There’s something about sitting in front of Krishna Das that is so powerful. I would imagine this is true even for the most cynical. His rich, resonant voice touches a place in me that is deep, kind. Most of the time, I have no idea what he’s singing about. I’ve been to some kirtans and evening puja rituals on the banks of the Ganges in India. I know a Sanskrit symbol when I see one. Even if I don’t understand the words of the devotional singing, it doesn’t matter. I get the experience, the feeling that all of us are singing in community. Chanting with love for god, for our higher selves, for each other.
A few years ago, five friends from Lyons went up to the mountains of Estes Park for the Yoga Journal conference. After three two-hour yoga classes one day, I had needed a steaming hot shower and some time with my best pals, my ice pack and heating pad. I was running late, so my friend Carolyn saved me a spot on the floor. Krishna Das was sitting on the stage, eight feet away. He started chanting and everyone around me started to chant back. I started to sway with the drumbeat, and the music got louder, the chanting louder.
I was confused though. How come everybody knows the words to this? Do they really hear him say it once, and they actually remember the words?
*Om Saha Naavavatu
There’s more clapping and swaying and drumming and the deep voice of Krisha Das. I’m on a wave, riding the voices and the drumming, flowing. This was reminiscent of Grateful Dead shows (shows, not concerts, c’mon now) that I went to in a previous life, when everyone around me seemed to know all of the words to every song, and I just was there, kind of going along for the ride. The same thing has happened to me at symphonies. I have no idea what the story is behind the piece or how old Mozart was when he composed it, I just close my eyes and let myself be in the fullness of the moment. And every once in a while I’ll get to experience a live Gospel performance and I feel the same exultation, the beauty of the rhythms.
At the Yoga Journal conference, I got caught up in the moment and decided to enjoy it. Was I faking it? Nah. No one was watching me, and I was watching no one else. The room was dark, my body felt like I had been attacked by a large bull elk and I had no idea how anybody knew the words to these chants. That’s where I was, in the land of the unknown, yet not fearful, just peaceful. For two hours. Unsure, but sure.
After the concert ended, the lights came on and I rose (ever so slowly, ouch) to collect my stuff. Picking up my water bottle and cushion, I noticed pieces of paper scattered all over the floor…Slips of paper with all of the chants typed out on them.
* This chant translates as so: "May God protect and bless us/May God nourish us/Giving us strength to work together for the good of humanity/May our learning be brilliant and purposeful/May we never turn against one another."
p.s. 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."
Interested in KD? Check him out here: http://www.krishnadas.com