Monday, 30 December 2013

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Burnaby, British Columbia

Fidgety, Feisty and Fun

Before and after treks near the local green houses I engaged in a nine hour drama practice.  Rekha Sharma Wilson is a pro in drama and she made a difference in helping to hold down the reigns.  What I mean by that is that apart from her expertise in stage presentation, she helped in calming the participants, all rather young (in their teens).  They are rather wild, but wonderful.  Fidgety, feisty and fun.  Totally loveable.

Our assignment, or shall I say, volunteer passion, was to pull together the story of Ram and Sita and to take it’s epical scale down to a modest 30 minute production without losing colossal quality.  In it I have the Divine couple along with brother, Laksman, portray a wandering of the wilderness trails in the Dandak forest.  I couldn’t resist inserting some walking.  The piece is called, “Little Big Ramayan”.

To hold down a good production, much energy is required.  We have it.  When working on one scene which required undivided attention, those actors from our crew who are off the set also have their own undivided attention in other corners of the room.  I thought at times that our crew was a galaxy of planets.  Yoga, discipline, control, harmony, didn’t seem to be full reality.  Rekha and I strove for cohesion.  I am not complaining as much as I was admiring the hyped nature of things.  It seems sugar levels were high.  Seeing this dynamic I thought I was going to lose it.

After six hours of bhakti engagement, we then got down to a full run through of the play and just by seeing all the participants in action, everything got redeemed for me.

These young folks are at an age where they can be out drinking, smoking dope, having casual sex and so many other things.  They’ve chosen instead to involve themselves in a superior engagement.  They have a taste for what’s sweet and they take pride in keeping it clean.

We completed our practice and I took that last trek of the day to wind down the creative and mental affairs in my head.  All is good.  Om tat sat.

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Sunday, 29 December 2013

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Deer Lake, British Columbia

Deer Lake

According to my hosts on this trail, a prison was once standing at Deer Lake.  I was shown some of the foundation which still remains.  What was then is no more.

At the edge of the lake, beavers have done their expert work chiseling almost to pencil point some sizeable trees.  One tree in particular has, in my estimation, only one chewing day left before you can holler timber, “Timber!” Such is the way of an ever changing landscape whether adjusted by man or by nature.  Change is changeless.  It is eternal.  The only feature of the world that does not change is the Creator.

It really was a break from people that I found at Deer Lake compliments of Manoharini and family who brought me here.  It’s just great to capture a piece of nature in the course of the day.

There’s a usual rendezvous for the lake’s turtle population.  Usually when the sun peaks out , these guys tend to cluster at one corner of the lake on a long piece of driftwood.  They just lie there motionless in perfect camouflage, but today they were just not there for us to view.  We didn’t have that satisfaction.  Yet we knew they’re in there somewhere in the silky mud.  Something was swishing around at the water’s bottom.

The soul is like that as well.  It appears hidden or perhaps even nonexistent, yet by the mere presence of consciousness, the testimony of its being lies in its life symptoms.

We carried on by foot along the lake and saw the eager response of birds at our tossing of pistachios.  Geese, drakes, crows and gulls all picked up speed at the first throw.  It looked as if we were capturing 2/4ths of their primary activities, out of eating, mating, sleeping and defense, we were observant of their eating and defense.  Defense came in the form of just that – speed.

To absorb the power of the lake, and all that’s connected to it, we stopped walking and sat by a blue spruce for gayatri chanting.  The smell of the needles from that tree when pinched, what can I say, wow.

It’s essential to meet nature each day.  It makes the day whole, complete.  There is much to learn from this encounter.

Deer Lake, I like it.  It’s a fine eco system with many wonders.  Only thing is you might not sight a deer, at least I’ve never seen any there.  I guess that’s a wonder in itself.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Wednesday, December 25th, 2013

Burnaby, British Columbia

Christmas Day in the Life of a Hare Krishna Monk

What does a Hare Krishna monk do on Christmas Day?

He rises early at 4 am, showers, applies tilak (sacred earth substance) to 12 parts of the upper body, and then dons his robes, a dhoti (lower garment) and a kurta (upper garment).  With japa (meditative beads) carried in a pouch, he makes his way to the temple.  This then is the time when morning songs in honour of guru and Krishna are initiated.  Then, for an hour and a half or 2 hour period, he chants with the aid of his beads the Hare Krishna maha mantra:

This will be done in the company of others.  He may even choose to walk and chant on a trail, by a beach or on a street.

By 7 AM, he is poised for something called darshan, a viewing of the Krishna deity, followed by more song and drumming.  Culminating in a class delivered by a senior teacher just before breakfast.

Between 9 AM and 12, there is some time for specific duties.  My specific task at 12 o’clock was to speak on the subject of Christ and Krishna.  Naturally, the topic was selected to address the event, Christmas.  A subsequent feast was served, special features of this were mashed potatoes with a veggie gravy.  Yummy.  During meal time I had some people come to me with questions.  One east Indian gentleman had a question regarding dietary principles, “The meat diet is something that’s been going on for generations because in colder climates, western people in particular were forced to hunt as nothing else was available.  People are habituated to this diet, what do you have to say about that?”

Answer, “Granted, in colder climates people have resorted to eating other animals.  It’s true.  But the circumstances have changed since ancient times.  That was then but now is now.  Today you can acquire non violent food in the supermarket, vegetables, grains, fruits, etc. etc.  In some countries it had been the standard to eat humans on occasion, but now we know better.  We’ve evolved.  Let the animals enjoy their right to roam, crawl, or fly.”

Another question, “Is there truth to the theory that Jesus had spent time in India?”

Answer, “Some say he was in India, others theorize that there wasn’t a Jesus at all.  I will not argue that point, but what is relevant is the teachings that are propagated by someone who was called The Prince of Peace, and when those teachings are applied, they can improve our life.  Those teachings tell us to love your neighbour as much as yourself.”

Plus, “Love the Lord with all thy heart, mind, soul.”

The feast was great and it forced a nap which a monk is permitted to have.  A second walk, answering correspondence, and an evening program with kirtan (chanting,) sums up the day.  At least this is a look at my day.

7 KM

Tuesday, December 24th, 2013

Burnaby, British Columbia

No Power

Being not at home base (Toronto these days), it spares me from the dynamics of the hottest news coming from there.  Correction.  It’s not hot news at all, and has nothing to do with an embarrassing Mayor who’s caught taking crack.

The ground breaking news from Toronto (T Dot – the  cool short term) is the cold ice storm that hit last weekend putting 300,000 home out of power.  Normally a power failure wouldn’t create such an out on a short term, but when you consider it’s the middle of winter and it’s dragged on, people will have had to make some adjustments.

I was on the phone with our temple operations person, Keshava, in Toronto.  He said with relief, “After 57 hours of no electrical power, we had a big pizza party.”  The whole force of nature seemed to have that bonding effect on everyone in Toronto.  In the ashram at meal time where there’s no access to light in the eating room, all the monks were getting together hovering around a single candle.  Everyone was quite liking it.  It was as it should be, perhaps.

I contemplated the joy within the crisis and thought how life must have been before homes were equipped with hydro.  Perhaps the utility has spoiled us; that it’s a curse.  At least you can safely say that an element of interedependence was very much status quo when we were all unplugged.

It was sadly reported though that through this time of testing, generator, power, propane, and other less safe ways of generating warmth left some people dead from the fumes and exhaust.

I had taken to walking in weather that was just below zero degrees in the lower mainland of Burnaby, BC at Christmas Eve, when things were rather Silent Night –ish.  I imagined myself being back in Toronto and how I would handle the cold.  Likely, I would find maximum satisfaction in keeping warm in my winter boots, doing a lot of walking.  After all, each and every one of us has a built in furnace as much as we have a soul.  At some point in time, our 98 degrees Farenheit will quit on us.  But the spirit goes on searching for a new furnace.

May the Source be with you.

6 KM

Monday, December 23rd, 2013

Burnaby, British Columbia


We all hear that Christmas is the time of giving.  That’s nice!  From the Vedic perspective (directions east) we can also say it is a charitable time because it was in December that Krishna gave His message of truth to the world.  When this truth was spoken some distance north of the ancient city Hastinapur (current Delhi), millennia ago, the subsequent events and struggle for power ensued for 18 days which would terminate at the corresponding date of December 30th, 2013.  That’s when you can mark the end of the war.  The dust of turmoil settled and peace prevailed.

Whenever truth is told, it often caused commotion.  Expect some calm after the storm.  Silent Night.

When the realities of The Gita, Krishna’s message, were told to me, my world had turned around.  That was back in December of ’72, right at Christmas time.  It was the present I ever received.  I am grateful to those five monks that did the delivery.   Their names I have not forgotten – Visvakarma, Ayodhya Pati, Satyahit, Drupada, and Dustadhura.  They had peculiar names (in Sanskrit) and like the early pages of The Gita where names of warriors are identified, I found the names of my new friends to be odd, yet exotic.

The gift of the Gita, which in ’72 was five dollars hardbound, was the greatest treasure.  I actually bought it for myself out of my student loan money.  It was the best life investment ever.  I see and respond to the world differently since I received this gift.

To Padyavali, my dear godsister, whom I’ve been visiting in her seniors’ home every Monday since I’ve been in Vancouver, I asked her the standard questions.  She’s struggling with her Parkinson’s.  “How are you doing?”  She looks me straight in the eyes with a stern look and says, “Don’t ask.”  It’s with a cheerful response that I say, “You’ll be alright.”

This very morning, she handed me a gift, it was in a plastic bag, the contents were lightweight.  I opened that bag and in it was a chaddar, shawl, from India.  It has markings of Devanagari script and bears images of cows and footprints of great divinity.

It really was thoughtful of her.  Come to think of it, the best gifts are my friends who are devotional.  How can I repay Krishna for these presents that are undeserving to me?

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Tuesday, 24 December 2013

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Burnaby, British Columbia

Forgive and Forget

To the gathering at the ISKCON Centre I read from the Bhagavad Gita and then spoke on the topic of forgiveness based on Chapter 11, verse 41 and 42:

“Thinking of You as my friend, I have rashly addressed you ‘Oh Krishna’, ‘Oh Yadhava’, ‘Oh my friend’, not knowing Your glories, please forgive whatever I may have done in madness or in love.  I have dishonoured you  many times, jesting as we relax, lay on the same bed, or sat or ate together, sometimes alone and sometimes in front of many friends.  Oh infallible one, please excuse me for all those offenses.”  - Spoken by Arjun to Krishna.

Some Points Covered on “Forgiveness”


Apology:  acknowledgement of offense and expression of regret.
Regret:  feel sorry
Forgive:  pardon


“The beauty of a brahmin is his ability to forgive.” Chanakya Pandit

“One should be tolerant and excuse the minor offenses of others.” Srila Prabhupada.

Ksama (forgiveness) is a quality of the Divine Nature.”  Bhagavad Gita 16.1

Additional Points:

Don’t take things so personally.  You are not this body. 
If you are offended consider yourself an offender. 
“I am sorry”:  the three most difficult words to say.  Once said, a great burden is lifted.
Use your hatchet to bury itself.
It is the greatest shame to always hold a blame.
“Give” is the bigger part of the word, “forgive”.
Forgiveness:  the thaw after a hard freeze.

May the Source be with you!

3 KM

Saturday, December 21st , 2013

Saranagati, British Columbia

More Tests

More tests.  Mahidhar’s 93 year old dad passed away last night.  We had dedicated some mantras on his behalf.  Bless him.  Mahidhar felt relieved.

While Mahidhar’s vehicle was in for repairs, Peter and I had a contingent plan for getting back to Vancouver to meet appointments there.  At the town Cache Creek, our anticipated bus trip floundered.  It arrived one and a half hours late.  We then found out that no seats were available.  Next plan – Gosh Thakur agreed to drive us to Vancouver, but before we could make it to Highway One, the fan belt to his vehicle came undone.  We had no recourse but to wait to see if the Ford Escape would become road worthy.

So wait we did.  But in the nicest way.  Our community in the valley was honouring the passing of one of the great saints of his time.  It happened to be the anniversary of the passing of Bhaktisiddhanta, the guru of our guru.  Many achievements go to his credit, including the promotion of parikrama (pilgrimage).  He would organize and partake in pilgrimages in India in around the turn of the last century.  He did substantial walking, leading his followers to sacred places, to birth sites of saints and avatars and places of significant spiritual events.

At the Saranagati ISKCON Centre, I was requested to read to the group of Bhaktisiddhanta’s great accomplishments.  It then donned on me that I could add him to my mental list of walking heroes.  Already there are such personalities or sages such as Narada, who as a young boy trekked in many different directions, and then finally achieved the ability towards interplanetary travel; Vamana, the avatar who became famous for taking three steps; Balaram, Krishna’s brother, who averted the Kurukshetra war in favour of pilgrimage; Vidhura, who reacted justifiably to the insult of his nephew, taking to the wandering monk’s lifestyle.  There’s more.

Now I can add to the list of monastic travellers, this great personality, and I’ll spell out his name with honourific titles.  His Divine Grace Bhaktisiddhanta Saraswati Thakura Prabhupada.

Back to my own travels.  Well, we made it to Vancouver, Mahidhara’s oil pan got replaced.  Finally.  And as far as walking goes, I’m sad to say I didn’t do any.

Life is full of tests.  How are you taking them?

May the Source be with you!

0 KM

Sunday, 22 December 2013

Friday, December 20th, 2013

Saranagati, British Columbia


My host in Saranagati Village, Mahidhar, was half joking when he asked me to bless the van.  His Ford Escape was to be the means of transportation back to Vancouver.  So, to ensure a safe journey I did take his recommendations seriously.

At 5:30 AM I was out the door, ready for a walk towards the city in anticipation to be picked up by Mahidhar and Peter.  I stood in front of the vehicle, chanted some mantras, and even circumambulated the van before heading off down the quiet snow packed country road.  The two valley dogs, Ganga and Narasingha, accompanied me until we reached the cattle barrier called a cattle guard.  Cattle dare not cross the ground level metal frame at the end of the road that junctures at Highway 1, the Trans Canada Highway.  My two canine comrades also could not cross this barrier.  A human with careful footing can succeed, however.  I crossed over it and then went directions west with the Hare Krishna mantra and snowflakes to keep me from being lonely.

Six O’Clock passed, the projected time for Mahidhar and Peter to pick me up.  No sign of them.  7 o’clock passed and again no sign of them.  8 o’clock passed by and still no one showed up.  8:30 rolled along, no Mahidhar and no Peter.  “Something happened, I’m sure.  My blessing the vehicle didn’t work.  I hope they are alright,” I thought.

Ten minutes later, and with 12 KMs under my feet, finally a van pulled over.  It was Peter and Kulashekhar in another vehicle that had come to pick me up with the news that there was an accident.  Apparently the Ford Escape slid off the icy road, went over the edge, and into a gully, and finally being wedged in place by a stump and a log.  No one was hurt and the vehicle appeared to be miraculously operable.  After some endeavor one helper, Stanur, got behind the steering wheel and successfully freed the van from being stuck.  He drove it forward into a field, but then hit a rock that destroyed the oil pan.

Meanwhile a nasty snow storm blasted through the whole south of BC.  By the forces of nature, we were not going to go anywhere.  Unfortunately, we had to cancel out on a major satsang (spiritual gathering) held in Vancouver.

One thing that I pondered, before embarking on the journey back to Vancouver, I had recited protective mantras as an offering to our dear Sri Krishna.  Obviously not all occurrences pan out so smoothly, even when asking for a blessing.  The blessing, nevertheless, does come to the recipient, but not always in the format as anticipated.  In such circumstances, patience and tolerance have the chance to play out within one’s self.  The best tests in life do come unsought.

May the Source be with you!

12 KM

Saturday, 21 December 2013

Thursday, December 19th, 2013

Saranagati Village, British Columbia


I couldn’t resist referring to a Metro Newspaper article by Stefan Danis, author of Gobi Runner, regarding the topic of the straight path not always being the fast one.  As a runner in desert areas like the Gobi, Sahara, or Atacama, He learned the hard way that mathematically, the simplest path between two points is not necessarily the straight one.

He details this in his writing based on his experience.  For instance, with sand being soft, when wind picks it up, it causes a major hindrance while running.  He found that if he ran a longer route with a degree off course by being at the advantageous side of a sand dune, where there’s more firm surfaces and rock sediments, he would arrive at the finish line earlier.

Stefan drew an analogy to life’s situation by posing the question, “Have you looked at all the alternative paths to overcome your challenges?”  He added, “Ups and downs, twists and turns are the norm we all know.”  I saw this in my trek with Gosh Thakur yesterday to get to the summit of a local mountain.  We took to the road that was cleared out to make way for an internet tower.  It was clearly a zig zag trail, a straight line approach would be impossible for vehicles and a hard one for walkers.

My stay in Saranagati Village, a Krishna community, has been scheduled with visits to various rustic houses with warm people.   To reach those destination points, I have the choice to trudge through deep snow, through ditches, while dodging bush and sage brush, or take the road.  The safest and quickest route in this case is to follow the snow plowed roads that run more or less on a grid, although less adventurous.  I hate to say it, but maybe it’s the wimps trail.

One of the major lessons I’ve learned from walking through the Prairies, where land can be flat and roads being very straight, is that truckers really crave company because for them a straight line to drive on can be most monotonous.  When I walked that very direct route in the past like the Trans Canada Highway, truckers commonly stopped to offer me a ride in order to deal with what is perceived as a boring run.  Of course, I had to politely decline those offers.  Winding roads are a little more exhilarating and can even get you to your destination faster.

Here in the valley I am lucky because when I go that distance from a home to the temple or to the school, I have two buddies, they happen to come along and make the walk more interesting.  Ganga and Narashingha are two of the local dogs.  The nature of a dog is to accompany you whether you beeline it or move in curves.  God bless the loyal dog!  And thank God for the safe and practical route.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Wednesday, December 18th, 2013

Little Mouse in the Snow

Saranagati Village, British Columbia

The first living entity I saw today was a spider I saw crawling along the base of a shower stall.  I took extra care to angle the shower head in such a way that he wouldn’t get flushed down the drain.

The second creature for my eyes to meet seemed to be exploring territory.  He was a tiny mouse.  I first detected him after noticing an interesting trail of teeny footprints impressed into the freshly fallen snow.  It was those hypnotic type of snowflakes coming down ever so light against the stark black sky.  With flashlight in hand I kept eyes mainly on the white covered road in front of me.  The little fella, the mouse, was scurrying along and leaving his mark.  I just missed his small bodily frame when stepping along.  I aimed my flashlight directly over the little guy and then got close to him as if to give him the spotlight.  That certainly alerted him.  Perhaps he momentarily liked the attention.  Perhaps he froze from having stage fright.

I let him go on to venture at his whim as he likely was set out to search for food.


I proceeded on to the location of the temple which is facilitated by an elder, Kulashekhar.  After a shake off of snow, we conducted sadhana  (spiritual practice) together.  In the dim and mystic candlelit room, we sang the Guruvastakam along with other adjoining prayers before I trekked to the Venables Valley School for a second installment of mantras.  This was followed by a devotional theatre workshop conducted by yours truly.  That went down well, including the pizza prepared with love by devotees.

Much later, Gosh Thakur, my friend from Quebec, lead me to the summit of a mountain, the location of the recently installed internet tower.  The sun, at this point, was hidden away when Gosh Thakur and I took the gradual but steady climb up.  It was a heart pounding workout with healthy panting and puffing.  We crossed the footprints of much wildlife – of mice (and not men), deer, coyotes and rabbits.  At the very top, we paused to catch our breath and a great view as we sat restfully atop a log chatting.  The world seemed quite awesome from our stance.  We were high, although we were truly small, like the little mouse.

We will always be small, but carry large and hard driven dreams.  We just want to make sure that our dreams line up with the wishes of the creator.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Tuesday, December 17th, 2013

Surprised and Stranded

Jackass Mountain, British Columbia

It took us by surprise.  Peter and I were coasting along on Highway 1 which from the town of Hope runs parallel to the Fraser River, a vein of beautiful mountainous water, when an officer nabbed us.  According to him we were over the speed limit by 50 KM.

“No way,” we thought.  Peter tried to argue the figures, but the officer had his routine down for this stretch of the highway which is notorious for motorists call a speed trap.  Knowing well the sudden downslope after leaving a tunnel through a mountain, a driver is practically helpless but to gain some speed.  Peter was handed a $368 ticket apart from receiving the news of a 7 day impoundment on the vehicle we were driving.  A tow truck was called by the officer and within minutes our vehicle was hauled to the nearby town, Boston Bar.  To unimpound it after this period costs at least another $200.  We ended up being stranded for hours in the town until someone from the village Saranagati came to our rescue.  That leeway time of waiting, however, did permit Peter and I to explore this town which was formerly a trail during the old pioneer gold rush.  I had trekked through this area two times before, but never throughout the town which is mostly populated by indigenous folks.

If you are ever grounded somewhere like we were, then you make the best of that time.  Avoid groping and meet nature.  We ventured by this vibrant river, the Fraser, explored its banks somewhat.  With its trails and its fur and spruce trees, the aroma of their green needles sends you to heaven, while the wobbly nature of stones and the soft sands under the feet remind you of both the uncertainties and welcoming side of life.

Our ride finally arrived.  Gosh Thakur, my French Canadian friend, came in time to help us reach our evening engagement – kirtan with the youth.  It’s a Tuesday night regular event in the peaceful valley called Venables, an area the devotees of Krishna refer to as Saranagati, the place of ultimate surrender.  By the warm stove of crackling fire wood, young voices chanted “Hare Krishna”, ‘twas nice.

Speaking of names, please take note of the place where our vehicle was towed from, Jackass Mountain.  One thing is, always avoid speeding and this is an unlikely warning for pedestrians though.  Walkers could never be ticketed for speeding.  It’s always the safest mode of transport.

May the Source be with you!

10 KM

Monday, December 16th, 2013

A Pleasure

Burnaby, British Columbia

It’s always a pleasure to sit down and hear something motivationally strong, coming from experience.  My spiritual brother, Kriphanidi, spoke from the Bhagavatam, a text that by regular reading has the effect of shrinking that which is inauspicious in the heart – anger, envy, greed, etc.

Hearing the realizations of others enhances your own realizations.  It’s also a pleasure to push the wheel chair of Padyavali, my godsister, on the ISKCON property, because she can’t do it on her own.  When she, Manu and I, sit to talk or have lunch together as we did today, we have a blast at joking.  It lifts our spirits.  I recall this last summer, during the course of my fourth cross-Canada trek, pushing the chair of a middle aged handicapped native person to Tim Horton’s doughnut shop for a coffee, and then to church.  This happened at a bridge in Winnipeg as he was waiting for someone to come along.  I lost about a half hour of time from my routine walking, but I gained something through service.

It was also a pleasure to serve the guru by sitting in-the-round with administrators of ISKCON.  Although topics can be grave and taxing, the challenges can excite you.  You probe the brain and you tap the heart in search for answers.  By nighttime, I sat in the director’s chair, so to speak, for a new take on Ram’s pastimes.  ‘The Little Big Ramayan’ will be presented on the 29th of this month.  Along with cast and crew, we are starting to shape this production which is in its embryonic stage.  It had me constantly leaping back and forth from chair to stage.  It was a pleasure.

My final pleasure session of the day was a walk after all was done.  It was damp and dark out, but the moon  gave consolation.  Around its fullness were massive rainbow rings; perfectly round concentric circles surrounding it.  Awesome!  Just awesome!  What a pleasure!  What a pleasure!

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Tuesday, 17 December 2013

Sunday, December 15th, 2013

Nine Point Sixteen

Burnaby, British Columbia

The sun had burst through the clouds.  It’s been a while since seeing it.  With winter and what it is – snow, fog, rain and the coastal dynamics, you begin to miss something, the sun.  You can never say, however, that even with the sun’s absence or it’s obscurity, “I forgot what it looked like.”  No, you can’t say that.  The impression of the sun is deeply imprinted in the memory recesses.  The mere mention of the sun brings to mind that happy ball of heat and light that’s above us.

Taking advantage of this moment, this breakthrough, I and two other companions took to a spontaneous walk towards the neighbouring greenhouses.  I wanted to show my friends my regular escape area.  To get to this escape you have to spend at least ten minutes trekking along Marine Drive.  Although Sunday, it’s crazy for traffic.  Christmas time doesn’t help.  Yes, Christmas, perhaps the most materialistic time of the year.  I think Christ would be disgusted, what do you think?  Sorry, I’m a Scrooge.

Our stroll took us along Meadow Avenue, past the nursery called “It’s About Thyme” (“I am the healing herb ,” – Bhagavad Gita 9.16).  We passed by a boarded up school house and farm houses and fields, and as we ambled along we had our companion of the Hare Krishna mantra (mantro ham “I am the mantra,” – Bhagavad Gita 9.16).  We thought we started with three of us, but actually there were four of us.  Oh, no, the sun is also there, that makes five.

One hour went by as we concluded our escape route.  Then I dashed off to fulfill an obligation, to speak to our community members at the ISKCON Centre.  I entered into the temple where the arati (ritual) had just been completed (aham kratur – “I am the ritual,” – Bhagavad Gita 9.16).  As I was about to speak, the offering of good food – fruit, veggies, grains, were presented before the Krishna deity (aham hutam – “I am the offering,” Bhagavad Gita 9.16).

I opened to the page from the Gita selected for me, it was 9.16 from the Gita.  The main theme that was highlighted from this topic was the notion of sacrifice, aham yagyah – “I am the sacrifice,” Bhagavad Gita 9.16.  I emphasized the importance of sacrifice in the form of kirtan.

Here’s how the whole verse reads from 9.16:

“I am the ritual, I, the sacrifice, the offering to ancestors, the healing herb, the transcendental chant, I am the butter, and the fire, and the offering.”

After the talk, I indulged in the food cooked in ghee (clarified butter – Bhagavad Gita 9.16).  Today I embraced this verse.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Saturday, December 14th, 2013

A New Kind of Saturday Night

Vancouver, British Columbia

Here we are in Vancouver, a world class city, rated the number one place to live in for a number of years in a row.  Yet, the district a few of us pulled into this evening is a dingy embarrassment to the human race.  It’s the infamous Hastings and Main area.   Just around the corner is popular and touristic Gas Town.  Acid heads, crack pots and drunks frequent and live in the area.  Because of the relatively moderate temperatures Vancouver enjoys, even in winter, it helps to jump up real estate value, but it also attracts the country’s more down and out, at least in the winter.  At the same time, this area of Hastings and Main is a hopeful nook, a nest with eggs about to crack open.  I’ll explain further on.

The entrance to tonight’s event was a dodgy alley way door.  Then you go up two flights of stairs to an old creaky floored warehouse type deal.  No need to worry, attendees to the event have come to a kirtan ecstatic yoga program.  They came alcohol/substance free.  Speaking of which, I guess you put them in the ‘free spirit’ category.

I was introduced as The Walking Monk and did my version of trance dance through mantra and movement.  The person who preceeded me was the real hero, and who uses this space as his yoga studio, and believe it or not, he has made yoga accessible to poor people.  In fact, the people here generally come for yoga to rehab, to relax, to believe.   Emmerson is the hero’s name and I had the pleasure to engage him in one of our dramas last summer.  Many of his clients who come by donation are male.

When you talk to Emmerson, you can feel that he’s at the brink of something big.  He’s just about to open location number two and says he’s getting calls from all over the world from people who want to hear his success story.  When he was conducting his session, it was fun to see how he got people to move to the Hare Krishna mantra.

It is a fact and as real as the nose on your face that the modern world is driving people to a vacuum, to a space and life lacking ‘meaning’.  Who, after all, wants to be homeless or be on a binge?  It all depends on the mode of life you’ve chosen for yourself.  Some folks, however, are not in such a position to make major choices.  But climb the stairs after walking a back alley, becoming sober and agreeing to sit quiet, breathe, and chant, almost anyone can do.

I was impressed with the kirtan crowd of tonight.  I can’t imagine what Emmerson does during the week when the real needing ones come to see him.  In 1996 I walked through this neighbourhood as part of the route across Canada.  I could see it needed attention.  It looks like some people are taking advantage of the hand that’s being extended to them.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Sunday, 15 December 2013

Friday, December 13th, 2013

Two Jewels In The Drizzle

Burnaby, British Columbia

I guess it was an Otter in the water.

As I was about to turn a corner at Willard and 10th Ave. I heard a splash in the creek next to me.  I came to a halt and waited for whatever to surface.  Not all creatures walk, like me.  Some swim.

Sure enough out pops his head and off he goes for his slinky swim.  He must be a member of the weasel family.  Hard to tell.  At one point he poked his head out and stared.  And so did I  - stare at him.  His stillness was better than mine.  I couldn’t fool him with my static pose.  My breath could be seen, a misty exhaust emanated from the mouth.

I take these things as a little game.  I like to imitate, even mock the birds at times trying to see if there is any communication.  I attempt it with crows and hawks.  I’m sure they concluded that I’m a weirdo.

After this long pause our creek fellow submerged, then continued on gliding through a greenish snow melt as I kept an eye on his moving pelt.  It was a curvy motion he took.  I couldn’t do that even if I fit into the creek.  Our friend the Otter (I guess) is just sleek and slick.  He made my day.  I would have stayed on, staring, but I had things to do and besides, the drizzle drove me to continue forging ahead until a new encounter came about.

Yes, and that did occur.  A mustached man with baseball cap delivering newspapers just came right out and started talking, “You know they say it never rains in LA,”  (I didn’t know that) “well, I’ve got a song about how it always rains in BC.”  He then proceeded to recite his poem.  I thanked him for that.  It was a gem of a poem – his poem.  What a treat!  That doesn’t happen too often, that someone out of the blue starts sharing poetry to a stranger.  Perhaps the donning of dhoti makes you look receptive.

The drizzle thickened and drove me on, otherwise I might have heard more.  His newspapers needed distributing.  “Hare Krishna, friend.”

Multiple duties blessed this day but the highlights were the Otter and the poet.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

Black Feathers

Burnaby, British Columbia

My walking today was not my idea of walking.  Weather conditions somewhat restricted my being in the out of doors.  Sometimes, out of a sense of duty I pace indoors as it’s important to be with others, so I confined myself to the temple where I could be with others.

Recently a survey was done revealing that Canadians are relatively happy with their work, in fact, thee happiest in the developing countries.  Another survey that went around revealed that when it comes to a sense of community or a sense of belonging, 90% said it’s not there.  With the deterioration of the family unit, the infiltration of secularism and a general mood of “I need my space”, we can understand the reason for such results.

I did at portions of the day pick up my meditation beads and pace in the apartment given to me for my three week stay here.  It becomes a C shaped trek, back and forth venture between two rooms where I curve to dodge the furniture.  At one point I opened the door to the real world with the real air.  There, in front of the door was a gathering of crows.  With a fresh white blanket, an inch deep snow, this feathered community seemed to have less access to food.  Two dried up chapattis were left on the dinette table, so I found the opportunity to have those cracker like pieces tossed out to the crows.  They were ecstatic.  I envied their “togetherness”.

Rain had been coming down, turning the snow to mush or slush.  For this reason I guess the dynamics force people indoors into their cubicles.  Although there is facility available for group fun and work, few people make the effort, even in this devotional setting.

I have to ask, what’s happening to human beings?  We have lost our sense of interdependence.  We are going the route of depression and despair.

Keeping in mind the active crow community, I am inspired to do something.  While I’m here I will attempt to pull together some drama, as in theatre, with the intent to engage members in a positive way, to bring them together.  I must try to be a part of the solution and not the problem.

Thank you, crows.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Friday, 13 December 2013

Wednesday, December 11th, 2013

That’s Right, Dave!

Burnaby, British Columbia

In the course of a chilly walk this evening, I met Dave by the Chinese convenience store on Marine Drive.  He was cozily bundled up in a parka and hat to cover the ears.  I still could recognize him though.
Dave was the guy that drove me to my accommodation after a grueling trek, day 4, of my first cross-Canada walk in ’96.  I targeted and achieved a 47 KM walk that day.  Dave was the guy who drove me in his second hand black Cadillac.  He was unique, observing the asphalt moving under you with the car in motion because of the rust that eroded the floor to create holes.  Dave was the guy who was very fond of his dog, a massive specimen who sat in the back seat.  The next day, Dave was also the guy who gave me a small plastic bag of cayenne pepper to put in my socks, guaranteeing me that it would help pick up speed while walking.  You know, honestly, I bought into it, and poured the stuff inside.  My soles were a little fiery that day.  At least with the mix of rain those white socks turned saffron – my colour.

Dave was also the guy who let me reciprocate with his generosity by teaching him a verse from the Gita.  It goes like this: 

rāja-vidyā rāja-guhyaṁ
pavitram idam uttamam
pratyakṣāvagamaṁ dharmyaṁ
su-sukhaṁ kartum avyayam

It’s funny, after all these years, Dave retained it in his memory banks, so as soon as he saw me, he recited it, right in front of the Chinese boy behind the counter, and he recited it quite well.  I was quite proud of him.  We went for a mutual hug.  I didn’t ask for the English translation.  Even if he knew it, letting the sound linger in Sanskrit was just good enough.  However, I will take the opportunity to present its translation: 

“This knowledge is the king of education, the most secret of all secrets. It is the purest knowledge, and because it gives direct perception of the self by realization, it is the perfection of religion. It is everlasting, and it is joyfully performed. 

I thanked Dave for his gestures of the past.  Even his reciting was a gift to the ears.  He let me know that his dog, since then in ’96 passed on, while he had planned to continue going on.

“That’s right, Dave, your soul will.”

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Thursday, 12 December 2013

Tuesday, December 10th, 2013

Triangle of Us

Burnaby, British Columbia

Manu and I got into a more than warm discussion.  We were sitting in the corner of the senior’s dining room with our dear spiritual sister, Padyavali, when an intense conversation ensued.

Playfully, I charged Manu with being an ox, a mule, I even said ‘ass’ as in donkey.  Why such colourful names?  Well, I found him to be stubborn.  I was encouraging him to take up an administrative role as a council member of our sizeable community in Vancouver.  He has lots of qualifications, but he refuses to submit.  In the heat of our discussion, Padyavali, who sat in a wheelchair and is suffering from a number of aging challenges, extended her arm interrupting our dialogue.  We stopped talking.  She protested our talk, saying, “This conversation doesn’t involve me, you’re ignoring me.”  She had a dead serious look on her face.

I then protested her protesting, “My dear Padyavali, this conversation involves our community, which is very close to your heart, and since you are part and parcel of this community, you are definitely involved.

At this, she broke out in her first smile of the day.  I reminded her that being a Newfie with Irish blood, she should be liking our spicy session, “You used to like these things, you are a fighter.”  Her smile broadened.  I was happy for her because her gloominess broke.  She’s struggling and can’t remember things too well.  I reminded her that she was married in ’63 and on the day after John F. Kennedy’s assassination.  She can’t remember that she told me that once, nor can she remember that date of matrimony.  So, at least she got a bit excited in a good way.

I felt that my pastoral duty was done for today.  Being a monk within a community, it obliges you towards such responsibilities.  I hope that Manu didn’t get too offended with the style of pressure that I put on him.  He’s a good guy with a big heart and regularly pays a visit to our friend, Padyavali, who has given many years of service as a spunky nun.  If Manu didn’t drive me to this senior’s home for the visit, it would take me 2 hours of walking, which I don’t mind, of course.  Sometimes you have to take a spin in a car for a visit and then value the few moments with the driver who affectionately, I say, is still an ox.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Tuesday, 10 December 2013

Monday, December 9th, 2013

Meeting in the Snow

Burnaby, British Columbia

It’s becoming rather routine, every time I take to the trail here to a section of what is Canada’s largest allotment of urban gardening, I meet this guy standing by the bus stop.  While waiting for his bus en route to his workplace, he’ll often light up a cigarette.  It’s interesting, he’s waiting there, and I’m walking near him.  It happens every time I come here.  And of course we “shoot the breeze” just long enough that it puts my walking on pause.  Each time we contact each other like this, I feel a friendship is building up.  Each time I’m able to give him an installment of neighbourliness which I hope will lead to words of a greater spiritual significance.   The fellow is younger than me and taller than me and he is Caucasian.  He greets with a smile.  I believe we shook hands for the first time this morning as snowflakes were a twirl making their descent to the ground we were standing on.

My second encounter with someone today on a second walk was Doug.  I felt the need to loosen up the limbs after many hours of mainly listening to people, indoors.  I took the same route, that quite urban gardening place, which I had learned had been a Japanese internment camp decades ago.  It was Doug who resembles Santa somehow, but with a beard blonder than the snow around us, and who told me about the internment.  After the bombing of Pearl Harbour, Canada became highly suspicious of Japanese settlers in the country, so they were confined to these special supervised camps.

Doug and I didn’t dwell on this too long, we conversed more about other things such as Krishna.  At my mention of the word, he said, “Oh yeah, the movie ‘Airplane’, that’s how I know you guys.  Have you seen it?”

“No, I only heard about it.”

Doug, who was brushing the snow off his car’s windshield outside his tiny bungalow, proceeded to tell me the scene where the devotees of Krishna have their moment on the silver screen.  This popular film apparently gets rerun on television quite often, and for many people, it’s their reference to Hare Krishna.

“Doug, please come to visit our temple sometime.”  He’s going to try.  I hope that my encounter with Doug will also become routine.  I’m not set out to change his life, but I’m there to give him an opportunity.

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Monday, 9 December 2013

Sunday, December 8th, 2013

Ghostly Kids

Burnaby, British Columbia

There’s this boarded up school house that I trek by on my walks in the Burnaby area.  There’s always something heart sinking when I see an image like that.  If you put school bullying to the side and rewind in your mind what the school yard may have looked like in recess or lunch hour, what would you see?  In particularly in a suburban school that ran for at least three decades?

You would likely see, and hear, a bunch of energetic and electrifying bodies out there.  Future hopefuls, future influentials – leaders and followers.  Yes, you would see kids playing.  Doesn’t bring out the parental instincts?  Even in a monk’s world, you can’t help feeling an urge of protectiveness.  You are left in question, will the kids achieve?  Will they make it in a world that has become so harsh and selfish?

These are some of my mental thoughts while going by an abandoned school.  What to speak of a school yard that is real, with real kids, alive and teaming with energy.

I did manage to speak to the security guard on site.

“So, you’re walking?” he asked me.

“Yes, I do a bit of that,” I said.  And then we got to talking about his keeping vandalism at bay.  The young folks who usually commit to pranks and property damage are often times those who didn’t do so well in school.  They may very well be the ones who got too neglected at home.  Even sometimes a good kid gets caught up in the wrong crowd.  The security guy spoke more about the homeless who are potential squatters, the other reason for his being there.  He told me that he’s on a four hour shift then someone else comes in to take over.  With dumpsters in front of the building, it looked more to me like the beginnings of a demolition, and then a follow up coming new subdivision.  Please!  In any event, there’s some readiness for a change.

In spiritual life you endeavour towards an overhaul – within, and there’s always a need to become a child again – innocent and full of wonder, back at playing (in kirtan), perhaps after years of work and stuffy offices or contending with challenging conditions at a construction site.

Life is not easy in a non devotional setting.  That’s why I feel even for the security guard who talked but who couldn’t get into devotional parlance.  We ended on a good note and I kept walking.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Saturday, December 7th, 2013

An Argentine Article
Toronto, Ontario
The following is an article that appeared in the Argentine Magazine, "El Clarin", by Luis Aubelle.  Translation by Ananda Buddhi.
“I Wanted To Go Out For A Walk”
In Buenos Aires for a visit, The Walking Monk tells how long walks can lead to the Divine. He is back from a journey of over 5,000 miles during which he walked from the East coast to the West coast of Canada.
“I felt I was under the influence of rahu – in Vedic astrology, a particularly gloomy planet, full of rage. At first, I sought refuge in an ashram, a large community of monks in Canada, and from observing this religious order and following their ways, my need to live another way, to find my spiritual horizon, was born,” recollects Bhaktimarga Swami, “The Walking Monk”, the walking Hare Krishna monk who arrived in Buenos Aires after completing his fourth journey walking across Canada, over 5,000 miles from East to West.
“Why walk? The very same monks gave me the idea. They would take long hikes on dirt roads to purify themselves, to meet people, and to grow closer to others. But there was a second motive: 1996 was speeding by, and it was the 100th anniversary of the birth of my teacher, Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, who had been born in Calcutta, India, on September 1st, 1896.
Bhaktivedanta Swami passed away in November of 1977, and I wanted to remember him by offering him my heart and my feet, that is the reason for the walking. It was an enriching experience which gave me the opportunity to grow closer to the Divine. To suffer the consequences of being exposed to snow, to cold, then to heat and mosquitos, I began to practice detachment from worldly affairs. Besides, I thought my trips would be a good example for the people. Imagine a monk impervious to the fury of the elements, tirelessly crossing the Canadian landscape.”
Bhaktimarga Swami, John Peter Vis, his original name, was born on October 5th, 1952 near Toronto, Canada. He met monks on the campus of the university where he was studying Fine Arts, they put him in contact with the one who would be his teacher, Swami Prabhupada, founder of the Hare Krishna movement, and of ISKCON (International Society for Krishna Consciousness), and most important, translator of classic works such as the Bhagavad-Gita.
Bhaktimarga followed the footsteps of his teacher and is in actuality, a leader in the movement. Also, an instructor of bhakti yoga and interactive dance, and a kirtan leader, or yogic singing. He is world renowned as author and director of theatrical morality plays within his community.
How do you see the world today?
“I see a polarized world. On one side, anguish; confused people, struggling with apparently unresolvable issues in their lives. An uncertain horizon where the family unit has been severed, and the moral values that guided life have been lost. A great internal growing void is created as a consequence, and many try to fill it with alcohol, drugs, or other forms of escape without avail. But on the other side, I see many persons that are widening their spiritual horizons. Folks who seek and find the light and that is really exciting! United States author, Mark Twain, who had been in India, used to say that East was East and West was West. And that never the two would meet, but I believe he was wrong.”
What is your idea?
“I think that both cultures can learn from each other. To recapture that deep and liberating concept that says that I am not this body. That I am my soul, the spirit that is inside my body. When the recovery of these principles is achieved, we are ready to obtain deeper and long lasting relations. To obtain peace, solidarity, the joy of living. To discover superior levels where obstacles can be resolved to begin anew. The wise men of India have, for many centuries, concluded that in order to remedy social ills, people had to find places to gather, to converse, dance, sing, and also exchange food prepared with love.”
What exercise can a common man do to draw one close to the Divine?
“I walk 7 to 8 hours on a daily basis, but this is an extreme. The truth behind walking is to use it as a means to seek the Divine. We begin our journey by looking all around us trying to discover the sacred in everything we meet on our path. Then, bit by bit, the landscape transforms, time seems to stand still, and slowly we begin to construct a world whose main protagonist is the Divine,” concludes The Walking Monk.
Geniuses, giants, and Aladdin’s lamp…
Mark Twain visited India between January and April of 1896. The following are a few of his remarks written in his diary of the journey: “India, land of dreams and of romance, of fabulous wealth and fabulous poverty, of splendor and of rags, of palaces and huts, of hunger, pestilence, of geniuses, giants, and Aladdin’s lamp. Of tigers and elephants, of the cobra and the jungle. The country with hundreds of countries and hundreds of languages, of thousands of religions and of two million gods. Cradle of the human race, birthplace of human language, mother of history, grandmother of legend, great grandmother of tradition…”
May the Source be with you!
6 KM

Saturday, 7 December 2013

Friday, December 6th, 2013

Mirror Walk
Toronto, Ontario
I guess you could say I’m a multitasking swami, I learnt this from my guru, Srila Prabhupada.  He gave classes, personal advice, showed how to cook and clean, and how to make your own toothpaste.  He did the accounts and bookkeeping, wrote books, and sang, even composed bhajans.  He managed a worldwide organization and became a forerunner for vegetarianism and eastern thought in the west.  He saved thousands of people’s lives from self destructiveness and gave purpose.  He demonstrated the ancient ways of rituals and taught how to love the Creator and His creation.  Etc., etc.
I can’t claim a fraction of his work and talents, but in my pride I feel I do a lot of varying things.  For instance, today’s walking took me to a shop on Bloor where I went to pick up a  set of mirrors to be placed outside my  office.  Why mirrors?  Well, to give some size to the corridor where they were placed, and secondly, I felt that many people who visit our Govinda’s dining and temple rooms would like a glance at themselves in this public setting.  They are Peruvian with hand painted frames, they look smart.  I have taken on the responsibility with three other persons to make the place look nice.  And that is what I meant by multitasking.
Traditionally, monks have taken on the role as building contractors to temples.  Sometimes even manually raising the bricks or stones themselves, and then going on to all aspects and tiny details of colour and design to the building.  I know that our guru, Srila Prabhupada, was meticulous about how things look.  Impressions count, and hence, I took to the mirror walk.
Mirrors are mentioned in the Gita in connection to a dusty one that blocks the clear image.  What Krishna is trying to convey is that one’s consciousness should be clear in order to reflect one’s true self.  The self is servant.
May the Source be with you!
4 KM

Friday, 6 December 2013

Thursday, December 5th, 2013

I Missed Something
Toronto, Ontario
I missed a purport in order to get my passport.  Let me explain, to secure my passport it’s a 3 KM hike to that office.  Who needs a car, right?  It’s advisable to go as early as possible and avoid lineups.  Leaving early in the day though meant I had to miss a purport.
What’s a purport you ask?   By dictionary’s definition a purport is, “the meaning or substance of something, typically a document or speech.”  In my own simpleton’s terms, it’s an explanation.  For 40 years plus I’ve been seeing with my eyes this word ‘purport’, almost as if it’s a constant walking companion.  I make it a point wherever I travel, by foot, air or other, where the location has an ashram, I will find myself sitting down amongst monks and laypersons, wrapping attention around a purport.
In the standard texts that we read such as in the morning’s Bhagavatam verse, you will find the joining purport or elaboration.  It’s not just a footnote as you might find at the base of each page in a Shakespeare play.  The Bhagavad Gita in its 700 verses also has practically each verse clarified by way of a purport by A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada.  For many of us on the devotional path, Sanskrit verses could appear abstract, even when translated.  It’s as if they are a voice from another world and another era.  It’s the accompanying and illuminating purports that bring it all home.
On my return journey from the passport office I found myself caught up in a momentary self-lament because I missed the morning class with its purport.  Of course, I was elated to carry a spanking new document in my pocket.  So to compensate for the lack of purport, I attempted to insert a spiritual message into my head while walking.  I passed by Saint Michael’s hospital and viewed this massive sign of a mammoth angel’s head at the side of the building.  The image has a blue tint to it, so guess who this reminded me of?  Just the sight of this massive bust gave me a boost, even though there was no philosophical message behind it.  It is just gorgeous and it’s a remarkable break from the downtown atmosphere.
Purports are realizations, revelations, epiphanies.  And what I find really great about them is that after reading through one of them in Prabhupada’s books, you also hear the facilitator of that day deliver a purport to the purport.  By good fortune, I am also one of those on the schedule to elaborate or speak on the morning’s purport when called for.   Our guru, Prabhupada, also encouraged his students to write down any realizations you may have (purports).  Hence, this blog.
May the Source be with you!
13 KM

Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

Two Wings
Toronto, Ontario
I had with me two companions on my night trek and one of them asked about polarity and how to deal with it.  More specifically, he expressed a dichotomy involving two people in his life whom he really respects over the fact that they have opposite opinions on a particular subject.
“What is the subject?” I questioned.
“It’s the topic of female gurus, one person is for and the other one is against.”  One of the two people he was referring to was myself.  I’ve made my position clear to him in the past, I’m for both male and female gurus (spiritual teachers) as long as they qualify.  My logic behind this conclusion is that there’s a great need and demand.  Teachers are small in number, the growth of people in this service description is very slow, while you have an expanding society of bhakti yogis.  So, I support the increase of gurus because there are many qualified, even senior women.
The position of the other person with the opposing view is my companion’s own guru who takes a more conservative and perhaps, traditional stance.  Mind you, in June of ’76, just two blocks away from where the three of us were walking, the founder of our movement, Srila Prabhupada, was asked this question about female gurus.  It was Professor Joseph T. O’Connell who was making the query.  At the ISKCON Centre, the answer given by Prabhupada at the time was that in our gaudiya lineage of Krishna Consciousness, the wife of luminary, Nityananda, whose name is Jahnavi, accepted many students confirming female guruship.   The dilemma my companion was going through was who was right and how can there be differing opinions?  To this, I responded that there is no dispute that the guru principal is essential in aiding the spiritual student towards spiritual progress.  We all agree with that.  For many issues such as this one, you have a right and left wing circumstance.  Without two wings a bird can’t fly.  Let the two positions be deliberated upon and something fairly satisfactory should be the outcome.  The exercise of intelligence should carry on.  After some flying in the air, the bird usually comes in for a landing.
May the Source be with you!
7 KM

Thursday, 5 December 2013

Tuesday, December 3rd, 2013


Toronto, Ontario

Ken, of yesterday, also asked me, “Which is your favourite place in the world?”

And so I told him what I really felt, “Wherever I am.”

I don’t know if it had come by some coincidence, but this morning the verse which we read from the book Bhagavatam seemed to allude to this type of message – “You are at home even though you are away from home."  At least, this is how we discussed the topic.  In other words, a person should be comfortable in any setting because he/she has the Supreme on their mind.

I could be hundreds of miles away from the nearest temple or ashram and let’s say in the middle of Ireland, walking, but if I vibrate from my lips the maha mantra, my consciousness is there and then I am at home, away from home.  The real home is the spiritual world, but I should also develop the vision that all that is around me is a product of the Great Spirit, that there is always a connection.  The only loose connection is in my head, with my mind.

When we ponder what is mundane and go down the dark tunnel of ME, then we are actually homeless.  I believe that everyone wants to make the homerun.  Recently when I was in Cuba I saw particularly how the young men take to American baseball.  It was Saturday afternoon and in at least three different ball diamonds and parks that I passed by, these young guys were active at play, interested in the homeruns.

It was this day that I met Jan Peters from Newfoundland, a person whom I’ve known from the first of the Canwalks in ’96.  She had lunch in our temple’s dining room with her friend Maggie.  She had just made her first trip to India and just returned.  She had visited temples and orphanages, she was really at home while there, so she conveyed, and plans to be back there soon.  It looks like she’d been in touch with herself, and that is the point.  Home isn’t necessarily at your apartment.  In her case, the Battery, Saint John’s, Newfoundland.  Home is not even far away.   It’s where you are at present.  Then you have a healthy heart.  There’s a great connection.

May the Great Source be with you!

6 KM

Wednesday, 4 December 2013

Monday, December 2nd, 2013

Six Plus Six

Toronto, Ontario

The morning was overcast.  Monday morning.  “Aggh,” many will say.

I was dashing to the passport office for the renewal of this handy document.  It brought me into the corporate sector of the city, or at least to the edge of it on Victoria Street.  All seems robotic, all seems straight and square, and there’s the gloomy looking faces, my God.

Anyways, business got done.  I’ll pick up a ten year valid passport on Thursday morning.  I trekked back home by way of Church Street through the gay community for a change, and before that through Ryerson Campus where students are abuzz.  Then I ventured through the platinum strip of Bloor and Bay in Yorkville.  Places that are all dolled up for Christmas.  I also passed through the Eaton Centre, the giant mall, where there are massive lit up reindeer.  Over the speakers you could hear, “Oh Holy Night,” that classic.  When the lyrics came out, “Oh night divine… When Christ was born…” my objectionable mind questioned, “Yeah, but Christ wasn’t born on December 25th.  Christmas was slapped on to the pagan holiday at Winter Solstice, a clever and imposing move to save souls.

I left the mall and made the journey back to the ashram to make a total of six kilometres.  A golden opportunity arose for one more trek in the evening to give us another six kilometres.

Ken, a friend from Australia (we say ‘Oz’) wanted a quiet Monday evening experience on foot.  Ken, who works for the Red Cross worldwide and drops in occasionally, does all kinds of charity work and also finds himself tending to cows in India’s goshala (cow shelters) and helps the expanding school in Vrindavan.  While trekking, he asked a question after admitting he enjoys being single and is also not necessarily interested in being in a stationary place as in living as a monk in a monastery.  He sometimes feels the pressure though, “They joke, ‘why don’t you settle down and get married?’ While others say, ‘be a brahmachari’.”  He asks further, “Is it wrong to work and carry on?”  Here was a sincere soul asking a sincere question.

“Not at all,” I counselled, “you’re a natural nomad, keep your hair and keep Krishna.  Monastic life isn’t for everyone.  You’re doing good.”  Anyways, Monday night seemed less gloomy.

May the Great Source be with you!

12 KM

Tuesday, 3 December 2013

Sunday, December 1st, 2013

The Flying Monk?

Varadero, Cuba

It dawned on me that perhaps I should start a blog called The Flying Monk since I’m so much in the air.  But, no chance!  Sitting in aircraft lacks adventure, so there really isn’t too much to speak about except for something that slightly humoured me today – about a couple next to me.

It was Sunwing Airlines flight 627 on its way back to Toronto when all was well with him and her until something was said by one of them that flared up a snarl and a growl which went back and forth for a while.  It was irrelevant what the topic was.  It was none of my business and it was kept hushed enough in volume that it remained private.

Some ambivalence struck me though when I sat through this, especially when the communication broke off.   Initially I felt bad for them, but then I reasoned, hey, this is just normal, get real.

She was in the middle of us two.  When they stopped talking to each other, she switched angles with her body and then swung over to my side to pretend to shut off and sleep.  She practically leaned on me and that was just when I thought I’m glad I’m a monk and I don’t have to go through this type of thing.  I enjoy my singleness.

She sat quite resentful for a minute with her back to him and then turned towards him for one more moment to grab her passport which was set with his in the chair’s pouch in front of him.  She then placed her own passport in her own pouch.  Now, if that isn’t a clear statement about how one person is not on speaking terms, then I don’t know what is.

So now, here’s how a sneak look at the Gita’s chapter 10 comes in handy.  There, Krishna states, “Of subduers, I am time.”  Our grand prince and princess for the hour were taking a much needed chill time.  By the time we all landed, had gone through customs and were waiting at the carousel for luggage, I noticed they were friends again.

Indeed, time plays an important role in life.

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Monday, 2 December 2013

Saturday, November 30th, 2013

The Kissin’ Kind

Varadero, Cuba
There were a number of wet faces, tears being shed while viewing the documentary, “Your Ever Well Wisher”. An old movie house, cinema 23, in Habana, now refurbished played host to this 30 year old account of the life of the most prominent Krishna monk of recent times. A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami’s life, whom his followers beautifully address as his Divine Grace as well as Prabhupada, is documented in this film. I guess it’s been 20 years since I viewed it. It tapped my emotions seeing it again.
I especially loved the image where he is depicted in a dark room, from a distance. A faint light sheds enough illumination to do his important work, in the wee hours of some morning, speaking in a Dictaphone as translation work on his books. I find it fascinating: this elderly person, a father to so many of us, working tirelessly for the world, even taking on the world. He challenged the status quo with his purports and had us believing in conspiracy concepts that were not for us to immerse ourselves in. He had us trusting in a powerful deity, Krishna, who had multiple manifestations such as Buddha.
For our last day in Cuba, location Varadero at the Memories Resort, our Canadian contingent from Edmonton, Montreal and Toronto regrouped. While having a chat, a woman, a tourist from Niagara Falls, Ontario, approached me.
“Hello, how are you?” she said. “You’re Buddhist?”
“I’m a Krishna monk.”
I didn’t volunteer to express the similarities of the two cultures. I relayed that I a pilgrim having trekked Canada now almost completing a fourth time.
It was a brief encounter. Here at the resort, it’s not Cuba. It’s a tourist destination. There is a gulf of difference between Cuba and this 22 KM stretch of beach.
I wonder what the Cubans think of us tourists. From my perspective tourists are more unshapely, sour-puss faced and more cordial than warm.  There’s really an aspect of this country that the world can learn from. People here are not spoiled by capitalism. They are very loving and kissin’ kind and are easily touched by a person (Prabhupada) whose message is for all.
May the Source be with you!
5 KM

Friday, November 29th, 2013

Get Down With Bhagavatam
Habana, Cuba
It was India’s Ambassador for Cuba, C. Rajasekhar, whom we had the pleasure to meet yesterday at the embassy’s stately building at Calle 21, Vedado in Habana. India has had a special bond with Cuba for generations. From the main lobby to ascending the stairs to the Ambassador’s room, the walls are flanked with photos of dignitaries representing both countries, for instance Nehru, Indira Gandhi, Fidel Castro and others are seen in mutual exchange with each other.
Our small contingent simply made this a courtesy visit. We had no other agenda but to keep up a communication. Rajasekhar mentioned that he wished to join me on my next pilgrimage. I alluded to the fact that it’s not in India that I traverse, rather it’s outside of India.
“Please let me know. I want to accompany you.”
“In Canada?”
“Yes, why not?”
Apart from thinking that it would be an honour, I raced in my mind what the logistics would be. We shall see.
Then he asked for a publication of the book “Bhagavatam”.  “It’s a text that was engrained in the family.” he said.
“Consider it done!”
It was this evening in the midst of monsoonal rains that I ventured with another contingent to the Episcopal College some blocks from the Embassy where I was asked to introduce mature students to the epical book “The Bhagavatam”. Somewhere in the course of the delivery I mentioned “Noah’s Ark”. At that moment torrents came down while we were comfortably set in the classroom. Timing couldn’t have been better.
The response to the class was absolutely wonderful. We even slid in an opportunity for all to chant together, not that the philosophy of the Bhagavat is alien to transcendental sound. In addition to the other visit at the college we also took quality time to tell of Bhagavatam stories to eager listeners to our small devotional ranks here in Cuba.
For the day’s overview it was several times that we dodged rain, even to and from the college on foot. Content to be embraced by the pastimes contained in the Bhagavatam, we couldn’t help noticing on our return to our room, the bars in Habana being occupied. From a monk’s perspective I wondered, “I’m glad I can take a daily drink of this divine text’s message. I’m fortunate to have left the pub scene behind and taken to the monastic way.”
May the Source be with you!
7 KM

Thursday, November 28th, 2013

On the Roads in Cuba
Havana, Cuba
A man promptly trailed along the street with one of those famous Cuban cigars set in his mouth. I had expected more of this type of image in Cuba. I see few young folks smoking them. They resort more to cigarettes.
According to one of our Cuban members here, Raja Guyam, ´´Cubans are not so big on drugs as they are on drinking, and gambling is out of the question. In ’59 it was outlawed and you get penalized quite heavily if found doing so.´´.
When we conducted our second initiation on the island on this trip, the candidates who made their vows, have no qualms about abstinence towards gambling and for the most part intoxication. When I looked into the eyes of those initiates as they expressed their commitments, I wished with an optic discharge that they would do well. I said, “Be an inspiration to others.”  Being quite young, Claudia is a young mother to the first Vaishnav baby boy in Cuba and has a good chance to succeed with a supportive husband, who is now in Spain on a scholarship. Alex the other initiate is only 20, with a promising future could easily be swept away given his good looks, so we wish him well. Stay in spiritual company and you are safe.
Hayagriva and I, along with two female devotees, took to the charm of streets in Rodas. We compare life here to the villages in India: simple circumstance with modest homes and basic needs being met. Walking in such a neighbourhood is heart-warming.
Opportunities to walk came in doses. On the autopista, an eight lane highway, en route to Habana, for washroom breaks I vied to walk a stretch of it. I figured people need to get used to the robes. I’m going to be coming regularly.
The final trek was along the Malecon, the sea walk, where the road was actually closed to the traffic. The Atlantic seemed angry with blasts of water spraying over into the several lanes. We kept our distance from these water walls which have the potential to totally knock you out. Danger lurks at every step.
Alex is now Adidev. Claudia is Chaitanya Lila. Congratulations!
May the Source be with you!
7 KM

Wednesday, November 27th, 2013

Never Before
Rodas, Cuba
Never before had such loud thunderclaps fallen on these ears.
5 AM was our agreed-upon time for a trek through and beyond the town Rodas, a place we visited last year. Friends from Matanzas had taken what seemed like the day-long bus ride to this place and had now converged for a walk. Cuba and Canadian contingents unit, I guess you could say. In the early wake of dawn Indra, the god of rain, had shown his generous side.
Quick! We moved to the nearest shelter and spent a good 2½ hours there in a meaningful chatter of things that were devotional. The young Cuban devotees were eager to hear from Hayagriva and I. At that time we shared what we could as stormy dynamics occupied the space beyond the old Spanish-flavoured edifice we took protection within.
Once heavy rains cleared replaced by sprinkle, we headed for the home of our host, Mercedes and her husband who is a Steve Martin look-alike. After a smoothie (Cubans had never heard the term before) we went into further bhakti discussions. (By the way, the smoothie, my concoction, consisted of yogurt, fresh guavas, bananas and a tomato.)
The afternoon engagement was held at a local Culture House, a decent facility with an art gallery and a hall equipped with a stage. Electricity wasn’t up to par, it was just not working, period. I spoke more or less in a half-lit/half-dark situation about Vaisnava art culture which was followed by participants chanting. As the term was used before, we are fun addicts, and hopefully not perceived as fanatics.
A second public venue for the day was the movie house, a cozy place really, where the spiritually inclined gravitated; about thirty in number. The task at hand was to keep the very young who were present, seniors and all in between, perked-up, so we implemented some improvisation and enactment of the philosophy of the Gita. Volunteers came forward to portray images from the text. To give an example, “Be a lotus” for instance, the message being, “Remain dry in the midst of water or be unaffected by material entanglement”.
The meal at the end was novel-spaghetti and sweet potato halava.
All is good with our stay in Cuba. Not only did Steve Martin appear to be with us, but a Ray Charles look-alike also participated. No he didn’t play music but he sang with us with Krishna on his mind.
May the Source be with you!
4 KM

Tuesday, November 26th, 2013

Santa Clara, Cuba
What a great relief!
In Cuba you can approach a person or pass by one on the street and not have to deal with a moat around his castle. I mean to say people here, on the whole, have not yet been burdened by pods and pods or I this or I that I, I, I, I, I,…
Yes, I say it’s a consolation, seeing a human being and having it be an eye-to-eye situation, instead of an eye-to-I. There are little or no gadgets. I feel liberated! I feel I’ve reached moksha, nirvana.
A small group of us from Canada went on a two block excursion on the street in Santa Clara to test the waters of human interaction. Cuba strikes No.1 on my gauge of personalism. We got such a nice response. There was no bar between us and them. Our kirtan actually was a raft, slow chant with a drum beat to boot. Inquisitive they were.
We found the same at Cuba’s renowned “El Mejunje”, a community square in the heart of Santa Clara when Iksvaku, a Cuban-born American, conducted a fire ceremony for three new initiates in Krishna Consciousness. The audience was curious and yet divided. To one side were the managers of the place. Hugged around the small fire pit were committed devotees. The tattered bleachers directly in front of the pit were spiritual seekers. To the other side were young lovers locked in each other arms. To the far right of the pit were the hipsters. I saw these distinct groups yet they all became one during the final chanting session as we “sweat like hogs” in dance under three shady flamboyant trees with three sided graphitized walls.
By the way the three ladies taking diksha were Maite, on behalf of my godbrother, Jayapataka, is now Madhumati Vishaka. Santa is now Sruti and Nancy is now Nandarani.
A regret is that I couldn’t walk much. It was a full-on bus ride to Santa Clara from Matanzas. Only by evening did the opportunity avail itself. People are not so car-dependant here. In some villages, half the transportation is by horse and carriage. What else is different? In Cuban homes, toilets and faucets don’t always work, although rainwater from a tank could suffice. You get used to it.
One thing I’m also getting used to, is communicating with human beings that are straight-on, with no device between us. Agreeable! It’s so nice!
May the Source be with you!
3 KM