Monday 30 November 2009

Wednesday, November 25th, 2009

Buenos Aires, Argentina

I really admired this cricket. You know, the cricket, those black chirping insects that especially make known their presence in summer nights.

Gunagrahi Swami, a dear monastic friend since 1973, and I were sitting in my accommodation room in a newly acquired old private school in Colegiales, Buenos Aires district, when one of those innocuous creatures started his shrilly round. To Gunagrahi’s credit the building is now a Hare Krishna monastery after years of devotees staying in a rented house in another section of town. I recall the floor boards of that building bouncing under the feet of the thumping chanters and dancers. What comes along with any purchase of a new or old building are rent-free tenants. Our cricket friend happens to be one of them.

The reason for my affinity to those rather inconspicuous creatures is that he has a beat. He was like a clock emitting regular strikes. He was like an incessant chanter with only short brakes periodically. I wish I could do that. This one went on all night. Gunagrahi is known for his love of music, a former jazz lover, and still craves for the sound of djembe when played right at a chanting session. He also liked the sound of the cricket coming through ever so clearly from the window outside.

Cricket sounds remind me of a peaceful night in an Indian village like Krishna’s village, Vrndavana. Have you ever heard hundreds of them in concert at once? Quite extraordinary! I think you find them just about anywhere in the world to the exception for the globes far north and south. There has been a many late nights when I would walk and they would be my companions, practically guards of the night.

This one stayed with me all night long. I could hear him, but not see him. Maybe it’s just as good. If it wasn’t for a crickets black color I would mistake him for a cockroach.

He’s God’s creature and worth mentioning because of the non-stop chanting. In this way he inspires.

0 Km

Sunday 29 November 2009

Tuesday, November 24th, 2009

Atlanta Airport

Martin Luther King, the remarkable man who left a legacy of hope became the subject of display at what they call the world’s busiest airport, Atlanta. I just bumped into the exhibit on my way to the Gate E. His suit worn when meeting President Johnson and a photo of his interior showing an enlarged picture of Gandhi are part of the display. It’s moving to see these and other items.

As I sat down waiting for my flight to Buenos Aires, CNN blared out news of America and India making formal alliances between President Obama and Prime Minister Singh. Some of my friends who are conspiracy theorist will have their strong opinions about this apparent alliance. Let them talk and speculate to their heart’s content.

Before further bombardment from CNN I learned of the airports chapel location and went on my feet to the modest room. As you walk in you see on a shelf the Bible, the Koran and the Bhagavad-gita As It Is. I beamed to see that Gita there. The room was empty but the page I opened to was full of power and revelation, verse 7.9 about seeing divinity in the earth’s fragrance and the heat in fire.

In addition to what I saw and read and heard at the airport I was taken by surprise to spot a dear God sister of mine, Anand Dasi, from Florida, who was en route to India. We begged for each other’s blessing that our journeys would be successful.

The other thing I would say in praise of the world’s largest airport is that it’s a good distance walk to go from one concourse to another. After all it wasn’t so long ago that airports and Hare Krishna’s had something in common with each other?


Wednesday 25 November 2009

Monday, November 23rd, 2009

Guru Walking

Toronto, Ontario

One of the most beautiful aspects of the character of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, was his ability to move through the mess of Kali Yuga. Kali Yuga refers to the age in which we live – a time of deception – or as he always put it, the age of quarrel and hypocrisy. He came in ’65 to see something extraordinary. Coming from a conservative Victorian influenced background, his first impression of a free-spiritual hippidom so prevalent at New York’s lower east side and Haight Ashbury in San Francisco was practically astounding to him.

He accepted radical youth who carried the air of cynicism towards the establishment but who shed the badgering tendency upon accepting the disciples of Srila Prabhupada. At least a good number of them took a good shot at it. Prabhupada taught us optimism, positive thinking in the face of a crazy world. If there was fault he would overlook it. See the good (refers to Krishna’s view on the Putana Demoness). This is a universally accepted virtue. It’s the mark of a saint.

Ironically for all the work he did, which was mammoth-like, he took great risks and for the open-door policy (everyone is eligible and given a chance) he was criticized by his peers. But he held his head high and moved forward speaking of positive Krishna Consciousness. He was always positive and upbeat.

I have a strong impression of seeing him because I was with him in Atlanta in ’75. A small band of us monks were walking with him in a local park. The morning was bitter-cold but he moved along oblivious to it. I won’t forget his walking with his head high and a humble heart.

He taught us to avoid criticism and the tendency to find fault, which is a feature of Kali Yuga. It is not the mark of a saint. He taught glorification and not horrification. I will continue to see him walking, in the cold, with a humble heart.

6 Km

Sunday, November 22nd, 2009


Brampton, Ontario

Besides bathing in the satisfaction of seeing two showings of “Lonely People” a drama directed by you humble servant, I had contemplated while walking a tearful moment over an incident that occurred. It was at a recent gathering of someone’s home. The family hosting the devotees of Krishna also welcomed friends. The food was divine. All there enjoyed it. The spirits were high. People were satisfied with the message from the Gita and the chanting.

I stood at the entrance of the foyer ready to depart when in the midst of people joyfully chatting a person caught my eye. Children were wrapped in laughter in the next room. Excitement was in the air. The person came towards me straight as an arrow from the other end of the foyer. The look on that person’s face did not share the general consensus of the mood. There was uneasiness written all over that look that came a hand distance between us.

The eyes were transfixed on a message to me in the form of a whisper, “My spouse is having an affair. Please bless me. Bless me!”

The eyes of that person became very moist as I froze for a moment. Once again- “Bless me!”

Mantras flowed from my tongue as those worried and wet eyes darted to my heart. The spouse came over smiling at me. Pleasantries in the way of words occupied our cubical of space set exclusively for the three of us. We began to speak of the children, “Your children are adorable” I said. “They are God’s children and are worth everything. To give them their needs and every morsel of morality is a parent’s responsibility. It’s not always easy but we try and try.”

To that both husband and wife nodded and maintained smiles. I left the house for the journey home only hoping that good sense will direct their lives.

1 Km

Saturday, November 21st, 2009

Integrity- Bottom Line

Markham, Ontario

At the Urban Edge Yoga Centre a generation under (those in their 20’s and 30’s) converged and inquired how to put together a decent presentation. To put it more succinctly, “how do we give a class in Krishna (higher) Consciousness?” Some tips, please?

I felt honored to be asked because I don’t put myself into the oratorical category. I will only admit to being a sliver of a latent entertainer that was incubated until hatching back in March ’73, when I joined the ashram. As said before I was a shy guy and then some confidence built up. Credit goes to guru and God.

“What do you think your audience wants from your delivery?” I asked the curious group. The answer comes rolling out, “To be informed! Warmth Transformation, a thought provoking message! An experiential time! Clarification! Something Inspiring! Something relevant!.” And so on.

“What do you have to do to evoke these results?”

The answers were good. “Study, prepare, emote, walk your talk, be genuine, listen, hear, Give examples, quote, give past and current events. “ And so on…..

Collectively we gathered enough information to form a mini-course in motivational speaking. Emphasis went mainly towards having a good foundation to stand on, being principled or being of good character. As one of the attendees said, “Most people have a BS detector built into them.” So a speaker on the science of the self demonstrates integrity.

If someone has integrity they will have desire to apply “technique” in order to give a presentation some punch. It all starts with sincerity of purpose.

I just wanted to thank the contributors who all got up on their feet at the end of the session and let loose on an exhilarating expression of joy through dance and kirtan (chanting).

13 Km

Sunday 22 November 2009

Thursday, November 19th 2009

The Wave of George

Conception Bay, Newfoundland

Sea water heaved up to a curve and pounced upon the boulder beach, then again, and still again, incessantly each wave coming down as a wet crash. Rikin my host has his condo set just a few meager feet away from the rhythmic scenario. With the Atlantic sound effect in the background I completed Joshua Greene’s, “Here Comes the Sun”. It’s a good read especially for those who lived during that post war era when times were a changin’. It captures the life of George Harrison’s musical and spiritual journey.

George did many of us growing up in the sixties a great favor. Because of his music our listening drew us to the attention of Bhakti (devotion). In 2003 I walked along this Conception Bay for my second time under a rainy mess with Benjamin who was George Harrison’s son’s best friend. At that time I asked Benji what he recalled about George when he and Dhani, George’s son were hanging out at their home, the Friar Park estate.

“George would see me in the house and say something like, 'just remember – you’re not this body'”, said Benjamin. He also remembered seeing George meditating under a shelter at the garden while rain poured down. He was a master gardener and took great pride in upkeep. Benji and I were drenched that day as we also were absorbed in talks of his past at George’s. I considered Benji a lucky boy for having some cherished memories. He kept regular contact through e-mail with Dhani as we walked the eastern coastline, a mere 200 nautical miles from where the titanic was downed by that fatal iceberg.

Benji is a film maker. He took a lot of footage of those days when we walked this brutal but beautiful terrain.

I flew back home with good thoughts of Benji, of Rikin and of George, of course.

3 Km

Friday, November 20th, 2009

Take Heed

Toronto, Ontario

It makes a difference in a temple ashram when all persons are well engaged, when the telephone receptionist is on the ball to answer every call and smile at guests and offer a sweet. There was a film crew in the basement all day shooting for a short film about domestic problems. The director is a Ryerson student. His crew had sumptuous prasadam (Krishna food). Upstairs our yogi, Devadatta, was interviewed for hours by Sheridan students, for a documentary. Guests were coming to honour prasadam after darshan (viewing of Deities). The bhajan band, Gaura Shakti, popped in for a practice. A regular Friday class with “Gita“ Faithfuls added to the excitement. Cooking went on uninterruptingly. Some of our young women were stirring their pots striking a score on a good meal- a catering for a Buddhist conference. Some of us were assembling a make shift back stage with curtains for drama rehearsals to follow. From this address left Gaurachandra our regular BBT book distributor, delivering all the mercy. And eager youths launched from here a chanting party at the University of Toronto, where they provided food and took it to an outdoor sleep–over to taste what the homeless taste- an activist gesture.

It was busy at the temple ashram. It’s not like this everyday. I wish it was. And it’s never all perfect. A complaint came that a person in the washroom was active with bowel movements but had no tissue to complete the job. Managers of the temple, take heed.

7 Km

Saturday 21 November 2009

Tuesday, November 17th, 2009

St. John's Newfoundland

Nitai Rama and I prepared ourselves for an early flight to St. John's on the far off east coast of Canada. In case I would not be able to fit in time for a hike I said, "I'll take a brahmacari with me who knows the way to the airport and we'll start walking." "Please pick us up when you see our robed selves," I requested.

The entire monastic Halifax crew, four in all - and I, then headed to the airport by way of a borrowed car.

The passenger next to me on the flight, a man of about 45, told me of his three-year term with a group of Trappist monks in Rogersville, New Brunswick. He was the maintenance man onsite and had a great time with the lively monks. In his strong Maritime accent he described the happy but rigid lifestyle. No mirrors were allowed. If you were caught swearing you're out. You take off your shirt in front of the monks and you're out. The only leniency he saw was when a 35 year old person came to join and was allowed at times to wear sneakers and shoot basketball. That was off time.

On time meant prayer and gardening and tending to the fields and animals. Keeping bee hives and marketing the honey harvest was another preoccupation. "The numbers were waning," said my friend in reference to resident monks. "A bunch of monasteries out east here are being turned into hotels and bars," he informed. That was painful to hear.

I know that our young monks in Halifax will age like everyone else. Some or all of them may get married in the future. Our Vedic system permits such a thing. I hope that our ashram will not become irrelevant in the future and will honor the flexibility required to hold an interest for the public.

In the afternoon Nitai and I spoke with faculty from Memorial University. Prof. Pat Dold was seeing a trend, such as on her last trip to India she witnessed her staunch and orthodox Hindu Sanskrit guru go out to take up jogging. Her point was that physical workout or even sport has its place for the religiously strict.

In any event, our meeting went well. In the planning stages for the study term in September it was proposed that I, a Swami, direct a play as a recreational/educational experience for their theology students. So the plan is for me to mix with and associate with students of Religious Studies by directing them in the drama "The Gita". The faculty was excited about students learning the foundational message of the Gita. I'm in ecstasy about the arrangement. The visit to St. John's was already very productive even though we just got off the plane and made
our way to the University.

Walking today was pathetic.

2.5 km

Monday, November 16th, 2009

Worth Remembering

Halifax, Nova Scotia

"I am the original fragrance of the earth, and I am the heat in fire. I am the life of all that lives, and I am the penances of all ascetics." Bhagavad-gita 7.9

The four above phrases of acknowledgment of Krishna's presence in each item is what our evening gathering contemplated on.

Sometimes people ask about 'divine perception'. Well, here it is stated what prominent essences in the things we take for granted are.

Before the group started on learning this selected verse I thought to walk them through the verse by memorizing it. By memorizing the profound statements made here about Divine presence, I proposed that we 'feel' the verse and could better capture its essence by looking at the Sanskrit, the original prose in which it is written. Through the Roman transliteration we articulated each word, then group words together dividing the verse in quarters, first with book in hand and then closed book.

Here's the verse in transliteration format:

punyo gandhah prthivyam ca
tejas casmi vibhavasau
jivanam sarva-bhutesu
tapas casmi tapasvisu

I was pleasantly surprised how our visitors to the ashram took to these new sounds. They did remarkably well. They even pronounced prthivyam, referring to 'earth', in a proper way. After a 25 minute drill of going at memorizing each quarter (or line by line) we said it all together as a complete verse by memory. We set the recitation to a tempo - the beat of a mrdanga drum and viola... A verse was learned and for the most part 'felt'. I'm sure that participants will come back for more reciting and repeating that which is worth repeating.

12 km

Friday, November 13th, 2009

Get Help

Toronto, Ontario

Yes, it's Friday the 13th and it was a bad night as far as rest is concerned.
Some evenings it is hard to sleep because my needed exercise through walking wasn't achieved. I'm just not fatigued enough. A greater cause for the insomnia is a mental anguish that restricts a cherished rest, especially when informed of major family squabbles.

I'm not talking of my own family. I never bred kids being a life-long celibate. And I'm not referring to my five wonderful siblings and honourable deceased parents. A troubled night arises from hearing of a known family in trouble; when a couple with children, for instance, are at the brink of collapse. I do want it to be known that I'm not trying to invoke pity for myself, rather to make mention that any family shaking in dysfunctionality needs a lot of empathy, support, and prayer.

Disagreement is a common feature of our world and we have to be most ready for it. Financial strain, high passions, and anger spurts, or the opposite (no spurts or inertia), mental and physical disease, violence, unfaithfulness are just some reasons I've seen to cause the domestic boat to rock. One thing that I remind parents in peril in an initial talk (let`s leave the serious counselling for the experts) is that to be an adult and in particular a parent is a role of great sacrifice and responsibility. Incredible patience and time needs to be invested - healing prolonged miscommunication.

Ironically in the developed world we have lost the power and support of the extended family to assist in such matters of relationship erosion. It makes the task of reconciliation so much more challenging. Regardless, the call for help is imperative especially when children are implicated. When your young kids are caught in a messy cross-fire it becomes an ugly scene- a cause for major cracking of soft hearts. I would implore couples in turmoil to appeal to counselling to learn improved communication skills and above all to gain and maintain a ritual perspective on things.

One avenue to this end is to contact the Grihastha Vision Team through .

10 Km

Monday 16 November 2009

Sunday, November 15th, 2009

Trails on Sunday

Halifax, Nova Scotia

Eryn is my kind of person. She conducts these walks called 'Wander in the Yonder' each Sunday at a designated spot. The starting place is specific. The route to follow is just let your whim carry you. She refers to herself as a pilgrim and makes reflections walking with volunteer foot enthusiasts a weekly event.

Through Nitai Ram, our head brahmacari in the Halifax ashram, Eryn had come to know of my passion for pilgrimage and so I became her guest for the afternoon. Along with us were local hikers who all bonded together practically at the snap of a finger. Anthony, a young computer consultant, also blazed a trail with us in Point Pleasant Park, a confined area of naturalness where you hit multiple trails through this sea-coast brush. "Take your pick," was the mood. On Wednesday Anthony will be the Olympic torch bearer for a meaningful but meager 300 meter run through Halifax. The lucky guy made it on the national poster for promoting the world winter Olympics in Vancouver.

Eryn spoke about her nomadic life for the summer in Prince Edward Island and her anticipated future walks. We both agreed that the way of the pedestrian is a cleansing and a shedding of bad karma program. We also both have the same experience that very few people have, even the closest friends, understand the extent of healing that walking entails. You have to do it to know it.

It was a walking/talking afternoon. The evening, however, consumed our boys, four monks, and their growing community in the fire of chanting. Their home, apartment up above a Greek restaurant on Quinpool, became almost claustrophobic during kirtan sessions. It was an experience of high energy at its best.

9 Km

Saturday, November 14th, 2009

Deathly Ways

Halifax, Nova Scotia

It had been all over the news. A tragic occurrence along a wilderness trail of northern Nova Scotia at Cape Breton. A young woman at 19 was attacked by two coyotes in an unprecedented scene. She was left with a series of vicious bites and left to lie with loss of blood before she was discovered by walkers nearby. She lost her life before reaching the hospital. Little is known why the wild dogs became so aggressive.

It makes you stop to wonder how very precarious life is even in what appears as a peaceful environment. You can never be too sure. The book Bhagavatam states padam padam yad vipadam na tesam, "In this world there is danger at every step."
When flying off to Nova Scotia to see our brahmacaris (monks) in their new location on Quinpool Road I had contemplated on this mishap. I was compelled to reflect on death when the woman from Halifax next to me in the plane asked, "Is this Hare Krishna?"

I said, "Yes it is!"

"I'll tell you my Hare Krishna story," she said. "Just before my Dad's passing in the hospital he was wearing orange. I asked what the color was all about and he responded by saying 'Hare Krishna Hare Krishna...' ."

I was rather flabbergasted by her brief story. I thought that here was the perfect story- a story of a remarkable way to depart from the world. We spoke little after that. She got wrapped up in the flight cinema. I was content to know that the man's parting was rather favourable. According to Vedic culture hearing mantras is the greatest omen when leaving the body.

I wish that the young woman attacked by the coyotes had at least good thoughts and is on her way to a better existence.

6 Km

Saturday 14 November 2009

Thursday, November 12th, 2009

The Gardener and the Ghosts

Toronto, Ontario

Practically each morning that I’m here I walk with either one of two devotees, Serge or Shyam. We head off to Yonge St. then west on Bloor, past the ROM museum, the old Rochdale building to the Jewish community centre and then north on Spadina back to the temple/ashram. It is then approaching 7:00am. We have darshan (viewing the Krishna deity’s) and conduct guru-puja, a ceremony for the guru. On Thursdays we read along with other monks the instructive and endearing pastimes of our guru, Srila Prabhupada.
We really liked today’s excerpt which is from Gurudas’ book, “By His Example.” With subtitle.

Ghost Story

On the morning walks, Prabhupada would often greet Tittenhurst’s gardener, Frank. He and Frank had respect for each other, as they were about the same age. Frank was living in a small, cozy Tudor cottage, and he had reported to John Lennon that strange sounds kept him up in the night. He thought the cottage was occupied by ghosts. John consulted with Srila Prabhupada and asked him if he could do something to remedy this situation. Prabhupada replied that he could.

He gathered us together, and we marched in a great procession across the low, grassy hills down to the cottage. Prabhupada led a dynamic kirtan and told us to blow the conch shell very often and very loudly, and ghosts don’t like that sound. After a while he said, “They have gone.”

Frank later confirmed that the strange sounds he heard in the night were indeed gone.

5 Km

Wednesday, November 11th, 2009

Jai Ho!

Toronto, Ontario

Meeting dear friend, Devamrita Swami, was a pleasure once again. Just what did he and I mill over? Well, we discussed the need for outreach to local people and not to remain content to please people indigenous to the culture of Krishna. The fact of the matter is that the teachings of Krishna are presentations of universal truths. They are a message for all people regardless of background. We now live in a multi-cultural society. Toronto, being like a mini-New York, has the whole world operating in some type of synergy. Montreal too, is cross-cultural, and draws immigrants from all over the world. We have at our disposal a global climate for spirituality.

Our packaging of the Krishna culture doesn’t need to appeal to one particular ethnic group. Krishna, the name means all attractive. What attractive aspect of Him are we speaking of here-His form, His activities? Or is it His words that shine through with greater strength breaking the barriers of prejudice and the walls of bodily identity?

I have thought that in regards to improving the packaging of the Krishna culture artists could portray Him as less-feminine. After all he is male. That’s something I would like to throw out there for artists to consider. I get tired of people asking me,” is Krishna a she?”

Devamrtia Swami is to be commended for his very realistic approach to the public. He does not compromise the philosophy of Krishna but tells as is with carefully chosen words. His presentation is thoughtful. While in the city he is slotted to speak about mantra meditation, the relevance of spirituality to the environment and identity crisis.

I managed to catch the tail end of this evening’s presentation at the Multi-faith Centre at the UofT campus. People were in good spirits after hearing the Swami speak from a spiritual perspective.

In the afternoon I had lunch with him and then trekked back to the temple meditating on his slick presentation. As we sometimes say in our tradition, “Jai Maharaja…..Jai ho!”

7 Km

Tuesday, November 10th, 2009

Swim, Don’t sink!

Toronto, Ontario

“We are swimmers,” said one of the students, a spokesperson for the group of young people who are also studying philosophy. A class of students came to visit our temple and ashram before checking in with the Daoists. They came for our philosophical perspective on things.

I had to ask myself what the two careers-swimming and philosophy have in common? Here’s what my tiny brain and training in Krishna Consciousness conjured up. It’s rather simple.

With philosophy you try to make sense of this life and once you decide it’s worth exploring every inch of it you try to swim and stay afloat. Someone even in the weakest of times, when swim strokes and dog paddling get trying, there exists an urge inside edging us on. I had an experience once when swimming across the Ganges at Rsikesh in India. The glacial frigidness of the water and strong current exhausted me when I was 2/3 rods across. I thought I was going to go and give myself to Mother Ganga. Physically I was gone but another side of me didn’t want to be gone. Something within me gave reason and need to forge ahead. Perhaps it was the workings of the brain combined with inspiration that kept me alive. After a great struggle I came to shore dragging myself out of danger while panting like crazy.

I came to the conclusion that it was the eternal nature of the soul that wants continuity. It does not want to cease to be.

Flash back over…..

To the students I explained the analogy of the precariousness of trying to swim after being dropped in the middle of the ocean which is compared to this world. You are quite helpless. The only chance of rescue is a boat that miraculously shows up with people who know how to steer that ship even in the most stormy conditions. A good captain is like the guru. The favourable breezes are like the good directions given by the Vedas, the great books of wisdom. And our human body which is prone to swim has all the mechanics for making devotion a way to play itself out even though we live in a very materialistic world.

With follow up questions by the students I thought we had a good session which was topped off with a great veggie prasadam meal.

The only person who was not a swimmer but was a devout walker was the student teacher. So we had lots to talk about afterwards.

6 Km

Thursday 12 November 2009

Monday, November 9th, 2009

Morning Offense.

Toronto, Ontario

They were put on the spot.

Late comers to the early morning service in the ashram were asked by myself to explain themselves and then to apologize to everyone else present for disrespecting time.

There are currently 15 people, 13 men and 2 women living in the ashram. Three were late. As part of the desire of our Guru, Srila Prabhupada, and to the benefit of the soul, punctuality is of paramount importance. Such readiness is expected of people when going to work or school. Why should spiritual activity be less than top of the priority list? It’s incumbent upon all who take up monastic life to follow the rules of the house. It might seem harsh to enforce but what is more harsh is letting monks slip into slackness. Clockwork is required.

From discipline comes freedom and from a lack of it comes a lack of love for the self.

The three delinquents who were late for the joyful service called mangal (auspicious) aarti (service) agreed to explain their lateness. There was no good defense presented but the apologies were genuine.

It hurts to act somewhat like a police officer although I consider myself as a soft enforcer. It’s necessary for keeping a sense of order. The majority of monks are spontaneous in their participation but some are a little slack and require encouragement. When you apply yourself accordingly you see how such harmony and moving together brings joy.

After putting the three in the hot seat, so to speak I wondered how they would perform in the future. That became my meditation while taking the morning walk.

Here’s what list our outstanding brahmacari (monk) Dwija gauranga and I came up with for honouring the early morning service called managal aarti.

Ten offenses against Mangal aarti:
1) to be late
2) to attend unbathed
3) to wear unclean attire.
4) to not sing.
5) to sing or play musical instruments unpleasantly.
6) to talk during the ceremony
7) to demonstrate a lack of enthusiasm
8) to be inattentive
9) to leave prematurely
10) to not show up at all

These happy rules can apply to ashram life.

10 Km

Tuesday 10 November 2009

Sunday, November 8th, 2009

The Road and the Sea

Kent Bridge, Ontario

My memories are fond of just the night before when another packed house outside of Detroit came to hear of Krishna’s pastimes. The morning is engulfed in mist as I Trekked by the side of Long Woods Rd. inching my way forward to see the house where I spent my babyhood. Then Devadatta drove up to my spot. A call came in which caused me to transfer my thoughts. The message came from a devotee whose car just got totaled when a large deer lept in front. The deer was spontaneously killed leaving the driver shaken.

I did get to see the house of my infancy and also to see my sister, Rose Ann and her partner Jim.

Although I paced by corn and cabbage fields my mind gravitated to the sea and a Bengali poem written by our guru, Srila Prabhupada. The translation to section 3 of the piece called, Vradavana Bhajan;

Froth on the Sea Water

The froth upon the seawater
Arrives one moment and disappears the next;
The play of maya’s worldly illusion
Is exactly like that.

No one is actually a mother or father,
A family member or relative.
Everyone is just like the froth on the seawater,
Existing for only a moment.

Just as the froth on the seawater
Dissolves again into the sea,
The body made of five elements
Merges again with these five elements after it dies.

How many fleeting forms does the
Embodied soul take in this manner?
His so-called family members are only related
To this temporary external body.

5 Km

Saturday, November 7th, 2009

A Wish to Address Crime

Detroit, Michigan

The morning message from the book Bhagavatham was about the heroic aspect of Krishna who delivered ladies in peril, kidnapped by a villain Shankacuda. Crime is what it is when the innocent suffer. It is understood that Krishna’s intent in coming to our world was to correct criminals. Who are these criminals anyway? Who are the innocent? We might consider that we all have a streak of “criminal” in us.

In the Bhagavad-Gita, chapter 3 offers a rather truthful statement regarding out thieving nature. There it is said that those who show no gratitude for food we eat are declared “guilty” insofar as stealing is concerned. Some acknowledgement or some recognition of the powerful providers, the demi-gods, is the least one can do. Better still, if you can honour the presiding power over the provider, Krishna himself, then you have come upon something really good.

I spent a good while with Yugal Kishor, Wayne state university student/monk in front of the old Fisher mansion-turned-temple. In the sixties, perhaps earlier, the nieghbourhood just south of affluent Gross Point fell into decline. The area had become crime-ridden. Mr. Fisher had built the home in the car hey day. It was in the 20’s that this great auto baron was worth 500 million dollars. He had influence. Amongst celebrities here were people like Gloria Swanson and Jean Harlow. That is all in the past.

The old mansion had been acquired by followers of Krishna and they are maintaining the structure as a temple. The very bright Yugal Kishor was talking to me about his desire to involve more of the local youth, some of whom are prone to get into trouble with substance abuse and other levels of crime. I concurred with him that something should be done. The Motor City deserves a chance.

1 Km

Friday, November 6th, 2009

Car and Leg

Windsor, Ontario

Devadatta and I lay our bodies down to rest at the home of his father, Dennis Ford, the previous night. Father and son had a reunion, a late night chat. Out of regimen I rose early as usual to explore outdoor air and the eye of God, the sun. My trail for pedestrian pleasure (pleasure because the mantra is with me) is Tecumseh road named after the reputed warrior chief who fought in the war of 1812, the struggle between the British and the Americans. A light frost hit window shields overnight. A walker to work asked, “Aren’t you cold in that?” Referring to the robes I mentioned proudly, “Absolutely not, this is thick hemp.” The fiber I’m wearing may be the answer to brutal winters for Canadian and Russian monks. It’s an experiment. So far so good.

From the Chrylser plant at Tecumseh and Droullaird it was a mediocre walk along the Ford City section of Windsor. The history of auto proliferation is extremely obvious here with Droullaird St. ornamented in the way of monuments, plaques and murals.

Then I hung a left at Riverside drive at the Hiram Walker Distillery. All the while I’m chanting and then it struck me about the dichotomy of the world of hike and mantra set against the world of the greased wheel and liquor.

To take me across the border to the U.S. by way of tunnel under the Detroit River were Kapil and Bharat, devotees from Detroit. From here the Motown portion of the day folded in for a talk about the walk, meaning all the pilgrimages taken thus far. From time to time I take the opportunity to recall glorious and liberating moments from the adventures. It is always a story about the life of simplicity and devotional service.

Fortunately we spoke to a packed house of Bhakti enthusiasts in a place called Novi just outside of Detroit.

14 Km

Sunday 8 November 2009

Thursday, November 5th, 2009

Uncle Tom’s Cabin

Dresden, Ontario

“This is one of my favorite little nooks”, I explained to Devadatta, the spiritualist I’m traveling with for the day. I walked through this area in ’96, My first marathon walk for promoting spiritual awareness. I pointed to a tree after we stopped for a break from driving. “I took a nap under this apple tree”, I said which is set a few meters away from Reverend Josiah Henson’s grave.

Rev. Henson (1789-1883) made history here as part of the black abolition movement. After escaping to Canada from slavery in Kentucky he became a conductor of the underground railroad and started a school here when securing 200 acres of land in 1841 for slaves-turned-refugees. A book was written about his memoirs by author Harriet Beecher Stowe and it became extremely popular around the world. It was entitled, “Uncle Tom’s Cabin”.

Unfortunately the interpretive center was closed for the season as so was Reverend Henson’s house, which still stands here. There is also a tiny church left situated here where black parishioners came for their inner peace. I recall visiting in ’96 sitting in a pew and listening to a recording that plays “swing low sweet chariot.”

I forgot to mention to Deva the story of black slaves seeking freedom for their lives to this community was artistically demonstrated in the classic film, “The King and I’ with actor Yule Brenner. I did mention I was born in the next town over, Chatham and that’s why this place holds some sentimental value for me. Where I grew up there were a few black settlements in Canada left from those slave days.

It’s sad that slavery persists in some form or another somewhere in the world.

After this stop over, our second ,(A prior visit was at Ramachandra” home in London, Ontario) Deva and I proceeded to Windsor, a cash strapped car industry area. There we had a get together with Tom and his wife Betty (nothing to do with Uncle Tom’s Cabin). Tom had lived as a monk in our Toronto ashram in the late 70’s before he took to teaching in Nunavut in the far Artic north and before settling here. They are great company.

As a monastic person, a swami, I have this chosen obligation to visit people to encourage spiritual life. Today’s foot travel happened earlier on before setting out in the vehicle. It was a great day.

6 Km

Wednesday, November 4th, 2009

Chant For Change

Quebec & Ontario

There is not much difference between the two provinces Quebec and Ontario. One is predominantly a place of Francophone; the other Anglophones. Traditionally they were named on a map of the 19th century as Lower and Upper Canada depending on the direction in which they were situated on the St. Lawrence River. Upper meant “up the river” and down meant “down the river” or near the mouth.

Apart from language differences the culture is relatively the same. McDonald’s crosses all borders and so does the car culture.

I decided to walk to the bus depot. With me were residents of the Montreal temple. The neighbourhood along this east end of St. Catherine’s St. isn’t that great although city planners are trying their best to “clean up”. We pass by an intense smell reeking out of a brewery to our right. A huge male strip joint is to our left. A number of churches, all of which are monolithic in size, have been recently closed down. They look gorgeous though, old historic. Montreal has plenty of them.

I bid Farwell to, my co-walkers, all wonderful people who are young and endeavoring to develop spirituality. I was impressed with the public mega-bus, a double-decker but less so with fellow passengers. En route to Toronto I see more signs of decadence, I hate to say. A young fellow conversing on his cell phone was cursing, threatening death to the person on the other end. After the five hour ride we enter Toronto’s downtown business core when I witness another angry caller outside on the sidewalk demonstrating the same aggression but this time with body language while waving his folded newspaper in the air. Do cell phones make people more violent? Certainly it’s a more impersonal way of communication. I don’t carry one. They scare me. Anyways I’m a monk so I have an excuse.

In any event the day has given glimpses of hell and provided as impetus for doing more mantra mediation. What I have seen today is relatively bland as far as evil is concerned but it did stir up in me the need to “chant for change”.

7 Km

Thursday 5 November 2009

Tuesday, November 3rd, 2009

North Of Montreal

Mount Tremblant, Quebec

Just prior to leaving North for this famous ski resort town I was handed a gift of natural honey harvested and delivered by Surya, a bee keeper from the Upper Laurentian Mountains. The contents of the jar, a golden gel, came from the second blooming period of the summer. Surya has marketed the stock and labeled it as Madhukar honey. The gift I won’t indulge in but only after being offered to the diety of Krishna.

On a small tag attached to the jar Albert Einstein is quoted saying, “ If bees disappears from the surface of the earth, man would have no more than four years to live. No more bees, no more pollination……no more man!” It’s a quote I’ve read before and it’s good to be reminded again of our urban infiltration upon the world. There is a need to respond.

Our visit was to a couple’s home in mountain and lake country. Maharja and Marie Jose are that warm kind of French Canadian hosts provided a great curry and also provided me with an opportunity to say a few words to invited friends about the human inclination towards spirituality. We also chanted together by the fire place. I know it sounds crazy but that’s what it was until the heat intensified a spark of interest in the outside and welcome the first flakes of snow for the fall. A stroll through town was terminated by time. I was to reach the downtown temple to speak from the Bhagavad-Gita.

And so the theme from the verse 9.9 highlighted the detached nature of God. The cosmic order operates under His control and is discharged, left for us to make good or a mess of the place. And don’t we really wish we could make good? It all begins with a little respect for the natural world and the remote controller.

7 Km

Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Tulasi and Temperature
Montreal, Quebec

Approximately a year ago the very sacred plant, Tulasi, suffered a major setback here. Being a tropical plant she is highly sensitive to frigid weather. The entire stock of dozens of this revered member of the basil family was destroyed when hydro was shut off for a relatively short time in the neighbourhood. It doesn’t take long to shock the delicate plant before it reaches it’s demise.

It was surprising for me to walk into the temple room which was adorned with dozens of healthy potted tulasis set on tables there to receive appreciation from all. This favourite plant of Krishna sat in all her glory with small richly intense green leaves and a fragrance that was so sweet. How did she spring back into life?

Apparently some reserve plants were kept elsewhere at a congregant’s home over the winter and in this way sufficient warm temperatures gave exposure to a whole new batch. That saved the day. No temple is complete unless a good nursery of some sort is accommodated to nurse and provide for he sacred Tulasi. Merely by protecting her you not only maintain a tradition but you receive the benefit of her auspicious presence (or what some people call, “good luck”). I guess it is also a way of demonstrating a contribution to the “Green” movement . Often times we say that one’s devotion is gauged by how well Tulasi grows in one’s domain. Here she is doing very well.

Temperatures outside the building are just above freezing. In the morning my commitment to fresh air and exercise work in conjunction with chanting on beads. A walk attracted others to join me for a stretch on St. Catherine St. they wondered how it’s possible for me to dress so lightly and walk in the chilled air. I explained that fortunately the years of trekking have allowed me to climatize well.

7 Km

Sunday, November 1st, 2009

To Montreal

Montreal, Quebec

If I had my way as to which mode of travel to take to Montreal, the choice being plane, train, bus, car, horse or legs, it would be the last one. The only diffculty is that at a round figure of 600 kilometers it would take me over two weeks to reach my destination.

I settled for automobile. At $35 you can car pool and save those extra dollars on a six hour drive. That is a significant saving which is always important when you consider that these funds belong to your guru. My use of funds is public money. It's not mine. As a swami/monk I must maintain the obligation to watch spending and to be frugal (at all costs).

I took a ride with Sam, a Pakistani man, sharing the van space with two young women. One of them was Rebecca, a yoga instructor and English teacher in Gaspe Penninsula, Quebec. It's a small world. She tells me she has been reading this blog and knows people I know. Of course, we are both situated in the yoga universe or to put it more simple, we are in the same circle of people.

Being in a moving vehicle is like taking a sleeping pill for me. Due to last night's late satsang, home program, I had to doze so communication with Rebecca was limited. She stopped off at Kingston, the midway mark. Then Sam, the driver to the car pool services and I spoke, a good chunk of which time we talked the logic of the proof of God's existence. Sam was adamant.

"It's not just nature or an accident that all this is here," gesturing with his hands that he momentarily released from the steering wheel. The fiery nature of our dialogue kept us both perked up until we reached downtown Montreal. "Thanks, Sam!"

Once arriving at the Krishna Temple on Pie-IX Boulevard and attending the Sunday Open House program I could see the glistening of a vibrant community. It's some special kind of grace when you see this, which is gauged by the width of the happy faces, a reflection of the Divine, no doubt.

5 Km

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Saturday Transcended

Richmond Hill, Ontario

While walking Bloor St. with two companions, both from Quebec (Canada's french side), we met a bearded fellow who made an interesting comment on this Hallowe'en Day about our devotional attire.

"You would think that the Hare Krishnas would take at least one day of the year off especially Hallowe'en, but I can see that you guys dress up 365 days a year."

Regardless of the remark he said the magic words "Hare Krishna" - a four syllable expression of sound which is highly beneficial for anyone who hears.

Every last Saturday of the month the youth of Toronto organize themselves under the mentorship of Vaisesika, a strong advocate of distribution of books from Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. At the corner of Bloor and Spadina the chanting of this pure sound of "Krishna" was being executed by the group while some of the youth set up a table of the aforementioned books on bhakti yoga.

Another feature of their monthly arrangement was the distribution of packaged cookies, nuts and suckers. The response from the public was great.

I spent a few minutes there with the group chanting and encouraging them in their various efforts to reach out to a public that is largely devoid of spiritual experience. From this location I moved on to a second group stationed at Baldwin St. by Kensington Market where a rather eclectic public is quite receptive.

A point here to consider is that in the capitalist so-called developed world spirituality has been basically shunned by the fundamental nature of our "greed culture". They were transcending.

In the evening my godbrother from Austin Texas spoke about transcending. Sankarshan came to enlighten people at a home in Richmond Hill. The message for the evening was clear - through chanting we transcend.

6 Km

Friday, October 30th, 2009

A Great Friday Night

Toronto, Ontario

After a lenghty practice at our new drama production, "Lonely People", I took a breather catching the good air and the wind. Passing by homes in front I reflected on the verse from the Gita "...of purifiers I am the wind." It was past the mid-night mark but that doesn't stop nocturnal life in the city. Then the day affairs and communications came to mind. I was informed by one of our Temple actresses, Karen (spiritual name Kalpa Vriksha), that one of our temple actors, Ellesh Parunjanwala, had hit the big times. Ellesh, star of the top rating reality TV show in Mumbai, Rakhi Ka Svayamvar, came to me last November en route to the airport for India. "Maharaj, I came for your blessings," he said. "It's a TV/movie project I'm going for. It's real exciting." From that point on he shot up stardom overnight. The ratings for the TV show bypassed the popular "Ramayana" and "Mahabharat" TV series of the 90's and even tapped the cricket game between India and Pakistan.

I felt a little proud of our boy who grew up with our community and then in his youth partook in numnerous devotional plays with my direction. He has become the most popular TV celeb and I guess that's God's mercy. I have little concern about him being caught up and consumed by star stigma. He's always been a boy of integrity and morality. Anyways I'm happy for him and will pray that he will not lose his sense of dharma duty.

Most amazing about this evening's brief stroll is when walking past an indoor/outdoor bar which was ultra boisterous (mainly laughter). Silence struck as the drinkers saw my robes. Several of the chaps with beer in hand gave a nod of respect.

But to top that when the garbage truck came up one block up from the bar to a large oriental shop, one of the trash collectors in orange uniform caught glimpse of me while wheeling a bin to the truck, dropped his garbage and held hands together in pranams. He closed his eyes in reverence and stood still for a few seconds and then proceeded with his work as I did mine - walking.

To the public I am a NO NAME brand of monk. I am certainly not Ellesh. But you can say that respect goes to the tradition that I'm representing and that is very gratifying.

6 Km

Monday 2 November 2009

Thursday, October 29th, 2009

Moving Towards the Plastic
Toronto, Ontario

While many pilgrims go to India at this time of year due to the auspicious nature(this is known as the month of Kartik by the vedic calendar) I enjoy the mood and weather of North America. Truly it’s a great time. The harvest. Moderate climate. It’s generally peaceful. And you can celebrate in the same style as is done in India using ghee lamps in rituals and singing special songs in honour of Damodar, which is Krishna as a child. It’s a busy time and the atmosphere is surcharged with lots of bhakti, devotion.

What runs parallel to this high spiritual energy at this time of year is the pagan (or Celtic) celebration of Halloween. I understand that the original went from pre-Christmas times and had it’s motives steeped in purity. The “ghoulish” slant of today is somewhat of a detour from ancestral ways which is unfortunate. Images of zombies, skeletons, Draculas, witches, ghosts, and the whole family of the dead is what especially the young are engrossed in. One monk form Germany who has come to join our small theatre troupe last month said, “ Halloween has really taken off in Europe in the last ten years. Not before that.” So it’s been a North American thing primarily until as of late.

What is a bit disconcerting to me is while walking I see all the electronic –pumped plastic made-in-China displays in front of people’s homes. The lit up Jack-o-lantern with his brilliant orange and pumpkin smell seems to move as a thing of the past. I think you can say the same thing of the popular Diwali functions held so sacred in India are now plastic battery operated imitation ghee lamps.

With all this infiltration of superficial-wear you have to wonder, “where is the world going?”

Our meditation, chanting, can become like that. You start with pure intent, good motives and so on. And then in due course you may lose the taste for the sound and it can become vain repetition and turn into something plastic-like.

We must always revisit the realm of sincerity.

6 Km

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

Getting Out on the Street
Toronto, Ontario

He was driving and making a delivery. He works from 5am until 11pm everyday. This evening he spotted me on Yonge St. He had seen me before in ‘96’ on the road one hour east of here. He didn’t forget the image. Once seeing the robes he decided it was the same image. He made a u turn and wanted to check. He came to where I was on foot and went for the confirmation and asked for a blessing. He was a Sri Lankan and addressed me as “Maharaja.” I wished him and his family well.

Two Mexican martial artists visiting on world sport competition saw the robes.

“Hare Krishna!” They said I reciprocated. They apparently know Krishna devotees from Mexico’s Ratha Yatra .

A couple while passing by said, “Hare Krishna”

We spoke and I told them that I offer my services to them. A young Bangladeshi man said, “Hare Krishna!” On his way from work he didn’t expect to see a monk this evening. We talked positive.

The last person to approach me was a Muslim Pakistani student from Ryerson University and his girl. He identified himself as the leader of the Muslim organization at the campus. He asked if I was a monk and if I would be interested in doing some future presentations on what I represent. Naturally I complied. The friendly communication ended with a hand shake like all the other folks I met. Each encounter was brief but impactful. These were people who came to me, not the reverse.

All this happened in the span of one hour. If I were to walk up and down the street and meet eight persons who come to me each hour that would be 8x24 or 192 people. That’s not bad for just being there in robes walking. Unfortunately I will need to sleep for five hours and eat which will occupy another 30 minutes. Let’s consider another 30 minutes for showering and other bodily activities. That would knock off a few opportunities due to sleeping and eating and the like.

I have one regret about this evening. I ran out of mantra and invitation cards which I handed out to people. Otherwise there are no regrets.

7 Km