Saturday 30 June 2012

Friday, June 29th, 2012

A Method and a Meditation

Sandy Ridge, North Carolina

We arrived by bus at this country side community called Prabhupada Village. It was 10AM and the sun was blazing, making it totally unappealing for even a stroll. After all you don't want to turn into a
samosa under the 100 degrees Fahrenheit temperature. A one minute walk from our parked bus to the home of Sivananda and Madan Mohan Mohini convinced me that even the sun must linger as it will before I dare to be under its power for any serious length of time.

There in the cozy quarters of a marvelous couple, I had the pleasure to meet Rev. David of the Methodist Church. To my recollection, he's the first minister I ever met who hails from that denomination. I could tell from his cordial nature and openness to our brand of spirituality, that he was a progressive thinker. Why should one spiritualist feel threatened by another? We are all in the same struggle together, in the same quest, wanting the same result.

Amongst the qualities that Methodists strive for, David explained that they cultivated kindness, patience, generosity, love, discipline, joy, etc. Because I asked, he felt in reciprocation he would answer. I did not sense that he was airing any pride. I was curious how the founder, John Wesley had molded this version of what people call Protestantism.

Reverend David was keen to know how we manage our youth program and, in particular, the road show. Basically, how do we engage our young folks? To that question I offered to say that our culture in the West began with austere living, suggested by sleeping on floors and functioning with little heat in the winter. Our sharing of Krishna's message began with traveling all over the continent in vans and buses. Our summer program of youth traveling for a spiritual experience is not much different from those days in the 70's when young men and women saw the country and met the people.

What a lift it was for me to meet this gentle soul who has so much to give. With Christ as his central figure and Krishna being ours, I see little difference in the values we are both trying to project.

One more thing that I told David; I live in a building in Toronto which is now a temple but which was constructed by the Methodists in 1897. So there is a little piece of Methodism in me.

0 Km

Thursday, June 28th, 2012

Walk, Act and Meet

Alachua, Florida

After a good rain shower, the air got fresh and humidity was less of an issue from its normal condition. The trek from Ananta and Vaishnavi's house is a perfect one hour to the temple, partially under canopied-trees with exotic Spanish moss.

Yogendra and I devotionally checked into the temple of Radha-Shyamasundara for morning sadhana which involves a viewing of Krishna deities, a ceremony to honour the guru, followed by a class conducted by your humble servant. Some of the points that were presented were: 1) Spirits are everywhere simultaneously; 2) Although there is pluralism, as in many gods within existence, one deity as supreme is sufficient for being honoured; 3) God is ultimately a person to communicate with and have a relationship with; 4) It is less intelligent to seek temporary benefits and it is better to vie for permanent happiness; 5) In this age of confusion, Kali, villains are heroes and people of morality are unexciting and underrated; 6) In this age of confusion, to stay married to the same spouse for life is practically a miracle.

After the class, Yogendra and I dove into drama practice, "The Jagannatha Story," in preparation for a month's travel on a bus tour through the north east of the U.S. and a good chunk of Canada. At the tail end of our hot, sweaty ordeal, a local person, Edward, came to drop in. Apparently he's a real lover of walking and hiking and has tackled some of the world's best trails. The Appalachian trail took him into areas where you do the hard walk for 5 days in the wilderness before seeing any civilizations (meaning towns). He told me the popular Sanitago Compestello walk in Europe is a breeze. I was also delighted to hear from him that the Japanese have a well known walk that attracts many. And so the walking culture does exist, yet still needs to grow.

It is a rather standard routine to finish correspondence with someone with the address "your servant" before my name. Edward, whom I sent e-mails to a year ago, and he to me, said that he had never seen that before and was moved by it. In true we are all servants, always were and always will be.

7 Km

Friday 29 June 2012

Wednesday, June 27th, 2012

To Elevate the Consciousness

Alachua, Florida

No walking. No flying. Well, yes on the latter one, but the flight was delayed for Gainesville. The tire on the aircraft needed changing. Once we took off, passengers of American Eagle 3572 encountered a bumpy ride above the clouds. High winds creating a jerkiness forced me to pull out my meditation beads for the special protection needed. I was greeted by Anil and Vidya and two sons. The couple were to make their devotional vows in the evening. Also there was Yogendra, of Toronto, and Jagannatha Puri Dhama and wife, Vaikuntha Lila and their son. Jagannatha always sees to it that my liquid needs are met. He gets me the best of juices.

One of the primary reasons for my coming to the community of Alachua, situated about two hours walk from Gainesville, is to depart from here for a month's trip on the Krishna Culture Ministry youth bus tour. We will travel the North-East of the US and then in Canada from Montreal to Edmonton. The party comprises of (it's my guess at this point) 30 youths, two mature bus drivers, Manorama and Jaya Radhe, the program's co-ordinators, and one monk - me.

How I fit in is as the drama director of the travelling road show that we're putting on at various venues. The show will converge with the Festival of India on weekends and during the week spoil the crew by doing indoor venues on a stage with controlled lighting, sound effects and there will be adequate and comfy seating for audiences under those circumstances.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, was highly in favor of bhakti performances in order that the public could become more elevated in consciousness. Our group is not terribly professional, apart from the expertise of Anapayini's dance school, but the kids are highly devotional. That's where it counts.

Frankly, when you consider what's out there in the form of entertainment, although highly professional in quality, much or most of the public's exposure is boringly mundane. Its not what most people need. It's time to elevate the consciousness, to make an adjustment in culture and attitude, to bring spectators to a realm of hope and happiness.

Anyways, that's why I'm participating and wherever we'll be on the road, I'll take my daily jaunts. Sadly today is not one of them.

By the way, Anil accepted, along with his vows, the name Ananta Sesa and Vidya accepted the name Vaishnavi. Congratulations!

0 Km

Tuesday, June 26th, 2012

No Walking In Miami

Miami, Florida

The fellow at the U.S. Customs at the Toronto Airport asked my purpose in going to Miami.

"It's for a spiritual function," I answered.

"Miami? A spiritual function? I used to live in Miami. It's a sinful place," he answered in humour.

"I guess we have to give it a chance to be spiritual," I said.

"You're with...?"

"Hare Krsna!"

"I used to see you guys all over at Miami Beach." He stamped my passport and gave me an unusual customs officer look. He smiled.

I do have a different opinion about Miami. I like its people. There is a large pool of potential bhakti, devotion. Speaking of pools, it's more like lakes here. With aggressive monsoons, floods are occupying spaces in the state of Florida. For Miami, it's pretty clear of flood waters. Anything could happen though. After all, this is the material world with all its fluctuations.

Time here was extremely limiting for any trekking. I spent several hours with Murari Gupta, a local surgeon, at a TV/radio studio. Nairobi was the name of our interviewer who expressed fascination about the lifestyle of a monk and his meditation. She admitted to attempting meditation at times, but she gave up on it. She was told to empty her mind in order to accomplish meditation. I offered the explanation that to meditate you don't have to make vacant the mind. "What you want to do is eliminate negative thoughts with positive pensiveness and positive imagery." Nairobi already understood that yoga is "not meant for getting skinny," as she put it. She knew that yoga has a deeper purpose.

In the interview we dwelt on this point for a bit. Yoga means to link up with the Divine. It is a spiritual connection that yoga pursues and was never intended to be a physical practice as such. Also in the discussion Murari Gupta contributed so well by clarifying that meditation and yoga are not just reserved for people in robes or in black tights. Being a physician, he finds the layperson's role to not be such a great challenge to spirituality. Reaching the Supreme destination is available to all regardless of vocation. Murari also explained the particular function of mantra meditation and so he delivered, on camera, the maha-mantra, "Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare."

At the Coconut Grove ISKCON Centre, three persons stepped into the formal vows of bhakti yoga. Alex accepted the name Aja. Nelson accepted the name Nanda Suta. And Mukunda Datta accepted a second initiation. Congratulations!

0 Km

Wednesday 27 June 2012

Monday, June 25th, 2012

The Boardwalk

Toronto, Ontario

Pioneers made roads out of planks. Planks are what formed our path today. At the Beaches, you have this boardwalk which may not have been laid out by the first Europeans, but was constructed more recently for beach walkers. I like the feel on the feet, with or without shoes. Srila Prabhupada, our guru, graced the boards with his feet 37 years ago. I’m assuming that they are the same reclining tree slats that we are walking on today. In any event, this sandy region situated by one of the world’s largest lakes, Lake Ontario, is visited by hundreds of local runners and walkers every day.

I’m sure that a strip of trail about 3 km in length is touched by many established folks in the area. You’ve got yoga students stretching here, and you’ve got geese and gulls making their rounds in the air. They prefer more the water than the sand and the planks. At the eastern most point of the trail, it becomes a perfect place for a Brahmin, a twice initiated devotee, to sit in tranquility and chant his/her gayatri mantras, which opens with meditations on the presence of God in the sun. The sun did show its glow at the hour at 5:30 am or there abouts.

There are many events going on in the world at this time with issues on people’s minds. We could talk about them, such as high school kids taking Adderall and Vyvanse drugs to get a higher test score. Or we could speak about the European debt crisis as a possible German conspiracy. Or we could converse about the decline in teens going for their driving license because texting is not allowed. Such surprising occurrences should not serve to shock us in this crazy mundane existence.

The most important event for our little group of japa walkers on the board walk is enjoying the walk, the sun, and each other. While we have concerns for the social challenges of the world, a simple act of what we were doing at the beach became our day’s affirmation that we are touching this earth and with the chanting that we are doing, is allowing us to deal with the challenges that come our way today.

9 Km

Monday 25 June 2012

Sunday, June 24th, 2012

The Two Go Together
Toronto, Ontario
It is favourable to take to the streets in the evening for the coolness and freshness of the air. I'm not the only one picking up on this habit .  So many others are as well. Pedestrians are more in greater numbers during the summer season.
I actually had a full day with people, meetings of varying kinds which went on for hours. I gave a class delivered to our community on verse 6.32 from the Gita. "He is a perfect yogi who, by comparison to his own self, sees the true equality of all beings, in both their happiness and their distress, O Arjuna." Then I was asked to lead the final kirtan chanting of the day. I gladly accepted the role which take a lot of energy in terms of giving and receiving. After this full "people" day, I tried to be that perfect yogi mentioned above, but just needed time alone so I went for it.
Time alone for me means walking, and walking means simultaneously chanting, at least the majority of the time. It's true. I've learned to use my mouth while moving the legs. This is not an amazing feat. People chat all the time while in the trek. So chat or chant, there is not much of a difference. If folks could just add the "n" that would be nice.
I ended up moving along Bloor, Bathurst and Dupont only to discover that I ended up not physically alone. As mentioned above, people were frequenting the streets, yet the chanting sets you apart from the world you are sojourning through. Chanting the mantras allows you to see the world from a different perspective. The world should not be a place that I should consume or be consumed by. I should take a small piece of it, a small quota of air, ether, land, fire and water for my maintenance and let the rest be. If anything I could stand as a guardian or custodian.

Yes chanting is most helpful in being able to see the world at a certain point of view. It is most favourable.
7 Km

Saturday, June 23rd, 2012

Being Back
Toronto, Ontario

The thing about being back in Toronto, home-base, is that you are in the universe. The other day someone said it's a "corporate city" implying it has that kind of feel. Yet when you walk through the various neighbourhoods of Toronto which means "the meeting place" you will find a place that has many kinds of "feels". Being a highly multi-cultural urban place you can roam to College Street and feel Italian. Go to Danforth area and there's a Greek feel. Stroll near Dundas and Spadina and you're in China. Trek along a stretch of Eglinton and you're touching Israel. Keep going west and you're in the West Indies. There are areas of yuppies, boomers, zoomers and then there's Kensignton, a whole alternative community of the free-spirited. There are places of young executive singles, male and female and neighbourhoods of family friendly density. Such variegatedness! It's rather fun.
I would agree that anywhere you go in this city, like any urban monster, that there's a high degree if secular sensation and that the spiritual component could be more enhanced. On Sundays steepled buildings get visited and on the Sabbath, synagogues fill up while mosques get frequented on Fridays. Near our temple the First Nations Friendship Centre organizes its Pow Wows at various times. Again, it's rather fun. Unfortunately, the buzz of maya (illusion) tends to hum. It's dominant. It's just that these minor spurts of spiritual expression don't do enough to drown the domineering materialism. And it's the materialism, the "me" culture that takes a damaging toll on all of us. Just what can be done with the greed consumption all around us? Well, how about increasing the spiritual practices?
In one enclave of the GTA (the Greater Toronto Area) rests a group of Punjabi folks, who invited me down for kirtan chanting and also to inform them of the progress of the cross-nation walking. This we did. Such joy was felt! Such serenity!
Now, if city life, wherever it might be, could have an increased presence of spiritual practices, we could see healthy changes. In fact you won't have to feel like you're in the city, the country, or comfort zone but in a free experience. Kirtan, in particular, transports us to a world of liberation. We must increase this.
9 Km

Friday, June 22nd, 2012

What do you know about herbs?
Scarborough, Ontario
With weather being what it is these days- really nice - it is attracting more pedestrians, people moving about. For our residents of the ashrama there is a compulsion to do the same. So after the early session of the sadhana a few of us took to the urban wetlands where there is a convenient boardwalk. And to get yourself there you take to a forest path.
At this time of summer you likely have the maximum diversity of herbs growing to the sides of the path. I couldn't resist letting our group know what are the various edibles and medicines that nature offers in the form of some greens. Now, I am not a pundit or master of herbs. I know a little more that the average urbanite, I guess it would be safe to say.
I take full responsibility for turning this intended japa meditation into a wild-plant lesson. It was appreciated by these short-term students. The magnanimity and generosity of the creator was evident for all those who gained the information. In any event the lesson went on until we peeked at our watches realizing that we were running late for the rest of our sadhana. Oh well! The karma falls on my lap.
For the evening I was driven to Scarborough to give a presentation from the Gita. I was told it was a random choice as to which verse to speak from. I chose 9.16 wherein Krishna identifies Himself as such: "I am the ritual, I am the sacrifice, the offering to the ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant. I am the butter and the fire and the offering." The word "ausadham" means the healing herb.
After my presentation I asked for questions. One witty question was, "As a child, Krishna was charged of stealing butter. Would it be safe to say that according to this verse if Krishna is the butter used in the sacrifice, then He can't really be the thief as charged?"
I agreed. He is also the object. There is no separation between the subject and the object. One more comment is that when I asked the fifty or so listeners as to how much knowledge they had about horticulture, eco-culture, botany, herbology I received little or no response. I don't mean to put down this community but I would like to say that although most people are device "savvy" little is known about the plants and the green things that are our friends.
6 Km

Pix of Canwalk. Taking time off from the walk to travel with the youth bus tour. We will be resuming the walk on July 26th.

Old fort remains from 1815 in Coteau-du-Lac


St. Zotique picnic

Cooling off in Lake Ontario

The Orange Monk

Saturday 23 June 2012

Thursday, June 21st, 2012

9.9 Kilometers

Quebec/Ontario Border

What a confusion within! What ambivalence!

It happens practically every time when I'm about to complete a major stretch of a journey and just about to hit the finish line. Part of me says, "This is a great achievement! Rejoice!" Another part says, "I can't let this end. There is so much satisfaction in the doing."

So there I was, moving with some apprehension at completing the last steps in Quebec. Once I did, I could have done more to cover some distance in the next province of Ontario, but "no," let it be a clean "finish" and when I return here in one month after travelling on a youth bus tour through parts of the U.S. and Canada, I will then begin with a fresh start.

This long distance trekking is a service, an offering to guru and to Krishna. It is nothing mundane. As Daruka and I drove over a 12 hour period for Toronto, over starts and stops to stretch and take time, we met people. Well how can people not react. We have an out-of-province license plate - Manitoba. Once getting out of the car you've got this rather tall guy, bespeckled and sandy coloured hair, who holds this beautiful parrot perched on his shoulders. Then out comes this monk in a peach-orange tint. Who wouldn't react?

In such circumstances there is an opportunity "to serve," to engage others. Whether it's the bird, the bird-man, the car or the monk, we get the opportunity to say, "we're doing this walk to promote higher consciousness." To a couple of women who couldn't resist to ask I responded, "We are trying to convey a message that we are spirits, not these bodies..."

At a small town called Carrying Place, a small business man on the side of the road selling non-monk food, advertised themselves as "Orange Monk," highlighting hamburgers. While driving we had to come to a stop. It struck our curiosity. Customers were there chomping away and upon meeting the proprietor of the roadside shop it became confirmed that the two exclamations after the word "monk" was to read as monkii and painted on the front fa├žade was this happy-go-lucky image of a monkey. In any event, customers appear to be led on to a slight mental image of a renunciate.

In another small city in eastern Ontario, Brockville, a break-stop for us, I took a short stroll in the vibrant 8 block downtown. In the course of that short period a half a dozen people gave either a pranam gesture or a namaste address. It appears some folks are "getting it" with the garb and shaven head. The world is slowly changing, and maybe faster than we think, familiarizing itself with eastern imagery and eastern thought. It's about time the east and west shared.

There was a time, not so long ago, the French Canada (Quebec) and English Canada (Ontario) did not see eye-to-eye. But a healthy fusion has set while simultaneously a distinction is retained. I think it's "Tim Horton's" and hockey that unites. Eventually it could also be "Kirtan for All." (Kirtan refer to chanting.)

9.9 kilometers

Thursday 21 June 2012

Wednesday, June 20th, 2012

The Presence of People
Les Cedres, Quebec
Next to Hwy 338 is the Canal du Soulanges. Next to it is a superb bike train. With humidity up I was tempted on several occasions just to jump into the canal's waters. A swim would be nice, and it did come. At St. Zotique on Lac. St. Francoise we did dip into cool waters with our tanned heads and snow white legs. At least I was the tanned one- exposure to the sun from the walking.
The "we" I'm referring to are a group of devotees from Montreal who organized a second day of outdoors satsang, spiritual association. We had a great meal and a refreshing water program. I find that spiritual gatherings do not have to remain indoors. If we look at the tradition of sadhus, holy men of the mendicant kind, their lives had much to do with the out-of-doors. Even in the order which I follow, the disciplic succession known as the Brahma Madhava Gaudiya line, the great teachers conducted lessons and teachings in outside venues. A tree or some shade created by some stretched cloth would offer shelter. And for mode of transportation it would always be feet. Of course we are looking at pre-aircraft and those wretched things called automobiles were not yet conjured up.
I do feel that being in this traditional element (and very much within the elements) allows me to feel company of these past great teachers. Physically they may not be present, but in spirit yes. One way to perceive this by having the coming of the current followers of our order with me. In the greater Montreal area I've had the pleasure of having companions with me. For instance, yesterday a group of Krishna Devotees arrived at my trekking trail for a picnic and then a discussion on Bhaktivinod, one of the outstanding teachers and song writers of the science of devotional service. In this way, merely by speaking about him on the anniversary of his passing we felt him in our company right there at the St. Lawrence river.
By speaking about individuals you automatically have put their invitation out there and they do accept that welcome.
30 Km

Wednesday 20 June 2012

More pics from Quebec

Some curious animals

Talking to Fredericton tourists in Quebec City


Quebec City overlooking the harbour

Waterfalls outside of Quebec

Bhaktimarga Swami, Daruka + Billie with Kaushik + Amelie in Quebec City

Ship on the St. Lawrence at sunrise

Walking with devotees by windmill outside Montreal

With Montreal devotees in Repentigny, QC

Woodchuck carrying her young

BMS + statue of Louiseville founder

 BMS + officer in Trois Rivieres

Daruka, Billie + officer in Trois Rivieres

Enjoying a wrap together at campsite by Trois Rivieres

Sinai from CBC radio Quebec interviews BMS

Bed and Breafast in Champlain, QC

Daruka, Billie with B+B owners Raymonde + Jean-Guy

Gathering at Gayatri's place in Repentigny, QC

Picnic in L'Ile Perrot (outside Montreal)

Montreal devotees in L'Ile Perrot, QC

BMS chats with Anubhava + Mahajana after picnic

Tuesday 19 June 2012

More Pics from Quebec

Another old church in Quebec

Old Quebec City (inside the wall)

Outside the wall of old Quebec City

A dairy farm in St. Croix, QC

A St. Croix church at dawn

A house in the Quebec countryside

Sunrise in Quebec


Pics from Quebec

Bhaktimarga Swami walking with hitchhiker from Nunavit

Daruka and Billie arriving in the province of Quebec

Camping out before entering Quebec City

A beautiful old building in Tilley, QC

Kaushik, Amelie and her grandparents - some
wonderful Tilley locals who invited us into their home for fresh berries

The church in Tilley (built 1702)

A nectar collector