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Monk stops in Chilliwack during cross-Canada walk
Bhaktimarga Swami sits in the lobby of a Chilliwack car dealership and looks down at his feet.
He points to the worn, dirty Crocs below his saffron-coloured robes and says, “I’ve been wearing them for too long.”
To most people that would be an understatement. Bhaktimarga has walked from Cape Spear, N.L. on a personal pilgrimage to encourage others to get out on foot and connect with the people and moments surrounding them.
For this temporary break, he sits in a waiting room love seat, visiting a friend during a detour from his path on Highway 7.
Having completed the cross-continent journey non-stop three times before, Bhaktimarga has rightly earned his nickname: The Walking Monk.
“You can’t separate walking from spirituality,” he says. “It’s finding out more about who you are inside.”
The Hare Krishna monk adds that his mission is to raise awareness of the physical and the spiritual coming together, such as in pilgrimages or other culturally traditional walking rituals.
“What I’m really asking people is: what do you think we did before the automobile?” he asks. “What did our ancestors do?”
He raises these questions at stops across Canada speaking to a wide variety of groups - including elementary schools where he’s a big hit.
“The biggest challenge for kids today is to get outside, get them away from gadgets,” says Bhaktimarga. “So when they hear someone is walking through Canada, ‘Explore the world,’ is the message they hear.”
That message, he says, is eliciting great response from both the children and the teachers.
This time around The Walking Monk has split his cross-country trip into three sections over as many summers, with the final season coming to a close in Vancouver within the week.
He and his crew look road-worn but there’s an undeniable energy in the room.
Daruka, the support guide will drive him back to Agassiz in the evening where they will resume from their morning stopping point.
A blue-fronted Amazon parrot perched on his shoulder rests its lowered head against Daruka’s chin, showing the toll of the trip more than its human counterparts.
The fourth group member, a younger monk is absent, taking advantage of the break to run errands.
Together the band has moved across British Columbia’s mountains, starting this year’s segment in Taber, Alta.
They rely on the generosity of people they meet along the way who give them food, or offer rooms and campsites.
Often starting as early as 4 a.m., the group breaks midday to get out of the heat, sometimes continuing in the evening when the sun starts to recede.
Sticking to the smaller roads ensures less traffic, but also directs them through smaller towns and means more interaction with locals.
But expeditions of this length don’t always go smoothly, with the most difficult trials along the way involving dogs, wildlife, mosquitoes and weather.
“You learn to be a little bit tough out there, learn to take it all in, and always keep the spiritual component in your mind,” says Bhaktimarga. “That’s how you tolerate it.”
And while those are taxing days, his patience is often rewarded. The Walking Monk reminisces about a scene at night when he hiked alone under the northern lights, surrounded by lakes and loon calls, watched over by the slivered moon.
“It’s not that you have to be in a temple or a mosque or a monastery or a church,” he says.
“Spirituality is everywhere, in the atmosphere and the elements.”
That reason, says The Walking Monk, is what keeps him walking.
Bhaktimarga Swami visited Chilliwack Wednesday afternoon (June 25), detouring from his path through Agassiz. He will fly from Vancouver to Ottawa for the Canada Day celebration.