Around 1968, Krishna Das met with the Indian guru Neem Karoli Baba, also known as Maharaj-ji. After three years in his ashram in India, Maharaj-ji guided Krishna Das to go back out into the wider world and sing ‘kirtan’ (chanting the Divine Names). In 2010 Krishna Das wrote a book about his understanding of spiritual life and his processes in following this guru’s loving guidance. The quotes used in this writing are from KD’s book “Chants of a Lifetime: searching for a heart of gold.” A book that I found to be an absolute gem; simple to understand, while being quite profound in the gifts it offers.
Krishna Das writes “no matter what my life looks like on the outside, on the inside it is a constant process of turning toward ‘that place,’ or trying to come face to face with love.” (xviii) Krishna Das
It is said that “the heart is like a mirror that reflects our deepest essence,” (xviii) but if that mirror is covered with dust such as fears, guilt, grief, anger, etcetera, then the mirror does not shine – but, the heart ‘is’ still shinning, and it is our task to clear that dust away. For Krishna Das “the path is about love.” The practice is to remember that love, and align with it as best that you are able. To “look for it and move into it.”
For Krishna Das that task is a movement away from serving his own ego, now singing to “save” his heart. As he recalls with humour “I was so sure I needed to do some special practice or get some secret mantra in order to cure myself of my unhappiness. Of course, all I really needed was to stop thinking about myself all the time.” (179)
K. D. celebrates, that in time he came to realise that there was “no sense dressing up” who he was, and that he had to learn to look inside to find out who he truly was, and not “try” to act the part. To let go of trying, and to instead, honestly be.
For Krishna Das, singing kirtan is what “invokes the inner heart;” “who we actually are underneath who we think we are;” (43) “underneath the inner dialogue that’s always going on about everything.” (43)
K.D. suggests that we have forgotten that there is “shelter inside our own hearts,” (44) and through chanting, we can uncover the happiness, the beauty, and the love, (45) that is always inside of us.
He speaks of chanting as “the medicine of the Name,” removing the “illness of looking outside” for love. (46) The chanting awakening an inner strength and confidence, and a feeling of well-being “as we move deeper into our own hearts.” (46)
Teachers for thousands of years have offered many ways to bring our attention to the fact that our mind is mischievous.
The “lower mind” also known as the “monkey mind” will entertain itself through being wayward, creating stories as it goes; inventions that do not truly represent the character or overall intentions of who we are or want to be, yet if not directed, will otherwise take us on its own chaotic way.
Krishna Das offers that chanting is one way to bring us back, to draw us into a deeper space, so we can “sit more at ease” in ourselves. (51) He speaks of how, despite his chanting practice, his mind would still wander. Over time, the continued repetition of the Holy Name “naturally got sweeter” and he found the enjoyment of that drew him further in.
K.D. suggests that each time we “return to the practice” we are “overcoming ancient innate tendencies of the mind to flow outward.” (54) The ecstatic states come and go, but the practice eventually takes us back into “becoming” the love. (56)
Maharaj-ji (d. 1973) invites us to consider that “whatever we experience and learn through the mind and the senses is not the truth.” (60)
And as St.Teresa of Avila (1515-1582) reminds us so clearly, “the important thing is not to think much but to love much;” to “do whatever best awakens you to love.”
One of the positive effects of chanting is in its opening us once again to the essence of our being; that we are more than our minds and more than our personalities. Chanting the holy Names connects us yet again with the direct experience of feeling ourselves as love and spirit.
Krishna Das offers that the “bottom line” is that we find our way in life by “following what makes us feel good.” (76) “We’re limited by what we believe about ourselves,” (78) but we can go beyond this limitation through surrendering into love.
As Maharaj-ji assisted him, “Everything is achieved by reciting His (‘Ram’ / ‘God’s’) Name.”
Krishna Das suggests that “the true results of doing spiritual practice are realised in our everyday lives.” (78) We
become “kinder and less fearful – more caring human beings.” (78) The desire to help others arises, and “we have happiness in order to share happiness.” (78)
“Regular spiritual practice” helping us get the strength to “release the stuff … that makes us unhappy.” (80) “The better we feel about ourselves, the more our hearts become available to the true love that is our true nature.” (181)
Krishna Das recalls finding an unconscious belief that he shouldn’t have the things he wanted in life. A hidden belief that living in the world wasn’t as “holy” as being a renunciant, where, “In reality the only thing that I had to learn was how to renounce my self-hatred.” (195)
So, in conclusion to this brief overview of K.D.’s work – consider how “Everything we do plants seeds. Every action – even every thought – is a seed that sooner or later will bring some kind of fruit.” (226) If we act out of fear and sadness, anger and greed, “then those are the seeds we are planting.” (226)
“We have a choice about what we plant.” (226)
“To have more kindness, all we have to do is start being kind.” Then there’s “immediately more kindness in the world.” (228)
Krishna Das offers the lovely thought that “God lives inside of us as who we really are.” (229) In being who we truly are – in acting out of loving kindness – in singing the holy names – we come to clear away the dust that covers our hearts and realise the joy and beauty of being love – of reconnecting with our sacred ‘Self’ – of being Love Itself.
Sat – Cit – Ananda (Eternal Bliss Consciousness).
Arjuna Govinda, March 2012
Reference: Chants of a Lifetime: searching for a heart of gold. (2010) Krishna Das, Hay House, U.S.A.