Driving home last night, I drove past a man dressed in orange robes walking along Highway 50. It’s not often you see such a thing, so I did a little social media research to find out it was Bhaktimarga Swami, a Canadian-born Hare Krishna monk, who’s walking across America.
I saw he was scheduled to stop by the Dayton Senior Center on Friday so I swung by to find out more of his story.
I found him sitting at a table with a group of women, all sharing in conversation. I asked if I could sit with them and listen.
I learned Swami entered the monastery in 1973 at 20 years old, and he remained there until 1996. While he grew spiritually, he said, he started to feel like he was missing out on connecting with people.
“I was cut off from the world,” he said. “I missed the whole disco period.”
So he set off to walk around the world to spread his message of mindfulness. He’s traveled by foot through Ireland, the Fiji Islands, Mauritius, Trinidad, Guyana, Israel and now the United States — becoming known as the Walking Monk
“I encourage people to slow down with life,” he said. “Go for a walk. Go for an introspective walk. Walking is good for your physical well being and also for your spiritual well being.”
He said people often stop to offer him a ride, or food or money.
“People often demonstrate their kindness and gentleness,” he said. “That generosity really comes through.”
In exchange, he shares words of wisdom.
He’s not without his struggles, however, with his traditional orange robes being confused with a prison jumpsuit. More than once, he’s been stopped by police.
“I clarify, I’m a cool monk,” he said, “nothing to worry about here.”
People approach him to talk about what happens after death. He compares it to changing clothes, or a snake molting.
“You’re not going to die,” he says. “Your body will perish, but you won’t. Your spirit will go on.”
When Swami, who was formerly John Peter Vis, entered the monastic lifestyle of the Hare Krishna order in the early 1970s, the racial tension of segregation was starting to resolve.
“We’ve made gains with racism,” he said. “But we’ve also stepped backward. In general, the back is broken of our culture. We are deteriorating.”
Still, he said, he has hope. He said if people will turn inward and develop themselves spiritually, there’s cause to celebrate.
“While I can shed a tear for what I see, there’s still optimism there,” he said. “That allows me to continue on.”
Swami will be at Fuji Park 11 a.m.-1 p.m. on Saturday to give blessings to dogs. It’s open to the public.
Follow Swami’s journeys at thewalkingmonk.net.
Teri Vance is a journalist, freelance writer and native Nevadan. Contact her with column ideas at firstname.lastname@example.org.