Friday 30 April 2010

Wednesday, April 28th, 2010

Techniques According to Country, Time, Etc.

Toronto, Ontario

It is not always just the physical benefits that are derived from walking that counts, it’s also the thoughts that go along with motion that puts quality into the walk. After reading a passage from the book “Chaitanya Charitamrita” I carried with me an appreciation of our Guru that makes him great. In the passage we find endorsed the practical innovator that comes from the shining mind of a unique person. I’ll share this passage. Here it is from C.C., M.L. 23.105:

“It is not necessary that the rules and regulations followed in India be exactly the same as those in Europe, America and other Western countries. Simply imitating without effect is called niyamagraha. Not following the regulative principles but instead living extravagantly is also called niyamagraha. The word niyama means “regulative principles”, and agraha means “not to accept”. We should not follow the regulative principles without an effect, nor should we fail to accept the regulative principles. What is required is a special technique according to country, time and candidate. Without the sanction of the spiritual master, we should not try to imitate.

Much is said here in regards to what must stay and can go as well as what can substitute by way of ‘technique’. This excerpt certainly underscores the need for innovation, openness and intelligent creativity. These items along with sincerity of purpose become the ingredients for success in the implementation of the bhakti or devotional practices.

8 KM

Tuesday, April 27th, 2010

Buses Ain’t for Me


Being the first on the bus from Montreal to Toronto, I was given first choice for seating. I chose the first seat on the upper deck. Anywhere on the bus becomes more than a challenge for the legs. “Expect discomfort”, I thought. Then the monitor on the screen above reveals one of those “Did You Know?” snippets of information saying that the thigh bone is stronger than concrete. That’s nice to know. I only wish we could relax it as I wish all the leg bones could. The trip confirmed once again that buses are not meant for legs. I really prefer walking, but at 600 km, it would take over 2 weeks on a marathon level. I did have the fortune to walk in the afternoon. A bulldog on the trail took particular interest in my bag for carrying meditation beads. “It’s not something to chew!” I remarked. His owner called him away and so I was relieved.

I was on this particular trail scouting out a walk for this coming Saturday when young yoga students will get a chance to bond with each other and get to meet a Canadian born swami – me. The winds were strong. One gust picked up a child’s hat who was handheld by his Philippino nanny. The hat flew over to me when I caught it and he, the child, just went hysterical seeing my robes blowing in the wind. It was a novelty for him.

I reflected back to the previous late night when I stood in line for the bus. An Oriental woman stopped when she saw me and asked if I was Buddhist. I said, “No! I’m a Hare Krishna!” Well, that she never heard of before. Curious questions flowed from her inquisitive mind. I obliged to answer and suggested she visit the Montreal Iskcon Centre and meet someone by the name of Anubhava, the sweetest of sweet, the crème del a crème of spiritual administrators. She told me she would. I was thoroughly happy for her while I admit I was struck with that little bit of self pity as I climbed upon the bus of leg agony.

May austerities continue to shine. They remind us of the world of duality.

8 KM

Wednesday 28 April 2010

Monday, April 26th, 2010

Dirty Fingers

Montreal, Quebec

The day became jam-packed with communication, not on internet or on the phone but one-on-one dialogue. How important that is to see the face of a person. It certainly beats face book. I tried to meet with individuals at a different park for each session. Sitting in the midst of green and having heart to heart communication has such extraordinary value. I was hearing of people’s plans, their dreams, their reviews and opinions. They sought blessings.

I became especially satisfied to see certain individuals become well-situated, as in plans for marriage. There were even those who spoke of anticipating securing land for farming it. To this I recommended start a garden first, work it, harvest the growth and then let’s see how that goes. I can help being a little sarcastic on the self-sufficient drivers. I don’t see such commitment. As soon as someone talks “self-sufficient” (as important as it is) the song, “Dream, dream, dream…..” From the Righteous Bros. starts brewing in the atmosphere. While I’m a great supporter of the “towards agro-centric life” I do raise a brow of skepticism as it is a strong commitment (with a capital C) that must be implemented in order to realize results.

To those who ponder living off the land I underscore start a garden and get your fingers dirty .

5 KM

Sunday, April 25th, 2010

Stepping Up

Montreal, Quebec

Jacynthe is a very strong devotional woman who is a teacher of philosophy. I asked her if she likes the philosophy of Krishna. And she said she indeed does. She was one of three people to come forward today to formally accept initiation into the membership of Krishna’s family. She made sure to invite her 25 yr. old son to see the ceremony. He was very happy for her.

Another person, Jordan, from British Columbia originally, made the commitment as well. He did a very good job dealing with sound and light technical doings of the previous night’s show “Natakam”. Jordan was shining and he donned saffron, the monk’s colour, for the first time today.

Finally Marie Jose from the area near Mont Tremblant ski district also accepted being a participant in the vow making ceremony of no meat eating, no gambling, no intoxicants and no casual sex. Marie, I found out, is great at her garden but I first got to know her years ago when she, her husband, and I took to an extended walk in the bush.

Two fine French Canadian ladies and one English Canadian monk stepped up to the occasion before and exciting group of Sunday attendees followed by an arati (an ancient rite) and a class delivered en englais by myself and a class presented en francais by a dear god-brother, Laksminath. There have been discourses in Hispanol because of the growing Spanish speaking community and so the mood is to accommodate people as much as possible making them feel comfortable to enter the spiritual abode of the temple and the great world beyond.

7 KM

Tuesday 27 April 2010

Saturday, Aprril 24th, 2010

Sisterly Love

Montreal, Quebec

It had become another excuse to get together. The youth of our center in Montreal organized a talent show of sorts – called Natakam. This word might imply “dance” as the Sanskrit would indicate. Perhaps “performance” would be a more accurate explanation of what went on. Drama, song, some dance and clowning were features of a show that hopes to become an annual event.

After an early walk in Toronto I became part of a pleasant “pile into the van” as Toronto also participated in the fun. It reminds me of the early days when Buffalo, a city of a mere two hour drive away, and Toronto collaborated as communities. We did things together. It was like a sister temple dynamic. And so in the late seventies Montreal and Toronto became more actively those sister temples. From the mid-eighties up until recently we encountered a bit of a lull in this regard. In the past the collaboration of temples was a very healthy experience.

I am moved, deeply, by the fervour for devotion as exemplified by this upcoming generation. It tells me something good – that spiritual life is embedded into the hearts of these special folks. It also means the consciousness for Krishna is here to stay at least for the current generation. Let’s see what comes for the next wave.

The performances were astounding although some fine-tuning is required especially if you want to go public. I suggested the two bhajan (devotional song) groups incorporate a less stoic appearance as currently they are just sitting on the floor in the yogic posture. Getting off the floor and introducing some dance steps could boost the excitement.

To all those on the stage, I give, as a spectator, a big round of applause. “Bravo!” “Bravo!”

8 KM

Friday, April 23rd, 2010

Forms of Green

Toronto, Ontario

One of our preferred routes for walking in the morning is Milkman’s Lane in a forested area leading up to Chorley Park. The hardwood trees are dressing themselves in green after a winter’s nakedness. They are soft lime tints and will later be a darkened green as the season of spring progresses. The same dynamic is occurring on the forest floor. Rich hues have seeped through the black earth leaving soft textures of grasses and infant plants. Trees have also been shedding trillions of kernels, the first buds, as if to say that this is the true “fall season” and not what people call autumn.

This is what the eyes see. The mind’s eye sees something else and can be less pretty which is the reason for chanting while walking through these green giants. Chanting keeps you “connected” to the source of all such sublime surroundings. Yes, even though being in an apparent heaven, our mental component can sway and swerve away from our purpose. The mind can be exceedingly naughty.

Speaking of naughtiness, a division of the government is pushing to legalize many people’s favourite “green” – marijuana. There is a large public support for this effort. There is equally powerful opposition. Supporters for the cannabis smoking gathered at the downtown Dundas Square and that’s what they did. I was told the clouds were thick. The woman from the health ministry who supports the legalization of ganja use has been receiving death threats. It doesn’t look so good for the “gross” addicts.

It is known that Shiva, the god of destruction, does on occasion engage in some ganja, but it is not recommended to follow this green procedure just as it not koshered to swallow an ocean of poison as he has done.

7 KM

Sunday 25 April 2010

April 2010

Photos from South Africa

South Africa - April 2010

Thursday, April 22nd, 2010

Chanting: A Community Builder

Toronto, Ontario

I’m overjoyed to have the Penn boys with me – Gaur and Nitai. I say this because they are enthusiastic to be constant companions on the early japa walks. Praveen who comes faithfully to the 4:30 AM program is on board as well. Maybe we can start a japa walking club someday. I suggested that very idea to Gopi Manohar, a serious bhakti yogi from Dubai who emailed me today. Of all the things we do that classify us as yogis, it’s this mantra meditation that is put under the spotlight over all other forms of yoga.

An elderly cyclist walked his bike around me today and remarked in a kindly way, “Oh, I’m a yogi too.” That sparked a conversation between us. ON the basis of my robes he recognized the yoga connection and then it happened, we became instant friends.

Chanting, now commonly becoming known to people as kirtan (group chanting) is a safe haven for yogis and non-yogis alike. It builds a team spirit and is very effective in the crazy world in which we live. People just need to try it. Who would not want to see a more solid community of love being built up?

One of my favourite monk brothers is Bhakti Tirtha Swami. He spoke about principles of community building. He had written…

Four Principles of Community Building

1. Treat everyone you encounter as if the success or failure of your spiritual life depends on the quality of your interactions with them.

2. Reflect on the person you love the most, and aspire to treat everyone with that same quality of love.

3. View all conflicts as your own fault first.

4. Realize that people in your present environment might very well be the people with whom you will live out your life and who are likely to be with you at the time of death.

(Bhakti Tirtha was a great chanting leader.)

8 KM

Wednesday, April 21st, 2010

No Greater Feeling

Toronto, Ontario

After walking a trail which was rather muddy in some spots, I returned to a shared office in the ashram to receive a call from someone who asked for clarification. She works in the film industry and finds herself tied up in situations where it ends up being highly mundane at times. She is also on off time reading the Bhagavad-gita. What became confusing for her was being subject to two different worlds which was the reason for the call. How to take this phrase, “sense gratification” as found in the Gita and look at her line of work as being just that? The message that was coming through from her reading was that she might be in the wrong niche.

I was happy to get that call and doubly happy to address her concern. Here is the gist of what I explained. “You have a gift in film and drama. In the Gita we hear that Arjuna had a gift in defense and protection. Krishna advised Arjuna to dispel any doubt and that duty and talent were not to be disbanded but rather encouraged with a spiritual heart behind it. Talent should not be sacrificed but used in sacrifice.”

She was relieved to hear that, while I was content to share the information. There is not greater feeling than ‘giving’ through informing.

7 KM

Thursday 22 April 2010

Tuesday, April 20th, 2010


Denver, Colorado

One hour trek up and down Colfax Ave. was about all I could squeeze in for walking today. My trip to Denver was terminating. It was a great visit and it’s always sad to have to leave a good place. Just before departing I sat to hear the Bhagavatam speaker for the day, a senior devotee here. He asked for questions or comments from those of us who listened. I raised my hand and said that I have a comment.

“I’ve been enjoying following the details of King Rantideva and his outstanding approach to sacrifice. I’m just a bit disappointed that his story about dividing the little he had to others and leaving virtually with nothing for himself ended so abruptly. I wanted to know more about him. It seems that the author Vyasa decided that was enough and that we may need to search in other Puranas if we thirsted for more of drinking such nectar.”

The person speaking made no comment. We were left hanging there. As I rushed for the ride to the airport and being driven by newlyweds Jagannatha and Vicki, I was requested by several devotees to please come to Denver again. “It’s nice to be wanted,” I thought. “I’d love to. We’ll see what the plan-maker has in store.”

Finally when flying in that big big wide open space we call ‘the sky’, after hearing that planes were grounded in eastern Canada for the Icelandic volcano ash debris in the air, I pondered on how fragile these aircraft machines are. If one of these huge ash pieces would be stuck in our plane’s engine, we would be doomed.

It’s the nature of material existence. It is so fragile. Therefore, let’s intensify our mood of surrender and get the protection we need.

5 KM

Monday, April 19th, 2010

Spirituality Includes Humanitarianism

Denver, Colorado

This morning I took the bold stretch of walking on Colfax to Logan (downtown) just past Cheeky Monk’s Tavern and back. A part two of walking happened with two young monks, Peter and Nirav, and two family men. We ventured on the trail called Cherry Park along a creek being the mountain run-off from the Rockies. The first trek (very early) was very much under the influence of rajas, (passion) and tamas (darkness). The second one (midday) was in the atmosphere of sattva (goodness). But the mantra to accompany each walk made it all the same.

When looking at Cherry Creek we saw the water rush by more speedily in some areas than others. Life is like the creek. Sometimes we move on with a focus and determination and then sometimes there is greater hesitation. We then flow cautiously but we keep flowing. To quote a Buddhist saying, “If we are focusing in the right direction, all we have to do is keep on walking.”

Our classes in the morning have been on the subject of a king, Rantidev. It is fully inspiring. His story is to do with sweet surrender to Vishnu primarily but it also touches on the relevant topics of hospitality to others such as seeing all guests as God coming to visit. We addressed the humanitarian element which is a natural component to essential spiritual strength. We are talking about being compassionate, warm, considerate and sacrificial living beings. How does this sound?

To be holy one must first have a hardy hold on the whole holistic side of wholesomeness. Otherwise count on there being a big HOLE.

18 KM

Wednesday 21 April 2010

Sunday, April 18th, 2010

Sunday, Sunday

Denver, Colorado

It was the after-effects of Saturday night fever. They were a sight to see. Two drunkards came my way---one shuffling his feet on the sidewalk and the other staggering. But they did give a boisterous “Hare Krishna!”

Further east on 14th Avenue I trekked when police officers wished me a good day. The newspaper man waved a generous greeting with his hand as he ran swiftly to an oncoming porch. People’s mood is good. Spring, the season, may have something to do with it.

A Bible Church has affixed to its exterior wall a sign reading, “God’s Word Your Walk!” In other words, when the Divine speaks take the advice. Act upon it.

A talk I gave in the morning and in the evening triggered questions such as “What is sincerity?” “Can you be a Catholic and a Krishna follower at the same time?” and “How can I tackle my ego?”

I had lunch with God brothers and sisters. We discussed the role of guru in our lives. I also met individuals to do with either more casual talk as well as did some counseling. It was a full day but in between people connections I managed five kilometers here and five kilometers there on foot. The visuals were spring-like. People in their gardens. Bees buzzed at blossoms. The air was great and the sun strong.

What really struck out in my mind as prominent for the day was conversing with a devotee scientist. His proposal to the scientific world he entitles as “Perfect Compressibility.” In short he is proving mathematically that God does in fact exist. I listened to him with intense interest. I really do believe he is on to something.

15 KM

Saturday, April 17th, 2010

The Big “C” and Patience

Denver, Colorado

The Marriage of the couple went on at a casual pace. The bride (Vicki) came a little late. Isn’t that traditional? The bridegroom (Jagannath Puri Dhama) was patient. Maybe that’s not so traditional. Rings were exchanged. Flower garlands too. And sitting positions. The Brahmin priest, Sankirtan, from D.C. presided over. Short speeches were delivered. The theme of those speeches was the big “C” – commitment.

Kirtan followed. I had the honour to lead the chanting. Young Prashant from Baltimore thumped on drum. He was spectacular. The reception dinner was scrumptious. I had the pleasure to meet and make new friends after which a small group took to verse memorization from the Gita 11:5, a chapter that’s usually neglected when it comes to verse memory.

By evening it was time to walk to put the day to a closure. Tusta and I and another member of the community took one block over from Cherry St., the location of the temple and marriage. The street is Colfax, replete with retail strips, restaurants, tatoo joints and bars. People were happy to see us. Outside one banquet hall women were dressed in long frilly lemon-coloured dresses with their male companions in smart dark suits. It was a wedding reception from what I could gather. They were lined up. The party saw us coming. I remarked how great they all looked. They reciprocated with kind words.

I mentioned to Tusta how important it is for us to be out in our best dressed and in dhoti and kurta (our robes). He agreed.

One message mentioned at the earlier wedding was the point about patience. And here’s what Ralph Waldo Emerson said regarding this great virtue.

“Adapt the pace of nature: her secret is patience.”

8 KM

Monday 19 April 2010

Friday, April 16th, 2010

God Who Ran

Denver, Colorado

Speaking of matrimony, I'm in Denver to attend a marriage and to give the speech during its ceremony. I explained my reason for being here both to the U.S. Customs officer at the airport and later the lady sitting next to me during the flight. I got the same remark from both, "Good luck with your marriage!" It was a sentence that didn't sound so cogent to say to a monk. Of course, all was said with good intent.

To pick me up came the local Krishna temple coordinator, Tusta Krishna, he told me of his own past walking adventure. It was not exactly an escapade but a serious nine-month walk from the U.S. east coast to Nevada with forty other people. Tusta took meditative moments to immerse himself in the Bhagavad-gita during break times. Its powerful message convinced him to commit to the mission of Krishna Consciousness. (Referring again to the customs officer---he made the remark to me that walking is reflective).

Tusta and Prasanta, a young chap from Baltimore, and I took to a trek for an hour to a distance where the towering Rockies could be seen. I like the neighbourhood. The residential sidewalks leave much to be desired though. They are narrow and insist on single-filing. Backyard alley routes become our favoured routes.

Tusta asked if I would give a class in the evening to which I consented. His chosen topic was the story of Krishna as Ranchor or another way to put it "God who ran." I had never before thought of the linguistic similarity between the Sanskrit and English. We hear of pastimes of His walking through the streets of Dwarka or Mathura but lo and behold there is this significant event that occurred in His life where He ran to meet Princess Rukmini.

6 KM

Saturday 17 April 2010

Thursday, April 15th, 2010

Walking Three Cities


I followed a Cleveland ravine’s road. It was before the rise of the sun. An owl’s hoot kept me company. Then later, homeward bound, at Niagara, I met a man who asked if I’m Buddhist. His girlfriend is teaching him reiki and higher consciousness. “She’s doing the right thing regarding higher consciousness,” I said. Then back in Toronto I trekked some more, this time with the Penn boys (from Pennsylvania). I showed them my training trail for the cross country walks. I do that to newcomers to the city. It’s almost like an initiation.

The Penn boys are Godruma Gaur and Nitai, two talented young men I’ve solicited from the Port Royal farm in Pennsylvania to consolidate a focused theatre company. I’m asking the Lord of higher consciousness, Krishna, to please bless our little company and in doing so please our guru and contribute something to the world of dark concentration.

Our motive is ‘enterlightenment’, or enlighten through entertainment. There is a great demand for both. Why not marry the two? I’m anticipating a happy marriage with this project. Of course, we will need blessings from all

17 KM

Wednesday, April 14th, 2010

What A Day/Night

Center of the World, Ohio

Right next to this tiny hamlet market by a gas station and a miniature replica of the Statue of Liberty is a state prison which houses one thousand men in one building and five hundred women in another. I try to make it a bi-annual visit to see one of the inmates with the arrangement of Akilananda, a family man and student of guru, Srila Prabhupada. You can’t meet a finer person than Akilananda. He’s an artist, craftsmen, trumpeter, could easily pass as a standup comedian and is just a good human being. Whenever visiting Cleveland he takes me to see Arjuna aka Aaron Caton, another fine soul, who sometime in the past just messed up in behaviour that put him in the roll for a few years.

Arjuna is a man on his own reform and regrets what he had done. He is making good progress. Daily he does his japa meditation in addition to working out and running to take care of his health. He is very much appreciated by other inmates and is perceived as a type of mystical person. That’s good because when you hear him speak regarding “a wave of gang boys coming in” there is a desperate need for some kind of direction coming from someone. Arjuna has been encouraging many of his prison friends to consider pursuing higher consciousness. “Broken homes,” he explained, “is one of the main causes of young men and women resorting to violence.”

You can’t help but to think that someone like Arjuna might be placed there to be that special big bro to those who haven’t seen or tasted hope.

My evening was spent in Cleveland at the home of Dayal aka Don Foose, a punk rocker of the past and who still pumps out stuff but with deeper meaning lyrics these days. In his home we formally initiated three new people into Krsna Consciousness with Dayal as head priest. After the ceremony our three actors I’m travelling with, Godruma Nitai and Nitai Priya, put out a powerful “Lonely People.”

What a day! What a night!

6 KM

Wednesday 14 April 2010

Tuesday, April 13th, 2010

The Beauty of Guilt

Port Royal, Pennsylvania

I felt a little guilty about being a half hour late for morning program beginning at 4:30 AM. My trek to the temple is only fifteen minutes away from the home of hosts Pariksit and Anasuya. The previous night I took to some foot care, Epsom water soaking, etc. The feet loved the attention and pushed for extra rest.

A Bhagavatam discussion amongst a small group of us was in reference to the story of Ajamila, a Brahmin who had become criminal in his dealings. At the tail end of his life he expressed regret and began to communicate with Vishnu. He definitely felt guilty.

After the discussion I looked out the window and caught a glance of something inspirational. Some Amish men were at work constructing a retreat home for pilgrim guests. This is a project undertaken by our devotees who have contracted the work out to them. I asked the few of the morning’s attendees to look out the window and suggested that this is how we all need to work together. “Look at that. They are expert. They know what they are doing. They are all busy and are totally cohesive in their efforts. They even all wear the same traditional clothes and hats.”

The principle is important. Not all people will become builders but we can take from example the spirit of cooperation.

I guess it’s good to feel a little guilt sometimes.

6 KM

Monday, April 12th, 2010

Read and Experience

Port Royal, Pennsylvania

It’s the older trees that show gauges; perfect holes created by the woodpeckers. You can hear them too. They are tapping away at a high frequency level. I prefer the true route for walking, a short cut to the Gita Nagari temple, over the regular road. You see more. The turkey vulture soars above. A second one commonly glides with his mate. Critters of many sorts rustle over the previous fall’s dried leaves to make hissing sounds. You are not alone ever in the forest. You’ve always got company.

The Gita Nagari’s youth were invited to take part in a gathering for a drama workshop. I agreed to conduct a more or less improvised session with these young teens. The participants that came, twenty-five or so, got quite excited after seeing the previous night’s performance of our devotional drama, a slick and economical piece (only three actors required). Our little workshop get-together maintained a Krishna based exercise of fun training. It began with each youth demonstrating their own rendition of mime by taking the ego and commanding it to exit out of the room. It’s surprising how original everyone was with their own individual method.

The Creator gave us their individuality to spare us from monotony. We read in the Vedas that the world of Vaikuntha, where the soul retires from mundane life, there is a complete array of variegated beauty – gorgeous forests and zesty youthfulness in every dimension. What you read about in this final destination creates a kind of wholesome craving. You read and you end up wanting to go there.

In the life of a monk or anyone for that matter, who is on the spiritual path it is imperative that one reads or hears about the world of liberation. And it always helps to experience a little portion of nature which so well reflects that perfect world.

6 KM

Tuesday 13 April 2010

Sunday, April 11th, 2010

Hope in the Fields

Port Royal, Pennsylvania

I admit to being as sucker for vintage stuff. Whenever spending time at the Gita Nagari farm, I make a deliberate effort to stroll along the Juniata River via the Covered Bridge Rd. and then through the covered bridge itself. The walks on the property itself are idyllic. Peacocks abound. It’s peaceful. You are away from traffic. And now comfrey, wild mustard, dandelion and other vegetation have exploded their way through the earth to become full blown products of natural value.

In reality this extremely fertile property had fallen into neglect. Barn maintenance is down and the asset that lies in the soil has been underused. Lo and behold new management is sinking much energy into great organic veggie planting. Some repair is underway in the primary residential building and two new cabins are being constructed for those who wish to experience a retreat in the countryside.

Just a week ago I was in South Africa at Gandhi’s original settlement called Satyagraha. His motive was to establish self sustenance on the one hundred acre property. Time wore those dreams away with the socio-political climate being what it was.

Gita Nagari, a similar attempt does have the facility and favourable cultural advantages around. The Amish are everywhere, and apart from the cattle-raising they have that agro-guru blood that has made them successful at working the land. Gita Nagari stands a chance to succeed. It is a sleeping giant just about to wake provided the integrity of initial intent is applied and social discord is kept at bay.

Our loving Guru, Srila Prabhupada, really wanted this community to be naturally dependant providing organic dairy products and edibles from the ground. All the power and blessings to Dhruva, the coordinator of the project and crew.

Oh! And another crew, our little drama troupe, staged “Lonely People”. They were phenomenally good.

6 KM

Saturday, April 10th, 2010

Part Two: More Gurus

Port Royal, Pennsylvania

The morning air was brisk, especially on top of the residential hill in Harrisburg where I spent the evening with a very special couple, Tamal and Lila. I circled the hill’s rounded peak again and again to make a collective 6 Km. Walk. While my legs moved, so did thoughts on a rerun topic, the need for more mentors, councilors, gurus.

In a recent dialogue I had with a very advanced soul, Bhakit Chaitanya Swami, from South Africa, I suggested we increase in our institution, ISKCON, the number of gurus (teachers). The current numbers of gurus is on a decline due to illness, death and defection. While our communities and membership increases proportionately, does it not make sense to enhance the number of teachers, whether they be monks or family persons? Bhakti Chaitanya has a past in what’s called the Guru Services Committee.

I also spoke with him about my concern for fairly high profile gurus who ‘bite the dust’ so to speak, on an annual basis. What’s causing it? What are we doing about it? I felt the need for us as a spiritual society to be more proactive and less reactive in the area of ‘fall down’. It doesn’t make us look good.

To say a word about pro-activity, retreats for gurus has begun as well as guru training. Bless these programs. They have helped. But it’s not enough. I believe it’s time for leaders to identify the qualified people in our midst who can offer this service of teaching and training others. To expand guru’s figures in our society has been my mental consumption for this period.

I desperately would like to see that a relatively easy and attractive process can be in place to bring good people on board, and secondly, to help our current gurus from pitfalls.

8 KM

Monday 12 April 2010

Thursday, April 8th, 2010

Getting the Job Done


It was 2 AM. It was wet and warm out. Rascally raccoons screeched out a fierce fight hanging on to the edge of their individual territorial branch. A woman stopped her jeep and asked, “Have you seen my dog? It goes by the name ‘Emory’. It’s a boxer, very white.”

I had to admit, “No!” but that I’ll inform the monks inside and we’ll get back to her. “How do we reach you?”

“My phone number is on her collar,” she said most anxiously. “I have a friend. She goes to your temple. Oh! I’m so upset about my dog!”

“I’ll pray.”

“Thank you!” She drove off.

I gave a hand wave to the newspaper man. He reciprocated. He’s been delivering for years. I guess that’s inspirational. A lot goes on at such an early hour.

What have I learned from all of this interaction? We defend. We worry. We work. We pray. We are dry. We are wet. We go through a lot. And somehow through the course of it all we keep the Divine in mind.

My reason for the early walk outside in the drizzle was to complete my daily prescribed japa (chanting on beads). Before embarking on a journey by car to our farm near Port Royal, Pennsylvania, I just wanted to have the task completed. My newspaper friend is vigilant and reminds me through his vigilance that I’m doing the right thing. Furthermore, he does his job with a smile which reminds me of one more thing. Experience tells that the guru is not fazed by distractions. He happily carries on with his services to humanity. Wet, dry, sad, glad, rough, smooth – whatever the condition. Get the job done.

By 6:30 AM bags were packed. My chanting was done. I attended some bhajans. I showered, dressed, placed on the forehead tilak marks and headed for the U.S. border. The driver, Gaurachandra said that before he got behind the steering wheel he was determined to complete his daily prescribed japa. That means he and I were both on the same page.

One other person was picked up, Nitai Priya, before we left for the hills of Pennsylvania. Like Gaurachandra and I, she had made a commitment to daily prescribed chanting. That makes three of us who made such vows and that’s what made the trip powerful. We had all this chanting behind us.

6 KM

Friday, April 9th, 2010

More Gurus

Harrisburg, Pennsylvania

One of my primary motivations for the trip to Pennsylvania was to keep to a wish by residents at the Port Royal farm and devotees of Harrisburg to have me visit. A second reason was to train two young talented men from the farm in drama workshops in order to perform on the weekend and then bring them back to Canada for more transcendental theatrical work. It is my intent to have those two accompany me on walks while in Canada.

I was so impressed with them that their lines to the play, “Lonely People”, were memorized. What a relief! I think working with them is going to be good because right at the onset they displayed a healthy inner drive. “There is hope”, I thought to myself. Gaura, 23, and Nitai, who just turned 18, are the two chaps referred to. They had enough interest to accompany us to Harrisburg, an hour’s drive from the Gita Nagari farm, for the weekly Friday evening satsang (spiritual gathering). We stepped into a community center with an enthusiastic group of people who sat eager to learn.

I was given Chapter 14, verse 1 of the Bhagavad-gita to speak from. I turned the session into verse memorization, not lines for a play. The topic here was knowing the three prong ways of nature called gunas. I elaborated on these three modes. It became an interactive session including kids as well as adults. You can say I played the role of guru.

For the evening I retired at the home of Tamal Krishna and Lila Katha and their 2 year old toddler. Before lying down we discussed the need to expand the number of gurus or teachers in the world. “With little effort I personally know about fifty people who are eligible to function in this role as guru to offer this service to humanity. They just need to be empowered to do the job,” I recommended.

While the world sinks into maya’s (illusion’s) abyss, there is a great need to activate and mobilize quality people to the task of teaching the world the finer values of life.

7 KM

Thursday 8 April 2010

Wednesday, April 7th, 2010

In the Air

In the Air Over the Atlantic

In the air back to Canada we see the screen monitors lit up with the film “Avatar”. It’s a name borrowed from India’s Vedas. I guess the word is not copy written. I don’t need to explain much about this blockbuster film. A tall, slender blue hued race is under siege by humanoids. I did not listen to the film, I only captured some of the visual. It doesn’t take much intelligence to follow the story. Blue skin is another Vedic look as found in Krishna, Vishnu, or Shiva and the Vaisnava looking forehead markings could be an accidental occurrence. The writer and director of the film is James Cameron. I recall walking through his home town in Canada. The town Kapuskasing in northern Ontario has its own charm. People were friendly – curious. One of the town’s folk that stopped to talk was a woman who had twenty siblings all from the same parents. We talked about what that was like living with all those extras.

I recall the many bear sightings and moose in that area. The media was very responsive. As I was on this plane thousands of feet in the air somehow I find a connection to the road via Avatar, the director, the town and the trail.

Personally I would take to the free road over sitting in a small cubicle up in the air but that is part of the exercise of renunciation. Flying or walking, it’s all part of the mission. Hey, those blue people flying on those winged whatever they are looks like fun.

Monday, April 5th, 2010

At Gandhi’s Place

Durban, South Africa

It took two police escort cars with two officers in each to bring myself and three South African born folks, Vaishnava, Janaki and Mahavir, to Satyagraha. This very unique place holds some significance to the world. It is the settlement started by Mohandas Gandhi in 1904. In 1985 the settlement was destroyed by Apartheid Violence but since then has been rebuilt as a symbol of freedom. It was here that Gandhi started a school, a printing press and homes for those who followed in the line of self sustainability.

As most may know, he was thrown out of the train in Pietermeritzburg, a city nearby, an experience which fuelled his cause towards equality and respect. Gandhi witnessed oppression on the indentured labourers. He spent 21 years with his wife, Kausturba, in this modest place on top a hill as part of a one hundred acre plot. The area surrounding has become an unsafe area of depressed dwellings (for the escorts).

I was moved by the vintage photos from the time of struggle which lead to inspiration., The texts that inspired him were The Ramayana, The Gita, The Bible, and The Koran. It was in one of the rooms that we stood where he lead prayer. One prayer which he wrote is also on display. When he decided to leave for India, one of his four sons remained in Satyagraha where his home is also a feature of this well preserved property.

Our interpreter was a local Zulu man, very respectful, who took his shoes off upon seeing us and offered his pranams (folded palms). He was highly informative and a pleasure to listen to. He inquired from me about the essence of the Gita. I was surprised that we were the only tourists or pilgrims at this peaceful place. A different kind of peace was found at the Chariot Festival site once again. I was asked to sing in the place of one of our monks who wasn’t feeling physically up to it. On the stage came our young men, anyone with a drum, trumpet or flute. And to everyone’s pleasure and surprise also on board came a troupe of tribal dancers wearing skins and all. This last evening of the festival called a second chariot ride so those on stage were given the queue to go in procession.

The dancers and I forged ahead to the beginning of the crowd. And while they are so much more agile than I and much younger they let me take the lead to moving the body. Of all there in the crowd the dancers chanted with the greatest volume and conviction. It was a great display of ahimsa, of non-violence. Our guru, Srila Prabhupada wrote to Gandhi in his last year before Gandhi was assassinated. There was never a response, but the contents of the letter recommended kirtan (chanting) as a way to address social strife.

Well, here, we were doing it and thanks to the organizers of a well attended Chariot Festival.

5 KM

Tuesday, April 6th, 2010

At the U.

Durban, South Africa

After a short rest in the evening, I rose for the usual 4:30 AM spiritual program pre-empting it with a good circumambulation around the temple. At 10:00 AM I was driven along with some of our drama volunteers to the Kwala Zulu Natal University to speak to the theatre arts students. With some of the puppets made for our new drama, “The Three Lives of Bharat” our presentation added a new dimension to the course. The staff and students participated in a “wing-it workshop”. There was no apprehension about joining us in chanting mantras as a way to warm up for one of our standard sessions. I led them in pranati mantras to the guru, beginning with “Namah om Vishnu-padaya” and demonstrated surya namaskara (sun salutations). We played out one scene of the drama of Bharat, one of the very celebrated kings of India who had turned monk in his maturing years. It was a pleasure playing the role of a teacher of theatre while in my monastic cloth.

Baked potatoes as a prep called ‘Gauranga Potatoes’ was the main course of ‘the last supper’ during our stay in South Africa. Hugs, hugs and more hugs – appreciation of all kinds were exchanged. Bhakti Chaitanya Swami, presiding monk in Durban, gave blessings.

As Simon and Garfunkel had sung, “Homeward Bound” the mood for home was nudging me even though South Africa is almost like a second home for now. In all reality if you are an ascetic, all places you go are home.

6 KM

Sunday April 4th, 2010

Costa and People

Durban, South Africa

Costa is a smiley bright faced black chap who is employed by the temple to keep it neat and clean. He approaches his work which has been on going for eight years with the most positive attitudes. Truly he’s an angel. He speaks proudly of his daughter’s reaching the 7th grade and remorsefully of his wife who died of malaria.
”I love my daughter like crazy,” he told me. He has a passion for doing his service at the temple. I’ve known Costa for those eight years. He’s just a fine human being. It’s people like him that give you some hope for the human race.

I say this because this is South Africa after all – a place of high crime rate. It makes walking a little risky. For safety I take a circle around the temple and continue for a two hour stretch if I can. I found that theft is so rampant that my second set of meditation beads was lifted (stolen) during a drama practice. It was silly that I left some coins in the bead bag. I put trust being in the temple compound by leaving them at the side ledge of the interior. On the one hand you have someone like Costa and then you feel some hope.

On the bright side a vibrancy pervades. When pumping gas the attendant does it with a dance and when wiping your windshield he’ll pick up rhythm even more and add a song. As I had come to find out a major soccer game was stirring excitement shooting up adrenaline in fans and all the service people connected.

Meanwhile at the Chariot Festival site the fair was giving more than cheap thrills to the count of over 100,000 in attendance over this weekend. At the main stage the biggest drawing card was our premiere of “The Three Lives of Bharat”.

My biggest regret about the event was the fact that the ten swamis that were there were so occupied in speeches, leading chants, and charming the people that we (and I being one) had so little time with each other. It is just a very intense program for four consecutive days. Rewarding and purifying. Uplifting. There is this marvelous cohesive feeling within the crowds – all credit going to the spiritual nature of the event.

6 KM

Wednesday 7 April 2010

Saturday, April 3rd, 2010

“He Goes Where Needed”

Durban, South Africa

From the windows of the Addington Beach area of Durban, residents looked down to the street level to watch the spectacle. Three flashy, massive, Orissa-style chariots, hand-pulled through this downtown neighbourhood, caught their eyes while drums, cymbals and songs captured the ears. I would occasionally look up from the street level hoping that my glance and theirs would meet.

Since distance would restrict perfect eye contact, a wave of the hand or a head nod did make the difference. Much of the area struck me as living inner-city dynamic of a near poverty level. The down- and- out mode was dominant in this chosen neighbourhood for the chariot procession. One might question why this location? I don’t know the answer. I am not part of the management here. I do know that those folks from above were responsive. I do know that the sound of the festival woke up some people as you witness the dishevelled hair, the shirtless guy or the woman in the nightie. Some people lit up and some not at all. It takes a lot to electrify some people as narcotics, TV, computers and glum magazines occupy their lives.

Perhaps these are the souls that deep down are needing more than others and all the more reason for this area to be the hand-picked zone for the procession. It may be that Jagannatha (Lord of the universe) the prominent Deity calls the shots as He traditionally has done in this 2000 year old festival. We say that He is very merciful and that His wide expansive eyes can see with a magnitude that we cannot.

10 KM

Friday, April 2nd, 2010

“Then and Now”

Durban, South Africa

The site for this year’s Chariot Festival for a four day span, Easter weekend, is at the Old Drive-In Theatre. Remember those popular spots in the 50’s and 60’s? Those drive-in movie arenas? It’s a thing of the past. Who would have even thought then, those vintage times, that an exotic event, such as the Ratha Yatra (Chariot Festival) would occupy the space?

And who would have ever thought then and even to the time of the 70’s and 80’s that apartheid would become dissolved? In our presentation of “Lonely People” the audience particularly responded to the South Africanised version, courtesy of our local playwright Krsna Candra. One of the more grave segments of the drama was a character called Kotze. The African zealot speaks, “The government made us do it, we had no choice. You had to do it, or they would do you in, like the rest of the buggers. If we caught a person of colour trying to even take one of the privileged buses, we would make an example of the rascal then and there. If we caught a person of colour travelling here and there looking for a job and he didn’t have his dompass- we didn’t just teach him a lesson; we taught them ALL a lesson!”

Kotze went on, “I’ve tortured, I’ve maimed, I’ve killed, I’ve made parents childless and turned children orphans…and today as we live, ‘together’ I can’t, I can’t get all of those innocent people, children, I can’t get them out of mind- they just won’t get out of here!” Kotze breaks down and drowns in his drinking (his habit) and his loneliness.

The message resonated with listeners and once again were reminded that all this skin colour and cultural differentiation is merely a mundane perception and in the long sum is unhealthy.

6 KM

Thursday, April 1st, 2010

“From Idea to Function”

Durban, South Africa

There is this Afrikaner monk by the name of Laghu Hari who I have the pleasure of working with on the production, “The Three Lives of Bharat.” He came to Durban from Cape Town about three weeks ago. He’s a very talented man and has used his gift of puppet- making to contribute to the play. Massive size marionettes and puppets of a deer and a tiger and an additional wild boar costume from Jwala Mukhi, an equally talented and young mother from Florida, all add a certain richness to the story on stage.

It brought me to wonder that the skill of this master puppet-maker is at the world’s disposal and yet has not had the chance to search a desirable fruition. I guess we could see that the opportunity is at hand. Like myself, Laghu has a passion to exhibit this higher conscious culture and using it in full force. Right now the world appears to be hungry for cultural display in the form of art, drama, dances, music. The subject matter can be rather flat when not garnished with the depth of a spiritual component.

That is what is special about all the Vedic stories and their messages that keep it set apart from standard mundane material. I stand in wonder once again what wealth there is in all the deep content of the Puranic tales. I think it’s a ripe mango ready to be picked and some of us just need to point out that there is such a tree.

Laghu and I have done some talking and we envision that perhaps collaboration is a possibility. In any event we have come to be beyond the dream stage and are working together on this weekend’s festival.

I appeal to blessings from all that this weekend goes well with the performance. Let’s see what the future holds.

5 KM

Wednesday, March 31th, 2010

“Giving class”

Durban, South Africa

It was my turn to give a discourse from the Bhagavatam book. Today’s Eleventh Canto section honed on the subject matters of guru or teacher through natures representative. The bird, the dog, the bee etc, all demonstrate some message of principle and of truth. From a bird, one learns frugality amongst other things. From a dog, loyalty comes. From a bee, you focus on the essence of something which translates as concentration on the Almighty’s lotus feet.

Before beginning a talk, I always carry a concern of whether I’ll keep the audience’s attention or not. It can be disheartening to see a hood or two bob up and down due to sleepy condition. It is possible for such things to happen in the case of some monks who may have been putting in an awful lot of hours in preparing for the upcoming festival.

Fortunately, I saw before me perked up attentive faces throughout the hour and more sessions. When ascending to the vyasasana, the speakers seat, the approach is to ask for blessings from the deceased but still very alive acaryas (teachers) that you, the speakers, will function through a via medium to the messages. After all, can anything be accomplished on one’s own strength? No! Our ability to achieve is always dependent on others. It’s what people refer to as “empowerment.”

It is understood from the teachings of our gurus, Srila Prabhupada (what to speak of Krsna) that even the great demigods cannot operate without this empowerment. In other words, rain does not fall from the sky without this empowerment or the sun does not shine without being endowed with a power from above.

4 KM

Tuesday, March 30th, 2010

“For all”

Durban, South Africa

Every year that I come here to South Africa to attend the Chariot Festival, I watch people pour in and this year is no exception. I’m referring to people of devotional inclination who come to enhance their spiritual life. This is in no reference to the multitude of sports fans that will descend upon Durban for the world cup soccer games.

In the temple at Chatsworth, I’m observing local people busy in service and visitors from Pretoria , Cape Town, Pietermaritzburg , Johannesburg likewise. One very revealing aspect of these representatives from the various cities is the equally strong representation of the three dominant ethnic groups in South Africa. You have the blonde hair, blue-eyed Afrikaners, the richly-dark Zulus and the fine-featured brown east-Indians.

At Kirtan sessions you can view all individual groups participating. The blacks have everyone beat with their agility at dance but everyone is involved in song and dance. As is commonly done at such exhilarating moments, a circle of people is formed and it is a given that this humble self pulls people in one by one to exhibit their moment of ecstatic dance either in free-style or in a more conventionally “swami-step” technique. Virtually we all step back into a childhood spirit. It is indeed an internal international type of experience, something to be observed in India for instance at temples at traditional festival times. This is a feel good situation without a doubt. And even though I found no time to work the legs through walking that was compensated by stretching leg leaps in Kirtan-dancing and mouth muscles in chanting.

It’s a well-rounded program for everyone.

Saturday 3 April 2010

Monday, March 29th, 2010

“Dharma Lives Forever”

Durban, South Africa

Durban has a vibrant community of devotees, yet when it is Monday morning, the day after the weekend, the temple, like almost any place in this world, gets hit by that start-up weekly blues. The previous evening’s Sunday open house, attracting hundreds of people, knocks the wind out of almost everyone. The energy is low. Things move a little slow. You sometimes don’t know how things will go.

Those few stalwarts that made their way to the temple for morning sadhana (spiritual workout) pushed themselves to be the day’s heroes. I call them heroes because despite the fatigue they have, the power invested in them to follow dharma, which in itself gives power of strength.

Dharma is just a magical principle. It protects. And when you protect it, it will protect you. Dharma is defined in so many ways such as, “duty”, “obligation”, “principle” or in a plain, simple expression, “doing what should be done.” It always places the practitioner above the realm of duality.

The emblem of dharma can be seen in the lives of Yudhisthira, Vidura, Draupadi, Hanuman, Pariksit, Prabhupada- all Vedic personalities. When dharma is followed, things run generally smooth. However, because it is the material world, nothing moves without road bumps.

To stick to my dharma for the day, I chanted 16 rounds of the maha-mantra, “Hare Krsna”, on my meditation beads and that, by circumambulating the temple on bush-lined walkway the whole time.

9 KM

Sunday, March 28th, 2010

“Not Square”

Durban, South Africa

It is my good fortune to engage in this bhakti yoga process with members of our youth. After arriving from another long plane ride, I was able to dive right into an orientation with potential actors, dancers and teckies for two drama presentations to be staged in less than a week at the Durban’s annual Chariot Festival. For a full day we rehearsed after sorting out from volunteers who will do what. My physical body was tired but my attention was strong because of the excitement in the air.

I’m anticipating a great show this year, my 11th year in attendance. We will promise a new piece, “The three lives of Bharat.” Laghu Hari, a monk in vibrant saffron from Cape Town, came early to assemble these animal marionettes for the drama. Not only is he a good brahmacari, he’s a professional at puppet-making. In brief, the story of Bharat is about a king who while in his maturing asceticism, becomes fond of a deer. It is a strong attachment he has for the creature. By providence he goes through transmigration to the form of a deer in his next life.

Anyways, I’m having a ball, or a riot, or a blast (whatever is the most suitable word!). I can be a monk and express creativity to no limit. Like I mentioned to the crowd in Dubai one day earlier, “The average person lives in a square, goes to work in a square, while wearing a suit that’s square. He/she sits by a square desk, with a square laptop. When you open it up, it is two squares and one is proud that, ‘Here I am king of squares!’ (Laughter)

I expressed that I feel satisfied being in a monks sandal’s. I don’t feel square at all.

9 KM