Caracas, Venezuela — Sunday, January 1st

Search and subscribe

Happy New Year! As I prepared to begin my fourth calendar year of blogging as the iMonk, updating all the links to reflect the new year, I was surprised to discover that there are now almost six hundred pages in the iMonk archives.

So I wrote a little search program to help you more easily find subjects that interest you, articles that you have read previously, or just explore the iMonk archive a little more efficiently.

You can use the QuickSearch form (with preset defaults) on the main page for general searches, or the Advanced Search that allows you to refine your search by setting options like "case sensitivity," "whole or partial words," and number of results to display per page.

Whichever search form you choose to use, you can search for the exact order of words by enclosing phrases in quotes and you can add or exclude words from search results by using the plus (+) and minus (-) operators. Please read the Search Help page for more information on how to use these advanced operators...

Readers frequently ask to be notified whenever the iMonk blog is updated. If you click on the link in the menu on the main page, you can now subscribe to a mailing list that I have created just for this purpose. To prevent misuse or pranks, you will be sent an email to verify your email address and confirm the validity of your request before your subscription is processed.

Caracas, Venezuela — Wednesday, January 4th

A fishy tale

Some two months ago I began a blog asking, "Is there anything more gross than a big, fat, rat?" Well, today at Parque del Este (East Park), the largest public park in Caracas, we saw the mother of all big, fat, rats!

The capybara, or chiguire, as it is called here in Venezuela, is the largest living rodent in the world. It can grow to over four feet (1.2m) long and weigh up to 130lbs (60kg). Now that's one big, fat, rat!

But these rodents are semi-aquatic, live in groups near water, have partially webbed feet, can stay submerged for several minutes, and are excellent swimmers. This peculiarity led to the rather bizarre theological decision by the Roman Catholic Church to anomalously classify these mammals as fish!

It seems that when the Spanish missionaries first encountered capybara in South America during the sixteenth century, they wrote a letter to the Pope, asking for advice: "There is an animal here that is scaly, but also hairy, spends time in the water, but occasionally comes onto the land. Can we classify it as a fish?"

This was a significant question because the Catholic Church prohibits meat-eating (but allows fish-eating) during Lent, and the letter was understood by the Vatican to be an implicit request to be allowed to eat the capybara during that forty day period before Easter.

With only a second-hand description of the animal (and not wanting the petitioners to turn away from Catholicism), the Church agreed to the Venezuelans' request and declared the capybara to be a fish!

Caracas, Venezuela — Friday, January 6th

More than a park

Every morning Gaurachandra Prabhu drives Janardan Maharaj and me to Parque del Este (Park of the East), the largest and most popular public park in Caracas, with nine artificial ponds (replete with ducks, storks, and flamingos) on 185 beautifully landscaped acres.

There are numerous enclosures in the park, that, in addition to the chiguire, house other indigenous animals like the jaguar, semi-aquatic reptiles like the cayman (similar to an alligator), and exotic varieties of birds like the toucan (the first one I've seen that's not promoting a breakfast cereal!).

But the reason we go to this park is a little more esoteric: this is the same park that was graced by the holy lotus feet of Srila Gurudeva when His Divine Grace visited Caracas in November 2004, and it was in this park that Srila A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupad used to take his morning walks when he visited this city in 1975, so for us, this appropriately named "Park of the East" is a place of pilgrimage because it has been purified by the holy lotus feet of not just one, but two pure Vaishnava devotees from the East.

In the Srimad Bhagavatam (1:13:10), after the saintly Vidura returns from visiting places of pilgrimage, Yudhisthir Maharaj says:

bhavad-vidha bhagavatas / tirtha-bhutah svayam vibho
tirthi-kurvanti tirthani / svantah-sthena gada-bhrta

"Wherever you go becomes a place of pilgrimage, because saints like you (bhavad-vidha bhagavatas) are personified holy places of pilgrimage (tirtha-bhutah svayam). Even the places of pilgrimage [which become inundated with the sins of those who go there to be decontaminated] are purified by pure devotees like you (tirthi-kurvanti tirthani), because you carry the Supreme Personality of Godhead always in your heart (svantah-sthena gada-bhrta)."

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Layout by iMonk — January 6th, 2006.