Kirtan with Krishna Das

Krishna Das kirtan2004 was a pretty major year in my life. Just after the New Year, I had to leave my family in Australia for several months to look after my Dad, who was dying of stomach cancer. Dad really wanted to see his favourite niece before he died. She kindly flew out to California from Wisconsin, stopping off in Santa Barbara first to pick up her daughter. They then drove out to the desert together.

“Oh thank God! I don’t have to listen to that music anymore!” was how my cousin greeted me.

I turned to her daughter, who was grinning from ear to ear and asked what she had been tormenting her mother with. “Krishnadas,” she said. “Have you heard of him?”

“I think I used to know him!” I replied. “Let me listen to something.” Sure enough, the short kirtan she played sent me straight back to India, circa 1972. Before that moment, I didn’t know whether Krishnadas was alive or dead, much less that he had become a “superstar” of chanting.

As it turned out, Krishnadas came back into my life just when I needed a reconnection to Neem Karoli Baba the most. I got ahold of his email address, reminded him who I was (“I was the guy Maharaji didn’t like”) and told him how his CDs had transported me back to that magical year in India. Although his schedule didn’t coincide with mine at the time, he said he would be touring Australia later and we would meet then. The timing couldn’t have been better, because that was when things had just about hit rock bottom. It was as if Maharaji’s finger was tapping me on the shoulder, reminding me he was still around.

Rather than bore you with my story, I’d like to let Krishnadas do the talking. I will leave you with one quote from this interview in New York, though, because I believe it encapsulates everything we learned about “spirituality” when we were hanging out with Maharaji:

If you want to know if you’re making progress on the so-called spiritual path, see if you’re kinder to people; see if you’re a little easier on yourself; see if you obsess about your own self and all this stuff in your life a little bit less; see if you’re happier in the day in a simple way, more content; and see if you’re treating people more like you would like to be treated. That means it’s working.

Update 17 Feb 2013 – Alas, I removed the video because it has been removed from You Tube due to “multiple third-party notifications of copyright infringements.” At least I was able to keep that little gem of a quote.

Being There Now with Be Here Now

I ran across Eckhardt Tolle’s bestseller, The Power of Now the other day. It’s an interesting book and highly recommended, but that’s not what this post is about. As soon as I saw the title, I went on a trip back in time, to when Ram Dass’s Be Here Now was the Now book of the moment. That’s what this post is about.

I met Ram Dass back in about 1969 or 70, after his guru, Neem Karoli Baba told me to go see him in Nainital, a beautiful city in the foothills of the Himalayas. I didn’t hesitate to go, but it wasn’t for the obvious reason – that Ram Dass was famous. In his incarnation as Richard Alpert, he was famous as the infamous (in conservative circles) Harvard professor who, along with Timothy Leary, helped popularize LSD. When he  traveled to India seeking enlightenment, he was introduced to Neem Karoli Baba and subsequently became Ram Dass. It’s a long story and one he tells best himself. If you want to read his story, check out his website.

The reason I did as directed was simply because Neem Karoli Baba told me to. I had only gone to see Maharaji out of curiosity, because he happened to be in Vrindaban at the same time I was, but after just one brief visit, I was already under his spell, if that’s the way to put it. There was just something about him. He shattered my preconceptions about what a guru should be like, but remained compelling to me in spite of my firmly held yoga purist’s convictions and prejudices.

I went to see Ram Dass as told and found him to be a really nice guy – warm and friendly and unpretentious. I also met some other devotees of Neem Karoli Baba. They came in all sorts of personality packages, but I found them refreshing. At the time, the world of Western Hinduism as I knew it was the world of yogic discipline. My summer job at the time was teaching hatha yoga and meditation at a retreat in the foothills of the Sierra Mountains. Maharaji’s followers didn’t seem “spiritual” at all. They just liked to hang out with Maharaji. No, they lived to hang out with him. I could relate to that, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on the reason why.

This will be a very long blog post if I don’t get to the point. The original title of this post going to be, “A Journey into Darkness.” It was going to be about how I let myself be driven by fear for a good portion of last week and the terrible realization that this and other negative emotions – everything from despair to greed, anger and pride – seem to be the driving force behind so many people’s entire lives. I’ve been aware of this intellectually for years, but the other day it hit me like a sledgehammer.

There were remnants of fear in my consciousness this morning when I sat down to work. I was going to bang out a quick blog post and then get back to work. Because I had been reminded of Be Here Now, I thought I’d google Ram Dass and see what he was up to. Then I randomly clicked this link and my eyes fell on these words from Neem Karoli Baba:

“The real contentment comes only when there is no desire, no hankering in your mind for anything. How can you say that you have got everything and do not want anything more when you are holding an empty vessel in your hand? You might be saying this with your mouth, but there would always be the worry in your mind about how the pot could be filled, always looking from side to side with the expectation that somebody will come and fill it up. Well, how can you call this contentment? When one sees that when the pot before him is full to the brim, it is emptied, and when it is empty, it is refilled of its own – that is contentment. If anyone wanted to give him anything, he would show that the pot was full already. What would he do with anything more? Even if he wanted to share it with others, where would he put it? This is the real contentment and it comes only through the grace of God. When you have full faith in Him, full reliance on Him, when you can surrender everything to Him, then that grace comes to you by itself – you do not have to ask for it or make any effort. Such is the value of faith in God.”

Neem Karoli BabaNeem Karoli Baba doesn’t look much like your stereotypical guru. He didn’t act like one, either. The only words of spiritual advice he ever gave me were, “love everybody and eat jalabis” and, when I asked him if he was my guru, he gave me an emphatic “No!” Jalabis are delicious Indian sweets, by the way, not a mysterious psychedelic drug. Make of his words what you will, they have been with me ever since that day.

I want to go on writing forever about the year I spent in India. To say it was magical would be an understatement. It’s time to close now, though. Thanks for visiting.

notes: I originally posted this about 2 years ago. I’m the guy with his hand on his hip at the top of the photo. It should be obvious who NKB is.