Judging Krishna Das on the Way to Enlightenment
Krishna Das concerts on Maui might be the most woo-woo events on planet Earth. Is it too late to get me out of here? Is there coffee, at least?
The Krishna Das kirtan just looked like another new age Maui gathering to me: too much long hair, too many beads, too many long flowing garments. Too much chest hair. In a yoga studio.
I sighed inside, exasperated. Why did I always say yes, when I so often meant not really?
Judging My Companions
Jim wasn’t helping. He was scowling down at his phone, reading emails and barely listening as his hanai mother, Mary, spoke. I was left to listen, nod, smile, and strain to hear as she rattled off her thoughts.
On this Sunday night, I was pre-wired for judgement, and I was judging that this was a big waste of time, and that I was going to hate every minute of it.
I wanted a coffee to fuel the concert — or the kirtan, I suppose — and the ride home. But really, I wanted that cup of coffee and two solid hours of silent alone time.
It wasn’t going to happen – so I settled for a trip to the bathroom, and the relative cloister of a toilet stall.
As I murmured my excuses and rose, pink beads brushed my cheek, and an armpit plastered with patchouli knocked my nose as a woman leaned over me to grasp Mary’s hand. I turned my head and wriggled out of her way as the two women embraced. Mary took her hands in hers, giving her an impromptu blessing. She’s something of a spiritual icon, but I wasn’t yet used to the public waylayings that can be routine for her.
Judging the Yoginis
There was a long line for the bathroom, of course. I took my place behind at least a dozen slim yoginis of all ages. We all stood in various resting poses, waiting for the two small stalls to empty. I was not, I realized, going to get the alone time I was craving. Might as well judge, instead.
It wasn’t hard to get started. The mirrors over the sinks reflected perfect bodies, except for mine, which was a good sixty pounds overweight and draped in black. They also reflected haggard faces, except for mine – I’ve been taking excellent care of my skin all my life, and I can look much younger than I am.
As soon as I entered my stall, I panicked. I had been so busy with my pre-concert judging that I hadn’t noticed a building urge to do more than just pee — and I really didn’t want all of these skinny women to think about what I’d last ate.
Especially since it had been a really nice steak, and not the seitan kind.
I didn’t even sit down – I just headed right back out and washed my hands. I would hold it, and wait until the middle of the concert, when it was not as crowded, to come back. Embarrassed and uncomfortably full, I went back into the studio and found Mary and Jim on a bench near, thankfully, the back of the room, close to the door.
Judging the Music — errr — Kirtan
The kirtan had just begun when I came in. Krishna Das was on a slightly elevated platform on the other end of the room, sitting cross-legged behind a large instrument that looked like a kid’s organ combined with an accordion. He was wearing a gray t-shirt and jeans, and his long limbs draped over the stage like a folded up stork. I was impressed with his casualness. There were two musicians with him – a drummer, a violinist. He spoke for just a few minutes, ending with a phrase that really struck at my heart.
“There are many names we speak in kirtan,
but they all mean God.”
Then he started chanting Hare Krishna.
I tend to laugh when I’m uncomfortable, and this nearly brought out a guffaw. I had never encountered anyone earnestly chanting Hare Krishna before (I grew up in Plainville, Connecticut), and the scene in front of me looked like such a cliché I wouldn’t have dared to imagine it.
The packed room was suddenly in motion – three hundred some odd people, swaying back and forth on their backjacks, others standing rocking side to side, some with their eyes closed and their hands raised, loosely. There was something lost about them. They looked entranced, and the music had barely begun.
I studied music as a teen — and even went to a performing arts high school for a short time — so I am never, ever immune to music’s charms. I allowed myself to tap my foot and focused on the actual music, not just on the way others were responding to it.
It was determinedly unsentimental. Krishna Das sounded like a rock singer (I found out later he once was). His performance was practiced, but also raw and emotional – he didn’t say the words he chanted so much as gutted them out. His passion was undeniable, and as I listened to the call and response, the infuriatingly repetitive lyrics, I couldn’t help but be drawn into the beat.
There was a rolling movement that was building as he kept chanting, and it was compelling. I started to sway a little myself, anticipating the building force of the music as more instruments joined and the sound grew.
But even with this inexorable building of sound, the music itself was slow, prayerful, and soothing.
Krishna Das was not just chanting a mindless string of words, Hare Krishna, Hare Krishna, Krishna, Krishna, Hare, Hare, Hare Ram Ram, Hare Ram Ram, Ram Ram Hare Hare, like the people in newsclips (the only place I’d ever seen the chant) seemed to do.
Every time he said a syllable he meant it. He was not phoning it in. How did he maintain his attention and interest in these three words for so very long?
The chant went on for twenty minutes. The velocity with which the words were flung back and forth increased, and every once in a while we just sang a long “Haaaaaaaa reeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee” which was my favorite part.
With my musician’s ears, I listened to all of the different instruments, the rhythms, the voices. I sang harmony (which may be a no-no), I didn’t sing at all, I dropped in and out. I was still musically engaged, but just starting to get bored, when I had a spontaneous vision.
Damn It — Enlightenment
Floating in the air above the crowd, I saw my own face, beaming, surrounded by white/crystalline light, and then I saw my heart, anatomical and detailed, juicy with arteries all pounding to the beat of the chant.
As I watched my heart beating, I sat up straighter, lifted my chest and started rocking back and forth, feet planted.
Damn, my mind complained — I’ve just slipped into the space/time between, the no-space, no-time I go to do readings. I wasn’t expecting this — I didn’t really want it.
Too bad. I was completely taken over by the vision and the music, and absolutely uncaring that I was now, just one of this crowd.
My chest lifted higher, and I gasped Hare Krishna, as I saw a towering wave of light heading for me, like I was standing under a waterfall that had just been created. The light was love, I realized, as it poured over me, and I felt its soft, glancing, irresistible touch.
The love/light continued to pour, falling around me, then soaking through me somehow. I looked down and saw it puddling around my feet, rapidly rising like a lake filling after a hard rain, until the light/love was over my lap, and everywhere I looked, it was stretching out around me.
I could reach down, with my hands cupped, and scoop it over my head.
The love/light kept rising, and rising, until it was over my head, and I didn’t even try to keep from drowning in it. I breathed it in — let it wash through my sinuses, my lungs — warm, so inviting, so easy, so pleasurable.
I stayed under in what was now an ocean of love, that stretched far above the yoga studio — drowning Haleakala herself in love.
I kept breathing it in deliberately, still in ecstasy as the love/light penetrated every cell of my body. I could still hear the music, because the music was the love, and I was the music, and I was the light and the music, and no one else in the room was even in existence – or they were all there, and we were all having the same intimate, solo experience.
And in that music, that rush of sound, that intense flood of feeling, that physical movement of swaying and rocking, I found the quiet alone time I’d been craving. I floated in that space, for how long I couldn’t possibly say.
Krishna Das, You Really Harshed My Ability to Judge
When the next chant started, I got up and left, and made my way to the bathroom, where, I knew, I wouldn’t care if I was judged or not – not now – for judgement had been blasted from my mind.
I spent the rest of the evening in the gift shop, blissfully paging my way through the books, guzzling water, nodding at other spacey-trippy-looking souls. I didn’t speak a word.
And Finally, That Coffee I Wanted
On the floaty drive back down Haleakala, I opened the windows wide and let the night air pull at our hair, listened to Jim and Mary murmur about the concert, and stopped at McDonald’s (not my first choice, but the only place open late on a Sunday).
Deep in conversation, they didn’t seem to notice as I went in, ordered a cup of coffee, and returned, basking in what seemed like the most perfectly prepared cup ever.
Thanks, Krishna Das. You called, I responded.
 I once studied Tai Chi with a woman in her eighties who could easily have passed for early sixties. I asked her what her secret was, and she said her practice kept her young. “I cultivate my chi every day,” she said, “and I don’t practice for longer than it takes to go through the forms.” I noted that the yoga teachers I was studying with were young – in their late twenties or mid-thirties – but their skin didn’t glow like hers, and their faces looked older than their years. “It’s because they are practicing a corrupted form,” she answered. “Yoga was originally meant to loosen the body in preparation for meditation, during which you should be channeling prana, or what I call chi, so you can build your spiritual strength and peace of mind. But these women see yoga as a job. They teach three, sometimes four classes every day, and so their bodies are loose and strong, but their energy is low. They don’t cultivate the real source of power, the prana. And so they grow old. Do not be like them,” she warned. “I won’t,” I promised. I promise — I won’t teach three yoga classes a day. ^^Back to the Story^^