Place your burden
at the feet of the Lord of the Universe
who accomplishes everything.
Remain all the time steadfast in the heart,
in the Transcendental Absolute.
God knows the past, present and future.
He will determine the future for you
and accomplish the work.
What is to be done will be done
at the proper time. Don’t worry.
Abide in the heart and surrender your acts
to the divine.
– Ramana Maharshi
Do you notice how similar that passage is to the gospel song “Take your burden to the lord and leave it there”? Maybe there’s more common ground between Christianity and Hinduism than meets the eye. Similarly, if you look for a modern-day version of those ecstatic gospel services that I’ve served up this past week, you may find yourself in the practice of Kirtan Yoga, attending a chanting concert by Krishna Das.
In college, some friends I used to gather a couple nights a month in an outdoor enclave that provided cave-like resonance. We would sing together. Simple songs, mostly: spirituals, ancient English tunes in the round, and plenty of hippie-pagan-goddess songs. This may come as a surprise to those of you who see me as a cynical paleo-hipster; I donned that persona on other nights with other friends. I tended to oscillate between the warm waters of spiritual, loving grace, the consuming fires of artistic drive, and the dry fields of intellectual wit. It was a good way to balance life. One of my singing friends taught us all a bhajan (hindu devotional song) called Radhe Shyam. It was the most incredible thing I had heard, steadily building speed and intensity until we were singing with every bit of breath we had, nearly collapsing from the sheer joy of it. I remembered that song for years, until I happened to hear it at an Irish farm I was working at this summer. Needless to say, my host (who specialized in sound-healing) was surprised to hear me burst into singing along with this bit of background music over the dinnertable. Afterwards, I investigated and found this cd.
Now, if any of you have ever browsed a new-age bookstore or the new-age section of a record shop, you’re likely to have seen Krishna Das cds. And that mere fact would rightly make you suspicious of their quality, expecting overly-soothing tempos and entirely unevocative synthesized soundscapes. And while sometimes Krishna Das falls prey of those wicked producer-tactics, for the most part he’s the bright light for the whole genre. Especially on a live cd like this, the production is stripped to a minimum, so the instruments and voice can shine uninhibited.
But still, especially if you have prejudices against anything newagey or hare-krishnaey, you should give this a listen. But if you merely listen, you’ll miss half the point. The best way to enjoy this cd is with a group of people all singing along to it. As example, take the following story:
A Holy Night With Krishna Das
May 14, 2004 | 4:32 p.m.
I’m a big fan of Middle Eastern and Asiatic music precisely because it’s completely pure for me–I don’t understand a word of those languages. But I knew nothing of Krishna Das until I read Amy Cunningham’s riveting interview with him in Beliefnet.
The story in brief: Long Island Jew meets Ram Das, learns about a guru in India. Goes there, gets knocked upside the head by the power of the guru’s love, starts chanting. He has a modestly pleasant voice, but man, does he have conviction to burn. The combination makes him a kind of star on the chanting circuit.
The promise of a magic experience is why, at the low point of our week, my wife and I found ourselves trying to sit cross-legged on the floor of a recycled church on New York’s Lower East Side. It was hot and sticky, and the room was full, and they were serving vegan dinners and selling meditation clothes, and to say I had some attitude about all this is to understate — the prospect of group chanting took me back to teenage beach parties when kids sat around and sang “Kumbaya.”
“Welcome to Bombay Weight Loss and Kirtan,” Krishna Das began. “Here you can sing and lose weight at the same time.”
So he was funny. A good sign. And he looked amused: close-cropped hair, wire rim glasses, a junior version of a Wilfred Brimley moustache. He picked up the harmonium. “Shree Raam Jaya Raam Jaya Jaya Raam,” he sang, then we sang with him, and I wish I could build some drama here, but the thing of it was: Liftoff was immediate.
That’s partly because the music is in a lower register, so it works as directly on the spine as a great bass guitar riff. It’s also because the music forms an instantaneous community–500 people singing together, in praise of God and the god in themselves. And, as Krishna Das pointed out, “The repetition of the holy names reveals a presence hidden within the heart. Something begins to happen that’s very disturbing–we get happy.”
With Krishna Das, time bends, then stops. As it did, the room cooled a bit. Babies fell asleep, babies were carried out. As for vain, sophisticated, oh-so-clever me — your Swami shucked his brittle shell and felt his heart beat with a roomful of strangers. And in that moment, peace prevailed. It was tangible. I mean, you could feel it.
You don’t want to miss Krishna Das if he comes to your town.
“Chanting is a way of getting in touch with yourself. It’s an opening of the heart and letting go of the mind and thoughts. It deepens the channel of grace, and it’s a way of being present in the moment.” – Krishna Das
When we see the beauty of our own being we are seeing the beauty of the Being that is the One of which we are all a part. And when we turn towards that One, love is the natural reaction of the heart.
God or Guru is an endless ocean of love truth and presence. First we may hear the distant roar of the crashing waves of the ocean and we’re drawn to that sound. As we get closer, we can smell the ocean air and taste the sweet moisture. When we reach the beach and see the ocean for the first time, we’re transfixed by the vastness and Beauty. We run and we dive in and enjoy the freedom that comes from this ecstasy. Finally we merge with that ocean of love and somehow find ourselves back on the shore, returning to ourselves so that we can share the experience with others.
Those that have returned have given us these Names of God. These Names are the sound of the surf of that Ocean of Love. They hold the power to help us find our way back to that ocean. We don’t have to create anything; we don’t have to manufacture any emotions or feelings. We can’t make it happen. It already is. All we have to do is Remember. Everyone has their own path to this beach, to the Ocean, but we all wind up in the same place. There is only one…One.
The following is an excerpt from ‘Pilgrim of the Heart’ audio series by Krishna Das:
“The words of these chants are called the divine names and they come from a place that’s deeper than our hearts and our thoughts, deeper than the mind. And so as we sing them they turn us towards ourselves, into ourselves. They bring us in, and as we offer ourselves into the experience, the experience changes us. These chants have no meaning other than the experience that we have by doing them. They come from the Hindu tradition, but it’s not about being a Hindu, or believing anything in advance. It’s just about doing it, and experiencing. Nothing to join, you just sit down and sing.”
Satsang is where people gather together to remember, to turn within and find their own inner path to the One. When we gather together to sing like this we are helping each other find our own paths. We all must travel this path by ourselves because each of us is our own path. All these paths wander on in their own way, but in truth we are all travelling together and until the last of us arrives we will all keep travelling. So let’s sing!
‘And when he sees me in all and sees all in me,
Then I never leave him and he never leaves me.
And he, who in this oneness of love
Loves me in whatever he sees,
Wherever this man may live,
In truth, he lives in me…’
Bhagavad Gita, VI:30,31
To me, the magic of chanting comes when you forget about everything else except chanting. Do it enough, and you’ll forget about the division between yourself and your fellow chanters. Your heart opens and all of a sudden it’s not about “I” and “You” anymore, not even about “them” or “we”. This is a function of the experience of love, which is in essence the experience of oneness. I can’t really explain, and it wouldn’t do any good if I could because it’s the experience that counts, not the idea. But lest you think this is some sort of yoga-induced insanity, listen to this credible source:
“A human being is a part of a whole, called by us ‘universe’, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings as something separated from the rest… a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
– Albert Einstein
or this crazy guy:
“I salute the light within your eyes where the whole universe dwells. For when you are at that center within you and I am at that place within me, we shall be one.”
– Chief Crazy Horse, Oglala Sioux, 1877
But by all means, don’t take my word for it. Give it a try. But don’t hold back!
1. Radhe Shyam (10:02)
2. Samadhi Sita Ram (11:32)
3. Shri Guru Charanam (5:59)
4. Three Rivers Hare Krishna (15:11)
5. Hanuman Puja (3:48)
6. Hanuman Chaleesa (8:33)
7. Sita Ram (7:25)
8. Jaya Bhagavan (6:43)
9. Devi Puja (10:10)
10. Jaya Jagatambe (12:21)
11. Mountain Hare Krishna (15:00)
12. Namah Shivaya (11:56)
13. Rama Bolo (10:21)
14. Shri Krishna Govinda/Gopala (13:47)
and check out his tour schedule