A 62-year-old Hare Krisha monk is walking across Canada for the fourth time to encourage others to follow his path, even if their walks are limited to the local streets and countryside.
Bhaktimarga Swami passed through Fort Macleod on Tuesday as he walks the Crowsnest Trail on his six-month trek to the west coast, stopping to discuss his journey with anyone willing to listen.
“I’m just trying to promote the walking culture, the notion of pilgrimage,” Bhaktimarga said. “To encourage people to get into contemplative walking, to take more time to stop and smell the roses.”
Bhaktimarga said walking provides the benefits of fitness as well as time to think about issues and challenges in life, to make plans and to consider one’s situation in life.
“When you consider that our bodies are wired for walking, we should be doing a lot more of it.”
Bhaktimarga began walking to alleviate back problems, preferring to find a natural cure rather than seeking relief from doctors.
As Bhaktimarga walked the ravines near his Toronto home, he discovered there was more to walking than just exercise.
Before becoming a monk Bhaktimarga hitchhiked across Canada, so the notion of travelling the country was already well established.
Bhaktimarga has long had a fascination with Canada, spending hours as a child poring over maps and looking at photographs of landscapes from across the country.
“I just developed a passion for it,” Bhaktimarga said. “The passion got the better of me.”
Walking helped Bhaktimarga find the balance in his life that is part of the philosophy of Hare Krisha and he desired to share that with others.
“As a monk you have an obligation to the community, the place in which you live. By walking you meet a chance to meet people. You get inspired by what they do, and maybe you can give them some inspiration. It’s a matter of making connections with people.”
John Peter Vis, as he was known before he became a monk, was a fine arts student, doing well as a painter and sculptor but finding the work unfilling.
In 1973 people were seeking inspiration from spiritual leaders in India, and he happened to meet some monks.
The monastic lifestyle piqued his curiosity and he joined the Hare Krishna order and now lives in a monastery in downtown Toronto.
Bhaktimarga travels with a support worker who carries their tent in the vehicle and checks with the Walking Monk from time to time to make sure he is okay.
They either spend nights in the tent or in motel and hotel rooms or other lodging offered free by people they meet along the way.
“The generosity is really amazing out there. People are really kind. You learn from the road, there are lots of lessons to be learned about people’s kindness.”
The Walking Monk covers an average of 35 miles a day, starting about 4 a.m. to avoid walking in the heat of the day.
“It’s just a quiet time, the air is good. And when the sun comes up, it always brings the wind.”
He wears the robes of a monk on his back and surprisingly, Crocs on his feet.
The Walking Monk and his assistant are vegetarians and do their own cooking.
Heat is perhaps the Walking Monk’s biggest challenge, along with blisters at the start of the walk and soreness in the legs.
Bhaktimarga has also trekked across Ireland, Israel, Guyana, Trinidad and the Fiji Islands. In two years he will walk from New York to San Francisco.
“The beautiful thing about being out on the road, going through the elements, is it wears down your pride and that’s a humbling experience. The weather is rarely what you want it to be and that grits on your ego and that’s a good thing. It’s humbling.”
“I believe that humility is the foundation for success in life. Pride is what is going to bring about self destruction.”