Thursday, 28 October 2010

Thursday, October 28th, 2010

The Day Before India

Toronto, Ontario

This cab driver sees me regularly. He rolled down the window. “Why are you on Bloor? I usually see you walking on Yonge St.” he said amicably. Unfortunately when I stuck my head in to hear him the cab’s interior smelt like a brewery. After a few words of exchange I felt myself to be woozy. The alcohol content was that dense in the air.

I felt bad for my cab driver friend who succumbs to drinking. I had no idea. I shouldn’t be surprised. That’s the culture, isn’t it? Even in our affluent neighbourhood the liquor store is promoting a show, “Soul Whiskey”. It sounded like an oxymoron when I saw th sign. What does a potent liquor have in common with the soul?

The four pillars of mundane living that we monastics abstain from; intoxicants, meat-eating, gambling and casual sex, guarantee a socially happier life. This could not be further from the truth. I will not pass judgment on those who are habituated to such activities. I will loathe the sin and not the sinner.

Before I became a monk, in my mid-teens, I tried a cigarette. It was horrible. I recall seeing Cate Blanchette as Elizabeth the first trying her first tobacco from Sir Walter Raleigh. The reaction I had was like that. And I know it might sound funny to those who address me as “Maharaj” that I tried my first beer. “That is a harsh beverage,” I thought. Only socially did I feel the need to perpetuate (for some time). A cream soda pop drink surpasses that gassy urine-flavoured drink found in the amber coloured bottle.

You know, I was never really attracted to those things and habits. The meat? No! Girls! Yes! But my faith in God led me to avoid intimacy until marriage. It was a principle I sustained. Eventually I ended up with no marriage. The life of the real contraception of saying “No!” to these taboos made it easy for me to slide into my current lifestyle.

I’m ever so grateful for that. I still must work on greed, envy, anger, illusion, madness and other layers of lust. Looks like a lifetime assignment. Okay! “Keep busy and engaged in devotional service and count the days of temptation away.

I wish my taxi friend well.


Wednesday, October 27th, 2010

These Days

Toronto, Ontario

Recently my day opens with a walk either on Yonge or Bloor Streets after a cool shower. Then arati begins at 4:30 AM. Radha Kanta, our monk from Assam, routinely plays the mrdunga drum. Is he ever good?

Our Mr. Positive, Dharma Prana, our very own monk made in Canadeea, is handicapped, suffering from a stroke three decades ago. He can sing well the Maha Mantra but is physically restricted to that. He keeps everyone on their toes with regards to hitting the synchronized pitch.

This morning after delivering a class someone asked me something unrelated to the message of the Bhagavatam. “What is Halloween all about?” This question came from our Hungarian born monk, Gaurachandra.

I fumbled with the answer, “Something to do with the Celtic community, I believe, and something to correspond to All Saints Day…” Since it was unclear our little group of monks deputed hermit Hara Kumar to find out the origins. Jokingly we agree that this info would truly enlighten and elevate our consciousness. In some respects it would not be a bad idea, we thought, to gain a greater understanding as to what the neighbours on the street are all in a fuss about. Sometimes you can remain in the dark with the world around being rather cocooned in the temple ashram.

For instance I felt it necessary to inform our group that we have a new mayor. At least one amongst us could be a little informed. In any event we resolved that the next day would be the day to uncover from our sheltered minds that origins of the ghoulish festival known as Halloween.

More enlightening for me was reading a passage form the Gita and the reading had absolutely nothing to do with the pervasive nature of skeletal creatures everywhere. In reference to paramatma (God-in-the-heart) there is the verse 13.14“Everywhere are His hands and legs, His eyes, heads and faces. In this way the Supersoul exists in everything.”


Tuesday, October 26th, 2010

Tell Them

Duntroon, Ontario

They were deep down in the crevice. Madehavendra and I first heard faint voices within the rock somewhere along the trail. They were happy sounding youthful voices and they gradually became more audible as the two of us inched our way to the edge of the escarpment’s cliff. When we saw the source of the voices we identified them as a class of students a good 30 feet below amidst moss-covered well-worn rock. They were exploring nature.

So were Madhav and I. One of the teens below looked up and shouted, “Hare!” Little did he know this was the road of transcendence. The whole group waved their arms in greeting – a greeting which comes so naturally in such a Godly-charged woody atmosphere.

After we left the youngsters in their narrow crevices of fun we were dwarfed plentifully by birch and beach trees admiring the young and old among them, some so aged we couldn’t make it out of their model. Those certainly demonstrated an haunting aspect with their brittle bark and leaves abandoned from their tree tops. Such leaves were picked up by Vayu (god of the wind) and tossed by air eddies to eventually land until the next whirlwind pushed them about.

Madhav and I were led on this trail by local resident Rami Blekt, an Ayurveda pshychologist. He had given us the warm hospital of his home for the morning hours while a view into our astrological readings was simply an added feature of insightfulness. He mentioned that I should always be close to the earth and avoid living too high.

The crown jewel of the visit to Duntroon was the Bruce trail that we tread. Here you gain the sense of being small, but empowered, a sense of freedom yet anchored like so many of the trees whose roots we mugged our feet over while their arms above danced a happy one.

Madhav and I took to only a 2.5 km loop of the trail but our dreams cast us ahead to the spring when so much more can be savoured. Our intent is to bring our youth to this country treasure. Share what good you have found. Share ‘what is sattvic’ as Rami had said. Tell them that this is a wonderland better than Alice knew. And tell them the source of this beauty is the forest-dwelling youthful Krishna.


Wednesday, 27 October 2010

Monday, October 25th, 2010

Images At Street, Ashram and Paper

Toronto, Ontario

It was just awful! Just awful! This very scruffy man very strung out on drugs at the top of his lungs screamed out obscenities towards a disabled helpless and homeless elder. It was a display of cold heartlessness. At the south-west corner adjacent to Dundas Square stood the antagonist whose recipient hobbled his way in a backward direction out of fear wheeling his buggy of belongings. There was no physical contact. It was worse – coarse curses.

At only 6 AM. Imagine. And it’s Monday morning when energies are generally low this screamer was all wound up and ready to pounce on the old vulnerable man who was shaking in fear. Frankly the sight (which I personally witnessed) was like a step into hell. For some people stalking, threats, punching and stabbing are all regular fare. I felt thankful to not be enmeshed in such lifestyle but feeling some empathy for the two street folks. I wanted to help but how?

Paradoxically I entered the temple after a 7 KM stretch to hear about our two monks from Assam knocking off the remainder of the Sunday feast pots. They were cooperatively cleaning them to the standard of squeaky clean. One of the boys tends to splash the sudsy water in the process. He was talking and some of the dish water accidentally landed in his mouth. The second one took the squirty hose and instantaneously shot a good dose of water in the other’s face much to this recipients surprise. It brought out a good laugh in them. It was an exchange of brotherly love, you could say.

The two events were so juxtaposed as opposites. While I say that there are disagreements amongst the brahmacharis (monks) from time to time. Life in the ashram is not perfect. We are human after all.

All in all though, it was a good day as it ended. Someone pointed out to me an article in the Toronto Star captioned “Hare Krishnas Go Mainstream.” The photos were great telling not a thousand but limitless words. The message was balanced. At least it caused my sister to call whom I don’t see often.

A second walk led me westbound on Dupont Street when a young motorist spotted me, saw the robes and made a U turn. He got out of his car, ran after me and asked if I was the dude mentioned in the paper.

“Yes, that was me.”

“It said you grew up in Blenheim (a town of 3,500). Well, I’m from Blenheim.” Hey! We talked!

Small world it is and it’s full of duality.


Sunday, October 24th, 2010

Hamilton Rocks!

Hamilton, Ontario

As we parked into the back driveway at Shanti Yoga Studio on Main Street our group’s nostrils picked up the scent of steel in the air, a reminder that Hamilton is referred to as Steeltown. The aroma hit us even before we slid open the van door to unload the djembe, mrdanga drum, harmonium, tambourine and kartals (hand cymbals).

I should not fail to mention about Hamilton’s treasures such as the famous Bruce Trail, a walking haven that meanders through this city of population ½ million. Ther are waterfalls galore, many of which are tucked away like hidden riches.

I had just come from doing a presentation in the Krishna Brampton Centre. Now it was time to unleash a sharing of pedestrian pastimes which included trekking through Hamilton two times as part of my route across Canada in ’96 and ’03. I have found the folds here just fine.

That was confirmed when meeting Alex who hails form Lithuania. She’s the studio’s coordinator and yoga teacher. What a great spirit! I also credit Vrajadham, the program’s organizer.

I spent a good hour relaying some of my favourite encounters with Mounties, bears, people and the elements. The room had filled up with eager listeners, and with that, silence, which broke at question time. Then chanting filled the space followed by arms and legs moving (everyone made an attempt at trance dance).

My good friend and godbrother, Visvakarma, conveyed to me that Hamilton has always embraced spirituality very well. He’s right. I recall the interaction in ’96 and the great media response for my first walk across the country.

Sadly, the program had ended. Our group could have stayed for hours conversing. And while we were engaged in dialogue my nose holes could make out the distinct scent of a living entity cohabiting, likely in the lower quarters. It was the distant perfume of a skunk. I take little offense to the little guy’s scent.

Indeed the smells were strong today. Taste buds were stimulated over the prasadam (blessed veggies) prepared by Sachi of Burlington. Ears were perked over the messages about simpler living and higher thinking. The attendees shone while the sun didn’t for the fog of the day and the dark of the night.

I would say for the spiritually minded, Hamilton really rocks!


Saturday, October 23rd, 2010

Time So Precious

Toronto, Ontario

Sometimes community takes priority over my need to walk. Walk I did but within temple walls a slow pace back and forth during morning sadhana. What gobbled up my time – time which is precious for everyone?

Positioning of paintings on a wall, rehearsing with volunteer actors, preparing for an appreciation dinner and engaging in some counseling, some emcee work – all of the above ate up valuable time. When I read from the Vedic writings on what sages had to say about the usage of years, months, days, hours, seconds, the general message is “Don’t waste it!”

Do we often see the time factor as something that is disposed? How expert we are at discharging commodities of all types, the endless supply of made-in-China ware! Can time be put in the same category? You can’t put it in a bin and hope it is compostible.

Chanakya Pandit, and advisor to King Chandragupta from India said, “You can’t buy back time with any gold coins.” And you’ve heard this one: “Time and tide wait for no man.”

See how delicate a second or a moment is! We just need to make the best use of a bad bargain. Time kills us all. In this regard it might be considered ‘bad’. But it all depends on how you see it. If it is used progressively, with thoughtfulness behind it then it works in our favour. If used in a squandering fashion then it becomes our foe.

We simply need to take a glance at that hour glass and see what we are doing as the sand drops. Are we spending time wisely? Is there a spiritual component to our life?


Sunday, 24 October 2010

Friday, October 22nd, 2010

How Inclusive is Devotion?

New York/Toronto

At La Guardia Airport at waiting area C3 and ad on the wall struck me. It read “Devotion, Pass It On” with caption “Dad’s been behind him for 65 marathons” a message from Team Hoyt. A large picture image shows a retiree-aged man pushing his son on one of those Olympic wheel-jobbies.

No doubt, the image and message are touching. So I thought or re-thought about the word ‘devotion’ which is so finely saturating the books I read from the Bhaktivedanta Book Trust. Often devotion is exclusive to our service to God, but that can be argued. It has got to be more inclusive than that, at least while we are strong of mind and health we should be able to extend our devotion to others as well.

One would dismiss the message on the wall as one of mere philanthropy or just a plain familial gesture. In other words this message is not one of transcendence and therefore deserves to be marginalized. We sometimes hear these attitudes expressed within circles of people who profess to be ‘devotional’.

One might take a word of caution with regards to such a lofty attitude since it can effect the harmful spirit of ‘holier than thou’ and breed notions that acts of human kindness are not important.

In all circumstances our guru, Srila Prabhupada, expected actions form his students to be of the plateau of ladies and gentlemen. Mind you, devotion to the good works of this world is not an end to itself.

When defining the mantra about devotion, the maha-mantra that is, it should be considered that when we ask for devotional service form the Creator we must also include service to His creatures.

The message stands, “Devotion, Pass It On!” Let it be fully contagious. Let the mood of service prevail.


Wednesday, October 20th, 2010

Tattoo Jay
Cleveland, Ohio

Kaustuba, a former punk rocker, described himself as a “textbook bad boy” who used to intentionally oppose every wish of his parents. They neither cared for the pins coming out of his skin, nor the multiple tatoos interspersed on his body parts. He has taken up construction work, renovating and hair-cutting as his career pastimes, and he developed tameness through his Krishna consciousness. His life-experience thus far has been transformational. I'm very happy for him.

We both meandered along the creek amidst autumn – pretty hardwoods near Hillsdale Avenue where is located Prabhupada Manor, the home of Dayal Nitai / aka Don Foose, another punk rocker who still does his gigs now and then. Dayal also met his metamorphosis some years back when he became a devotee of Krishna.

At his weekly home gatherings, it has been a few times now that Dayal plays priest to the havan (fire ceremony) when new candidates become initiated. Dayal is twice initiated as a priest and it is part of the spectacle to see his fully tattooed torso complemented by the strong Vaishnava clay markings.

The Cleveland community, which I visit twice a year, is to me the warm tattooed family. Atmaram, also a brahman priest, is also deep-blued with markings of images from Bhagavad-Gita pictorials. There is also handlebar mustached Ram. Altogether, these blokes, if you will, could form a unique human tattoo art gallery.

Be that as it may, they and their find female partners are all terrific human beings and great Vaisnavas. I love them.

As Kaustuba and I made the return journey by the creek, he asked, “Maharaj, do you have a tattoo or would you ever think of getting one?” I indicated that I would stick to my washable tilak clay marks. Maybe in the next life. I know I would give it a consideration. I'm content for now.


Tuesday, October 19th, 2010

The Age of the Avatar

Toronto, Ontario

Nick and I walked east on Bloor St. when he asked, “What is the purpose of the Kali Yuga?” Kali Yuga is a Vedic term that refers to the age of darkness in which we live. As there are four seasons which are defined by certain qualities, there are four ages defined by particular characteristics. The ages or yugas are identified as four sessions of time that make a cycle, much like the seasons. Kali Yuga is likened to the wintery season.

I explained that Kali Yuga is a time of stillness, dullness or even sleepiness. There is little attentiveness to enlightenment. Ego-centricity prevails. And yet in all its grimness, the morally- sensitive see through all of these blatantly wrong things. It is those people who perceive the overt-pervertedness of lifestyles and are compelled to make a change initially on a personal level and then to impact the public if so desired.

When Nick and I crossed at Bay St. he questioned the principle of grace. “God's grace is very essential then, in Kali Yuga?”

Yes it is. The path to enlightenment in this age requires easy access. That is why Krishna has come to be born as Chaitanya, the Yuga Avatar. Avatar means one who comes from a higher plane of existence to descend to a lower plane of existence. Chaitnaya is the avatar for the age, Kali.

As we entered the Yorkville district, I pointed out to Nick the place where our chanting parties are received so well during the summer months. Through this narrow, but rich alleyway, people sip wine and whiskey and get a real charge out of seeing the moving chanting process.

That's what Chaitanya has come to offer – the easy to follow, easy to execute method of happiness – the chanting of God's name – Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.

The grace has come in the form of Chaitanya and His method and everyone can take advantage of it.

12 KM

Wednesday, 20 October 2010

Monday, October 18th, 2010

Veggies Make You Strong, Cannabis Makes You Weak

Toronto, Ontario

The two proud parents of their 13 year old son told me, “Whenever the kids at school give him a hard time about his being vegetarian he beats them up.”

Internally I thought that although we never promote aggression in our culture there might be a time and place for standing up for yourself. What a plug in for the meatless diet. Here’s a kid that can destroy the myth of affiliating vegetarianism to being anemic, even being a wimp.

I guess the boy has gained a level of respect. Karen, his mom, says that protecting animals and his love for Krishna are his strong convictions. I had the opportunity after meeting the couple, visitors to our temple/ashram, to do a presentation to both business and nursing students, all from George Brown College. I spoke about the virtues of not only being vegetarian but the abstinence of gambling, intoxication of all sorts and being faithful to one sex partner in marriage with family planning.

I also let the group know that with these vows under your belt you can achieve things such as walking across Canada three time, some 42 kilometres a day, average. Speaking of which when I closed the day before retiring I took a southbound walk on Yonge and back. A young man caught up to me and started talking, “I haven’t seen a Hare Krishna since Cheech and Chong’s ‘Up In Smoke”. He asked what’s our take on cannabis to which I responded, “One of our gods, Shiva, smokes ganja on occasion."

“Ah, Shiva, the destroyer, right?”

“Yes,” I said, “but we do not endorse it. He can smoke and he has the power to destroy the universe. When we smoke the stuff it can destroy us.”

He agreed with me.


Tuesday, 19 October 2010

Sunday, October 17th, 2010

The Mantra Really Helped

Toronto, Ontario

I spoke to a friend on the phone which bore good news, He had been wrongly accused of sexual misconduct with one of his students, a child. He was without a job for 2.5 months from his teaching after the allegation was made. Come this last September he was reinstated. This was the happy news.

I asked him how he felt during the time of suspended work and in answer he expressed a few things. First of all he offered his thanks for my prayers while he went through the difficulty and secondly he said that since being accused by a fellow teacher he sees the world differently. While speaking I felt his pain.

There is nothing more grave a crime than when an adult abuses a child or a minor. Pedophiles and the like are a sticky lot. One’s heart must go out to the innocent victim. Perhaps equally as painful is what an adult goes through when wrongfully charged with such allegations. It meant for my friend a loss of trust in people, loss of sleep, affecting his health. If he didn’t have his good wife as support he might not have weathered the storm. My friend expressed that the incident did cause him to increase his mantra meditation. To some degree he went more inward. That was a consolation. That really helped him.

We all know of the many reports of child abuse that goes on, on a daily basis. We may hear less of false charges laid on adults accused of such offenses. “One thing is for sure”, I thought while on my daily walk passing by some kids enjoying at the playground, “suffering is a large component of this world which we often impose on each other. It is shared with pleasure.”

When pain comes do we know how to contend with it? I’m so glad that my buddy of thirty years or more was able to take shelter of the Hare Krishna mantra. I guess what really made the difference was the backing of family, friends, and the mantra.


Saturday, October 16th, 2010

Fitness for the Soul

Toronto, Ontario

I don’t know too many swamis who follow sports. I certainly don’t. My minimal involvement within the last five years to do with sports has been hands on participation in volley ball with the summer youth bus tour and I also confess to serving the ball a few times with some young men in Mayapura, India. I swim and regularly walk.

But get this, the Toronto football team, the Argonauts, are taking yoga. Yes, it’s a fact some of those big sportsmen are stretching their stiff limbs. I’ve been encouraging our own young monks from Halifax to routinely do yoga workouts for longevity sake. Good health means better and extended service. I suggested to Nitai Rama the head monk, “Why not teach yoga courses promoting them as yoga for men? It could bring in a small income as well.”

I have found that just a few stretches can bring about agility and allow a person to perform the days’ tasks better. Even pranayama (breath exercises) is great for bringing out alertness. You have probably seen image of a group of monks who are lulled to sleep in the wake of a talk by their master. Some good respiratory work-out for just a few seconds before sitting down to listen can do wonders to combat sleepiness.

I walked down a ravine today to see virtually hundreds of people engage in walking and exercising and breathing in the good autumn air. This is admirable. If only they could add onto their physical agenda some true spirituality, then we can boast of a well-rounded program.

The point is that sound body and sound mind are for the purpose of the soul’s smooth journey back to Godhead. Our soul is not meant for staying in this world but for moving on.

I would like to see a few renowned sports heroes rise to the occasion of following the path and become ideal role models. That could help the world substantially.


Sunday, 17 October 2010

Friday, October 15th, 2010

Ashes to Water

Scarborough, Ontario

I love India. I will relish chanting on my meditational beads at Juhu Beach later this month, a residential spot in Mumbai when I will attend retreat sessions. There along the Arabian Sea as in the two previous years I will rise at 2 AM and hit that beach by 2:20 for a hard walk, barefoot on sand, one hour one direction and then turnback for the return. I’m usually there early enough to see the clean-up crew with tractor and hitched wagon picking up the debris created by the public from the day past.

Quite common is the usual beach type of trash but then you have that ritual waste material – coconut husks, flowers and plastic bags – remains of rites. This is one side of India that is less attractive.

My walk through Guyana opened my eyes in the same way. Along its north shore I saw the same litter. Why should religious functions entail disposing of each material in our benevolent bodies of water? The two week walk along Guyana’s coast revealed to me a lot about neglect but I will admit that most of the debris was secular material (not religiously related). Empty plastic water bottles galore.

Don’t get me wrong, I do love Guyana also. I came upon an article in the paper regarding the Hindu community in Canada setting their standard for the releasing of ashes for last rite ceremonies into nature’s water. This has been an issue that concerns ecologically minded people because sometimes plastic flowers and other undesirables are also thrown in. The ashes may be less of an issue. Currently one of the larges lakes in the world, Lake Ontario, along with connecting rivers and creeks, is receiving some of those remnants.

I’m personally happy to know, from the article that a Pandit, Mr. Roopnath Sharma with the Canadian Hindu Federation is establishing guidelines to making the necessary events ecologically friendly and in seeking a location that government will agree to for the sacred discharge from mourners. This is progressive. Om tat sat!


Wednesday, October 13th, 2010

Judge for Yourself: Compare

Toronto, Ontario

I had walked down to a store, “Theatrics Plus” to shop for props for an upcoming play. I compared the excursion to the previous day when I rode the subway for some distance (had no choice, had to meet my appointment). The difference between the two modes of travel was like day and night. My observation was that those on foot moving to their destination were more animated, more friendly. People were paired up, engaged in conversation. The previous day on the subway I felt to have stepped into a zombie culture. I rarely take this mode of transport. Surely a good 25% were wired onto the I-Pod enwrapped in their own universe. The balance of people were not different. Quiet! Sleepy! Of course, who could blame them. Work doesn’t stimulate most people. Many looked morose.

So did the TTC operators (TTC stands for Toronto Transit Commission). I asked one operator about the furthest east I could go. I felt sorry to have ‘bothered him’. With the rumbling of the subway train on its tracks I could faintly hear him, “Take RT.” Then he closed up. He was abrupt.

Now, I’m a monk who rises early and who gets up to attend what we call the arti (sounds like ARTEE). It’s a beautiful service. When the operator said “RT”, I kind of froze like everyone else on the train. Slightly culture shocked, I mustered up enough courage to ‘bother’ one of the solemn passenger for clarification, “What is meant by RT?”

“It means the rocket train. You pick it up at Kennedy Ave.” he said.


Fortunately I met a male Bangladeshi who was pleasant in conversation. Relief!

Conclusion: people on foot are happier than the stoic passengers on the move either by subway (or car). Yes, it’s as simple as that. I’m going to stick to the walking culture as much as I can and chant during the process.


Friday, 15 October 2010

Thursday, October 14th, 2010

Full and Rich

Toronto, Ontario

It was a hard, but full and rich day. Many things got done at the temple/ashram. At the tail end of the day I spent time with a reporter from the Toronto Star. He took photos of the placed and asked questions of me and Keshav, an outstanding member of the next generation. When all was done I realized I put no time into trekking for the day. The earlier rain of the day was a deterrent as it sometimes is. Not always.

Now at 9:30 PM the stars in the sky were visible and so I decided to take, as I should religiously, to power walking. Yonge Street sidewalks were clean from the morning moisture and I was set to rain-with-the-Name my heart as I stepped.

A rickshaw runner pulled up beside me to stop for the red light. “I have ridden on plenty of those cycle rickshaws in India,” I remarked. He wasn’t too much of a conversationalist. He was more keen on customers it seemed.

Further on southbound towards Dundas Square I found myself pacing behind a threesome, a man and two younger women. One of the women turned around, stopped and looked with interest from my head to toe.

“I’m a monk!” I volunteered to say.

“What kind of a monk?” she asked amicably.

“A Hare Krishna monk.”

“A Christian monk?” she queried.

Then I went on to explain. That was done. Then I took a 180 degree turn for the northern direction. A homeless person, an Ojibway man was my guess, wanted a handshake. I complied with a pranams (palms together gesture). He addressed me as a monk, but he was drunk. I knew he wanted my coins, of which I had none. I moved on when a young black dude was not abreast with me, also walking. We both had a chuckle knowing what he really wanted.

Because it was Thursday night the mood of people was generally upbeat. Shops are open later than normal. Consumers were having that feel good feeling about spending. I came back to the ashram and then the office to read the latest issue, Nov/Dec of “Back to Godhead” magazine. I especially loved the article, “Becoming Wealthy on $2 a Day” by Dhanesvara. The thrust of the article was about simple living and high thinking (check

It was 11:30 PM and tie to retire. It was a hard, but full and rich day.


Tuesday, October 12th, 2010

Trying to Cure

Markham, Ontario

I pulled off the sock of my right foot when out came,

“Sock fuzz!” said the dermatologist.

Some clumps of sock material fell to the floor. With foot exposed I explained my dilemma, “I acquired my first plantor’s wart in ’96. A doctor froze it. We thought it might die but it came back. And as of the last three years more warts have been sprouting up,” I told him of my predicament.

Dr. Gupta, a young specialist, had greeted me with a “Hare Krishna” with palms held together. He spoke perfect English and verified it by saying he was raised here. He observed about 10 nasty guys. I told him about the different techniques I used to combat them but they weren’t going away. Hence, I decided to see a specialist with the skin issues.

“There are two methods I can apply right now – a gel or this liquid nitrogen,” he said and warned that the latter could mean that it may be hard to walk for the day.

I took a serious eye to him saying I wanted the warrior method. So he consented. Nitrogen it was. It hurt. I had to brace with both hands that aggravated right foot. I gripped my teeth and took the tough stance which is supposed to go with the monk territory. I actually felt good being given the attention. These feet deserved it. They have done some hard walking. Flashbacks came of the romanticized free life on the road.

And as I did walk part way to the clinic before meeting Dr. Gupta – a good 8 km stretch I became reminded of the theme song from a TV show aired when I was a kid. It was about a roaming German Sheppard and the heroic adventures he experienced. The words for the show “The Littlest Hobo” went like this:

There's a voice that keeps on calling me
Down the road, that's where I'll always be.
Every stop I make, I make a new friend,
Can't stay for long, just turn around and I'm gone again

Maybe tomorrow, I'll want to settle down,

Until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on.

Down this road that never seems to end,
Where new adventure lies just around the bend

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, come travel light, that's hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll want to settle down

Until tomorrow, the whole world is my home.

There's a world that's waiting to unfold,
A brand new tale no-one has ever told.
We've journeyed far and now it wont be long;
We're almost there, and we've paid our fare with our hobo song.

So if you want to join me for a while,
Just grab your hat, come travel light, that's hobo style.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll want to settle down,

Until tomorrow, I'll just keep moving on.

Maybe tomorrow, I'll find what I call home.


More Pics from Agawa Canyon, Sault Ste. Marie

Monday, October 11th, 2010

Getting Found

Brampton, Ontario

What a clever idea!

It’s common practice, tradition, habit, whatever to acknowledge the special days on the Vedic calendar which are holy and happy. Someone came up with the concept to honour Thanksgiving Day in a temple setting. Like the first feast of good cheer that historically took place somewhere near Plymouth; a congenial eating event of thanks between the ostracized pilgrims of Britain and the homegrown natives (Wampanoag) of Virginia, a beautiful meal was prepared at the Iskcon Brampton Centre.

Over the microphone, by name, participants of the last year were recognized. It was appropriately an occasion of gratitude. It was a feel good program – and taste good. Mind you, history tells of a non-veg program that natives and colonists collaborated on. Let us consider tha spirit behind the event. Karmically I would perceive those who indulged as innocent by-standers.

But back to bhakti. Bhakti means gratitude. I was touched by the Brampton experience today as a dinner with the larger family. It was an expression of thanks. In all frankness, Thanksgiving should be an every day occasion.

At ‘my’ moment (on the mic) I shared my feelings about thanks to our guru, Srila Prabhupada. We honourifically title him as the founder of the Hare Krishna movement (in 1966 we became registered as a society in New York City). I would like to make mention that he is also the founder of us. We were drowning in an ocean of turmoil. We were lost in the forest of excessive life. We were ‘found’. We began to discover ourelves, to find out who we really are.

So, thanks to the Founder.


Sunday, October 10th, 2010

Angles to Help

Niagara Falls, New York State

After a brief walk through Toronto’s Roseday I ventured by wheels to the Falls on the U.S. side to assist a family going through some healing. The setting, the Falls itself, was a perfect backdrop for the curing of some fragmented hearts. Problems came about in the first placed through lack of listening and the ability to see things from different perspectives. The water helped me to see a parallel.

I usually see the majestic movement of water from the Canadian angle. From the U.S. side the view is quite different. You can walk a choice of bridges to Goat’s Island and relish the rush of water under your feet; what might be level 4 for white water rafters. Surely rafting is forbidden here. Daredevils have come up with their own mode of travel such as going over the Falls in a barrel. But speaking more specifically about the white water, it is a real close-up experience more so than when you cross the Canadian border.

On the return journey on Queen Elizabeth Way back to Toronto the three of us visitors with passports in our pockets took a sudden swing over to a service road where lies this rustic old sail vessel formerly sunk and now surfaced at the east harbour of Lake Ontario. It was fascinating. We took photo shots of the ancient ship from various angles. We just wanted to understand it better. Our speculation was that this boat was either downed by storm or by foe (remember the Americans and the British had multiple battles in this area).

We were also left to wonder its approximate days of sailing glory; likely two centuries old.

What I learned from the visuals of today was to always study from various angles an object, and event, a concept, a person, before laying down conclusions and passing judgments. You have to look at the bow the stern, the crow’s nest (and whatever other boat parlance is there), before you really appreciate a boat’s beauty.

9 KM

Pictures from recent trip to Sault Ste. Marie

Tuesday, 12 October 2010

Wednesday, October 6th, 2010

The Innocent Chanter


I find the story of Ajamil very interesting. His tale is very typical. Here’s a man who came from a very decent background; his parents were proper Brahman. He had a loyal wife. His set up was near to perfect. Then one day he came upon the wrong person, the wrong crowd and fell away from decency to succumb to tamas (ignorance) and take to the dark side of life.

In our Bhagavatam discussions for the morning. I asked our small group of monks if they know anyone who “fell from grace” like Ajamil in their personal lives. Its apparent that everyone knows someone who slipped from Satya (goodness) to tamas (ignorance).One of our monks, Hara Kumar, relayed about a doctor in his home town who took to the bottle which eventually led to homelessness except for a tent on the mud flats of a river.

Ajamil led a deplorable life but he did have one saving grace which was his chanting of the name Narayan, a name for the creator. He named his son “Narayan” and that’s what protected him from the god of punishment, Yamaraj.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, wrote about Ajamil qualifying him as an innocent chanter of this most spiritually potent name. Although Ajamil knew well about right and wrong he evidentially plummeted to a disposition of ignorance. Over time ignorance could be converted to innocence as one forgets and loses the sense of moral over immoral activities.

I have found in my numerous walks through city streets that it’s the downtrodden that often times have the easiest, spontaneous and most expressive ways of saying “Hare Krishna”. In other words often the elites dare say the name of God. It makes you consider that there is this childishness and even innocence about the down-and-out.

With the passage of time and even the turn over of a new body karma can improve the life of those who try and make an effort-devotionally. Because Ajamil called for his son, the name being auspicious, at his deathbed things began to look up for him.

Ajamil’s story is an account of hope. Hope often arises from faith. He had an honest approach to faith merely because his shelter was Narayan while thinking his shield was his son.


Saturday, October 9th, 2010

Starts and Stops

The Soo/Orillia/Scarborough

Two really curious young men made a u-turn once they saw me. It was approximately 6am and it was still dark when they spotted me on Trunk road in the Soo (short for Sault Ste.Marie). They tolled their van windows down and said a mantra all too common to my ears.

“Are you a monk?’

“Yes, I am!”, I answered them.

“In the Soo?”

“I’m visiting, “I said and introduced myself. Reciprocally these two clean-cut guys, one a film maker, and the other an employee with the knights of Columbus, just wanted to know. They were sober. It was my chance to utter the word “Krishna” and tell them I was his monk. Our dialogue continued for some time.

Young men, I’ve found, have this fascination for the monastic. It’s occasions like this one that spurs me on day after day to hit a trail and expect to meet someone. I always try to leave the new friend with the maha mantra card. Before long my three companions came to pick me up for a car journey to Orillia.

What’s so special about Orillia? Here lives a Patel family and they own two motels. Yes, common in the U.S. and Canada are Patel motels. But we are here to break up the journey and honor some prasadam. How delicious is this prasadam (food that’s blessed)! And how devotional are the Patels! They run on a high level of Bhakti (devotion). It inspires us, the travelers.

Our last stop for the day was in Scarborough. After a 9 hour zip by car from the Soo we landed ourselves at the birthday celebration of a 50 year old devotee. Satya, is honoring her half –a –century stay on this planet. I spoke and “Gaura Shakti” the mantra band played their mini concert. Everyone was enjoying the chanting so much. People of this Guyanese community sprang to their feet to dance, which always makes an event like this one so complete.

7 KM

Saturday, 9 October 2010

Friday, October 8th, 2010

The Rail To Agawa

Agawa Canyon, Ontario

What was once an old steam train in 1899 and later became dieselized in 1952 became our passenger carrier for the four of us along with tourists from America, Europe, and the Orient. I take it that most of these folks lead fairly comfortable lives because once we took to the water (as in swimming) in the Agawa river our fellow travellers became astounded. Cameras clicked.

They did once again when we sipped water from the streams fed by waterfalls. We didn't think twice about the sip or the dip. This was my lifestyle for years on the road as a brahmacari (junior monk), being rigid yet wild and free at the same time.

The canyon cannot be reached by road, only by rail so we were indeed out "in the sticks". One couple came to me while on the eight hour train ride to ask if I was a Hare Krishna.

"Yes, I am".

"Well, Yah know we used to live in West Virginia at the Hare Krishna village and looked after Malini, the elephant."

Speaking of animals, one member of the train staff told me that one bull moose stood stubbornly on the tracks even thought the train was approaching. The train stopped and then slowly edged forward nudging the beautiful beast onward until he moved off. Sadly on another occasion a moose leapt in front of the train which knifed him in half, one part of the body to the left and one to the right.

Fascinating to hear was how one 10 mile stretch a very difficult terrain, took 2000 men to construct the line with obstacles of rock, bush fires, blackflies and booze all in one summer. The determination at work is always inspiring to me.

The train adventure through utter wilderness was not just a birthday gift to myself but an opportunity to hear and meet some real good people while on the journey.

Thursday, October 7th, 2010

Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario

The sign read, " Common sense is like deodorant. Those who need it most don't use it ."

Geet, Deva Datta, my two companions, and I just completed a rigorous trek through trails at Fork York Creek, when we read this light comment on a sign board. We snickered. But I took it a trite bit more serious. Perhaps I'll stretch to say that the remark is rather "absolute". It is often enough that those who are needing are resistant when offered.

For example, you get all excited when a person comes to town to conduct a workshop on reflective hearing, especially when rendered in the most professional and serious way. You have someone in mind who can benefit from such a workshop. In fact non-empathic listening is their chronic weakness. You really believe in the program because you reaped a great harvest from it yourself. You want to share it but your buddy is not willing. Does it sound familiar? He or she will resist like the plague.

How about the conflict between a couple? Counseling can do wonders but both party members must agree to participate. The ,"No way Jose" attitude will not permit for reconciliation. And so we see that the reluctance to talk the issues over puts everything at a stalemate. Everything freezes.

One great sadhu (holy man) Rupa Goswami, actually encouraged speaking to someone mature to lead to a resolve. It is speaking confidentially that helps a person win the game to reach deeper understanding . In fact this humble monk offers much advice on breaking stalemates between people in his book, "Upadeshamrita". (The Nectar Of Instruction)

Back to the "common sense" remark, our guru, Srila Prabhupada encouraged common sense action. Spiritual life inclusive of common sense. We must use practicality otherwise you run on superstitions and that can be extremely dangerous.


Wednesday, 6 October 2010

Tuesday, October 5th, 2010

Never Roam

Toronto, Ontario

The massive fallen over tree had a yellow slip lain partly upon its trunk. Nirguna, Patrick and I maneuvered under the massive chunk. I picked up the slip to note it was a parking ticket. Indeed the tree was parked. It was there to stay. The slip gave us a laugh.

And speaking of "slip", that is what I did. The path in that ravine was wet and became the perfect setting for losing one's balance. So I ended up being a chocolate looking mess. No problem there in the underpopulated ravine, until it was time to hit the residential areas and having to cross busy Yonge Street. Freshly moistened leaves became my wash cloth and the air became my towel. Any embarrassing smudges on my robes would be hidden by the strategic placement of the bodies with me. Patrick was to walk by my right side, and Nirguna to my rear. It's all an adventure which never ceases.

Upon returning back to the temple/ashram, I discovered that my keys were missing. They must have dropped on the path I now call "slippery" when I fell. So a search party went out including a couple, Nick and Moni, to hunt for the missing chain of keys. Rains came to make it "adventure plus". Still no keys. Time passed by so quickly, with darkness slowly setting in. We gave up the search and headed back to the temple for a party--a birthday party. Mine.

I guess that was one of the reasons for the walk in the first place, despite the light challenges that mud provides. I needed quiet before the attention would come in so forcefully. And that attention was on behalf of our guru, Srila Prabhupada.

I put closure to this long day by reading a poem of appreciation from Jaganath Puri Dham. His chorus line ended with "faith that will surely never roam." How interesting is that concept. We roam on muddy or dry land, but our faith should never roam.


Thursday, September 30th, 2010

AGM, Fire

Wakefield, Quebec

As owner Todd stoked the fire by the rustic mantel, I asked him which wood is the best.

“The most dense is oak, then maple. Beech is good, and birch- although it looks nice, gives less of a long lasting flame,” he said confidently.

I asked him that having known that the soft woods consume quickly. The warmth was emanating from the fire place on this damp night as fellow devotees watched with delight the magic of dancing flames. We were revving up by chilling out for our very own AGM for Canada.

In a figure of speaking, there would be no serious fires to put out at the meetings, which is a calming relief. We can reserve time for visionary and strategic work. I guess you could say that we were relishing the calm before the brainstorms of tomorrow by the fire. It will be the largest anticipated attendance (30 plus people) since our inception of national regional get-togethers.

Our location this year is a homey place in the countryside and as you enter the ponderosa-like property you see the signs RB and BB. Hmmm! BB stands for Bed and Breakfast, maybe. RB could be Rhythm and Blues. No, of course not! Consequently, we will chant each morning together for the coming three days and we will primarily discuss hoping to implement good action plans.

On further inspection, I realized I read the sign wrong. It was P and R, and R and R. This confirms the imperfect senses. How deficient we are. I presume that’s why our guru, Srila Prabhupada, wanted us to produce with collective intelligence. It’s a better check and balance.

I’m looking forward to the next day for the collaboration as we sip away the evening on tea (Subuddhi’s home brew), and as the dancing fire crackles away the fatigue hits from the five hour drive here. I did fit in some walking through a valley, cemetery and busy street before embarking on the drive to Wakefield. On the way up we spoke about the bed bug epidemic in North America. So the night ended with the mantra “Good night! Sleep tight! And hopefully there’s none of them that bite!”

8 KM

Monday, 4 October 2010

Monday, October 4th, 2010

St Francis the Walker

Toronto, Ontario

October 4th is the birthday of a monastic saint who has universal appeal. Francesco of Assisi. He has crossed all borders of faith with his sentiment for bhakti (devotion). Centuries after his passing (1181-1266) he continues to inspire people with the high level of renunciation he demonstrated during his sojourn on this planet. He is millions of light years ahead of us in more ways than one.

He traveled on many roads in Italy and much of that with his donkey. On his deathbed, Francis thanked his friend for carrying him throughout his life which caused the donkey to weep.

Animals had a magnetism towards St. Francis. He spoke to the birds as if it were a sermon.

"My sister birds, you owe much to God, and you must always and in every place give praise to Him; for He has given you freedom to wing through the sky and He has clothed neither sow nor reap, and God feeds you and gives you rivers and fountains for your thirst, and mountains and valleys for shelter, and tall trees for your nests. And although you neither know how to spin or weave, God dresses you and your children, for the Creator loves you greatly and He blesses you abundantly. Therefore...always seek to praise God."

And here's what he said about walking.

"It's no use walking anywhere to preach unless our walking is our preaching."

7 KM

Sunday, October 3rd, 2010


Wakefield, Quebec

It was a hard sleep overnight. I could not shut off the exhilarating evening of kirtan at the bonfire. Some of the ‘tribal’ in us came out quite excitedly as we formed a ring around Agni, the fire god, right next to the lake. Our circle was an organic expression of satisfaction’ a closing remark to a day of conquest.

Three generations of devotional representation closed a gap on ‘mission’ accomplishments over the past year and it only made the next morning so much worth breathing each moment.

I don’t know if all AGM meetings are like this but ours was a bonding success. The synergy excelled and I anticipate this will all translate into positive, transformational experiences as inspiration turns to action.

To put a cap to today’s continuity of good presentations and planning on behalf of those improving their performances in various parts of the country I was asked to lead in a physical group activity – walking. The resort at Wakefield had various loops of trails waiting for our feet to tread upon. Then a few minutes of weekend review at the lake’s dock put the final closure on to a fabulous weekend.

What makes the association of such people so sweet? Their devotion. What makes the meal-time extra special? Each other. What makes differing opinions tolerable? The common interest.

I hope to relive more weekends like this and I wish that other people could taste this satisfaction always. I really do!

7 KM

Saturday, October 2nd, 2010

Get Some Control Back

Wakefiled, Quebec

Through the resort’s window pane the dark morning appeared to reveal a fog. I asked Krishna Das,my traveling buddie from decades ago, if he wanted to foot it down the road through Rupert district.

“Sure”, he said, as if old times were to revisit us.

The window pane was deceptive. A clear air was before us as we opened the door. We were relieved. We wanted it this way after the downpour from the previous days and all the overcastness. Stars were punctuating the sky and the crest-moon was so well-defined. Not a car came to pass us during that 90 minute trek. We were relieved even more. The shanty (peace) we came here for had become a reality.

Krishna Das and I shared many good days together serving our mission, the spreading of Krishna Consciousness. We have seen star peering skies before. When returning back to the main building on the resort we relayed our star experience to one of the colleagues.

“Yeah”, he said with excitement like a kid in a candy shop,” I saw it too. It’s the first time ever for me.”

“You are a city slicker?” I teased.

“I guess I am’ said Harinam , our rep from Brampton, Ontario.

I personally found that remark like Ripley’s Believe it or not. How is it possible for a person in his forties to not have viewed a star sprinkled sky before? The urbanization of today with all the city lights is robbing people of the factual truth. I sometimes get a bit sentimental over issues like that. Have we come this far at spoiling ourselves?

At lunchtime I sunk my eager teeth into large kernelled corn on the cob. Sadly the corn lacked the flavour that my boyhood taste buds recollect. Of course, science has tampered with our food impressing our eyes but not the nutrient needs nor meeting the satisfaction of the tongue.

It’s times like this that remind me of the urgent need to get back to the land and gain control of our destinies again.

9 KM

Friday, September 1st, 2010



Not within our meeting but outside this valuable time of gathering, at a casual moment, did one of the attendees offer to spell out the meaning of the word Hope. “Help others to excel.” He also presented to the word fear.” False evidence appearing real.”

It’s expected to have motivational messages like this floating within and around such meetings. And then the word ego made it’s entrance into the conversation. “Edging God Out.”

In sanskrit the word for ego is ahankara. The way in which the word ahankara is described in the Gita as being the delusion that one is in control of things when in actuality one is controlled.

Nature is doing the controlling (BG 3.27) and nature is controlled by the divine Power. Sri Krishna explains in the Gita 9.10 “material nature works under my direction”.

A classic question comes to mind, “Does the living being have any free will?” And ” Is there any scope for independence?”

Answer- “YES! Within our dependence there is independence. Within our constraints or limitations there is freedom just as a prisoner within his cell has some range to enjoy freedom of choice. He can sit, lie, or stand, sing, talk dance or be quiet. He can experience some freedom.

The opening of the meetings for our group this morning began with reading a passage from the book Bhagavatham.Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, explained about the passage on this subject of “choice”. Here it is, “Anyone in the material world, beginning with Brahma down to the small ant has come on account of Pravrtti (inclination)”

It really was the first time I had seen this Sanskrit word in this manner.

This processing of words became a preoccupation for me for at least as few seconds. And the circling around the small lake of our resort permitted me that precious time to analyse these words after hearing and reading them. And after mulling over the aforementioned points on the position of free will versus fate I must admit I liked the deliberations.

2 KM

Wednesday, September 29th, 2010

Will Always Be

Don River Valley, Ontario

Turkey vultures, seven in number, were gliding above. And under them was this valley that I chose to explore more. Along this Don River, European stock squatters of the 19th century housed themselves here adding a rich history that I know little about.

On a tree in the valley hung a clear plastic jacket which contained details of this history. Looking at the contents of the page I read on. People made mud coves here and canvas tents later for homes. Garbage would be lit to provide heating fuel for the winter. Criminals and the diseased made this valley along the river their home base. Men fished and women made baskets from local reeds.

Roma gypsies came for shelter here in the early 1900’s. Then the Don Jail was constructed. Police rounded up criminals and gave them their new dwelling, the prison, south on the river. The diseased became quarantined.

There were more pages to read but darkness crept in and so I was compelled to come here for page 2 on another day. All these images of people in the valley came to mind While the vultures left the valley, so did I.

Upon leaving the valley to the Toronto street level I met Pat with her two dogs. Pat and I have a brief history. In ’96 I met her and her hubby on the Trans Canada Hwy, 2,000 kilometres from here. They were in a truck. They saw me in the robes, were curious and stopped. Here we met again.

Souls do meet, separate and then connect again. I’ll be back to the valley. I hope to see the vultures again but it’s not likely. In any case the day ahead will be rich and Krishna will be, as always, the cause of all these causes.

12 KM

Friday, 1 October 2010

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010

The Surprise in a Day

Sydney, Nova Scotia

Boy, was it dismal in the morning. Clouds looked menacing. It was our chill-out day - a day for recreation which hasn't been happening. The monks and I were looking forward to a trek on one of the world's most beautiful trails - the Cabot Trail in Cape Breton.

Fortunately for us clouds cleared by mid-day and we were able to accomplish a gradual 725 ft climb from the base of Smokey Ridge to the summit. I believe we dripped sweat for the first time on this trip since beginning ten days ago. There was chanting and panting.

Another climb was at Provincial Park Cape Breton Highlands, where at a terrific vista view, we improvised musical instruments to the sound of the chant. Rocks clapping, dead tree sticks banging, coniferous tree cones rubbing, and more provided the rhythm we were looking for. And while that sound reverberated within the space of a cove the happy couple Daniel and Jeanie, who were 'just married' last Saturday with the presence of our musical monks, just showed up. It was their honeymoon which was now garnished with mantras and music.

Things didn't turn out so glum after all. Our grand finale for the day was a presentation, primarily to the local Hindu community of Sydney. The topic was 'Adventures on the Road' covering the experiences of past cross country walks. How gracious these people were, feeding us and booking us in motel rooms for the night.

It was just another day of niceness. Every day is truly an adventure. And now if I could quote from a fictitious hero's story. Forrest Gump, the runner, was told 'life is like a box of chocolates. Yah neva know what yah gonna get."

8 KM

Tuesday, September 21st, 2010

The Women and Us

Antigonish, Nova Scotia

The first time I came to this place and heard its name, without seeing the spelling, I wondered what people had against Ganesh, the loveable elephant-god. I heard Anti-Ganesh. And then I wondered how even such a Vedic name entered into such an Anglo-saxon region. I learned that it is the place where tree branches are torn off by bears gathering beech nuts in the native Mikmaq language.

It was in this strictly university town that five of the Haligonian monks came to visit (Haligonian refers to Halifax and that's a nomenclature that also baffles me). We rested ourselves upon rocks edged by a creek and played at our instruments. Students looked over a bridge that arches over the water like a terrace, to see the musical sensation. Some of the students descended to join us including a Catholic priest who is also a student.

Student life can be hectic and generally you see someone under educational duress walking swiftly from one building to another trying to meet the demands of the classroom but here students were taking their time to stop.

Stopping was something we did once more at the rustic home of Mirian and a woman's group. Her home, situated on a 200 acre lot and driveway that is forever, was our venue for the evening. She heard about our mantra meditation presentation and so at last minute she invited her friends to hear us monks sing and speak.

In the beginning the ladies looked at us with curiosity and caution but by the end we were a compatible unit. We had become one in the joy of kirtan.

When it was time to depart one of the women insisted on having her picture taken with the monks. "I need this photo to prove to my friends that I do have some men in my life." To that remark we had a good cackle.

10 KM