Thursday, 31 March 2011

Tuesday, March 29th, 2011


Toronto, Ontario

The sun shone again which attracts shades, as in sun glasses. You wouldn't catch me wearing them with my robes on. Not that there is anything wrong with these eye blockers but such a pair of these black eye specs don't go with the rest of the monk's get up, in my opinion.

While walking Marlborough St., near the ashram, a woman did catch my eyes as I make it a habit for eye contact as much as possible and this then is my opportunity to greet and offer a gesture of good will. She was pushing a stroller with her baby in it. Since she tinted her view of everything with her sunglasses I could not catch those eyes which is often perceived as the reflection of our shining soul.

Before I had the opportunity to nod in acknowledgement of her presence on this quiet street she broke into a big smile and that smile told me that here is another way of reflecting the soul. I mirrored my smile in return and that alone made a communication complete. "Two souls met," I guess you could say. This was gratifying. She approved of my garb and my lifestyle. Somehow there was a mutual acceptance of each other's spirit.

Earlier on in the day I had spoken to a group of students from Silverthorne Collegiate. We spoke about the eyes being a doorway to the soul's reflection. These young men really appreciated the remark although not new to them. I got to thinking after that nothing can bar the soul's perception really. It is what we are - glorious and glowing.

20 KM

Monday, March 28th, 2011

A Campus Visit

Oshawa, Ontario

Durham College! It's a place I never knew existed. We are looking at a relatively large campus with spanking new buildings set in a fairly green cedar oasis.

Prof. Rick Kerr invited me to his World Religions course at the campus. Larry Johanson, a Zen practitioner, was just finishing his presentation to the class while four of us monks were looking for which building we were to be coming to. I asked a student outside where the religious department is to be found.

"I don't know. I'm not religious," he said.

"Well maybe one day you will be."

"Nah, I've been there - done that."

Once we located our building we entered it looking for the actual room when a young student quite the opposite of the first, enthusiastically asked us, "Are you guys monks?"

"Yes, we definitely are - the Real McCoys."

"Are you doing some meditation somewhere?"

"Yes, right here on the campus - in a few short minutes with teacher Rich Kerr."

"I wish I could be there," he said lamentably.

After minor struggle, we found Rick's class and were getting greeted by a grateful teacher. We proceeded to indulge in explaining Krishna Conscious philosophy and lifestyle. Students took notes and then asked questions that they pondered, not all of them philosophical.

"Where do you get your clothes made?"

"India," I said.

The students expressed concern that we don't support sweat shop efforts such as child labour. Another student said that her boyfriend is vegetarian and asked if we could share our recipes.

"Why did you choose to be monks? are there female monks? How do you differ from Hindus?"

Rick was pleased with our presentation which included chanting. That was regarded as special for everyone on a Monday morning.

When all was done, I remarked to my monk companions that this is the life. Whether on foot or in a vehicle, sharing our culture brings real satisfaction.

5 KM

Tuesday, 29 March 2011

Sunday, March 27th, 2011

Urban Pilgrims

Toronto, Ontario

I'm impressed with members of the Urban Edge Yoga Centre. Steve drives to the centre regularly all the way from Guelph, a city 100KM away. He is absolutely crazy over Bhaktivedanta Book Trust literature, He purchased a set of Bhagavatam books last summer, a hefty investment, is reading them and immersed in their mysteries. Steve also chants for two hours on his japa beads every day.

Then there is Lake, an Afrikhan chap from Capetown. He also chants daily his chosen 16 times around the beads for his meditation. There's also Nick, whom I address as Slick Nick. Slick Nick is employed at a camping equipment establishment. He cycles to work every day from Georgetown, a 60KM stretch but after work it's time at the Urban Edge.

Jason and Nicole are incredible. He loves washing pots when he can at our main temple and she loves her trips to the Edge. My affinity for these two is in their passion for walking. They don't drive. They wouldn't think of it. In fact they walk everywhere.

I mention all these people because I got to know them just a little bit more while walking our designated time. "Urban Pilgrims" we called ourselves. An eight kilometer zig zag up and down streets allowed us the freedom to speak to each other from heart and mind. Because we stayed on track with philosophy and truth we felt justified in using the term "Urban Pilgrims."

After the trekking session we sat down to plan out the next session for doing more of this.

8 KM

Saturday, March 26th, 2011

Book Warriors

Toronto, Ontario

I chalked out a route for a casual walk with members of the Urban Edge for tomorrow. I chose quiet residential streets in order that we can hear each other in our dialogue. It will be a day for them to spend time with a monk.

Temperatures are below the freezing point but by the time the sun hit the streets, a warmth emanated in climate and in the demeanour of pedestrians. The sun puts a smile on people's faces. It was the Saturday of the month (the last Saturday of the month) that has now become culturally a day for devotee warriors. Armed with the most imaginable revolutionary books on spiritual revelations, devotees went to three destination places in the city to distribute them. A grand total of eighty-four men, women and toddlers braved the streets and radiated a contagious joy they were feeling.

I took the opportunity to be one of the chanting leaders in the midst of the book distribution. With a mic attached to a small speaker I invited passersby to say what they wished by gently thrusting it before them. Surprisingly many people said the full mantra or in part. Most people would say, "Hari Hari" and for that great blessings come to the chanter and the listener.

With all the standard four-letter words one hears as jargon on or off the street, chanting "Hari" or "Hare" or "Krishna" or "Rama" is all very auspicious.

12 KM

Friday, March 25th, 2011

What's Your Song

Toronto, Ontario

I heard about it. Now I saw it for the first time - the speech by Steve Jobs, founder of Apple computer company. He said he walked seven miles to get a meal at the Hare Krishna temple. "I loved it," he said, referring to the time when he was trying to get himself through school.

It's amazing the distances people go on foot to get something. And I remember the Jolson song, "I walked a million miles for one of your smiles...."

My purpose in walking this morning, like all mornings, is threefold - air, exercise and God. The walking is done with a chant. The chant is non-different from God.
It's God in the form of sound. "Hallowed be Thy name!" It's sound for the soul.

I read in the "Toronto Star" today about the sweet sound of complaint. The article speaks about a newly formed choir called the Toronto Complaints Choir and how participants feel good about venting through singing. To quote one woman, a member of the choir, "It's about making fun of complaining, and complaining in fun."

An excerpt from their first ditty goes like this:

Why do the Maple Leafs always lose?
I hate getting tiny rocks in my shoes
Stickers on pears pull the skin right off
Please use your sleeve when you sneeze or cough
The TTC (transit system) is not so great
Crowded, expensive, always late
We are people, not sardines
Not everything is about you, teens!
We don't want to hear you gripe and moan
It's called a cell phone, not a yell phone

I sometimes hear peers gripe and complain when they don't chant. Krishna devotees do also carry an attitude about the world, condemning the forces of the age we call Kali yuga. But it's chanting that appears to dissolve the attitude of peeving.

In one sense it's nice to hear that people are singing out or away their woes. Think how much more powerful the mantras are. Hare Krishna.

7 KM

Friday, 25 March 2011

Thursday, March 24th, 2011

Real Defence

Toronto, Ontario

Trekking starts quite early for me these days. 2 AM is about the time after jet-lag rest. A blanket of snow lay out over streets yet the blanket is reducing its thickness to that of a bed sheet. Surya, the sun-god, insists on seeing it that way. Winter should soon go to sleep.

There are many godly representations that do act in our favour. For instance, we read in the Bhagavatam today that God in the form of Rsabha protects us from fear that arises from the duality of heat and cold. An example could be the turbulence created by high and low pressures when flying in space. That creates fear no doubt.

To protect us from illness we can pray to the avatar, Dhanvantari, who delivered to the world, Ayur Veda, the ancient medical healing sciences.

Then we have God in the incarnation of Yajna, who protects us from defamation of character. This is very relevant since everyone that I know of has had to endure character assassination usually as a result of petty gossip.

Protection or defense plays such an important part of our lives and occupies a large percentage of a single day's affairs. When you put on a thick coat it is to shield you from the cold. When you say, "Sorry, I'm late but I got held up in traffic," you are defending yourself. When you cross the street walking you look both ways to protect yourself.

The verse of today Bhagavatam 6.8.18 brings to light the prayerfulness that goes behind those seeking protection from those who can give it.

10 KM

Wednesday, March 23rd, 2011

Walk Before the Storm

Toronto, Ontario

It was told to me that weather was rather tame while I was away to India. Then Sam, an Iranian born novice to Krishna Consciousness, said, "They're expecting snow with several centimetres." Another person talked about a storm.

With mind gravitating to thoughts of turbulent weather, I thought of the tsunami, Japan, the tragedy. On my desk was an envelope from Hillsborough, North Carolina. I had opened it just minutes before. The contents were actually forwarded messages of appeal for help. Some devotees from Japan are desperate because of what nature's wrath had brought on. It was a response to the nasty earthquake and the subsequent wave of destruction.

I also was receiving messages that at least two of our temple ashrams in Canada are undergoing financial tightness. I could feel the wonder panic that the treasury reps were experiencing. How did this turn come about? This is the time of the lean months and with certain unavoidable circumstances it is what it is. My immediate response was "Cut! Cut!" There is a storm in my mind now.

Then "walk it off" I thought. "Walk before the actual storm hits." So I submitted to the self suggestion of walking off the storm. I had slept a good six hours and woke at 12:30 AM. I walked. Places were closing such as bars. Drug marts and Sobey's Foods remained open for their 24/7 public catering. People were inside purchasing and getting ready for eating, medication or make-up.

We are always getting ready for something. For the next life? No! Few are. Some are waiting for storms to come and will seek shelter once it arrives and then wait for things to settle.

There is always anticipation. Without that you are dead.

The storm did come, much later, but it came.

8 KM

Wednesday, 23 March 2011

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Good Reading Up in Space

Over Land and Water

Jet Airways flew four of us from Ahmedabad to Mumbai, then Brussels and back to Toronto. In the air there is time to reflect. I like India, its people, its spiritual side. I belong here but don't wish to stay here for a great length of time. My dislikes - density of people, dust, heat, chaos. Willing to visit regularly.

While in space I relished reading some of the collected letters of our guru, Srila Prabhupada. In the '74 collection he wrote to a temple leader in Nairobi, "The Africans and the Aryans will not like to mix. So there is no harm in opening separate temples." Here Srila Prabhupada acknowledged the different needs of the different communities. To on leader in Mayapura, India, Prabhupada wrote, "The wrestling is all right," in reference to young monks engaging in this sport. To a sannyasi monk in Africa he wrote, "Shakti Mati is an elderly woman and can do important work with the cultured Indian society, and she also speaks Swahili. She must be given and important position as a manager."

That message was interesting since I heard over the weekend someone say that they were opposed to female temple leaders.

Prabhupada wrote to Bombay about an American student who wanted to practice polygamy. His words were "He cannot marry a second wife. If he wants to do so, he can leave our temples." Prabhupada indicated in a letter directly to the young man interested that polygamy is against the law.

To someone in London he wrote, "Regarding your being depressed, you are becoming older, but so also I am an old man. But you should not be depressed on account of old age. Krishna will help you."

This was all good stuff to brood over while thousands of feet up in the air. My pet peeve of the day was that my walking opportunities were limited to deplaning and planing during transfer times. I'm resolute in the point of travel - walking is better than flying but if you have to sit for many hours reading in the best preoccupation.

0 KM

Monday, March 21st, 2011

Last Day in India

Ahmedabad, India

It was more of an elevator than walking day keeping to home program commitments. It was also pack the bags day, we're flying out. But before leaving for the airport I made commitments to the count of five homes, four of which were apartments.

In the welcoming culture of India, you find you'll be honouring invitations. It's a blessing for people to have a sadhu (holy person) in their home. In one home kirtan (chanting) became the request. In another I answered questions philosophically - questions that lie in suspension for one family and friends. In one apartment I was introduced to a group of home-schooled kids and asked to distribute refreshments to the students. Then in one place occupied by a prominent family of devotees, I was questioned about how to kick start a devotional drama troupe and then to see it blossom and grow.

Food was a sure feature at each stop. That's where the challenge began. Hospitality overflowed. So much love poured out at each of the residences and from people I never met before. It would be impossible proportionately for me to give the kindness that they gave me. This gets down to the real essence of bhakti yoga. It's the giving and loving that we demonstrate that can affect a smart change to the world.

Godruma Goura, the young devotee from Gita Nagari, Pennsylvania, accompanied me and he too felt the overwhelming affection from these people. A little bit more then again a little bit more of this kind of human exchange, constant installments and we can see a different world.

5 KM

Sunday, March 20th, 2011

A Day of Colour

Ahmedabad, India

It's another day of celebration in India. "When isn't it?" You may ask.

Holi is a day of color when people smear each other with powdered colors or colored powders. It commemorates the greatness of Rama and the biggest supporter of displaying this is young Krishna who celebrates in the form of teasing His friends, both boys and girls in the fun-making of covering them with rich colored dyes. They reciprocate of course.

The crowds at the temple, our place of accommodation, were huge, as they were the previous day. When you are a monk, and particularly a swami, there are demands made for giving attention, some of which are planned and some that are spontaneous.

"Please come to my Gita group, Maharaja, and tell them about japa meditation," asked one group leader. I complied. That talk, plus one lengthy one in the morning, a dramatic reading of Chaitanya's ecstasies in the evening, a home program and a meeting with our group of young acting mendicants, was all tempered by the morning's trek. It is important to have some time to yourself.

To give a different spin on the Sunday program each member of our group was called on to give a three minute talk about their personal spiritual evolution to the big crowd. The guys, mostly in their teens, "broke ice" talking to a sizable group of people. Our senior group member, Doug, who is 67 and a silver award winner for the Canadian tae-kwan-do championship, also spoke about his introduction to Krishna Consciousness.

All of the group had a remarkable time in Ahmedabad despite the fact that half of us (myself included) discovered our shoes stolen when left outside the temple. It's always a bitter-sweet sentiment that hits when such things happen. Someone out there is teasing is. Agents of our providence I should think. Or perhaps do we look at the Ultimate-in-Charge who's testing us?

8 KM

Saturday, March 19th, 2011

The Last Light

Ahmedabad, India

What a day! It's the birth anniversary of the Golden Avatar, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu. Since Chaitanya is often affiliated with the moon for its beauty, its cooling influence and the fact that he was born on a Purnima, a full moon, a small delegation of us earthlings decided to walk towards the moon. A row of street lights on the dusty road led us to a final one. At 5:30 the lights are clear and all else is hazy.

This final light had no lamp post. The ball of light was larger than the rest. Suspended in the air and so deceptionaly close to the ground we realized it was the moon appearing so accessible. It was beautiful and now alone as we stood there in admiration at the road's cul-de-sac.

We reversed directions and diverted from my usual trail to come upon a temple of Goddess Kali. We entered the shrine which can accommodate a small number of people to see the Goddess with a joyful demeanour. I could swear I saw a smile behind the dangling tongue. Maybe it's my perception. After all it's a happy occasion.

A laughter within struck me when seeing the hands-off Flinstones type of device at the entrance. To call the neighbours a unique machine which is not manually operated (only a switch turns it on) creates the sound of a party. Two mallets jut out of the metal box which beat on an affixed drum while two hammers strike a pair of gongs simultaneous to two ropes autonomically jerking the balls of two bells causing them to ring.

The sound and the device added to the sweetness and the celebratory nature of the day. Other than that the day shone with chanting, fasting leading up to a feast and conducting two classes. By the day's end I looked again at that powerful moon, the Chaitanya moon, so much to be admired.

7 KM

Friday, March 18th, 2011

Baroda, Here We Are!

Baroda, India

It never hurts to get a little critique on the work you do. After walking a dusty road to a surprise of an abundant peacock population, godbrother Basu Gosh drove me along with Pundit Sanskritam to Baroda for a day's stay. The pundit, ever so respectfully, offered his critique on the one and only Sanskrit verse I recited from the drama script the night before.

Apparently King Bharat had this passion for God's presence within the sun and it was that recited verse he used to say, as found in the Bhagavatam book, that got analysed as far as my pronunciation goes.

"Okay!" I said, "Please tell me the correct way of saying it. I would be very much obliged." He agreed he would.

Whatever was my mistake will then be my teacher. I accept the correction with a sweet degree of humility.

Basu Gosh was kind in more ways than just leading me to speech correction. He took the drama troupe boys and I to his Baroda Temple, the restaurant (for eating) and then the Mahi River for swimming. This rather surprisingly substantial body of water was just the icing-on-the-cake for this Gujarat visit. The water is actually dammed at the spot of our swimming and it was relishing moments for me to see the guys do their stunts such as Abhay sliding on his head down the forty-five degree slope of the dam. It is hard to describe how he did it. Local youth were entertained by these foreign devotees and naturally wanted to bond with them.

The swim culminated with a quick zip back to the temple for the evening chant. Anton, a 52 year old film maker from France, captured us on his camera. He has travelled much of India producing a documentary on life in this land of spice and everything relatively nice.

We packed our twelve bodied group in a modest van, (it's make is unknown to me) for our return journey back to Ahmedabad.

6 KM

Friday, 18 March 2011

Thursday, March 17th, 2011

The Different Ways

Ahmedabad, India

India must be employing millions of chaukidars (security guards). They are everywhere. Each morning I pass by at least a dozen along a dusty road near our temple. Each guard gestures a pranam (folded hands) and delivers a respectful, "Jai Sri Krishna" when seeing companion Abhay and I passing by on foot.

It's also common to see a uniformed person on duty at the gateway of his building with a small fire burning, an arrangement of leaves and twigs for keeping him warm over night. I'm sure the fire does more than that. It becomes like a friend who entertains as it crackles and dances.

Seeing these little fires is surely a habit of the past, a necessity, which hopefully will not die in the near future. Some of us wallow in reminiscence of the past.

For the Bhagavatam talk this morning Vasu Gosh, an American born godbrother, spoke about traditions. Having lived in India for over three decades he has got a good exposure to the ways of the people here. Somehow he trailed off from philosophy to the topic of ladoos and how in the state of Gujarat, ladoos are sweets made of wheat flour as opposed to the standard chic-pea flour base commonly known in India. He veered off into speaking about the politics if ancient India and how it is now.

There is not a day that goes by when you don't contemplate the past, present, and future. It was remarked by dear friend, Pragosh, at the Town Hall for our final performance of "The Three Lives of Bharat" that the senior men who run the technical operations are very unflexible and not so willing to comply with what we needed for our production. He said "In the west its younger people you deal with from the technical side of things."

I concurred. The teckies here were definitely of the old school. That is where I have to look with balance when it comes to "old and new." I struggled on psychological levels with the lighting man. I could have had more success working with the most stubborn ox.

In any event the program overall was a grand turn-out with another eight hundred people in attendance.


Thursday, 17 March 2011

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011

Despite Ill Health

Ahmedabad, India

I read, " Despite ill health, Prabhupada (our guru) took a walk. Surrounded by about twenty-five disciples, he walked slowly. Although he was a small figure surrounded by tall sanyassis (renunciants) , the Kumbha-mela pilgrims were able to easily recognize his preeminent position, and they would break through the ranks of devotees and offer dandavats (respects) before him. When Prabhupada saw people approaching, he would stop walking and let them touch his feet, despite the objections of his disciples. He was already sick, and he had explained in his books that a devotee can become ill if sinful people touch his feet. Still, he did not object.

"Srila Prabhupada was scheduled to stay at the Mela through January 21, but his disciples pressed him to go to a place more suitable for his health. Rarely had any of them seen him so sick, and they worried. "But my only ambition," said Prabhupada, "is that so many people can become enlightened."

There are interesting messages found in this passage to share with with you since there is mention of a divine monk walking.

Our troupe preformed well at the Town Hall due to great promotions- newspapers and TV9. Eight hundred people came to watch the life of Bharat dramatized.


Tuesday, March 15th, 2011

To the Public

Ahmedabad, India

Yasomatinandan had built a handsome-looking temple at the edge of Ghandi Nagar Road. It's a little bit cluttered on the inside for my taste. Sorry, Yaso! People do come throughout the day. And in the evening fifty or so people come to hear a reading of the life and teachings of Chaitanya.

I get inspired from Chaitanya- his travel on foot, his kirtan, his whole approach to life. I think of his times, five centuries ago. It must have been heaven with no super highwayd. One of the few things that might be reflective of his era is the dust and dogs.

Yes, I'm afraid I have to report on dogs again. Abhay, a young man who tends cows back in Mayapura, trekked with me down a side road until we reached a cul-de-sac. Dogs are to be ignored and they're fine. They just always make their presence known, if you know what I mean.

We managed today to have a good long rehearsal for tomorrow's performance at the Town Hall. Newspapers are promoting the event including the states largest journal.

It was a necessity to have a kirtan with our troupe to the outside public. They were entertained by out multi-cultural group and the seven straight flips that Abhay threw in the centre of our party. Card players moved over for our kirtan.

It was a full day, a day well spent in Krishna's service.

8 KM

Monday, March 14th, 2011

A Different Place

Ahmedabad, India

It was 21 years since I came to this city. In 1990 the ISKCON temple was at the edge of town. According to Yasomatinandan, the general co-ordinator for the temple, there are now shoppnig malls in every direction, at each side of the building. The location of our centre is now in the heart of this bustling place in Gujarat.

Gujarat is that state in India which has the most affinity towards Krishna. I am greeted at the airport with a kirtan, a group of devotees chanting. It's hospitality from here on- warmth shown over top of the heat. It's 40 degrees Celsius. Yes, dualities are realities.

A high point of the day was the stroll with Travis. We championed an incredible 1.5 kilometres when our cab driver needed a break for chai (tea). A low point was when he drove over a dog. It wasn't the drivers fault. He was the most careful driver I ever had the pleasure to travel with. The dog did live according to Travis. I just didn't have the guts to look back.

I had missed the party of actors. They arrived after a two day train ride from Kolkata to Ahmedabad, the east to west coast ride. They endured the trip. I had instructed them to keep conducting kirtans on the train. And that's what they did. It's a formula for anyone on a tedious train ride or for anyone who's grounded.

My grand total for today on foot is a humble 2 kilometres.

2 KM

Sunday, March 13th, 2011

Last Day in Mayapura

Mayapura, India

The class today was delivered by Yours Truly. Verse 4.12.37 from the book, Bhagavatam, discusses saint Dhruva's qualification for attaining freedom from the world. Dhruva was a fiery little boy at age 5. He wanted to prove himself as a warrior by obtaining land opulence that would exceed the glory of heaven. After meeting his guru, Narada, and chanting with sincerity the mantra given to him, Dhruva realized what a pie-in-the-sky idea that was. In the process of purification he became alleviated of all vices, but continued to struggle with anger. That eventually dissolved as well and qualified him.

The verse highlights virtues such as "Shantah" (peacefulness), "sama-drishah" (equipoised), "suddah" (being clean), "annuranjanah" (being pleasing to all living entities) and "acyuta-priya bandhavah" (being a friend to the devotional). Dhruva was said to have acquired these attributes- attributes that we could all aspire to achieve.

With my last day in Mayapura I took a mental stock of the people here who are carriers of these qualities such as Maha Sringha with his hospitality. His home became the venue for an initiation of two people, Arjuna from Delhi is named Yamal Arjuna, and Katie from Canada is now Bhumi.

I also express gratitude to Daru Brahman for the fabulous food and chikoo shakes and to Shyamasundar who got me through the more tedious times of long rehearsals and meetings with his expertise at massage. I certainly didn't walk enough while here to warrant the regular massage he provided.

These are kind people, real devotionally-powered individuals. And there are more.

When you wear the saffron robes and in particular the sanyasa dhoti, pilgrims here offer special respect. Some people even dismount their bicycles lie them down and offer dandavats (lay out flat). It appears overly respectful at times, all done with good intent, of course. Bless their hearts.

5 KM

Tuesday, 15 March 2011

Saturday, March 12th, 2011

Walking to a Wedding

Mayapur, India

A planned youth kirtan was restricted to the small stage of the Samadhi
Auditorium due to a storm. That was last night. Yes, the winds were high
and rain did come down. Hurray! Nevertheless, the kirtan soared and those
who came, the twenty or so youth, took to the theatrical kirtan, unlike the
very, very common sit-down standards of these days.

With the damper weather conditions and from left up all night to thwart off
mosquitoes, I woke up with muscle spasms in the back. A little extra rest
and then a trek was my anticipated care. It turned into a 7 kilometer bound
trek with Gaura, our leading actor for the play "The Three Lives of
Bharat". We had ride offers but we declined as we were happily en route to
a wedding at the Jagannatha temple.

"No thanks," I told one motorist, "We are going the civilized style. We're
losing our legs!"

The lucky couple being betrothed is Gopal and Avatari. Since the departure
last year of Aindra, 24 hr kirtan guru, Gopal has since taken over the
supervision of the noble task for around-the-clock chanting at the cultural
centre and temple, ISKCON Vrndavan. Avatari, looking like an Indian
princess, I have known since she was 4. What a good match they are!

I didn't have a chance to speak at the ceremony but I left a brief message
in their blessings book:

To Gopal and Avatari,

Keep it together, keep it Krishna-centric. Do it and you will shine even

7 KM

Friday, March 11th, 2011


Mayapura, India

I had almost forgotten about George Svobada. George was a regular comer to our ashram in Toronto. I had got to know him when he'd visit. Long haird but groomed, full-length beard. Very mannerly and generally reserved. He originated from Czechoslovakia and rendered a valuable service to the people of his country.

He had written a road accommodation guide in the local language for global backpackers. As a traveler himself, he was able to explore all the cheap but decent hostels and hotels for the adventurous. More important as a contribution, George had made, was his translating our guru, Srila Prabhupada's "Bhagavad Gita As It Is" in his language - a translation executed in the 70's but is still in print and used today.

I got to know George more personally in '96 when he joined me for walking on the Trans Canada Highway. When he heard I was taking up this mission his free-sprited side shone through. He hitch-hiked and searched until he found me. He stayed with me and my companions of the time for a couple of days for the experience and then moved on.

George repeated this venture in 2008. He sought me out and we trekked that same highway, the longest road in the world. I recall then him telling me of a recent trip he took from Cochrane, Ontario, on the Polar Bear Express, which takes you to the base of James Bay, a domain for the most fearsome bears on the planet. George said,"When I got there I didn't want to pay for any bed and breakfast or a hotel. I slept outside in the wilderness."

"What was that like?" I asked. "weren't you scared?"

"No! whatever happened to me, it was okay. I was safe."

This morning when I was making my way through the temple room in Mayapura as devotees were chanting on their japa meditation beads, I was recognized by a male devotee from the Czech Republic who said, "Maharaj, you might not be aware but George Svoboda is not with us anymore. He passed away in a most unique way. His body was found frozen in the mountains of Germany."

The news of George's passing - A dear friend and walking companion - did hit me hard. On second thought, "That's probably the way he wanted to go."

And so with a peaceful mind I pray that this true yogi has moved on and with the Gita's telling to His abode where you stay with Him forever.

6 KM

Thursday, March 10th, 2011

Samadhi Sound

Mayapura, India

Vaiyasaki is a well known singer in the bhakti yoga genre of music. As a boy growing up in Winnipeg, Canada, he would sing in the Jewish synagogue. As a young musician he played in a rock band with Neil Young. We were talking about his musical past and present as we were sipping on dob (coconut) juice on our way to the samadhi of our guru Srila Prabhupada.

"The Guess Who were the biggest band in Canadian history and they came from Winnipeg. Neil made it big and so did the Guess Who."
Vaiyasaki explained, "They had the right connections but I had the best connection- Srila Prabhupada." Neil Young is a big icon in the music world. He's got to be about the same age as Vaiyasaki, in his sixties but Vaiyasaki uniquely (for musicians) went the full nine yards in the spiritual musical field.

We climbed up the stairs to the Samadhi with his wife, Kishori. As we entered we heard much chatter, from visitors. We sat ourselves down in front of the glorious brass deity of our guru and began to chant in a capella, without instruments. He led and I responded. The chatter tamed more into a chant. People came to join us. It was beautiful- a Nitai Gaurian chant like the monks singing in a Christian cathedral. No music, just voices. And if you've ever heard Lady Smyth Mombasa singing "Amazing Grace" and just about anything else they do with their harmonization sans instruments we were going in that direction with our mantra sounds.

The room which we call the Samadhi has that potential to be an appealing space with the emphasis being solely on mantra vibration in addition to the building's own architectural draw and the beautiful diorama displays inside. Our visit there ended with the honoring of prasadam, spiritual food, and especially our favorite the sukta, the local greens. From here Vaiyasaki and Kishori were to leave for Vrindavan, Krishna's childhood playground.

7 KM

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Monk Against Drivers Addicted to Vehicles (MADAD)

Mayapura, India

I was fortunate to tag along with the Russian pilgrims after crossing the Jalangi River to reach Brahma Puskara and a unique Shiva temple. There, Bhakti Vaibhava Swami from Germany and I teamed up to talk to the multitudes. Yes indeed, outside the Shiva Temple, the space was laid thick with Russian comrades. In fact some people made their way to residential rooftops and to trees to see and hear us two swamis talk about the deity's significance. Tradition has it that because of the long enduring heat, pujaris (priests) of the Shiva deity chose to submerge him in the depth of the local Gomati River where he can remain cool. The deity is then removed from the water during the time of the Gaura Purnima, the anniversary of Chaitanya's birth. That calls for a celebration attracting 50,000 people.

Further on from this location after a short trek to a mangrove, Russian devotees enacted a pastime demonstrating Shiva's dissatisfaction with his bull carrier, Nandi. Shiva who is the Lord of Destruction, opted to travel via Hamsa-vahava, a majestic swan. This swan is generally the conveyance of Brahma, the Lord of Creation. In this way it is understood that the mighty Gods of the Universe have their frustrations too and allow for adjustments and negations. They sometimes agree and disagree with each other as well as unite as much as they fight with each other.

At the end of the day I happened to pick a fight, or at least my voice. My intolerance towards the motor bikes had reached its end. Two drivers meeting from opposite directions ended up stopping where I had been chatting with a pilgrim. I admit I released a monk's wrath pointing out the hazardous nature of the machines.

"These scooters spoil the atmosphere," I explained "and sends the wrong message to visitors about our lifestyle which is supposed to be one of simplicity.
"I found that the villages I walked through with the Russians to be peaceful."
I demanded, "Stop the madness. Get rid of them and bring a sense of tranquility back to Mayapura." The two scooter operators were rather startled at my chiding.

I hope that they and others will consider the other modes of transportation like walking or bicycling. Consider how Shiva looked at options.

10 KM

Wednesday, 9 March 2011

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011

Space and Next Year

Mayapura, India

The Russians arrived. As each year passes hundreds and hundreds of
them fly to India and then flock to the various places of pilgrimages
in the surrounding area of Mayapura. Many pilgrims arrive from all
over India as us for the same reasons -to hear from great speakers
about the spiritual science of the self. There are Chinese devotees,
people of Hispanic origin, east and western Europe, Aussies, even
North Americans.

To accommodate the multi-cultural reality, pilgrims are divided as
English-speaking, Hindi and Russian. Promptly, pilgrims board a bus or
just walk to their respective places for a days experience of
purification. Some have prepared their backpack arrangements for a
five day stretch.

Our last performance of "The Three Lives of Bharat" in Mayapura was
last night. That makes today tidy-up wind down day before our drama
crew leaves for Gujarat. It means I have some time to meditate on
future projects. It also means I'm a pilgrim today. It does involve
looking at my personal use of space in this dhama (sacred space) in the
most relevant way. In particular I'm holding a keen interest on the
place that I spend the most time -the samadhi.

In the morning I attend the arati at the samadhi and often end up
leading the chant. With the acoustics being what they are (an absolute
disaster for musical instruments) I am considering why not put a
positive spin to the use of the facility? The cavernous dome is highly
non-conducive to drum, harmonium or cymbals but when singing with a
soft and slow pace we could perhaps realize that here is a sacred
space fit for the beauty of the human voice only.

I was speaking with Vaiyasaki, a celebrated kirtan leader, who travels
the globe on a concert circuit. We both came up with the idea of using
the samadhi space as Gregorian chanters would do, only here we could
call it "Gaurian" chants named after the golden avatara Gaura or Chaitanya. The
name sounded right and so now we will experiment with mantras in the
space without the echoing musical instruments.

My last point about the samadhi is the lower level where the
auditorium is situated. This place is under used and under-rated. It
has turned out not to be a bad facility for our dramas. I've been
considering using the auditorium to do matinee session hosting all
school children in the area to see our dramas leaving them with an
impactful message. That's for next year. What do readers think?

7 KM

Monday, March 7th, 2011

Where Adventure Can Take You

Mayapura, India

A young family man, Arjuna, who came for pilgrimage from Delhi enjoyed the trek through the fields with me. We stuck to the edge and dared not walk on crops. Why this route? Well, it just happened that way. It wasn't intended. A little adventuresome spirit is what we caught ourselves in.

In '78, that is how you ventured to the Ganges via the edge of a field when she was a good ten minute walk away as I recall.

This mighty river changes her course all the time which says something about her adventurous and restless nature.

Arjuna was telling me about his evening's escapade, or rather, the escapade encountered by one of his Delhi companions, who in the middle of the night received an uninvited guest into his ear. During the fellow's sleep a little beetle entered his ear making his way to the ear drum. No doubt the little guy was on an adventure. Unfortunately his new territory was giving pain to the owner, whose evening was most uncomfortable. Unnerving for sure!

Some from among the Delhi pilgrims recommended drowning the intruder and so water was place in the follow's ear, enough of it to cause the little critter to surface and send him on his way. The Delhi baba was relieved.

In the Gita the ear is referred to as one of the nine gates or entranceways into the body. Out of curiosity anything sizable has a chance to explore it. I don't know the story of Alice in Wonderland very well, but didn't the girl enter a rabbit's hole and explore a world far beyond her own? I like the story of Hanuman who through mystic siddhi became miniature in order to fly around in the palace of the notorious Ravana.

Travel can take you to amazing explorations. I'm just glad that one evening in late December in '72 at a restless moment I decided to venture to Bonimart mall when I met fine devotee monks. That crazy adventure led me to the truth and changed me forever.

7 KM

Monday, 7 March 2011

Sunday, March 6th, 2011

Happiness on the Ganga

Mayapura, India

You couldn't see more excited kids. The big attraction for them was us. Mayapura Tourism Department so much liked our drama performance of "The Three Lives of Bharat" that they wanted to treat our troupe to a boat ride on the Ganga River. It was our option to chant, speak or just enjoy the ride. We opted for chanting "kirtan". That is what riled up the children.

The motorized boat, a rather deluxe one for standards around here, took our 25 passenger crew along the river bank up to the confluence of the Jalangi and Ganges Rivers. As we coasted along the youngsters ran along the banks to keep up with our speed until a fence restricted further mobility. On the west side of the Ganges our gondolier, if you will, coasted there as well, drawing the same kind of attention with youthful arms flailing in the air in ecstatic motion and with voices making prime amplification.

This is India, the place of spiritual appreciation. Kirtan is so conducive in the land formerly known as Bharat Varsh. Where in the world do you find such a large convergence of people at such a time like Kumbha Mela which draws millions.

Our boat passengers exuded a joy through singing and that joy bounced off the spirits of those kids. You are sure not to gain such response from urban kids.

I actually had lunch with Bhakti Raghava Swami, a Canadian monk who hails from my province, Ontario. He has taken the bold step to promote rural life and a dependency on the land and animals. I admire the direction he's taking and giving. Country living encourages happiness. It was evident in the smiles of the children.

7 KM

Saturday, March 5th, 2011

A Walking proposal

Mayapura, India

Bamboo trees grow plentifully along the Taranpura road. It is an extremely useful commodity. The pandal (tent) in which our crew performed in was erected practically overnight. It appears like a solid structure yet is merely a bamboo framed building with colorful cloth stretched around it. When you live in a place like mayapura you appreciate the valuable usage of this tree.

I asked my walking partner, Suta Goswami das, about the cut branches piled high where we trekked.

"This is eucalyptus. The wood is for fuel and the leaves are pressed for oil," He informed me. "The oil is used for cleaning."

Ah! Flashback!

Two or three drops of it is what I used to add to a bucket of hot water to clean the temple room floor, an activity I was so routined to doing as a novice monk in the early 70's. Those were the days!

Moving further on with our leg power, you can see in the fields the growth of coriander, sugar cane, peas, dal and more. Mint bushes line the path. This is a herb I could identify and point out to Suta. We were educating each other in what we know.

Leaving plants be, what they are as we pass by them, Suta revealed something on his mind about a future project.

"Maharaja, I was thinking about traveling all over India with two or thee brahmacaris (monks) just selling our guru, Srila Prabhupada's books. This we would do on foot and just depend on the kindness of others for food, a place to stay, etc. What do you think?" He asked.

I told him that this proposal struck a sensitive nerve. "If you do that you would be a perfect swami. You'll find in it adventure, growth and surrender. Do it!"

If Suta proceeds then we would have another monk on the loose. Let's spread the culture. Let's educate. Let people know that legs are better then wheels and that reading books on spirituality are better than watching the cricket game.

7 KM

Friday, March 4th, 2011

The Best Search

Mayapura, India

One swami early in the morning asked me, "How's Jim from Canada?"

"To be frank he's undergoing some depression these days."

The swami then offered, "Tell him to stop looking for happiness and
start looking for Krishna."

I appreciated the advice. "I'll gladly tell him."

Indeed we are in a troubled world, devoid of happiness. It reminded me
of something said in our meetings. To quote one of our American
devotees Braja Bihari, who heads up our society's Ministry for
Conflict Resolution, "In Kali-yuga (current age of darkness) conflict
is a growing industry."

Whether it's depression, which is generally a conflict state within,
or encountering objection and challenge from others, the world in
which we live presents disturbances. Birth, death, disease and old age
are generally listed as the miseries of life. It behooves us to be
forewarned about these difficulties. It is a part of education; to be
informed and to not see this world through rose-tinted glasses. In
other words, lets be realistic.

I had been invited to speak to students from ages 6+ at the Sri
Mayapura International School. With me Radhanatha Swami whose book
"Journey Home" has become a popular read in mainstream America. We
both relayed events of our travels to the young students. He had said
at one point, "This is the best school in the world and you have the
best teachers in the world."

To justify such a statement one has to consider if you have euphoric
children or not. Are they happy, lustrous, clean, well-behaved? On all
counts these kids passed the test. They are blessed with both
conventional training with the spiritual component added on top.

One family from Canada enrolled their two girls in the school just last
year. I had hoped that these girls would be able to adjust to a new
continent and a very different environment.

I asked them, "Do you like it here?"

It was a resounding "Yes. We love it here."

I thought "How lucky they are! I sure didn't have that opportunity
when I was young."

In any event the formula stands, "Stop looking for happiness. Start
looking for God."

7 KM

Thursday, March 3rd, 2011

Bharat Now Better Known

Mayapura, India

Somewhere in Trinidad a group of young people were watching the live
feed of our performance, "The Three Lives of Bharat." It was a coffee
shop where a lap-top screen was broadcasting the marvelous "acrobats"
as someone called them. Indeed the performers did fling themselves in
the air as much as vocalize the story of King Bharat.

As the screen exposed itself to on-lookers around, the viewership
increased to a bigger than normal huddle. They looked on with interest
as the viewers of the live drama in the Samadhi Auditorium had done.
Applause came from Mayapura and the thousands-of-miles-away Trinidad
coffee shop.

As the director, feedback came to me from the Wednesday and Thursday
night performances. "I understand Bharat better now." Bharat is
mentioned in the sacred text : Bhagavad-gita" numerous times. Now in
the form of a play, the story which is a powerful endorsement on the
reincarnation concept, comes to light about a Vedic king who had a
strong bond to a wild animal, a deer. India which was formerly named
as Bharatvarsa and whose history is detailed in the epical poem "The
Mahabharat" derives its nomenclature from this personality.

Bharat was the son of Rsabhadev, the ascetic who inspired the
well-established Jain movement in India. Like his father, Bharat
became a monk, but too reclusive to the point where he isolated
himself from human interaction. It left himself vulnerable you can
say, and hence he became open prey for becoming overly affectionate
for a little fawn.

The setting of this touching story is the Pulaha Ashram, the foothills
of the Himalayas where monks have been known to converge for

When you study Puranic stories and not least the books of our guru,
Srila Prabhupada, it becomes an exploration of the lives of kings and
monks. How are these archetypical career models relevant to today? A
person is less likely to meet a king than a monk. I was talking to a
devotee stationed in Bali who gave me the official figure of 500,000
monks residing in that country.

Monks are few but kings are less. I am pacified that the work of "The
Three Lives of Bharat" has come together as it has. Whoever may see
it, whether live or in a coffee shop will have a chance to know more
clearly what life is like as a monk in the not-so-fast lane.

7 KM

Wednesday, March 2nd, 2011

Dust Under Us

Mayapura, India

In the easterly sky a rich saffron glowed. Palm leaves were set in the foreground and as my head brushed against one, even though I tried to dodge it, small dew drops delivered themselves onto the skull until I wiped off the wetness. With even gentle steps dust gets stirred up on the not-yet-paved path towards the Tarampura Road.

God forbid that all walking trails here will meet asphalt in the future. The massive temple under construction, once completed, will draw pilgrims in the multitudes. They will come from all over the world. When that happens the demand for accommodating inexperienced feet and motorized vehicles will be strong. Could it be that a time will come when "dust from the lotus feet" of the holy travelers will have no meaning? Will the phrase denoting the quality of humility be obsolete? Will future words read "the concrete from the lotus feet?"

I am enjoying the dust while I can. Perhaps it sounds somewhat like I'm singing the blues lamenting over a foreseeable unpleasant future. I'm hit by feelings of ambivalence - joyful at the prospect of uncreased numbers of pilgrims immersed in a higher consciousness but sad at the thought of simple rural charm being sacrificed. There is not a day that goes by especially during walking times that I'm torn inside with the rural versus modernity arm wrestle.

The sweet sentiments of the boyhood "greenness" of Krishna envelops me. The images of vegetation and animals and the cowherd children moving between these two should remain as permanent fixtures of this area.

It will be a challenge to preserve natural beauty and keep "development" from chewing it up. That is my prayer : while a gorgeous temple springs from the ground may dust continue to give comfort to our feet.

7 KM

Thursday, 3 March 2011

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

How to...!

Mayapura, India

They learn how to die, how to be born, how to walk, eat, drink, how to have an argument, how to laugh and cry. This is all rudimentary stuff of course. It doesn't always come so natural- these fundamental actions of falling and rising, sitting and sleeping.

I'm talking about acting on the stage.

There are at least fourteen of them- teens or so, volunteer actors, some in their twenties. Most of them are very athletic. They at least know how to fake a fight. With martial arts as a background that comes natural. My crew, consisting of monks or men (and women), are all devotees of Krishna. The two young women know how to dance Bharat Natyam. When looking at these boys and girls you can say they are physically beautiful and bright. They are from origins all over the world; India, the U.S., U.K., Canada, Europe, South America and Africa.

Each morning and evening we gather to have practices in learning how to slip and trip, how to project the voice and to reincarnate as animals and plants.

The production that we are gearing up for is called "The Three Lives of Bharat" and there is a buzz in the air around Mayapura that a hard worked-at piece of drama will manifest itself on the stage. It was a good dress-rehearsal on the night before and the occupants of my room, four of us, slept in to conserve energy for the coming performance.

That meant I had little time for walking this morning, which is an austerity.

I will not fail to mention about the great participation of Urmila, a godsister. Her contribution to children's education in the spiritual setting of ISKCON is phenomenal. She admitted to theatre acting as a closet passion. She plays the role of a mom in a dysfunctional family.

There is also Pragosh, my Irish friend. Playing the part of Punditji, a peer to the main role Bharat. I've worked with Pragosh for years now. He's always a riot.

Indian and the yogic culture is steeped in theatre. Chaitanya, Nityananda, our guru Srila Prabhupada - all of them gave a chunk of their spiritual endeavors to drama. It is a tradition to endear.

3 KM

Tuesday, 1 March 2011

Monday, February 28th, 2011


Mayapura, India

Life in saffron could conjure up thoughts of the free spirit. You travel and live simple. You move at the whim like the wind.

In my case as all my peers, who excel in divinity far beyond what I could ever hope to demonstrate, there are some anchors. We belong to a society and with that come commitments. To make more clear my point, as leaders of a world-wide spiritual society we make vows. I was the fortunate soul to read aloud in the Samadhi of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, the "Oath of Allegiance" for leaders of our society. They may be regarded as healthy strings attached.

Here is what I recited and was repeated by all:

1) I accept His Divine Grace A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada as the Founder-acarya and supreme authority of ISKCON. I will follow his teachings, instructions and directions.

2) I accept the Governing Body Commission of ISKCON as the ultimate managing authority of ISKCON, as directed in Srila Prabhupada's last will and testament.

3) I will abide by the Society's spiritual rules, namely: no illicit sex, no intoxication, no gambling, no meat-eating and chant a minimum of sixteen rounds of maha-mantra japa every day. I will follow the principles set forth in Srila Prabhupada's books.

4) I accept that of all of ISKCON's funds, assets and properties under my control or direction, is the sole property of ISKCON and in the event of my death, resignation or other relinquishments of all ISKCON responsibilities, all these shall accrue solely to ISKCON and at all times I shall have no claim on them whatsoever.

5) I will be guided by the directions of ISKCON's management, cooperate with the local GBC representative, and fulfill my duties in a serving spirit never intentionally acting against ISKCON's interests.

6) I will maintain the spiritual programs, standards and teachings established by Srila Prabhupada in the projects and with the devotees placed in my care. I further agree not to involve the Society or those devotees placed under my care in any activities contrary to the above mentioned principles.

7 KM

Sunday, February 27th, 2011

Thinking Ahead

Mayapura, India

Being the weekend many pilgrims have arrived from the city of Kolkata and the local vicinity. Hotels, hostels, retreat centers and outside temple facilities of the area are fully capacitated. It is remarkable that so many of these visitors will leave their comfortable cots to go for darshan (deity viewing) at the ISKCON temple of Radha Madhava. People filter into the door as early as 4AM rushing to get a decent spot for catching a glimpse of the beautiful deity of Krishna.

This kind of enthusiasm says so much about Indian culture and its piety.

As I rushed to the Prabhupada Samadhi with Prem Vikas, a young South African monk, pilgrims poured into the main temple after passing us and going in the opposite direction. My choice for early morning worship is the Samadhi. We noticed that people walk with a gusto - people of all ages including those who carry toddlers in their arms.

There were powerful images of people walking. They were my first images for the day. By mid-day another image of taking to foot entered into my mind, an impression of a future projection.

I was asked along with four other peers, to begin a brainstorm on how to honor the up coming 50th Anniversary of the Hare Krishna movement. It is not too early to plan for the year 2016 and the months prior, a significant landmark date when our founder, Srila Prabhupada, landed at the harbor of Boston in ' 65 and which then led to the incorporation of his movement in the following year.

Our panel of five in our discussion came up with ideas for the event and noted that Kolkata, our guru's birthplace, Boston and New York could be key cities or destination places for celebrations. And in my mind I thought of a walk I could conduct from Boston to New York and beyond, maybe L.A.

What do the blog readers think about that idea?

7 KM

Saturday, February 26th, 2011


Mayapura, India

A man had just descended the tree to collect the sap. The container of juice was just right for the taste as the sap will ferment as the sun ascends. You consume it before the foam develops or you cook it down to a thick golden richness, if not then to a solid which is a brownish sweetener for preps. At this stage it is called jaggery.

The man spotted myself and a Slavic brahmacari coming down the trail (a trail with no name but running near the Jalangi River). With the pot of goodness in hand he tried to tempt us.

"Juice, juice, juice," he said with no mention of the rupee amount.

Resisting the temptation, the monk and I were determined to continue in motion on the trail, chanting on our beads.

I said "No! No! No!"

With a smile and a typical Indian head-waggle he responded with a "Yes, yes, yes!"

Jokingly I came back with a "No, no, no!" Our pace put him behind us but we will meet again for sure.

Now on the topic of fine drinks, I did indulge in a marvelous chicoo milk shake by nightfall. It is a blend of chicoo fruit and ahimsa milk. If milk is "liquid religiosity" (quoting our guru, Srila Prabhupada,) then this beverage is the king in the milk genre. Compliments of this are from Daru Brahman, an English teacher from the U.K. residing in this holiest of places.

Daru had come as a savior to our youth group at drama practice time. Our crew of 20 are hungry after a hard-working rehearsal so Daru showed up with the most scrumptious feast, the shake being the highlight.

7 KM