Travellers held captive in St. Stephen border traffic on Monday witnessed an eyecatching site - Bhaktimarga Swami, a Hare Krishna monk in a fading orange robe, who was passing through town on a cross-Canada walk. Some men of the cloth would be uncomfortable with the attention, but for the Chatham, Ontario native it is old-hat - this being his third 7,800-kilometre, cross-Canada walk.
Beginning in 1993, Swami set off from Vancouver Island for Cape Spear, New Foundland. Ten years later he finished the circle by walking the opposite direction. His 2007 installment, like the first, started in the West.
Similar to others who have undertaken voyages of this type, of course Terry Fox comes to mind, Swami has a stated cause, albeit unconventional. His motive is not to raise funds, though he gladly accepts donations, instead he says, “it’s like a friendraiser.” He aims to promote walking and a simpler lifestyle than most Canadians know.
In an interview on Monday, Swami explained the benefits of what he calls “reflective walking.” “I’d like to think that I’m doing this for Canada, to encourage people to walk more and give their car a break. Really, I’m promoting a care free, car free kind of culture,” he said. In an age where rising temperatures threaten the planet, people assume that Swami has an environmental agenda, but he said that’s not the case.
He says that by caring about one’s body and spirit, a concern for the environment comes naturally. “When you go walking you sort a lot of things out for yourself in your mind,” he said. And by doing so he hopes to inspire people and be inspired by the people he meets.
As a teacher and practitioner of bhakti yoga, the self-styled “walking monk” espouses the benefits of his lifestyle. “It’s better for me than anything,” he says. Swami reasons that legs make up approximately half the human body and deserve the same level of stimulation that we often reserve for our minds and stomach.
One might say that this monk indeed walks the walk.
On his voyages, Swami said he’s experienced plenty of good heartedness from fellow Canadians. People who listen to the soft-spoken man will invite him into their homes and give him food and drink. Many passersby have pulled over and offered rides, all of which he declined. Swami says that these sympathetic people often just want to talk, and for him that validates his purpose.
“Kindness,” says the 54-year old, “is a religion in itself.”
When asked what sort of footwear he trusts to take him cross-country, Swami bends purposefully forward and lifts his robe shin high to reveal a pair of olive coloured rubber Crocs. Inside he has an insert for arch support that looks as though it has melded into the clog. He has tried running shoes and sneakers but says they are constricting and that whatever affects your feet will affect many other organs in your body.
Where to next? On Monday Swami planned on travelling from St. Stephen to Saint John to catch the ferry to Digby, Nova Scotia. From there he’ll walk through Nova Scotia to Prince Edward Island. Walking across the Maritime provinces, the monk is encouraged by his prospects. “The more East you go, the sweeter it gets in terms of people’s hospitality.”
You can keep track of Bhakti Marg Swami's journey on his personal journal: thewalkingmonk.blogspot.com