Bhaktimarga Swami, best known as “The Walking Monk” for his multiple cross-Canada treks, is in Surrey for few events this week.
The Ontario-born Swami, who finished his last such trek in 2014, is currently halfway through a similar walk across the U.S., in another effort to promote a “more car-free, carefree lifestyle.” This week, he’ll be in Surrey to attend a pair of events, and the Now caught up with Swami – known as John Peter Vis before he adopted a monastic way of life back in 1973 – via cellphone as he motored down an interstate in Illinois earlier this week. “Yesterday was a momentous day where I stopped at the midway point in America, in Nebraska, and now I’m making a return journey back to Toronto, ultimately, my home place,” Swami explained in an interview. “It’s a pleasant day and we’ve had a great trip so far doing half of the U.S. The whole idea is to reconvene next spring and do the second half, the western part, heading west.” Two decades ago, in 1996, Swami set out on his first cross-Canada walk as something of a 100th-birthday tribute to a mentor of his. Putting his “feet and heart together” that year, he started in Victoria and made it all the way to Cape Spear, Newfoundland, with many stories to tell.
“I’d always wanted to see Canada closeup,” he recalled, “because before I was a monk I hitchhiked or flew and took buses, things like that, but I wanted to see it the way it was done by the ancients, you know, the way you should do it, especially because it’s a kind of birthright for a monastic person to do this kind of thing.”
He enjoyed the “CanWalk” experience enough to complete three more cross-country journeys in years since.
“I went through a lot of pain, physical,” Swami admitted. “The biggest challenge of all is walking on an angle – it’s like walking on a beach. But nevertheless, everything else compensated for that (pain), including meeting fantastic people, meeting characters, being confronted by black bears, grizzlies, whatnot, and finally I became an addict, I like it, gotta do it again.”
His first coast-to-coast walk was documented in “The Longest Road,” a 2003 National Film Board of Canada movie about the Trans-Canada Highway.