for Bugle-Observer on June 14, 2012
Bhaktimarga Swami’s motto is “more walking, less squawking.”
Also known as ‘The Walking Monk’, Bhaktimarga Swami is currently in the process of walking across Canada for the fourth time. He’s on a mission to promote the concept of pilgrimage and walking for inner development.
“It allows for reflection, for you to process things. I think we can benefit a lot from giving the car a break,” he told the Bugle-Observer during a brief stop in Woodstock on June 5. “We move so fast, to the point where we can’t notice what is around us. Balance is missing. We have practical issues that need to be addressed, what about the spiritual needs?”
He hopes Canada can develop its own tradition of reflective walking, which is present in many other places around the world such as Spain, with its pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, and others in the Himalayan Mountains and along the Ganges in India.
The walking monk completed his first walk across the country in 1996.
“I had a tough year in 1995. I had to do something different, make a change,” he explained. “1996 was the centennial of my guru Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada. I thought, let me put my heart and feet together as an offering to him.”
Bhaktimarga, whose home base is in Toronto, began his fourth cross-country journey in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, in September 2011. He said it takes about six months and four pairs of shoes to walk across the country walking about 40 kilometres a day, depending on the route.
“If you go through all towns in southern Ontario it adds another month,” he explained.
This trip is different, however.
He decided to split the journey into a few separate legs, travelling about 30 kilometres each day on highways, secondary roads and trails.
“This year I turn 60. In our tradition we are obliged to slow down, to downscale and not feel shamed about it,” he explained.
After taking a break for the winter, Bhaktimarga began the second leg of his journey in Prince Edward Island in May 2012. This leg will finish in September at the Ontario/Manitoba border, where he will begin walking again next spring.
“Yesterday (Monday, June 4) I walked for about six hours straight (on the NB Trail) without stopping. I did not see one human being. That is one of the beautiful aspects of Canada, there is so much to explore,” he said. “The diversity of imagery and nature is remarkable, it is a wonderful thing to see.”
Bhaktimarga said the journey has gotten better each time as he has become more comfortable with the public and learned what his body can handle.
“I got over a certain level of shyness. The more I do it, the more I get comfortable with it all,” he explained. “I think people have also changed between 1996 and now. Lifestyles have changed, people are more attached to devices. Our communication is deteriorating. I have noticed a difference in people in that regard. We’ve made more boxes and found ourselves comfortable in those boxes.
I find people are feeling a vacuum, something is missing but they are not sure what. There is something spiritual that can fill up the cup, so to speak.”
Bhaktimarga chants while he walks. He carries with him a pouch that contains a set of beads made from tulasi, a sacred plant from the basil family.
“With each bead I chant a mantra, it is the way we meditate,” he explained.
The mantra is: Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna Krishna, Hare Hare, Hare Rama, Hare Rama, Rama Rama, Hare Hare.
The walking monk travels with support driver Daruka and his parrot Billy. Each morning, Daruka drops him off where he finished his walk the day before and checks on him throughout the day. They spend their nights in campgrounds or are invited into peoples’ homes. After the day’s walking is done, Bhaktimarga gives presentations about his walking philosophy in yoga studios, homes and other venues.
Bhaktimarga Swami was born John Peter Vis. He was raised on a farm in southwestern Ontario. In 1973 he became a monk in the Hare Krishna movement. When he is not walking, Bhaktimarga is an instructor of bhakti yoga and a director of Vedic dramas.
For more information about the walking monk visit www.thewalkingmonk.org.