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The desert of austerity

(Kadamba Kanana Swami, 26 March 2016, Durban, South Africa, Ratha Yatra Q&A: Goodness, Passion and Ignorance)

I have one short story. It is a story I made up myself but I think it is quite nice. Once, there was a group of people who lived in an oasis in the desert. In this oasis, they had their enjoyment, they had their variety of things – camel milk, dates and some bananas; or bananas and dates and camel milk; or camel milk with bananas and dates; dried bananas; camel milkshake – but that was it. So they were milking their varieties and this oasis was known as the “Oasis of sense gratification”.

One day a stranger came in and he brought a whole philosophy with him about a green land which is somewhere else. As proof, he brought these fruits that no one had ever tasted – alphonso mangos… you know, delicious and sweet!

People were all excited and sure enough, one day the stranger said, “So, is anybody interested in going to the green land?”
Well, some people said, “Yeah.”
Others said, “Ah, you know, these things come from another oasis; there is no green land. Do not let him pull the wool over your eyes. He is after your money!”

But people went. They went into that dry desert because when you want to go from an oasis to a green land, you have to go through a dry desert first. So they went through the dry desert where there was no more sense gratification – the desert of austerity where the hot sun of lust was burning on their heads.

Some people went crazy and just ran off into the desert, they just could not take it! Others went back. But a few stayed and they got to the next oasis which was the oasis of the mode of goodness. In that oasis of the mode of goodness, people did not want material life. No alcohol and all those horrible sinful activities! Oh, no! They were enjoying spiritual life there in the oasis of goodness.

Anyway, the stranger came and said, “This oasis of goodness is not good enough.”
People said, “Oh no, it is good enough for me. I am very happy here. I do not want anything else. We have a nice spiritual life and we are happy with it.
“No,” the stranger said. “Now you have to go back into the desert.”
“Back into the desert? Are you out of your mind? It is comfy here.
“No, back into the desert. But this time you go to help people who are out there in the desert.”

Then those who did that, they saw that the landscape was changing and gradually it was turning more and more green and those who dedicated their lives to giving others the fruits of transcendental knowledge, they reached the green land at the end! Anyway, this is a story which illustrates a little bit about our relationship with the three modes of material nature.

Categories: Personal Blogs

ISKCON 50th Anniversary Festival at 26 Second Avenue

Most devotees know that 26 Second Avenue was the first Hare Krishna temple outside India, the place from 1966-68 where Srila Prabhupada performed the first initiations, the place where ISKCON’s first generation of leaders were trained, the place where Bhagavad Gita As It is was written. At the end of 1968, so many people were coming to Krishna consciousness that a bigger location was needed.

Tuesday, April 5th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 19:31
Tuesday, April 5th, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

Last Stroll in Flacq
It had rained briefly overnight.  The air was moist and the sun was trying to burn through as it was on its morning rise, but the clouds were somewhat stubborn, doing their upstaging. 
Dinanath knows the town, Flacq, like the back of his hand, as the expression goes.  I don't know if I’ve ever studied the back of my hand.  The lay-out of the place does not resemble a grid or square line on a graph.  The streets wind like a creeks.  It is Dinanath who leads us to walk along the road-side.  
I'm in front of our single -file.  We walk and chant with our japa beads.  I offer a hand-gestured wave to oncoming traffic.  Those motorists and cyclists do, indeed reciprocate, most of the time.
We, our pedestrian crew, are in kurtas, and dhotis, and that doesn't threaten or intimidate anyone, except for perhaps someone of another religious sect.  People here are predominantly Hindu.
I was reflecting on the previous night's moving kirtan, through the streets of Camp de Masque.  The count of chanters was over three hundred and fifty people, all followers of Krishna.  In such a quiet town nothing goes on, but for a few stray dogs barking, and now here we were.  All in all, enthusiasm shone through from the chanters and the on lookers, from their front-doors and verandas.  It all appears to be so colourful for us and them.  I will admit, though, that we did not merge.  The villagers were watching and listening while we carried on with our mantra that gives us life.
In the evening I left to go back to Canada.
May the source be with you!
9 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Monday, April 4th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 19:25
Monday, April 4th, 2016
Petrin, Mauritius

A National Park Trail
Wild guavas, green parrots, and traveller’s tree, a cousin to the Bird of Paradise, are some of the features of Black River National Park, where two dozen of us indulged in its naturalness.  On our trek on one particular loop we enjoyed some incredible vistas.  Noticeably, no mosquitoes were present.  That's a victory.  But, you know, I do miss a moose or a bear sighting.  Here in Mauritius you get little wild life, on grand scale.
“Ooups! I did spot a small creature running across the trail,” I told Kala, the organizer of the walk.
The trek was great as a form of a community-builder.  Bonding is so important to put in the classification of a human need, and so I'm grateful that each time I come to this isle of Mauritiussome event like this happens.
When a community is institutionally based there's often a routine of activities that may restrict the friendly flow of communication.  Things sometimes get formal, when it's imperative to be able to loosen and laugh.
Our trek through endemic, indigenous, and invasive plants, over red, volcanic soil, included crossing three creeks as well as movement along the edge of a major reservoir.
I asked about swimming, but the reply was a speculation on eels being in its waters, so you can forget that idea.
We culminated the walk with a picnic.  On the menu were ekadasi dishes.  We relished this non-grain day which occurs every fortnight.
May the source be with you!
13 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Sunday, April 3rd, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 19:17
Sunday, April 3rd, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

Being Out
When Krishna was a child He was close to the animals, plants, the hills and low-land, the forest, and clear fields.  He was very much for the out-of-doors, perhaps making a strong endorsement towards this kind of life.  
He was given responsibility at the earlier phase of His life.  Call it chores if you want.  He, amongst His buddies, herded cows.  There was lots of time for carefreeness.  He had space to run in, and a home to love in.  Nanda and Yasoda were foster parents.  The parents of His birth were held in prison and in hiding for quite the time.
Aindra, Dinanath, Kala, and I walked through the sugar cane fields again.  We reflected on our own lives as being rather rural.  In this way we shared a commonality amongst ourselves and even with Krishna Himself.
On this great day I spoke to a full capacity group on 3 occasions.  The first venue called for speaking about being a serious member of the Krishnafamily, Iskcon, and how good behaviour meant a lot.  Our talk was aimed, more so, to the four new initiates – four women; Saguna, Nama Chintamani, Divya Jnana Shakti, and Anasuya.  Also, two men and another female received 2nd initiation.  The latter were Dinanatha, Vadevyasa and Damayanti.
My second talk was to the Bon Acceuil community, where I took the opportunity to share details of last fall's Boston– Butler – NYC walk.  This was to encourage outside activities. 
Finally, at the home of my host, Amar, one hundred guests came to hear of Krishna as a youngster addressing a serpent, formally a demigod.  Here again, we shared the notion that clean activities with people in nature was the way to put balance in life.
May the source be with you!
7 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Saturday, April 2nd, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 19:07
Saturday, April 2nd, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

When the Breeze of Bhakti Blows
It can become difficult to breath in between sugar cane fields.  It was such a relief to come upon a harvested, cleared-away crop, where the wind could breeze through.  It also helped being on and elevated part of the land.  A cool ventilation became our reality when this morning’s group reached the highest plateau.  Ahhh!  So nice!
The group – twenty members of the Vedic Cultural Centre in Flacq – invited us to their guru puja, the ceremony to honour the guru, Srila Prabhupada.  That was followed by a class I was asked to give on the subject of “the rarity of devotion.”  It's an intriguing topic and one that receives apparent contradictions.  The Vedic literatures claim that bhakti (devotion) is hard to come by.  Still we hear statements in the Gita where Krishna expresses that many, many people have become purified by knowledge of the Absolute. 
One thing I can say for certain is that there was no shortage of devotion in the performance of our youth group this evening.  Those “stiff, ironing-board” volunteers I spoke of earlier (no derogatory intent there) really loosened up in the drama “Krishna Is...”  They excelled. 
My purpose in devoting so much time to the youth wherever I go is to infuse in them a bhakti experience as well as to empower them as team-playing, future leaders.
It's an attempt at succession planning.
May the source be with you!
5 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Friday, April 1st, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 18:58
Friday, April 1st, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

The Eye and the Sun
When the sun comes up in Mauritius it can come quite fiercely.  I was reminded of something our guru, Srila Prabhupada, had said. “The scriptures say that the sun is an eye of God, so unless Krishna sees first, we cannot see.  We have to construct an artificial sun.”
It's true that with the sun we could see the road before us.  It lights up the way.  Nevertheless it became intense with our 8.2 km trek a la mère, the ocean.  It becomes forgiving once you reach the cooling waters and get the full pleasure in its indulgence.
Our walking group had a good read on the pastime of Krishna's eating dirt.  Our age range is anywhere from 6 to 60.  That last figure is me.  I'm 63, OMG.  Frailties keep coming up reminding me of where I'm slowly headed.  It is walks like this morning's that will help to prolong as far as possible this lovely life in spiritual consciousness. 
One other thing that gives me life is the work with the youth.  It is night number 3 for our drama preparation that will be held in the local sportsplex.  The group that's come forward is really taking it seriously, and being that today was the last day of school, with holidays beginning tomorrow, their spirits couldn't be higher.
The group, which is normally a more studious type, now treated our practice space like a gym.  There's more I see of life than of death in the course of the day, and even the gecko that remained motionless for hours doesn't depress me so.  I just hope it captured a mantra or so before he left his body. 
May the source be with you!
9 km
 
Categories: Personal Blogs

Guidance from Guru and Gauranga

Giriraja Swami - Fri, 2016-04-08 17:24

Recently I have been dealing with some difficult situations, and although I am familiar with what Srila Prabhupada and our scriptures and previous acaryas have said about such cases, I still wasn’t sure if my present approach was actually in line with Srila Prabhupada’s will and I wanted some confirmation. In this mood, I began listening to a talk Srila Prabhupada gave about Lord Chaitanya’s meeting with the Mayavadi sannyasis in Varanasi—not a likely place, I thought, to find an answer to my question. But soon enough I got an answer:

ei-mate tan-sabara ksami’ aparadha
sabakare krsna-nama karila prasada

Chaitanya Mahaprabhu excused all these offenders. Anyone who is godless, he is offender. So when they chanted Krishna Krishna and accepted the Vedanta philosophy according to the explanation of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, He excused them. That is the significance of Lord Chaitanya. He is very merciful. He excuses. Without excuse, how He can deliver the fallen souls of this age? Their condition is very precarious. Their duration of life is very small and they are not very intelligent, very slow to understand the importance of spiritual life. . . . So there is no other alternative than to excuse them. Chaitanya Mahaprabhu excused them.” (Talk on Cc Adi 7.149–171, March 18, 1967, San Francisco)

 

In all my time with Srila Prabhupada, I never heard him say, “Haribol!” and I presumed he had reservations about it. But in this early lecture, he spoke about “Haribol” in a most charming and endearing way:

 bahu tuli’ prabhu bale—bala hari hari
hari-dhvani kare loka svarga-martya bhari’

So, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu’s special feature, as you see in the picture, He would simply raise His hands and ask anybody to chant Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. And people will, in the crowd, they will also respond to Lord Chaitanya. So in this way, at Benares He was enjoying.

bahu tuli’ prabhu bale—bala hari hari
hari-dhvani kare loka svarga-martya bhari’

And the sound of  ‘Hare Krishna, Haribol,’ . . . There are two slogans. One, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna. And another, short, is Haribol, Haribol. You can practice also that. Haribol.”

A devotee responded, “Haribol.”

Prabhupada continued, “Yes. Haribol. That is a shortcut of Hare Krishna. Yes. Haribol. Haribol means ‘the sound of Hari, or the Lord.’ Haribol. So whenever there was some greeting, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu used to answer, raising His hands, ‘Haribol.’ ”

Such is Lord Chaitanya and Srila Prabhupada’s mercy.

Hare Krishna.

Haribol.

Yours in their service,
Giriraj Swami

Categories: Personal Blogs

The Forbidden City

Traveling Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 16:57
With the hope of introducing my festival program in modern day communist China we spent yesterday morning learning about the country by visiting the capitol, Beijing. In the afternoon we toured the famous “Forbidden City” in central Beijing. Constructed from 1406 to 1420 the Forbidden City was the Chinese imperial palace that served as the [...]
Categories: Personal Blogs

Thursday, March 31st, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 11:39
Thursday, March 31st, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

Sweet Trails
Kala had it in his plan, for anyone interested from our Bon Acceuil community, to join us in the trails through the nearby sugar cane fields.  Well, that did transpire.  Thirteen of us made our way along silky smooth soil and then some rocky soil.  Even paved trails were hit, but all the same it was sugar cane country, only sometimes interrupted by pineapple.
The walk was lovely, even during the times where we got lost.  That wasn't in Kala's plans, though it always contributes to an adventure.
At one point, out of the blue, one of those towering plants moved.  It started to jerk and rustle.  We couldn't make out the cause.  After several moments of stillness from our side, a man emerged with a sickle and a bunch of leaves in hand.  His clothes were of a camouflage colour and he had a mesh hood on his head.  He spooked us. 
He's probably stealing for his cows,” Kala suggested.  The man went about his way rather silently despite our obvious presence.  Sugar cane attracts wasps which explained the needed hood.  Also, the long sleeved shirt and pants explain protection since the leaves can cut through your skin. 
The morning jaunt was all about walking and japa meditation.  The afternoon afforded us a swim at Belle Mare.  The evening drew families from all around to bring their kids, either as volunteers or just to watch how we re-enact the pastimes of Krishna.  Yes, indeed we are pulling together the drama, “Krishna is...”  The youth are both shy and introverted, but we see the potential in them.  They nevertheless come across with a fairly good stage presence.
It's rewarding.
May the source be with you!
5 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Wednesday, March 30th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 11:36
Wednesday, March 30th, 2016
Flacq, Mauritius

Cutting Short the Life
Here in Mauritiusthe health department is right on top of things.  When you enter the country at customs you show that you’ve filled-out a yellow slip, which you sign to confirm both where you've been recently, and what might be any physical issue for you.
I indicated on my slip that I have no ailments, but given the fact that I was recently in Indiaand Africa, a nice man from the health unit came to follow up at the household I'm staying.  A blood sample he did take.  No phone call from him would be a good sign.
For my health I took that trek from Flacq and let my host and some other local followers of bhakti lead the way through the town and outskirts, which are mostly sugar cane fields.  Admittedly, after a day in the air or in airports, addressing one’s life-span is important. 
With the same group, we sat after walking to review a verse from the book, Bhagavatam. While reading a chapter entitled “the passing away of Bhisma,” what captivated us all was some hopeful epiphany, the remark in the verse that Krishna's mere glance at the Kauravas shortened their duration of life.  Luckily for the Kaurava army, the bad guys, their life was abbreviated.  More days of existence would mean more offences to the public.  More offences means more bad karma.  Krishna, in the form of the Health Department, decided that a virus had to be eradicated.  The Kauravas lost lives, big time, in the war at Kuruksetra.
May the source be with you!
7 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 11:33
Tuesday, March 29th, 2016
Durban, Johannesburg, Mauritius

On With Two Words
It was a gimmicky line but it made a good point.  At the Durban Airport, in the waiting area, Kala and I admired the expansive picture of the first plane to soar in the air with a caption expressing that it didn't take off in seconds, rather, “It took 6 years.”
To get something good in life it takes hard work.  In the Bhagavad-gita much reference is given by Krishna to two words used over and over again.  They are yoga and yajna.  Both words imply discipline. Yoga, in the literal sense, refers to linking or re-connecting to the Divine.  It means to be obedient, to co-operate and be a team player-- with the previous teachers, one’s guru, and God.  It is a type of surrender where you renounce your independence.
Yajna, in traditional definition, refers to sacrifice, much in the same way that yoga is connecting.  Chapter three makes strong statements to this end.  “Work for the satisfaction of Vishnu, otherwise work (activity) binds you to this world.”
It is all a matter of how you channel your Karma.  We are all born with a certain psychophysical structure and when directed properly, towards a disciplined aim, towards the Absolute, then good results will come. 
“Be not attached to the fruits of your labour, but be attached to the duty, the discipline,” Krishnaalso states in chapter three.
Kala and I took the flight to Johannesburgand then on to Mauritius.  The flying was smooth, especially if it were compared to when the Wright brothers took their first crack at it.
May the source be with you!
0 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Monday, March, 28th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 11:30
Monday, March, 28th, 2016
Durban, South Africa

Looking At the Cooking
Before my morning circle stroll around the temple I decided to pay a visit to the guys doing all the cooking for the big event, “The Chariot Festival.”  Beginning at midnight about two to three dozen men fill these pots (40 plus) with broad beans on one side and rice in the other side.  Many kilos of grains go in each pot for the cooking, and each pot serves one hundred people.  Yesterday the meal prepared was biryani, something South Africans love.  Today the alternate preps were on “The Beans,” Anil told me.
I was there to show support to Anil and his comrades as we all stood in the smoky atmosphere.  “We ordered these pots from India, but we made a more high-teck burner underneath.  With the metal wall around the burning wood it saves a lot of the fuel,” said Anil.
The room where I'm accommodated is on the second story just above the outdoor kitchen.  I hear the crackling of the fire during my light sleep.  Sometimes a gust of smoke bellows up to make a partial appearance in my room.  I also hear the chatting of the cooks below, but it is the chatter of happy chaps. My sleep is slightly interrupted at times, but I really don't mind since it is a small trance of “devotional commotion.”
Such interruptions are too little to be agitated.  After all the cooks are doing such a noble thing, cooking night after night for the hundred thousand head count.
Unsung heroes!
May the source be with you!
7 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Sunday, March 27th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 11:28
Sunday, March 27th, 2016
Durban, South Africa

The Japa Gang
There is a regular group of us, a non-official japa mob, which takes to circling the temple in the morning. I use the word mob, (maybe gang is more appropriate) to indicate that we are a dangerous lot.  Armed with a mantra, we are committed to declaring war on the illusion of our own world.  When you bond together, to get down to business, it produces a positive end result.
Sadbhuj, a monk I've known from Germany, came to join our walking crew and after an hour of the forward move on two fronts – the physical trekking and the spiritual chanting – he remarked, “this is a good program!”   
I'm dying to know the type of birds that fly over us.  They are of different breeds from those I am familiar with.  I asked the “gang” if anyone has heard a loon before.  “No!”
“Well, Google it.”
His cry is the most haunting/mystical sound you'll ever have heard on earth.  It's a sound of eeriness, reassurance and calmness all wrapped in one.  Check it out!  I've never really heard Krishna playing His flute, but I would say that nature is cutting it close when you hear this bird show off.
Many hours were spent, not with the japa mob (that occupied one hour) but with our drama crew working hard to première the play “Mr Puri.”  It highlights a monk who’s trekked hundreds of miles.  He travelled a lot, and with a heavy load of sandalwood for his worshippable deity Gopal. Our troupe did marvellous.  This is a real passion for me – putting together stories in theatrical format, apart from walking and listening to the loon.
May the source be with you!
7 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Saturday, March 26th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 10:45
Saturday, March 26th, 2016
Durban South Africa

It Started With Kreeshan
I met Kreeshan again after six years.  We affectionately referred to him as a member of the KKK.  Along with 2 other young volunteers from our drama projects, these comrades all had the first letter to their first name as a K, hence the name of the club alleviated to them.  Actually, Kreeshan is now no longer a young teen, like when I first met him.  He's got to be 30 now.  Easily.
Recently returned from Dubai, after the oil industry met with challengers, Kreeshan is back with family and friends.
On the second day of the Chariot Festival, people are coming by the thousands to get involved in sacred sound and food mostly.  On an annual basis I'm asked to lead as Dance Master in the Bhakti Cloud Tent. It's magic.  Practically at the start of the half hour session, it's a handful of people but by the end the place is rocking.
When in DurbanI usually get the opportunity to walk down sinful lane by checking out fair food.  I really mean to say “junk food” but I don't want to be offensive to prasadam, sacred food that’s offered.  Chips (French fries) are something I rarely get.  I was confessing to Bhakti Chaitanya Swami that I go on a non-health kick when I come. Even though the fries are good for the tongue, they are terrible for the tank.
I was concerned about the exertion of my dear friend Kadama Karana Swami, another monk, who's recovering from cancer surgery. The cancer was exacerbated by a bullet shot he received some years ago in India.  He's an inspiration as far as monastics are concerned.
May the source be with you!
7 km
Categories: Personal Blogs

Friday, March 25th, 2016

Bhaktimarga Swami, The Walking Monk - Fri, 2016-04-08 10:43
Friday, March 25th, 2016
Durban, South Africa

Under the Sun
Heat!  Humidity!  Stupidity!  That's if you don't address the heat properly.  Kala and I decided to declare war on the sun by purchasing these straw-like cowboy hats. People commented “Fashionable”.
Yes, the Chariots Festival, in its 28th year in Durban, had kick-started at 11.30 AM after a speech by monk Bhakti Chaitanya Swami. Afterward a dance troupe performed.  Coconuts with camphor cubes aflame the tops were thrown and smashed in front of the leading chariot of Balarama.  This is a regular part of the ritual before the pull of rope that mobilizes the chariots as the walk of the leg begins.
Everyone gets to walk.  That is the unique thing about this festival.  I would say that this 2 1\2 to 3 kilometre walk is not what people are used to.  Participants in the event come in their fancy cars. Furthermore walking at this time of day, under intense sun, is also novel for South Africans.  Like all over the world people love cars.
Just as we were about to embark on this walk to pull the chariots, one cream-coloured auto (the make I don't know) slowly plied through the crowd as a service vehicle.  It got me reflecting on how it is such an endeavour to secure one of those machines.  They are expensive. Convenient?  Maybe!  Destructive?  Yes!  In so many ways.
In any event, it was nice to observe the organics of people walking such a long distance (note the sarcasm) and even enjoying it.
May the source be with you!
9 km
Categories: Personal Blogs
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