For the past three springs, the man known as the walking monk has been making his fourth journey across Canada.
On his route through Cranbrook Wednesday, June 4, Bhaktimarga Swami took some time to talk to the Townsman about his journey and why he walks.
“You get out there to be inspired and to try to inspire people,” Swami said. “It’s been real great. Each time it just gets a little better.”
As he walks he meditates with special beads called Japa. He chants much of the time he is walking and meditating. He doesn’t accept rides from the many people who ask, and usually stays in campsites.
“I’m representing a very old tradition that has its roots in India,” he said, of the choice to walk. “There’s always some pain there, some aching muscles, some stiffness. I feel like it’s better to accept that kind of inconvenience and have a peaceful mind, as opposed to having a pampered life and having an agitated mind.”
On his first and second cross-country journeys in 1996 and 2003, he took the Trans Canada Highway, so overshot Cranbrook. On the third journey in 2007, he came through Cranbrook, then over the Crowsnest and up to the Yellowhead Highway.
He’s also been stopping at elementary schools to talk to students about life as a monk. He said most kids have never met one before, especially in the more rural areas of Canada. He tells students about the joys of travel and talks about how, though the human body is wired to walk, many people don’t walk much.
“Why don’t we do it? We’re always in a machine, some conveyance,” he said. “I know it’s a necessary evil, but we need to address that point and get a balance.
“What was life really like before the automobile or the train? If you look at our ancestry there is a history of us roaming.”
He has met other travellers on the road. A few days ago he ran into a cyclist that turned out to be Olympic athlete Clara Hughes on her own journey.
These days the walking monk walks about 35 kilometres a day.
“It used to be a little bit more but now the knees are saying no,” he said.
The journey started in Cape Spear, Newfoundland, the easternmost part of North America.
“There’s a lighthouse there and it’s like the edge of the world,” he said. “The endpoint of this journey is Beacon Hill in Victoria.”
In 2012, he made his way from Newfoundland and through most of Ontario. Then in 2013, he journeyed across the prairies to Alberta. A few weeks ago he started in Taber and is now on the way to Creston. He plans to finish the journey by the end of June.
The slower life gives him time not only for meditation, but also to watch the marvels of nature — from duelling birds to the call of a loon. He said he’s noticed that loons make their sound at regular times, except at Norbury Lake.
“There they’ll just make their sound anytime,” he said, adding that he really likes this part of Canada. “It’s a real gem; a real piece of heaven around here.”