Thursday, 30 September 2010

Tuesday, September 28th, 2010

The Natural Crave

Toronto, Ontario

It was to be a casual time after a wonderful meal at the home of a gracious couple. Well, that it turned out to be. It was question and answer time for the twenty guests there this evening.

One young woman who read that all you need is Divine Love and everything will happen for you. She tried it for eight months, following a routine hoping for that Divine Love to come. She carried on working on developing spiritually. However, she expressed some disappointment at not achieving other goals.

“I want a soul mate. I want a family, a house, some things. I would like some magic to happen,” she said. I did not sense that she was greedy in the least. These were only natural, biological and social needs, which is not alien to 99% of us. She was merely voicing what is ‘human nature’.

That want of hers sparked a rather incredible roll of remarks from the group and she was personally asking me how to address her needs. I did volunteer to respond and suggested that there might be a need to push for more social interaction in order to find the right person and the right situation. I told of how I had traveled for six summers on a youth bus tour with young men and women and how I had seen five couples form out of that event. The environment was devotional. Krishna was the centre.

I further sensed that most of the room was occupied with the same natural craving. The general mood was “I really want to get settled down.” I did not anticipate that discussions would go in this direction but they did. I saw in the room a group of very sincere people who have been practicing bhakti yoga for some time but who were wanting a real relationship with Krishna as well as with a mortal.

It was a very stimulating conversation and I must admit I feel deeply for these people whose intention is to be spiritual and yet not become monastic persons.

When the gathering dissolved due to time wearing itself on, I trekked a good hour form Yonge and Eglinton back to my room in the temple ashram and in my mind I was hoping and wishing all these great people well on their journey. I also appealed to Krishna hoping that some inspiration came to them from the words I delivered on His behalf.

5 KM

Monday, September 27th, 2010

A Call of Alarm

Toronto, Ontario

Somewhere between morning and evening walks today I received a call from someone from Vancouver who was on some level of distress. I asked, “How can I help you?”

“I’m concerned about something that’s happening on facebook. People are talking about atheism; they are promoting it. They are also making fun about eating babies. They are joking about it. There is this person who’s a popular atheist and people are practically worshipping him as if he’s God.”

When the caller made this last point I thought, “I guess they are not hard core , defying the very meaning of atheism.” But going back to the caller’s concern I agreed that there is a growing popularity of this extremism. It is a scary situation. On the one hand you have religious zealots blowing up Buddha statues (referring to Taliban) and on the other hand a class of people who are sold out to extremist practices. The safest zone to be in is to be an advocate of the Divine Intelligence, give credit where He’s due and appreciate that great power above us and take a humble demeanour.

There are different genres of atheists. A general description is detailed in chapter sixteen of the Bhagavad-gita. I also expressed to the person calling that devotees of Krishna run a weekly chanting session at a campus in Pennsylvania where the president of the Athiest Society is the most enthusiastic participant in mantra meditation and brings her entire flock of members to that happening.

The type of fanatics the caller describes are of concern and it convinces me that there are divisible dynamics occurring in the world today, perhaps an ugly polarization.

“Keep offering your friendship to people. Show kindness and when they are receptive to you present the mantra of deliverance,” I suggested. Once you have the taste of that, debates on existence of a creator versus not will not be an issue.

The caller became somewhat appeased and expressed a realization about the usage of facebook. “It actually encourages impersonalism. I sometimes spend hours and get dissatisfied.”

“That’s right,” I thought.

“I’m going to spend less time at facebook,” was the remark.

“I think it’s a good idea,” I said.

12 KM

Monday, 27 September 2010

Sunday, September 26th, 2010

Sex in the Sky

Mississauga, Ontario

They are called to Absolute Avenue to the Marilyn Monroe towers, under construction. Two condominiums architecturally shaped like ladies’ legs, winning awards for design, were a five minute walk from my overnight stay at the home of the Gelda family. After a long extensive chanting session on the previous night I rose to do my early morning trek and by chance passed the 50 storey plus edifices. One person from this expanding city told me that all the condos are sold out before the building is finished.

“Hurray!” I thought. “Another financial conquest has been made by an innovative developer.” A bit off the building and more on the lady. I wondered who shaped who. Did the public shape Marilyn? Or was it vice versa? Did Ms. M.M. shape the world? There is indeed an obsession for sex symbolism and more so sexual over-indulgence.

After the Sunday evening program a woman came to me and introduced herself as a survivor of incest. I chose to not be privy to the gory details but she did share with me good news despite the personal trauma of being a victim of sexual promiscuity. In the morning she expressed she was haunted by the past but after entering into the space of people happily involved in chanting and dancing to the Hare Krishna mantra, she felt relieved.

The society that we live in today does not require sex-in-your-face imagery and all kinds of suggestive innuendos. We need a saner approach into spirituality, to not necessarily alleviate the natural drive but to see sex in a proper perspective which leads to very deep roles of responsibility.

9 KM

Saturday, September 25th, 2010

Two of Us Meet

Kingston, Ontario

In this city located smack in the middle of Montreal and Toronto I came to see a dear friend Prabhapati. He works for a company that restores old churches. In the seventies we lived together with a group of other monks in the ashram.

When coming together with peers that you haven’t communicated with for some time and when there is a likelihood that communication will be somewhat limited the time spent becomes precious. I lost track of Prabhapati a few years ago. Even his email address was dissolved. Lo and behold a message came from him last summer. I was glad to hear he was alive and well. You can’t be too sure who lives dangerously or not.

We met at Macdonald park were there is an honourific statue of Sir John A. Macdonald, Canada’s first Prime Minister. The quote inscribed at the base reads, “ A British subject I was born. A British subject I will die. “ It sounds like his times were days of mixed fear and courage or just plain dangerous.

Prabhapati and I got “caught up” on things. He remains still very much connected to Krishna and Guru, judging by his words it wasn’t in me to ask him how he fared with his vows to Guru. In some ways it’s not my business and it was not my intent to be judgmental. (Who needs to go mental anyways?)

We relished the “old times” when we were younger and more passionate. Of the two he appeared to me to be the more passive and pensive one. He was the meticulous artist and had done paintings for BBT books.

I guess, down the road, so to speak, people will perceive our age group as pioneers of Krishna Consciousness. After all we did work hard, in fact we worked our butts off. We didn’t mind at all.

Time was short and I was to dash off to the city of Mississauga for an evening chanting session. A warm farewell concluded the exchange
Until next visit…

7 KM

Friday, September 24th, 2010

The Good Fortune

New Brunswick/Quebec

Trans-Canada Hwy took Gaurachandra and I through the smooth country with red, yellow, orange and green trees to our sides. From above water dropped, enough to put out the flames of hell. More grim was seeing a hunted-down moose, strapped to the back of a truck in front of us. The carcass, a valuable catch for the captor, was no feast for our eyes. We whizzed past that truck.

It was those colours again that reminded me that I’m good where I am. At this time of the year many people travel to Mother India for pilgrimage. After all we should be content where we are because the spirit of bliss should always be within us.

The St.Lawrence River flowed to our right, then to our left as we switched hi-ways via bridges at Quebec City. Nature remained wet right up until we reached the precincts of Montreal.

Gaurachandra and I were listening to Vandanam a recent release by Mahajan from Quebec. It’s easy to dream to bhajan music. I started to contemplate on the fine company with the monks from Halifax.

I was asked to read from the devotional text “Chaitaniya Caritamrta” as part of temple evening service and we came upon a verse, “Sadhu sanga sadhu sanga sarve sastre haya/Lava matra sadhu sange sarva siddhi haya

Translation: There is no greater success then having a fraction of a moment’s association with a great soul.

My fortune is that I had not just one great soul’s association but for the last eleven days, I had the company of eight of them.

5 KM

Thursday, September 23rd, 2010

Neil About to Kneel

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Steve Sutherland host to Information Morning, on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) Radio, interviewed me at their studio. He was highlighting “The Walking Monk” side of me, although questions were there about our culture. “Bhagavad-Gita” was mentioned, “Krishna” as well, along with George Harrison and my encounters with a grizzly bear on the road. It was a good feeling reaching out through the air waves again.

I met Neil on King's Road. He was staggering on the sidewalk. He had a few too many. He was curious.

“Are you a monk?”

“Yes, I am.”

Then he started talking and addressing me as “Father.” He was telling me about his life, which in many ways was rather successful. His parents are professionals. He has money, youthfulness, and good looks. Good karma, I would say. He felt bad about the too many drinks. He asked me to bless him over and over again, and to pray for him and for an ill uncle in the hospital. He confessed that he hadn't been to church in about four years. It was as if he was in the confessional and he was telling me his sins. He went on expressing himself heartfully, and sometimes with colourful words. At some point of the incoherent words I told him I was going to pray for him.

“Could you?” he said excitedly.

I hope I'll meet Neil again someday.

It was our final engagement together with the monks from Halifax. We chanted and spoke to a group of people at the Geeta Bhavan in Fredericton. That went well and as in all our stops, my driver, Gaurachandra, sold books at this gathering – books by our guru , Srila Prabhupada.

A family, relocated here from Los Angeles, took us in for our final overnight stay before exiting for central Canada. We reviewed our pilgrimage together and concluded that it was a very enriching one.

5 KM

Thursday, 23 September 2010

Monday September 20th, 2010

The Essence Beyond Time

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

This morning my legs brought me to Samson Trail. It was here that Canada's first iron rail was laid in the year 1836. Eventually the railway beginning from here was extended to reach the Pacific coast. The first freight was coal. Since that time so many transitions have taken place which is what time does to all things.

For instance, what was a railway line has now been removed to become an excellent walking trail. A short strolls' distance away is a spank new building, the head office, of Sobey's food enterprise, a rather large family business that has a progressive chain of grocery stores across the country. It wasn't there before. Indeed time changes the names, the shapes, the colours of all places.

Formerly this east coast territory was the inherent land of the indigenous Mic Mac tribe. In time the region fell into the hands of the British and Scottsmen. In fact Nova Scotia means New Scotland. People of Scottish origin and then Irishmen had come to settle here for over two hundred years.

As the day passed on evening came upon us and our venue for a bhakti (devotion) presentation was at a home in the Pictou area. People of British Isles descent were present. They were keen to know what is our position on destiny and Jesus. Is there a God? What is a mantra? Do you monks get married? Are you vegetarian? These were questions asked. They were sincere questions of course. We shouldn't fail to mention one more - "why all the walking?"

Our group of listeners were in the average age between 55 and 65. They were people who had seen several phases of time from post-war and on. 'Experience' might be the best word that capsulizes a description of them. All has been seen and done by them. One gentleman had even been to India and had witnessed a Bengal tiger in the wilderness. "They have been there and done that" - all except for chanting which to them was like a breath of fresh air. Our monks and possibly a new laity were relishing the sacred sound.

We were transcending time.

14 KM

Monday, 20 September 2010

Sunday, September 19th, 2010

The Young in Joy

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I had taken a real brisk walk from Charlottetown to the Trans Canada Highway when I met some young party goers whom I greeted with a “Good morning!” to which they at 4 AM became a bit disoriented. One of them as they looked at their watch in a stupored sort of way said, “Oh, yah, morning!” as she giggled.

An hour later the van pulled up with five of our Halifax monks. We moved onto the ferry docks for the mainland. While on the ferry whales coasted along with us - appearing and disappearing - as passengers left their seats to see the spectacle. Alice, a middle-aged woman from Nova Scotia, approached me.

“I don’t mean to seem ignorant but what are the clothes all about?”

I went on to explain about our order of monks, which she had never heard of before, but it sparked new questions. As we were talking she looked at our two young monks Kurt and Marshal from British Columbia and remarked, “you don’t eat meat or take drugs?”

“No, not at all,” I said.

“That’s amazing. At that age they could be doing all sorts of crazy things. Do you get married?”

“Yes,” I said. “Most of us do get married but now while they are young they are receiving some training and it establishes a great foundation for them.” Alice was satisfied and we reached the dock.

This evening the Halifax boys and I held a Sunday Program of chant and talk with predominantly young folks and the free-spirited. They could have been doing all kinds of ‘crazy things’ but they were indeed thrown into the ecstasy of kirtan (chanting) and philosophy and they were blown away.

I hope they will stay frozen in the joy of Krishna Consciousness and avoid all the nasty things that can spoil lives.

7 KM

Saturday, September 18th, 2010

To the Smallest Province

Charlottetown, Prince Edward Island

Several crows were creating a ruckus. They were squaking and flapping their wings like there was no end to the party. "What is all that about?" I wondered as they clammered around a tree set at the edge of Cedar Hill Field of Honour Cemetary. I chose this spot for a solitude walk, and that it was, until those boys with their black feathers went wild.

Then I figured it out. From the base of the trees emerged this red fox. Oh, he was beautiful. He was looking for food no doubt. He looked at me for a brief few seconds (and I admiringly at him) until he swiftly disappeared to the other side of the fence. I was sure to never see him again.

One thing I wanted to make sure of was before departing from the city of Saint John was to visit Mr Greg Kennedy. The last time I saw Greg, who's now 76, was 3 years ago on the trek across Canada. He is a Korean War veteran and is suffering from Alzheimers. He didn't remember me as I approached him in Liberty Ward at the Health Services Centre. He does recall the book 'Bhagavad-Gita' however when I asked him.

He told me, "that Bhagavad-Gita is the best thing that ever happened to me." And I recall how the book came into his life. A sister of his found the text abondoned on the beach. She picked it up and it eventually ended up in her brother's hands. He read it and shared its wisdom with all of his boys, Jason, Justin, and Jamie and one more (I can't remember the fourth one. Don't worry!) From the discovery of the book the Kennedy family let their father take the lead on the vegetarian diet and on Krishna.

"I can't complain," said Greg. "It's been a good life." I left Greg, Mr Kennedy, whom I have so much respect towards, reflecting, perhaps, on his good life. I might not see him again.

The major chunk of today was spent with five monks in Prince Edward Island. The remaining three were obliged to attend a wedding in Halifax. Prince Edward Island, or PEI for short, is known for many things, among them is the fictitious character Ann of Green Gables. Tourists come from all over the world to Cavendish, the site of where this much loved tomboy grew up.

In any event this weekend's Shellfish Festival attracted many folks to the island and we were near the site at the waterfront to chant for the public. In the end we conducted a program for the local Hindu community telling the story of the walking avatar, Vamanadev. Vamana is one of my heros.

9 KM

Sunday, 19 September 2010

Friday, September 17th, 2010

A Bridge, A Park and A Hall

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

Rain forced me under a bridge where you find a convenient foot path. While in a constant pace I spanned the width of the East River repeatedly back and forth keeping perfectly dry under the bridge. There I met Gary, a teenager who took refuge as I did. He had woken up to the sudden rush of rain after a full night's sleep outside next to a nearby park's gazebo.

I was curious to know if he was homeless or not.

"No, I live in a house," he said as he plucked meticulously at the mattress stuffing that clung to his clothes.

I introduced myself to him as a monk travelling the country. I offered him a mantra card explaining that one who chants this mantra can achieve inner peace. He really appreciated it and said, "I'm putting it in my pocket so it will keep dry." He said he had to get ready for school and was off but with a smile.

Our outside venue for chanting today was at King's Square, the uptown park in Saint John, New Brunswick. People and pigeons populate this little green haven. We arrived at 3 pm, just in time to experience the convergence of students from two secondary schools in the vicinity. Finally our indoor venue was a church hall off of Adelaide St. A good figure of eighty people or so, came to hear katha, a talk about Krishna Consciousness. We were excited to see some of the people we met at King's Square come to the hall to be with us for the second time in one day.

To our delight new immigrants from Bhutan turned up. As genuine refugees to a tough government under Buddhist domination these folks recently arrived from Nepal to a situation of new opportunity. And now that they have also begun chanting we anticipate that they will take it up on a regular basis.

At the end of the day when I lay down to rest I thought again of Gary from the morning and I hoped that Gary would have a decent mattress, without holes to sleep on.

10 KM

Friday, 17 September 2010

Thursday, September 16th, 2010

A Burst of Sun

Halifax, Nova Scotia

I set out at a dark 5:30 in the morning on the Johnny Miles trail in New Glasgow. Johnny Miles lived to be almost a century. He was a runner competing in the olympics in the 20's and 30's winning awards on behalf of Canada. He hailed from this area in Pictou County and so in his honour we have this great trail to take advantage of.

I also ventured through the town itself and made it past a foundry where men were hard at work. I somewhat startled a couple of workers. Remember, it's early, it's dark and it's a sleepy town; in other words it's rare to see a human walking.

I reached the home of our host to find the eight monks hard at work, chanting their japa on their meditation beads. We facilitated a sadhana and a talk based on the Teachings of Queen Kunti. Breakfast comprised of scrumptuous left-overs from the night before. I have no apprehensions about consuming portions of 'past' vittles provided it is prasadam, blessed food.

We then set out for Halifax and a bursting day of sun. Our two new boys from Victoria, two brothers, Marshal and Kurt, were learning the art of book sales, which is special because these are books about spirituality.

The street called Spring Garden Road is the place and I saw that our monks who had returned after a summer's absence from Halifax were well received by the public. They have accomplished something wonderful here in warming people up to Krishna Consciousness. They know how to make friends.

The other component to today's success was the several hours of chanting to the beat of the drum and the clang of the kartals on Spring Garden. The public was charmed and so were the yellow jackets buzzing around us all afternoon.

Here's a saying:
'The happiest people don't have the best of everything. They make the best of everything.'

10 KM

Wednesday, September 15th, 2010

Looking Forward

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia

If I was ever put in a prison and my walking was restricted to the cell then that box would be my walking space. It would be a pace back and forth. The deck of the boat we had the pleasure to sleep in was a little like that. I paced back and forth for two hours as fog set in and went out in rhythm much like the stride of the tide.
Who knows how many kilometers I set for that period? It was something left to speculate upon.

From the south of New Brunswick the Halifax monks and I ventured to yet another province for a set engagement in New Glasgow. It was the birthday celebration of Radharani, the Supreme Goddess, and the female aspect of God. At the home of Dr Vikram we were invited. Some local people came for a new experience of chanting, observing a new kind of clothes – our robes – and a very different taste and take on cuisine.

Nitai Ram, cooked up a traditional-as-possible plum chutney (as we are told, it’s a Radharani favourite). But most of all in my judgment, the item relished the most was chanting. I kept the melody simple in order that all could follow. The message from the Gita was simple while the meal, an easy eight to ten course, was more elaborate.

It was great seeing people depart with Bhaktivedanta Book Trust material under their arms. Our little monastic army has proven effective for the first day of formal presentation. I’m looking forward to more.

3 KM

Tuesday, September 14th, 2010

Moving But Stop Now!

St. Andrews, New Brunswick

We are on the move!

Last Saturday the venue for devotional activities was the home of Subha Vilas, a dear godbrother of mine who staged an extended festival to honour Krishna’s birthday in Toronto. Sunday I spent in a temple in Montreal. Monday was a visit and accommodation at the home of a monk’s parents in Saint John NB, another province. Tuesday the Halifax monks and I spent the evening on a 25 footer boat at the coast of the Bay of Fundy, where you find the highest tides in the world.

The day was a rain-out but by 9 pm skies cleared giving way to piercing stars. A half moon beckoned us to come out of hiding below deck and to start some mantras. So we did finish the night at that placid bay where the only sound was the mantra and the audience was millions of luminaries above us.

The boys sang well and seemed to be soaring with their consciousness. I felt so at home in their company. I reflected on the wish that our guru Srila Prabhupada had; that his senior men should travel with the single men, the brahmacaris, and support their program of travelling the country and disseminating the philosophy of self-realization. Recalling this I felt less guilty about the gas burning of three vehicles to get us to the Maritimes.

Now, it was just a question of getting out of the vehicles, off the boat after a great rest and hoping the relentless rains of the season would stop.

13 KM

Monday, September 13th, 2010

Onward to the East

Saint John, New Brunswick

There were ten of us monks spread within three vehicles headed to the Maritimes on the TransCanada Highway. Gasing up was my time for periodical trekking ahead. This eventually amounted to 9 kilometres on foot. The boys I'm travelling with are based out of Halifax and our mission is to do a blitz on maya through three of the Atlantic provinces.

Maya is in reference to the Vedic version of the devil, the delusion of our materialistic world. Call it 'a mission' if you want. We will, like a small army, lodge a serious attack armed with books, drums, harmonium, kartals (cymbals), mantras, and a message. As is obvious from the artillery in place that it will be a subtle but serious attack. We will be fiercely soft and hopefully effective.

It was a long ten hour haul that landed us finally in Saint John, New Brunswick, and the home of one of our monks' parents in suburbia. Nitai Ram, our head brahmacari (monk) who has been stationed in Halifax is the lucky son of terrific parents. At short notice the Poley family welcomed and accomodated the ten of us. Their home was our outpost for the evening before we ready ourselves for war.

But before arriving Nitai Ram had demonstrated in front of me one of his routine launches of attack. With all sincerity he approached the gas attendant and said, "we are a group of monks travelling around and we are leaving people with a book on yoga. Would you like to have one?"

"No!" he said in a most straightforward manner.

Determined as Nitai Ram is he will in the course of the next few days prove with his army how relentless he is in dealing with Maya.

9 KM

Sunday, September 12th, 2010

To Montreal

Montreal, Quebec

As usual it is hard for me to wait for my driver to be prepared for a trip. I expressed to the person who was going to be behind the wheel, that I'll start walking.

"Pick me up. You'll see me. I swear I'll be the only monk on the road," I told Gaurachandra, our Hungarian-born devotee, who resides in the same ashram as myself.

I had no regrets about being the 'advanced party.' After the freak rainfall I relished sniffing in the aroma of late summer/fall foliage. Red berries of all sorts and kinds are recessed in green richness. This is what you see along Rosedale Valley Road and then further on past Brickworks on Bayview. It is a section of wild splendour in Toronto, a city known more for urban life than for its treasure of tucked away green.

After an hour and a half of great solitude Gaurachandra pulled up with his hatchback Toyota Echo to drive us through a rain-drenched day to Montreal. It is a pleasure always to walk into a temple room full of smiling faces from people who perhaps have had a hard week of maintenance monotony. Their visit to their temple is an anticipated stress reliever. And it is my responsibility at least this evening to offer some inspiration that they, the visitors, will hopefully carry to their contacts of the coming week.

What to speak on? I was given no topic so wing it I did. I quickly leafed through the pages of the Gita when my eyes landed on the chosen verse which was full of imagery. From Chapter three it describes different states of consciousness which are compared to fire covered by smoke, a mirror covered by dust and the embryo covered by the womb. These analogies illustrate the soul's state of deception from good to bad to worst.

I won't elaborate on the topic which would stretch out too much for my daily report but somehow or other the message flowed on how to overcome life's illusions. It begins and ends with chanting as suggested by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, in his explanation of this verse.

7 KM

Tuesday, 14 September 2010

Saturday, September 11th, 2010

Dream and Live


Security at the Edmonton Airport was very thorough at their job. Line-ups were slow. In the wake of surging religious zealots in various parts of the world and the ninth anniversary of New York’s twin towers going down, it is no wonder. Once through security my three companions and I were glad the tension was over, at least, for us, much less for those screening everyone.

Next to me a nice couple from Edmonton in the plane enroute to Halifax looked down to see the vast number of wind turbines. They were curious and asked if I had seen them before. My response was, “Oh yes, quite close up.” But I refrained from telling them that I did indeed walk through the area once as I have much of Canada’s major roads. In this case it was the huge wind giants of southern central Ontario that I had witnessed from the ground level.

I did wish to be there instead of in the air. Lately the passion for long distance walking has truly struck me out of sheer love for it. I’m not sure just when the hankering will turn into reality. I haven’t yet written a letter to my Australian devotee friends telling them I can’t walk Australia next year as MRI scans reveal cartilage wear down and therefore I must reduce extreme daily lengths on foot. I pondered on the fun of the Fijian trek of a year ago.

When I look at a map I lust over the roads not yet trekked and I think of all those souls whom I could still meet and who will eventually chance upon a BBT book for enlightenment. If ever there was to be a serious long walk it would have to be cut down in daily length. 40 kilometers a day won’t do anymore. That’s just the way it is.

And here’s a mild phrase tacked onto the wall of a public washroom while on our trip to Edmonton:

‘Dream as if you have forever.

Live as if you only have today.’

2 KM

Friday, September 10th, 2010

The Last Yawn

Edmonton, Alberta

In an unknown to us suburb in Edmonton, Goura and I poked around with several directions guessing where to find a trail of beauty. It seemed like we were surrounded by the burb dynamic, residential road curves, until we came upon some resemblance of a straight path with some vegetation.

We were "doing our rounds"; not a routine walking although our feet were in stride. "Rounds" refers to the chanting on our meditation beads, a strand of 108 beads.. It is our morning ritual and I appreciate Goura's diligence in this regard. Even though Goura's body demands more sleep than mine and even though he may be tired from some physical exertion from the day prior provoking that extra yawn here and there, Goura will rise early enough to be my companion. He religiously chants each day.

I pointed out to him the local ruler's of the low sky. Staying close to the ground, sailing on his wings is the notorious magpie. They are in abundance in this part of Alberta. They seem to party all day and show that some life does in fact grace the Prairies They have a different version of "doing rounds".

And after our walk, as was done in the past few days, our little drama troupe, "Swami Productions", held a morning sadhana which included today a talk about how selfless service can transcend politics and spare someone from insanity. Our host, Nitin, posed great questions about what to do in what seems an undoable circumstance.

Our visit to Edmonton marks the end of our Prairies tour, if you will, and also our season's tour of "Lonely People". To prepare for our last performance, as always, I have our troupe invoke good fortune and blessings by chanting mantras. As we were completing our recitation Goura let out the biggest yawn. It could have rivaled a python's mouth stretch. We giggled.

I am happy to report that no one yawned during the show. Quite the contrary. The audience loved it and became highly animated.

9 KM

Saturday, 11 September 2010

Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Response to Islam Growth

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

I read in the paper about the growth of Islam in the world and the Christian response to it. In an article by Simon Coldwell, a Vatican official is quoted saying that European Christians must have more children or face the prospect of the Continent becoming Islamized.

Some statistics from Europe point out that 2.4 percent of Muslim population has doubled in the past 30 years and is predicted to double again by 2015. According to US Migration Policy Institute, Muslims will account for more than 20 percent of the EU population by 2050. Mohammed is expected to be the most popular boy's name in England and Wales when figures are released by the office for National Stats in October.

Quoting on Italian priest Father Piero Gheddo "Certainly from a demographical point of view, as it is clear to everyone that Italians are decreasing by 120,000 or 130,000 persons a year because of abortion and broken families -- while among the more than 200,000 legal immigrants a year in Italy, more than half are Muslims and Muslim families, which have a much higher level of growth."

I read another article in the same paper of Saskatoon's "Star Phoenix" before I took off for an evening trek about an extreme reactionary church in Florida. On Sept. 11, the anniversary to mark the perceived terrorist attack of 2001 the church's plan under pastor Terry Jones directions, is to burn thousands of copies of the Qu'ran. Many groups of people are fearing a backlash in the US and beyond.

Not to discuss figures of growth or responses to it, I found it interesting that in the late afternoon myself and three companions Nitai, Goura and Nitai Priya were by divine arrangement being driven to Edmonton for our next stop by a man from the Middle East and he was a Muslim. I'm going to call him Ken and not defer to his actual name.

Ken, who is rather moderate in his views on things, asked me many questions, respectfully. For instance, for classification he wanted to know what category I belong to when it comes to religion. I mentioned that religious scholars, who prefer to put everyone in some box, refer us to in the Hindu context although in essence I believe I'm not following a religion but spirituality.

Another question Ken asked was "What about statues in temples? What role do they play?" My answer was, "If you are a Catholic you pray to Jesus via his statue to provide the eyes a focal point and a remembrance of him just like Muslims who worship the Kaaba in Mecca. It is a stone resembling very much the Hindu Shiva lingam. These images, either the Christan ones or otherwise, are referred to as sacred due to some consecrated event. They are powerful and serve to purify the worshiper."

In general, Ken was satisfied with these and other explanations. I showed him my meditation beads and gave him a sample of chanting. our discussion was great as we got to know each other better.

Although not discussed, my personal opinion on aforementioned topics is that some groups should cut down on child production, others should step up but most of all we should invest more into our individual spiritual growth and establish common ground.

8 KM

Wednesday, September 8th, 2010

Toons in Saskatoon

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

The two Penn boys, Goura and Nitai, were zealous enough to take strides with me along a trail in the Erindale section of Saskatoon in the morning. Other walkers who were passersby reacted with that polite and yet surprised look. Out of our trio I stood out due to the monks’ apparel. It is my hope that some day monks will be a familiar sight on the Prairie landscape.

For the evening gathering of youths I handpicked a verse from the Gita. Chapter 5 text 18 “The humble sages see with equal vision the indwelling paramatma within all; the Brahmana, cow, elephant, dog and dog-eater.” We had discussed this passage amongst the group and it appeared to all that it was a salient statement. Kirtan and dance was included in the experience.

I also had the pleasure to make two home visits in addition to two sankirtan (chanting sessions) with the boys and Nitai Priya, who were great teamsters in this endeavour held downtown at the university. We sat on the grass outside a prominent student building when a fire drill took place. All occupants of the buildings were to dash out. It could not have been timed better. Their ears caught the tunes to the sound vibration.

The final visit of the day was at the home of a young couple. Vishal and Jackie. Jackie, who is pregnant, due soon with a boy, had remarkable questions about the real essence of Krishna and Vishal had me on Skype with his mom all the way to Mauritius.

“I have plans to walk Mauritius in the spring,” I told her.

“Then you must come to my house,” she expressed in so many words.

9 KM

Tuesday, September 7th, 2010

Thoughts at Arbor Creek

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

I am not the hermit type of monk who doesn’t deal with people. People who cross my path are always on the mind. I woke up at 2:30 AM with one particular person on my mind, a person recently struck with illness, and it caused worry enough to deter me from further sleep. I then dedicated the next two hours to that person in my thoughts. I offer mantras, prayers and thoughts for the individuals well being.

Those two really quiet hours near Arbor Creek walking in wonder left me in a state of ambivalence. I become pacified to the extent that some positive thoughts went her way but I did sustain a worry because any attempts to communicate have failed. “Is she too ill to respond? Has she lost faith?” Some anxiety lingers.

Our evening was lively. Young families come to partake in prasadam at our hosts home and they sat to listen . Since it was the first day back at school for some children we dwelt on the theme of returning to one of the unique classrooms of all time – the chariot of Arjuna. At Kuruksetra, a northern plain in India, Arjuna, the warrior, sought counsel from Krishna. “Life is troubling when direction is not clear. The uncertainty of responsibility haunted me. Is it better to sit and ponder as I sulk? Forward action doesn’t seem to be an option. Help! “ These were Arjuna’s thoughts.

So Krishna helped him.

When I take a stroll or walk spritefully with mantra in motion it is my day’s time to ask for help. I know that the name is pleasing to Him but my mood is basically a cry for help. Before the day ended I received a call from someone asking if I could put out prayers for a couple who are struggling with the failing health of their new born baby. I said “Yes, I will chant in prayerfulness that the parents be strong to accept whatever fate is to come.”

Karma is too difficult to comprehend. Acceptance of it is also not easy. Act to become strong and don’t let emotions consume you.

11 KM

Monday, September 6th, 2010

Time for Yourself

Regina, Saskatchewan

"We haven't had a summer here," was a remark I heard of weather in the province. Saskatchewan is usually a sun-drenched place, even though hitting extreme cold fronts in winter. This morning the weather was overcast and dripping, with winds to intimidate even more. I looked out the window to a miserable pronouncement of weather and looked at my sleeping crew of co-travellers who probably could use a bit of coaching with my very presence inside. The outdoors are frankly almost always enticing for me but for today I thought let's not be too selfish. Let's stay inside and encourage the others. "Some walking can be squeezed in later," I thought.

That time never came. A trip to Regina was a planned program for a presentation, some words of encouragement to the community there. Our drama "Lonely People" and a kirtan (chanting session) was to be the balance of the program for an eager group on this Labour Day. We were to meet up with the eight monks from Halifax as well. All had transpired with a great response and reunion. Post program chats with the boys consumed well-spent time.

But as daylight dwindled little opportunity come to mobilize those legs. The three hour drive back to Saskatoon left me only minutes to squeeze out time as our van was being loaded. A very embarrassing 1.5 Km came out of this as Nitai, one of the actors came to catch some Prairie air with me.

I do sometimes struggle within. "Am I selfish to escape crowds to have a chill-out for myself or to be with one companion? Does there always have to be people about?" And I resolved with a subliminally resounding, "No!" You have to have some time for yourself.

1.5 KM

Sunday, September 5th, 2010

A Good Change

Saskatoon, Saskatchewan

A flight, a drive, a hike and a sit down constituted the movement of the day. Passengers, kids at play with field hockey, kids at play on outdoor basketball, people at a Hindu temple, and home owning hosts were the causes of interaction of the day.

At the Hindu temple which was fully capacitated, we had a very different audience compared to the Iskcon temple of the night before in Calgary. However, people responded so well to the message spoken in both places. The message was about sweet surrender.

What really was significant about our visit to Saskatoon was the progressive changes made by the family here now spearheading the mission. Last December I came to visit Kasyapa in Saskatoon when temperatures were reaching 50 below celsius. Kasyapa moved to the city from Toronto to establish himself in a new employment. His family recently arrived and now are in a nice home ready for action.

The action plan referred to is a duplication of what the family so well executed back in Toronto. Kasyapa and wife, Panchami, conducted weekly gatherings of what's called "Bhakti Vrksha", where guests are invited into the home for discussion and learning about the science of the self. While adults carried on in a formal but lively manner on one floor of the house. Their children were given attention to training as if in a kind of kids for Krishna camp on another floor of the home.

This Saskatoon couple are now poised to do what they did so successfully elsewhere for their fist gathering on September 17th. Six months ago virtually no enlightenment of full on Krishna Consciousness was being presented in this city and now a great benefit is to become a reality here. This is all some kind of mercy.

I am grateful to the couple who by the way, have a supportive son, Jaya, and daughter, Radhika.

6 KM

Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Saturday, September 4th, 2010

The Human Touch

Calgary, Alberta

I was walking while chanting on my beads of meditation when I came upon a sign that was posted at the edge of a soccer field. The field was depressed in the earth (man's engineering) and the sign explained the reason for the big pit. "Danger, Storm water here after rainfall." For the time being there were no clouds in sight and hence no fear of a sudden flood. There was only me at the bottom of this spacious field except for souls with wings, white seagulls, black crows and sporadic magpies sharing the space.

A young Nepalese fellow came down to greet me. "Hare Krishna," He said with folded palms. He had spent time in the Kathmandu Krishna temple and was very familiar with our practices. The sad story is that he has been in Canada for a year and has difficulty landing a decent job to help support his family. Anyways, he introduced himself as Sushil.

Sushil recalls the days he spent in the temple in Kathmandu living with the monks before he got married. He realizes there's no turning back. He has a young son and wife which requires responsibility. He's trying.

What I reminded him of is whatever the situation, whether wealthy, moderate or simple conditions, "Always keep a spiritual focus." I introduced Sushil to a family that can provide him the spiritual reinforcement. I even suggested he contact a second family that might help him find opportunities for gaining a livelihood

All in all, it was great meeting Sushil, who needed that extra friendship. I pray that his follow up on these new contacts will be a reality. In the event that he fails, then I pray the new contacts will follow up on him as it seems the human touch is always, always effective.

10 KM

Friday, September 3rd, 2010

Time Measured By Soap

Calgary, Alberta

I stay at a place long enough until my bar of soap wears out. That’s at an average three showers a day – standard for those who follow the model of the Brahman. In other words, when the soap gets low, you know it’s time to move on.

I’ve been asked, “What brand do you use?”

“Something that is natural and environmentally friendly; also something not too smelly or fragrant. That attracts bears.” I do find myself in their turf from time to time. Not today. I’m in the bustling city of Calgary, here to make my round , so to speak. As a member of the Governing Body Commission I have an obligation, a privilege and a pleasurable commitment to visiting Krishna centres across Canada. I’ve landed here with our drama troupe. In Inglewood, the oldest section of town, a pioneer, homesteader haven well before Calgary became an oil rich mega city of sorts we were set to perform drama and kirtan (chanting). This is a formula which has been operating well like two people arm in arm at a waltz.

Collen, one of the employees at Alexandra Centre Society stayed to see our performance of “Lonely People”. She loved it.

“I’m a social worker and what I saw is that you covered everything when it comes to therapy for loneliness,” she said.

That remark was a great endorsement for our actors who co-authored the piece. Good stuff! I cannot wait to perform this drama before other members of the Governing Body Commisioners, many of whom are swamis (monks). The earliest opportunity is several bars of soap away.

3 KM

Friday, 3 September 2010

Thursday, September 2nd, 2010

Vyasa-puja - birthday of the guru

Toronto, Ontario

Here is a devotional offering to our guru, Srila Prabhupada, from this humble self:


thanks for Krsna's name
and for my name,
for a new goal
for this lost soul.

thanks for the real life
and "Life Comes From Life",
a new way of thinking
a nectar I've been drinking.

thanks for the chance to sing,
and for the spices, especially hing,
the food, the rotis,
kurtas and dhotis.

thanks for all the books
and "hooks or by crooks",
the travel, the adventures,
toothpaste for the dentures,
your powerful discourses,
and fighting Māyā's forces,
and for your life story--
its unfathomable glory.

thanks for nonviolence
unless it's in defense,
your liberalism
your conservatism,
and the accommodation
for apparent contradiction.

thanks for such a character as Hiranya,
and what to speak of Caitanya?
thanks for George and Jagannātha,
for Krsna and Gopinātha,
for cymbals, drums, tilak
kirtans that make us rock.
the mantra, Sanskrit, oṁ,
the ways to go back home,
for shaven heads, being clean,
and insisting on hygiene,
for the love of bull and cow--
we must tend to them right now--
for your talks and your walks
and blessings for my walks,
for the place 243,
devotees, your GBC.

thanks for teaching us dance,
chants, and trance,
giving us humour
and no room for rumor,
for farms, restaurants, schools,
four regs and rules,
for blessing me with dramas,
holy places, and dhāmas,
for the Deity, the icon,
the home we call Iskcon
backing the family,
youth, and elderly,
for prasādam and its distribution
done in great profusion,
for being father, being mother,
showing kindness to one another.

thanks for your coming,
what to say of your going?
thanks for your smile,
for you are always the boss
for me
and for us.

Bhaktimarga Swami

9 KM

Wednesday, September 1st, 2010

Some Extraordinary Way

Toronto, Ontario

On the birthday of Krishna it is a custom for many devotees to fast the entire day. After the fast you have a feast. The only difference between the two words is the letter ”e’ which could stand for ecstasy. In both scenarios fasting or feasting it is done with Holy intent. There is some satisfaction derived from these dual activities. In both cases the participant makes spiritual progress even though externally you may find a convex or concave difference in the stomach region.

Sometimes lack of food could weaken the person abstaining from eating. I know some people with physical conditions when devoid of food who encounter dizziness or black outs. To this concern my dear god-brother Yadubar, who is visiting us, relayed to me, “In the early days, Srila Prabhupada, (our guru) was lenient with us. He said we could eat fruit on a full day fast if we needed to. “

Since many things needed to be done which involved physical activity this strong consideration was given. The main principal is that on this day, Janmastami, the eigth day after the waning moon, one attempts to increase his/her devotion to Krishna. The primary outlet for this is through seva, service and Kirtan, chanting.

At the strike of midnight when that moment of glory occurred five millennia ago, devotees did become ecstatic to commemorate Krishna’s coming. All over the globe conches blew, hands clapped, women ululated, men rolled drums, devotees lept in the air. All expressed joy in their own individual ways at the highest point in time.

For me personally it was a great moment standing within the roar of kirtan and hearing the sounds of hundreds of balloons popping as the doors gave way to the beautiful deities of Krishna.

Whether a believer or not, in Krishna, the moment of His birth must hit everyone in some extraordinary way.

8 KM

Thursday, 2 September 2010

Tuesday, August 31st, 2010

A Few Know

Niagara Falls, Ontario

It was rather spontaneous – the trip to the Falls. Our guests, Yadhubhar and Visakha, a couple wed since ’71, found the suggestion to see that natural wonder a real treat. Yadubar had not seen the Falls since 1959 and being involved in film and she, Visakha, a photographer could really appreciate the liquid pouring down in torrents.

We arrived early, 8 AM, walking along to catch with eye’s view the various angles of majesty. A stroll through the main street of Niagara on the Lake village astounded them with its array of outdoor plant displays. People say that places adorned with flower growth brings down the crime level.

What this devotional couple really appreciated from the day’s experience was a visit and delivering a presentation of “The Gita” to the Urban Edge community in Toronto. The response to the message, the chanting, the small drama by our youth was so well absorbed by all.

It gives me hope that very regular Canadians are very ready for implementing some level of higher consciousness to their lives. For many of them the personality, Krishna, is a new phenomenon, but He has become more relevant with the passage of time because of the efforts of a few who give honour to Him in presenting His philosophy.

Tomorrow is Janmastami, the birth anniversary of Krishna. One billion people on the planet claim an allegiance in one way or other to Vedic culture but few know much about its source.

7 KM

Monday, August 30th, 2010

City Trails and Cemeteries

Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto

Along the ravine I met a young Caucasian male who was running. He offered his pranams (hand gesture) of respect. I didn’t recognize him, “Swamiji, Namaste.” He was gone.

Another man, an artist, on his way to the ponds at the old brick factory offered his pranams. He was white. We got talking.

“This was my training field – this ravine – for doing the cross country trekking, or pilgrimage,” I mentioned.

“Yes, I’ve seen you here before,” he remarked.

Minutes passed by and in the same ravine another very ‘western’ person, a woman, offered her ‘Namaste’ and pranams. It seems the west is becoming more east and vice versa. This is not the first time.

I followed through the ravine route which took me through Mount Pleasant Cemetery. It’s a beautifully maintained space. I passed by Glenn Gould’s grave stone, a crude stone in the shape of a piano. I also spotted a young man who sat next to a stone, transfixed, meditating on a deceased loved one. Some oriental folks were cleaning around a polished tomb stone, an act of love no doubt. And a Jewish man walked slowly about as if in prayer.

I like cemeteries. They have helped me in the past, especially those old graveyards found along the old highways. Along Highway 3 I would take naps in a quiet corner in those sacred places. They were the best sleeping sessions of all because the older cemeteries are visited infrequently.

After Mount Pleasant, you come upon the Belt Line, a well shaded direct trail and then loop around via Cedarbrae Park. I’m getting to know all fruit bearing trees along the way in addition to the wild grape vines. Of course, I take samples. The trek had truly shaped up to be a pilgrimage because that’s what pilgrims do. They walk and meet people that come by and depend on the kindness of others and what nature may provide for nourishment.

After a weekend on wheels I needed these four hours to get grounded again. It’s easy to be a city pilgrim and I recommend more people to explore their city trails of pilgrimage. Do include those cemeteries.

18 KM