvement and feelings about Prabhupada, his mission, the philosophy and culture I could not help but be moved. Teens and those in their twenties came from New York, Detroit, New Jersey, West Virginia and elsewhere to organize a remembrance of Srila Prabhupada. The group organizing this super event is called Pandava Sena. Their brochure explain who they are: an association of like-minded youth who try to incorporate spirituality and Vedic principles into their day to day lives. Through discussions, social events, and services at the temple they are given an ideal opportunity to meet other youth who, like them, are searching for something more.

The program was sweet. It was great to see them in action. They are vibrant and sincere. It can move you to tears watching them and being able to envision an improved world ahead should they become influential.

I took a stroll in the evening reflecting on youthfulness and how powerful and positive is that energy when channeled. Hey! I’m beginning to sound like I’m an old man. I’m not old. I’m not this body.

7 Km

Saturday, 8 November 2008

Thursday, November 6th, 2008

Thurs. Nov. 6/08 - Toronto, Ontario

Students from Silverthorn Secondary school seemed to gel well with their experience at the temple. Mitch, their teacher, is a regular enthusiast of spirituality who takes his students to the temple and other faith centers. He insisted that I speak about the marathon walks I’ve undertaken as his group is largely comprised of athletic types. While I spoke to the students about the power of guru (the one who coaches you), the power of chanting, the power of sacred images, the power of prasadam (blessed food), the power of good association. I was obliged to address the experience of power walking.

I tried to convey the need to apply conviction in what we do, that no matter what is the weather, whether you are noticed or the public gives no attention, hungry or thirsty you go at your responsibility.

Mitch asked for the sake of the students about taking drugs. “It’s bad news! It’s not seeing long term. In our youth there are enticements and especially pressure coming from peers. If you want good performance in hockey, swimming, running and other sports just abstain. Even taking substance “In moderation” shapes into alluring scenarios”. The message seemed to sit well with them.

Mitch was great and so were his students. He admitted to me that he’s used the cookbook, “The Higher Taste” a vegetarian publication by Bhaktivedanata Book Trust, made some preps and proceeded to offer his food to Krishna. He said he assembled it all as a meal for guests.
“It turned out to be delicious”.

3 Km

Tuesday, November 4th, 2008

Tuesday, November 4/08 - Deseronto, Ontario, Canada

There are certain words that cannot be repeated here- words that were volleyed towards me expressing that I was not welcome.

While on return to Toronto from Montreal, a distance of 600kms, Yajna Gauranga, another monk from Toronto acting as my driver wanted to take a nap due to driver’s fatigue. I decided to walk ahead, catch some fresh air and a gaze at that intense red sun in front of me. Just west of the town Desronto is Mohawk territory. It is clearly marked along highway 2. While 3 kilometers into the trek a male voice shouted from the side “freak”, Foreigner” and other colorful expressions. I stopped for a moment and took-up the challenge. I could see no one beyond the trees and a clump of three houses tightly built together.

“Would you like a conversation? We can talk!” The voice continued but from his distance, no body appeared. It was mild out and easily he could have spoken through a window from inside. Command to leave kept asserting itself and I again challenged a friendly conversation. But to no avail.

I would have defended myself expressing That I’m not a foreigner (I guess my robes didn’t fit into his form of reality) and that I was born in Chatham, Ontario close to the famed Uncle Tom’s cabin where black slaves were given refuge during America’s revolution. I’m a monk and not a freak. And besides we are not these bodies. We are spirit souls. Using bodily designation is somewhat unhealthy. We can share the earth together. If you check out history even indigenous people came from somewhere, the common belief being that they migrated from Asia through the Bering Strait. Which community wasn’t nomadic by will or by force looking for a promised land or put into exile on an island or desert? We are all essentially brothers sharing the common father, the Creator.

Unfortunately there was no receptivity or a will to meet and converse. The non-hospitable remarks persisted and I was left to bear an ounce of humility, which isn’t bad.

12 Km

Tuesday, 4 November 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008

Monday, November 3rd, 2008 - Hull, Quebec, Canada

Not a single human soul passed me along the quite trail, Voyageurs Path along the Ottawa River from 3h30 AM to 5h30 AM. After all it is early and it is Monday. (Remember that Mamas’ and Papas’ song “Monday Monday” casting off all the blues feelings?)

A sleeping flock of geese awoke at the subtle stomping of my feet as I tread near the calm water. They became a little bit agitated and I felt a bit guilty being the cause of the disturbance. Did they ever create a fuss with their honking sounds!
History is rich here. The monumental figure of Jean de Brebeouf stands tall along the path. As a Jesuit priest from France in early 17th century Brebeouf and other pastoral peers braved the Algonquin wilderness attempting to Christianize the indigenous people. Being a tall strong stature this Jesuit won the hearts of the Huron peoples. However the Iroquois took less of a liking to his mission and as a result ended a missionary village and his life.

Shortly after a return trip to Montreal, history was made for French speaking Canadians when Priya Bhakta, a local translator, presented a book “Teaching of Lord Chaitanya” by Srila Prabhupada as an offering of love. It took him six months to complete the translation of this essential reading material which gives an in-depth insight into the Bhagavat philosophy of Vaishnavism.

9 Km

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008

Sunday, November 2nd, 2008 - Ottawa, Ontario, Canada

There are always sincere seekers surfacing and making inquiries into the Absolute. Here at the centre on Somerset East after explaining the melodic lyrics of a song “Damodarastaka” some bright inquisitive faces came forward. They were young men who wanted clarification on the nature of the Absolute as a person. Those relatively new seekers also became personally involved in the dance portion of the Sunday gathering. In fact the entire group attending became immersed in a kind of polka-square dance moving to the tempo and beat of drum and accordion and the sound of mantra.

After my talk and the chanting session a fellow by the name of Sunny asked if I knew Nostradamus. I said that I was quite aware of some of this visionary’s prophecies. Sunny proceeded to tell me that Nostradamus predicted that India’s faith and culture will dominate the world. I foresee that this could be so when the young and the curious participate with open hearts in all the joyful expression.

Mind you, this is a world of duality in which we live and not all person exposed to Krishna Consciousness are happy campers. One individual whom I spoke with earlier in the day expressed his disappointment with operations in our society which he accused of not having all priorities in order. It was difficult to have dialogue because the person was overcome with more emotion than with any attempt towards reflective listening. What can be done? Listen is the best we can do and offer help and show friendship. One day a real dialogue can flower. As a person in his delivery: “Maybe I’m wrong and I’ll be able to see it different some day.” So I felt hopeful.

2.5 Km

Sunday, 2 November 2008

Saturday, November 1st, 2008

Sat. Nov 1/08 - Repentigny, Quebec, Canada

At 3AM there were still a fair number of residual party goers staggering back to their homes from Hallowe’en fests at the Hochelaga-Maisonneuve portion of Montreal City. While I was set for serious chanting on Ste-Catherine street which is two blocks from our ISKCON Centre, those evening fun goers seemed delighted in my original costume, my robes comprised of a dhoti, kurta and a chaddar, which is a warm shawl to wrap around my upper body. Some thought I was part of the fun, unaware that the apparel is worn year-round. One woman in a silly hat and who rode on a bicycle let off a hysterical laugh upon seeing the robes and shouted loudly, “Gandhi! Gandhi!”! For myself, monks and members of the Krishna culture worldwide a sober vibe resonated in our hearts. While today’s day is recognized as “All Saints Day” it had turned out by some divine arrangement that this was the day by lunar calculation that our guru Srila Prabhupada passed away thirty one years ago. An anniversary function was held at the Pie-IX centre and a gathering of sincere devotees made good of the memorial ceremony.

The evening portion of the day had in store for some residents of Repentigny a bedroom community for Montreal, a presentation “9 fa├žons d’exprimer sa devotion”, that is, 9 processes of devotion. In a martial arts centre a healthy turn out of 40 people came to learn about and participate in easy-to-adopt ego-crushing ways to make life more spiritually progressive. While I facilitated, a super-nice francophone devotee Anubhava translated into French the ways of sweet surrender. It seems all attendees had a good and awakening time.

9 Km