Call and Response Special Edition – Conversations With KD April 09, 2020
Taking time to look back and move forward. Conversations With KD episodes are derived from the recordings of KD’s online events from his home during the 2020/ 2021 days of social distancing and quarantine from the onset of COVID and beyond.
“One has to set boundaries. They have to be healthy boundaries and we’re not really trained to do that. We’re not really trained. We’re not trained, as children, to have healthy boundaries. Our parents tend to step all over our boundaries and not respect us. We’re trained to do that in life. So, it’s very difficult. So, when we talk about letting go, let’s first talk about it as practice. So, while we’re actually doing the meditation practice, while we’re chanting, that’s when we train ourselves to let go, because we’ve added the mantra into our consciousness and we’ve agreed that we’re going to try to pay attention to that. So that helps us be aware when we’re lost in thought. When we become aware that we’ve been gone, we’re actually already back. We come back to the mantra again. The rest of the day we try to be kind and compassionate and good to ourselves as well by setting healthy boundaries.” – Krishna Das
Satsang is so important. You know, Buddha asked one of His disciples, I think it was Ananda, once, “Ananda, what’s the most important thing in spiritual life?” And I think Ananda answered to Him, you know, “You are. The Buddha. Without you there’s no life at all.”
Buddha said, “No, Ananda. Satsang or Sangha is the most important thing. The community of seekers.” The community of Beings who have gone to the other shore, so to speak, and yet remained here for us so that we would know what’s possible, so we would get a taste. And then the group of us who are trying to find where our asses are actually meeting the ground.
So, company is very important. The company you keep is very important. And, it’s something that one has to keep paying attention to in life, no matter how far along you might think you are.
One time, in Allahabad at Dada’s house, who was a great old devotee of Maharajji, I guess I was reverencing him a little too much, you know. So, at one point, he stopped and looked at me. He said, “Krishna Das, I may be a step or two ahead of you and you may be a step or two of someone else,” he said, “but we’re all on this shore. We’re all on this side of the ocean of samsara, this side of the world. Only He’s gone beyond. Only Maharajji has gone beyond.” So, what does it matter? You know? One has to live in one’s heart as best as one can and try not to take everything so personally. We all take everything so personally, as if it was aimed at us. But really, if we really look, we see that what we thought might be aimed at us or even caused by us in some way or degree, is really just someone’s suffering bursting out of them in all directions. It’s another person’s unhappiness, anxiety, fears, shame. Something motivating, creating that anger or that nastiness that happens in life. But we take it all so personally so it’s very hard to release it, you know? Very hard to release it. Very hard. And especially when we’re locked up like this with people, even that we love. Things get antsy every once in a while. So, we just have to keep letting go. That’s the whole thing. Letting go, letting go, letting go. Letting go allows us to be the best people we can be. It doesn’t mean “not engaging.” It means being able to really engage. Letting go of our subjective bullshit, our completely personal subjective version of reality. When we chant, we’re training ourselves to keep coming back to the sound of the Name, the sound of the Name.
Let me see if I have something here that I want to read to you.
“When a mantra is repeated, if one watches the source from which the mantra sound is produced, the mind is absorbed in That.”
So as you listen to the sound of your own voice, of the people who you’re singing with, as you listen to that sound, your attention, your mind is moved in that direction to where that sound has come from. Now, we so, “Well, I’m making that sound.” Yes, we’re making that sound with our voices, but before we did that, we had the intention to make that sound in our minds. We had the desire to chant, the intention to chant. Where did that intention come from? What part of us did that intention to sing and do the practice actually come from in the first place? So, that is a creation of our own karmas and grace, both together.
One time I asked Siddhi Ma, who was Maharajji’s great disciple. See, in the old days, Maharajji had said, He used to tease us. He said, he said, “I have the keys to the mind.” He said, “You know, I could turn your minds against me.” And we went, “No, Baba, don’t do that.” And He’d laugh. He was just playing, you know. He loved it. “I could turn your minds against me. You know, you’d wake up in the morning and say, ‘What am I doing here? I’m going to go back to America.’” And we said, “Don’t do that, Baba. Don’t do that.” And He’d just laugh. But He said, “I have the keys to the mind.”
So, at one point, many many years later, I said to Ma, I said, “Ma, Maharajji said He has the keys to the mind. So, for me, that means that, in my mind, my head is exactly where He wants it to be, whatever that means from His side. That I am where He wants me to be in life and my consciousness is where He wants it to be.” So, I said, “Ma, does that mean it’s all grace? Or is personal effort required?”
A lot of people wonder about this and I was wondering. So, She said to me, “Krishna Das, it’s all grace but you have to act like it isn’t.”
It’s all grace. Done deal. Nothing ever happened. Nothing’s going to happen. All this is a done deal. But, we don’t know that. We don’t understand that, experience that in the deepest reality. In Buddhism, they talk about Ultimate Reality and Relative Reality. Ultimate Reality, again, is that, you know, it’s all done, there’s no one here in the first place. Relative reality is that, if you step out into traffic, you’re going to get hit by a car. So, there’s different rules involved in those two. They each have a set of behavior. Relative reality, you have to pay attention to that. You have to do the right thing. You have to, your morality has to be pure. Your intentions have to be good. You have to develop compassion, kindness, caring for people. Ultimate reality is seeing through all the delusions and illusions and seeing that it’s all perfect. But that’s not a mental construct. That’s something that’s experienced directly, very deeply and you can’t make that up with your own mind. That has to come from within through practice and grace.
Ok, so maybe there’s some questions?
Q: How do I choose what to sing?
KD: I open my mouth, there it is. I have no idea. There’s no thought process, really. Sometimes I start to play a chord and my mind is completely blank. So, I just wait to see what’s going to come in. I have no idea. No idea at all.
Q: What’s the best way to build community? And talk about surrender in spiritual practice.
KD: Well, it just so happens, that first quote I gave was from Ramana Maharshi, who was extraordinary. Everything He says is so amazing and so right on. And there’s a funny story. Not funny, but a beautiful story. Ramana Maharshi, I think He left the body in ’51 or ’52. I could be wrong, but I think it was that, and Maharajji was up in the mountains in India and in the middle of the night, He pulled His blanket over His face, over His head and He started weeping and weeping and the devotees said, “Baba, what’s wrong? What is it? What is it? What’s wrong?”
“He’s leaving. He’s leaving. He’s in so much pain. India is losing such a saint, such a saint, oh…” and tears were coming. He said, “Bring me water, bring me water. He’s so thirsty. He’s so thirsty.” So, they brought Him some water. He sipped some water from a spoon and He was just weeping. “India is losing such a saint.” And it was just at that time that Ramana Maharshi was leaving the body, down below Chennai, down in the South. So, this is from Ramana Maharshi.
“Surrender to Him (or Her) and abide by His will. Whether He appears or vanishes, await His pleasure. If you ask Him to do as you please, it is not surrender but a command to Him. You can not have Him obey you and yet think that you have surrendered. He knows what is best and when and how to do it. Leave everything to Him. His is the burden. You no longer have any cares. All your cares are His. Such is surrender. This is bhakti or devotion.”
I don’t know how you feel about that.
Maybe it’s hard for Westerners to really think about things that way, but at the point of life that an I’m at, this point at this time, surrender is the only option that makes any sense to me at all and that means letting go of my stuff. Somebody gets to me. Somebody’s nasty to me. I get a whole trip going on. Let it go. Don’t even try to understand it. Just find a way to let it go. Let it go. Release it. Release it. Something doesn’t happen. Somebody’s sick. Somebody worried you. Something, you need something. Just let it go. The ego can not understand these things. Ego can not make anything better. It can only make itself bigger and more worried and more desire and more shame and more disappointment and more betrayal and more yada yada. So, let go. You can’t have Him obey you. You can’t say to God, you know, “Do this! I want to feel this way. I want this experience. I want this to happen. I want blah blah blah.” You can’t have Him obey you and yet, think you surrendered. Surrender is something that happens through grace within us. We don’t surrender. The ego does not surrender. Another thing Ramana Maharshi said is, “asking the mind or the ego to kill the mind or transcend itself is like asking the thief to be the policeman. There will be a lot of investigation, but no arrest will ever be made.” So, you can’t think yourself into this stuff. You can’t. It’s not an intellectual exercise. Every thought is the prison. Every thought is the, you’re identifying with all these thoughts and every thought that arises, that we identify with: that is the prison. We can’t think ourselves out of a prison made of thought. We have to let them go again and again and again. So…
Q: I think, “how do you know the difference between letting go and avoiding?” I think that’s what that is. The difference between letting go and not setting boundaries?
KD: One has to set boundaries. That’s this world. Relative reality. One has to set boundaries. One has to pay attention to what’s good for one in one’s best understanding. One has to learn how to feed one’s self what one needs to eat. One has to set boundaries. They have to be healthy boundaries and we’re not really trained to do that. We’re not really trained. We’re not trained, as children, to have healthy boundaries. Our parents tend to step all over our boundaries and not respect us. We’re trained to do that in life. So, it’s very difficult. So, when we talk about letting go, let’s first talk about it as practice. So, while we’re actually doing the meditation practice, while we’re chanting, that’s when we train ourselves to let go, because we’ve added the mantra into our consciousness, and we’ve agreed that we’re going to try to pay attention to that. So that helps us be aware when we’re lost in thought. When we become aware that we’ve been gone, we’re actually already back. We come back to the mantra again. The rest of the day we try to be kind and compassionate and good to ourselves as well by setting healthy boundaries. But it’s a little different than when you’re sitting down to do practice. That’s when you’re really making the training. So, for instance, if you’re an athlete, when you’re practicing, you’re doing exercises, particular things, you’re trying things over, but when you’re in the game, all the work that you put in, in practice, comes out naturally. You don’t have to think about it. So, that’s how it works.
Q: What is the point of all this if nothing ever existed?
KD: Well, I think it exists, doesn’t it? And so do you. That’s why it exists. Ultimate reality and relative reality exist at the same time. Relative reality is within the Oneness. The Oneness is not in the relative reality. That’s why you can’t make this up in your brain, in your mind. Relative reality is the way we see the world. Who asked that question? That’s the person that sees relative reality. That’s the person that is made up of relative reality. So, that’s what I said before. Ultimate reality is something that you become aware of from within and then you might see, like, the consciousness expands like the sky and you see the clouds. You see the people. You see everything. But, it’s all, you’re also aware of the presence in which everything is held. The Beingness. The space, so to speak. In which everything exists and that’s essentially ultimate reality, or some description of it. So, when you’re aware of that, you still have to stop at the red light. Otherwise, you get hit by a car. So, there’s no use saying it doesn’t exist. When I said that, I just meant in ultimate reality this looks different. So, let’s leave it at that. Whether it exists or it doesn’t exist is a philosophical discussion, but when you’re aware of ultimate reality, when you live in the Oneness, when you’ve become that, merged into that Being of which we are all apart already, this world looks different. Our daily life is different. We see ourselves differently. Very differently. This is something that has to come from within.
Q: Why is it important not to change the mantra from tradition when we sing it?
KD: I don’t know what you’re talking about. I don’t know what that means. I just sing whatever I want. Whatever I feel to sing from my heart. That’s what Maharajji taught me to do. That’s how He taught me to live, to trust my own heart. That took a lot of work, to begin to even do that. So, I don’t even know what you mean about… I sing mantras from all traditions, and I sing them in the same clothes I’m wearing right now. I don’t change anything. I have the same devotion to all those mantras as well. It’s just us folks here.
Q: Can drinking alcohol affect practice?
KD: Intoxicants are intoxicants. They dull the mind and they destroy our will and our ability to pay attention and concentrate and they, we think that we’re having a great experience and then we wake up in the morning and we don’t remember nothing. So, absolutely. All intoxicants, unless you know how to use them, like Maharajji once said to us, “If charas, if smoking hash would bring you to God, we’d get a room, we’d fill it up with charas, hash and we’ll sit in there and we’ll all smoke together.” He said, “But you can’t smoke charas, hash unless you can, unless you’re like shiva who can swallow the poison and transmute it into bliss.” He said smoking hash will destroy your health and it makes you think that you’re hanging out with your good brothers and sisters but its not real. But, on the other hand, about LSD, He said, “The yogi medicine,” which is what He called it, “can bring you into the room with Christ but you can’t stay. The only way to stay,” He said, “Is love.” So, at some point, I stopped doing all those things because I felt, even though I was getting shot up into these beautiful spaces, I was always coming down and I felt that if I stopped going up like that and crashing down that the level of my consciousness would gradually rise by itself without all the up and downs.
Q: How do you control anger?
KD: I wish I knew. I don’t think you can control it. It eats you up. By the time you get angry, you’re finished. All you can do is ride the wave until you crash. You could just try to let go, you can, you know, but usually it’s so immediate. Anger really is a very destructive emotion, and not just for what happens between you and another person, but it destroys so much of your inner balance, your inner awareness. It’s brutal. It’s like a hurricane inside. So, that’s why you practice when you can. You know? You practice when you can. You give it your best when you can give it your best and, just like an athlete, later, while you’re in the world, what you’ve trained for will manifest from within. That’s why practice is so important. And once again, with anger, we usually get angry when we feel that we’re the target of somebody’s whatever, right?
However, if we’re calm enough to really keep our eyes open and not blow up into the anger, like I said before, we usually can see that, that energy is coming to us out of another person’s suffering and that the best thing would be for that person to be relieved of his or her suffering so that they wouldn’t keep doing that to themselves and others. And then that’s how emotions like that can become your teacher and can also be a vehicle for developing compasison because it makes you see your stuff and you have to deal with it. You have to see it before you can deal with it.
Nobody deserves grace. That’s the nature of grace. The definition of grace is that it’s grace. You don’t win grace, you don’t deserve grace. It’s grace. The phrase they used about Maharajji was that He has no cause to be kind. No cause to be kind. He was just kind. Everywhere. All the time. To everyone. Grace is flowing all the time but we’re not aware of it. We’re not aware of it. We’re not programmed to see it yet. We have to let go of our stuff to experience it. But even so, it doesn’t come through our personal will. If it did, it wouldn’t be grace. You don’t win grace. Nobody deserves grace. We’re all screwed up. But there is grace for all of us because our soul, our inner being is pure. We’re already totally a part of that. Our inner awareness is graceful, full of grace already. But we’re turned to the outside world.
Someone’s asked about offering prasad.
Prasad usually means two things. Either we’re offering to a Divine Being in one way or another. We’re offering something to them as prasad or we’re receiving something that’s blessed by them. One time, we were eating on the other side of the courtyard, maybe 15 or 20 of us and Maharajji was sitting on the other side of the courtyard with Dada standing next to him. Dada never sat in Maharajji’s presence. He always stood. And Maharajji just looked at Dada and said, “Dada, I’m eating through all those mouths.” “I’m eating through all those mouths.”
He is Antarayaami. He is the indwelling presence. Not just Him but all the great Bodhisattvas, all the Great Beings, they’ve identified with the indwelling presence that lives within everyone and everything. So, He said, “I am eating through all those mouths.”
There’s a beautiful story in the Mahabharata. Sri Krishna goes to visit the Pandavas when they’re in exile in the jungle and all the men are out hunting and Draupadi, their wife is waiting for them to come home with food to eat, but when Krishna arrives, she wants to offer him something but there’s nothing in the house, and Krishna says to her, “Feed me, feed me I’m hungry.” There was nothing in the house. And Krishna sees on the floor a little piece of rice. He says, “Give me that rice, give me that rice.” So, she gives it to Him and He puts it in His mouth and He says to her, “Right now at this instant, not one being in the whole universe is experiencing hunger.” He just fed all beings because He identified with all beings at that moment. He entered that, whatever state that was where He became everybody and He ate that piece of rice, at that moment there was no hunger in the universe.
So, it’s such a deep story. There’s so much in that story.
Q: How important is celibacy as a man, not spilling seed, in practice and higher consciousness?
KD: You’re asking the wrong guy. Ah, no. You know I was celibate in India for three and a half years, two and a half years… when I first went. Really, not for spiritual reasons but because, you know, I saw there were all the westerners, there was so much juice and so much love that they would, you know, men and women would start looking at each other and they’d get, you know, “Hey, how are you doing? What’s happening?” You know? And we’d go back to the town, to the hotel where we were staying, our friends’ hotel and I’d go to my room and go to sleep or read a book and I found out later everybody was partying. People were getting together and balling and having a wild time. I had no idea, luckily. But the reason I was trying, I kind of swore off relationships, first of all because they were always so painful for me, but also because, so, a couple would get together. They’d kind of, like, turn onto each other and they’d start getting it on and Maharajji would look at them and say, “Oh, look, they’re friends. You’re friends. Oh, that’s good. They’re friends. Isn’t that good? That’s great.” A couple days later He’d look at them and say, “Oh, you’re really good friends. Oh, they’re good friends now. Isn’t that great?” A couple days later, “Boom. You’re really good friends. You’re married. Now go to America. See your parents.” No.
My job was to stay in India for the rest of my life. That was my job. That’s what I thought was going to happen and I thought I would always be with Maharajji. I was never going to go back to America. So…
However, it’s like, the energy was so blocked. I had so much passion and so much desire all hidden and buried inside of me that I just did not want to deal with, could not deal with, that the energy was just like… I was walking around like this, you know? And I wasn’t, nothing was being transmuted. Nothing was being digested, you know? It was…
So, then, you know, finally Maharajji was sending me back to America and we were in Vrindavan and it was what turned out to be my last darshan with Him in the body. So far. And so I’m sitting with Him and I’m freaked out. Totally freaked out. What am I going to do in America? I’d been walking around in a red dress, stepping in cow poop for a couple of years. I had no idea how to be in America anymore. When I spoke, I spoke like this. Only Hindi English like this, “Very good. Thank you. Ok. Just going. Now coming.” You know? So He looks at me and He says, you know, so, and I’m thinking, “You know, I’ve got to ask Him. I’ve got to ask Him what to do in America. I need some… what am I going to do?” I was freaked out. But on the other hand, I was saying to myself, “Just shut up. Just shut up. You don’t have to ask. Just have faith. Just be quiet. You don’t need to know anything. Just be quiet.” But the other side was, “What are you talking about? I’m going to America?” So, finally I blurted out to Him, I said, “Baba, how can I serve you in America?” Which was just yucky, you know?
And He looked like He’d bit a pickle. He looked at me. He said, “If you ask about service, it’s not service. Just do what you want.”
Do what I want?
And my mind went completely blank. I’d been celibate for two and a half years. I knew what I wanted to do and He knew what I wanted to do and He looked at me and He laughed. He laughed. He said, “So, how will you serve me in America?” He loved it.
It was too funny.
So, at some times, traditionally in some paths, in some practices they tell you that should be celibate to raise the energy up. My energy is down around my ankles. I’m not thinking about energy. I’m thinking about love. Maybe it turns out to be the same thing, ultimately, but I had to honor who I am as a human being now and that includes sexual relationships. So, I’m not worried about that anymore. When I was young, when I was young the celibacy was coming out of fear and the celibacy was coming out of fear of dealing with it, fear of being hurt, fear of relationships, fear of engaging with people and so that wasn’t real healthy. That wasn’t healthy. So, none of my teachers ever told me to be celibate. None of them.
And in fact, you know, Maharajji, one day He, I was having a nervous breakdown and you know, full on crazy meltdown and He kind of got me through it. And a couple of days later, I decided to go walk in the jungle and smoke some hash, which was not very smart. So, I was out in the jungle sitting on this rock and I’d smoked some hash and I began to freak out. My mind just went crazy. I don’t know what was going on and I ran back to the temple and I ran through the temple and He was like waiting for me at the window. There was nobody else around and He said, “Come here.” So, I went to the window and He looked at me and He said, “You’re Bajarangbali. What’s your name?” I said, “Krishna Das.” “Nay, you’re Bajarangbali. What’s your name?” “Krishna Das.” “Nay! You’re Bajarangbali.”
Now “Bajarangbalibali” means the thunderbolt-bodied Hanuman, the extraordinarily fierce and wrathful aspect of Hanuman that destroys all the negativity, the demons and everything like that and traditionally Hanuman is said to be celibate. So, here He is, changing my name from Krishna Das to Bajarangbali.
He said, “You’re Bajarangbali. What’s your name?” I said, “Krishna Das.”
Then I looked at Him. I said, ok, this is me talking to Maharajji. “You want me to be Hanuman? You want me to be Bajarangbali. Well, you just remember…”
See, He was teasing me about getting married all the time.
He would look at this person. “Oh, you want to get married?” And it was freaking me out, right? So, now He says to me, “Ok, you’re Bajarangbali.” I said, “Maharajji, you want me to be Bajarangbali, but you remember He’s the eternal celibate.” He laughed so hard. He just completely… slapping His knee and laughing. And He said, “Ok, wise guy.” He said, “You’re Janaka. You’ll have yog and bhog.” King Janaka was Sita’s father and He was a Rajarishi, a King but a Saint, an enlightened Saint. And He had, He was fully in the world. He had a harem. He had children. He had the whole thing. But He was fully enlightened. So, He had yog and bhog, which is worldly enjoyments. So, that’s what He said.
Now, I’ve got the bhog. I could do with some yog. But we’ll see. Grace comes when it comes. When you surrender, it’s His deal, not mine. So, I’m just hanging out.
But, like I said, there are certain times when you can, if you’re in retreat you can you know, keep it in your pants and see how you, see how not using that energy and not releasing that energy affects your emotional reality. A lot of people can’t handle it because we’re used to that release. It’s a physical release. It releases tension in many ways. It’s the poor man’s samahdi, the poor man’s nirvana so to speak.
So, but then again, there are monks, there are a lot of Westerners for instance who are, who have become monks in one tradition or another, who have taken vows of celibacy. It’s a very individual thing as far as I can see. It depends on your karmas, what path you’re drawn to, what your teachers tell you to do. My teacher never told me to do that. So, it’s not something, in my opinion, I don’t think it’s something that we could, we should… try to decide on a personal, individual level of your personal will, saying “Ok, now I’m going to be celibate. I’m going to take a vow of celibacy.” Firstly, you don’t want to take vows that you can’t keep. First of all. You don’t want to take vows that you can’t keep. You want to do, you want to have a whole life. You want to be happy. You want your heart to be open. You want to be kind and compassionate. There are enlightened Beings who are married and have children and there are enlightened Beings that don’t. It’s not a requirement. Maharajji was married. He had three children. We didn’t know that until after He left His body. That’s a whole story in itself. So, yeah.
You have to see what works for you. You know? I had two periods in my life, almost three year periods where I was celibate, before the age of 20-, let’s see… So, I was in India from 23 to 26 and then maybe from 28 to 31 or 32, I was celibate. So, that’s a long time. That’s because, the first time I was in India, I was scared, and the second time I was involved in a situation where I was required to be celibate to stay there. So, for two and a half, three years, I was. That’s a total of like six years before the age of 30 or so that I was celibate. So, that’s a long… that’s prime time stuff, too. So, it wasn’t easy but it was useful for me at that time.
Q: The advice I was given was to stay away from relationships.
Well, it depends who gave you that advice. And it depends how you feel about it. You know, people, anybody can say anything to us. Even a Saint. You have to feel that it’s ok in your heart to follow that advice. It has to feel right to you. It at least has to feel right enough to you to overcome your own feelings about it if you’re not sure. So, you have to keep your eyes open and deal with things every day. Is this working or not? What do I want in life?
Q: My fear is not to make a mistake, not to miss this opportunity of freedom, turning from this guidance.
Well, it all depends who told you that, you know? If Maharajji told me that, I would have done my best to do that. But He never did. If a counselor or somebody who knows you very well, you have to listen, weigh it in your heart to see what that’s about and then look at the issues inside of yourself, why somebody who you supposedly, I would hope, respect very much, would tell you that; why that would seem important for you. We learn by mistakes. We learn by hitting the wall at 150 miles an hour. We don’t learn by sitting at home, avoiding pain. Because you can’t avoid pain. Everywhere, all the time there is suffering. Not just for ourselves but others. So, there’s no, it doesn’t make any sense to try to avoid pain. One has to understand pain. One has to transform pain and let go of pain in a healthy, open, wide-open hearted way. There’s always going to be some pain. So, think about it. Work on it. See how you feel about it. It’s up to you. It’s up to nobody else. It’s up to you. It’s always up to you and you have to just decide if you want to try to that and if it’s right for you. If you’re thinking about it all the time, if you’re not doing it but you’re still thinking about it all the time, you know… its up to you. You have to find out what works for you. Nobody can tell you. But try to be honest with yourself, as much as you can. Because who are we hiding from? Who are we hiding from? Everything’s there. There’s no sense hiding from ourselves. Nothing can be more destructive than pretending or not really looking at things. Whatever works for you is what you should do.
Q: What would I do if I were a young person now?
A young person now… well, you’d have to tell me how young. If I was physically young and still had gone through everything, that I know what I know now? What would I do as a young person? I’d probably have a rock and roll band. This is close but not exactly the same.
Q: Why didn’t we come and live without an ego, with total freedom, like trees?
Listen, trees are not necessarily egoless. Trees don’t have self awareness, they say. Which is what human beings have, which is why they say the human birth is so important. We didn’t come without an ego because of our karmas. Egos dissolve when there’s no karma there. The belief that we are a separate self from other separate selves is orchestrated by our karmic situation, our own particular karmic debts that we have to pay and desires that we have and versions. It’s just, it’s our whole schmear of stuff. That’s what created this belief that we are separate people. So, nothing comes from nothing. Everything comes from something. Every effect has a cause. Even if it’s buried in a place that we can’t see it. We can see the causes by seeing the effect, once we understand that idea of cause and effect. If we have an ego, it’s because we created that ourselves in the past and I don’t know about trees, whether trees have self-awareness or not. Some people say there are tree spirits. I don’t know.
And I don’t know that trees have no illusion. Do you? I mean, it’s an assumption we might make. But I don’t know that. Do trees have self-awareness? Do they? I don’t know.
Q: What were Maharajji’s teachings on illness?
You know, in India, they don’t have doctors… especially in the old days, up in the mountains, there were no doctors. There’s no healthcare. People in the villages had no access to modern healthcare until very recently. And even now, there are many places where there’s no, not much access to healthcare. So, they come to the saints, to the yogis to be freed of suffering. People came to Maharajji all day.
“Baba, I’m sick. I have this. I have that. This and that. My child is sick.” And He would bless people and they would be well. He would free them from those things. Sometimes it wouldn’t happen and sometimes it would.
So, think about Ram Dass. Ram Dass had that terrible stroke. And if you saw the movie, “Fierce Grace,” you can hear him talking about the stroke and he said that Maharajji stroked him. Meaning that Maharajji had given him the stroke as a teaching for him. And he believed that. But then when he went back to India finally, for the first and only time after he had the stroke, he met Ma, Siddhi Ma and She said to him, “Ram Dass, that’s not true. Maharajji would not give you the stroke. The stroke is your karma, caused by your karma. Maharajji gave you the grace to transcend the stroke and grow through the experience that you have to go through.” And that’s very true. Very true.
So, illness comes from so many different ways. It comes from all the things we do to ourselves, where we live, what we’re exposed to, what toxins we absorb, how we eat, how we take care of ourselves and all that is also karmically determined. How we deal with it determines how we can learn from it.
And it’s a tough time right now, huh? Many people are suffering. The first responders are suffering. The doctors and nurses are getting sick taking care of people. They don’t have to do that. But they did out of the goodness of their hearts and they’re suffering because of that. So, it’s a very intense time. Everybody has to find a way to deal with that themselves and so, yeah.
Meditation. Chanting is meditation. It’s spiritual practice. There are many different forms of meditation. A million different forms and chanting is most definitely a meditation practice. One kind of meditation is called “shamatha,” which means, essentially, a concentration practice. And you can do that through being aware of your breath or the feeling of the breath coming in and out of the nostrils or as the stomach rises and falls with the breath, you keep coming back to it. You’re letting go and coming back, letting go and coming back. So that’s shamatha.
That’s one aspect of the practice of the repetition of the Name.
And here’s a little quote from Ramana Maharshi about celibacy.
“To live and move in Brahman is real Brahmacharya. Continence of course is very helpful and indispensable to achieve that end, but so long as you identify yourself with the body, you can never escape sex thoughts and distractions. It is only when you realize that you are formless pure awareness that sex distinction disappears. That is Brahmacharya, effortless and spontaneous.”
So, at times, there might be, you might be part of a practice where you would be practicing continence, celibacy. But it’s not required. It can be useful if it’s done in the right way. But for westerners it’s very rare that we do it in the right way, because we have so many issues about sex and emotions and love that it’s very difficult to really make a clean decision that’s not based on fear or shame, etcetera etcetera etcetera, when it’s in regard to sex. At least that’s what I think. Maybe I’m wrong.
You know, don’t… people ask me, “Can you do a chant to help these people or those people…” When I chant, I hope, my belief is that it helps anyone and everyone. I can’t direct it to one group or another group. I don’t feel I have the understand or ability or power to do something like that. All I can do is what I do. And I hope, my belief is that it helps me, and that it helps everyone who does it, and that it helps everyone who hears it, and that if everybody’s feeling better that the world is better. I just, I don’t know. I’ve never felt comfortable trying to aim at one group or another. I mean, I just don’t know why. But I don’t.
That doesn’t mean I don’t wish them well. This person is asking, you know, could I do a chant for the medical professionals? When I sing, when I chant, I’m invoking and moving towards the love that lives within each and every being in the universe and in myself. And my understanding is that, that’s helpful to all, in all directions, at all times. More than that, I really can’t do. The chanting gives us the strength to release negative emotions. It’s not just strength. It actually, by chanting, we’re moving deeper within us and just as we move deeper within ourselves, those emotions drop away. They may come back. But they drop away in those moments and we become accustomed to that feeling of being released from the obsessive thoughts and those obsessive emotions that may come back. So… but every time we chant, we’re loosening up those knee-jerk identifications that we have of all that stuff that we carry around with us.
Q: Do I ever write songs based on experiences and wisdom that you could record and embrace by our youth of today, might influence them towards living a life of love?
Well, I don’t know. These days I don’t feel much to write in English. I mean, I sang one song I wrote earlier. There’s a few other little parts, English parts to chants that I’d written. I haven’t really written many songs lately like that. You know, this is what I do. I don’t know. I don’t know. I’ve been… we have so much fun in soundcheck singing old rock and roll songs and everything. I’m tempted to spend some time recording them, just because it’s so much fun. But then I say, “wait a minute, what am I doing? Other people have done them better than me. This is what I do. I should just keep doing it.” So, that’s my bullshit. That’s what I go through. As far as helping the youth, you know, I’m glad I’m not growing up now. There’s so much stuff out there. I think it’s so difficult to be a child now. Wow. So much, so much of it’s just a different world. It’s such a different world now and being a parent at this point is really a tremendous responsibility of transmitting goodness of heart, you know. It’s really, there’s so much out there that children get fascinated by now, young people. So many negative things. So many things that just lead to more pain and suffering. In some ways there always was. There was always enough for sure. But now, you know, it seems like it’s much more difficult now, so… yeah.
I tried singing with children, but the parents just dragged their kids to the chant so they could sing. So, it didn’t, it wasn’t what I would have hoped. But it was ok.
Q: Do I think Ram Dass is a fully realized being now and has he visited you in spirit?
You know, essentially I wouldn’t know a fully realized being if I tripped over him in the street. Ram Dass was a beautiful being, is a beautiful being who overcame so much stuff in one lifetime and who truly manifested real love by the end of his life, by the end of his physical life. It was extraordinary. The last twenty years I spent with him, going out to Hawaii 2 or 3 times a year, doing the retreats, the “Open Your Heart in Paradise” retreats, which are still going on, we hope, will still go on, they will go on, was such a great blessing for me to be with him and spend so much time. I miss him and yet he’s right here. You said, “Has he come to me in spirit?” Has he walked through the door and, you know, said, “Hey what’s up?” No, but I feel him quite often very strongly. Very strongly. I feel, you know, over the last few years especially, when I would sit with him, we would have breakfast together and then we would sit for three or four hours, just there alone at the table, the two of us, mostly in silence and I became aware, I realized, finally, after years of that, we were developing this way of communicating in silence, that actually silence was the communication. It was very very beautiful, very beautiful. So, I don’t know what a fully realized being is. I believe that my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba is a fully realized being but that’s because I love him, you know? I don’t know. I suppose everybody feels like that about their Guru or about their partner or about their dog, you know? But, what can I say? What can I say?
So, one thing about the chanting… there’s a question about the right way to chant. The right way to chant is the way you do it. “So, when singing the divine name becomes continuous, all other thoughts cease and one is in one’s real nature, which is invocation or absorption.” I’ll read that again, “When singing the divine name becomes continuous…” Now that doesn’t mean you have to go around in your house all day long, all night long, singing out loud. At some point, the name repeats itself within us in a silent way, a quiet way, and a part of our awareness is with that, even while we’re doing other things. Once again, this is something that happens within that you’ll only know when it happens. You can’t make it happen, but through practice and ripening ourselves with the repetition of the Name, it happens. So, when singing the divine name becomes continuous and all other thoughts will cease and one is in one’s real nature, which is invocation or absorption. We turn our mind outwards to things of the world, and therefore are not aware that our nature is always invocation. So, our hearts are always invoking the presence of love, of god, of reality. Our individual blips of light are always bowing to that oneness but we are focused on the outside world, on the information coming through the senses, being interpreted by the brain, the mind. So, we are not turned towards that place within us, which is always absorption. But when the chanting of the name becomes continuous and natural, which it will at some point, then all other thoughts will cease. Those thoughts will finally cease.
When Maharajji first, you know, back in India, in ’71 in the temple, He always had the kirtan wallahs come up from Vrindavan. The Vaishnavs come up and sang Hare Krishna around the clock, pretty much, in the temple. And we used to sit with them. Then one day, one of those guys kind of tried to seduce one of the western women that was there with us and of course Maharajji found out about it right away, and He sent them all away. All 20 of them loaded onto the back of a truck with all their stuff, driven down to the train and back home to Vrindavan. So, one of the Indian people said to Him, “Baba, you just kicked the kirtan wallahs out. Who’s going to sing now?” “The Westerners.”
So, we had to go into this little room, which is now a temple but at the time it wasn’t, around the corner from the courtyard where we used to sit with Him, and we sat there all day singing and we had only one instruction, “Sing.” There was no, like, don’t sing for an hour or two. Just sing. We didn’t know when He was going to tell us to stop, so it was scary. So, you know, when you really ask yourself to pay attention, your mind says, “What are you, kidding?” and goes everywhere it can possibly go as fast as it can to get away from whatever it is you’re supposed to be thinking about or paying attention to. So, I’d be singing and I’d just be reliving my life, you know? Just like, rewinding it. Rewinding it back and thinking about this and the whole thing. But the chant had to go on even while I was thinking all this stuff and not paying any attention. After days and days and days of this, not all night, but all day, many days, something actually, I started to have a very interesting experience and that was that the chant began to feel like home. And I was aware of thoughts floating through my awareness, like the sky, but I wasn’t thinking them. It was really strange. And it was an incredible experience. It was the first way, the first thing I ever experienced about the way that chanting might work.
I had another experience with thoughts many years before that. I had scored ten hits of acid from a friend of mine. Each little cap, it was when acid was actually still legal, each little turquoise capsule was 1000 micrograms of pure Sandoz acid, the best acid you could get. I split the first capsule with a friend of mine, but the next 9 I did all by myself. So, it was like I needed enough propulsion to get through the dark atmosphere of my emotions and mind. So, that like propelled me right into outer space, gravity-less freedom, openness, it was amazing. So, one day, after like 24 hours, I started to kind of, I was lying in my bed and I was kind of just gazing out the window without, you know, just like… and then I saw something, or felt something in the distance coming towards me, closer and closer and it was like, “what is this? It’s making me antsy. What’s going on? What is this? Oh, no! It’s a thought!” And it crashed over me like a wave and I was thinking. And then, the wave receded and I was like, “No, no don’t go.” And then again after some time, out in the distance I felt this thing coming towards me. “Oh, no.” Crash. And they started coming faster and faster and faster and faster and faster and finally I was back. I had come down into the relative universe of thought. And I was me again, the way I knew myself to be.
So, but the experience, when I was chanting, was qualitatively different. It was right here. It was here in this world and I was not identifying with the thoughts going through and the Name was going on and it felt like home and sweet and at ease and the thoughts were just floating through by themselves. It was amazing.
Q: How do you explain wavering faith?
What’s to explain? Real faith is really knowing. Blind faith is hoping and wanting to believe. You don’t need to manufacture faith. You need to deal with your stuff. That’s all. Faith will come. One word for faith is “confidence.” The more we deal with our stuff and we’re not afraid of our stuff and we’re not afraid of our desires and we’re not afraid of this and that and everything, we get confidence that we can deal with things in a good way and that’s a wonderful experience and that gives you a confidence that you’re on the path, that you are ripening in the right way. Faith, you know, Mahrajji used to point things out. Saint Paul said, “By grace, I was saved through faith.” Real faith comes from Grace. It’s a gift. But we need to prepare for it, just like Siddhi Ma said. “It’s all grace, but you have to act like it isn’t.” And Suzuki Roshi from the San Francisco Zen Center used to say, “Come take a walk with me in the rain. But don’t rush. It’s raining everywhere.” We’re rushing so much, we don’t even know we’re getting wet, with the rain of grace, of presence, of being. So, don’t worry about faith coming and going. That’s not real faith. That’s an emotional experience to some degree. You feel good. And then you feel bad. Then you feel good. Then you don’t feel so good. The pairs of opposites have nothing to do with reality. Who’s experiencing that coming and going of faith? Where’s that happening? Right here. So, if you can keep moving back behind the experiences to see and experience where, to whom the experiences are happening, that’s the fruit of practice.
Q: Can someone experience Maharajji’s non-physical presence?
You know, I don’t even know if that body that we saw was really a physical body. It seemed that way. And then it seemed to disappear, and it seemed to have been burned, but then people have seen Him all over the place. So, of course. He can do anything. And if you even hear about Him, He’s there. He said, “When you think of me, I am there.”
You see, we hear those things and it’s like, what’s the word, not “apocryphal,” but we hear that He said something like that and we say, “Oh, yeah, that’s nice.” But imagine if it was really true? “When you think of me, I am there.”
He said that. He’s not just patting us on the back to make us feel good. He doesn’t do that. Well, He does do that. And then another thing He said, “Once I take a hold of your hand, I never let go. Even when you let go of mine.” Not “if.” Because He knows. “When you let go of mine, I never let go.” You know, Ram Dass and I used to say to each other, “What do we have to offer people really?” All we can offer people is our limited faith, our limited understanding of Maharajji, our limited experience of Him. This is what makes our lives, this is what lights us up and this is all we have to share. And don’t think that you have to become His disciple. It’s irrelevant. That bullshit is irrelevant. Work on yourself. Find that love that lives within you. Love everybody. Love anybody. It doesn’t make any difference. He’s not making disciples. He’s not counting. But He’s a path to love that anyone can walk on, whether you call it by His name or not. Don’t think, you know, I’m trying to sell you my Guru. I’m not. You just change the name that makes you feel good and plug it into to everything I said and it’s just the same.