Wednesday, 31 December 2008

Monday, December 29th, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

There is a scrooge-mood pervading the atmosphere. A friend of mine from Washington in the retail business mentioned that his business in the fourth quarter did poorly despite the traditional spending splurge. People ask if we are on the verge of a major recession? A depression perhaps? People are cautious about the purchase of accessories. Many folks you talk to believe the excessive on-credit current lifestyle is finally catching up karmically. Some say that creed could now have a place while greed takes a rest.

Constantly we see the pendulum swinging from expansion to contraction, from liberalism to conservatism. I wonder if there is a resistance to middle ground- the safe territory? The Bhagavad -Gita refers this to the zone of satva, the mode of thoughtfulness, reason and cautiousness. It is an approach so rarely achieved by us humans as a species.

In any event the Season Greetings are less cheerful this year, so the pulse of the people tells. From the natural law of cause and effect one might be wise to study the nature of the world and is the impetus behind troubled times. Hardship is something we cannot avoid but tolerance is something we can invite.

The world is fragile. The city block that the temple rests in got hit by two black outs. The power failure the second time lasted about forty-five minutes. We were groping around in the dark. Then suddenly everything switched on!

How dual this world is!

0 Km. (just pacing in the temple room while chanting today.)

Saturday, December 27, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

In devotional life there is always a compelling force to see the coming days activities. As I made my way up Spadina Ave. in Chinatown as part of my walking regime I anticipated tomorrow- the time to share my devotional experiences with others at two community gatherings. I don’t necessarily plan my topics for speaking opportunities. It’s the way I am. It may be regarded as a weakness but I guess it’s my style to be fairly spontaneous. I take a verse from the Bhagavad- Gita and the method is to simply take inspiration from a particular verse and its companion purport and to coast along in that manner. I choose a verse often times, “on the spot.”

As I wrestle with the busy shoppers for space and make those peering glances at exotic and enticing produce on display and the less-enticing hanging flesh parts behind windows the experience makes for the basis of things to talk about. Somehow in all travel, whether on foot or otherwise, the things you see, smell, hear, and so on provides a portion of the data making discussion or a talk interesting and human.

As fog crept and glided over the snow laden soil of Queen’ s Park it left a picture of a perfect photo image. Towering leafless trees made dark contrasts to the space once walked by our guru. It is imagery like this that lays more groundwork on the subtle level for emotions to be expressed when delivering a public message of devotion.

10 Km

Monday, 29 December 2008

Thursday, December 25th, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

Yesterday while sitting in the dentist’s chair the assistant who was about to execute the cleaning of my teeth asked, “Do you celebrate Christmas?”

“Yes, I said, in a unique kind of way. We love Jesus and his teachings. We (meaning our resident monks at the temple) will conduct an extra period for chanting.” This was precisely what we did and I took the chance to sing the Hare Krishna maha-mantra to the tune of “What child is this?”, a Christmas carol. It worked perfectly. When you consider that some of the melodies applied to the Hare Krishna chant are Bollywood or romantic tunes then I have no misgivings about using a traditional Christian tune which is very devotional.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, did not lay hard and fast rules on melodies used. He always emphasized a devotional approach to everything. He did express some preference to traditional tunes as used in Bengal by Gaudiya Acharyas, or teachers in the line of Caitanya. Devotion or Bhakti was always the main point.

The day of Christmas was indeed serene. Hardly an automobile engine could be heard from inside the temple. The evening was also blessed with quiet. Two monks and I braved the glassy-iced ravine for an up and down walk-and-slide experience while occasionally breaking into the mantra using the “What child is this?” melody. It all fit together so well; chanting, good association, fresh air, and a great tune.

5 Km

Thursday, 25 December 2008

Tuesday, December 23rd, 2008

Windsor, Ontario, Canada

It took me practically 50 minutes to walk around the massive block of Chrysler Plant. It gives you an idea of the size of the place which has employed thousands over the years in this auto town. I happened to stay overnight just two blocks away from the assembly with companion and fellow spiritualist Devadatta, at the home of his father, Dennis Ford (no relation to the big auto Baron).

These days companies such as Chrysler talk about big bucks, as they always did. The current climate has changed and instead of dollars in the plus it’s dollars in the red. While Christmas season is brewing the good cheers are also not what they could be. Bankruptcies and bail-outs are the talk of the town. In such grim times one could demonstrate a little wisdom, one could consider the great option of spirituality.

One woman walking her dog trudging through the snow with an air of cheerfulness, “Lots of beautiful snow!” she said as Devadatta and I readied ourselves to pull out of his father’s driveway.
“Yes”, I agreed “It’s mother nature’s frozen milk and it replenishes many forms of life in the spring”, I replied
“You must be one of those Green people”, she remarked.
“Well, I am a monk of the Hare Krishna movement and we do have some ecological concerns.”
“You learn something everyday”, she said blissfully and went on her way.

With less walking and more driving Devadatta and I visited five household, over a stretch of three hundred kilometers. Weather was nasty and in one city, London Ontario, we accidentally slipped into a snow-bound ditch. The first motorist to see us in our bind stopped, pulled out their newly purchased shovel and got us out of a tight spot.

The good Samaritans are out there and do exist. The two fellows did not show sainthood by expression of language but they did by expression of action.

6 Km

Sunday, December 21st, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

It is officially the first day of winter and winter it is. Snow has blanketed the ground giving it a brightness that summer could never do. People like to complain about the white stuff. It’s cold! It’s hazardous for motorists! I had walked a good hour and a half in it. It reduces your walking (and driving speed) in half, if not more.

Snow! I believe it is something to smile at. To me it’s mother nature’s frozen milk. In time it nourishes the vegetation which nourishes hundreds of species including us humans. It’s a transformation of water. It illuminates the night. It’s insulation from chilly winds. It’s one of the colours of God when He goes under the name Balarama. So, stop winning.

Our Guru, Srila Prabhupada, was the example of optimism-always. For those of us who knew him he was Mr. Positive. In the midst of any difficulty he always looked up and ahead. Like those folks who came to attend a wedding today at our temple, the building in which I live. Attendees braved the snow storm to give support to couple Yamuna Jivana and Siobhan. They were not intimidated by harsh weather. Fish are never deterred by the current they swim against.

At the end of the day I called a friend from the states wishing him a “Seasons Greetings!” We spoke about smiling in the face of any and all adversities. I could not see him smiling but I could feel it. He expressed that those who smile have a grip on life. He also said that some folks make the excuse, “I come from a culture that doesn’t smile.” My friend argues that in New Guinea they used to eat humans. Not anymore.

So Smile! They made a change.

6 Km

Tuesday, 23 December 2008

Thursday, December 18th, 2008

Havana, Cuba

At the airport an elderly man, a tourist from Canada, expressed that he was disheartened with his visit and that he has re-routed his vacation for Mexico. I on the other hand, enjoyed my stay. Apart from the heavy black car emissions spewing out from vintage cars I rather love Cuba. It’s much like India. There are environmental issues that make it uncomfortable but people are generally sweet. My mind gravitated back to the previous night’s event in Matanzas. There were these incredible lit up faces and bodies swaying to the beat. All were moving like the Cuban royal palm trees caught dancing in the coastal breeze. It was beautifully synchronized and with no rehearsal.

On my return flight I watched on the airline screen “March of the Penguins” the first time. I had been hurting a bit in the thighs from the morning’s walk but when viewing those pilgrims/penguins take up there austerity my trivial pain vanished, when they slide on their bellies. They were getting me fired up. My walks at the Malecon, rests at my room, the talks at different homes and other venues with casual meetings and greetings with people of what is often a misunderstood place have been most fulfilling. I look forward to the next venture there. Adios Cuba!

7 Km

Wednesday, December 17th, 2008

Matanzas, Cuba

In Cuba heroes are very much memorialized. Monuments and magnificent sculptures of those who fought for the cause of independence certainly dot the city of Havana. My two heroes for the day were in the flesh, two towering black athletes, one who teaches basketball and the other baseball. Although they were slugging down the rum which comes in small fruit-juice-type pakettes they did have a lot to say about their own need for God and their commitment to the Santaria tradition. For them the concept of a monk, no woman as an intimate friend was inconceivable. I appreciated that they tried to understand the idea of a monks mind-set, that all men are brothers, all women are sisters and all children are everyone’s responsibility.

While friendship ignited here I also came upon some anti-hero dynamic. I short -cutted my way to the apartment through university grounds. An over amiable type asked about my country of origin and offered to show me around with his friend. They took me to a dark side path, an area devoid of students, and pressed for help of the monetary kind. I had to coolly weasel my way out of this situation and emphasize my own poverty position. “I’m not a tourist” I declared. When I couldn’t produce what they wanted, they stopped smiling.

Anti-heroes sometimes come in waver. At Matanzas, a mere hour and a half east of Havana (by car) history tells of when Europeans came and gunned down every last indigenous person, leaving not one to stand. Hence the name Matanza, “Killing”. War is the world’s common occurrence. It is remarkable that centuries later descendants of such antagonism had come to partake in the aggressive passivism of chanting with us.

There are some good medals deserved out there. My own personal hero is anyone who responsibly looks after dependants and keeps at the core some spiritual integrity.

10 Km

Tuesday, December 16th, 2008

Havana, Cuba

Private space sizeable enough to accommodate thirty or so people for an ND Method lesson was a bit of a challenge to find for Yoel, but he did it. NDM or Nine Devotional Methods was the planned presentation for me to make. A new Age woman in the Havana community had the perfect spot for us near the tourist centre area, a quaint, but adequate courtyard. Healers, massage therapists, yoga practitioners and other alternative life seekers attended.

As in other locations the two hour session response was overwhelming. They were enthusiastic for dos partes. (Part two). So I’ll have to structure something as a follow up. A sequel will be something to thirst over thanks to the great Puranic saint Prahlad. At age five the young boy nailed down 9 principals to adapt to for acquiring inner strength.

Walking to and from this pleasant courtyard meant passing through neighbourhoods both rich and poor. Such dualities exists everywhere. Frankly in my opinion if ever a consumer/ capitalist system was introduced into Cuba it would toss the rico and pobre communities a greater distance apart. It would have a negative impact. I do admire a place where the government offers everyone free medical and educational services, where pornography is prohibited and television is more educational and commercial free. Above all people are approachable here. It’s easy to make friends.

One milestone to share is that three Cubans formally made vows to accept a guru, abstain form meat, intoxicants, gambling and to honour strong family values. It might be a first for this country which is so inclined toward spirituality.

16 Km

Friday, 19 December 2008

Monday, December 15th, 2008

Havana, Cuba

“Hay es Luner.” ( It is Monday).
I get excited when I learn some small thing in Spanish. I hope I can retain it.

Yoel, Wendy and I made it to the Malikon. The moon was prominent. It was going to be another clear day. And we were clearing our heads (cabeza) chanting the mantra on our beads while walking. It is the most excellent way to start any day.

Today was the day to reflect on one of the great visionaries of our tradition, Bhaktisiddhanta, our guru’s guru. Very effectively he shared his view of God awareness to the sub-continent of India in the early half of the 1900’s. Of course, India can boast to already have this awareness, but in particular Bhaktisiddhanta gave attention to the work of Caitanya, the avatar who emphasized mantra chanting.

Yoel and I visit the Indian Embassy, a few short blocks from my rented apartment. There was a cordial meeting with members there.

Time was taken up at washing my own robes in the kitchen sink with dish soap (the only facility available for now), and happily hanging them to dry on the veranda. Yoel’s mother busied herself cooking for us while Yoel attended his university classes which included writing an examination. I certainly could afford to give time to do a little self-maintenance hand washing.
Looking down from the veranda I could see plenty of people walking which probably could explain why Cubans look more fit than do most North Americans.

Another evening satsang (devotional gathering) brought our little nucleus of devotees together. It was flavored with the strumming of a guitar. All things can be dovetailed or channeled into a chanting session. It’s always the devotion that counts.

9 Km

Sunday, December 14th, 2008

Havana, Cuba

I had arrived yesterday in Cuba. It’s my second visit. After a lengthy rest I ventured to the Malecon, the ocean front where the water slaps against the sea wall. To reach there from my rented apartment at block J25 I trekked down several blocks where people were still on overtime party mode.

“Where are you from?” asked a few groups of people chilling from the music-dance-drinks-scene. One fellow this early/late time (4:15am) was thrilled to hear I’m a Canadian.
“Hey, I love Cuba!” I responded, “….it’s warmth and openness.”
To which he said “You like Cubans?” Here we sing, dance and the sex is good!”
“I’m a monk and I’m not sure you said the right thing.”
“Lo Siento!” (I’m sorry) he said.

After several encounters of enjoyable folks I met the ocean, walked to the capital buildings and the old Fort wall meant to hold off pirate invaders of the past. I appreciated the moon creating sparkling waves. I was lucky to not get a splash. Aggressive waves reached out to soak the sidewalk on both sides of me, but I managed to stay dry.

Wendy is a four year novice at spiritual life and I was invited with 21 year old Yosh and mom, Cecilia, to her home for conducting chanting, a talk, and answering questions with Cuban vegetarian fare to finalize the visit. Following that great experience with an apartment full of chanting enthusiasts we all ventured out to a park for public drumming and chanting. Young folks joined in the fun moving their bodies to the beat of the drum and smacking hands. Two police came to watch. They saw no trouble here, but rather, a keep-out-of-trouble program going on here. And so they moved on.

16 Km

Saturday, 13 December 2008

Firday, December 12th, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

A couple of good friends, doctors, arranged for me to check my spine through an MRI scan. Results will come in a few days. It’s an interesting process. You are put in a container the size of a coffin with ear plugs on. The lady who came out before I went in said the sounds inside were like a bad sounding rock band. “I’m claustrophobic, so it was tough.” She looked like she had a rough time.

At my turn I could understand what she meant, although at one point the tapping noise had a rhythm and I caught myself moving my toes to the beat. The operator of the machine asked me to keep still, so I did. It was hard to not move the legs in that reclining position with a roof three inches from your nose. In any event we’ll see what find of wear and tear exists on the spinal cord given all the walking, aging and not always being posture perfect.

I feel embarrassed to not put in at least two hours of trekking a day. The hospital form asks if the patient has a ride home. I answered, “no” . I always walk everything off even if there would have been a little “shake up” after the session.

Another passion that consumes me is drama. For the evening a volunteer group came to see me to work on a refined version of, “The Eighth Boy” regarding the life of Krishna.

Today was a day of patience and passion. I’m grateful for today.

5 Km

Thursday, 11 December 2008

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

He works with the greatest of ease and I’m not talking about the man on the flying trapeze. I’m referring to one of our own monks who faithfully goes daily to the world’s longest street (Yonge st.) and smoothly convinces people, mostly shoppers, that they are getting the best bargain in life. The bargain is the “Bhagavad-Gita”, the great gift of knowledge.

Yajna Gauranga, a Ukrainian born monk, who sports regular civilian clothes for the task, loads himself up with soft-bound Gita books, priceless information on life skills. He succeeds with devotional finesse to approach passerby-ers, gets them to stop from their passionate pace and convinces them to take home a copy of this timeless “bombshell”. I say bombshell because once the wisdom of the Gita is put into thought and subsequent action it’s sure to shatter some mundane dreams.

I was appreciating Yajna’s devotional charm as I took a much needed afternoon stroll through the Santa Barrage of shoppers’ madness. My route was deliberate – to hit his daily path, meet him, and watch him in action. Christmas is a lonely time for a lot of people and the Gita’s contents can challenge that worst of social maladies – loneliness. Not everyone has to feel the pangs of a “Blue, blue, blue Christmas” as Elvis used to sing. “Go, Yajna, GO!”

8 Km

Wednesday, 10 December 2008

Monday, December 8th, 2008

Toronto, Ontario, Canada

A ravine here leads one to an old brick-making factory. There is a magnificent solitude at this site near Bayview Avenue, it should not be surprising. I walked there at 1:30am (contending with jet lag to my adjustments). Everything was covered with snow. I’ve seen two adult fox playing in the snow here in the past and at approximately the same time of the day. I will endear that image in my mind forever.

It was just me, those fox and my whisper of the maha-mantra that was so magical, even when the red fury fellows noticed me and then hurriedly dashed off.

This day was the anniversary of the Bhagavat-Gita being spoken. Some Gita verses I reflected on were Arjuna’s queries and remarks which reveal his transformation. “ I feel the limbs of my body quivering……I am forgetting myself…..It would be better to live by begging than top live at the cost of the lives of great souls……I am confused. …..Instruct me. What are the symptoms of one who is in transcendence? How does he speak? How does he sit and walk? ……Why do you want to engage me in this warfare? …..By what is one impelled to act offensively, even against one’s will, as if by force? …..Yoga is impractical for the mind is restless…..what is the destination of the unsuccessful who in the beginning takes to the process? ……What is the self? What is Karma? ……I wish to see how you entered into the cosmic form!.....Who are you? …..You are air, fire, water, the moon, Your are everything….Please tolerate the wrongs I have done. Excuse me.”

8 Km

Monday, 8 December 2008

Saturday, December 6th, 2008

JFK Airport, New York

I’m back to the Northern Hemisphere. All seems not so fast and efficient at JFK – the customs lines, the security check line are slow and clumsy-running. Perhaps it’s not always like that. Whether northern or southern, down under or up above the same mood pervades. Money is hard to come by. That’s what everyone is saying – In Australia, Argentina, America and Canada. Still birds chirp in the south and the wind and snow are alive and kicking in the north.

After having landed finally in Toronto I addressed the jet lag issue by drinking liquids, bathing and going for that long walk. I decided to prod the ravine near Bayview Avenue along with Devadatta. He loves the change of seasons, appreciates the snow fresh fall like me.

For a good long while I had a chat with organizers of the festivals to come- the winter, spring and summer ones. Our projections were probing into the future and we reminisced the past pleasant events. And then someone, Krishna Caitanya, my secretary, handed me on paper one of those proverbial motivational messages which reads as follows:
The pessimist complains about the wind, the optimist expects it to change, the realist adjusts the sails…..

8 Km

Friday, December 5th, 2008

Buenos Aries, Argentina

They have only been married for a year and the relationship started not so long ago when he, Rodo, introduced her, Laura, to a book about spiritual life. It all began with Krishna. He is a professional juggler, does circus acts and she is a hatha yoga teacher. They are a couple now happily engaged in service to the temple just like so many other young couples who find spare time for “pitching in”. Rodo provides entertainment for the temple festivals and Laura helps with Kitchen duties.

Radha is pregnant with a child while her hubby works at a candle factory. It is unfortunate that I forgot his name as he is such a nice fellow but unfortunately he lost his middle finger to a cutting machine just recently. He’s taking it well. This vibrant couple attends enthusiastically to temple programs where there are philosophical talks.

At a program held in the suburbs at Shantipur Yoga Centre many young males and females meet regularly for chanting and hearing sessions. I was invited to talk about any subject of my choice. So it came to be relevant to human dynamics that I speak about the “Duryodhan principal”. (Duryodhan is a nefarious character found in the epic, “Mahabharata). The Duryodhan principal is just a term I used to describe our individual nature to be somewhat self-centered and at times non-co-operative. We discussed the need for cohesion and a harmony in all efforts to advance the spiritual cause.

5 Km

Thursday, December 4th, 2008

Buenos Aries, Argentina

It has been a recovery day from the many hours soared high over the Pacific. I had slept a good straight six hours in the guest room of the local temple. Chanting started at 12 midnight. Confined to the temple’s tiny courtyard with its high property-line wall, I took it as a pleasantly imposed discipline to pace back and forth while chanting the Hare Krishna mantra. I was locked in by pad lock until the day dawned and a local monk who routinely unlocks let me at my usual roaming freedom.

While a portion of my day is captured by the spiritual writings of Srila Prabhupada I often browse this-worldly material keeping myself “in-touch”. November’s issue of National Geographic features an article of the Tarahumara who evaded Spanish conquerors in their homeland of Sierre Madre in Mexico. They were called Raramuri which means,”he who walks well”. To quote,” they’ve been known to irritate American ultramarathoners by beating them while wearing huasache sandals and stopping now and then for a smoke“.

From reading on I felt empathy for the isolated Tarahumara whose lives are now threatened by modern ways.

In Bernal, a hours distance from Buenos Aries, I was driven to facilitate another ND method (nine devotional practices) to a group of enthusiastic participants. The host was Jiva Goswami and his large home with devotional pictures and deities galore became the evening’s venue. People in this part of the world love to drum and chant all night long but for practical reasons we must draw time lines.

6 Km

Friday, 5 December 2008

Tuesday, November 25th, 2008

Tues. Nov 25/08 - Sydney, Australia

Moving along in the air towards the next stop in the Southern Hemisphere. I am trying to calculate mathematically my hours (gained or lost). But frustrated I conclude that to be patient is a veritable virtue for a renounced person. When I landed at the Sydney Airport I had my filled out customs card. For occupation I wrote. ``Minister Of Religion`` the terminology used in Canada. Customs looked at that with raised eyebrows, questioning followed.

``You’re a Minister of Religion`` ``What are you doing here?`` Do you have a card to verify your occupation?`` You`re only here for eight days?`` How long have you been a Minister?``

I answered smoothly the authority`s questions. They found the responses unique enough. I write dramas and direct plays for youths and walk across countries – three times across Canada.

``Oh how long does that take?``

``Six months! One day I will tackle Australia and watch the kangaroos`` (Laughter).

My host to Australia or as he puts it "The Land Of Oz" is a dear friend and long time monk, Indradyumna Swami, who also brought me to Poland earlier in the summer. He's invited me to direct his Aussie troupe for “The Gita" as a component in "Le Carnaval Spiritual" established in France in `79. Thanks for the invite.

On this first trip to this great land of wonder I felt the need to ground myself after a lengthy air travel. Cameron, another friend, took me around. On foot we passed through the executive district of North Sydney, residential areas and parks with fragrant eucalyptus trees. Nice place but like most the motorists are in the majority and pedestrians remain the minority.

5 Km

Sunday, November 23rd, 2008

Sun. Nov. 23, 2008 - Buenos Aires, Argentina

The community of devotees in Buenes Aires have had it rough in the last few months. The human dynamics of divided interests split the consciousness that was there when I made my first visit in 2006. Fortunately a third party was called in under the able mediation of good friend Jaga Jivan from Paraguay just prior to the Chariot Festival. Hope was restored and it appeared to me that the happiness in the hearts of the community was a gauge for some level of success. What can be done. Even Spiritual families have their differences. We just have to attempt to resolve, that`s all.

One young family man, Javier, who shares life with a supportive wife and daughter, became enthused to take diksha, spiritual initiation. His new name is JANMASTHAMI DAS. I am overly impressed with his active participation in service. Being non political, and simplicity of character is what is really going to spare him from being involved in dissention. It is heart warming to meet someone trusting and not evil – hearted. Some monks and I took to walking on what seemed like an endless residential street until we stumbled upon the commuter train tracks. I am learning the spanish word for dog, cat, pigeon, dove, street, etc. I certainly could not ignore those massive beautiful purple flowered trees indigenous to the area, the name of which I forgot.

The Sunday evening program at the ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness) centre drew a vast amount of people. Some young people of same gender orientation came to visit for the first time. They were curious about our views on same – sex relations. Our monks get asked all the time about our stance on the issue. My answer is Krishna is accepting of everyone. If one choses the experience of celibacy the ashram is a good place to lie. Otherwise we all have an obligation to regulate and control our sexual appetite.

5 Km