Bhaktimarga Swami, who is often referred to as the Walking Monk, made his way through Ames on Wednesday while continuing his mission to walk from New York City to San Francisco.
This is the first time Swami has walked border to border in America, but this is not a new mission. In the past, he has walked across his home nation of Canada, Ireland, Israel, Fiji, Mauritius, Trinidad and Guyana.
These treks are not simply a spiritual journey for the orange-robed Hare Krishna monk but more of a way to spread his message of health and self consciousness.
“I’m saying let’s slow down. Let’s get more in touch with ourselves by walking,” Swami said. “Really, it’s to check the imbalanced lives we live. We are very much in the consumer world, capitalism, and we just don’t take enough time for introspection. So when you walk, you have time to just process things.”
Swami said that being in Ames on Wednesday was also a celebration of a momentous occasion for followers of the Hare Krishna movement because it marked the 50th anniversary, to the day, of the movement being started.
“It’s a movement that has its challenges but it exploded, went all over the world, but here we are 50 years later,” Swami said.
Born John Peter Vis in 1952 in Chatham, Ontario, Canada, Swami said he found the Hare Krishna movement to be similar in many ways to Catholicism, which was the religion he was raised in as a child. Since making the transition into being a monk, Swami said he started making his pilgrimages to help spread his beliefs but to also meet people and learn more about himself.
“It’s walking, meditating, connecting with people, getting more in touch with yourself, your soul and just trying to be more contemplative about things,” Swami said. “When you walk at the human pace that we’re supposed to, there’s an appreciation and sensitivity that develops.”
While traveling from place to place, Swami said that the vast majority of his encounters have been positive and people are usually very receptive of his message. However, there have been some troubling encounters as well, including some close calls with grizzly and black bears.
“I have been mistaken many times for being an escapee from a prison wearing an orange jumpsuit,” Swami said.
He added that someone also called the police on him when he was walking near a mental institution close to Iowa City because they were worried that he was an escaped patient.
According to Swami, he averages about 20 miles per day and at that pace he believes he could complete his entire trip in about five months. However, due to a prior commitment, he will stop for the summer once he reaches Nebraska and then pick up where he left off next summer to continue on to San Francisco.
Swami said that during his trip in America, he has seen a different kind of culture that he hasn’t come across in the other areas he has traveled. He said that he has seen most affluent of neighborhoods and the poorest of ghettos. According to him, America has several issues that has caused him to be concerned for the world.
“America’s a place of a lot of extremes,” Swami said. “Obesity is a big problem. It’s embarrassing to be human sometimes. People could do better.”
One thing that walking across a country has taught Swami, is that no one is above the pains associated with growing older or putting strain on your body. He said it is also part of his mission to accept those pains for “austerity purposes.”
“It means to voluntarily take up a little bit of inconvenience so to build character, to toughen up a little bit, to be a tough boy,” Swami said.