"Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare,
Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare …"
ON APRIL 12, 1996, I touched the Pacific Ocean in Victoria, British Columbia, Canada, turned around to face east, and started walking. I didn't know what pain or pleasure would lie ahead. I knew only that walking across Canada, the world's second largest country, was going to be a challenge. I had wanted to do something special in 1996 in honor of Srila Prabhupada's Centennial. As I started walking, I thought of how I was heading toward Calcutta, the city of Prabhupada's birth.
I also thought of the words of the great devotee king Yudhisthira: mahajano yena gatah sa panthah "Follow in the footsteps of the great ones." Though Yudhisthira Maharaja was speaking figuratively, I decided to take his words literally. Great saints of India have traditionally walked to visit holy places and enlighten people in Krsna consciousness. And Srila Prabhupada would walk with disciples every morning and teach them with his unerring wit, wisdom, and boldness.
I thought that as a sannyasi, a person in the renounced order of life, I would expose myself to the road. I'd live simply and meet with adverse and pleasant conditions. And I wanted the chance to meet people, to walk and to talk.
My walking path was the gravel shoulder of the Trans-Canada Highway. Semi-trucks (lorries) were an annoyance in the beginning. I resigned myself to the idea that for the next eight months I'd be with the trucks, whether or not I liked their engine noise and the gusts of wind and water they create. But my attitude quickly changed. I started to see the truckers as my friends, fellow travelers on the lonely highway. On occasion a truck driver would pull over his whole operation just to talk or offer a ride. Truckers from coast to coast were chanting the names of God "Hare Krsna" as they talked to one another on their radios about the shaven-headed, robe-clad monk trekking along.
Meeting the People
Because a lone monk walking across Canada is a curiosity, the walk was a way to reach people through their community TV, radio, or newspaper.
One day an elderly woman driving through rural Ontario noticed the unusual pedestrian. She pulled over to the side, and from her car window she said, "I read about you in the paper. What are you walking for again?"
"I'm walking for Canada and its spiritual healing."
"I could do with some spiritual healing in my life!" she said.
She said that she had known me when I was knee-high and that she used to employ my mother.
Didn't Want to Stop
I wanted to take more time in each community, but Canada's climate had set a deadline. I was keen to get to the finish line before temperatures would hit minus 30¡C below zero. And I wanted to finish before the end of the Prabhupada Centennial year.
The last days in Newfoundland were particularly difficult. It was not the weather, loneliness, or home-temple sickness. I just didn't want the whole thing to end. I was enjoying the walk immensely. Chanting on my beads throughout the day helped strengthen my conviction in Krsna consciousness. The walk had been good for me.
But the Atlantic Ocean created a natural barrier to my walk. As I peered over the threatening waves pounding the rugged coastline, I felt consoled when I thought, "These waters carried Srila Prabhupada to New York and made it possible for him to change the world and give some meaning to my life."
I ended the journey on December 6, 1996, after 8,568 kilometers of rain, sun, wind, snow, pain, thoughts, and greetings from many people. I'm grateful to Lord Krsna for allowing me this opportunity to do some power walking on His pure devotee's behalf. I'm looking forward to doing some more of the same.
The following are excerpts from the diary I kept during the walk:
Tuesday, April 16, 1996
Vancouver, British Columbia
7:00 A.M., moderate rainfall. Dressed for the weather, with a companion I set out on foot from Horseshoe Bay through West Vancouver, a posh neighborhood, then through Stanley Park, and finally to downtown Vancouver, where towering executive edifices try to rival the nearby mountains. A hydro worker busy repairing lines takes notice of the two trekking monks. I take the liberty to speak.
"I'm walking to St. John's, Newfoundland. It will take some time."
He chuckles. "By the time you get there, there'll be nothing left of you!"
Further on, at East Hastings, a more challenged part of the city, a tall male Native Canadian stands near a bustling intersection.
"What is Hare Krsna?" He asks without introduction.
I explain first that my adopted Vedic culture and his inherited native culture have something in common: they share a spiritual base.
Friday, April 19
Mission, British Columbia
We come upon a Gurudwar and decide to take a brief break and pay respects to the Gurugrantha-sahib, the scripture of the Sikhs.
Then we learn of the location of a nearby monastery run by Benedictine monks. We venture there and meet Brother Maurice, who is keen to know something about us. Kind and heavily accented, he declares himself "made in Holland."
While departing, we wish him well in his efforts to spread the word of God, and I asked him for a blessing that the journey will go well. With outstretched arms, he delivers a Latin chant, and we are on our way.
Thursday, May 9
In the serenity of the Rocky Mountains, there is a silent burst of the spring thaw. Streams flow profusely. Clumps of snow held up in the arms of trees suddenly collapse to the ground with a resounding thump. The repetitious foot contact to the ground creates a persistent percussion that joins the rhythm of bird songs to produce a northern raga for a walker. I utter the maha-mantra over the beautiful symphony of nature.
Thursday, May 16
As I enter the city of Calgary, I'm not sure what type of reception will come from a place nicknamed (because of the slaughterhouses) "Cowtown." It turns out the people I meet are nice.
A cab driver with roots in India pulls over. He enthusiastically introduces himself as Bala.
"From the road I saw your clothes. They are God's clothes. Now I'll take you wherever you want to go, free of charge."
I disappoint him by declining the ride, but when he learns I'm conducting a padayatra, a pilgrimage walk to promote dharma, he is elated.
Today I walked forty kilometers and chanted on my beads fifty rounds of the Hare Krsna maha-mantra.
Friday, May 17
Clear skies. Motorists along 16th Avenue (part of the Trans-Canada Highway) are in good spirits. Many of them have caught a glimpse of the newspaper. The front page of the City/Life section of the Herald carries a color photo of what you might call the male version of the flying nun. The shot shows me harnessing a small backpack and, with robes partially open (as if winged), sharing the sky with paragliders. The caption reads, "High hopes: Trekking swami sees sleeping souls."
Now some motorists see the flying monk and honk their horns to show their approval of the monk's flight through the wind-swept prairies.
With little sleep the night before, I grow tired after the jaunt through Calgary. I need to nap.
I spot a small group of stubby trees on an upgrade next to the highway. I lie down for a forty-minute nap with a cadar [shawl] as a shade.
The sound of the whizzing traffic is abruptly interrupted by the crackle of wheels gripping against gravel. I awaken to the sound of an ambulance. The driver, wondering if I'm a corpse or a possible patient, comes to my aid. He sees a head bob up from under the cadar and asks, "Are you okay?"
"Yes, I'm okay. Hare Krsna!"
My head collapses for more dozing, and he goes on his way. False alarm.
Saturday, May 25
Medicine Hat, Alberta
I set out on a clear day, with the prospect of developing a clear mind. Walking and chanting is the method.
I make the world's largest teepee my rest spot for the morning. I zip open my backpack and reach inside for a Bhagavad-gita, immersing myself in pages of Absolute mystery and words of wisdom.
Now rejuvenated, I tackle the road again and approach an overpass under construction. A worker spots me, breaks into a jig, and sings, "Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna!"
I give him a thumbs up. Good show!
Wednesday, May 29
I rise early, eager to walk on this somewhat lonely length of the Trans-Canada Highway. I come upon a stationary semi-trailer carrying barley. The driver emerges from the cab and comes out to greet me.
"From the CB radio they told me you were coming," says Mr. Dixon.
I hand him a brochure telling of the mission of the cross-nation trek.
After a grave scan of it, he says, "Your Lord is different than mine," and is silent, awaiting my response.
I look to the prairie sky to reveal the answer, and then point to the most prominent object that punctuates it.
"The sun which you might call sun, I might call Surya, or in Quebec they call soleil shines on all of us, regardless of the name you give it or what part of the world you are in. God is the same Lord for all."
Friday, June 21
After this morning's walking session, my friend Dave Steady comes to pick me up to transport me to the library headquarters for the province of Manitoba. I make a formal presentation of Bhagavad-gita As It Is to Mr. Weismueller of the city library department. He accepts the first of many copies to be distributed to all libraries of prisons, hospitals, and public schools. Dr. Dakshinamurti arranged for the brief presentation, which drew two dozen professionals from the Hindu community, who all took time off work for the occasion.
My evening walking shift takes me along Portage Avenue with Dave. It's Friday night, and this main thoroughfare is teeming with energy.
Tyler, a university student who read about my walk in the paper, approaches me. His attraction to the project is the simplicity of its purpose and execution. While we chat, two straight-edge kids stop and join in. Then a group of partygoers pull over with a "Hey man, what's happening?" They join the discussion of spiritual topics.
It's time for me to cross the street to my arranged place to be picked up. Before I cross, a woman shouts from her car window, 'Excuse me! Excuse me! I have to talk to you!' She has never met a Hare Krsna, but she recognizes one and wants to know more.
Another car pulls up with two Friday-nighters who also want to know about heaven, destiny, transmigration, life after death.
I must say I'm feeling ecstatic to be able to share the little I know. I'm enjoying Friday night as much as anyone, if not more. I'm grateful to Srila Prabhupada for this great opportunity.
Headlines from Newspapers Across Canada
Monk uses nation-wide walk to promote spiritual healing : Nor'wester – Springdale, Newfoundland
Swami conducts spiritual trek : Cape Breton Post – Sydney, Nova Scotia
"Heeling" spirit : The Trentonian – Trenton, Ontario
Swami keeps on walking : The Leader-Post – Regina, Saskatchewan
Trekking swami sees sleeping souls : Calgary Herald – Calgary, Alberta
Monk hopes his "humble way" will help solve Canada's woes : The Sault Star – Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
Monk takes meditative stroll across country : The Sudbury Star – Sudbury, Ontario
Monk's on the move to budge our spirits :The Standard – St. Catherines, Ontario