Tuesday 31 August 2010

Sunday, August 29th, 2010

On the Road to Victory

London, Ontario

I explored the bike trail in Russell. The trail was a former railroad line. It has been common in Canada to witness the dissolution of the train. In Prince Edward Island, there exists not a single train and whatever was a rail route has now vanished and given way to walkers, runners and cyclists. It’s a pity in someway. The public has this nostalgia for trains, myself included.

Sing Lung Wong, an associate from Toronto, Kacsper Waclawski and I hit that great trail until it disappeared to become mean forest and wet grass, so we detoured down along a farmer’s regional road with Holsteins grazing and corn plants swaying by light breezes to our sides. This was a real treat for city boy Sing and busy Kacsper who teaches music in town.

After the walk was over hours chewed up our time in traffic in a stretch from far south eastern Ontario to the far reaches of the west in a city of London. Our destination was Aeolian Hall, a super acoustically-savvy building and once a town hall for east London. There our troupe of Nitai Priya and the tow Penn boys, Gaura and Nitai, staged, “Lonely People”. The performance was great but attendance poor. Promotion is something we have to learn which we will.

I guess the experience is that it’s tough to juggle monastic administration responsibilities with the showman obligations. In any event, I’m not a quitter and the intention is to delegate promotional duties to others. It will be done!

Churchill said something about success coming after a trail of failures. This can’t be more truthful. Victory is only known after a series of defeat.

10 KM

Saturday, August 28th, 2010

Riverfest Break a Leg

Russell, Ontario

This town, at a border of Francophone and Anglophone communities, hosted Riverfest. At the base of the bank of Castor River and the heart of this town our cast of the tragic comedy “Lonely People” performed well just after a live Celtic music group. The Maritime group just finished “What Can You Do With a Drunken Sailor?” and it was our turn to “break a leg” with a small town audience.

Well, who can identify with that topic of loneliness? Everyone can. As opposed to a “leela” play or something to do with Vishnu and his avatars (something traditional), we chose this contemporary piece to perform as more relative, more relevant.

We were the last act on this outdoor stage. The people appreciated. The Master of Ceremonies, Stewart, got to talking with me after. He directs plays. He was technical director of “Grease” staged in the local arena recently.

People love to be entertained and our objective with my little drama troupe, “Swami Productions” is to produce entertainment that lifts the spirit. In fact, I just revealed our mission statement right there. You might call it “enter-lightenment”. Our obligation to the audience is to encourage the spiritual component.

Prior to our arrival, a choir group also sang and a yoga teacher presented demonstrations to pull up consciousness to some greater height. Our message with “Lonely People” is to look within, recognize the paramatma, supersoul in the heart and take good dictation.

I had little time to walk today. The drive to Russell and the play ate up well-spent time. I did manage to cover a whopping…

3 KM

Friday, August 27th, 2010

Trying To Get Out

Toronto, Ontario

In my travels I have seen many birds. They can be very hyper. They panic. For instance when you blaze a trail in a wetland area you watch these guys in flight and how they can come after you. Aggressive might not even be the word to describe their fear and fury. You might be near their nesting area where they have young ones. Overall, depending on the species, some are very territorial.

One day, while walking the back road at the rural farm community, Saranagati, in B.C. where you will find it not particularly wet, but a very dry region, I came upon a female quail. It was my guess it was a she. When she saw me I startled her. She reacted with an incredible dance; rustling feathers indeed. This, I learned later, was an attempt to distract me away from her little ones.

Today a meadowlark flew into our temple. It came in through an open door. Birds don’t understand glass, it seems. It flew towards a tree but butt its beak again and again with the windowpane. Poor soul was desperately trying to get out. Did it ever become fearful as I and god brother, Haridas, attempted to shoo her towards freedom via another open door. Others had tried and failed, but we succeeded and the feathered creature saw to his moksha (liberation).

Bats have done the same thing. They, somehow or other, get inside this sacred place and then work tediously, like hell, to get out.

I contemplated on how we become like these frightened creatures in flight. As tiny souls we move into a cage by chance and get ourselves trapped. There are moments when we panic and want out and when we try different outlets we come to terms with that illusion (the window). After beating our own brows, we may finally understand, “I’m getting nowhere. I need help.”

It usually takes time, patience and often a concerned helper to get us out of the mess we have created before reaching height or chance of freedom.

This evening I and other monks were invited to a beautiful dinner in a penthouse suite with a great view from the balcony. This is where birds fly, land and carry on. They are unaware that a tiny spark of life has flown inside of them, trapped itself in a cage, the body. It’s trying to get out.

16 KM

Thursday, August 26th, 2010

Laughter And The Card

Toronto, Ontario

I left the temple sadhana (spiritual workout) early in order to trek to Services Ontario to renew my medical health card. I passed by a picture frame shop. Charlie Chaplin’s picture caught my eye. The caption read, “A day without laughter is a day wasted’. Next to him was a picture of Einstein. His quote read, “science without religion is lame. Religion without science is blind.”

I reached outside the government services office an hour before opening. The line – up had begun. I was number 2. I checked my pocket for my requirements, three pieces of I.D. –birth certificate, social insurance number, and passport. On the phone the day before the health card personnel, Crystal, asked for proof of my residence by way of another piece of I.D. She was surprised I didn’t posses more identification than this.

No cards? Well, I’m a monk.

Drivers’ license? Well, I let mine expire years ago when I discovered the great wonder of walking. Crystal settled for a letter from our institution to verify my home address. SO I read the letter of verification. It read that I was a long standing member…….

How true! I stood in that line so long before official doors opened. It gave me a laugh.

My day was not wasted.

And as far as Einstein‘s words are concerned, our guru, Srila Prabhupada used to say, “Religion without philosophy is sentiment or sometimes fanaticism, while philosophy without religion is mental speculation.” That’s a statement that goes rather deep.

In any event I was happy to have a renewed health card. In walking back to the temple/ashram when I contemplated on a remark made by an American couple the night before. I had my runners on, a gift from someone in Trinidad when the fellow said, “Excuse me! I was just curious about your robes and then I saw your sneakers. Shouldn’t they be sandals or something like that?”

“Well, I do long distance walking. Try three times across Canada?”

“Shut Up!” he said which is really a kind way of expressing disbelief.

We made friends. We had a good laugh. Our day wasn’t wasted in the least. Laughter is better that a health card.

7 KM

Wednesday, August 25th, 2010

Today, It’s Krishna and Buddha

Toronto, Ontario

A young oriental newspaper boy tossed his paper in the air to land on a homeowners concrete steps. He retreated back to his delivery car when we greeted each other. Then his question came. “Are you a Buddhist? “

“I am Krishna, Hare Krishna!”

“You are Christian?”, was his doubtful inquiry.

I went on to clarify.

In the ravine two hours later on foot again I had taken with me a monk from Assam who looks like Buddha. Referring to the naturalness of the place I remarked that it is better than Vrndavan, the green rural place of Krishna’s upbringing. While there we noticed only men jogging. It gave us a feeling that’s it’s men’s day which is a change. Usually women run and men cycle. Not today.

Significant too today was the anniversary day of Srila Prabhupada , our guru’s walking up the planked ramp to embark on the Jaladuta oceanliner to come to America. It was 45 years Ago that this milestone manifested.

On a third jaunt I stopped in at the chain store, “Running Room/ Walking Room”, to check out the latest shoes. Somewhat disappointed I let the clerk know they didn’t carry good shoes in monk’s. But while I did try on the best colours co-ordinated shoes available a young female customer again came with the question posed in the early morning.

“Arre you Buddhist?” she asked innocently as she was trying on shoes.

“I have a good friend who looks like Buddha”, but I am a follower of Krishna”, I said.

She wanted to know about my conversion to Krishna and so a decent conversation ensued. I just couldn’t go deep being in a sterile foot cultured store. But I’m always, always encouraged after having uttered the divine name “Krishna!” That sound vibration is special and it falls on people’s ears as some kind of blessing.

10 KM

Sunday 29 August 2010

Tuesday, August 24th, 2010

New People

Toronto, Ontario

On this day all honours went to the brother of Krishna whose name is Balarama. His birth was completely mystical. You can say it was a result of an immaculate conception. His father, Vasudev, meditated on Vishnu. Those thoughts were transmitted to the mind of His spouse, Devaki. In this was she was impregnated – through meditation. When she was about to give birth the child was subliminally transferred from the womb of Devaki to the womb of Rohini, a second wife of Vasudev. The child was safe under the care of Rohini and foster father, Nanda as Balarama’s biological parents were imprisoned by Kamsa, a tyrannical ruler of the time.

Balarama led a humble life as a cowherd boy along with His brother Krishna. What makes him a personal hero for me is that he took up long-distance walking as a pilgrimage at a certain period in His life.

What was amazing for me at the evening’s festival in Balarama’s honour was to see some new faces. Not that new guests area a novelty. Unique this evening was that these new faces, numbering twenty people or so, were the fruition of the careful nurturing of our Urban Edge Yoga studio co-ordinators. The Urban Edge which opened in October last year, was an attempt to draw yogis, jnanis, or just simply sincere seekers of the truth to the bhakti yoga approach.

We were finding that local people were not taking so much interest in our temples in Canada. Large buildings and the “organized religion” stigma was hurting our efforts to attract. The experiment with “Urban Edge” has worked as I saw from the results. The newcomers had stepped into our larger building for the first time but only after a soft and more gradual people –centered approach was applied to them. They loved the evening.

Large buildings with congregants largely of one type of ethnic group can be intimidating to local folks. The charm of a cozy place of atmosphere for developing a person’s spiritual life seems to succeed. I would deem the yoga center a success because of the intelligence put behind the program.

I would urge other city temples who struggle to draw visitors to look at this model. www.urbanedgeyoga.com

7 KM

Tuesday 24 August 2010

Monday, August 23rd, 2010

The famous Words From Chief Seattle

Carlton Place, Ontario

Enroute to South western Ontario I read a popular prose piece by Chief Seattle to my young driver Niraj. It was his first time hearing it. He loved it. Thought I would share it here.

We are a part of the earth and it is a part of us.
The perfumed flowers are our sisters.
The deer, the horse, the great eagle,
These are our brothers.
The rocky crests, juices of the meadows,
The body heat of the pony and man-
All belong to the same family.
So, when the great chief in Washington sends word
That he wishes to buy our land, he asks much of us….

If we decide to accept, I will make one condition:
The white man must treat the beasts of this land as his brothers.
I am a savage and do not understand any other way.
I have seen a thousand rotting buffalos on the prairie
Left by the white man who shot them from a passing train.
I am a savage and I do not understand how the smoking iron horse can be more important
Than the buffalo we kill only to stay alive.

Where is man without the beasts?
If the beasts were gone, men would die
From a great loneliness of spirit.
For whatever happens to the beasts soon happens to man.
All things are connected.

Sunday, August 22nd, 2010

Helathy Discussions
Ottawa, Ontario

I set out to trek. The Parliament buildings are handsome. Police have a watchful eye there. They don’t see people in robes much, what to speak of a salmon clad sole monk early morning strutting around the edifices.

Sparker St. Mall was quiet. All is neat and clean. People seem a trite grim, maybe serious. That’s a common trait for a government town. The heat has finally come down. I have come to believe that there might be something to global warming After all.
A friend told me today that Exon put out billions of dollars to discredit global warming. True or not, weather misbehaves. Or rather we humans misbehave and upset weather patterns. What a nasty lot we are!

Our spiritual gathering for discussion in the morning was based on a passage from the book “Bhagavatam-Canto 10” where it expresses the bewilderment of God. (This is not connected to the fibs of petroleum companies and how they impact the creator).
The passage had more to do with Krishna’s response to the deceptive magic of Shalva who posed before Krishna like an image of Krishna’s father, Vasudev, and who in an attempt to weaken Krishna gruesomely decapitated him.

As part of the pastime Krishna did react very sensitively as He loved His father so much. Krishna played His role, as being a person with intense feelings. He is very, very, emotional after all.

In facilitating a discussion on the “feelings of God” I became rather impressed with input by participants. Revelations were deep.

To extend this topic it came up in a second discussion in the afternoon, “How to make your spiritual institution a more loving and feeling environment without compromising principals –less bureaucratic? We reigned in on the topic of “Guru” .

The final discussion for the day led to the appreciation of the thirty years plus by our marvelous co-ordinators of the Hare Krishna centre-Ottawa. The honours go to the stalwart couple, Shankar and Shanti. It was once again on topic, about feelings.

6 KM

Saturday, August 21st, 2010

Call Me Strange

Ottawa, Ontario

I disappointed someone today. A tall East Indian man, single, by the name of Geet had come freshly dressed in devotional garb at the brightest spot of the day 4:30 am. He requested if he could join me on walking after early morning aarti. He had ‘Anticipation’ written all over him for such a prospect.

But I said, “no! I’m sorry. I already have walked.” It was true. I’ve no need to fib. In fact I had just come from an early bird pre aarti walk.

“Did you really walk already?’, he asked.

“Yes, I’m afraid so.”

Geet then said, “I was told by Karuna Sindhu (another monk in the ashram) that you are up all day and sometimes all night.”

I had to admit that that might be a perception but that I do sleep and usually catch a cat nap here or there.

After communicating with Geet it was time to leave for Ottawa to attend the 35th Anniversary of the ISKCON Centre’s installation of diety’s. It included a dinner, chanting and our drama presentation. Called “Gaura Nitai”. Bada Hari and wife Kosa came from Florida to lead in the serenade mantras. The program was sweet especially after a five hour drive from Toronto. Frankly automobiles have always been a pet peeve.

They are a necessary evil but if given choice I could change the world and abolish all of them. I would like for us all to get real and go for early morning meditative japa-chanting walks. I would vote for using legs again, horses and chuck wagons.

Call me strange! I don’t mind.

Friday, August 20th, 2010

Profound pedestrians
Toronto, Ontario

These tow young women were speaking as if they were self-realized. “Like I couldn’t care for even a great pair of shoes”, boasts one.

The other said, “ it’s all money. It can’t buy you happiness”.

“You know what’s important is relationships with people. That’s what really counts.” said the latter one.

The two women were walking north on Yonge St. like this. I was quite surprised as they carried on with their conversations for several blocks when I was walking practically next to them. I was slightly ahead. I turned around at least twice to make sure I was hearing and seeing properly.

“They are not enlightened necessarily, but they have some realizations that are quite profound”, I thought.

One of the girls added, “Yah know what’s really ironic is that we’re saying all these things while there’s a monk right next to us”.

At that point I wasn’t compelled to turn around to acknowledge their words. I was hoping to hear more about their revelations. At some point they passed by me and it became apparent that all such words of wisdom very swiftly were put on the back burner when they switched channels and showed by their walk and talk was leaning more in favor of boys.

Oh well, ”their realizations may have been short lived but they may surface again, “ I thought. Maybe next time they will go deeper.

8 KM

Thursday, August 19th, 2010

Namaste, Darling!

Toronto, Ontario

You don’t get a better feeling than hosting a group of religion, scholars, indologists and theologians in our dining room. It was twenty or so of such distinguished guests (brahmans of sorts) who came to dine at our temple’s Govinda’s dining room. It was arranged by dear friend Professor Joseph T. O’Connell. A conference was held in the city drawing the scholars from Australia, Europe, the U.S., Sri Lanka, Japan and other places abroad and they were treated with excellent prasadam (devotional food) prepared by one of North America’s best prasadam cooks-Subuddhi.

The guests made their way to the temple room for the final aarti (ritual) to view the deities of Krishna and Radha. They had many questions more to do with the practical end of things such as temple operations, a census of Krishna vaisnava in Canada etc. Philosophically they are well read and not much can be relayed to them as far as our beliefs are concerned. Friendship and courtesy was our careful application. It came natural. They were great.

We saw them to the door and their Automobiles. My day came to a closure but not with the brahmans though, who parted from the temple but by a young woman rather seductive in dress, make-up and so on who offered a greeting while catching up to my walking stride.

“Namaste darling!” she remarked as she veered off to a residential side street.

My response-“Good evening spirit soul.”

9 KM

Wedesday, August 18th, 2010

Nighttime City Trail

Toronto, Ontario

The overnight red-eye flight from Vancouver brought Gaura and Nitai, my devotee actor protégés, and myself back to Toronto. The day allowed no space for walking, the night did.

As I took to the steps descending the exterior stairs of the temple ashram for a night time trek a vehicle pulled up. Out emerged a monk from India, Nava Yogendra Swami. As he was coming in I was making my way out.

We offered dandavats (full obeisance) to each other on the sidewalk and then I explained by reason for the trek despite the late hour (9:45pm). “I didn’t have a chance today yet, now I have to go.” The Swami concurred, “ It is so important to walk everyday”. In a punctuating Punjabi – like passion. “I do it everyday “, he went on, endorsing man’s most simple and natural activity.

I took to Bloor St. only to witness that I’m not the only one savoring the summer night’s coolness. Cafes and pubs were busy enough. I don’t feel the least bit out of place. My robes always protect me from the night-type of life because I am different and the clothes define that so well. They always, always grab the public’s attention.

From the veranda of a tenant’s apartment a woman hollered out, “Hare Krishna”, but I couldn’t detect the source. I was just happy that she uttered those mantric words as the sound vibration has this potency about it.

A week ago in Kelowna, B.C. a young man questioned me on the efficacy of that chant. “It doesn’t do anything for me”, he remarked. In response I suggested that he consider that when medicine is taken the patient usually is not aware of all the good properties found in the content. The healing properties do act whether we are enlightened about them or not. The healing power works nevertheless.

The man broke out with a big smile on his face as if he swallowed a big dose of good medicine.

6 KM

Monday 23 August 2010

Tuesday, August 17th, 2010

From bears to Monks

Venables Valley, British Columbia

There they were-three little bears-doing their mischief. The nursery story had come to life.

While waiting for brunch to be completed in the rustic mountain home of friend, Yoginath, us guests peered out the large window over looking the well-prepared garden to see two baby and one adolescent bears helping themselves to carrots and lettuce. Yoginath showed no patience as his hard horticultural labour was about to vanish. He dashed out of the house and saw them on their way with his aging dog barking loud enough to support his cause.

It was a delight to see. Our camera was not triggered on time though. You have to admire these wild creatures of the forest. Their freedom is enviable.

I felt the same way for the ants in the bush. I had been trekking in the valley and had just visited Yamuna, singer of “Govinda Adi Purusham”, and companion Dina Tarine. When I greeted fatigued to the point of having to surrender to the forest floor for a nap. It was great for fifteen minutes until the creepy crawlies came around. They were fond of my arms just as much as I was fond of their carefree nature. I persisted in flicking them off but I’m afraid that habit came natural to them. They were determined not to “bug off” . Such is life in the wilderness.

Our drama troupe with Nitai, Gaura, and Nitai Priya had rested after an energetic performance from the night before. It seems that the drama, “Lonely People” is making a splash wherever we go.

Our drive back to Vancouver was a long one-but landscape perfect. Upon our arrival to great joy two more young men from Victoria joined our team of monks visiting from Halifax. That brings us to the number nine. We are growing.

10 KM

Monday, August 16th, 2010

How Much Sleep?

Venables, British Columbia

The routine continued- a daily trek along the blackberry patches and today was no exception. Then a stopover to the temple to hear from a god-brother, Sruta Kirti, wrapped up the morning program. He was speaking about his personal time with our Guru, Srila Prabhupada. One of the principal topics here was the guru’s disapproval of the excess sleep by his students.

“it was the middle of the day”, Sruta explained, “when Prabhupada rang the bell to call his traveling students in for an explanation on the sleeping that was going on”. Of course no one had a genuine excuse so all felt somewhat guilty.

It is generally understood that if one wants to take spiritual life seriously then you sleep enough to keep body and soul together. The same thing holds true for eating.

The stories told by Sruta Kirti were sheer reminders of our need to be moderate in certain habits. To quote the Bhagavad-Gita from chapter 6, text 17:

“He who is temperate in habits of eating, sleeping, working, and recreation can mitigate all material pains by practicing the yoga system”.

On the way out to the Saranagti farm in Venable Valley I was handed a complimentary copy of the Bhagavad-Gita. “A Photographic essay by Vishaka, the author. “ She graciously signed her new book offering thanks for the service of being a good example of walking for Krishna.

Thank-you, Vishaka, for your new book.

6 KM

Sunday, August 15th, 2010

Big Yawn

Vancouver, British Columbia

"You were yawning." He said, but not in a defiant way. He was referring to my mouth widening when he was singing. In the midst of our conversation, this remark skipped out of his mouth which drew some embarrassment from me. It was mutual though. As I was talking to Gaura Vani, the walla (guy) who made the remark, he yawned himself, which triggered the statement in the first place.

Gaura Vani, a master of kirtan, has always been respectful to me. He reminds me that I used to babysit his wife when she was a baby. The reminder makes me feel a bit older than I feel. Again, no disrespect is intended on his part.

Why was I yawning? "I had no sleep the night before. Too much excitement in the air." I explained.

Truly the relationship between Gaura Vani, and I is devotional. And when he sings, he does so with devotion. In fact, "devotion" became the theme of our topic. He has been contemplating on producing music not limited to traditional mantras, but also remaking famous devotional songs that are mainstream but are devotional. He asked my opinion and I concurred that it was a great idea.

There is a shortage of devotion, or bhakti in the world. To define it could be "spiritual love". After all, it is universally appealing, but it is so lacking.

In fact, the vacuum of spiritual love is such that we have a big hole in our world. So whatever can be done to wholesomely fill that hole should be done. This hole is so huge that it is like a "big yawn" that is hoping to close.

12 KM

Saturday, August 14th, 2010

Move to Encourage

Vancouver, British Columbia

In the lower mainland near the Fraser River's delta, you have this shifting land dynamic. The current temple in Burnaby was built on a bog. When the new temple will be constructed to accommodate a growing community, many pilings will be set deep in the ground to create a floating foundation. It is in this area of moving soil that I like to move. Just east of the temple you find an area of farms where I like to trek when I come to Vancouver. It's peaceful there even though the ground may be moving under your feet.

It was me, the monk, who moved out of duty and love, once I arrived from the morning walk, to go from person to person, pilgrim to pilgrim. It was one day before the Rathayatra (Festival of Chariots) soon to be hosted at Stanley Park. People oozing with bhakti (devotion), have come from various parts of North America to partake in the event.

You might call it the one minute management approach, or a kind of schmoozing, a sharing of ideas with peers. It was a time for hearing and giving suggestions for learning and educating.

Time efficiency was the key word (or words) to make a formula that worked. There was little time for everyone but there was enough time. When you are recognized as a leader in your community, the communication has to be relevant, warm, concise and meaningful. At these occasions of intensity, one is forced to use time wisely. You are dealing with future plans and people's lives, and responding to their needs and wants, their traumas, and their dreams; both physical and spiritual.

My moving was continued at Stanley Park, where the evening's kirtan was held. It was the same scenario for me. If I was to dub my service for the day, I would call it: "Encouragement!"

7 KM

Thursday 19 August 2010

Friday, August 13th, 2010

“Lonely People” Grows

Bellingham, Washington

It wasn’t exactly a grueling wait, a long hour with traffic crawling through the US customs, but it was a bit unnerving knowing that cooped up in a car gets you through slower than if you were to walk.

Our venue today was an old foundry converted into an artist’s community centre called “Anything Grows”. Harmony is the name of the kind woman who hosted us for our troupe’s presentation of “Lonely People”. Our facilitators are Trikalajna (people call him ‘Tree’) and wife, Sudevi. The centre reached full capacity, a modest seventy chairs. We received a standing ovation. People loved it. The follow up was kirtan, chanting , and optional event held in another room. Everyone came. They sang and danced giving their everything.

Here are the comments by our troupe about the drama:

Actor, Nitai: “The energy we gave out came back to us in the form of the crowd’s appreciation.”

Actress, Nitai Priya: “It was the best performance yet and one of the best crowds.”

Actor, Goura: “It was an intimate setting and everyone was so receptive.”

Sound person, Gillian: “The actors were amazing. Very comical.”

About the kirtan:

Nitai: “The audience filed into the back room of their own accord. All inhibitions faded out as the dance steps faded in.”

Nitai Priya: “We kept having to tighten the circle to accommodate the increase of eager participants.”

Goura: “It was hot in there but we didn’t care.”

Gillian: “People were absorbing the holy name. They were blissed out, man.”

2 KM

Thursday, August 12th, 2010

Farmer Singh

Kelowna, British Columbia

I crossed Highway 97 leaving behind me suburbia and entered orchard land. What’s exciting about each new day and each new place is that there’s a new road to explore.

Down this windy rural route, A Sikh farmer on his tractor shouted, “Bhagavan ki jayho!” He recognized my cloth and felt that some good fortune had come his way. He stopped the tractor, turned off the engine, descended the machine and proceeded to greet me. With a high wire fence between us we talked as best we could, he is pure Punjabi and me in English with some attempt at miniscule Hindi.

The farmer was exceedingly excited. To see a Vaishnav monk on his turf was a first for him. After some communication I walked on until I came to a cul-de-sac. Upon my passing by the farmer’s cherry orchard once again the farmer, who identified himself as Singh, halted his tractor again to see me once more. This time he insisted he feed me but I couldn’t oblige as I had to return to Vancouver with my crew.

What I did learn from this encounter is that at the heart of Indian culture is this remarkable warm hospitality. It’s something we can learn from in the west. Of course, there is something to be said about the softness people of Indian origins have for the Sadhu (monk). Respect or reverence is to be commended and not demanded.

I hope that one day I can fit the shoes of a genuine sadhu. We certainly have to go beyond dress code and decorate ourselves with true quality.

I was happy to have met farmer Singh. I made a friend because I went for a walk.

8 KM

Monday 16 August 2010

Wednesday, August 11th, 2010

It Was Sweet!

Kelowna, British Columbia

I walked by the new golf course at Black Mountain. Formerly the location was a ranch which bred buffalo, a cross-breed of buffalo with domestic cattle, a first in Canada. The sidewalk I tread on was rather close to the perfect golf grass. A ball whizzed by the head at a speed I couldn`t see but hear. It was just a little reminder that anything could happen at any moment.

I contemplated that I wish to move with the same speed in my spiritual life. In my mind`s resolve I thought, ``Ìt doesn`t usually work that way.``

I met an elderly man from Delhi, Jagadish. He spotted my swami clothes and was curious. I trekked further on and was halted by a voice that said ``Hello!`` It came from a new and beautiful home on Large Ave. A man trailed down the driveway to say, ``You are the main guy in Toronto... I used to eat at your restaurant all the time.``

``I`m one of the guys, Hare Krishna!`` and a conversation ensued. This confirmed, ``When you are out, people will come about``.

Evening brought us to the downtown at a hotspot for pedestrian, tourists and free spirits. The place is called ``The Sails`` and we took to the grass as our seating. We plopped ourselves down for the old grassroots Hare Krishna thing including chanting with drums. A circle of hippies nearby were puffing at ganja. A number of them eventually came to our circle for an experience of another kind.

I found it rather compatible - us and them. Now we were one, enwrapped in the mantra. There was no problem communicating with them. Our language was kindness.

Nitai Priya made a remark, ``It was like Prabhupada (our guru) at Tompkins Square Park in New York.`` She was referring to the humble beginnings of Hare Krishna taking root in the sixties.

Yes it was and it was very sweet.

9 KM

Tuesday, August 10th, 2010

Okanagan Okay!

Kelowna, British Columbia

I`m in the heart of the Okanagan Valley, the heart of BC fruit-land keeping myself open for the miracles of the day. I`m here with our acting troupe for a devotional performance of kirtan chanting and drama, `Lonely People`.

The venue was Okanagan College Theatre. There was not an overwhelming turn out but the quality of people made the show all worth while.

And so what was the miracle... Nothing extraordinary but a small occurrence that you could not classify as cooincidence. With us came Gillian, a volunteer sound person for this weeks performances. She appears happy to take a week off from work from selling tires (as she hopes to get into studying medicine) and agreed to hit all our sound cues with appropriate volume levels.

She was only given an hour to learn everything from the script and use a CD which we found had cues mixed up - a difficult task. At practice time enough mistakes were there, and yours truly was convinced that flaws would haunt us at performance time. I prayed.

Patiently, Gillian applied herself and a perfect job was rendered.

That was the miracle. It was enough to reinforce faith. it wasn’t an extraordinary situation, but you felt that an extra hand had entered in backstage to help the situation - a hand that could not be seen but sensed. It happened in the night and perhaps because the bulk of our crew which was Goura, Nitai and I were faithful to sadhana in the early morning. Yes, we trekked Byrne Creek trail in Burnaby before leaving for Kelowna, chanting on our beads and sticking to this principle.

The only deviation was Nitai, who left the path for a bit - to explore - or as Goura put it, "He`s having his Tarzan moment" to which I responded, "He`s only 18..."

"Right, Maharaj," said Goura.

"Okay!" I thought.

Monday, August 9th, 2010

There's the Blackberry and Then There's the Real Thing

Burnaby, British Columbia

I trekked along Marine Drive with beads in my right hand. I glanced over to the left to see something that always cheers me up. August is blackberry season. These deeply dark and rich juicy offerings of nature hang from their spiky stems demonstrating no limit to their generosity.

Tempted like crazy, my left hand stretched itself to reach one of those sweet and slightly tart berries. Then another and another. No feast transpired. I held myself back which I was proud of and knowing of their plentiful nature, I could pick up some more further down the sidewalk.

"Berries are a pigrim's delight - a privilege", I thought putting away any trace of guilt of greed. "Besides, they are free. Who wouldn't indulge under such circumstances? when walking Ireland two summers ago, these little guys came to my aid. They provided me the energy I needed."

And while all these wranglings went on in my mind and I outstretched once more with the left hand, I had a hard look at that hand. I flashed back to the summer of '74 at the Krishna communal farm near Moundsville, West Virginia, when I saw the graceful hands of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, playing on kartals (hand cymbals). He played in the most awesome way, totally skillful and artistic, not the usual one, two, three beat. He went rather fancy with the two cymbals releasing certain fingers at certain intervals of playing. His fingers were long and appeared divinely agile. It was the occasion of my second diksha (initiation) when a person is approved to taking to brahminical tasks. I was transfixed on the movement of his hands and now here at the blackberry bush I had come to recall that fine moment of a perfect vision. It was an inspiring moment.

I know many people who speak the glories of the blackberry gadget that you hold in your hand for communication. I will gladly stick with my juicy edible ones and stay with simplicity hoping for great moments.

4 KM

Thursday 12 August 2010

Sunday, August 8th, 2010

Step Up!

Toronto, Ontario

A planned walk with members of Urban Edge Yoga Studio was cancelled because of rain. In its place organizers set up an ad for talk about trans-country walking. It was my call as no one else in the studio had actually walked Canada's length and breadth- at least, not yet.

What I was trying to convey the most out of the talk was the need to go inward and to put mundane endeavours as not the priority. To quote one cyclist, a 65 year old man from Winnipeg whom I met in 1996 "It's people like you and I who can manage to do this." He was referring to monks and retirees who can give their time to such projects as taking the simple life seriously.

I suspected that in the studio the audience of about twenty were almost all singles. It's the singles who also have a better eligibility to execute feats such as trekking a vast land. In reality few people eligible or not step forward when such an opportunity arises. At least the listeners had the chance to dream away and perhaps swallow a small does of reality in the form of taking time for the self.

If individuality is at all important to a person then walking is the function that permits someone to be or see who they really are. The solitude and the happy rhythm that comes with walking and above all the "humbling" it invokes brings out so much of yourself.

So, the message was increased on the mobility and step up the humility.

10 KM

Saturday, August 7th, 2010

Kids and What They Are

Milton, Ontario

Children are innocent but they are not angels. I was asked to do a presentation for an hour to twenty-five camping kids. I moved them through a gallery of paintings depicting the life of Krishna. I was explaining the details of each picture. At one depiction three kids from the group had their attention diverted. One of them climbed on top of a table in the room while the other two leaned on. The table ended up collapsing during my presentation. The kids quickly cleared away from their.

I demanded to know who was responsible for the mishap. I didn’t raise my voice. I was careful not to demonstrate anger. Still there was no response.

Everyone there was well aware that this was not a mystical experience. Someone or somebodies were guilty of the incident. No volunteer came forward.

Being a monk and a life-long celibate I cannot claim to know all about children but one thing that does surface when dealing with such adorable kids is that they are innocent, frivolous but not pure. They carry over “stuff” from their previous lives. We cannot hold this against them. We were all there before.

We never did find out who was the culprit but the point is made. We are all born with some vice and we all have a chance to make good in this life attempting to alleviate anything in our character as adults.

I spent the afternoon at Kelso Lake at the Niagara escarpment with members of our Brampton community. A picnic is what it became with a walk added on. A steep climb on a trail made a baby stroller a challenge. Yes indeed it was a day with young families and kids.

5 KM

Tuesday 10 August 2010

Friday, August 6th, 2010

Movement of Feet

Toronto, Ontario

There’s an optimism in the air. Humidity is down and so is the heat brought down to a comfortable 24 degree Celsius. That means feet are happy too.

I can tell you, though, whose feet are not happy. It’s those that don’t move.

Despite injury two actors in our troupe, Gaura who got slice in the foot by the villan’s knife, And Nitai, who sprained his ankle on top of his sore knee, are just that troupers. Nothing stopped them from moving forward with a splendid performance at Meadowvale theatre . All other leg work was executed quite well. There’s two chorus line sessions in the drama, “The Eigth Boy”. A demon dance in addition to cowherd boys wrapping and break dancing to the joy of eating sweets puts the drama into a kind of musical classification.

The theatre got filled holding a capacity of a modest four hundred seats. It was a performance appreciated by all. One highlight was Montreal’s Boris Michel who came to be the jolly bhramin and later a notorious wrestler to challenge Krishna.

It was yesterday morning that I saw the leaves on the trees perfectly still. The day before Boris and I walked to Rosedale park and took a break at a park bench. I didn’t exactly pray but wished that those leaves would dance by the force of a relieving breeze.

Today, Vayu, the wind God, did end his absence and made possible the movement of those leaves. And as they danced through hours until evening so did our actors move to the sound of music.

6 KM

Thrusday, August 5th, 2010

Monk Drunk on Drama

Toronto, Ontario

The major reason for my being grounded in one place for this stretch of time is to give my all to a drama production, “Krishna The Eigth Boy “. Many hours go into this hour and a half production. Rehearsals are intense and lengthy. Even in a spiritual setting, the temple room, undercurrent dramas may be at play between some of the actors. It’s nothing too serious that can’t be resolved. As director I have to think “the show must go on.”

You immerse yourself in service and try to encourage those working with you to do the same. You keep engaged. “An idle mind is the devil’s work shop.”

It is rather engaging, come to think of it, taking the initiative to produce a story about Krishna who remains one of the most mysterious persons you could ever read about. So multifarious are His pastimes that it’s difficult to fathom sometimes. So heroic are his deeds that He has to be perceived as someone beyond the human category.

To put His life story out there for the stage is a challenge but since the task has been executed for generations, especially in India, I know that I’m one of the modest directors amongst thousands to take a crack at it. What’s unique and fun about this version of His biographical doings is that it’s done in English with a strong contemporary flair.

My crew of twelve Actors, and three technical people are gifted and devotional enough that we can pull off a decent rendition on Krishna’s life. It is highly important for every member to give their best simply because He happens to be the most significant person in each and everyone’s life.

Between the morning sadhana, administrative duties and the high pressured rehearsals I do get breathing space by walking out of the building, choosing one of the ten directions and heading out on my feet only to make a loop and come back.

8 KM

Wednesday, August 4th, 2010

Sit Or Walk

Toronto, Ontario

Some people prefer sitting down in the lotus position for chanting on their beads. I have heard the claim that this is the superior way to chant.

I cannot agree. It is one way. The master of chanting, Caitanya Mahaprabhu, explained there is no hard and fast rules for chanting. It is really a matter of preference and you do what works for you.

My preference is walking. I feel more comfortable with his scenario. It’s the oxygen, the elements interacting with you that are like nature’s support system. Walking while chanting is like dancing to music.

Srila Prabhupada, our guru, needed to walk of pace each morning and chant simultaneously. The walking was for health and the chanting was for purification. Or another paraphrase on this is-walking is for the heart and chanting is for the soul.

In any event it seemed to be a formula that worked for him. It is a method that is like killing two asuras (demons) with one stone. (I prefer not to use that “bird” analogy).

I’m certainly not adverse to sitting down and chanting. Perhaps that will become a reality for me when I’m 78. But for now this antsy monk prefers mobility over something sedentary.

The reason for this explanation is that certain japa (chanting) retreats insist on indoor mantra meditation. That is like a prison for me. My good father encouraged us to walk and hit those nature trails. In our youth my siblings and I started to appreciate the God element in the out-of-doors. Chanting and trekking are totally compatible. No one will ever take that away from me.

4 KM

Tuesday, August 3rd, 2010

Forgive! Forget!

Toronto, Ontario

The sun and humidity continues to be brutal. It will be hard to forgive the actions of the sun which blazes and pulls moisture to be suspended in the air rather than leaving comfortable deposits on the ground. I was informed that at least 16 states in America have declared heat warnings.

I have learned to respect the relentless sun by dodging it like respecting the bear by staying out of it’s way. Even with walking I chose early morning or later evening as times for those daily ventures. I have come to that conclusion-“respect from a distance.“

If you have been “burnt” by the sun, as in sun burn then forgive and forget. To forgive is divine. What other option is there?

Two quotes from our guru, Srila Prabhupada on the subject of forgiveness are as follows:

“It is said that the beauty of tapasvi, or saintly person, is forgiveness.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 4.6.48)

“Ksama, tolerance and forgiveness, should be practiced; one should be tolerant and excuse the minor offenses of others.” (Bhagavad Gita)

Dealing with the sun is one thing but handling people is another. If we have committed a mistake and hurt someone don’t we wish to be forgiven? The benefit behind forgiveness is that it increases the opportunities for open-ness and communication. It takes off a heavy weight.

Two more:

“To get freedom from anger, one should learn how to forgive.” (Srimad Bhagavatam 1.9.27)

Whatever is done is done; the main thing is we must not carry grudges or continue to quarrel amongst one another.” (A letter)

4 KM

Monday, August 2nd, 2010

Will Never Forget.

Toronto, Ontario

I was waling when I heard the scream.

“You so friggin’ scared us!” Yelled a young man from the moving car.

It was still dark as the sun hadn’t yet had the chance to poke himself over the horizon.

The voice was not alone. Others were with him hooting and hollering over who knows what. They were party-goers and in some way they were the scary ones being unpredictable under dear beer influence.

I remember the power of intoxication and being under it’s grip when in the late teens. I never went deep with it, thank God, and I never really wanted to become a victim. It was a social thing. Your were young, curious, and you wanted to live slightly dangerous.

When that party car turned it’s corner I had that chance to reflect on when my life turned when having met those bald-headed creatures in front of Boni-mart at Christmas time 1972. It was winter and dark. All shoppers had retreated to their homes being that stores were now closed. The baldies (Krishna devotees) were determined in their music making, a drum and hand cymbals. Their voices were loud over the still night. It was almost like “Silent Night” in the atmosphere.

It was that night that I received a handsome copy of the “Bhagavat-Gita”, which gave me enough reason to part with mild agents of mind alterations. I kissed those scary things such as weed and beer “good-bye forever!” And I would credit one of the monks, a native of Hamilton, Visvakarma by name, for handing me that golden treasure of a book.
I will never forget him for doing me that great favour.

10 KM

Monday 9 August 2010

Sunday, August 1st, 2010

What sets us apart

Toronto, Ontario

A jewish friend of mine who is a professional counselor told me about a swami whom he recently heard speak. He said to his audience that humans are unique- they smile. Other forms of life don’t. “Animals don’t smile- only in cartoons, otherwise they don’t smile.”

My friend said that the swami was implying that humans have some obligations. Smiling is one of them.

And here is another obligation, rather exclusive to humans. Time and time again our guru, Srila Prabhupada , would speak and write about the sojourn of the soul through different species until reaching the summit- the human platform.

A verse from the Vedanta- sutra refers to this- “Athato Brahman-jijnasa”. “Now is the time to inquire about Brahman.” The word atha means that one who is intelligent, who has come to the point of realizing the basic frustrations of material life, is capable of making inquiry. It is stated that one should inquire from a spiritual master about subjects that are “beyond this darkness”. Our inquires should be about the transcendental worlds which lie beyond this universe. “(quote from the King of Knowledge).

We humans run the same track when it comes to doing as other forms of life –eat, sleep, mate, defend. Now it is identified what puts us apart from these other species. We go beyond. It’s a good enough reason to smile and feel some good fortune being a human. This does not give us license to over-power other humble species. If anything, we are then in a more protective situation.

Let inquiry lead to answers, answers to actions, actions to solutions. Improve the world and ourselves.

8 KM

Thursday 5 August 2010

Saturday, July 31st, 2010

A step Into Heaven

Toronto, Ontario

Yonge St. was pouring with people. It was the evening of the previous day and after a plentiful hours of devotional services I decided to walk to the street that dosesn’t sleep. Accompanying me was Keshava Jr, who is 29. He ended his full day at the temple ashram with a walk to his apartment which happens to be off of Yonge.
Both Keshava and I were not aware that the street would fill as it did with pedestrians because of the annual Carabana, which attracts over 1 million people, the city is crawling with people (not like India though) and with police.

One officer on foot upon seeing us said, “ How are you this evening?”

“Fine”, I responded in passing.

I then halted, walked back to him and asked, “Why so many police?”

“ It’s because there’s extra people which means extra drinking”, he said.

A few more words of exchange concluded our dialogue and I carried on with Keshava walking. I thought about the drinking culture. It’s sad. And as I thought I saw extra cabs zipping by. Extra people, extra booze, extra cabs. What a culture? Drinking is a rite of passage for many youth. “That’s sad”, I thought. And here’s what comes out of all the fun- entrails rot, bad to foul breath, slurred speech, inability to walk, loss of hard earned funds, increased accidents, increased risk of violence etc.

After passing the evening having caught a glimpse of what’s to come I entered the temple room at the usual 4:30 am service called Mangal Aarti. There I witnessed a room rather full of people in devotional attire. They were chanting peacefully on their meditational beads. There were some young teenage boys who, had they not been here, could likely be pressurized to the modern version of the rite of passage. They are spared. I felt like I stepped into heaven.

12 KM

Friday, July 30th, 2010

Traveler’s Help

Toronto, Ontario

Regarding decisions, I am in a management spot where I can decide who I would like to invite to Canada to help in the re-spiritualization of the place. We play host to a variety of traveling monks who give that real boost and leave behind a group of happy people as they sojourn to other territory.

One monk who is a swami from India but who learned of the essence of his own cultural background in Canada is Gopal Krishna Goswmai. He just departed for Montreal today by train. By car another monk from South Africa had arrived three days before to come and inject in our community an appreciation for the essential practice of chanting. His name is B.B. Bhagavat Swami. Twice a year we are also graced by the presence of an African American, Devamrita Swami. At my request he came to add his itinerary Vancouver and Ashcroft in British Columbia. His Charisma and pure power does excite those sincere seekers of the truth.

More over, we have a married person who is in spirit is renounced and dedicated to the mission of disseminating of devotional literature. He is an euphoric-type of person who sets a great tone wherever he travels. It is Vaisesika Prabhu and he makes routine trips to parts of the country.

We have others who travel to do the same as above mentioned. It was the genius of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, to arrange for this system of traveling mendicants and spiritualists to inspire in addition to having the local “grounded” servant-leaders to keep motivated by their pure stalwart devotion. Such a system is like rich blood circulating. Without such association you have a blood clot.

And that ain’t nice!

7 KM

Thursday, July 29th, 2010

Through It All

Toronto, Ontario

I struggle sometimes while moving on my feet. It’s not necessarily physical pain that I go through but a more subtle strain – the mind. I’m not unique in this. It is emphasized by Krishna Himself, speaker of the Gita. We are all “struggling with the six senses including the mind,” He states.

I do find walking most helpful when under the influence of anguish, something fuelled today by a decision made by an administrative committee. I couldn’t agree with the final vote made by my own peers. Such is life. You have to live with a decision made and hope for the best.

It is relieving to ponder a thing that may be of a taxing nature when you can get out of your living space, look at the sky, take in new air and receive new hope. It’s a real way to release the valve of the pressure within. You go out for that break, you walk and chant. You chant, “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare / Hare Rama Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.”

The anxiety may not dissolve completely but you come out as a stronger person and more able to cope.

It was comedian Milton Berle who said, “A committee is a group of people who take minutes but lose hours.” Bureaucracy appears to be that necessary evil that we much often persevere. Decisions need to be made after due deliberation. There is always a chance that decision can be reversed. And then again that new decision can’t please all parties. You learn to smile through it all.

8 KM

Wednesday 4 August 2010

Wednesday, July 28th, 2010

Keep Away From the Spray

Toronto, Ontario

Before the morning song birds get a chance to serenade the coming day at pre-pre-dawn, a hissing is heard. As I pass by yard to yard of the residential neighbourhood water pressure makes that sound and spews out here and there H20 moisture in the air. They are the sound of man-made geysers set to water the lawns. They are sporadic with their initial explosion and then a spray follows often times imposing themselves onto the sidewalk.

If you are an early walker like myself and you trek such sprouting neighbourhoods then you must listen for the sound of the hiss and run in order to miss. If not, you get sprayed.

It’s better than getting sprayed by those guys you share the early morning space with – skunks. Boy, there are out there. Once I counted seven in a two block jaunt. They’re never together. They don’t herd, like cats. I have never been attacked by their odour, a scent something like that I find common in Bengal – mustard seed oil used on the body or the hair.

No, never have I had the pleasure of having skunk juice on my body. I have met others who have. And dogs. I hear they get hit all the time. Once while I was reading a book by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, and in the very bedroom he slept in when that evening a dog barked outside the window. I could not see him, but only hear him. “Ruff! Ruff!”

After a few seconds of that he converted from an aggressive bark to a screechy squeal, as he was retreating. Suddenly a strong odour poured into my room and I could understand the dog had received a generous spray of skunk perfume.

It was totally a spontaneous response, unlike the spewing of water which operate on timers. What did I learn today?

1) It’s good to be regulated. Be on time!

2) When a hissing comes, clear out of the way.

3) Keep a distance from a skunk raised tail.

4) Accept nature’s light-heartedness

7 KM