Wednesday, 29 January 2014

Monday, January 27th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Nick and Choices

 Nick was my ravine companion today.

“What an awesome serenity it is!”  I said to him trying to stir a response.

“Absolutely, you forget what it’s like because we’re always in the city.”

Before we embarked on this evening trek, Nick was a little apprehensive, “It’s going to be quite dark, isn’t it, Maharaja?”

“Not really, the snow lights up the way.”

During the entire trek, we saw not a soul in the ravine, until what appeared to be an apparition, a dark and hazy image of a human who then separated into three.  There it was, heavily clothed, and out of the form manifest two dogs on either side of this woman, leashed by her hands.  Funny thing was, when we got about two arms lengths close to her as we stuck to the tight trail, she, the dog owner, appeared more spooked of us than we were of her.

I swear to God, they were our only encounterees on the trail.  It contributed to the shanty (peaceful) nature of the place.  It was such a far cry from the quick encounter Durjoy and I had on Yonge Street the night before, right outside a strip joint.  Two young men were just initiating a brawl.  There were foul words, shouting began, then the breaking of a beer bottle as a lethal weapon.  It was Kali Yuga in full swing.  This is not what you are likely to see in a natural ambience which is so passive.  We kept walking on hoping to report to the police.  No luck. 

If we have a choice towards a passive or passionate life, and we do, why not act smart?  Make the right decision.  Don’t let anger block the intelligence.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Monday, 27 January 2014

Sunday, January 26th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Acceptance of the Storms

Nature can be very punishable, so it seems at times, with such severe weather being what it is.  Have we done anything wrong? 

An emphatic “yes” would be the appropriate answer.  Let’s be honest.

Someone or something is a witness to our actions, making a subliminal registry.  Karma is then released in time, good or bad, positive or negative.  It can come charging like some lanced gladiator, or softly land like a gentle angel floating in.

During the freeze dynamic of the outdoors, the morning at the ashram had begun.  Two of our monks were comfortably nestled next to the old timed radiator.  They were in the lotus position.  A third one was on a chair nearby, being that he suffered from a stroke years ago.  His mantra chanting doesn’t sound so articulate while he fingers through his meditative beads.  For the other two, their sound is clear in the delivery of the mantra meditation.  I can see that out of respect for the more senior and disabled monk, that they accept his awkward but sincere verbal output. 

Sitting cross the cozy meditative zone we’ve created for ourselves was me, and like the other three, we are all dealing with our stormy minds.  In this regard the outdoor winter madness, and the mental barrage within, are one.  Only the mantra, once concentrated upon, will permit a sense of aloofness from any mental blizzard. 

Snowflakes galore descended for the bulk of the day in winters persistence.  Fortunately, it did not deter people from coming to our Sunday Open House.  Then I personally enjoyed the slide presentation by my spiritual sister, Praharana, it was most enlivening seeing from the presentation that some of our monks in Burma are receiving as donations, neglected temples.  These older structures are now being adopted.

The feast was amazing at the Open House, and we had a rousing kirtan to follow, which lasted until 9 PM. 

New laden snow made a walk attractive, and so Durjoy, a young Bangladesh devotee who comes around, joined me in this last activity of the day.  We both vowed that it would be a japa (chanting) walk.  With our winter parka pockets as beadbags, we clutched our right hands tightly onto our beads while addressing the stormy minds within.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Saturday, January 25th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Cars and Danger

Our morning group read an excerpt from the book Bhagavatam, 8.2.32, on the theme of the dangerous world we live in.  The subject is a boost for the walking culture, at least that’s the way I read into it. 

“At every step, at every moment, there is danger.  In modern civilization, one thinks that if he has a nice home and a nice car, his life is perfect.  In the western countries, especially in America, it is very nice to possess a good car, but as soon as one is on the road, there is danger, because at any moment, an accident will take place, and one will be killed.  The record actually shows that so many people die in such accidents.  Therefore, if we actually think this material world is a very happy place, this is our ignorance.  Real knowledge is that this material world is full of danger.”

This excerpt resonates very well with me because the safer mode of life – walking, is a sermon that I love to preach. 

After attending and being the guest speaker at “An Evening of Bhakti” held at the ashram (and I must say that the program was highly successful), I went for my daily downtime.  I trekked west on Bloor Street and beyond the iconic store, Honest Ed’s, which turns into Little Korea.  As usual, these stretches of sidewalks are vibrant with people.  The draw is the mom and pop shops, cafes, the odd theatre, book stores and vintage shops.

I was reminded of the old Petula Clark song, “Downtown”, and how lively and lovely a peopled street can be.  It’s very engaging watching everyone and peering at trinkets and window displays.  You feel safe, most definitely, until you come to a juncture where cars zip by from every which way.  Not safe!  Not safe! 

Mind you, the message from the Bhagavatam alludes to danger at any point, time and place, because ultimately, what security do you have?  Whether you are behind a wheel, or under a wheel, the material world is a dangerous place. 

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Saturday, 25 January 2014

Friday, January 24th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

A Hardy Hearty Trail

Dan is a diabetic person who comes around our ashram.   We had a great meal together, and as we did honour the prasadam (blessed food), a group from a walkers club came in for the same.   You are looking at a dozen or so people who seem to be retired folks.  Even in the 20 below Celsius weather, they brave the trails of hardened snow and ice.  Once I was told of a trail, one I’m familiar with, I got inspired, and asked Dan if he would go for a trek before the coming blizzard.

“Let’s go, Dan, it’ll be fun,” I said.  So he went home to put on extra layers of clothes and we headed for the ravine.

Dan loves to talk in a lively optimistic way.  But I let him know that with us so bundled up with two sets of hoods over our ears, we wouldn’t be able to communicate much.  He quickly resigned to the procedure of a meditative watch where you step type of trek. 

He at times asked, “Where are we, I’ve lost my sense of direction?”  as we snaked along trails that were marked by the footprints of previous trekkers.  Otherwise, the whole snow laden area was up for grabs, including the frozen ponds.  Actually, you make your own path.  I’ve never experienced a more severe winter in my six decades on this planet. 

Once Dan and I came out of nature and more to the street level, he got his bearings together, “You know, I really like this.  It’s a little tough, but I know it’s good for my health.”

“Yes, Dan, do a bit of this every day.”

When we reached the ashram, the redness of our exposed faces lingered for a good hour or so, even after a good shower.  It was an accomplishment that Dan and I felt great about, like an Arctic Conquest.  I got a lot of chanting in and worked up an appetite.  “Shall we do it again, Dan?”

“Absolutely,” he said.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Thursday, January 23rd, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

From The Balcony

Whatever I trekked today was indoors for the second consecutive day.  It’s a rather ideal walkway that is located in our temple room.  Formerly a Methodist church, its high ceiling accommodates a balcony which I use as this walkway.  It is a horseshoe shaped area with different levels on which to walk.

From any angle on that height you can see all the pilgrims and meditators that come and go.  It’s a marvelous vantage point.  From the south standing position on the balcony you look north and angle low to see the sacred images of Krishna.  It’s a very special place.  And just behind you is a temperature controlled area which houses the auspicious plant, Tulasi.  It’s great being in the presence of this exotic basil species used in devotional rituals.  She stands in green glory – several dozens of her. 

On the western wall of the balcony, three fair sized arched windows open up to reveal the active outside street called Avenue Road.  Peering out I could see the chilly dynamic of weather this winter.  Exhaust from vehicles curl up into clouds and then dissolve eventually in its ascension.  It is such a consistently frigid winter in most of North America, with plummeting temperatures all around. 

From the balcony you have three worlds at your exposure – the tropical house of Tulasi, the ice world of the outside, and the spirit world of Krishna deities sheltered in shringasan domes, very ornately decorated. 

It’s a very high but tucked away place on that balcony.  I contemplated, “if ever there was truth to the global warming theory with ice caps melting, and Lake Ontario starting to rise with serious flood breakouts, this would be the obvious place to be. “

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Thursday, 23 January 2014

Wednesday, January 22nd, 2014

Port Au Spain/Brampton

As I Was Packing

As I was packing my luggage for the return journey back to Canada, my two monastic friends, guru and Agni, came to join me for our last few minutes together.  It was kind of them to bid farewell.  It is moments of support like this, and the camaraderie that goes along with it, that makes devotional life in the renounced lane very whole and complete. It epitomizes the personalistic approach to spiritual life.

The last few words which express a safe journey is like a prayer that all will go well.  It seems that a frequent traveller would likely be receiving many “Bon Voyages” in his or her life.

A five hour flight by Caribbean Airlines brought me to the Toronto airport where I was greeted by Vaishnava Das of Brampton.  A “Goodbye” should always be followed by a “Welcome”, which is what I totally received.  “Goodbyes” and “Hellos” should run in circles in life, otherwise it means you’re not moving.

Vaishnava Das took me to his home where Janaki, his wife, had left her trademark curry leaf veggies for my tummy.  Vaishanava then drove me to Cassie Cambell Community Centre to enable me to get some walking in.  In the fitness room I tackled the 145 metre lap walking lane.  Seven of those revolutions make one kilometre.  I took a gusto one hour at the track, trekking around a space of occupied treadmills, yoga balls, weightlifting devices and numerous other contraptions for getting fit. 

While I went in stride on with the walking, Vaishnava spent some time chatting with Lauren, a staff member, chatting a bit about the guy in robes who has trekked the country a few times.  My hour terminated.  It was all good, the people, the machines, the walking lane, except for the playing of not favourite selection of music.  At best, it was a step up from bubble gum music.  But I shouldn’t complain, I benefitted from being there.

I did hint to Vaishnava that in the future, we should have Wellness Night for our bhakti yoga practitioners, some of whom are under engaged and the food consumed is too rich. 

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Tuesday, January 21st, 2014

Los Cuevas, Trinidad

Two Friends

It was a treat on this perfect day to be with an old friend, a new friend.  Along this world class beach I did trail alongside Guru Prasad Swami, an American born who became a monk around the same time as me.  The new friend referred to is Agnidev, known in the world of devotional circles as a leader of smooth sounding kirtan

Agnidev, I never met before, until now.  When singing as he did at the beach under a tropical tree with a group of Longdenville Community and I, his voice came across, as usual, in a very transparent way.  It’s the voice of a crooner without ego.  Compliments to him.  After running a successful restaurant in Santa Rosa, California, for a number of years, Agnidev decided to retire from the restaurant business.  When he received the consent of his dharma patni, wife, he moved back to his native Trinidad where he is now the smooth mover and shaker of the community. 

With the old friend, Guru Prasad, we talked of many things.  While waves of the ocean were crashing near to us, we contemplated the direction of our worldwide mission.  We were rethinking and redefining our various centres and temples.  Our thoughts were that a certain type of person is very much drawn to the ritualistic side of devotion.  The majority of people in many countries that we travel to (he, predominantly in Latino places, and I more so in Anglo territory) appear to be more attracted to kirtan, to discussions, and good exotic, but holy food.  He and I firmly believe that we should give greater emphasis toward cultural educational approaches.   We pondered the benefits of this direction, giving ritualism a secondary place. 

Number one, it is always imperative to deliver what’s in demand.  And number two – presentations must be of quality standard, even though the subject is non secular.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Monday, January 20th, 2014

Longdonville, Trinidad

When Walking is an Art

One of the monks of Longdonville in Trinidad quoted Schopenhauer, he compared life to walking.  He referred to taking a step forward and in order not to fall, you correct yourself by striding and planting the other leg forward. 

If I got him right, it’s hard to stand on one leg.  The balance factor has to be in place. 

The last few days I’ve been trying to strike a balance by not always being on the feet.  Addressing some varicose vein issues, I recall my doctor saying, I must give some time to the blood in the legs to flow downward while they are suspended up.  So in the last few days, I chose the wall next to the bed I’ve been laying on for propping my legs up and allowing the flow of blood to occur.  I believe I should religiously follow this regiment, even when I’m not on long marathon treks.

It was the same monk, Kavi, by name, who quoted Schopenhauer, who took me for a short jaunt within the neighbourhood of the ISKCON Centre.

The neighbourhood is predominantly Hindu.  This is clearly demarked by the various flags you see pegged in their front yard.  The colours of the flags vary and they represent different personalities of the Vedic pantheon.  By the time we walked, the sun was descending when we met some of those folks, and connected with them.

Kavi and I discussed the art of connecting.  Connecting is sometimes referred to as the word ‘yoga’, as in when you take up the practice of yoga, you are ultimately making a connection or union with the Divine, in other words, communicating with God.

Our guru, Srila Prabhupada, went so far as to say that this is the art of all work.  This full reference from the Bhagavad  Gita goes as such:

“A person engaged in devotional service rids himself of both good and bad reactions, even in this life.  Therefore, strive for yoga, which is the art of all work.”

Take walking, for example.  It takes the form of an art and going beyond mechanics when the spiritual connection is made, when you walk not just for fitness, but when there’s a spiritual intent behind it. 

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Saturday, January 18th, 2014

Unity, Guyana
The K&K

The K & K Service Station off of the Coastal Road is the slickest gas station in the country. It's a landmark and also the weekend beer drinking and chicken finger - licking, cool place to be. It's right in the center of Guyana. Owned and managed by the Nauth family, they have everything to do with the fifth and final day of padayatra because today the family facility with a huge parking area became the sight for devotion.
We did the usual - kirtan on the setup stage, a truck that convert into a fold - out stage. Special guest speakers conveyed their message from there. Our drama "Little Big Ramayan" also made its appearance for a second night in a row. In attendance was (in my, estimation) six to seven hundred people who also partook in a free feast.
I met with the Nauth family. Nice folks. They were relaying what usually goes on. It's the big hang out place where music booms out from some of the fanciest cars around; where people make their connection with one another. They admit it was different this evening. By night's end, 11 pm when I chatted with them, they were impressed with our cleaning up the sight.
I was reminded of one thing our guru, Srila Prabhupada said, "First you be conscious, then you be Krishna conscious ." There is so much profundity in this statement. How can you be a saint if you are not at least pious and a good steward of the Earth?
The finale of the program was wild kirtan, dancing and additional djembe drumming, to provide a special flavour . The moon, almost full, shone on the sight with swift-moving clouds making it disappear at times.
The carpets were rolled up, so to speak. The sight will likely go back to the norm but weekenders will see the location as the spot where the monks took over for a day.
May the Source be with you!
2 KM

Friday, January 17th, 2014

The Scientists Mistake

While the procession of padayarta carried on successfully in the village of Mahaica, some trekking naturally takes place. And while there are details to report regarding the stage events, I chose to present here an excerpt from a conversation from which our guru, Srila Prabhupada speaks.
From a tenth morning walk at Cheviot Hills Park in Los Angeles, May 14th,1973, we have the following:
"The scientists mistake is that they are ignorant of the two energies - material and spiritual. They say that everything emanates from matter. The defect in their theories is that they began from matter instead of spirit. Since matter comes from spirit, in a sense everything is spiritual. Spiritual energy is the source and can exist without the material energy. But the material energy has no existence without the spiritual energy. It is correct to say darkness begins from light, not light begins from darkness. Scientists think that consciousness comes from matter. Actually, consciousness always exists, but when it is covered or degraded by ignorance, it is a form of consciousness.”
May the Source be with you!
6 KM

Thursday, January 16th, 2014

Down With The Sin!

At the location of a weekend marketplace Day Three of padayatra was held. I share the stage with two senior members of the Krishna community, Paramatma and Haridas, both of Guyana. The theme of our discussion basically defined what is padayatra. One way to describe it is "a journey with feet and heart".

I am so impressed with the receptivity of people as we go on proceeding through the villages, and also of their innocence and simplicity. It is something to be admired. The dichotomy is the trash found in the canals and beaches, otherwise I love the place.
Here's another plus: like Cuba, fruit and vegetables are organic and are not genetically modified. Fresh food is in abundance. Eating becomes a big attraction. Delivered from the home of Paramatma are, papaya, guava, black spice bottle mangoes. There's Suriname cherries and new to me are these small tasty dunks and karambola. Mostly eatables are served on lotus leaves. It's Paradise!

When all  is good and flavourful, why must we cater to the forces of artificial foods? I don't care to use the word "demons" on people, but in the case of those companies that have tampered with earth's food sources, I believe that the word is most appropriately used. Down with the sin!
May Guyana stay clear of their nonsense!
And may the Source be with you!
3 KM

Wednesday, January 15th, 2014

Strath Haven, Guyana
Water Form Above And Within

Clouds and sun have a field day with each other. Expect a downpour at anytime. It keeps temperature from rocketing. I don't mind that at all.
At the temple of the Nimai Pandit Study Center a few of us were poised for the opening of the curtain for viewing the two erect-standing beautiful deities of Gaura and Nitai but before they were revealed a large black moth invited himself into our space. He got very close to the curtain. For viewing? I doubt it.
A donkey was braying. He didn't seem to stop. Meanwhile the curtain opened. It was 6:08 am and a formal arati (offering of items to the deities) began. We started chanting for guru and Krishna. All was good except I asked one young monk to clap softly as he was obscuring the mantras.
I gave class and proceed on with my assistant, Dronacharya, to our accommodation where a second rehearsal was held for "Little Big Ramayan". Boy, do people sweat here! It is near enough to the equator and any minor movement invites perspiration. That's supposed to be good for you.
Day two of padayatra went on. Two young brothers, 8 and 3, tagged along. The three year old one held onto my hand the whole time. No one seemed to know who their parents were. I concluded that love and trust prevails in Guyana. It was only at the end of the program, 9 pm, that their dad showed up.The atmosphere is strong with family values, I would say, and where you have that, it's a safer  environment.
Personally I crave for a more wholesome world - with family - you know the type of family I am talking about: Mum, Dad, God, cat, dog, brother, sister, donkey or ass. Not necessarily in that order. They are creatures who sweat together.
May the Source be with you!
4 KM

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

Georgetown, Guyana
Push Through
One of the persons to care for me in Guyana is Ram Lila. After a decent overnight rest I awoke for a simplified morning sadhana (spiritual workout) which mainly involved chanting japa at the home of Khemraj and Marsi.
Monsoons are in full swing, creating another version of nature's harshness. Ram Lila, a native of Guyana, now spends a good amount of time in Canada as a successful accountant . After a successful outdoor Pada - Yatra which culminated at a rice mill yard in the town Cane Grove, Ram Lila and I walked back to our place of rest. While dodging incredible pot-holes in the dark he told me his story.
His dad died when he was young.  Being the oldest of the three siblings he took on the responsibility to maintain the household. At 8 he went to the creek before school to catch fish to be sold. This was a bare-hand, bare foot, underwear-only ordeal. It meant feeling your way to the reeds where the fish often hang out. It also entailed a full submergence in water frequented by huge crabs. After the catch, sales went door-to-door and sometimes to the market.
Ram Lila was a smart kid and he skipped a couple of grades. In between the fish catching days, becoming a bookkeeping expert and then onto opening his own accounting firm in Toronto, he squeezed in sometime as a monk. Devotees nurtured him in the ashram and the studies formed a moral basis for his life.
Personally I was fascinated at his rags-to-riches story. With "rich" I mean his implication and spiritual depths. Some people push through anything to achieve their goals. I had been watching these yellow birds, what they call kiskadie, as well as white cranes, sit through heavy rain and wind as they were perched on fence or cable. Some people are like that. Some people transcend.
This, we must aspire towards.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Monday, January 13th, 2014

Miami, Florida
AP (Airport Picnic)
It was just a stopover in Miami enroute to Guyana that made my day. We had a picnic at the airport. Murari, Garga, Buddhi and Rupa from our community came for a greeting - and plenty to eat. Honestly most airlines just don't cut it when it comes to tasty veggie food. Out of the packaging came wraps, pasta and curd.
Since I did not have the opportunity to be in an ashram or temple where one can view the deity of Krishna, there are some things to compensate for that - and that is the devotee. Just as one benefits from seeing the positive image of a sacred icon, the same merit is achieved by seeing and serving one on the path of bhakti.
Just one floor down from the Caribbean Airlines ticket booth, we sat, content as ever, serving, seeing and hearing each other. I informed our picnic circle of the successful meeting in Houston, of an apparent growth in North America. Even my host for an evening, Anil and Savatri, formally became members, and took diksha, initiation. Their new names are Abhay Charan and Sukrti respectively.
I also let the crew know that our "Little Big Ramayan" was well accepted and a high point for me was when one of the actors, Emdee Anderson from Jamaican descent, a dread locked chap, posed as the hair-whipping demon in opposition to Ram (laughter).
Time came for departure and a closure to a sweet session with the group from Miami.  We reminded each other to declare war on maya (illusion and temptation) and to not be a servant of matter.
Murari, jokingly asked if I put any mileage in today, pacing the halls of the airport. Embarrassingly I had to say "No". I could just as easily take count with an attached pedometer, but "No.”  I'll consider it an unregistered bonus.

May the Source be with you!

0 KM

Sunday, January 12th, 2014

Houston ,Texas
The Open Kind
Americans are an open kind of people, generally speaking. That was a small group's conclusion on this last day of meeting. Nanda Suta, from Seattle, is heading up the group that will coordinate the 50th Anniversary of Krishna Consciousness coming to the US, and then, branching off from there to all corners of the world.  In the plan-making stage I've vowed to walk the U.S on  2016 which make the half a century date.  Some colleagues suggested that I be careful of right-wing red-neck dynamics, especially where Republicans are strong. It is an ear that some Canadians have about south of the border.
I will see it as total adventure. My host for the evening told me that Texans have an attitude towards Asians, him being from India himself.  What to do?  I am neither Asian, Canadian, American etc. I am a Spirit. I will approach the marathon walk with a view to connect with all kinds, even cowboys.
Regarding the conservatism of Texas, I know that they can be downright curious and not be closed up, "extroverted" might be the word.  One of the monks (brahmacharis) I spoke with as meetings came to a close, said, "I was approached by one these full-fledged cowboys  at the airport once. The guy with cowboy hat came up to me to confirm that I was actually a monk. I told him I was and then he asked, acknowledging the robes, 'Well, how do you piss?' "
Call it forwardness! Lack of inhibition. Blunt! Whatever! I look up to meet all those inquisitive open people. They are spirit, after all, and a little dose of Krishna can do anyone a lot of good.

May the Source be with you!

9 KM

Saturday, January 11th, 2014

Blending Walking and Talking
Somehow or the other our quickly assembled drama troupe pulled off an appreciated "Little Big Ramayan". Then after the performance, as a way to wind down, I took to the sidewalk nearby.  With me was Manoram, whom I've travelled with for several summers on the youth bus tour.  It was a few minutes of time permitted to be kind to the feet, nay, the body. We went down a few quiet streets, as quiet as it gets on a Saturday evening in a Houston suburb. Turning a corner at a bar towards Shepard Ave, Manoram and I could hear dance music. The sound of voices and the tinkle of glassware for drinks. People are addressing their social needs, "said Manoram.
"Yes," I agreed. "Humans need the Lord to be sociable. It is the way we are. The question is, ‘Aren't there better ways to do it than taking substances?’  We are fortunate in our Krishna culture to be able to fulfill this need through kirtan chanting, through drumming and dance and great food.”
Manoram continued to express himself, "Through alcohol people drop their tensions, they are always uptight.”
“People have a lot of insecurities and don't know how to contend with it all," I said.  "We all suffer from lack of inner strength. That's why people also feel the need for spiritual discipline.”
Manoram and I reached Shepard Ave. at Grace Church with its neon sign in pink lumination.  And on our return walk we hopped onto a new topic, "How to make spirituality relevant to a public that's in a flux between happiness and distress – dualities?"
Our conversation went on...
The walk, the talk, blend well together provided it's a quiet street where you can hear each other speak and there's no eclipsing of conversation over the traffic. It's therapeutic to think of and for the world. Great way to end the day.
May the Source be with you!
3 KM

Monday, 13 January 2014

Friday, January 10th, 2014

Houston, Texas

Bad News

It is an integral part of a Krishna monk’s daily life to do some listening to words of wisdom.  Then, he reciprocally relays what he heard to someone else after due process.  This method is called sravanam kirtanam (hearing and then repeating what’s worthwhile).

Great revelations came from today’s speaker in our class.  Anuttama, the speaker, was telling us about the downtime necessary for the intense devotional practitioner.  He compared it to slowing down when motorboat racing through shallow waters.  What really took away my breath was something not so analogous or philosophical, it was something else. 

As communications director for our worldwide community, Anuttama relayed a story of one of his trainees.  Aniruddha was a 28 year old bright, vivacious African man who’s life abruptly came to an end in an untimely death in an auto accident.  This is not the first time to hear of a personal friend who lost his life to our roads.  I recall having this Nigerian whose name is Aniruddha, act as the character Duryodhan from the Mahabharat in one of the dramas I directed.  It was a pleasure to work with such a talented and enthusiastic man whom I worked with on several occasions. 

Receiving the news of a good soul I’d known being sacrificed to road traffic once again, I liken to war time announcements of countrymen who died in action while in battle.  This recurring unfortunate way to exit (automobile accidents) is in my opinion, epidemic in our community.   And if you were to talk to practically just anyone, don’t be surprised to hear the same story – testimonies from people who have had dear ones gone to car casualties.  I wouldn’t be stunned if the average person could count up to a half a dozen to even a dozen departed souls who are family or acquaintances that died this way. 

We may pass it all off as karmic play, truth be told, yet we do have the power to choose for proactiveness for all we do.  My word of caution would be two fold, number one, avoid driving or passengering if possible, and number two, if you must drive, do so defensively.  I took a serious walk in dedication to Aniruddha’s soul and chanted maha mantras in his honour.  I hope to see you back, Aniruddha, and if providence wills, perhaps in the next life, we could delight in stage production again for the future.  So long, Aniruddha.

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Friday, 10 January 2014

Thursday, January 9th, 2014

Houston, Texas

Strong Points

Billy Graham, a popular American evangelist, had never taken up the status as a monk, yet he is commendable as an influential spiritualist. 

His name came up in one of our meetings, when the topic arose about being proactive in the matter of maintaining integrity on the spiritual platform.  Billy Graham was once asked how he keeps going on as a successful inspiration and his response was capsulated in two points.  Number one, he would never find himself in a man and woman in a room alone situation.  And with number two, he remarked that he doesn’t handle money. 

This information is pertinent for those particularly in the renounced order of life. 

At our meetings I took note of other remarks of inspiration quoted from different sources:

“Any course is better than no course.”
“Show them a ladder and people will climb.”
“The rising tide raises all boats.”
“For succession, get the best people, give clear goals, and get out of the way.”
“Where attention goes, energy flows.”
“Better a good plan today than a better plan tomorrow.”
“Be tolerant and continue progress with determination.” (Srila Prabhupada). 
“Humility.  Yes, but be aggressive, be a lion on the chase and a lamb at home.” (Srila Prabhupada).
May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Wednesday, January 8th, 2014

Houston, Texas

The Train and a Time

The timing couldn’t be more precise.  Running alongside our meeting room is this railway line; a train goes by periodically with a routine whistle blowing off.  It seems to strike at a critical moment, just when something profound is being said or a major item is being voted on, there blows the whistle.

I got somewhat familiar with those tracks of the train at predawn when I was ambling on the trail right next to it.

I’ve always liked trains.  Since knowing that our guru, Srila Prabhupada, spent ample time on this mode of transportation in his years as a family man (prior to being a monk), the locomotive reminds me of him.  India, where he did his travels, mainly to earn his family’s keep, have the most complex and active passenger train system in the world.

For me the sound of a train represents optimism in a certain way.  They are ancient relics of the past.  They are powerful.  Of course, there is a dark side – products of a residual industrial revolution.   They made a major change in the culture of our indigenous people.  Their construction killed many labourers .  In Hope, British Columbia, I recalled through my travels through there, a plaque reads that for every mile of constructed track, three Chinese labourers fell to their death.

When my colleagues and I have our meetings in India, a small lizard, what they call a tik-tik, crawls along the walls and often makes a sound at a point of affirmation.  Here, in Houston, we hear the toot of a choo-choo, at a moment when it’s so on queue.  It just appears to be such perfect timing.  It is beyond declaring that it’s a coincidence.

May the Source be with you!

3 KM

Thursday, 9 January 2014

Tuesday, January 7th, 2014

Houston, Texas

Shuno Shepa

Walking today constituted zealous steps, the circle fashion, both inside the Radha Nilamadhava Temple and outside it’s expansive parking lot.

I also ventured around the neighbourhood here off of 34th Street.  It’s a mix of residential bungalow homes, plazas, doughnut and pizza shops and churches.  It is a place of many automobiles zooming by.  I see more dogs in people’s yards than people.  It’s not a criticism, but an observation.

Regarding dogs, I was asked to speak today from the book, Bhagavatam.  And what sticks out in the message delivered this morning, had to do with a dog’s tail.  Shuno shepa.  In the verse from Canto 7, the very cultured child, Prahlad, was being tortured by his father.  The father observed his son’s undivided attention to Vishnu, a name for the Absolute.  Prahlad’s father was agitated with the focus of his son, considered it the utmost distraction, and compelled him to put the boy under intense duress.  He likened the boy’s mind to that of a dog’s tail.  Prahlad was unswerved in his fixation on Vishnu, and it was this focus in purity that could not be changed, like trying to make straight the curve in a dog’s tail.

There’s a whole language to a dog’s tail, whether it waggles or not.  The dog may be aroused or feel defeated, humbled or loved, and there’s movements to demonstrate such swaying moods by the way of the tail.  Whatever is the emotion, the tail always has a curve.

The reason for my visit to Houston was to attend our North American AGM.  I’m not the greatest meetings person.  Topics are fine, mission oriented, socially sensitive, and are necessary.  But, it all becomes a little too sedentary for me.  Once I go for those evening drama practices (when meetings are over) my tail starts waggling with joy.

We are all wired differently.  The tail of the dog waggles on its own time.  You just want to make sure that you are in the position of shuno shepa, be unflinching in your devotion.

May the Source be with you!

4 KM

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Monday, January 6th, 2014

Houston, Texas

At the US Customs

At the Toronto Airport, US Customs, station number 9, I was asked by an officer, a woman, “Where are you flying to?”

“To Houston.”

“What do you do?”

“I’m a monk.”

“You don’t mind being asked questioned by a woman, because I had two monks here last week who refused to deal with me.” (She wasn’t defiant, just relaying her experience…)

“Well, ma’am, that must be a different order.  I’m a Hare Krishna monk, we love everyone.”

She smiled, which is a rarity, coming from a customs officer.  She had a few more brief questions and was content with my answers.

Yes, we do love everyone, at least, try to.  No one is your friend and no one is your enemy.  We are all spirits, but with different attitudes.  I have to be concerned with my own.

In the evening, it was preplanned that I meet with a cast of potentials, youth who would audition for parts for the weekend drama, “Little Big Ramayan”.  The volunteers that showed up were both young men and women, average age in their teens.  The story calls for male and female characters.  Sorry, Shakespeare, I usually don’t have an all male cast; I use both genders.  I try to love everyone.

As our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had done, he accepted all, and for those who consented to the Vaishnava principles, he turned them into ladies and gentlemen.

May the Source be with you!

5 KM

Sunday, January 5th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario

Warm Up When Cold

It is so very possible to work up a sweat while in the snow.   Myself, and so many other people took advantage of the tranquility in the ravine that runs near Bayview Avenue.  You walk at a good speed and beads of perspiration will form and get absorbed in the clothes you wear.  Sweat is a sign that the machinery is in motion.  Motion can make you wet.  Motion is also the best for toning down emotion.

Our Inuit people knew the art of keeping warm in the igloo.  For southerners who aren’t aware, snow is a remarkable insulator from chilly winds.  A small fire inside combined with body heat emits enough warmth to make life pleasant in the white domed home.  You keep bundled up and you are fine.  In our childhood, we constructed snow tunnels.  Inside you felt very protected.

I embarked on this trail, bidding all other walkers with a, “Have a good one!”  And, one by one, they, in good spirits, offered their brief greeting to one another and to me.  In one way life in terms of pleasure doesn’t get better than this meeting of people in a winter setting.

I reflected on the day prior on a visit to a young couple, Yogendra and Rasa and their newborn daughter, Audharya.  Warmth was demonstrated, particularly by daddy to daughter, during my short visit there.  Not so long ago, Yogendra was a cheerful young monastic living the life of learning, simplicity and devotion.  Those three items are dream catchers in a monk’s life.  They are just precious and they set the stage for the challenging life of parenting, home making and community contributing.

I’ve watched Yogendra personally grow, and I can see life for him is becoming fulfilled.

My last touch of warmth for the day came during the famous open house at the Hare Krishna Centre, what in hippie days was called The Love Feast.   The temple managers arranged a gorgeous lit flower petaled staged for the local bhajan band, Gaura Shakti.  A seat with similar d├ęcor was set for me to use before the Sunday crowd to explain the power of hearing mantra and a further enhanced power from reciting it.  The mantra presentation by Gaura Shakti warmed so many hearts that night.

I think that if hearts can sweat in devotion, that happened tonight.

May the Source be with you!

7 KM

Saturday, January 4th, 2014

Toronto, Ontario
Gorgeous After All
From a plane or bird’s eye view, 17% of the city is tree, bush, or grass covered (now snow). The recent ice storm pulled down and disturbed much of this natural wealth. It’s unsettling to see this at first glance.
I caught a personal glimpse of the damage done while walking a...long what was the ancient aboriginal trail on Davenport Avenue. Currently, it’s a curvy road situated by a modest escarpment. Whatever still remains of many trees stripped of substantial branches appears barren. Someone will say that it will make way for new growth. I suppose it’s true.
I decided, in the course of the trek, to just sit on a bench by a park, to lean back and absorb the brightness of the day with sun and reflector snow combined to bathe the face. I then dwelt on the Gita’s words, bhuta grama sa evayam bhutva bhutva praliyate, “vice is invoked and then put to rest repeatedly.”
Under direction, nature will recycle, replenish, it tends to demonstrate defeat with one season and then show hope in another. With a white blanket she puts all that’s visible to sleep, and it’s often done with a soft gesture. She’s not always stormy. Then, with time, which is the most powerful demo of the deva (God), everything awakens.
Near my bench, a jet black squirrel scurried about over the snow cover, checking out lunch possibilities. Maybe he was hoping I was giving handouts. Others have probably done the favour before, but I admit to being a meagre donor. My pocket was empty. I decided to give a mantra.
Here goes, “Hare Krishna. Can you hear me little fellow? Does it excite you? And stir up a Saturday night fever?”
He wasn’t listening I suppose, but I appreciated his presence anyway as he dashed off. He seemed resilient over an apparent devastation by nature. Granted, we are not talking of the aftermath of a war zone, quite. We are just looking at a physical transition of nature, as branches had fallen in different directions. This park will take on a new face before long at springtime. There was actually some beauty in what I saw and I didn’t have to strain to see it when understanding the purpose of the transition. Here you have it, black-barren trees, upright and strewn, and then a bushy tailed black is beautiful little guy poking around against a pure white backdrop. It’s all downright gorgeous.
May the Source be with you!
6 KM

Sunday, 5 January 2014

Friday, January 3rd, 2014

Toronto, Ontario
Before I Hit the Street
Before I hit the street for a stroll through Little Greece on Danforth Ave., I conducted, for a third time in Toronto, a Kirtan Standard Seminar.  With two helpers, Keshava and Rukmini, in a too rushed two-and-a-half hour presentation we covered the topic dear to all.
Chanting, or kirtan, is the life-line for those who take to the lineage of Chaitanya.  Chaitanya was a walker as well as a chanter.  In the sweet medium of Sanskrit, mantras were disseminated to the public. Then additional masters of kirtan set bhajans (devotional songs) to the Bengali medium.  Results were life-changing for people.  Hearts were moved.
With time, initial intent got lost and various diversions from the mood of surrender to Krishna became compromised.  To redeem such occurrences, God does give another chance.
Through the effort of our guru, Srila Prabhupada, and some predecessors, the integrity behind kirtan was restored.  Westerners, as well as eastern counterparts embraced the ancient practice as the world saw a Diaspora of sacred sound.
In order to hold to tradition and intent, there is a need to watchdog over various influences that may attempt to cheapen the process.  Staging a seminar for kirtan standards is an effort to preserve particularly what our guru delivered.
Some feedback remarks:
1) It was awesome.
2) Practical demonstration with integration of dancers, instruments, etc. Course was great.
3) Time was short for presentation.
4) Informative and useful. There is a need for training for aspiring kirtaneers.
5) The presentation clarified what's cool, what to kill, and what you might get away with.
6) I thought the beginning of the class was nice, establishing the importance of kirtan and Prabhupada's quotes.  Very focused.
May the Source be with you!
5 KM

Thursday, January 2nd, 2014

Toronto, Ontario


Today's most common phrase: It's cold! My remark: Try Siberia! Be happy! You're not that body!

Today's unique encounter: Meeting a couple.  He, with origins form Sicily, she with origins from Greece, we sat and talked about the concept of, "monk/nun for a day", a six-hour experience of life in the ashram - to include mantra meditation, explanation of deities , a class on philosophy, some yoga, a discovery walk in the trails nearby, eating at Govinda's, some work in the kitchen, nine devotions workshop - charge a fee and open to the public.

Today's greatest moment: Walking and chanting in the snow and feeling no cold.

Today's best food: Curd, tomatoes, peppers, lightly spiced and offered to Krishna.

Today's greatest comfort: Sitting with two brahmacharis and brain-storming/ second to that - a much needed massage with hot oils and essence by Shyamasundara das - I only remember a minute of it, I fell asleep so fast.

Today's greatest challenge: Fighting of the drowsiness.

Today's greatest agitation: Behaviour of a congregant.

Today's greatest hope: The service ahead.

May the Source be with you!

6 KM

Wednesday, January 1st, 2014

Brampton, Ontario
2013 Rolled Over

2013 rolled over.  2014 like a morning lotus opened up.  The midnight blast! The New Year's countdown, Old City Hall, excited many who immersed themselves at the Krishna corner. By 1 am the sound of the drum and the voices terminated while co-chanters headed back for the ashram by subway train, and I decided to trek it back.  With snow boots on I found it somewhat cumbersome.  This footwear is made for snow.  Walking on cleared sidewalks with a pair of snow boots is like dragging your feet in clay-bound corn fields.  As kids, this we used to do.  Each step you took appeared to accumulate more muck.  And while it was fun it also tended to put you into panic mode.  "I'm stuck! How do I get out? Papa, help me!" is what we wanted to cry.  The other fear was if Papa knew we were parading around in the neighbour's farm.  He would give us a piece of his mind.  We were kids.  I gravitated this night (rather morning) to streets with snow edges.  What a difference!

Our guru Srila Prabhupada used to say that in order to succeed in reaching another planet such as the moon, you require the attire suitable for the environment.  His message to us was that we adjust our sails to different circumstances.  The wind will always blow in some different directions so we must move in co-operation with the wind.  So far, with the page of a new year turning over it's been a brrr... of a winter.  Still, considering the recent big freeze and the ice storm which put power out for days in the Toronto area, life has to go on.

In Brampton, a sweet South Indian couple came forward for their diksas, a traditional initiation.  They adjusted their old habits for new ones in order to make a progress that is granted in human life.  Dharondev's name is Dharma das and Madhumati is now Manasi Ganga. We wish them well.

May the Source be with you!

2 KM

Tuesday, December 31st, 2013

Toronto, Ontario
Two Monks at New Year

I sat down with two of our young guys who have been treading the path of renunciation for some time.  Brihat Mrdanga (formerly Jeff) has been with the mission for five years now and has traveled across Canada and India more than once since taking up the life of the cloth. He’s a great soul with a healthy spirit pushing on in his free celibate life.

Maha Mantra (formerly Matt) is our second Ontario chap to join within a short span of a golden period when a nice group of young men trickled in to become monks. Like Brihat Mrdanga he was looking at the New Year with openness.

The interesting thing about Brihat Mrdanga and Maha Mantra is that they reach a crossroads, not about being single and serving in a spiritual capacity like they have been doing, but instead of travelling throughout the Maritimes in a small bus together, with a third monk, Hayagriva of Quebec, or grounding themselves in our Montreal chapter, he expressed a small adjustment.  Hayagriva likes to commit himself to sharing the Bhagavat philosophy in French Canada. Maha Mantra expressed a desire to be reaching out to youth based in Toronto and working within the parameters of the downtown Bhakti Lounge. And Brihat Mrdanga conveyed a passion for backpacking and cycling from city to city in the Maritimes, in the eastern most part of the country with another chosen renuonciant. Of course, this cycling around sounds quite adventurous, I mean, moving around with no particular fixed address, sounds a little like “the walking monk” genre of life.

The three men, actually, did not mean to say they were sick of each other traveling together. They had reached a point of exploratory horizons. “Let’s do something different” was the theme and take responsibly for different turfs.

As usual the very tail-end of a year hits a high point in a Krishna monk’s life in Canada. Perhaps the most explosive kirtan of the year finds its way to a public venue. For the New Year’s countdown Maha Mantra, Brihat Mrdanga, myself and hordes of other Krishna chanters converged in front of Old City Hall for the most outrageous time. While the temperature was an easy eighteen degrees Celsius below, the fire of kirtan to the beat of different drums lifted even higher the spirit of those two fine monks that I sat with in the afternoon.

It looks as though there is strategy and ecstasy that are embracing the minds of these two monks.

May the Source be with you!

9 KM

Wednesday, 1 January 2014

Monday, December 30th, 2013

Vancouver/ Toronto

Guidelines For Humans

Due to the time taken in air travel I found no opportunity to stretch either leg in the form of walking. My eyes did stumble, during a read, on the instructions on Bhismadev. Bhishmadev was the wise warrior whom we learn of in “The Mahabharata” epic and in the details of his passing from the book “Bhagavatam” wherein he offered his last words of guidelines for humans. This is an excerpt from 1.2.26 purport:

“The varnashrama-dharma is prescribed for the civilized human being just to train him to successfully terminate human life. Self-realization is distinguished from the life of the lower animals engaged in eating, sleeping, fearing and mating. Bhismaedev advised for all human beings nine qualifications:

1) not to become angry

2) not to lie

3) to equally distribute wealth

4) to forgive

5) to beget children only buy ones legitimate wife

6) to be pure in mind and hygiene in body

7) not to be inimical toward anyone

8) to be simple and

9) to support subordinates.

One cannot be called a civilized person without acquiring the above mentioned preliminary qualities”

May the Source be with you!

0 KM

Sunday, December 29th, 2013

Port Coquitlam, British Columbia

Nelson Mandela Etc.

“Nelson Mandela, Steve Jobs and Albert Einstein all got impacted by this book.”  I was listening very carefully to these words, a selling point for the Bhagavad-gita. Banka Bihari, a woman that I have known for thirty years since she first discovered the powerful message of Krishna, was relaying to a small group of us how she gets people to stop and hear her spiel at the mall.  She was young at the time, hailed from Brantford, Ontario, and she was so eager to know about life.  Now years later, she reigns supreme in the Gita distribution category for the greater Vancouver area. Around the dining room table, with her husband Ramanuja to my side and Hadai, a family friend and a student of mine, we heard Banka Bihari tell of her success and challenges with sharing the knowledge of the Gita to the Christmas shoppers.  Every year a marathon is held world-wide for a pleasant push to acquaint the public with this treasure of knowledge.  The marathon referred to is the Prabhupada marathon, an initiative by ISKCON which has been running since the early seventies.  We were intrigued with Banka Bihari’s magic, what she says and how she says it when approaching pedestrians to or from the shop.  “They take the Gita,” she said, “and often come back for a second book related to bhakti.”  She sometimes mentions that this book influenced Gandhi, but there are mixed feelings as people then relate to the book as some religion.

On that note she defends it by saying the information is about life challenges and how to overcome them.  It’s not for any particular denomination.

Banka Bihari volunteers her time and as a sacrifice.  She has a young handicapped son, Nicholas. Between Nicholas’s father and mother they juggle time between home and work in the most co-operative spirit.  It is quite commendable that she extends herself to share the science of the self in the form of the Gita.

The family served me in their Langley home a grainless meal honoured every two weeks on what is a Vaisnava tradition called ekadasi.  The quinoa with veggies mixed in was mouth-gratifying. My second visit to a household was in Port Coquitlam.  The family, who run a security business, have been in Canada from their native India for a decade.  They are taking to bhakti yoga so naturally. They had so many questions on how to apply self-realization in their lives.  Naturally I obliged.

A final victory for the day was staging “The Little Big Ramayana” at Vancouver’s ISKCON centre.  The youth I worked with on this project did a bang on job as an offering to Krishna.  All in His service.

May the Source be with you!

8 KM

Saturday, December 28th, 2013

Surrey, British Columbia

The Great Past

Some of the members of the youth who volunteered themselves in the drama project of this weekend, have this unstoppable passion for kirtan.  One of our girls in Vancouver organized a twelve hour, uninterrupted kirtan, a chanting session, which has become very commonplace in bhakti-yoga communities.

I had mentioned to Radharani, the coordinator, in order to accomplish a traditional edge in a multi-houred chanting kirtan, you have no pauses, no breaks whatsoever.  “When one chanting group
completes their slot the next group to shuffle in, acts as a continuum.  There is a flow that should not be broken.  It needs to be the smoothest transition.”

Secondly, I suggested that since tradition has some merit then have the chanters stick to the maha-mantra.  I learned of these ways from my Bangladeshi and Oriyan friends.  This is their approach for
generations and is the method of showcasing “the mantra” Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare /Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare, nothing else.  They call this kirtan “Ashta Prahar” an eight hour times three chanting period. Chanting is purging.  It generates camaraderie.  It is an opportunity to present one’s talent but more importantly it is a place and time for collective hearts to offer themselves to the one who leaves sound as a way to transform.  I did indeed put in some walking after leading the final kirtan, at which time the grand finale group got off their butts to dance in the course of chanting.  If we are at all to value antiquity, especially in the line of Chaitanya, then we might look to old levitation techniques, where you rise on your feet, then sway back and forth, raise arms and hands at times.  Tradition has it that you surrender not just your voice and hands (as in playing an instrument) but to engage the entire body, the entire being.  Whatever is great that the past holds let it be sustained for future benefits.

May the Source be with you!

5 Km