AN INTERVIEW WITH A MONK
By: Diane Henry
There are very few monks in Canada, but on a walking journey across the nation in September 2007, a monk stopped in Saint John. I had a chance to speak with Bhaktimarga Swami about his spiritual pilgrimage.
Where are you from?
I’m a Canadian, I was born here. I love Canada. I’m from Ontario in particular.
This is your third walk across Canada, what’s different about this one?
I started this walk a little differently. I walked Western Canada last summer and then I broke the walk up and this summer I’m doing Eastern Canada, whereas the last previous times I walked straight across the country.
Why do it?
Since I am a monk of the Hare Krishna tradition one of the things we do is when you get on in your years you spend less time with worldliness, and you just get out and about and have no fixed address and become nomadic, and become inspired by what you see. So, I thought I’d put my feet and my heart together and go for long walks, and it’s working.
How do people react when they see you?
Their response is overwhelming. It’s almost like having cheerleaders all around you sometimes, some days it’s like that. I get very little, lets say, red neck dynamic. People are either indifferent or just really almost envious wishing they could do that, go across and have the time and energy to do this sort of thing.
Some would see it as having somewhat of a free spirit. Is that how you would describe yourself?
Yeah. It’s kind of a carefree lifestyle, casual and it is certainly car free. Free spirited, that would be a good way to describe it.
You say you have no fixed address and you can just get up and walk across the country, so how do you fund yourself to pay for food and whatnot?
Well, I’m a vegetarian and I do live a simple lifestyle and I have a friend with me who has agreed to use his vehicle for support and we brought a large tent, so basically we have been tenting out. But I’d say that we’ve been living on the generosity of some people from our own communities across Canada, as well as persons who just have some feeling for the walking mission and they want to just offer something. I even had a police office while on duty give me a few bills, which is pretty unique.
Where did that happen with the police officer?
Oh, that was back in Ontario
Do you find a particular part of the country that’s more generous or more interested than other parts?
People have been kind every where. Even in the prairies, what I would consider very conservative territory, people were just really, really nice. Ontario has been very special, but with the language barrier in Quebec I just decided to walk across that place really fast. I don’t know French that well. But I will tell you quite frankly the more East you go, like in the Maritimes, the more sweet it gets. Finally, Newfoundlanders are just real sweetie pies.
So you have a little bit of favouritism I see.
Well it’s just based on experience. In terms of favourite places, I don’t think that I’d be doing justice to be partial to any particular area, but I must admit I’m a bit of a sucker for the North Shore of Lake Superior, but it’s all beautiful.
How would you describe this pilgrimage?
Just as the term implies it has something to do with the spiritual life. I’m walking to try to encourage people to live more of a simple life and probe more deeply into the spirit and not get too caught up in consumerism. You have to balance things. What I’m saying is lets check the imbalanced lives we live in Canada.
The walking mission is really a self discovery type of program and it’s something I think more people should get out and about doing.
What are some of the rules that you must follow as a monk?
As a Hare Krishna tradition we’re strict vegetarians, I don’t get involved in any type of gambling activities, and no intoxication. That’s something I may have experimented with before I became a monk, but I realized that there is a higher purpose and a higher pleasure, so I don’t do that anymore. Those are some of the basic traditions. Early rising and going out for mediation is another. While I’m walking I’m also spending considerable time on my meditative beads.
What are those?
They are called Japa beads and on each bead you chant a mantra. A mantra is kind of like a mind releaser, a bit like a prayer, and basically it’s there to pacify the mind and gain a sense of focus.
What about celibacy?
As a monk I’m celibate. In our tradition most of our members are encouraged in our young teens to be celibate, for young boys and girls to learn chastity, and then later on we’re encouraged to take up family life. If you have an inclination later on once your family duties are taken care of then you might go the celibate way again, when you don’t have the same oomph or drive or passion. It comes natural. Then you might go the simple life and go on long walks like the kind that I’m doing.
Are there many female monks?
We do have some. I’d say that there are very few male and female monks.
Well thank you very much for your time.
Well thank you. I appreciate the time you were able to give, and I hope people in Canada can take a little more towards power walking and particularly reflective walking.