Thursday, 28 February 2013

Tuesday, February 12th, 2012

Kept joyously busy
Georgtown, Guyana

I am kept extremely busy in Guyana. My classes have been highlighted with the topics of "Morality First, then Trancendence"," the ultimate welfare work" and "seeing oneness without dualities" both morning and evening programs are well attended. Then it came time for a vist to our Crane Temple, I saw it was a healthy turn out for a working day, we engaged the group for verse memorisation,in perticular 5:25 from the Gita.

So little time was left for walking, on our way from Georgetown our driver was kind enough to let me and other passengers at the leisure of the bridge, "old rusty" we had that extra twenty miniutes to kill. I wholudn't use that nomenclature for the bridge to co-walkers we met mid way walking modestly but in an inspection mode was Mr.Walter Willis, the bridges engineer. He is well known in Guyana so the boys pointed him out to me as we got close to him. It appeared that he was looking at the bridge's maintenance as he had three workers with him. I took the opportunity to say, "thank you for the bridge". I let him know that we appreciate the walk way protion of his craftsmanship.

So much time that they were occupied in the drama practise with the mix of good fun and discipline for a warm up session I had our cast do a host of things including selecting a person to give an over the top description of the recent Sunday feast preparations, all had to respond. In acting you recieve then respond which then is followed up by a response which is then followed up by another .....thats how a drama unfolds if not life it self. In fact its is through the natural method of recieve and respond that the drama of life persists and its how we keep busy.

3 KM

Monday, February 11th, 2013

One Month Ago
Georgetown Guyana
One month ago some thieves entered our Berbice temple compound in the night, stole some gold ornaments from the altar and in the process strangle to death our security guard. Theft and murder have been common occurrences in Guyana since this unfortunate mishap took place locally our leader Vibhu Prabhu, expressed that he does not want any visitors to be at risk, so my east coast plans in Berbice and beyond are cancelled. This left me with more time available and with a humble request from the Georgetown followers to conduct a drama, they were eager to learn, I consented and so a drama workshop was arranged low and behold we pulled a cast together from youth unknown to me I offered a prayer, wished for the best and depended on Krishna on Thursday evening we will put on a show an half hour version of the drama "Gita :concise".
In the midst of the organization and the training of the earnest and inexperience a trip to downtown was called for, for Harinam chanting I tried to pull in from the public some black folks for the dancing because they are just the best. The Stabroek Market square was the venue with its bee hive of activities.
Fom there I was whisked away to be brought to NTN TV network for a live one hour show to touch on the topics of spiritual relevance in these modern times, how to protect our youths from this trap and sure enough question came directed to the power of spiritual walking. The public phoned to lodge questions in addition to the moderator's own quarries
After the interview I made an appeal to my driver to walk the sea wall with five youth, members of our cast joined me for a bold walk on the narrow sea wall which virtually keeps Guyana from drowning which is 6 feet below sea level near Georgetown and along the coast. The wind is strong there and I took this opportunity to grow sufficiently sleepy for the night to ensure good rest.
My host, Khemraj, confirmed that when residents here want their baby to sleep comfortably they will take their infant to the sea wall and have the wind do its thing and put the child fast to sleep. This technique works as I ended up gloriously sleeping once reaching my accommodation and for a good 6 hrs straight it’s almost unheard of.
6 KM

Sunday, February 10th, 2013

Old Rusty
Georgetown, Guyana
It's there rickety, rusty and squeaky old thing, and I love it. Spanning over the very wide and deep Demerara River for 2 KM is this incredible floating bridge.  One of the young men daring it with me said ''Since I was a kid I wanted to walk it, Guru Maharaja, that's a wish since 23 years. You came here and we are walking it."
The bridge has its restricted time for pedestrians and hence authorities lock the entrance of the walk way section when it is about to open for a vessel to clear through. But, you know, Guyana is a land where enforcement is not a major issue. We saw cyclists taking a narrow strip so a dozen of us did also and no one said anything.  From a walker's perspective, maybe less so a pilgrim, it is a blast moving over this grandfather piece of engineering ingenuity. This is also where you get a gust of great breeze as the water from the river rushed at incredible speed under your feet. The water, in fact, reminds me by its colour of Demerara brown sugar. Wouldn't want to drink it!.
My comrades for this venture clocked our selves at walking this beauty of a bridge at twenty-one minutes and three revolutions of chanting on the japa meditation beads.  In addition to this achievement motorists got a hoot out of seeing us in our dhotis tossing in the wind.  Many addressed us with a 'Hari Bol' and honked which demonstrates the carefree nature of the people.  Of course, something can be said about the fact that it's Sunday.
Being Sunday we also had speaking engagements at two of our centres before and after the two bridge walks at Nimai Pandit Study Centre and a temple at Crane. There were great turnouts in both places and an initation ceremony in one. An elder couple, Bagoutie and wife Drupatee, received the names Brghu Muni and Dhara. They are fruit farmers.  I was informed that a good member of congregants in Guyana are involved in the agricultural and food business.
Kirtan here is well appreciated, hearing from the Gita text, and jokes as well. These days I am told, rain comes down quite plentifully.  In fact our treck over Old Rusty (my name for the bridge) was met with some wet.  I am looking foreward to visiting Old Rusty again if time allows while on this land of rainforest, anacondas and jaguars and of course dhall puris and breadfruit pakoras are delicious edibles.
6 KM

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Saturday, February 23rd, 2013

To Nitai
Dubai U.A.E

Any trekking I did today amounts to whatever it mean to walk down the airport corridors in Dubai. While on flight 242 Emirates I kept myself occupied, even caught some sleep suprisingly. I did take a few minutes to compose this poem dedicated to the avatar Nityananada aka Nitai, Known for his dispursement of mantra power in the early 16th century India, Here it is":

To Nitai

He is indeed by far
The mercy avatar
For he bore the blood
During the love flood.
As companion to Gaur
Life as " less is more"
Distributing a wealth
For everyone's health.
Committed to the name
And establishing its fame
He went door to door
In the effort to explore.

He when with Haridas
Making gains- no loss
With interesting reception
Prepared for all rejection.

Jagai/ Madai there in queue
There loud gregorious two
Met more then their match
When Nitai did despatch.

They swayed, they fell,
Totally drunk as hell.
Nitai gave a thought,
"These men shall not rot.

Must be given a chance
To sing and to dance
To the ultimite sound
Head up, feet to the ground.

If they can suceed
That's all we need
Gaur's mission is won
To home we will run!

Unknowing such a plus
They raised nasty fuss
Hit the head of Nitai
As if to say, ' Good - bye'

But Nitai did stand up
Told Gaur not to chop
The two their life to spare
Hearts turned then and there.

0 KM

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Toronto, Ontario
In the chill of winter I’ve been compelled sometimes to grace my feet on the inside over a carpet or linoleum, wood or tiled floor. Come to think of it, my feet have contacted many a surface. With my many hours behind a desk today, I decided most affirmedly that I’m going to hit asphalt, concrete, and maybe spots of crystal ice. I was downtown bound. The thing about Yonge Street is that with its linear length it somehow encourages speed, if the cold doesn’t, so I hit that trail. Pedestrians are plentiful, it’s the weekend approaching. Everything is a buzz. People are paired up in talking to each other. The cold seems to be transcended.
I reminded two cold phobic persons earlier in the day that in India yogis are known to travel to the north for their self realization, often in the shelter of a cave, brrrr!
I am wrapping up things for the winter pilgrimage to India, bound for Mayapur, not north, but on the eastern side. I’ll be walking on sound earth and sand of a sacred kind. There’ll be granite and marble temple floors, cold on the feet in Feb. But I’ll keep swaying and dancing before the deity, keeping warm.
The feet will various surfaces. There will be a variety, and that is the spice of life.
4 KM

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

A Talk at Durham
Oshawa, Ontario
Rick noted when I walked through the city of Oshawa last summer. He invited me back as in the past to his Faith’s class today for a presentation on the culture of Bhakti Yoga. Members of Jehovah’s Witness were lined up after my delivery was over at Durham College.
When entering the room with my assistant monk, Maha Mantra, Rick was at the door looking spiffy. I told him so as he wore this smart looking black oriental blazer. “I picked it up in Shanghai this summer,” he said. I was happy to know that he was on a trip as well. Come to think of it, I wonder what walking is like through the Orient. I think the best questions come from students when the sun shines. The sun was shining and they were pouring out their questions.
Question: Is being vegetarian an absolute?
Answer: No. You can still love Krishna, but if you wish to get closer to Him, protecting His animals and not devouring them accelerates your spiritual advancement.
Question: Is the Krishna path the only way?
Answer: Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, validated that many processes can develop love for the Divine. This is so to accommodate the many different kinds of people that exist. The bhakti path is simple and effective and is perhaps the oldest and longest sustained spiritual approach in history. It is at the core of Vedic culture found in India.
Question: A friend of mine indicated that she believes in reincarnation and that she is on her last cycle. Can you comment?
Answer: I would say, “Congratulations to her,” however, you can’t be too sure, the laws of nature determine our destiny. But, it’s a good thing to feel such confidence. As long as we follow the guidelines descended from above and develop that love, we have a good chance to end the vicious cycle.
Question: So you are a monk and have no wife or children. Don’t you feel like you’re missing something?
Answer: I believe that I’ve had many mates in previous lives with lots of offspring. I’ve decided to give one life to God and in that frame of mind with a larger picture, I feel I have a great father, lots of sisters, brothers, and children.
10 KM

Friday, 22 February 2013

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

For Openers
Willowdale, Ontario
For openers, they prayed for me. I was about to begin the presentation when Reverend James A. Beverly and class offered a prayer wishing me well on the upcoming part 2 of the 4th walk across the country. Naturally, I was touched.
James also gave me a copy of his recent book, “Illustrated Guide to Religions”, and signing it personally saying, “Bhaktimarga, thank you so much for your teaching and friendship… With Love, Jim.” Jim is a professor of Christian thought and ethics at Tyndale Seminary.
For his class I was asked to explain my life story and thereafter, explain the story of Krishna Himself, and His magnanimous teachings. Students wanted to know about our concept of sin, salvation, ethics or rules, avatars and gods. So, I explained it to them. And it was Jim, who had nothing but good to say about our guru, Srila Prabhupada. I sensed that some students had a challenge trying to wrap their heads around the concept of reincarnation. When it is said that no soul has a beginning and no one has an end, and that it becomes embodied through a chain of existences, it is a new concept for them. In any event, the course is designed as such for the students to view various spiritual paths, to begin to think a little bit out of their box and to honour the pluralistic world in which we live. They had an ocean full of questions and were very respectful to the walking monk. I look forward to the next semester when I hope to visit.
5 KM

Tuesday, February 19th, 2013

It’s Good To Cry Sometimes
Toronto, Ontario
He left it all behind (the material world) when he was 17. He’s now 40 years plus the 17. He’s tall, well built, and had a promising future when he became a brahmachari (monk) in ’74. Now, at 57, he came to me and cried on my shoulder. He’s taller than me, a big man, and took a moment to be emotional. He mentioned how he’s become sensitive over the fact that with the aging process he’s losing his vim and vigor. He questions his future. He also mentioned loneliness. I really felt for him.
It’s been years since he left monastic life and he has had relationships. All the while he never forgot Krishna. That’s been his saving grace. He never ceases to make friends and tell people about his found wisdom. He likes to share. He and I have done some walking together. Affectionately, I would say his talk is the speed of his walk, and does a lot of that.
I tried to cheer him up, “You’ve done well. You’re making the best out of your life.” It’s true, his spiritual side has protected him hundreds of times. “Check 17.16 from the Gita which addresses how to engage the mind and satisfy it with stories from the Puranas and the Mahabharat.” “Always be thinking of doing good for others,” Our guru, Srila Prabhupada says in the purport of 17.16.
Of course the tender moments in a good sweet cry is healing in itself. I let him know to be in contact with me at any time, and that I’m happy to be a sounding board. I see it as a service. Who knows, I will likely need to cry on someone’s shoulder one day, whether devotionally strong or not. It’s good to cry sometimes.
4  KM

Monday, February 18th, 2013

The Family Spirit
Ottawa Ontario
This is known as Family Day in the province of Ontario. That means that it extends the weekend for a lot of people and allows for, I guess you could call it, extracurricular activities.
Our little pilgrimage performance troupe took full advantage and spilled over our weekend into a visit to Jeanne D’Arc (that is Joan of Arc), a suburb of Ottawa. Our caravan took to Highway 40 to Montreal as we witnessed others outside the human species out there in the raw environment.
A family of wild turkeys were picnicking right next to the highway as traffic was whizzing by. Their dark features and massive size made their presence so obvious against the blanket of the snow. It was an actual couple, I believe, he being the taller alpha male type, and she being comfortably just behind him. The rest of the clan was probably on the other side of the snow bank. They tend to travel in flocks. In my heart I was glad to see them taking the opportunity to honour Family Day as they were pecking at who knows what, at least not at each other. We don’t need dysfunctional family scenarios. Isn’t that the monopoly of the human beings -sadly?
What does seem to work for humans is an application of kirtan, it draws not only biological togetherness, but pulls in people of different backgrounds. This is what we found as our caravan unloaded to our kirtan session at a community centre in Jeanne D’Arc. This was the real family, sheltered under the umbrella of the good sound vibration.
Chanting breeds the real family spirit.
5 KM

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

Real Richness
Montreal, Quebec
Sweet memories pass by me as we read the signs east bound on Highway 401. They were memories of the summer past when I did take the parallel route at a walker’s speed – much more of a civilized pace. Between Daruka, my support person, and I, we made many more friends that way than the rocket speed of 120 km/hr of today.
But then, I can’t complain. I’m moving along as part of a modern day caravan. Three vans carried 16 of us who were destined for Montreal. Everyone here, musicians and actors, are comrades and are members of our Krishna community. We share the same culture and the same food.
At a truck stop, we indulged in our favourite travelers fare, Russian potato salad. Once the snacks, or meal ceased, we continued on with the journey engaging in a read from the Gita, a way to keep the driver perked up. Our best companion was Surya, the sun. He revealed everything about a winter’s world – snow and tracks of the snowmobilers, as well as men ice fishing on a frozen lake. Finally we reached Montreal and the location of Pie Neuf Blvd for the temple where we were to perform.
We began with Dhira Grahi using his golden voice on a bhajan. The tiny backup orchestra included a violin, flute and bass guitar and more. An appreciative audience listened. And then came the drama, 'Gita: Concise' with the mind expressing himself with his explosive, “Oui! Non! Peut Etre!” Remember, it’s a French audience.
The day was rich with devotional activity. Since entering into a devotional culture 40 years ago I’ve understood that real wealth has nothing to do with money.
4 KM

Saturday, February 16th, 2013

Into The Icebox
Toronto, Ontario
I went from Guyana to Toronto. In other words, from the frying pan into the icebox, climate wise. From equator to ice and snow.
“Never be too intimidated by the elements in front of you, however extreme they may be,” is what I believe. At the same time we must be wise. One beautiful thing I’ve learned from walking throughout the various phases of the day is that your body can easily adjust to climate change. I believe that one of the disservices we’ve done to accommodate ourselves is to make our environment so comfortable and so controlled that when we meet the‘outside’ it becomes a shock to our system. When I arrived back in Canada I decided to hit the freshness of a mid February outdoor breeze of below zero and leave cozy indoor temperatures. I would say, ‘warm up to nature and be like a chameleon.’
As I was about to don a coat for meeting the outdoors, my dear Godbrother, Apurva, visiting from North Carolina, looked at me with some question as to why I needed to brave the cold. The answer is to be as hearty as can be. Who could argue with that? It’s my desire to be in a healthy condition in order to serve others for as long as possible.
And so I go for it. Down Yonge Street, which is part sleazy, part classy, part very ordinary.
My evening kept me grounded. Who would not want to be in the company of 100+ serious bhakti yogis for “An Evening of Bhakti”? Our devotees put on a marvelous show of devotional songs in English with acoustic guitar, and then switched onto bass, sitar, and even Sanskrit. As the sound trailed on into the evening, bodies rose from the asana position (no, they didn’t levitate) and chaired guests ascended from their seats to take to ecstasy dance.
I addressed the group midway through, but only enough to insert a Swami’s message of appealing to the sound of deliverance and to install it into your every day affair.
All was good. Hare Krishna!
7 KM

Saturday, February 9th, 2013

One Day in Trinidad
Tyrco Bay, Trinidad
I had trekked Trinidad before, three years ago, along Madras Road. While driving through, I remembered the turns and curves in the road, and even some of the stalls. Popular at the eatery stalls is something called doubles, a flat puri bread with chutney sandwiched inside.
The country is as I had known before, not terribly pedestrian friendly. You find narrow spaces to walk. Naturally, Trinidad is newly designed in terms of people lay out. It received independence in 1962 and became a republic in 1974. It’s mainly a place for cars.
If you by chance explore what a sidewalk is in Trinidad, do be aware of large potholes uncovered that lead to the sewage. I don’t really mean to paint such a bad picture of the place. I certainly can’t complain about the beaches on the north east coast over the mountains. At Maracasa, an entertainer playing on Quadro, composed spontaneous music in a most poetic way. This guy was sweet. While strumming on his strings he sang to me,“This is the life, now bring your wife… “ To which I responded, “I don’t have one, I’m just a monk.”
Not on foot but by car, we took to the beach at Tyrco, for the kirtan and a Krishna conscious message. We picnicked and then swam. Here, the stalls were selling sugar and salt snacks, even shark meat. One spot was boasting that their items were without tax. The sign read, “No vat on dat!” Generally I have a tough time with Trinidadian accents. I even ended up tutoring my assistant for the day, Keshava, when I asked him to read a chapter of “Krishna, The Supreme Personality of Godhead”. It wasn’t the accent so much that needed working on (to locals, I’m the one with the accent), but it was the annunciation and expression that needed tweaking. That’s all. Yes, with a little training and confidence on his part, he approved.
Thank you, Bhaktivinod, for bringing me to Trinidad.
8 KM

Friday, February 8th, 2013

Miami/Port of Spain
Fantastic Friday
A New Yorker in Miami had asked me if I’m a monk. He was asking on behalf of his son, who I guess was about 12. He had asked if I do martial arts. My answer was that when I became a monk, martial arts hadn’t been so internationally popularized at that time. “I landed myself into the ancient techniques of bhakti, the fine art of devotion,” I remarked. The father and son vacationing in Miami were curious, especially the boy.  He had never met a monk before, it was a novel experience for him.
I certainly made friends with him as I did several people on the plane to Port of Spain. People in Trinidad seemed to know the Hare Krishnas. They addressed us with, “Haribol!”
Our plane was full with visitors, with Carnival going on. Today was just one of many party days, it’s called Fantastic Friday, and tomorrow will be Sensational Saturday. To describe Carnival, well, to be honest, the promotions shown on the entertainment flight screen are not for a monk’s eyes. With a slight glance I see it as a Vegas flesh show. It’s quite shameful, really. The shamelessness of it all. I’m so grateful that I could be entertained on another level which is family friendly. Sorry to sound Victorian, but shaking flesh around, ladies and gentleman, has no place for a morally stable world.
0 KM

Sunday, 17 February 2013

Friday, February 15th, 2013

Wrapping It Up in Guyana
Georgetown, Guyana
Any trekking executed today was done inside the Nimai Pandit Study Centre in the shelter of overhead cooling fan blades going at high speed. Just to remind you, I’m near the equator. It was a back and forth pacing.
I was not alone. In my company were resident members of the centre doing the same. I believe that my chanting and pacing became somewhat inspirational for those younger members here. The whole idea is to be an example by visibly engaging in sadhana, which is an actual mental (and with pacing, physical) workout.
Unless the younger folks see us seasoned bhakti yogis demonstrating the prescribed sadhana, they will not follow. Those of us who have been around for sometime must take the lead. Then those that follow will become natural future leaders. Leaders can only lead if they follow the standard procedures. There is no room for a double standard. There is a science to all this self realization, and it needs to simply be followed in order for some personal revelation and transformation to take place. I personally become enthused when I see the younger crop of people believe in and practice the lead that I take in this regard. It gives me hope for the future.
It was time to pack up today and to bid farewell to this wonderful group of people. They were a cooperative bunch in assisting me in the outreach programs that we participated in. Frankly, not so many Swamis come around to the various centres we run in Guyana, it’s a bit of an isolated place. And having a very tiny airport, this jewel of a place does not receive much traffic. But I’ll definitely be coming back next year.
On the return flight, I was asked by the nice elderly lady sitting next to me if I could fill out her customs form. I was glad to. And when I arrived after Canada customs duties and waited for my ride, an elderly man asked if I could dial the phone for him on long distance. Here, again, I was only too happy to do so. These acts of assisting others is expressed by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, as a way of practicing austerity of the mind (Gita 17.16).
If one is to be a leader, it really means that you take a servant role. It gives the greatest pleasure.
5 KM

Saturday, 16 February 2013

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Holes on the Path      

Georgetown, Guyana

The coastal road in Guyana is rather decent. I met the engineer four years ago when it was freshly being paved. He happened to be a guy from Hamilton in Canada and he was an East Indian Hindu. Nice guy! The secondary or residential roads are another story. They are holey as holey could be. (“Holey” as in potholes). With the monsoons being what they are right now those fairly large moon craters collect rain water, hence you have the dynamic “It was pouring cats and dogs and I was stepping into puddles”.
There is a seawall as a safe haven which has few cavities, although I discovered it to be somewhat unholy. The other evening when we climbed up the top of the wall a man on the other side of the wall was just pulling up his pants next to his girlfriend. I found it a little odd. Then further on other brahmacharis and I noticed numerous cars parked next to the seawall. They were not empty, so I figured it out that at this time of day it might not be the best route for a group of monks. This is lovers lane.
Now, this evening my host Khemraj hosted major satsang gathering at his green painted house. The principle highlight for the evening was the hard-worked-at drama ”Gita Concise” with the youth. Each member of the cast was new at stage presence yet when they stepped up on the riser with lights pouring over them and grand music (permission allowed) to fill the space, I was super proud of them. Krishna’s message got out there in a beautiful and as classy way as possible.
“Well done” I thought, “well done”!
4 KM


Thursday, 14 February 2013

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

In A Green Painted House
Cummings Lodge, Georgetown Guyana

I stay in a house that’s painted green. The owner of the home owns a green cab business. He dresses with a green top, has plenty of green plants around his house, offers me a green towel for my shower along with Irish Spring green soap.
His home, on 4thStreet, shared by a very fine wife and daughter, is guarded by two mangy dogs, liked the stray ones you find in India. I believe these two neglected boys have no names so I call them Jaya and Vijay, names of Vedic security guards in Heaven. In their misery, loss of hair and taxed by some disease, they bark at any slight movement. It’s taking quite some time for them to get use to me as I approach the gate several times a day on return from some engagements.
I had returned from a full morning in Crane including a modest walk with other monks from Guyana down a rural and green country road. The hour and a half stay at the University of Guyana Hindu society was really enlivening. Several concerns lie in the mind of these bright young students. They have issues dealt with very passively over the Christian conversions from Hindu members. I have been told more than one time that prasadam, blessed food, is condemned by Christians to take and how father and son, mother and daughter are separated over such religious issues. Some of the students in the group very sincerely inquired about what they considered extreme opinions that Krishna devotees take on the position of some popular deities such as Shiva and Durga. We did confirm that kirtan is liked by all and that their practice unites.
Prior to late a evening drama rehearsal members of the Nimai Pandit Study Centre and I conducted a Satsang at the Persaud’s residence. These are folks who operate NTN TV for Guyana and also have a connection with me in Canada through a recently deceased brother of theirs from Toronto.
In any event I spoke about the advanced technology of live broadcast to Sanjaya, secretary to the blind king, as describe in the epic the “Mahabharata”. From the subtle science of mysticism, the battle of Kuruksetra was observed from a far during the advance Vedic age, from the extraordinary time we have the even more subtle science of the self, which I highlighted in my talk. By early morning 12:30 I took some rest in the green painted house.
4 KM

Wednesday, 13 February 2013

Thursday, February 7th, 2013

Getting Such Mercy
Miami, Florida
I was needing vitamin D. I was ready to roll up my sleeves and get my hands dirty doing some gardening. That would mean I could have some sun. Believe it or not, the sun was just too strong for such exposure, and an opportunity arose for a swim at Key Biscayne Beach instead. It was a clear 8 KM walk back to the ashram from the beach. I got my sunshine while pining to do some work on the ground tomorrow before leaving for Trinidad. The potential for an eye popping nostril sniffing flower garden in and around the temple ground is phenomenal.
My time is more leisurely spent in Miami, though not idle, there was also an anticipated kirtan to take place at Coconut Grove and the place next to it, the ghetto. The community does delight in this ancient practice of kirtan. So, I led a 30 person strong sankirtan party through that place of attempted enjoyment. We saw faces lit up as we were on fire with the love of kirtan, the ultimate sound for the age. It is just the formula that brings everyone together.
This procession of 2 kilometres I add to the tally of the day. I scored a beautiful 10, received vitamin D and blessings from the chain of teacher who made kirtan their lifeline, which includes noneother than the magnanimous Sri Chaitanya.
10 KM

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

Miami, Florida
“Oh no! I lost my guru!” went his frantic mind. Garga Muni, a local astrologer, had set out to pick me up at the Miami airport. In fact, he came early, as did my flight. But our paths did not cross. Garga made his way to the info booth and had a pager message over the intercom, “Will John Vis (my legal name) please come to concourse D on the second floor.” So, I did, and was found. Garga Muni was relieved.
He considered himself lost at one time and then became found once he took to Krishna. As the song Amazing Grace expresses, “I once was lost but now I’m found”, we all may have found ourselves to be wretches at one time, until we came upon our spiritual calling. How desperate souls sometimes get.
After a fairly complete day of meeting, greeting, counseling people, I took to Grand Avenue at Coconut Grove. Walking the expanse of Grand Avenue put me through the high and low ends of American life. The high end was rowdy with liquor in their stomachs and liquor in the air. The low end, a potential danger district, was more quiet, but no less disillusioned. I felt a sense of compassion because of the lostness of their situation. Why do people resort to either the foolhardy lifestyle, or the near poverty level? This is America, and in many if not most cases, citizens have choices. In my thought process what also came out is I feel myself so fortunate to be in the spot where I am, being in a renounced order. I guess it is part and parcel of the vocation to feel the emotion of sympathy.
I question the way folks are, and yet I understand that when there’s a gap in your life, you have to fill it in with some substance. My lingering thought on the matter is, “Spiritual values can fill the vacuum and make things right. If we do that then we don’t need to feel lost, ever.”
5 KM

Bhaktimarga Swami: A Life Dramatic

(featured on ISKCON News - Jan. 25th, 2013)

Wednesday, 6 February 2013

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Warm and Cool
Alachua, Florida
Arvind, 14, and I set out for the temple in Alachua at 6 AM. It’s a perfect measuring distance for me – 3 miles or 8 kilometres to be exact. It’s also quiet and the route is also 50% dirt road, or rather, sand. Always good for the feet.
A chaudar was needed. Recently I was given one as a gift, a smart looking ochre Kashmiri shawl. It’s cool outside for Floridians, though. Once Arvind and I arrived at the temple, we were met by warmly clad devotees. The walk, as usual, for one hour, stoked the fire within – another great reason for trekking on a regular basis.
I led the kirtan chant in praise of guru, and then delivered the morning class from the book, Bhagavatam, 10.14.54. It was an interesting verse with a coolness to it, meaning, it had merely two sentences for an explanation, which is not much to go on as far as philosophical content is concerned. I decided to ‘wing it’ while trying to stay on topic. Sometimes it’s like that. I really pressed hard in prayer for Krishna and guru’s mercy to allow me to say something meaningful. The thrust was, “Are you moving devotionally? Or are you in a spiritual slump? Are you going forward or in reverse? Our guru, Srila Prabhupada began a movement. Are you turning with its wheels?” Questions need to be asked of ourselves, otherwise there is no introspection.
In any event all listeners physically there, all 40 or so, remained attentive. There was also laughter at jokes made, which is a way to get warm.
After the class, the local priest Chaturatma, lit the fire for an agni hotra, while the weather’s temperature also rose with the sun’s rising. For Canadian blood it had become perfect. Two candidates for 1stand 2nd initiation sat by that fire to engage in the next step towards spiritual progress. Jagat Vira, who was so eager for his 2nd or brahminical initiation, passed all the tests necessary to achieve this honour. And Arjun, a young family man, accepted the name of Abhimanyu. I was particularly thrilled to hear Abhimanyu’s new music with a genre he calls Krishna Tone. It’s a fusion of reggae and hip hop.  At least, I liked it, it’s filled with mantras and it’s easy to listen to.
Both Jagat Vira and Abhimanyu are warming up to Krishna.
As evening set in much later, I was asked to meet with the youth for a theatre arts workshop, all with the hopes that those who came would use this art form in Krishna’s divine service. We went through the session. I could see that many young people are not used to having a swami as their close companion. What I really want for our young members is to be happy people, to be settled in a solid relationship, and to find themselves engaged according to their nature, and to run it all with the Absolute in mind.
10 KM

Monday, February 4th, 2013

In The capsule of Speed
Gainesville, Florida
Within the capsule of the speedy plane we, the passengers, remained very still, immobile. We were as if frozen in time. Having it been necessary I arrived early in order to make that 6:10 AM flight to Florida, I shared in the same karma along with everyone else on that American Airlines. By the time we launched off the ground we were all on part two of sleep.
My final destination for the day was Gainesville. The airport is pleasantly puny, yet tiny as it is, and as obvious as I am in my robes, my ride just couldn’t find me. Of course, I darted out for the outdoors as soon as possible through the front entrance to meet real air while being in anticipation for the pickup.
“This might be the only walking I achieve for the whole day,” I thought. I was right, because the day was filled with other doings, which included a meeting of the members of the Krishna House situated near the campus. This is where students have the best of both worlds. At Krishna House you can live in residence and benefit from the spiritual program, and at the same time not neglect your studies at the U of F.
We are mainly looking at young students who came who are so enthusiastic for kirtan. I stepped into a lively session that was in progress. And kindly enough, the lead singer asked me to take over. After the good sweaty kirtan, we all sat down and they asked me to speak from the Gita on the chapter, “Nature, The Enjoyer, and Consciousness. “ The verse, “purusho prakrti sto hi…” deliberates on the soul’s stepping into prakrti (material nature) for the first time and entering into the world of wonder and change and speed.
It’s a different world from the realm in which we came. It’s exciting at first glance, then it eventually turn pale and even terrifying. The verse goes on to express that the vulnerable soul passes through good and bad experiences. How true this is.
At the end of my talk, Marlin from Cuba raised his hand to get my attention. Indeed, I let him speak. Very emphatically he voiced insistent on the pleasure that is derived from the change of bodies, “It’s all a happy experience when you live for the moment.”
“Yes, Marlin, I agree, but some people do not karmically have the capacity to see things as you do in a positive light. They have a negative perception on all they see, and they admit their suffering. Therefore, I suggest that whether happy or distressed, let’s just honour the higher taste – the spiritual outlet of Krishna consciousness and move on, or rather, move out of this world all together, and reach the destination of the painless spiritual world.”
I believe that Marlin’s passion on his point subsided and that he bought into the idea of the advantages of being devotional.
0 KM

Monday, 4 February 2013

Sunday, February 3rd, 2013

Happy Family

Toronto, Ontario

Sam was there and Alex, Amit and Maha Mantra. The girls were there too, Kathleen, Anne Lise and Sandini. Their fearless leader, Mangal Aarti, who was also there, had arranged our meeting at Kensington Market, perhaps the most chant friendly location in the whole of the Greater Toronto Area.

And that’s why we (I was honoured enough to be there as well) conducted a Nam Sankirtan Party, and a party it was. We had fun, and so did shoppers and browsers. It was the first public chanting arrangement for the group from Bhakti Lounge, Mangal Aarti’s little baby (baby as in project).

I was deputed to establish our processional route in addition to being the chanting leader. Hare Krishna Hare … is what we sung in receive and response format. It met with pedestrian approval as the sweet sound tended to come through cold biting air. In fact, Maha Mantra Das, our monk who first heard of Krishna about two years ago transcended the briskness of the day as his powerful fingers tapped the ends of the mrdanga drum. He’s become quite skilled at it. He was our hero.

We snuck up the common streets that make up Kensington, such as the street with this very name, and Nassau, and Baldwin, with their graffiti bound vintage clothing nooks. In Kensington “anything goes” that excites the creative and radical types. When a small chanting party such as this trails through the streets (and I’ve done this for 40 years now) you gauge the success of the program by the attitude in which the participants project themselves. It was evident that Sam, Alex, Amit, M. Mantra, Kathleen, Anne Lise, Sandini, Mangal Aarti and I were like one big happy family.

4 KM

Saturday, February 2nd, 2013

Meetings – Walk-ins


Toronto, Ontario

Before putting my feet to task today, I was tied up in meetings. These meetings of course are another form of sangha (spiritual association). There were 3 sanghas in a row, and I partook in the first 2, to do with visionary objectives, addressing challenges, conjuring strategies and so on. We had a talk about arranging our own youth bus tour for Canada, and then a talk about acquiring a stage for our devotional entertainment. We also spoke about looking at how to pursue or secure a rural retreat involving land and building.

My laurels got fatigued during these sessions, but mind and spirit did come alive. There was a feeling of progress made, of moving ahead and conquering maya (illusions).

The prasadam (spiritual food) is just fabulous on Saturdays at the ashram, and today was no exception. The consumption of the sacred and edible is a true delight. Then, Ashok came to visit. He’s a First Nations flautist, and often pops in with an assortment of flutes. He comes to play before the deities of Krishna. A beautiful serenade. Ashok has some East Indian blood in him, but from what I understand, he does maximize his time with his more predominant Native background, apart from mingling with mainstream society. He partook in the excellent prasadam available at the ashram.

Elesh also came around with a specific purpose. He’s well known internationally as an actor on a reality TV show from India. His talents have no limit. I asked him to come to show one of our monks, Maha Mantra, some bhangra dances for an upcoming drama that I’m taking to the stage in India and South Africa. Elesh enjoyed a plate of prasadam also, that’s our culture. You must have something to eat when you visit the ashram. There were multiple visitors after what seemed to be multiple meetings. And then there was time, yes time, that most precious of all cosmic features. Time allows space or room for activity. My physical, psychological and emotional needs drove me to don my most biggest coat, my most able boots, and determined will to put indoor comforts to the side and to move forth on a walk.

After 2 ½ hours of taking to the streets for the balance of the day’s activities, I returned to the ashram and honoured the leftovers of most delicious prasadam.

10 KM

Sunday, 3 February 2013

Friday, February 1st, 2013

By The Club
Toronto, Ontario
I sometimes take my daily trek along University Avenue and pass by a place where a friend of mine worked as a waiter for years at a University club. He told me of a Dr. WG Bigalow who used to frequent the prestigious club. As a world renowned heart surgeon in the 60’s and head of cardiovascular surgery at the Toronto General Hospital, Dr. Bigalow Had urged systematic research to determine the nature of the soul. He was at one time noted to saying, “If there is a principle of vitality, what is it?” I presume that he was speaking about consciousness when he said, “The soul doesn’t exist anywhere specifically, geographically, it’s everywhere and yet it’s nowhere in the body.”
I had looked at these statements from what was news in Canada during the time that our guru, Srila Prabhupada, was in Montreal. He responded to Bigalow’s observations, that there is a noticeable sudden lack of life or luster to the eyes when a person passes. In a letter by Prabhupada sent to the surgeon, an excerpt on the topic goes as follows:
“Just as a spark that comes from a fire appears to be extinguished when it falls away from the fire, the spark of the soul originally comes from the spiritual world to the material world… then falls down into three different conditions called the modes of nature – goodness, passion and ignorance.”
He also expressed in his correspondence that the soul is present in the heart of the living entity and it is the source of all the energies which maintain the body. The energy of the soul is spread all over the body, and this is known as consciousness.
Srila Prabhupada was very much encouraging the scientific research of the soul, but also cautioned that despite its presence in the body, it is so mystical that science may discover its symptoms, but not its actual location.
I get a personal boost when walking by the university club and what connections it has to do with our guru, soul dialogue and the openness to explore a worthy subject.
8 KM

Saturday, 2 February 2013

Thursday, January 31st, 2013

Blind! Homeless! War! The Past!

Hamilton, Ontario

In Vancouver at a performing arts festival, people will be on the ultimate experiential walk when they will be on a two hour walk through the city. The catch? They do it blindfolded.

Personally, I’d love to participate in the experience and build up an appreciation for not only sight, when devoid of it, but also sounds, smells, textures and especially the steps you take which become more meaningful. It’s my luck that I won’t be around for it, but I like the thought.

I had learned about the upcoming program from glancing at the front cover of The Globe and Mail at a newsstand while on my daily trek. Next to it was a stunning picture of a homeless Irishman, photo taken in London 1970. The photo journalist, Don McCullin, has captured the weather worn face of his subject, whom he calls Neptune, on display at the National Gallery in Ottawa. What captured my eyes from this front page was not only news from the blind walk and the grubby looking Neptune, but the remark made about the Hare Krishnas. McCullin mentioned how the Krishnas would come around at night giving these people soup, “Then they’d dob their faces with that absurd kind of religious sign.” McCullin was referring to the earthen tattoo that we Krishna monks are known to bear on our foreheads. It looked like one of our fellows was trying to anoint Neptune in addition to feeding him.

More photos of McCullin were featured in the paper, yesterday’s addition – impressive shots taken of Vietnam, Cypress, and a protestor of the Cuban missile crisis in London, 1962. Sigh… people dislike war, but they love visiting nostalgia, whether good reminiscences or not.

Today I trekked less and got driven by Indresh, an active member, to Hamilton (an hour from the ashram) to see my former ashram in-charge, Visvakarma. The purpose was to see him and speak about an idea he had. Having just come from Lithuania at a Krishna fest, he had the concept to duplicate a retreat similar to what he experienced, to Canada.

I was skeptical about it because of the perceived mammoth logistics it would take. As the three of us spoke, I grew fonder of the idea as we interrupted our sangha (association) looking at photos of the old days.

“That’s it,” we thought. The idea of a Vaishnava memory retreat seemed cogent. Legacy! The sweet old days! Nostalgia! Pioneering Krishna Consciousness in our home land! These things resonated with us. And so, a seed was planted to launch such an event.

5 KM