Tuesday, 30 April 2013

Saturday, April 27th, 2013

From Water to Black Light
Saanich, BC
Toshan took Madhu and I to one of the many lakes on Vancouver Island.  When you trek near a large body of water, you feel the whole world is open to you.  You can dream and wonder, but I might add it’s not too difficult to throw the quest out there as to what’s on the other side of the bay.  It’s the USA. 
Minutes later and many many miles from the spot, and inland, my voice was being broadcast to the airwaves from Victoria.  The Drew Marshall Show, stationed in Southern Ontario, had me represent the Hare Krishna “Tribe”, as the term was used respectfully.  Other tribes were also represented and interviewed – the Mormons, the Muslims, the Jesus group and the Buddhists.  Now it was our turn – the Krishnas.  I spoke over a landline phone at Toshan’s.
A series of questions arose with answers I provided to the best of my ability. Nearing the end of the 35 minute live interview, a comment came asking about the deities so commonly seen in our temples, especially the image of Krishna and then the counterpart, Radha. 
The jist of the answer was, “God is both male and female, both father and mother, both provider and nurturer.”
Next question, “Why do some pictures portray Radha and Krishna leaning intimately on one another?”
Answer:  “This is a conjugal relationship that is pure and not tainted.  This tendency of conjugal love is within us because it is inherent from God. “
The interview went fine and so agreed Madhu Pandit, who has done some acting and TV moderating. 
With this interview, a mission accomplished, I left for the mainland and a black light kirtan fest.  Attendees wore fluorescent and traditional tilak marks on the forehead, fluorescent garlands around the neck, and if you came into the sphere with stark white clothes and socks you were lit up like a creature from outer space.
All was great.  I only felt a bit uneasy before the food was laid out.  Would there be glowing tomatoes and peppers in the salad?
10 KM

Sunday, 28 April 2013

Friday, April 26th, 2013

On and Off the Hill

Saanich, BC

It takes a good hour and 45 minutes to go from the mainland of Canada at Tsawwassen to arrive at Vancouver Island, Swartz Bay, by ferry. This I did, along with 3 companions – Vishnu Gada, who has been around in devotional service since the early 70’s, and two young men, Ananda Murti and his brother Yogendra, who have roots from New Delhi, India. We were, I like to think, a chipper group.

At Swartz Bay, Toshan Krishna, a retired member of the Canadian Forces, and before that a brahmachari monk who travelled with me as an assistant before I became a swami, was our host.

He cooked up some scrumptious spaghetti at his home and then lead us to Bear Hill, a not so steep mound of rock, trees, moss, and other natural matter. The climb was a little more than the two teenage bros were used to. They asked for breaks as we ascended to the summit. So much for the computer generation.

They excelled, however, when it came time for kirtan at Toshan’s. Interchangeably they played sweetly on mrdanga drum and harmonium. We were a small group which included Madhhu Pandit and Anand, both are. students/disciples of our guru, Srila Prabhupada. The chanting captured our hearts and minds, as it is destined to do. As the strong moon was above our heads, this chanting put a perfect closure to the day, just as chanting opened the day at pre-dawn. The chanting provides a protection to our active hours in daylight, and it is something which helps temper the craziness of the mind and the turbulent waves of the senses.

We had also included in the kirtan, the song, Guru Vandana, words that honour the guru. It is a morning practice that was missed today due to catching the ride on the ferry. It was a day with the guys and our island venture was fulfilling.

6 KM

Friday, 26 April 2013

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

I Challenged Her

Burnaby, BC

I challenged her to a race. It was all in jest. I knew she couldn’t run being facilitated by a walker. She tried to make a go of it down the hospital isle when no one was looking. I knew that the staff might not care for such a challenge. Being a Parkinson’s patient, a push done self motivatingly could be a health risk. But I was careful with my dear godsister, Padyavali. Good heavens, you don’t want her to have a heart attack or something. I let her win the race much to her satisfaction and mine.

Prior to that, Manu and I had a good talk with her. We were trying to convince her that when she gets discharged, she should be serious about being in a home where she can be looked after 24/7. It has not been easy for her to accept the surrender of her apartment, it’s understandable. We had to remind her that Krishna is wherever she is, and that it’s time to let go of her attachments and live on essential needs. It’s actually a great time of life for simplifying everything and honing in on one’s original internal element – one’s internal consciousness.

We bid her a goodbye and let her be in the care of the hospital staff and Krishna.

The topic 'care' came up in the evening during a reading I conducted. It was the book, Chaitanya Charitamrita, the section of Antya Lila, where we heard of the care giving by Chaitanya offered to His follower, Jagadananda in the form of advice and direction. Jagadananda was given full blessing to travel to Mathura in the north of India. Chaitanya cautioned him about dubious trails where dacoits loiter and encouraged him to always be in the companionship of great souls. He also suggested to not remain in the holy place such as Vrindavan for too long as familiarity towards residences of sacred places can set in and arouse contempt.

Such good council and guidance was given by the great master Chaitanya.

8 KM

Wednesday, April 24th, 2013

I Bumped Into Two Walkers

Burnaby, BC

I bumped into two walkers, they were better than me because I was stationary. They also let me know that they are superior, but it had nothing to do with who’s walking and who is not.

These two younger than me chaps were on a mission and I commend them for that. They were going door to door on behalf of Jehovah. When they knocked on my door at the guest house of our Krishna community, I answered and standing in front of me were two men, slightly smiling and clad in suits.

At first glance I thought, Mormons, perhaps? No! Very early in our dialogue, they identified their affiliation. This was my second encounter with members of the Kingdom Hall in a few days, and it was practically a rerun of the holier than thou attitude experience of last week. Hallelujah to absolutism.

It was let known to me that God has only one real name, and there’s only one way to salvation. I was also informed that God created man in his own image, but He has no gender or form. The contradictions fell into my ear. I was then misquoted by the same two fellows for saying that God is the tree, God is the grass. My actual words were that God has many aspects and one of them is that God’s divine presence is found in the tree which we were standing under, and in the grass which we were standing on top of.

I had asked of them to become a little more inclusive and to look for common ground between different spiritual approaches, yet my suggestion did not sit well with them. They insisted on having the truth and that it was their monopoly even though it was expressed in soft tone.

I guess it’s good for me to meet such persons. My patience gets tested. Out of ten I would give myself a low mark because I felt myself almost losing it with them. Oh well, I know I’ll be given another chance. I suggested that they not come to my door again because whatever I had to say to them was not an open door venture.

I hope we can try again when hearts are more open.

7 KM

Thursday, 25 April 2013

Tuesday, April 23rd, 2013

I Hit The Same Trail
Burnaby, BC
I hit the same trail twice today, before and after the 4:30 AM puja/chant.  Just beyond Byrne Road near the temple ashram, there’s this tranquil district of nurseries where plants, herbs and veggies grow in abundance.  I guess you call it a residential/agricultural zone, an urban green haven.
As a bhakti yogi, you look for meditative conducive locations like this, or a simultaneous walk-and-japa chant.  What could be more enhancing of a pure power walk than a place with signage like “It’s about thyme!”  The rest of the green nook of several acres is like trekking through a time machine.  Some of the homes, judging by the size and architecture, were built in the war (2nd World that is). 
Much of my day was spent in sedentary conditions, however.  All expended in necessary and hopeful discussions.  The evening kirtan with local youth was electrifying.  There is such incredible talent here.  Put that to the side; I was honoured to take a lead in the kirtan with these young stars that shine in the night.  In fact, we sang our hearts out until the darkened night and the twinkles bore a real presence above.  The moon was there very strong.
The kirtan was a relief as the sky had also opened up since yesterday.  Dreariness was all around with the spring greyness that hung around for days, so people tell me.  I relish the parallel of the open sky and the open heart, something that only God and kirtan can do.
8 KM

Monday, April 22nd, 2013

Shortly After
Vancouver, British Columbia
Shortly after arriving at the ISKCON center in Burnaby, BC, I was greeted warmly by a bag pipe band.  Balaram, 14, and his younger bro, Venudar (12 I believe), have been practicing the pipes while their dad referred to as CC (Chaitanya Chandra) beats on the drum.  Their younger bro, Keshavasya, is not quite there yet.  At greeting time he was transfixed at the Anna Maya platform – eating snacks.  He was just being a kid. 
The number they played, Black Bear, is a Scotsman’s favourite, as I understand it.  800 years ago, black bears did exist in the upper section of the British Isles. “Their pelts were used for hats,” says CC. 
Now, the real force behind the bag-blowing preoccupation is the mother of the boys, Manoharini.  Parental smart as she is, she had, some years back, observed all this unbridled energy the boys had.  At one point she decided that while she had her own self obligation to control the senses, there was also the need to harness the wild horses (senses) of her three kids.  I’ve known her since my first walk across Canada in ’96, before she was a bride and a mom.
CC, who showed up in kilt attire, has been the other natural disciplinarian for the boys.  Somehow between the two of them, some great by products came out of this highlander music playing. 
Did I catch them also playing a tune to Narasimha, the half man half lion avatar as they finished Black Bear?  “They’re learning,” said CC, and they are priming themselves for more full on popular pieces.  Even Jagannatha Ashtakam, in praise of the wooden icon of Krishna, is being considered for the summer festival at Vancouver’s English Bay – The Chariot Festival. 
The formula is working in terms of helping the boys to become men/Vaishnavas (or devotees of God).  They seem to like what they’re doing.  It’s engaging and the end result is very gratifying to the ears.  The bagpipe sound rings like a cousin to the shehnai, a horned instrument so much loved by our guru, Srila Prabhupada.  “Hmmm, maybe I could steal these guys for a week or two and they can play next to me on foot when I begin tackling a stretch of the Prairies, that would be a boost.”
0 KM

Monday, 22 April 2013

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Eat, Walk, Chant

North York, Ontario

I have a godbrother and godsister, an actual husband and wife team who are spending some time in Canada. His name is Apurva and her name is Kamalini. They insisted that I give them directions to any walking trails in the downtown area of Toronto. I gladly took them to my hotspot destination starting at David Balfour Park.

This morning was brisk, especially for them, being residents of North Carolina. They have come here to insist on raising our kitchen standards and the quality of food for our Govinda’s dining room which is open to the public. Apurva, in particular, is a master chef.

The topic of food does indeed play a major role in consciousness raising. When the food is prepared with love, then the consumer benefits beyond his imagination. We loved to receive such a compliment from William Shatner (you know, captain Kirk), when he visited to Toronto and visited our restaurant at Yorkville and Bay. Appreciating the carrot cake prepared by our devotees, he expressed after munching,

“This must really have been made with love.”

Now I just want to wrap up with a word on the grand finale two hours of our 24 hour marathon chant in North York. It was ecstatic. The chanting of the maha mantra was continuous throughout the 24 hours even when chanting groups switched. This is a traditional custom in Bengali villages. In other words, no breaks.

I’ve seen a different approach, for instance, at the kirtan mela in Mayapur, India, where the lead singer might break his or her chant and say a few words. Or, there is a pause as groups switch and settle down. I guess you could make up your own rules on this. My preference? I like it as we’ve done for 21 years, where there is no chanting interruption what so ever. In this way there is no room for maya (illusion) to get an inch in edgewise.

7 KM

Saturday, April 20th, 2013

Still Raj

North York, Ontario

Walking today entailed circling around a shrine at the Tagore centre. This event is the 21st annual Ashtaprahar, which is a 24 hour chanting session as is traditionally done in the Bangla part of India. This refers to the mid eastern section, Bengal, Orissa, and also including Bangladesh.

Now, I could be wrong about making the following statement, we were the first. Before 24 hour kirtan or 12 hour or 6 hour or even 72 hour nonstop kirtan became popular around the world, especially around ISKCON centres, our humble efforts with the Bengali community in this North York location on Millwick Drive was already in full swing. These marathons of mantra power have been a part of my devotional life since that time. It is now intrinsically with many people a global reality.

As I made my rounds about the icons of Jagannatha (Krishna in the wooden image), I moved in a synchronized way with my mostly Bengali friends who were attendees since day 1. I marvel at their stalwart loyalty. I know many faces here, not all their names though. It’s okay, we understand and know each other. I also remember the women who are adept at the ululating. That is always resourceful when I have the mic in hand and I need their voices to resonate at a peak moment of the kirtan chanting.

I will not forget my dear friend Raj Sarangi, who died of a brain tumour. He is the real star of the show, even some years after his passing. It was he who initiated these nonstop chanting sessions 21 years before. He believed in it, promoted it, and maintained it, only to linger now in spirit with his enthusiasm intact. I can still see him in the circle with me. He had all this passion about him, he still dances with us, sings with us, and interruptingly dashes to assist or fix a flaw in the sound system. That was Raj, and he is still there. Bless his heart.

4 KM

Friday, April 19th, 2013

Impressions of Ram’s Day

Toronto, Ontario

On the auspicious day of Ramnaumi, Ram’s birthday, I had asked some of our ashram members their impressions I’d like to share what were the high points for them on this day.

Dharma Prana: “In the drama I really had fun seeing the nose cut off on the demoness.”

Hayagriva: “The look of Ravan, his outstanding makeup did it for me.”

Maha Mantra: “What was inspiring for me on this day was seeing Krishna Das’ stamina playing the drum for 2 ½ hours in our chanting party on the street at Yonge and Bloor.”

Jeff: “I was distributing Bhaktivedanta Book Trust books on the street and I was so happy, I was smiling so much it started to hurt.”

Sahil: “Sing Lung did a very animated and convincing deer in the drama.”

Katrina: “I enjoyed seeing a baby on the stage so composed.”

Uttamananda: “It was great to see all the guests.”

Yura: “I was overjoyed about the food cooked by Raj Grover. It was delicious and had zero chillis.”

Kanad: “I was nervous as the cook that there might not be enough food.”

Virginia: “My highlight of the day was to see Lisa do the theatre makeup in such a short time.”

Hemanga: “I liked when Ravana pulled out demons from the underworld in the play.”

Deva Datta: “The high point of my day was serving a devotee, Keshava.”

Manish: “It was great fun being in the kitchen serving.”

Kamalini: “I knew people would be surprised when I would come on the stage as the demoness, Soorpanakha, the lusty seductress, Soorpanakha, because I’m usually perceived as being very straight and chaste.”

Jamuna Jivana: “I was happy to engage some of my tattoo clients in service at the temple.”

Bala: “I was just overall happy on this day.”

Krishna Das: “When I gave some guy the book, ‘Easy Journey to Other Planets’, it was the high point for me."

Apurva: “I was at the Canadian Tire hardware store when a young lady saw me in robes. She was very inquisitive and this gave me bliss."

Bhaktimarga Swami (The Walking Monk): “It gave pleasure to my ears to be receiving such positive impressions. Of course, I’m not surprised."

7 KM

Thursday, April 18th, 2013

Worry Less

Toronto, Ontario

Between school, homework and work itself young Durjoy gets occupied in his worries, maybe a little more than he needs to be.

He and I went for a stroll where Durjoy fretted over certain aspects of his life. There is nothing extraordinary in what's going on. Fortunately Durjoy has taken to the chanting of Krishna's name which he does between responsibilities. At his age (my guess 20) I was quite a "worry wart" myself. I started chanting and being in the company of spiritually minded people. These two ingredients alone really put me in the more - confident zone.

I receive regular calls from people who are in anguish so I try to offer some time. As you can imagine people want a sound board and much of it flies off-their-chest and serves as healing.

This world is a place of temporariness and misery, so it is stated in the Gita.

One form of therapy I find, is taking to some theater. Tomorrow is Romnaumi, The birth of the avatar, Ram, and I volunteered to assemble a drama about the epic of Ram. I conscripted a group of volunteers. some of whom I consider introverts. They were so eager to try, perhaps to get over a threshold of timidity.

With only one evening to practice it set myself into some worry, although I would classify it as wholesome worry. It was delightful to see at least two shy members of the crew break out of their shells.

So, there we have it - some guidelines on worry, nervousness, intimidation etc. It's chanting, company, engagement and talking that brings on the chilling out.

4 KM

Friday, 19 April 2013

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

Met Grand

Toronto, Ontario

Meredith is a teacher from Abelard School and who took up the monastic studies as her specialty. She brought her very bright students to our temple ashram with questions.

I was impressed how much these young folks knew about the Bhagavad Gita, the Bhagavat philosophy and just Vedic culture in general. They didn't struggle with terms like moksha, dharma and even Varnashram. They tried a hand at chanting, took darshan (viewing the deities of Krishna) and also partook in the food, or what we call Prasadam, (consecrated edibles)

I was glad about the last one particularly because I had to cook for the crew and the community at large. Yes, they dipped into what was an experiment. They liked it.

Some questions related to our philosophy were "How do you know what is your personal dharma in life? " "It is said that we are a river and we are one of many that merge into the ocean. Is this what happens to our soul? do we merge into a oneness?" Also, "Are you familiar with Tomas Merton?" Tomas Merton was a reputable Christly scholar monk who leaned towards eastern thought.

In brief, to respond to the question on the soul "we have an option. If the soul takes to the Bhakti path, the trail of devotion he/she will attain eventually the condition of rasa (relationship) with Krishna. This is the path a personalism where you retain a spiritual identity. It is most sublime."

My hours indoors compelled me to breath some ravine air. During the trek I met Shah who has secured a fantastic career at Brickworks where he is the outdoor project manager at this very popular urban green community centre. Shah lived with us as a monk for 2 to 3 years. He left the ashram but maintained over the years a spiritual consciousness. I think he has done well for himself.

Today I met some good people.

1 KM

Wednesday, 17 April 2013

Tuesday, April 16th, 2013

Never Alone
Toronto, Ontario
For today I basically spun around the temple for the early walk.  The sky appeared threatening for rain, so I stuck by and near the shelter that I know.  Should there come a sudden downpour, I would make a sudden dash for it. 
Running, in general, is not my thing.  Walking is.  I think that perhaps that at an age, I’m 60, going for a run is less appealing.  It wasn’t always like that.  I recall in public school, just in my preteens, I had a bit of a reputation among peers for being a high speed runner at field day.  Maybe it was the 100 yard dash.  In any case there was a period in youth hood where I could fly.  Those were the days. 
The newspaper delivery guy sprinted past me. When it was not drops of rain that were a threat, but just a plain chill that struck the body, urging me to make it my last revolution, clockwise around the building.  I settled for aggressive pacing inside and to be content that God is inside as much as outside, especially if it be a temple. 
This is Upanishadic thinking; God is within and without.  God is near and also far.  God is fast and yet doesn’t move at all.  Just to stretch the concept; God is wet and also dry, can be found in rain and snow, in the sun, the wind.  Nowhere is there an absence of the absolute. 
Conclusion: we should never feel alone.
4 KM

Monday, April 15th, 2013

Jehovah Would Not Be Pleased!
Bramalea, Ontario

This super enthusiastic woman approached me as I embarked on a foot journey towards the dental clinic. I was going westbound on Eglinton Avenue when she offered me a pamphlet. Before I commit I saw the word Jehovah on the cover of the pamphlet. That was cool. I was compelled to test her ability towards mutual exchange.

"I would be glad to take that pamphlet I would like to give you a card " (I keep mantra cards with me all the time.)

She responded rather rapidly. "I won’t use your card."

"Really!" I said. I have dealt with these types of folks before. I continued. "That does not sound like mutual friendship. I believe you have to change your policy. Jehovah would not be pleased."  And I forged ahead for my dental appointment leaving her a bit baffled. Upon my return from my dental visit in Bramalea I had the compulsion to visit the dinners at Govindas vegetarian lounge. There i met doctor Walter Dora, a professor at Canadian Forces College. Walter is an avid marathon runner. While he informed me of the tragic incident of an explosion killing and injuring a number of people at the renowned Boston marathon, he told me about his spiritual allegiances. He was born in a Seventh Day Adventist Hospital, which was a vegetarian institution. He also aligned himself with Sri Chimay.  His father was really big into Paramhamsa Yogenananda. The chat was great. 

During the parlance, in walked a couple who are committed followers of Uma, the hugging Guru. They are friends. Anyways you have all these people who have a different approach to spirituality and we seem to communicate all right with no thick brick walls between us.

The resistance came only from the Eglinton woman. I feel sorry for that but what to do. There must be openness and respect.  In my dentist office there is imprinted across the wall a saying "Listen and understand, then you will be understood.”

6 KM

Monday, 15 April 2013

Sunday, April 14th, 2013

There Is No Question

Brampton, Ontario

There is no question that one of the reasons for daily trekking apart from what might be considered downtime, is to look after the health. I am constantly reminded of this priority after doing the pastoral duty of making a hospital visit.

I was invited to speak at the ISKCON Brampton centre, and in order to do so I would need a lift, but, my condition to Rajnish, the driver, was, “I’ll meet you somewhere in the middle.” We agreed to meet at a major juncture – a place where a saffron clad body could easily be detected.

The Brampton mission was accomplished, followed by a visit to Trillium Hospital, patient Aniruddha has been bed ridden and struggling with his brain tumour. Doctors have given up on surgery and other methods. All has been tried. Only the miracle of a prayer and chanting could turn things into a more favourable light.

Aniruddha was there with family, wife and children, extended family and friends all around him. People had come from as far as Chicago, Dubai, and India to be with him. And now I had joined the rank of well wishers. He was in a good, deep slumber when I arrived. It was not at my request, but his dad hurriedly woke him up. His eyelids slowly opened. It took him sometime to register the presence of my Mauritian companions and I. Once consciousness was full he began to speak. It was most devotional. We sang for him. I was happy for him, an optimism enveloped him. As expressed before in my slightly instructive mode, health can fail at any moment, so why not extend our stay here on Earth as long as we can stretch it. Aniruddha’s condition was a reminder of how we need to look after our equipment (the body), and I make no judgment or implication that our dear Aniruddha was irresponsible in that regard. Ultimately, you know who’s in charge. Blessings to Aniruddha.

7 KM

Saturday, April 13th, 2013

Early Evening on Saturday

Toronto, Ontario

Acharya is the bespeckled and bright faced family man from the Ukraine who spent several years in Israel before settling down in Canada. He frequents the temple. I had seen him in the distance coming in my direction walking towards our temple ashram. He was in regular civilian clothes and I couldn’t recognize him at first, yet I saw that very distinctive mark that here is a Vaishnava as he came closer. In the right hand was a glove like pouch that bobbed up and down as he was striding. I believe only Michael Jackson used to sport a glove on one hand, a glove that glittered. I’m not going to bother researching to find out which hand it was.

This bead bag, a sling with pouch that holds the contents of meditation beads is a signature trademark. As I came to make out who the guy was I invited him to retrace his steps. I was merely suggesting that he doesn’t go to the ashram right away but detour and take a hike with me.

“You have your prescribed amount of beads to finger on and I’m out here to catch some air and do some extra chanting on my beads.”

We agreed to no talking for a good hour or so while trekking through a residential area. Midway through Acharya and I felt a cool spring drizzle grace the surface of our faces. Unphased, he wanted to continue my proposed route with me despite my offer to heed a shortcut. No shelter would be there in case of a downpour. We just took the chance.

Our meditation on sound was not broken, except for some practical interjection like, “Let’s go,” when we were at an intersection somewhere to find the traffic thin enough to cross the street.

Being Saturday, early evening, a busy magnet for anticipation was the liquor store we passed by. Not for us, of course. I had to comment, “Acharya, don’t you feel fortunate that we have been spared such urges as drinking?” Peering through the window while pacing we could see shelf after shelf of bottled fire water. Acharya couldn’t agree more. We credit our guru, Srila Prabhupada, for the great favour in giving us a higher taste. We continued our trek and chanted softly on our beads, feeling full appreciation. Hare Krishna.

7 KM

Friday, April 12th, 2013

Came a Divine couple

Toronto, Ontario

From Cleveland came a divine couple. They came to conduct a seminar at our seminary (ashram) on family life. Krishna Nandini is a Krishna devotee who married Tariq, a Muslim gentleman. They both parent a large group of kids, their kids. They demonstrate with their own lifestyle and also talk it up about wholesome family life.

Now, what do family matters have to do with people who are in a monastic order, and why does our ashram accommodate lessons in domestic concerns? Why do our monks want to bother with the subject?

For our younger men there is the option to consider family life for the future. Frankly, most of them will be married down the road. The course entitled, “Strengthening The Bonds That Free Us”, is an eye opening seminar that Krishna Nandini and Tariq facilitate throughout North America. I sat in for their first of three days seminar during their stay in Canada. Now, you must all know that I raise my right hand in the air declaring my single status for life. I was curious about the lessons offered so I sat to listen. So what did I hear?

The word ‘negotiation’ is key in establishing healthy relationships that are going to last. I particularly like the slogan used, ‘practice makes improvement’. And then there was that attitude expressed, ‘why can’t you be perfect like me?’ which is a sure recipe for disaster as far as building trust and confidence is concerned. A fun exercise is on gender differences. The interesting question presented was, ‘what are you expecting of the other person in their gender role?’ We wish life could be simple and it’s not possible to backtrack to 60 or 70 years ago. The world has changed for better or worse. But one thing is for sure, life has to have a spiritual center and then a relationship has a better chance to survive.

6 KM

Friday, 12 April 2013

Thursday, April 11th, 2013

Take the Clobber

Toronto, Ontario

Much of the country got clobbered today – with snow. Imagine, it’s April, but it always does that. You are lead to believe that spring is upon us with the explosion of buds and shoots bursting out of the ground and some subtle colours splashing. And then, a last blast of winter blitz before a thaw springs back into action.

Do not depend on weather any more than the wayward mind. In fact, expect an adventure from either of them. Such is the message of the Gita. You have to ask where trust can then be placed. Not in the fickleness of this world for sure. What you can trust in is that the master director of it all will provide you the perfect drama. This display of nature under masterful operations ticks away on a 24/7 basis. And you know what else comes about from all of this? It’s the duality, the duality of turbulence and tranquility that are on their shifts. Make sure to dress for either occasion, be prepared for the unannounced shifts.

Walkers, foot travelers or hikers know this more than anyone. They will face the raw element and adjust accordingly. And as animals do when taking on an extra layer of coat, you adjust and add on a jacket when you have to, or in the reverse, you strip or shed something in the wake of heat rising. It’s all an exercise in flexibility. You learn to flex with the fluctuations. You learn to weather the weather.

All in all it becomes an interesting package deal for me, coming from the tropics and then catching the nip of the Arctic. Perhaps these dualities are a very good thing. For blood to go from thick to thin and then back like the sap of the tree that runs swiftly on the influence of climatic changes. What I do know is that change can be good. We just have to be ready to change, so change.

3 KM

Wednesday, April 10th, 2013

A Special Letter

Toronto, Ontario

I received an encouraging letter from a chap up north and who is pining to be among the pines. He expressed to me his wish to do a mega walk.

“I have an incredible sensation from my soul urging me to walk across Canada for the Cree Legend, the White Buffalo… Guidance in this matter would be much appreciated.”

So I responded to my friend who’s part French and Native, and some Dutch, that I would be happy to share some tips. He qualified his urge, “I feel a need to do this. I would hate to die an old man somewhere saying to myself, ‘what if?’”

At least I shared with him how I rise early. I try to hit the trail by 4 AM at the latest. I also mentioned how you learn in a pilgrim’s shoes to take in the intensity of what comes your way – rain, snow, piercing snow, winds, black flies and so on. It humbles you going through all of this. At the same time it’s awe inspiring being this tiny fragment in the powerful face of nature. Appreciation for the Source of this nature also becomes strengthened.

I thought, “Here’s someone on the same page if not the same trail as me.” It would be great to meet him some day. I like those folks that have this inner drive and like to impose upon themselves a challenge.

He mentioned to me that at age 16 he was diagnosed with muscular dystrophy, but feels himself “stronger today than yesterday.”

The Creator made different kinds of people, each being wired differently. Some are like dragons, they want to do something bold and larger than life – something a little out of the ordinary. Nowadays, if a person insists on walking or cycling and not moving around in a car, he might be considered different, unique, or even weird. I would like to offer a toast to such wonderful weirdoes. My idea of a toast is a piece of toast put through a toaster with veggies generously slapped on top.

7 KM

Thursday, 11 April 2013

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

Hey Dude 
Toronto, Ontario
“Hey Dude, how’s it doin’?” Remarked one of the two fellows seated at their home.  This was not the language of someone I would meet in India nor South Africa nor Mauritius.  It was more like the talk of someone from Canada, and that’s just where I am. 
“Great,” I responded.
“Peace and love,” he said as I moved on. 
I had slept a good one, catching up on jet lagged doldrums.  I woke up at 1 am to catch the fresh airs of Canada and start moving my legs.  I was on Jarvis street which as you go south on Bloor tend to be a humbler sector of people, and which is a neighbourhood that is slowly, if not moderately being encroached by towering condo culture.  Some of the heritage buildings around here, impressive Victorian homes, will undoubtedly become dwarfed in time by squarish glass giants.  Our old temple, a century old rented house, was in this neighbourhood where I joined to become a monk 40 years ago.  Nostalgic strings were pulling.  They call this area Cabbage Town.  Irish immigrants flooded here after the potato famine or failure and established urban gardens of cabbage patches.  I was walking and chanting.  And I was thinking about something one of my students had told me of what happened at work.  He’s a bank teller.  Someone had come into the bank the other day with rolls of toonies (a toonie is a two dollar Canadian coin).  The client just wanted it in cash.  He walked away happily with his converted bills.  Once the paper rolls were opened up  it was discovered at the end of each roll there were indeed toonies, however, inside the rolls, there were stacks of circular metal washers.  The client was gone and bank tellers were surprised at the trickery.  A little embarrassed I imagine.
Maya, the world’s illusions, are a bit like that.  Whatever you think is being offered as “real” in this world, is actually a deception.  Watch for those deceptions. 
7 KM

Wednesday, 10 April 2013

Monday, April 8th, 2013

View and Read

Dubai, UAE

At the home of Amar and Priya in Flacq, I felt at home for the last few days. I rarely sit down, relax and view material on the screen that is stimulating. I did however, in the comfort of their home get the great fortune to peruse some of the animations of Krishna’s wondrous pastimes. India, where these animations are produced, is progressive in the graphic and animation department. These animations are excellently rendered and are entertaining and uplifting. I snuck in moments of viewing these DVDs between walking and speaking engagements. You actually grow more and more fond of Krishna as you watch the episodes. So goodbye Mauritius and hello Dubai.

My long wait at Dubai Airport afforded me the time to sink into the latest book by Bhakti Tirtha Swami (now deceased). He’s one of my favourites in the monastic category. In the book “Surrender: The Key To Eternal Life”, I read with interest the chapter on the language of selflessness. I’ll take an excerpt:

“Frequently viewed as the opposite of egocentricity, this sublime quality acquires deeper layers of meaning from a spiritual perspective. Real selflessness, ironically means giving more attention to the self – that is the real self, while at the same time putting aside the false self. As the real self, or soul, is pure, it is always involved in acts of compassion and devotion. The soul is sat cit ananda vigraha, that’s eternal, full of knowledge and enchanting bliss. Selflessness, as a word normally used in the English language, frequently implies negation of self, whereas spiritual selflessness means affirmation of the real self.”

Thank you Bhakti Tirtha Swami!

3 KM

Monday, 8 April 2013

Sunday, April 7th, 2013

We Are Fun-attics, Not Fanatics

Flacq, Mauritius

One most blessed thing about a monk’s journey is his being like a bee. A bee travels from flower to flower extracting essence. Something rich and thick comes out of the whole endeavour.

I feel like one of those lucky bees who get the most out of a few moments with dear god-brother. In my stay in Mauritius and recent trip to South Africa I was able to have those few precious moments with monks BB Govinda and Indradyumna Swamis as well as some sung heroes, more the likes of Mahatma who is currently conducting seminars on the island. Sri Niketan from Switzerland and song writer and entertainer Jayadev from the U.K. crossed my path, or rather, I-theirs. Bhakti Chaitanya Swami also gave me a few bee buzzing seconds of nectar with his words of encouragement.

I really have to rejoice about this and especially feel an elation about today. An approximate twenty people joined me on the walk from 5-7 AM followed by a class from the Bhagavatam. That was nice but I also want to add that I believe to be fully recovered on this day from a miserable bug I picked up in India. There’s no more nasty cough. So I figure that is victorious after a month of it tagging along.

“It’s a freeing feeling,” I mentioned to Sri Niketan. “Spiritual life is good. It’s fun. It’s for the fun-attics and not for the fanatics.” He was also extending the invite for next year.

My last class delivered on the island of Mauritius was during an initiation for Vikash (now Veda Vyasa) and his wife Meera (now Malati). I spoke from the Gita 9.10 on how all in the world is controlled by one Supreme Will and that as a guru that all I should be doing is directing people to the Supreme Will.

I’ll miss the viciousness of Mauritius, the sweat and the humidity and I say it with a dash of sarcasm. Truly I’ll miss the people as it already is the case as I embark on Emirates flight 3704 headed for Dubai and then Toronto.

10 KM

Saturday, April 6th, 2013

Water, Sand and Chairs

Pal Mare, Mauritius

The day began, as usual on this island, with an arati and chanting. Then, onward soldiers. Forty folks came in total.

Just minutes into our journey and the rains came. They weren’t moderate either. We were wet worms. I called for a vote on whether to turn back and conduct a dry Sadhana program under a shelter or to go on wet whatever the weather. With smiles, the exposed arms ascended with water dripping outside the shelter of their umbrella. We were at a standstill and I had to raise my voice to be heard over the rain. The vote was for – to continue.

That’s why I call them soldiers – troupers. Time went on. We walked through the town of Belle Mare. Another deluge. We didn’t vote this time. Someone mentioned about a Shiva Temple nearby. “Okay, those who have your backup vehicles, will drive us to that temple”. There we went and there we rested, conducting a calm guru-puja, a song to honour the guru. We then forged ahead, but along the sandy white beach at Pal Mare Beach.

We sat on those sands and chanted, “Om Namo Bhagavate Vasydevaya” followed by my talk on the verse of the Gita, chapter 7. We had breakfast. We enjoyed each others’ company.

 A more grand event was planned for the evening. I prefer the sand but, here, at the Ramnath Mandir, we sat on chairs. This is a regular venue held by our bhakti group here. I was not too impressed with where “my” chair was placed for delivering another message from the Gita. I looked at the layout of the place and where chairs were positioned. I spontaneously decided on a control post, right in front of the Shiva Lingam where I could view and be close to everyone.

First, we began with kirtan after I demonstrated a dance step, hoping everyone could follow. For the most part, they could. The evening with its program went on in an interactive way. That seemed to work.

I feel a kind on gratification seeing to having a solid morning and evening sadhana just as our guru, Srila Prabhupada, would like it.

12 KM

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Friday, April 5th, 2013

In the Highlands

Grand-Bassin, Mauiritius

After attending the mangal arti at the Phoenix centre, a small but growing army tagged along with Kala, Abhaya and myself through what Kala refers to as “the highlands.” We started trekking through paddles in Forest-side and to reach our destination in Grand-Bassin. Our troupe was armed with meditation beads as well as parapluie and raincoats.

Mini frogs leaped along the road. Also for a change, instead of having sugar cane fields on both sides of you, cabbage patches and tomato plants and lokhi squash could be seen through the drizzle. I couldn’t for the life of me, see one cow or one bull to pasture on the whole island.

One person who came to join in stride was someone who I met on my trek in Ireland in 2008. He heard I was doing this in Mauritius, the place he had moved back to. Raghupati told me he has a Muslim friend who asked why the swami is always walking?

“How did you reply Raghu?”

“I told him that the swami likes simple life. He wants to meet people and encourage them in a spiritual way.”

“That was the right answer Raghu. Thanks a lot,” I told him.

Our final footsteps occurred in a deluge of rain. At Grand-Bassin we came upon a towering statue of Shiva. And that was situated by a gorgeous lake with temples surrounding that edifice. It was totally sacred.

For a finish to the day Dinanath organized a 400 people festival at his home. I was asked to speak on Chaitanya, the wanderer with the maha-mantra. He was king of the monks, you could say. His intent was to distribute the kind of produce you don’t find in the market place. He delivered prema, a fruit of love for the Divine. That is to His great credit.

13 KM

Thursday, April 4th, 2013

Getting to know things

Belle Mare, Mauritius

I asked Chaitanya, 13, what he thought about this morning’s walk. He didn’t want to comment on the walk but he did say something about the swim that followed the walk at Belle Mare beach.

“My friend (also with the same name) got attacked by a butterfly fish and had to go to the hospital.”

Actually I saw him after the attack. The kid was in great pain since the venom penetrated into his left leg.

The temple at Bon Accueil was our launching spot for walking when a meagre few began to trek with me. The entourage grew as the sun rose and this included a group of kids, most of whom have a school break at the time. Chaitanya was one of them and secondly Chaitanya who had to go to the hospital.

The ocean is full of surprises. So is the land. As we made our trek from Bon Accueil once again I became educated by my co-walkers. I was particularly looking at the exotic fruits.

“Oh, this is goyave-de-chine.” It was a small version of guava.  Then we came upon jamblon, a cherry or even olive type fruit, slightly pungent in flavour. Vikash told me, “This will cure diabetes.” There was one more fruit that had a green plumpness to it like a grapefruit. At least alien to my eyes this one fruit which was drooping over a property wall goes by the name pamplemousse and the way one of the younger girls described it was quite acidic and to be eaten with salt.

I really had to marvel at the wondrous edibles provided by the Intelligent Design.

 For an evening program I was slotted into a new devotional creation. Every Thursday the Phoenix ISKCON center had chosen a “Gauranga Sanga.” I was asked to lead a chant by author Narottama Das Thakur and then to give an explanation on the song. From reading first the song’s purport by our guru, Srila Prabhupada, I could glean the most important aspect to making spiritual progress; it’s the devotional company you keep to bring out success.

By the way, Chaitanya who got stung by the fish is recovering. He’ll be ok.

15 KM


Wednesday, April 3rd, 2013

Happy to be back

Bon Acceuil, Mauritius

I’m back to where I belong, on the road.

Krishna followers on the island of Mauritius have so kindly arranged for a daily route that I could take after assembling at a local temple for the early mangal-arti service at 4:30 a.m. That means I get to embark at 5:15 a.m with anyone who wants to trail along. There were takers, a dozen or so who lead me through the towns of Plaine des Roches and Riviere du Rempart.

Mauritius was never a place where I could find difficulty to have walking companions. The temperature was great. So were the folks we stumbled upon, those waiting for a bus on their way to work or school. Hare Krishna is well-known here and with a majority of hindus on the Mauritius turf; it’s no wonder that we are established.

I spoke to Sriniketan, one of the pioneers of the movement. He has a clear synopsis of the old days. I hope this native of Switzerland writes a book about it one day.

When speaking to people, as I did this evening for a Gita class, I had to slow it down. Their first language is a French derivative called Kreole. So I went half-speed on English as I taught a verse from the Gita 7.27 speaking of how we are born into delusion since day one. It turned into a memorisation session in addition to the message it carried- “Get out of the delusion. Detest contempt. Redirect desire from a selfish one to a more selfless one.”

16 KM

Tuesday, April 2nd, 2013

Shyness Settled the Matter

Flacq, Mauritius

Some recent floods in Port Louis area have taken the lives of 11 people. Kala, who is from the island and who had accompanied me from Durban, mentioned that before his trip to South Africa, the island of Mauritius was truly under siege by nature. Rains were foreboding.
Now, as we landed a nice sun and breeze at 280 Celsius greeted us along with a party of welcomers on drums, hand cymbals and flower garlands. We could describe it as a traditional Hare Krishna greeting with the kirtan party and all.

Wheels and wings performed their motion for today as our legs were confined as you can imagine. The final leg of today’s journey after hitting 3 airports was the drive to Flacq and the home of Amar and Priya, our hosts for last year as well. The folks insisted on conducting a simple roaming Sadhus’ foot bath, so I surrendered and then showered fully in preparation for an evening talk to a full house.

Since last year Amar and Priya built an extension to their home, a grass dome roof-top to their flat’s deck. How chique it looks and also how practical! Their new arrangement accommodates at least an extra 50 people.

So, you can imagine how the attendance was. It help me get my life (health) back. At least it gave a jump.  

I read from a passage from Bhagavatam where Queen Kunti pours out her heart over her affection for Krishna. Then I spoke on the passage and purport. I asked for questions and it just went blank, the response, at least in the beginning. Later on I asked Kala if that was normal as I was a little        disheartened. Although the group was responsive throughout my delivery, when it comes to stepping forward for questions everyone showed their shy nature. “Okay”, I thought. One of the noted attributes of Krishna is shyness. And that’s how I resolved that matter within.

Needless to say the greatest glory of leg power that happened today was in the endless network of walkways of the Johannesburg Airport. Calculating most conservatively I’d give myself a measly 1.5 KM.

Wednesday, 3 April 2013

Monday, April 1st, 2013

Unity Rainbow

Durban, South Africa

In South Africa, more so than almost any place on earth, racial sensitivity must be considered. The catering to the Blacks, the Whites, the Browns and the Coloured as one spirit through different hues was a major devotional thrust by organisers of the Festival of Chariots.

On the previous day, the notion to celebrate the obvious splash of colours was a re-enactment of the ancient holi festival in India. From a stage set-up at North Beach, DJ Deon Govender’s music set the tone for all rainbow colours to explode in the air and land on happy beaches.

The concept of a rainbow is perfect, as this program was dubbed as “Rainbow Splash.” All colours curve and stay united. The unity principle was achieved through the event. It was definitely a newcomer friendly environment. One camera came my way asking my opinion of the festival and I was proud to offer my 2 rands-worth. I volunteered to say that people felt un-intimidated. There was no in-your-face stuff and yet there was nothing hidden “spiritually.”

It was a smart fest.

My last minutes spent after a great performance of “Dhruva” and a beach walk was catching a glimpse of the band “Freshly Grown.” This band drew an incredible rainbow of people. It was a clean sound but not enough to excite all monks on the grounds. I really appreciate their coming and giving support to an ancient festival that dates way back to Puri in India and set right next to the Indian Ocean where the Deity of Jaganatha, the Lord of the Universe, eyes the same waters but thousands of kilometres away.

7 KM

Sunday, March 31st, 2013


Durban, South Africa

The temple room in Chatsworth was filled with devotees. Three monks, Bhakti Caitanya Swami, Kadamba Kanana Swami, and I sat just 3m away from the havan Kund with 20-25 candidates for diksha, initiation. The havan kund is a small fire arena where not humans but grains, spices, veggies and fruits are tossed into the modest fire as an expression of gratitude to Vishnu.

My contribution to the whole event was accepting 2 local young men as students. Mervin from Newcastle took on the name Mathurinath, a name of Krishna. And Theran accepted the name Tamohar. This boy I knew since he was a little squirt. I mentioned to the crowd, “Before God, we are always a little squirt.”

More initiations or new memberships were formally established in the morning of this day. Hurray!

The afternoon brought us to the beach once again after a great performance of 'Gita Concise'. So there we did some strolling on the beach barefoot “you have to watch out for blue bottles, a nascent stinking jelly creature.” There we did bond with a small group and we arrived back in town to the main marquee to listen to the KwaZulu- Natal Philharmonic orchestra. They played some classic pieces like Carmen, really delighted the audience. B.B. Govinda Swami infused maha-mantra during at least 2 numbers along with the KwaMashu gospel choir. This was a great exposure for our community to listen to some well trained and disciplined musicians. Sometimes our very own kirtans get very out of control in terms of quality of sounds and synchronisation. It is always important to emphasize bhakti or devotion when delivering a song, but in the same time we should not dismiss quality sound rather apply devotion to the discipline and then so many more people can listen and be satisfied and enlightened.

At least 35,000 people sat there taking in the good sound vibrations.

1 KM

Saturday, March 30rh, 2013

Gita on the beach

Durban, South Africa

There were no less than 600 djembes playing all at the same time. I actually had the opportunity to walk up and down the beach with a couple from Canada when the main tent at the festival was thunderous with sound.
Drum Cafe, an outlet that specialises in teaching drumming and the sale of the popular African drums, lent out 100 X 6 of the heart beaters. This was highly interactive. It really worked. Novice drummers were led by instructors on the stage. Never before have I heard such uproarious rhythms. It was beautiful. The occasional name “Krishna” was thrown in with the beat. What a remarkable fusion that was. It was a great crowd pleaser. Our production “Gita: Concise” happened on the stage after this presentation. A strong gravity you find behind the message. It was pin drop silence.

I would like to share some of the lines from the script, lines that caused some stirring inside and some deliberation.

“In this war no one will die.”

“The body will perish but you will not.”

“If you hesitate when something needs to be done, you receive the reaction and that is no fun.”

“Many desires may enter into the mind, but one must maintain one’s equilibrium. Transcend.”

“Divert the mind to superior thoughts. Engage it in doing good for others.”

“Any little endeavour is a great gain.”

“I am sex which is not promiscuous.”

“I am time which devours all.”

“I am your servant as your chariot driver.”

6 KM

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Friday, March 29th, 2013

Progressive Thinking

Durban, South Africa

It’s no fun being in bed, but it’s doctors’ orders. A syrup for the cough, some pills for the pain was his prescription. Of course the Naturopath and Ayur-Veda pundits came out of the woodwork- all to offer their sincere advice. Teas kept coming to me – home brews, ginger and honey packed. Love is beautiful here. That was my cold / flue condition and how to treat it. I confess to not being present at the procession. My meagre strength did eventually allow me to roll out of bed in order to make it for the evening flare at North Beach.

At questions- and- answers booth various cultural leaders sat there taking in queries. It’s a first for this. Jayadvaita Swami shared the time-spot with a Muslim leader and Christian leader to address the questions people had.

Overall I see that this first of a four-day festival has really shaped up to take on the flavour of multi-social collaboration. Would it be fair to view this event as something we call varna-ashram, a one target mix of people. In a Vedic context (from India) four social and four spiritual orders have been identified as material divisions based on people’s psycho-physical qualities. The thread that keeps such civilisation intact is the spiritual theme. Once one loses sight of such a spiritual arrow-head, then you have disaster, a defraying of the fabric of a society based on self-centredness.

So what I see manifest before is a stroke of genius (the genius being God) where all the elements of a community sit under one umbrella. The festival of chariots worldwide doesn’t work like that in most of the venues I’d been to. Most of the festivals have turned to a very closed event or become too exclusive.
Here in Durban some progressive processing has taken place. I’m so happy to be part of it. Our drama “Dhruva: Prince of anger and peace” was so well received by the crowd of 3000 at the marquee.
4 KM