Quebec City

July 11, 2013

What is the best way to approach a new city? Take the bus tour! So that was the main part of yesterday, but before that I watched the changing of the guard at the citadel. The citadel is a functioning military fortress atop the city of Quebec on the Plains of Abraham. What strikes me most about this place is the sheer vibrancy of the French culture. Quebec City is happening! And it’s happening in French. I saw this in the changing of the guard, a very traditional ceremony, in the attitude of the bus tour guide, and in the french rock concert jammed with young people, who I saw in the evening at the Festival d’ete de Quebec. A few years ago when I was in Montréal I failed to see a similar vibrancy.

My tour guide made some salient comments after my city bus tour as I asked him about René Lévesque, the architect of French separatism in Québec. In my part of Canada, English Canada, Lévesque was the vilified monster of Quebec separatism. Yet, here his name is on streets and buildings throughout the Province. He’s a hero! Why is this? My tour guide thought religion lay at the heart of the question.

Quebec is decidedly Catholic, whereas English Canada is Protestant, and this simple fact alone explains much of the difference between the two parts of Canada. My tour guide explained that it was not until the mid-70s that the church truly lost its grip on the french of Quebec, and it was René Lévesque who had much to do with this, That’s late! In France they cut the apron strings with the Church during the French Revolution. It seems the colonies developed at a different rate. It was his opinion the Church had engrained in the people’s mind that capitalism and economic growth were a sin—that somehow poverty was a religious duty. Compared to English Canada, the province of Quebec had always been more rural and underdeveloped. This was well known. Somehow Lévesque was able to wake the French from their religious slumber and diminish the hold of the Church in French Canada. Lévesque voiced pride in secular French culture, which is now evident everywhere here.

One could argue that it was Martin Luther who broke the hold of the Church in Northern Europe, which started the machinery of industrialization and secularization in Protestant Europe; that it was not until the French Revolution this hold in France broke, whereas in colonial Quebec it did not break until much later, as late as the 1970s. This was my tour guide’s view, but regardless, Quebec City is booming. Here it’s full-on secular French culture right in the heart of English North America. Unemployment in Quebec City is only 4.5%, there are construction cranes everywhere, and the place is teaming with tourists. It seems Quebec City is leading the revolution. My tour guide said Montreal had not yet fully gotten it. They are still flirting with English culture, but here French pride is in full bloom. And I agree. When I visited Montréal a few years ago it was my view that Montréal was still the backwaters of Canada, but this is not the case in Québec city. Here they seem to have grasped the idea they can have it economic development and French culture and integration with the rest of the world at the same time. They don’t need to compromise their French culture with the rest of Canada or anyone else. It seems to be true, and I’m glad for it.





Tonight I’m sitting on a mat in my patio outside my studio in Rimrock CA. This is good for doing restful breathing. Tonight is peaceful and it’s absolutely quiet. I can see a billion stars. It always takes me time to “come down” after the weekend. The silence of the desert is overpowering. There is a slight breeze and the air is cool. I can see the big dipper, the Northstar, and Casseopeia just In front overhead. The Sanskrit name for Cassiopeia is Sharmishtha. Directly overhead is the celestial Ganga. My patio is a perfect place for quiet contemplation and relaxation. I never wish to live here, yet I do appreciate the primitive beauty of the desert. Tomorrow I leave for Québec city and a week to speak French.

Hymn of Creation, Rig Veda 10/129

Here is my translation of the oldest creation “story” within Hinduism. (Rig Veda 10/129) In fact it is not a story. It is a best speculation or guess. Yet without a doubt it is one of the oldest hymns of its kind from any religion. The beauty and profundity of this hymn is its honesty: We don’t know!!! We don’t know how this universe came about. An argument could be made that this is an agnostic text.

Hymn of Creation

Rig Veda 10/129

Translation by Shukavak N Dasa

Copyright 2014 S.R.I.

1. At that time there was neither Being nor non-Being. There was neither atmosphere nor sky beyond. What did this universe contain? Where did it exist? Under whose protection was it? Were there waters, impenetrable and profound?

2. There was neither death nor immortality. There was no indication of night or day. Without air, spontaneously that one breathed. Other than this there was nothing.

3. Darkness was hidden by darkness. Unrecognizable, all was surging. Whatever  came into being had been covered by void. Then, accompanied by the power of heat, that one arose.

4. And then desire, the first seed of the mind, enveloped that one. The wise, searching with intellect in their hearts, discovered the connection between Being and non-Being.

5. Their mental reach extended out. Was there below or was there above? There were creators, there were powers with energy below and impulse above.

6. But who truly knows? Who can say from where creation originated. Gods came after creation. Therefore, who knows from where it came to be?

7. From where has this creation arisen? Whether He caused it or not. Only He, in the highest heaven, who is its witness, truly knows, or perhaps, even He knows not.


The words are sat and asat, which Sayana, an 11th century commentator,  renders as bhava and abhava, being and non being.

The expression used here is tad ekam, ‘that one’, which Sayana says refers to Brahman, an impersonal form of divinity. The word ekam is used only twice in this hymn, once here, and once at the end of next verse. Sayana takes the first usage to refer to divinity and the second usage to refer to the creation. Some commentators take it to mean the creation in both cases.

The word used here is salilam which indicates flux and change. It is often translated as water.

Here the word used is tucchyena, void or emptiness. Sayana says this word means a state of neither sat or asat, being or nonbeing.

This is the second use of the word ekam, which Sayana says refers to the creation.

Here I’ve translated using the word ‘one’, but in fact the word ekam is not used. Instead the text only reads tat, that. Commentators like Sayana says tat means paremeshvara, God.

Literally raśmi is a cord or beam of light. I’ve glossed it as ‘mental reach’. Literally the text reads, “Their cord was extended across.”

This is the first use of the pronoun sa meaning he. Sayana says it means ishvara, God.


1980, First Son to Guru Kula

Rim Rock

One of the hardest things a parent can do is send a child away to school, especially a four year old child, yet that’s precisely what Kama Nagari and I did. We sent Vrindavan, our first son, to school in Vancouver, 6000 kilometers and three times zones away. We had decided our children were going to have a spiritual education, which met a Guru Kula education, so Vrindavan was our first to follow this course. A Guru Kula is a traditional Hindu school, a little too similar to the traditional Islamic madrases I’m sorry to say. Literally guru kula means the house of the teacher, a place where young children would to go for a Vedic education, which in our case included a highly attenuated western education. In those days we lived under the rule that modern education was a ‘slaughter house for the soul’, and ‘we’ll teach a little modern history just so the karmis don’t think our children are fools.’ These were the words of our guru, and as good disciples, we accepted these ideas.

Dutifully, but with a heavy heart, I purchased two Air Canada tickets, one return and the other a one way, and flew to Vancouver with Vrindavan. It is important to understand in those days Vancouver was a lot farther away from Toronto than it is today. There were no cell phones, no Internet, no video chats or any of the other things that make the world flat as it is today. A landline call was extremely expensive. In short, Vancouver was a great distance a way!

By devotee standards the Vancouver Temple was clean and had the appearance of being well-run. The children in the school seemed happy and properly looked after. So my mind was somewhat relieved. I spent as little time in Vancouver as I could. I simply met with the teachers and the headmaster, Bala Krishna, paid the tuition and made my way back to Toronto. The whole affair was just too painful. My distinct memory was how easily Vrindavan accepted his move away from home and to the school. It was like placing a fish in water. Whoosh, and he was gone. It was almost insulting. I was a mass of emotion, yet he accepted it so naturally. While this made me feel better, it seemed entirely unnatural. The return flight to Toronto was terrible. I was a cloud of tears and doubt. Did I do the right thing? Should I have left a four-year-old so far away from his family. Inside I was dying. Yet I convinced myself that I was being the spiritual hero, following the orders of my guru. I was exercising detachment from family life. I was giving my son a foundation of spiritual life and saving him from ‘the slaughterhouse’ of modern education. These were the thoughts running through my head as I flew back to Toronto.

That year I left Vrindavan in Vancouver turned out to be one of the hardest times of my life. Not only was I carrying the burden of whether I had done the right thing, I struggled with business and the politics of running a spiritual community and then, as if to rub salt into the wound, Vrindavan had health issues, nothing serious, but things like colds, cough and fever, childhood ailments. I felt helpless. He was so far away and I couldn’t know what his situation truly was. There seemed little I could do other than rely on the teachers, the school and Krishna. I was tempted to bring him back, but I never did. I didn’t want to disrupt the process we had started. Kama Naragi and I thought, if we’re doing it, we’re doing it. Sending a young child so far away for school is not an easy thing, nor is it a natural thing. I’m not sure who suffered more Kama Nagari or myself. It was hard to tell. She tended to not show her feelings, yet she seemed to take it better. Kama Nagari was more of an ISKCON person than I. She had been living in a temple, I had never done that. Regardless, we were both trying to do the right thing for our family.
This was the year 1980 when Vrindavan was just fours years old.

Space Attack

February 15, 2013

Something truly amazing happen today. An astroid, half the size of a football field, barely missed the earth by only 27,000 kilometers and meteor crashed into a city in Russia and hurt over 1500 people, mostly from glass fragments as a result of a sonic boom. It’s mind-boggling to realize that two of these space events happened on the same day within hours of each other. We only knew about the asteroid a week before it raced by and no one knew the meteor was coming at all.

These were positive events because for a few short moments every human being on this planet felt themselves united and potentially vulnerable. We all came together as one group, residents of a lonely planet in space. Had that astroid hit the earth anywhere it would’ve had global implications. The meteor streaking across the sky on the same day only heightened the potential of the astroid. It is a rare moment that we come together as residents of one planet instead of residents of our different countries. We need more of this.


Norham Development


Our first temple was in my home at Warkworth. This was a really bad idea. To mix a public temple with a private home is to put tremendous strain on any family. Every morning at 5 AM about 20 people came to our house for a spiritual program that included a mangal arati, a japa time, a Bhagavatam class, a Deity greeting and a communal breakfast. This lasted till 8:30 every morning. It was insane, yet it seemed the only way to start a spiritual community. We even had a communal lunch at 1pm and a Gita class at 6pm. We tried to do everything just right, but we were slowly killing ourselves. Kama Nagari and I put tremendous strain on our marriage for which we would pay dearly.

After some months we received our first brahmachari, a young man named Jnani Das, who had been sent by Bhaktipada in New Vrindavan. Brahmacharis are divine creatures! Everyone should have one. With the help of Jnani Das our community could have a separate income other than from my pocket. Unfortunately, with the addition of our brahmachari we had entered the Sankirtana Business, the pick, which I have mentioned already. I was not at all happy with this, yet it did help tremendously. This is the seduction of the pick.

Now that we had an income we rented a separate building, a farmhouse centrally located to our community that we could use as a temple. This building was just a few minutes drive from my house. We turned the upstairs of this farmhouse into our temple room and we used the downstairs for a kitchen and a community eating room. One downstairs bedroom was given to Jnani Das and the other was used as a temple office. We were in business. While this took tremendous pressure off my family, it was was still a grueling schedule. Everyday at 4:30 AM I would drive with Kama Nagari to this new temple for the morning program. We basically followed the same program as before, but at least it was not in our home. I used to consult regularly with Bhaktipada in New Vrindavan on how to manage our new temple community. Everything had to be done under guru authority. That was the spiritual way. At the time most of our members were his disciples, so I thought it best to run everything through him. Looking back I really didn’t need to do this because I had my own authority, yet in those days I was young and didn’t want to exercise any personal authority. We were a Bhaktipada temple, an extension of New Vrindavan in foreign territory. This turned out to be a huge problem for me.

Our new community slowly developed. Every day I would drive to the temple for the morning program, then do my business which was in Campbellford 25 km away, then return for lunch, then go back to Campbellford for business and then finally return to the temple one final time for the evening program. On top of this I had to regularly drive to Toronto with all of the slippers manufactured by our business. While in Toronto I would attend classes at the university. I was driving almost 160,000 km every year. It was unbelievable. In time I trained Gaudiya to help me handle most of this driving. I also trained Lila Shuka, Gaudiya’s wife, to look after the bookkeeping of our business. At this time both Gaudiya and Lilashuka lived at our house. Another really bad idea.

On the other side of things Kanina had his business in the garage of his rented house in Warkworth. He was firing pottery in the garage. I was in Campbellford manufacturing slippers.

Kanina and I worked together to develop our new community that we called New Varshana. Not too far from where we lived was an old village called Norham. On our way to temple every morning we passed through this village, which had been a horse and buggy town that served the local farm communities in the days before automobiles. Once automobiles became prominent small towns like Norham gradually slipped into disuse and people moved away to the larger communities like Warkworth and Campbellford. In the center of Norham was an old rundown church long since abandoned and a general store which was still in use, but only barely. It did not take long before the idea came to us that we could buy the church and turn it into a shared factory. We could combine our businesses. Kanina could take one floor and I could take the other.

From this initial idea to consolidate our businesses the thought of turning Norham into a temple town gradually evolved. The church was situated in the center of town. Own the church and we could own the town. Perhaps we could even acquire the general store across the street. Then Norham would really be ours. At this time, however, our plan was simply to use the old church as a factory and then, in the future, if things worked out we could convert the old church into a temple. We bought this building for a mere $12,000, each putting $6000 into the project. The building was in bankruptcy so we were able to get it for almost nothing, but it was anything but cheap. An old building takes an ocean of money just make it usable. Nothing worked. There was no water, no electricity, no drains, the roof leaked and the foundation was sinking. There were back taxes and hidden county fees to be paid. Whatever could be wrong with a building this building had it in spades. Yet with high hopes and great dreams Kanina, Gaudiya and I joyfully took on the job to renovate this building into our workplace.

I remember crawling around in the dirt basement of this old church with blowtorches and propane heaters trying to thaw out the foundation so we could get the drains working. We started our work in the dead of winter. Unless you have experienced a Canadian winter you have no idea how cold it can be and how deep the frost goes into the ground, well over a mile, or so it seemed. I remember jacking up the building to level the floors. I learned so much about plumbing and electricity. We did everything ourselves. We even built a chain pulley elevator in order to allow me to bring sewing supplies to the second floor. It was a huge amount of work, but we thrived on it. We were on a mission from God.

It took a tremendous amount of money and a Herculean effort, but gradually we got this building into use. The pottery business moved to the bottom floor and the slipper manufacturing business went to the upper floor. I moved my equipment from Campbellford to this location including many of my workers. Surprisingly everything worked. We would go to the temple in the morning then come to our church/factory during the day and then return to the temple in the evening. Our homes were close by. It was a good move.

I am not sure whether we did this for months or for a year, but eventually the idea came to us that it was time turn our factory into our temple.

Them Cold Cold Days


Dear Naty,

Growing up in the 1960s school had two divisions, the elementary level and secondary level. The elementary level went from kindergarten to grade 8, and the secondary level went from grade 9 to grade 13. This secondary level was high school. There was no Middle School in those days as there is today. My home was over 3 kilometers from my elementary school, which was a long long distance for a young child to walk. And to think I made that trip four times a day and five days a week, my God! That was two hours of walking everyday except Saturday and Sunday. I was skinny in those days. Once I made it to high school there was no more walking, it was just up the street. These days I laugh when I see parents driving their children to school when they could easily walk. But I understand why they do it. Walking used to be safe.

Fifty years ago the winters were much colder than they are today, what with global warming blessing life on earth. I can remember making those trips to and from school on some extremely cold days, the kind of days that if you spit it would be solid by the time your spit hit the ground. If one has never grown up in a cold climate it is impossible to imagine getting dressed to go to school. We wore full thermal underwear, which included an upper t-shirt, on top of that went two pair socks, pants and a long sleeve shirt and a sweater, then a snowsuit, boots, gloves, and a balaclava. That’s the hat bank robbers wear. Then to top it off my mother would wrap and tie a scarf around my neck. It would take a full 20 minutes to get suited up and then another 10 minutes to get unsuited. And we did it four times a day. Going to school in the winter was like taking a moonwalk. I think my mother walked me to school only a few times and once I knew the way I had to do everything alone after that. Again I laugh today when I think about children in Southern California complaining how hard it is to get to school. Like walking to the car in the garage is tough.

I remember regular snowfalls of three meters and more. That was as high as I was in those days! And drifts could be two meters. Today such deep snowfalls seem to be non existent. Snowplows with massive blades would throw the snow off the road and create massive piles of snow and ice along the edges of the roads. As kids we would climb these mountains of ice like they were glaciers. During the months of January and February the temperature would always be below -17c, and even down to -30 or even -40°. I recall times when the temperature would stay below -17 for a month. My God, I shutter at how cold it used to be. Every night my father would plug our car into a block heater so it would start in the morning. A car engine cannot start when the oil is as thick as butter. Those were difficult times This is why I never want to live in a cold climate. My vow is to only live where I can see palm trees.

On Finding a Desert Home

This evening the desert is beautiful, and except for the sound of a few crickets and the distant cry of a coyote, it is peaceful and serene. There is no moon tonight, so I sit in the dark on my swing with my computer in my lap. I love to be outside at night to write. The darkness around me and the vault of the heavens above, inspires me. There is magic in the desert at night. The temple was busy this evening, but somehow I was able to leave a little early. Many nights I am forced to stay beyond closing time, but this night I was able to leave so that I could be here on my swing for a few hours of peace and tranquility. The heat is gradually building during the day as the hot season sets in, which means the desert nights are a cool and inviting time to write. I love my desert home.

I first found this place ten years ago. At the time I was living in Riverside near my temple and on my days off, usually Wednesdays and Thursdays, I would jump onto my motorbike and escape from the city to the deserts of Southern California. I would ride for miles all over Southern California and one day I came to this sacred spot in the desert, which would eventually become my home. I am a country boy at heart even though I grew up in the city. My love for the wilds was instilled in me by my parents at an early age. Virtually every Friday afternoon, as school ended, they would pick my bother and I up from school and drive us to our family cottage a hundred miles outside of the city where we would spend the weekend. Then on Monday morning they would drop us back in the city just as school was beginning. During the whole summer, three months, I would also spend my time at the cottage with my cousin. The two of us lived in tents and would go fishing, canoeing, hiking and horse back riding, and we would work on the local farms every summer. We did this for years and so I grew up with a love for the outdoors and the rural life. But Southern California has no outdoors like where I grew up or even farms like I used to know, at least not family farms, instead it has its own offering of the rural life, the deserts, lots of them, and so I have transferred my love for the wilds of Ontario to the deserts of the Southern California. I cannot imagine living in a city. I only visit the city.

A hundred miles is just a bit too much of a drive to get away from it all. I knew this from growing up. Sixty miles is perfect, so when I went searching for my desert home I had this sixty mile rule in my head. I also knew the way should be direct with no stop lights or switch back roads. It is not good to be on top of a mountain, nor should one have have to drive on rough roads to reach home. Too much remoteness is not good. Neighbors are also important, but you don’t want them too close. You want to see them, but you never want to hear them or see into their living rooms. With all this in mind I began my search for my home in the desert.


Leaving from Pulkava

Saint Petersburg
October 23, 2012

Pulkava 2, Saint Petersburg’s international terminal, is just a decade old, yet it looks much older, in fact, desperately antiquated. It’s hard to imagine a more inefficient system of processing passengers, and the absolute worst was after being cleared through customs, passport control, and security, you end up sitting in a small stark waiting room with seats for 75, yet on a flight with over 250. No toilets! No food! No shops! Nothing for a two hour wait! In my case the majority of the passengers were French and American so you could hear the gasps in French and English. “C’est terrible! This is terrible.” It was the first time I’d heard decent English in two weeks. Without exception everyone was in horror at substandard facilities and poor treatment. St Petersburg is the second largest city in Russia, which means it ranks with a Chicago or Atlanta and Pulkava 2 is the best they could do? Where were the travelers? What is Chicago’s airport like on a Tuesday morning at 8am. Jammed and packed with passengers going everywhere. Saint Petersburg looked like the backwaters of the world! I just don’t get it. Russia is sitting on a gold mind of tourism. It has wondrous sites, yet it has no clue how to invite, receive, and send guests home with a smile. I had my passport confiscated within 15 minutes of arriving, and now this? Two hundred and fifty wealthy foreign tourists stuck a tiny stark waiting room with no restrooms!? Both coming and going you get the icy stare from the government officials. In so many ways they are saying, we don’t want you here, don’t come, and don’t return. They make you feel like a criminal.

So I write these words while sitting on my Air France flight to Paris from St Petersburg and it is with utter relief to rejoin the West. It’s nice to be back in my own paradigm again. I wanted so much to say nice things about Russia! It’s a rich and wondrous culture, yet it’s like an old drunk man shooting himself in the foot.

My prayer is that country, which is struggling to embrace the modernity, will give up its fear of the world, become sweet and learn to welcome tourists. Russia is am amazing place full of a rich and unique history. The tourists of the world are wealthy and we want to come and enjoy your culture and see your treasures, but you must give up your fear of the outside. Follow the lead of your first great Peter with his desire to modernize the country. Sign the international agreements that would bring your country to the standards of the rest of the world.

Arrived in Paris. Wow!!! I can’t describe the contrast. Charles de Gaulle is alive, full of color and shops, and packed with travelers. Leaving Russia is like leaving mud huts and coming to a royal palace. Wake up Russia!

Moscow Notes

October 20, 2012
St. Petersburg Russia

St. Petersburg and Moscow are about 700 km apart, more or less the equivalent of San Francisco to Los Angeles. This morning I boarded a high speed train, the Sapsan, at 7AM in St. Petersburg bound for Moscow, due to arrive at 11:30 AM. This is the equivalent of Europe’s Euro Star. The Sapsan is the same type of train, but it does not run as fast as the Euro Star does in many places in Europe. The Sapsan clocked speeds up to 200 km/h, but on the Madrid to Barcelona run, Spain’s fastest train was clocking speeds well over 300 km/h. It was running on special track. The St. Petersburg to Moscow run looks as if it runs on regular track. Both stations in St. Petersburg and Moscow are clean and efficient and as the train arrives the Russian national anthem is played over loud speakers—a nice touch.

This St. Petersburg to Moscow corridor is the equivalent of Toronto to Montréal, Los Angeles to San Francisco, or Boston to Washington, however, the countryside between St Petersburg and Moscow is in stark contrast to what you see between these Western cities. Between St Petersburg and Moscow there are seemingly unlimited numbers of small wooden shacks and towns with unpaved, and at this time of the year, mud roads. Many of the houses are neat and trim, but the vast majority are rundown. I did not see a single brick house or any large farms—virtually no signs of rural prosperity, which speaks volumes about the state of development in this country. One would expect this St. Petersburg to Moscow corridor to be filled farms and general prosperity, after all, this is the most prosperous area of the country. The countryside itself is beautiful, the land is generally flat and well watered and full of forests, so I see no reason why it should not make relatively good agricultural land. Yes the climate is cold, but I just do not understand why there are not at least some farms. It looks like northern Ontario in the 1970s, run down and poor. The moment the train gets beyond either city you enter this world of wooden shacks, mud roads, and ‘peasants.’ I cannot imagine what these people do for living. Life in Russia is hard.

Moscow has a much different feel than St. Petersburg. There are a lot more police and military on the streets. They are everywhere, especially the military. In fact, Moscow is close to being a police state, at least in my view. And the police can be very imposing. Just this morning, as I was walking down a Moscow street, I stopped to send a text so I moved aside from the walking. Within minutes I was approached by a policeman threateningly raising his stick and waiving me to move on. I was not interfering with the flow of walking traffic, I was dressed in respectable clothes, and yet he didn’t like what I was doing. As he spoke to me in Russian I answered in English and the moment he realized I was a foreigner he immediately backed away. Apparently he didn’t want to interfere with a tourist. I thought it prudent to move on anyway, but to me this was a simple example of the police doing what they do here, being imposing and intimidating. A couple times, I saw policeman prodding and yelling at young men who were a little drunk. In each instance they were ready to club them. I’ve never seen anything like this in North America. Yes, the police can be threatening in America, but they don’t generally club or prod people in the open unless there is a riot or something of a major nature. And to my amazement no one pays any attention to how policeman treat people. It was all perfectly normal, but it certainly jumped up as a red flag in my mind. I got the feeling that if you step out of line the police would beat you in a heart beat and with no hesitation.

After arriving at my hotel, the first thing was to go to Red Square and the Kremlin. There is a thrill at seeing something you’ve seen on television and in magazines for so many years and then to suddenly see it in person for the first time. Walking into Red Square, with Saint Basil’s Cathedral looming up at you is an amazingly experience! What a rush!

In essence Red Square is a large assembly area with the Kremlin walls on one side and an upscale shopping mall on the other. This mall, I’m sure, used to be government buildings. St. Basil’s is at the far end and a museum is at the other. To the side, up against the Kremlin wall, is Lenin’s tomb. Unfortunately the monument was closed so Lenin’s body could not be viewed. St. Basil’s Cathedral is a spectacular experience. Every part of this gorgeous building is an ocean of historical detail. A Russian orthodox Cathedral of this design is actually a conglomeration of small churches constructed around a center. In the case of St. Basil’s it is nine churches, eight of which are grouped around a center church. Perhaps a collection of nine shrines is a better way to describe it. In any case each church has a unique theme and is full of wall paintings and with an elaborate iconostasis. There are no large assembly areas as one sees in a Roman Catholic or Protestant cathedral. From my perspective it’s like a South Indian Hindu Temple with personal viewing areas at each iconostasis as opposed to a large assembly area. An iconostasis is an elaborately carved and ornamented screen that separates the congregation from the altar where the priests do their worship. Every inch of the space inside this cathedral is covered with wall paintings and other religious designs. And like a South India temple, worship tends to be more personal and one-on-one and less communal than in a Roman Catholic or protestant cathedral. I did hear from some criticism that St. Basil’s Cathedral and this kind of orthodox cathedral is a little over embellished and candy-cane, but from a tourist’s perspective this is the primo site in Moscow. It is spectacular.

After Red Square I went into the Kremlin, which is a large walled off area where the government buildings including many smaller orthodox cathedrals are located. I had to go through a lot of security to enter his area. Religion and state power go hand-in-hand in Russia. Except for Soviet times this is the way its been since the beginning of time. There is some irony in that here I was visiting Red Square and the Kremlin and seeing the seat of the Russian Federation and old Soviet Empire and I’ve never visited Washington DC! I suppose it’s always more exotic to visit other places before you fully appreciate your home. But without a doubt it was a thrill to see what I’ve seen on TV so many times! And I must say the whole Kremlin/Red Square area is well kept with beautiful lawns, trees and parks. Russians are good garden people. For me the most interesting part of the Kremlin was the Square of the Cathedrals, which is a grouping of five orthodox cathedrals. Unfortunately they are now museums. They have not yet been resurrected since Soviet times. Again, each cathedral is unique yet similar to St. Basil’s, just without the embellished candy-cane look on the outside. Inside, each one is full of elaborate wall paintings, designs and a gorgeous iconostasis. Unfortunately, no photos are allowed in any of these cathedrals, but if you see the photos from St. Basil’s you’re seeing something similar. It was an exciting experience.

After visiting Moscow and the Kremlin and spending a little time ‘crawling around’ in the back alleys of this country I come to the following first-impression conclusions. Even though this country has large ornate buildings, metros and train stations, rich artistic traditions and a complex and diverse culture, there is a real difference between being here and being in the West. The premises upon which this society are built are very different from what I grew up with; and one can feels these differences, especially in a place like the Kremlin. These differences have to do with religion and power. This is a patriarch driven culture much more than the west. Russia had no Martin Luther, no Protestant Reformation, and therefore it has no historical foundations for democracy. One can look at the Bolshevik Revolution as an attempt to break the strangle hold of the patriotic system that was Russia in those days. I see the Protestant Reformation as a similar process breaking the authoritarian stranglehold of religion in Western Europe. It gave birth to the idea that the individual could live a life according to their own ways without the need for a priest, a pope or a authoritarian father figure. Russia today is not a full-fledged democracy like we see in the west. The experiment of the Bolshevik revolution, to break the ways of the past is still underway. Russian is experimenting with democracy. This is still very much an authoritarian state. And one sees it in the way the police treat people and in the pessimism of the average Russian who thinks nothing will ever change. The average Russian does not feel in control of their destiny. Many feel they have the window dressings of democracy without the substance of democracy. Many even yearn to return to Soviet ways. Being here you know you are in a different place. America, Canada, Britain, Europe, Australia, New Zealand are all places built on similar premises. But the premises of Russian culture are different. And when I come into a place like this I see something just as big and real as the West, yet something very alien to that culture. I would not want to live here. Being here for just a week or two, even though this place is filled with an incredibly rich and diverse culture, I deeply appreciate the traditions of the West, which grant freedom to the individual that Russians do not have. A perfect example is the beautiful Cathedral of St. Denis our Savior which is located not far from the Kremlin. This is a beautiful and modern Russian orthodox cathedral situated in the center of Moscow and it is the place where just a few weeks ago a group of young girls, a punk rock band, staged a protest concert right in the altar area within this cathedral! You can see this concert on YouTube. They criticized the church and Russia’s current leadership, and for such an act of civil disobedience they were beaten and given long prison sentences. In America they would have spent a night in jail and have been cited as a public nuisance. And had the government tried to prosecute them the American Civil Liberties Union would have eagerly supported their right of freedom of speech. These are just young kids, girls, and they get put in prison for such a thing? It defies belief, yet it speaks volumes about the nature of this society. It has power and organization, but as a democratic institution it is not even close.