Finding spiritual inspiration and giving it to others,
a Hare Krsna swami completes his second cross-Canada trek.
I joined Krsna consciousness thirty years ago and recently turned fifty. On these two counts I had a reason to celebrate and do what I like to do WALK, long and hard. The road is an open invitation to social interaction to learning, to purging, and to worshiping. You can call the road a pilgrim's playground, or perhaps a temple.
So I set out again on a cross-Canada trek. Last time, in 1996, I walked from West to East. This time I reversed the direction, walking sometimes with friends, but mostly alone.
After six months of pounding on 7,200 kilometers of pavement (or sometimes gravel), wearing out 4 pairs of shoes, and shedding 12 kilograms, I was happy to relax, put pen to paper, and expand on diary notes I'd made during the journey. The whole trip was enriching, every moment of it, and I like to think that my humble effort contributed to shaping a more spiritually-minded world.
Here are some samplings of the pilgrimage one diary excerpt for each Canadian province I passed through.
Cape Spear, Newfoundland
Saturday, May 3, 2003
I'm at the easternmost point of North America, the rugged coastline where whales as long as 100 feet swim and play, and icebergs as old as 10,000 years can be spotted a dramatic launching point for a second walk across Canada. While massive waves crash thunderously against the rock, local Newfoundlanders watch a Vedic ceremony. As ad hoc priest, I slam a coconut against the firm ground before me, triggering the sound of a conch shell, the drumming of African djembes, and the chanting of Hare Krsna, Hare Krsna, Krsna Krsna, Hare Hare/ Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The walk begins.
Westward I go with enthusiastic companions to Dead Man's Cove, a convenient access for receiving a few ocean drops on the forehead, a gesture for summoning blessings. Indeed we are twice blessed because the day brings with it another form of water: It rains and rains and rains. The whole day is a real soaker, and only Benjamin, who's spirit is not dampened, stays with me from Cape Spear, through the city of St. John's, to historic landmark Signal Hill, where Marconi received the world's first wire message, and finally to Conception Bay. Our sincerity is being tested for sure. We ask ourselves, "Do we have the heart, determination and guts for more deluges of this kind?"
Distance covered so far: 35 kilometers
Halifax, Nova Scotia
Saturday, May 17
A day of sunshine! Great! I tackle the road alone.
Halifax is a vibrant city that has had its share of human tragedy. I walk next to a cemetery, passing row upon row of tombstones of Titanic victims. I take a few minutes to reflect. That disaster occurred in 1912 near the coast of Canada. A second mishap took place in the city's harbor when a Belgian ship and a French ship collided, setting off an explosion that claimed 2,000 lives and injured 9,000. I'm reminded of Lord Krsna's words in Bhagavad-gita: "I am all-devouring death."
Journalists and photographers from local newspapers come to enquire about the long trek.
Then a boy, about 4, walks by, hand in hand with his dad. Impressionable as he is, the boy notices me and is totally struck by my saffron robes.
"That's how they were in the old days!" He shouts in innocent spontaneity, to which the father responds by educating his son about the ways of the traveling monk.
Distance covered so far: 602 kilometers
Highway 1, Prince Edward Island
Monday, May 19
Starting from the ferry dock, I head west towards Charlottetown, observing a rolling terrain and a neat patchwork of fields interspersed with trees. God's country! A radio blares out music from a rural home: "Roses are red my love, Violets are blue." I composed my own version, substituting Krsna for the violets and adding, "Walking is sweet, my Lord, and chanting is too."
While buffeting the roar of mechanical monsters in the form of semi-trailer trucks that whip by, crushing my pride, I spark a conversation with some folks tending a garden. We all agree that the world needs to slow down and take time to smell the roses.
Word gets around that I'm walking for awareness and spiritual well-being. Even the local mounties [provincial police] get quickly informed about the Hare Krsna monk on a long, long journey.
The evening takes me to the home of Dr. Hariharan, where I conduct a discussion on Chapter Nine, verse twenty-nine, of the Bhagavad-gita. An attentive group of guests seems satisfied.
Distance covered so far: 642 kilometers
Highway 102, New Brunswick
Wednesday, May 28
It's becoming the most common expression. Suddenly I realize I have a large number of well-wishers.
Dave, 62, is sweeping the sidewalk outside his workplace and is ecstatic upon us meeting, especially since he hadn't seen Hare Krsnas since Boston in the sixties.
"I just want to wish you a 'Good luck!'"
A woman comes out of the office to wish me a "Good luck!" Another woman, relaxing out on her veranda, cheers a "Good luck!" A bus driver pulls over his operation to extend his "Good luck!" An elderly couple on their way to the golf range stops their car; they come out, give me a big hug and congratulations: "I think it's just great what you're doing. Good luck!" And a jovial police officer has this to say: "Holy smokes! I couldn't do what you're doing. Now I've got an idea. On your walk, you pick up all the empty beer bottles in the ditch, trade them in, and you'll finance your whole program." We both laugh. "Anyways, good luck!"
At night I hang up my shoes and step into the culinary mode. Local country-western singer Doug Kennedy and his son join our devotee backup team to a sumptuous organic prasadam meal. The big hit on the menu is the pakoras (fritters) made of dandelion flowers the boys harvested. No one could believe that this wild weed could taste so good.
Distance covered so far: 1,014 kilometers
Quebec City, Quebec
Monday, June 16
I'm five minutes into my walk this morning when I meet a newspaper delivery man. He asks what I'm doing. His name is Jean Francois. He explains that he's reading Prabhupada's Gita, enjoying it immensely and gaining insight he was hoping to achieve.
At noon the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) radio interviews me. The host is especially enthusiastic about the maha-mantra being broadcast over the air waves as a way to top off the interview.
In this spectacular-looking city, where the people speak French, the evening is spent at L'orange Bleu restaurant, where companion devotees and I are allotted one hour to chant with musical instruments, welcoming people from the street to join in.
They come, and so many friends are made. Merveilleux!
Distance covered so far: 1,832 kilometers
Port Hope, Ontario
Sunday, July 6
The road pulls unexpected friends together.
Reverend Terry Gallagher, a Catholic priest and acquaintance, spots me on Highway 2. He pulls over his car and let's out an exuberant "Swami!" Knowing the Vedic custom, he tries to touch my feet, and I reciprocate in the same way. Then it's pilgrim talk.
Further on the road, under an intense, baking sun, my walking companion, Barry Clark, and I witness a contented cow licking her calf just after giving birth in an open field. Intrigued, we stand there watching. A second cow objects, and in her own bovine way indicates, "Come on, Honey, let's take baby to the barn. We don't need these strangers staring at us." The three of them proudly plod off to the barn.
At Fleming Park, Peterborough, devotees from Toronto and I hold a kirtana. A number of people take interest, including a priest from a satanic cult who claims that he just left his order.
"I think I'm going to check out this Krsna consciousness," he says.
Another fellow, highly intoxicated, is attracted to the chanting.
"Hari! Hari!" he stammers as he struggles to sit down next to me on the grass.
"How does one become a swami?" he asks.
"It starts by shunning intoxication," I tell him frankly.
With that remark he rolls his eyes, fumbling a quick exit while maintaining, "Hari! Hari! Hari . . ."
Radha, brought up in Krsna consciousness, notices us in the park. She generously invites us to her home, where she manifests a delicious prasadam feast that puts a perfect closure to a most colorful day.
Distance covered so far: 2,609 kilometers
St. Francis Xavier, Manitoba
Labor Day, September 1
Melonie Matheson is a young grandmother whose father was the main engineer behind the paving of a passageway through the imposing mountains of British Columbia. She found out about my trek through a TV documentary, The Longest Road, detailing the history of the Trans-Canada Highway. When she saw my 1996 walk featured on the film, she became inspired to join me for some walking.
Doug Stead, a local Krsna devotee, also joins our small group as we take to the road, which penetrates the utter flatness of golden wheat fields. Doug is the real hero today because at age 60 and out of practice he conquers a tough 40 kilometers on foot. By now this is an easy task for me. I remind myself that Krsna states, "I am the ability in everyone." He deserves all the credit.
Distance covered so far: 4,831 kilometers
Monday, September 15
It's 4:30 A.M. and very dark. I'm 30 kilometers west of this prairie city on the Trans-Canada Highway. I hear a heavy thump. It feels like a tremor. Red lights flash ahead.
As I get close, I can still barely see, but it's an obvious accident, a scene of rubble a crushed vehicle tipped over on its side, and a second one totaled. I hear voices, a language, then a voice in despair.
"I'll spend my whole life paying for this!"
It's time for me to console, time to stop and talk.
"This is not the end of the world. You'll get over it."
There are two young chaps (traumatized), and one admits to falling asleep at the wheel. He was driving on the lonely highway, tired, and then surprise!
Speaking of surprises, they didn't expect to find a robed creature turning up at pre-dawn in the middle of nowhere. Eventually the fellows become more calm. The ambulance reaches the scene. With my job done, I exit, leaving a curious group of people to wonder, "Who was that?"
The afternoon takes me for a drive, backtracking to city hall to meet Regina's mayor, Pat Fiacco. A former Canadian amateur boxing champion, he's a nice guy whose life motto is "family, friends, and faith." A good prescription. A great dialogue.
Distance covered so far: 5,440 kilometers
Friday, October 3
Frost has lightly hit the earth's surface. Winter-wear is necessary until the sun strikes in this foothills area.
Sanford is an Assiniboine native and a father of two sons, 16 and 17. He stands at the end of his driveway waiting for me.
"I understand your name is Swami. Do you know what 'swami' means in my language? It means 'lucky seven.' So maybe you can talk to my boys, who are always drugged up on something. Their mother left them years ago. I can't cope with it no more. Just talk to them."
I agree to the task and hope to make a positive impact, with Krsna's mercy. So we talk and exchange hugs. When it's time to proceed down the road, I'm content to have made more friends.
Minutes pass, and I hear a loud, zealous "Hare Krsna!" I turn to my right and see fifty young soldiers staring at me. I take the remark as a cue to mingle with these warriors. They want to know what I'm doing.
"I'm a walking advocate. I believe in the policy of 'more walking and less squawking.' I'm a Hare Krsna monk on pilgrimage."
On a triple-rope bridge fastened over a steep gorge, one by one each soldier cautiously challenges crossing over the river.
"What do you get out of this?" I ask.
"I guess we're on the same wavelength. Happy trails! Hare Krsna!"
Distance covered so far: 6,241 kilometers
Fraser Valley, British Columbia
Friday, October 24
I'm road-bound by 3:15 A.M. and have completed a campsite shower (sometimes it's a lake or river bath). In six days I'll reach the end of my walk. It's somewhat relieving to think about it, although I don't see this ordeal as a trial at all. There is an element of tapasya (austerity), a venerable task for a monk, but I qualify it more as a doorway to freeness. After all, the walk is an offering to my divine spiritual master, Srila Prabhupada.
A coyote howls. The sound resonates through the narrow, deep valley. It's a call that seems not different from the loud "Haribol" that I let out, waiting for an echo.
Now a train can be heard in the distance; its drone sound is like a temple harmonium bellowing out a melodic mood.
And the infrequent vehicle casts long streaks of light that reveal the beauty of mountain cliffs. This is like an early morning arati, where temple deities of stone stand radiant under spotlights.
I'm compelled to see such parallels.
A motorist stops.
"Would you like a ride?"
"No thanks, I appreciate it though. I'm not taking any rides. I'm walking across Canada, a second time. It's a pilgrimage. I'm a Hare Krsna monk from a very old tradition from India, and this is the kind of thing that monks do. They walk, talk, gain inspiration, and try to give some in return."
Distance covered so far: 7,029 kilometers
On October 30, I was greeted by the awesome waves of the Pacific on Vancouver Island in Victoria, now having gone full circle across Canada and back. Lord Krsna created us with half of our body made up of legs, so I believe in using them for Him. For me, walking is almost an obsession. I'm seriously thinking about a third walk a chance to make more friends I can encourage on the spiritual path.
Headlines from Newspapers Across Canada
Monk Urges Return to Spiritual Roots On Second Cross-Canada Trek
The Daily News Kamloops, British Columbia
Monk on a Spiritual Journey
The Southwest Booster Southwest Saskatchewan
Spiritual Walk Across Canada
Times Herald Moosejaw, Saskatchewan
Monk Making Friends on Walk
Brandon Sun Brandon, Manitoba
Monk Covers 45 Kms a Day On "Spiritual Healing Walk for Canada"The Sault Star Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario
"More Walking, Less Squawking," Suggests Monk
Guelph Mercury Guelph & Wellington
Spiritual Trek Brings Monk Through Town
Cochrane Times Cochrane, Alberta
On the Path to Delivering a Spiritual Awakening
This Week Durham Region, Ontario