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Call and Response Special Edition – Conversations With KD May 21, 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.
“Nobody’s testing you, nobody’s judging you and nobody’s keeping score. Do what makes you feel good.” – Krishna Das
So, the repetition of the name. People always ask me, you know, what do these names mean?
What does your name mean? It means “you.” You, as you are known by other people in this world and mostly by yourself, too. I’m me. But these names come from within us and they were brought out into this world by great beings who realized the truth, realized real love, were liberated, are free from suffering and stayed in this world, that came to this world to help us find a way to be free from suffering.
So, these names come from within us and the real meaning of these names is our own true nature. Just like you are Frank and there’s Frankness in everything you do, and you call out “Frank, Frank, Frank,” and its just, “Yeah, Frank,” you feel really Frankie.
So, when we call out “Ram Ram Ram” or any one of these names, there is a response, an awareness opens up within us. Most likely, most of us, including myself, aren’t able to actually recognize that awareness at this point, recognize that place within, even though it’s always here. There is nowhere else it could be except here, but we’re not here. Well, we are here, but we don’t recognize that.
So, through this practice gradually, but inevitably that place within us is uncovered. It’s not something we get from doing the practice. It is something we uncover within ourselves through the ripening process that we call spiritual practice.
“Jai Jai Ramakrishna Hari” doesn’t have anything to do with the Saint who lived in India in the 1800s. Sri Ramakrishna Paramahansa. Ramakrishna Hari is a form of Krishna, a form of Vishnu that is a murti, a form of God that lives in a temple in Southern India in Pandharpur. And it’s a very unusual form. Not only do people see it as Krishna, but some people also see it as Ram. They had that direct experience and the great saints who created that temple and created a culture around that around that temple, they came up, this mantra was revealed to them, Rama Krishna Hari. Hari, not Hare, but Hari, Rama Krishna Hari. So, it’s a beautiful mantra.
Every repetition of one of these names is a seed, a seed that we are planting within ourselves in the garden of our hearts. And those seeds will grow just like a tiny little seed can have a huge Oak tree inside of it, the potential inside of it, so does every repetition of one of these names have that same Shakti, that same potential to manifest God.
So, since every thought and action is karma, when we’re doing this, one thing is we’re not creating other karmas. And they say that the repetition of the name is totally sattvic, totally pure, that there’s no negative aspect to it at all. It can’t be negative. There can’t be any negative reactions or karmas that are created from the repetition of the name.
So, since you have to do something, cause we’re all very busy, why don’t we plant the seeds that will develop and grow into what we’d like to experience in our lives, which is happiness, joy, peace, truth, reality.
So, you repeat these names, you do this practice, you don’t have to have any intellectual understanding of the meaning of the names. It’s not required. You can have that. Yes. All of these names have stories out of which they’ve sprung here on this planet, in this world. Kali, Durga, Krishna, Shiva, Ram Hanuman, Ganesh, all these beings have incredible storylines that they, that the name has emerged from, that we became aware of these names, but the real meaning of the names is the true nature of those beings, also, which is liberation. In the Shiva Stuti from the Ramacharitamanasa, “Namaa miisha mishaana-nirvaana rupam.” “I bow to the Lord of the North, Shiva, whose very nature is liberation, is Nirvana.” That’s what he is. He’s not like a guy like you and me. He is liberation. Shiva is liberation. So, and we evoke that. We move towards that. We manifest that. We recognize that within us.
So, let’s take some questions and stuff, see what’s going on in our mind.
Q: I get the whole chanting the name thing…
Really? Next question.
But does chanting generalizations, such as “Hari Om” have the same amount of effect?
I don’t know what you mean by generalizations. “Hari Om” is a powerful mantra. It’s a name of God. Not only is “Om” the name of everything, it’s the word. In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and all that. That’s the name. That’s Om. The first sound creation starting the first vibration. Om. Everything is included in that. Hari Om. Powerful. So, I don’t know what you mean by generalization
Q: If in our devotional chanting practice, we use some of your tunes to chant divine names other than the ones you wrote them for, do you mind if we do that?
As long as I don’t hear it, it’s fine. Yeah. Yeah. Knock yourself out. It doesn’t matter. Okay.
Q: How do I maintain my daily practice? At times it becomes a burden, like I just have to get my meditation done. I usually ended up quitting till suffering reminds me to start again.
Well, ain’t that the truth? Yeah. You know, don’t do it. You don’t have to. Nobody’s making you do that. If you don’t feel, if you don’t have a feeling for it, you know, screw it. Watch TV. But you’ll need it when the shit hits the fan and it’s always hitting the fan. We just don’t recognize it.
But until you have that understanding yourself, or you’ve experienced that the immediacy of the need to calm your ass down and find out who you are, nobody, you can’t, it’s fine. Be you. You have to do it your way, whatever that is. But if you start to pay attention, you recognize that the tendencies of your mind, in this case, either tamas, which is like inertia, you don’t want to get out of that emotion, you don’t want to get out of the groove you’re in, or rajas, which means you’re running too fast. You can’t, you can’t be bothered to slow down. And so, you’re stuck in one or one of those or both. And unfortunately, that’s the way we spend most of our time. So, in order to cultivate releasing ourselves from those prisons of programmed behavior, we have to exert some effort, but you don’t have to do that.
Nobody’s making you do that. If you don’t feel the need, don’t do it. When you feel the need, you will do it. That’s it. Next.
It’s not, nobody’s testing you, nobody’s judging you and nobody’s keeping score. Do what makes you feel good. And as time, you’ll, you might recognize that what you thought made you feel good wasn’t really making you feel good. So, but that’s something only you can recognize. This is not… we’re not doing this so somebody can pat us on the head and say, “what good little boys and girls.” This is our lives. This is our day. This is how we go through our day. If we’re at ease with that, fine. Next. Nobody can say anything. Period.
Do what you like. Find out what it is that life means to you. Find out who you are. That’s all.
Q: is there a spiritual difference between mental or inner chanting and verbal chanting? Does one benefit more than another?
You know, depending on who you ask you’ll get a million answers to the same question. I think any practice you do is a good thing, period. Sometimes you’re not in a position to make sound with your voice of chanting, but that doesn’t mean the chant can’t be going on internally. So ultimately, if you sing outwardly, it benefits everybody who hears it, but you don’t want to be doing that for people who don’t give a shit. They’ll beat you up, you know? You don’t want to lay trips on people. But in a group where we’re singing out loud, that’s benefiting everybody and it’s creating vibrations in this outer world that are helpful, planting seeds that are helpful for everyone who hears it.
But at the same time, even when we’re singing outwardly, there’s an inner correlation going on. If you weren’t singing inwardly, you couldn’t sing outwardly. It comes from within. The intention, the thought, the creation, of your paying attention to what you want to do, that all comes from within. So ultimately there’s no difference and there’s a difference too. It just depends. One’s not better than another, as far as I can tell.
Singing out loud gives you more to hang on to in terms of trying to pay attention. Because you’re breathing. There’s sound, which you’re hearing. Maybe you’re playing an instrument. So, you’re paying attention to that. There’s more things to hang your attention on, which is good and useful at the beginning, the first 50 or a hundred years. After that, maybe the thing will be going on inside of us.
Q: How does one differentiate between submission and surrender?
Well, you know, on some level, I suppose they’re very similar, but on other levels, I suppose you can make a case that there’s a difference. But it doesn’t mean that, there’s always a difference, but it’s, for instance, submission usually means submitting your will to the will of another, giving up your will, to be, well, on the lowest level, controlled by another person. Submission. You submit to somebody else’s will, or you submit to what’s happening in a situation. Surrender is more internal. Surrender actually, you get more when you surrender.
Real surrender, first of all, happens only by grace. It isn’t an act of will. You’re not submitting. You’re not saying, “Oh, I surrender. Oh Lord.” You haven’t. You might think you have, you might want to, but surrender happens when we become very ripe and it happens by grace. It doesn’t happen through personal will. However, we can use our personal will to. move in that direction, to offer our love all, offer our attention, offer our service, and offer our understanding. But when surrender happens, you’ve become the whole universe. And a true guru doesn’t want submission. They want surrender. They want to merge. They want you to merge with them and become one. In submission, there’s still two. There’s what you’re submitting to. But once again, it might not mean that to everybody, but that’s one way of looking at it. On one level, certainly there, the argument could be made that submission also means surrender and in some situations that could be true.
Q: Was it hard for me as a Jew to embrace Hinduism?
First of all, I’m about as Jewish as the Pope. And second of all, I haven’t embraced Hinduism. I’m not a Hindu, I’m a devotee the of my Guru. I bow to all manifestations of the divine. I have no problem with that. I’m not… I’m all inclusive. I don’t, I don’t push anything away because I don’t have to.
He said, “Sab ek.” All one.
So that means, fine. It’s all good. I don’t identify as a Hindu, nor did I ever identify as a Jew. Culturally, this body came from a Jewish family, but I don’t know that this body… I don’t know if I was Jewish in my last birth. I don’t know if I’ll be Jewish in my next birth because I was born into a Jewish family this time.
It wasn’t a religious family. Nobody had any belief in God. Nobody had any idea of, of understanding what this is all about. So, I never got any deep religious teaching as Jewish teaching. in later years, I’ve come across the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Nachman, the great Siddhas and saints of the Jewish religion that I know about, that I read about. And I find they’re all the same.
So, it’s just not something that ever came up for me at all. I follow the love as best I can, and where there’s love, that’s where I want to be. Whether, no matter what religion, no matter what culture, it makes no difference to me. If the love is there, I’m there.
Q: Hello. Just got here. Does it matter if you’re singing, if one is singing a chant in a language that one doesn’t understand, and what if you understand the meaning?
Well, we talked about this a little earlier.
On some level, there’s a difference between conceptual understanding and intuitive understanding. Conceptual understanding, intellectual understanding is fine, but it’s something you’re going to have to let go of to enter into your secret heart, because the heart is deeper than the level of thought. So, if this, the intellectual understanding of the chants, or this or that helps you to pay attention helps your life become better, fine. No problem. But from my point of view, it hasn’t been something that I’ve found to be of ultimate importance. so far. I’ve been singing the Hanuman Chalisa for 50 years, or close to that, and I always knew what it meant, basically, but when I was singing it, I wasn’t paying attention to the intellectual meaning of the words. I knew that I was singing it to Maharajji, that I was offering him that chant. I was singing it more as mantra rather than bhajan. Now, bhajans are songs about the deities or what the deity’s done or what this saint has done and stuff like that. There’s a story. In Christianity, it would be like Jesus met the woman at the well, et cetera, or “lighthouse shine your light on me,” stuff like that. Great. Powerful. Inspiring. But still on the level of conceptuality, which is fine. Now, when I sing the Chalisa, I find that the meaning of the words is coming up into my mind naturally without me trying to hold onto it. So, when I’m paying attention now, it’s become a little bit more inclusive. It’s not like… I don’t know how to say it. It’s not like, the insight, the understanding is coming from the outside in. It’s like, as I’m singing, I’m knowing what I’m singing in a different way than previously.
I just heard a story about, way back, we were in Vrindavan and we had, when a friend was with us and his name was Ram Dass, not Baba Ram Dass. We called him Sadhu Ram Dass. And he had been a lot of time in India and spoke perfect Hindi. And I just heard this story that, one day we sang the Hanuman Chalisa to Maharajji and he turned to this guy and he said, “Translate this so these people can understand what the hell they’re talking about.” Something like that.
So that night he sat up and he wrote a whole English version of the Chalisa, which is very nice. So yeah, but for me, all of these chants, they kind of slide in, I think, it feels to me, deeper than the intellectual level.
I go into the space of presence, of being, of love and it doesn’t, it doesn’t activate this. This is not important. What has more gravitas is the presence that I feel of Maharajji, of the love, of the being. So, but whatever you, you know, whatever works for you is fine.
Q: Do you think the days of legitimate Sages is passing?
No, of course not. They have to be here. Otherwise, there wouldn’t be any chance for this world to develop the way that it has to. Remember, it goes up and down, up and down. They say there’s big cycles, the yugas, ages, the different ages. I don’t know. I don’t know anything about that.
Q: Do I think I would recognize Krishna if he were to address me personally?
Only if he wanted me to.
Q: Do you ever feel like you want to meet unkindness with unkindness? Especially when the person is really making life difficult?
Absolutely. That’s why difficult people are so good for us. They show us where we’re stuck and until we can see where we’re stuck, we can’t let it go.
There’s a story about an old Tibetan Lama who was going on a pilgrimage, and he had to take somebody with him to help with the bags and stuff, do the cooking. And he picked this guy from the monastery who was so difficult, he was such a jerk, did everything wrong, was crazy. And they all asked him, “Why did you do that? Why are you taking this guy with you?”
He said, “Because he teaches me patience.”
If you are committed to becoming free, if we are committed to becoming free, then we have to learn to appreciate the teaching that those difficult people give to us.
When I was doing my first few Metta meditation courses with Sharon Salzberg, you go through a cycle. First, you offer yourself this loving kindness, this friendship. “May I be safe, May I be happy, May I Have health and have ease of heart,” right? And you offer yourself those phrases.
And then, after that you go to what they call the benefactor, somebody in your life who’s always been good to you, always been on your side. So, you bring them to mind and you offer them these phrases. “May you be safe, May you be happy, May you have health, May you live at ease of heart,” right? And you just keep going. And then they say, “Okay, now go back to yourself.”
So, you go back to yourself. And then, a day or so later, they say, “Okay, now bring the enemy to mind,” that person in your life was just a Supreme pain in the ass, who was always fucking things up for you, who’s always criticizing, was never, always on your case, always a pain. So, I would, you know, I think it’s not, it’s not easy, so I’d say, “May you be safe, may be happy, you son of a bitch, so you leave me alone. may be….”
You know, it took years. And it’s still a great practice because it happens all the time.
So, the other thing is, if we look carefully, we can usually see the thing that we don’t like in another person is something we don’t like in ourselves also. There’s so many levels of all this. And they all have to be released as time goes on, as the path moves along.
Q: Reading so much about Maharajji lately, and I’m wondering why did he hit people? Was it always a lesson? It seems like no one thought of it as a bad experience.
So that’s the deal. Nobody thought of it as a bad experience. One time, I was sitting with him in back of the temple in the evening, and this fellow who lived across the street from the temple, a long-time devotee of Maharajji comes in in the evening to have Darshan, and it had been a very sweet time. Very easy. Sweet, rich. The sun was setting and the flowers, the Jasmine were just releasing, the night queen, rakhi rani was releasing this fragrance. It was just so beautiful. And this guy comes to the gate in the back of the temple, starts walking down the path to Maharajji and Maharajji sees him and he sits up like this and he starts screaming at the guy.
That guy, he would have run away if he could, but it was too late. So, he had to keep coming and he comes and he pranams to Maharajji, and Maharajji pounds him on the back, like this, “Go, go, go get out!”
The minute he was gone, Maharajji went, “Hee hee.”
So, the story was, this guy was, had like, 12 kids, was so poor and he couldn’t feed his family. So, he lived right across the street from the temple. So, Maharajji created a job for him. He knew the people who, you know, devotees of his were in the bus company, the state run bus company. So, he created a job for the guy that when a bus came by, this guy would make a check on a piece of paper. And at the end of the week, he would send the paper off to the bus office and he would get paid a certain amount of rupees for doing that every day, because he couldn’t feed his family. But the problem was this, that the minute he got paid and he had gotten paid that day, he went out and bought, spent all the money on hashish, on charas, hash, to smoke. And so once again, another month would go by, and Maharajji would have to feed his whole family. And this went on month after month after month. So, he thought a couple of punches in the back would be a good thing.
You know, this is a big question and there’s no one answer. It’s a very difficult concept for us. And it’s called Lila. “Lila” means play or drama. And what they say is that one that, that a person with limited understanding, like ourselves, cannot understand the lila or play of a Saint, of a realized being, or one of the gods or the deities, so to speak, because these beings have no personal motivation anymore. They’re not looking to get off. I’m talking about realized beings, not pretend gurus, not want-to-be teachers, not anything. I’m talking about real gurus. Satgurus. They don’t have anything they need anymore. They’re only here to help us and their only motivation for any action is compassion for us.
Now that’s way above our pay grade. We cannot conceive of, quote unquote, desireless motivated action, because we don’t, all our actions are motivated by some kind of desire, to grab onto or push away. That’s what we do. So, it’s, it’s a slippery slope if you approach it intellectually, because it might look very reasonable from the outside that this guru is doing something that hurts this person. It might look like that, but it’s a question of, unfortunately, it’s a question of faith, the faith that you have in that particular being, and that faith is an intuitive understanding. It’s not blind faith. Blind faith means that you don’t want to see it, and if you see it, you’re not going to deal with it.
That’s not useful. If you saw it, you have to deal with it.
Real faith is an intuitive knowing. It’s just, it’s more real than whatever you could think about something. It’s a very difficult situation for Westerners. And there are a lot of charlatans, quote, unquote, another question in there, a lot of wannabe gurus, a lot of people who are posing as gurus for their own satisfaction, for money or fame or whatever, and there’s really no way to know.
You only, all you can do is trust your heart about the situation. If it’s not for you, it’s not for you. If it’s for you, it’s for you. But until it’s not for you, all you can do is learn to trust yourself. That’s why I always say that the whole path is nothing but learning to trust our inner being, our own intuition. And as we become freer inside, as we become less afraid, as we become less desire motivated in our actions, selfish, motivation, things will loosen up in there a little bit. And we can allow for the possibility that we might not be able to understand something here, but it feels okay in there. And yes, I know, it could be total bullshit. But only, you know, only I know. What’s real for you is real for you. What’s real for me is real for me. There’s no general thing you can say.
Q: What Buddhist teachers do I have on my altar here?
I have a lot of them.
The Dalai Lama, Mingyur Rinpoche, Jamyang Khyentse Chokyi Lodro, over here is the whole Buddhist side of the family, the previous Karmapa, the present Karmapa, Tulku Urgyen, Lama Khenpo, Nyoshul Khen Rinpoche, who I spent some time with. I love these beings. I love their teachings. I love their presence. I love their beings and I like to have them around.