In 2007 and 2008 so far, Hare Krishna monk Robert Edwards has traveled 1,290 miles across the rural English counties of Somerset and Devon, hosted 25 meditation groups, and distributed over 1,000 books.
His adventure is inspired by the ancient Indian tradition of “Padayatra,” meaning pilgrimage on foot. “In days gone by, monks would travel from village to village, teaching Krishna consciousness and begging for alms to maintain themselves,” Rob says. “Because they had faith that Krishna would always provide for them and protect them, they felt no anxiety, and were able to be absorb themselves in spiritual practices.”
Robert’s twist? He doesn’t walk. He cycles.
The former office manager and sometime DJ dubs his pilgrimage “Pedalyatra” and depends on God just as the monks of old did. He sleeps in a tent, carries all his worldly possessions with him in a cycle trailer, and only buys food he can pay for from his daily distribution of Prabhupada’s books. “It’s not a life I expect others to take to,” says Rob, “But it’s one that brings me closer to Krishna, and makes me very happy, in spite of its austerities.”
Rob also uses the donations he earns to cook for guests at the 25 meditation meetings he holds every month. “They’re standard ISKCON programs, with music, Gita class, japa meditation and vegetarian food, but they’re a little more informal,” Rob says. “Since most people who come haven’t attended events like this before, I try to just keep it very relaxed. I don’t want to blow them out.”
With about eight visits to each of the 25 locations on his route every year, and a forthcoming expansion to 40 meditation groups this autumn, it’s a wonder Rob doesn’t blow himself out. But he assures us that the plan is to make the groups self-contained. “I want to get local people fired up to oversee things themselves eventually. And it’s happening – Marcus, who joined as a result of a previous group, handles administration for all the groups from his apartment. Oli, who joined ISKCON when Pedalyatra came to his town, cycled with me last summer. And just the other day, one devotee came to a group who hadn’t seen fellow Hare Krishnas in 15 years, and she couldn’t wait to get involved.”
Rob holds his meditation groups in mostly small towns with populations of 25,000 or less. Glastonbury and Totness – homes to his two most successful groups – have populations of less than 10,000. And the interest is proportionate: only between two and ten people show up per program. Rob’s detractors say his endeavor is pointless, but he’s adamant that this kind of small-time preaching is exactly what ISKCON needs. “The difference between 5 and 10 is 5,” he says. “But the difference between 0 and 1 is everything.”
For Rob, it doesn’t matter how few guests turn up; the inspiring part is seeing people attend a meeting not sure what’s going to happen, and leave enthusiastic about the maha-mantra and prasadam. “It proves to me that Krishna consciousness is the natural constitutional position of the living entity,” he says. “And it also proves that devotees are everywhere - you just have to go and look for them.”
His enthusiasm is contagious, and local press have picked up on the story, featuring Pedalyatra in several newspapers. Rob hopes that it’ll move up to radio and regional TV, so that ordinary people stop feeling the need to be so evasive around devotees. “Folks here in the rural southwest of England are curious enough, but they tend to avoid strange religious people in funny costumes,” he says. “Maybe more exposure will let them know that we’re not as scary as we look.”
Rob also hopes that his “simple living, high thinking” lifestyle will make people stop and consider their lives. “We clutter our lives with many unnecessary anxieties trying to maintain a false standard of so-called happiness, often at the expense of others,” he says. “This creates a vicious circle not only within this life, but over repeated lifetimes in this material world.”
Robert explains that his ultimate goal is to start a new wave of grass roots sankirtana activity in the western hemisphere. “It’s an incredibly exhilarating experience,” he says, encouraging people to join him. “I’ve never felt so alive – apart from when I'm hungry.”
He concludes: “Let’s go out and do crazy things for Krishna. The reason people joined in the 60s and 70s was because it was an adventure. Let’s bring that swashbuckling, go-get-'em attitude back.”
Keep up to date on Rob’s adventures at www.pedalyatra.com