Sunday, 30 June 2019

Thursday, June 27th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

People Coming And Sitting

A couple from Saudi Arabia and their baby in a stroller sat down next to us in the park. One of our chanting party members handed them a card promoting the soon-to-arrive "Chariot Fest" which is also called "Festival of India" and this compelled them to join us. They have only been in Canada for nine months and are loving it.  They were curious.

"But you're not from India?"

I looked around and noted all of us pale-faced persons.  Except for Ananda on the djembe, our group was all white, including our visiting swami, Niranjan Maharaja.

"I was born in Chatham, Ontario, and most of us here are Canadian, American or European,” I said.

The couple were astounded, first that we had adopted the ancient spiritual ways of India, and second, with our sense of openness.  I do hope we will see them again.  I did explain the meaning of the mantrawe were singing.

"Krishna refers to the Creator. Rama implies ‘enjoyer’.  Hare is a word that calls on our service to the Creator.  And the execution of it is done in a joyful way."

These Arab folks were grateful and expressed it in the most courteous way. And just as they left, a couple of young lads sat by to join in our magical mystery mantras; one had stark yellow hair with dreads.  They sat for a while and then a young woman took part in the chant.

In this way, interest by the public at Christie Pitts Park, was sustained as we sat under the shade of trees and upon the softest of grass.

May the Source be with you!
3 km

Wednesday, June 26th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

Last Exit

One member of our local community who comes regularly for priestly tasks drove Jai and I to his residential area at Pape and Danforth.  It was at my request.  "From your place the two of us will walk back to the ashram, a distance of five kilometres, exactly."

It's been hot here and the sun was blazing, "Jai, let's go on the shady side of the street."  The sun was going on its westerly way, casting shadows from buildings and trees on a slightly northern slant.  That was relieving.

On streets of commerce, with more dense pedestrian traffic, it’s difficult to greet everyone.  Once we got to the well treed and home district through Rosedale, it became easy to say simply, "How are you?" and then receive some reciprocation. It must be something about bushes and trees that calms us.  Plus when you have those nice Victorian homes to your right and left, the feeling is very homey and safe.

In going over the Don Valley Parkway via the bridge, you have this expansive view. People used to jump from this bridge until the city made it impossible to leap from there.  Some people are indeed living in despair, having lost hope, looking for opportunities to give up after trying to give life another shot. The bridge is called the Bloor Viaduct. I knew at least two people, over the years, who decided to make this Don Valley their last image.

Each time I cross that bridge, I can't help but remember that the viaduct was the last exit for a number of people.  It's sad but real.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Tuesday, June 25th, 2019

Miami / Toronto

Becoming Relevant

I've left Florida and landed in Canada, and done some walking with Jai. Thoughts were flowing through my mind in the course of the walk.  I'll share and let those thoughts flow in as natural a fluidity as possible.

There is a controversy drifting in the air within the local community.  The subject is whether to go vegan at our festivals with the public, go partly vegan, or not at all, in other words, "stick to the paneer and butter please."

Soon our biggest event of the year is approaching.  Yes, soon 40,000 folks will attend our annual Chariot/India Fest. These days to be more relevant to the public, who are becoming more and more sensitive to animal slaughter issues, we must think twice before we dish out the food.  Cows and bulls, innocent creatures, are being mercilessly tortured and slaughtered.  The dairy industry is intrinsically connected to slaughter.  If you purchase and consume dairy then you support the system of animal killing.  It's that simple.

In the Krishna culture, rooted in ancient India, cows and bulls were always revered for their dharmic contributions to the human population, through the milk surplus and ox power.  Those animals were never slaughtered.  But now, and particularly here, in the west, they are. When we purchase milk in those plastic bags, even if done for deities, we are backing a corrupt system.  Hence, our guru, Prabhupada, asked for self-sustained ahimsa communities. We have a long way to go to get there. We must think deeply about this. I personally opt for non-dairy products—coconut milk and oil and other choices for such events.

If Burger King and McDonald's are bending to the public demand with vegan burgers, then a community like ours should also consider becoming more relevant.

May the Source be with you!
6 km

Monday, June 24th, 2019

Miami, Florida

The Day of the Iguana

Iguanas by the dozens were taking in the rays in the sun, just being very stoic until P. Krpa and I started walking in their territory.  They went scurrying about here and there until they came to that lagoon, taking shelter of its waters or the trees nearby.  Their speed disallowed candid pics.  We were at Virginia Beach.

Instead of attempting to get some time in walking, we opted for the swim. Unfortunately the water is shallow. I was content to get some mobilization in.  Can't complain.  P.K.'s massage on the legs helped.  At Rasalila's home some friends and family came.  When in Miami almost anywhere in the city there is a strong Hispanic presence, origins from just about any place in South America, Central America and the Caribbean.  My presentation was in English.  Using the same formula as the previous night's sangha, we have food—great lasagna—reading, discussion and kirtan.  It's just the perfect fix for a summer evening.  Bhakti-yogisdo know how to party in the absence of drugs, liquor, sex and hopefully gossip, thank God.

A storm did rip through the city in the late afternoon.  Builders across the street, from the loft I'm staying in, responded to nature.  The lightning, thunder and hail shooed them away.  Mangoes came crashing down.  It is that season, and it makes one thankful despite the heat which becomes unbearable. There is always some consolation.

If there is one topic that surged forth as significant at Rasalila's place, it was gratitude.  Expressions of gratitude will always be an obligation.

May the Source be with you!
0 km

Sunday, June 23rd, 2019

Miami, Florida

Living With the High King

No walking today.  Being a passenger in a car—yes.  From Tampa area, a group of us drove south to Miami.  Temperatures are in the high 90s and it's humid.  Upon arriving at a rented space on a floor in Coconut Grove, every AC unit and every fan was on, full-blast, to address this northern swami's needs.

The apartment filled up with guests, very quickly, for an evening sangha.  My choice excerpt of reading was a passage from Shyamasundar's book, Chasing Rhinos with the Swami.  Here is a quote from scholar, Plotinus, which our guru, Prabhupada, really approved.

"If the (individual) souls remain in the intelligible realm with the Soul, they are beyond harm, and share in the Soul's governance.  They are like kings who live with the High King.  But there comes a point at which they come down from this state, to one of individuality.  They wish to become independent.  When a soul remains for long in this withdrawal in estrangement from the whole, it becomes a thing fragmented, isolated, and weak."

This passage stirred up some interest, especially for one thoughtful eighteen year old.  We discussed it in greater detail.  Other questions came forward from the other youths, not challenging.  Just clarity is what they were going for.

The meal was scrumptious, the chanting—so lively.  I'm grateful to the organizers and also for my Gainesville hosts, Ananta Sesa and Vaishnavi.

May the Source be with you!
0 km

Thursday, 27 June 2019

Saturday, June 22nd, 2019

Alachua / Tampa

Last Day North

I had read from the book, Chaitanya Charitamrta,where Nityananda expresses that the body and soul are one, but the prana / atma / the soul is more important.  My reading with the follow-up verse and purport was the subject of discussion.  Naturally it led to the philosophical conclusion of acintyabedabedatattva: the inconceivable, simultaneous oneness but difference principle. The subsequent discussion among those who sat there, thirty-five or so people, was very interesting.

From that temple location in Alachua, several of us left for the ‘springs’ once again.  It was my preference to go for that natural therapy which was so much needed. One of the devotees, Vaikunthanath, insisted I use the snorkel.  "You could see everything underneath the water."  

But I declined, "I would rather do it the raw way and swim it like Johnny Weissmuller, with no gear."  I had found out that the champion swimmer and actor had all those Tarzan movies from the ’30s and ’40s filmed in Silver Springs, Florida, nearby.

Most people tube their way down the stream, and there appeared to be thousands of them, but Danesvara, age seventy, myself, and the rest—young men and women—vied for the swim.  They all agreed that was the superior way to go downstream. Farewell tubes!

From the ‘springs’ I was driven to Tampa for a kirtan and class from the BhagavatamPrayers by Queen Kunti.  I got everyone, about forty plus, to dance to Rayn's funky drum beats.  It was so engaging.  All were happy!  Tomorrow I head south to Miami.

May the Source be with you!

3 km on foot
3 km in water

Friday, June 21st, 2019

Alachua / Gainesville

Three Classes

I delivered three classes today, the same as I did yesterday.  At the Alachua ISKCON Centre, the class—followed by discussion—was in regard to a sage by the name of, Markandeya, who meditated, and performed austerities, which invoked the attention of the great Shiva and his wife, Parvati.  At their sudden appearance, he executed the most humble of yogicasanasor sitting postures.  Basically, he bowed to them and took a humble stance.

Our discussion then led to good behaviour within the Vaishnava culture.  A similar discussion took place at Krishna House when I read from Chapter Four of Volume 2 of, Chasing Rhinos With the Swami.  Author Shyamasundar Das, begins his chapter with the quality of a good soul—kindness to all.  He also highlighted patience.  He was relaying how our guru, Prabhupada, along with assistants, were held in quarantine for six days in India after having come from Africa.

Shyamasundar also addressed the good trait of ‘silence’. This does not refer to taking a vow of silence.  More specifically silence means to only speak of what is relevant to one's overall wellness, including the spirit's needs.

We all know how much time is consumed in chatter and gossip.  Such habits are very removed from saintliness.

Oops!  I forgot to mention the presentation made to the summer camp students.  We had a blast!

Also it was Day #2 for doing another swim within one of those springs.  My God, it's so therapeutic.  I would say that especially my knees are liking it.

May the Source be with you!

3 km on foot
4 km through water

Saturday, 22 June 2019

Thursday, June 20th, 2019

Gainesville, Florida

I Hardly Walked

I hardly walked.  It's too humid.  To compensate for the loss, I swam 3 kilometres in one of those fabulous springs that the area is known for.  After a lively morning program in Gainesville, one of the members of the facility called "Krishna House," took me to Ichetucknee Springs State Park.  

Now, what is so unique about these springs?  Here's what a brochure tells me: "Springs are amazing natural phenomenon where vast underground caves and caverns form to hold water.  They are the window into the health of our groundwater."

It was in the spring that Jai Chaitanya and I swam in—the Ichetucknee.  How refreshing!  While submerged to the neck, heavy rains came.  As we body-sailed with the traditional forward strokes, the current carried us. Massive fallen trees, we tried to dodge. One such tree became a perfect anchor for me to sit upon during a gayatri mantra break before proceeding on. No alligators live here, but there are turtles galore.

The swim did the trick and spared me from a sweat-bound walk.

In the evening, I was invited for a second visit to "Krishna House," this time to award initiation to Lucy. I spoke on 10.9 from the Gita, and soon after, we gave her the Sanskrit name, "Lalita Gopi.  The ceremony was completed with a great, happy kirtan.

Since her younger years, people have teased her with the term "I Love Lucy.”  Perhaps now, it will occasionally be "I Love Lalita."

May the Source be with you!
2 km walking
3 km swimming

Wednesday, June 19th, 2019

Alachua, Florida

Speaking of Bears in Gator Country

Now that summer is around the corner, people already have plans for doing some serious summer camping.  At an evening program at the home of Nandini Kishori, there was a sizeable gathering of especially young boys and girls, all of bhakti yoga parents.  I was asked to share stories about my adventurous walks; the most intriguing one was about the grizzly encounter.  There was also the time when a brahmachari and I met up with a black bear, whom, we were not aware, had her cubs nearby.  She was munching on wild strawberries and I guess you could say we happened to be there at the time of her breakfast.  We were imposing on her leisure-time and she let us know about it. She got up on her hind legs looking tall, then she lunged forward on what is called a "bluff charge." We casually and respectfully moved out of her way and went down the trail.

The things that I learned from park authorities on the subject and personal experience with bears are as follows:  1) when you encounter a bear respect it and go backwards in a slow retreat   2) avoid looking at it in the eye   3) never run away as you are inviting the bear to charge   4) to fight off a black bear, strike it in the nose   5) play dead with a grizzly, head down with your hands to the back of your neck   6) carry bear spray and you may avoid #5   7) when walking through bear country make noise, let them know you're coming—or as I do, chant mantras audibly to warn them.

Those are some tips for those planning a wilderness trip of some kind.

May the Source be with you!
2 km

Tuesday, June 18th, 2019

Niagara / Toronto

A Mind Reader?

Anytime a monastic guest arrives in Toronto, I feel a happy obligation to take him to the Falls, which is a mere hour and a half away.  Sundarlal, from Mauritius, made it here for the first time, and along with our driver, Nanda, we took a trip on what seemed like the first day of summer this year.  

Starting on foot near white water with its rushing and roaring, Sundarlal, like all newcomers, became amazed by the elemental power.  While we were observing the majesty, a man from Kentucky, also a tourist, came over for a chat.

“Buddhist monks?”

“Actually, Krishna! Hare Krishna!” I clarified.

The outgoing friendly chap, with sun hat and shades, declared he was a mind reader. With a Festival of India card, I gave him, he pressed it to his head and then recited the entire Mantra, found on the card.  “Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare Hare….”

“Magic!” we asserted. “Magic!”

He gave us a boost.

Now, everyone knows my passion for theatre of a transcendental nature.  I rarely see live theatre, although I produce plays with a spiritual content.  Stephen, Balaram, and I have all worked as a team on dramas.  To gain exposure, ideas, inspiration, etc., we booked ourselves tickets for a performance of “The Book of Mormon” at the Ed Mirvish Theatre in Toronto.  It was an entertaining experience.  The troupe was tight in their presentation.  The audience of 2300, all stood for a standing ovation. However,  much of the content was somewhat too vulgar for me. It was a learning experience.

May the Source be with you!
3 km

Monday, June 17, 2019

North York, Ontario

One Party Spoiled

They say two million people attended the big party today at Toronto’s Nathan Philips Square and the parade route along the Lakeshore.  That’s huge.  People were having a good time honouring the champion basketball team, the Raptors.

Unfortunately, there were three or four who came to spoil the party, leaving four people injured in a shooting, and others injured in a stabbing.  Not much is known about the offenders as I write this, but arrests were made.  We’ll hear more, I’m sure.  Just 3.2 kilometres north of the senseless tragedy, is our ashram.  I had every intention of staying away from the congestion even before hearing of the injuries. ( I wish quick recovery for the victims.)

The intent today, or rather, for tonight, was to visit some annual donors for our big (not Raptor big) Festival of Chariots.  That was cancelled out.  Our donors warned us,  “Please don’t come out tonight.  There’s too many shootings.”

The alternative was to go north to Shepherd in North York.  One of our girls, Lila Mayi, pre-arranged for a kirtan in Avondale Park.  Jai and I went via subway.  I was tired. We were late.  The kirtan had begun.  We could hear it.  We dashed over and plopped ourselves down on the grass and joined in.

The response was magnificent.  People came down from the highrises all around , curious about our sound.

What an assortment of demographics!  You have people from China, India, the Middle East, Russia etc. , all living around here as one happy family. It sure felt like that!

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Sunday, June 16th, 2019

Hamilton / Mississauga

Devil’s Punch Bowl

Two men fairly fresh from India, two from Canada (actual monks), and a young Ukrainian, hit the Bruce Trail trudging through mud.  The two Indians were enthralled.  “Green, that’s all that can be seen!” reflected one, who also added, “This is very, very, very nice!”  That was Venkat, from Andhra Pradesh.

The second one, Audarya, responded by sharing.  He held up his phone, filmed as he was walking through the green forest and shared a few steps with his wife and mother in India.  

Then there was Alexander from Ukraine.  He’s a pro at trekking the Bruce.  The terrain is not much different here from where he comes from.  

Finally there is Karuna and myself, both Canucks (slang for Canadians), who are passionate about this service, if you will.  Yes, we are doing ourselves a favour physically, and me, mentally.  On a daily basis, I deal with people stuff. It can be draining.  I keep my head above water by doing this walking. The people stuff or taking care of human-community needs has been going on for forty-five years.  The fact that I use walking poles proves my age.

It is Karuna, who is half my age, who is the helpful navigator of all our trips and has a love for this.  

So, we are all guys.  Happy Father’s day!  By birth we are meant to provide and protect Mother Nature.  This was my message to a group of bhakti-yogis in a studio rented space in Mississauga—a group called GEL (Gita Ethics Learning)—after the walk.  Whether you father kids or not, guys have a big responsibility to fulfil always.  By the way, we finished walking at the Devil’s Punch Bowl.  

May the Source be with you!
8 km

Saturday, June 15th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

Hey, Walking Monk!

“Hey, Walking Monk!” shouted the soul from the window of his vehicle as I was approaching Bloor Street.  I wasn’t sure in the beginning who the greeter was, so I moved closer.

“Remember me?” he  asked.

Looking closely, I could identify him.  It was Johnny! 

“It’s been a while.”

“Yes, it has.”

“I’m doing weddings, these days.”

“You mean you’re a priest?”

“No, just a thing.”

“Okay, thing.”

It was nice to see Johnny who had his two young daughters with him, and who joined in with salutations. “Goodbye Walking Monk!”

With my companions, we strolled off to our favourite park, Bellevue Square.  There, we met three young chaps from nearby Woodbridge, who were enroute to a Beat-boxing competition on Queen Street. Unique about this bunch was their familiarity with the science of the Bhagavad-Gita.  One of the chaps chants mantra and has read about bhakti-yoga.  All three knew of Arjuna’s struggle, and how he became enlightened  through Krishna’s words about dharma.  

“A sense of duty,” remarked the one fellow of oriental origin.  The other two, of Italian descent, were also thoroughly enjoying the conversation.  Spiritual talk is what it was all about.  It’s rare to find a group of guys, like these ones, talking also about the yuga-dharma, sharing sacred sound.

May the Source be with you!
6 km

Friday, June 14, 2019

Toronto / Mississauga

Go For Compliance

A very nice monk from Mauritius, Sundarlal, has been with me for a few days now, and we introduced him to our city’s little treasure place for kirtan.  Kensington Market is the place where we sat along with Dwarkanath, who is a sitar extraordinaire musician.  But before we laid out our mat for sitting on Bellevue Park’s grass, a neighbourhood lady from across the street approached us and mentioned we were very loud two days ago.  

“I’m seventy-two, and it’s very annoying,” she said in reference to Ananda’s boisterous but jolly djembe beats.  She was quite sweet about it and suggested we move to the side of the park away from the residences, and closer to the businesses.  I apologized and our chanting group complied.  It was worth the adjustment.  People who were strolling by gave nods of appreciation, especially a young oriental couple from Montreal.  They were transfixed by our presentation and went away with our complimentary cookbook.  But before they wandered off, they digested the contents of that book, The Higher Taste, just standing there, flipping the pages, sharing in the reading, the pictures, and so forth.  

As usual, Karuna and I walked back to the ashram, never sticking to the same trail, but always exploring new streets, and remarkably surprised by some green space not formerly known to us.  

A subway ride to the western-most reaches of the train line brought us to Kipling Station for a night time discussion on the Gita, Chapter Six, on meditational yoga.  Dharma and Manasi Ganga were our hosts. Thank you for the lasagna! Yummy! 

May the Source be with you!
4 km

Tuesday, 18 June 2019

Thursday, June 13th, 2019

Toronto, Ontario

I Walked.  I Prayed.

The rain spoke to me during most of the afternoon: "You ain't goin' out there now; walkin' will come later."  So, that's how the bulk of the day played out. But the evening said, "You can come out now."

Karuna and I listened.  The first step outside practically knocked us over.  A whiff of plant power hit our nostrils.  It was rather overwhelming—the freshness of the air.  Though we are both tiring of all the dismal grey wetness, as of late, some consolation reminded us of this water going to our green friends—the bushes and the trees.

"Which way to turn?" asked Karuna as we set off for a well-deserved outside experience after being so confined to indoors.

"I feel like heading in the Casa Loma direction. (which is the castle nearby).” We were whimsical about which streets to tread.  We came up to trails not known to us, but whatever they were, they were blessed byles fleures fragrant.  The perfumed emissions were incredible.

Karuna parted after the forty-five minute walk, but I continued on, and realized before long that at the retail and commerce areas where there were pubs with screens, people were more than huddled, they were crammed with eyes glued to those screens.  The playoffs for the basketball championship were on.  Where I walked I could hear outbursts of joy.  That meant the Toronto Raptors scored.  After arriving back at the ashram and heading to bed, when the game was over, the car horns and humans cheering resounded.  The Raptors had won.  I called Rajasuya.  I woke him for victory.  "You asked me to pray.  I prayed."

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Wednesday, June 12th, 2019

Grafton, Ontario

Old Shelter

From Montreal, Ananda, Kishor and I headed west on Hwy 401 and took a break at the rural area of Grafton to visit Jai, Rasa and family, as well as to see their new calf.  That went well.  The visit included talks of relevance over soup and bread.  It was time to depart as we were under pressure to meet a timeline for chanting at Toronto's downtown Kensington.

"Pick me up," I softly recommended to our driver, Kishor. "I need to get some walking in."

"Okay," said Kishor, and I then had the pleasure to trek the Old Shelter Road, which is edged by farmland on both sides.  I could not help but notice the mustards by my side, the large lilacs bursting with fragrance, and the lowly, notorious poison ivy—a green companion there to respect but no more.

During that rather brief time on the rustic road, an occasional motorist would zip by somewhat surprised at the sight of a man in robes.  I can't always see the drivers through the tinted glass, but through a subtle perception I can feel something stirring inside—a curiosity perhaps. I really do wish the drivers, whoever he or she may be, would slow down, stop, roll down the window, and begin a chat. The nature of modern conveyance is that you move so fast there almost isn't the time, because of the speedy nature of things, to interact.  That's sad, in my opinion.

Oh, here comes Kishor and Ananda.  Goodbye country road!  Hello, smooth pavement, the 401, and the fast and furious madness until we reach Oshawa at that rush hour, when all becomes confined to turtle traffic.

May the Source be with you!
5 km

Tuesday, June 11th, 2019

Montreal / Mascouche

Mostly Outdoors

A good amount of time was spent outside today, including a good park-bench talk with monk, Hayagriva, who's in France these days, and then a chat about our mission in Cuba with Nanda Tanuja on his balcony.  For these two souls, a jacket was necessary (this is the coolest June I've ever known).  We then joined the chanting party on streets Mont Royale and Ste. Laurent.

Our chanting procession was received with warmth.  It was Kishor's first time.  He liked it. He's a natural at bhaktiyoga.  As our chanting party was moving along, one unknown-to-us person pulled out a conch-shell and blew out a resounding call.  Unexpected nice touch.

Oh, and there was one more outdoor event—a visit to Nandagram farm at Mascouche. Progress is underway with the garden, now expanded to ten times what it was last year.  Into its second year, the farm project looks promising. Renovations are also in stride for the residents in the farm house which we took shelter of.  We hit that despicable hour while admiring the garden. It was mosquito hour—dawn.  It was an onslaught and we hastened to get back inside.

Anubhava, who had the vision for the rural project in the first place, presented to me a canned jar of organic tomatoes from last fall's harvest.  You can't get a better gift.  It will go to our main cook in Toronto. Dwarkanath will be thrilled.

The half-hour drive brought us to the point of resting back at the downtown temple, but for me I had letters to complete—correspondence that would take me to midnight.

May the Source be with you!
4 km

Monday, June 10th, 2019

Toronto / Montreal


Spike came around today, just to drop in, and have some prasadam at Govinda's, where I test the food every day before it's served out to lovers of a different kind of food.

Spike is a different kind of fellow, by the way.  I haven't seen him for about fifteen years.  I’ve known him for about thirty.  I knew him as a Deadhead, which means he's an avid follower of the rock band, "The Grateful Dead."  I mean that literally; many Deadheads would follow the band's circuit to listen to them at concerts.

"So Spike, are you still a fan?" I asked.

I was surprised to hear: "Not any more.  I listen more to jazz and classical stuff."

"You're maturing, Spike.  Isn't it a good feeling?  You calm down—get more relaxed?"

Spike, whose got that kind of handsome Jewish look, admitted that to some degree he is enjoying the slowed-down-more-experienced way of being.  I was thrilled to hear that.  He always struck me as being a wild child with a smooth chat.

He loved the food at Govinda's—the kofta balls, the veggies, the soup and pakoras. Prasadam was always a draw for him and other people as well, including the occasional monk.

I left Spike to continue his meal while I headed for Montreal.  Between the two cities, Toronto and Montreal, moving by car, there's lots of great countryside.  I can't help but remembering the towns I’ve walked through. It's nostalgic for me. It was nostalgic also to see Spike again, who is always a character, but a cool one.  He likes Krishna also.

May the Source be with you!
3 km