Call and Response Ep. 37 Maharajji’s Language, Why Is Chanting Important?
Why is chanting transformative? Why is the chanting of names transformative? Does it require an understanding of what those names, the stories behind those names, in order for the chanting of those names to be transformative?
“These names are mantras. These are sounds that come from a deeper place inside of us and they were brought into this world so you and I could hear them by saints, by yogis who have recognized the truth, have experienced reality through these names and they’ve experienced the reality of these names.” – Krishna Das
Q: Thank you so much. This is just a question about linguistics. Did He speak English? Like when you have all these conversations, how did this actually happen?
KD: No. He could say things like “Quick march.” From the English time. “Quick March.” “Sit down.” That’s it. That’s about all I heard Him ever say in English.
Q: When you speak of all these communications that was all through a translator
KD: There were always Indian people around who spoke perfect English. Not always, but most of the time. And when He had, sometimes He just would make you understand what He wanted, without a word at all. One time, I was walking towards the front of the temple and all of a sudden, I was running towards the front of the temple and He was right at His window, “Come here!” I went there. “Ok.” And I ran off to do something and I was halfway gone when I went “Wait a minute” how did I know what He said? Like that, you know? He didn’t need anything. I mean, He didn’t need to be told anything. He knew everything all the time. It was, it was just extraordinary to be in the presence of somebody like that.
Q: Can I ask one more question?
KD: Yeah. Sure.
Q: I’m just interested. I believe it and I kind of get how it worked, but you often speak of the abuse and anger? And even language, like colorful language
KD: Oh yeah. He cursed. You can’t believe the things He said to people.
Q: Can you expound on this?
KD: Like what?
Q: In Christian background, it’s forbidden. You don’t speak that way. You’re always kind and good.
KD: You’d have a tough time proving that in court. Always kind and good, uh-huh. Well… it was a way of changing the atmosphere of, and it was only the close people who were really abused, because they could take it. They loved it. They would look… and we’d be sitting there. We didn’t know Hindi at the time. “What is He saying?” “Sister fucker?” Things like that. The worst shit. You can’t imagine. These village people, this is how they talked. That’s what they do. You know? I was recently with a young Baba in India and I had met Him once or twice before and He’s very wild and very loving, sweet but He likes the abuses so I came there from Delhi and I spent the day, and then in the evening I was going back to Delhi. I said, “Baba I’m going back to Delhi now.” “Why?” I said, “You know, now. I like my comfort. I’ve got my hotel room and everything.” “Ney. That’s not why. You’re afraid to shit in the latrine. That’s why. See this guy? He’s afraid to shit in the latrine. See this guy over here. He doesn’t want to shit in the…” He just was like abusing me in front of all these Indians. They were laughing, they were laughing. So, I had to stay. But that’s love. That’s the way, you know? They’re not afraid. They don’t throw people out of their hearts. We’re all scared shitless that if somebody looks at us crooked, they hate us. And that’s why we’re, that’s why everything’s so screwed up here. They’re not afraid of that. It’s all loose and open and wild. They’re free with that. They know when to do it and when not to do it and who to do it with. And people, like expect that from Babas, too. They expect, especially these kinds of Babas who live in the jungle their whole lives, they’re not, they don’t want anything, they don’t need devotees, they come and go and they don’t care. They understand it’s a sign of affection and closeness, actually, to some degree. They’re not afraid. You know, even Mr. Tiwari, he pissed me off, my dearest, most beloved friend and teacher. He was like my Indian father. But he would really, he would do things that would just piss me off, you know? Then he’d go, “You will fire upon me now?” He wanted to fight. He wanted to argue, you know? This wasn’t, it took me a long time to get with the program because, you know, don’t look, don’t talk to me like that, don’t raise your voice to me. That’s how I grew up. “Be careful.” “Don’t say…” It took me awhile to get used to that, “Hey, it’s all cool.” You can just be anything. It’s really a very different feeling. Functional families, you know? Something we don’t have in America for the most part. Functional families. Not all of them, but many of them are. They don’t, there’s nobody afraid they’re going to be thrown out of their heart. They can just be themselves. And they are. At 100 miles per hour. Some of the weirdest stuff you’ll ever see.
Q: Hi. Thanks for what you do. Why is chanting transformative? Why is the chanting of names transformative? Does it require an understanding of what those names, the stories behind those names, in order for the chanting of those names to be transformative?
KD: If it did require that, I’d be in shit, hot water. I don’t know any of that stuff. I mean, I’ve absorbed a little bit of it from being in India most of my life, but I don’t know most of those stories and everything. I’ve got a little basic idea. No, these names are mantras. These are sounds that come from a deeper place inside of us and they were brought into this world so you and I could hear them by saints, by yogis who have recognized the truth, have experienced reality through these names and they’ve experienced the reality of these names, what they are, and so, yes, Rama is also, Ramachandra was a king, and was supposed to be an incarnation of God, but Rama does not necessarily referred to that guy. Rama is another name of the indwelling consciousness within. So, every repetition of that name moves you towards that place inside of you. Same thing with Krishna. Same thing with… all these names are names of that place inside of us. Yes, they do have a storyline in India. They all have stories about them. What this one did. What that one did. But I don’t know them. But I do believe because Maharajji said it over and over that chanting of the Names is a very very very powerful practice and is very transformative practice.
Q: What do you feel when you’re chanting?
KD: I don’t know because that’s not the point of the chanting. The chanting is to chant.
Q: You, what do you feel?
KD: I don’t know, because I’m not paying attention to what I feel. I’m singing. And any thought about what I’m feeling is something to let go of. As long as you can let go, you let go. And if you’re thinking about it, you’re not doing it.
Q: So, what’s the difference, and I’m not challenging, I’m asking.
KD: No, it’s good.
Q: Between, so I meditate. I focus on my breath. Is there a difference in chanting meditation or meditation focused on the breath?
KD: Technically probably not. But they do say that these names have, are like seeds and like a seed has a whole tree in it. The repetition of the Name is like planting those seeds in your life stream, in your… and so it’s slightly different than just watching the breath, which is a simple concentration technique. It’s a concentration technique. Mantra practice is not only a concentration technique, but it’s an invocation technique as well, because the universe, when you call the Name, you call somebody, they come. Or at least, they might hear and start to come, so that’s kind of the idea when we chant these Names, we’re calling inward to that presence within us which is alive and well, but mostly undiscovered by us.
Q: Yeah, I’m trying to figure out, by chanting the name of the lord you’ll be free.
KD: Yeah, he said, as he was snorting coke. Bunch of bullshit. Go ahead. Yeah? Yeah, that’s true. By chanting, sooner or later, maybe. Yeah that’s the idea, of course. You will be free. But it depends on how you do it and why you do it and what your intention is and how you approach the practice. So…
Q: I just substitute the chanting for the focus on my breath.
KD: You can if you like. Why not? You should do what feels good to you. I know you’re just trying to understand it. Sometimes I watch my breath. Sometimes I do the mantras with the breath. I find that helps me pay some attention, too. I’ve done a lot of breath, regular breath concentration work in early, beginning Buddhist practice. Samhita, before Vipassana. But I tend to do more mantra. I do a lot of things, you know? 19 minutes a day. Just enough not to get into the retreats. I don’t want to do anything that’d really be good for me.
KD: So, yeah, just, why don’t you just play around with it and see how it goes. But you should listen to your heart. You should see what you feel that you like and try it. It doesn’t, nothing, you’re not going to waste, it’s not a waste of time to explore and find out what things are, how they work for you. But don’t expect something to happen. You know, that’s not the best motive for starting on this path. We’re on this path to find a way to live in a good way in this world and to limit the amount of suffering we go through and limit the amount of suffering that people we’re connected to go through. That’s the best motive for working on ourselves is that we can also be working on others and with others, but if we’re doing it to try and have experiences, all that does is you get a bigger ego. Really. And then you start feeling very important and you think you’ve made a lot of progress on the path, but you haven’t. So, it’s not about what you feel. It’s about your intention for the practice. Why you’re doing it. It’s about trying to lower the barricades around the heart, you know? Soften the heart. Untie some of the knots that we’ve tied inside of our hearts.
Q: Yeah. I’ve been meditating for a long time but I’m new to chanting and frankly, I only chant with your music.
KD: That’s good.
Q: Because I love the way you chant.
KD: Me, too.
Q: My wife, she chants, she’s a Siddha Yoga practitioner
KD: Get rid of her. Make sure she has her own room for that stuff.
Q: I’m just trying to see how I can shift the process of chanting to the kind of wonderful experience when I meditate.
KD: You know, we haven’t been really taught and trained to how to be good to ourselves, you know? Nobody, when I was growing up nobody told me trust myself. “You do it my way.” Right? That’s what I, what everybody told me, all my teachers, my coaches, my parents. Really, they weren’t about helping me empower myself and trust myself and be good to myself. So now, we’re starting out on this path or we’re trying to do this, these practices. It’s hard to let ourselves feel good. It’s not so easy. It’s easier in a group sometimes. But when you’re sitting at home and trying to get your 19 minutes in, it’s like really hard, you know? It doesn’t, we don’t know how to let it happen. You know? It’s not easy. So, for instance, when I sing by myself at home, sometimes it’s really juicy. Most of the time, it’s not. When I sing with people, it’s always juicy or it’s always intense. But when I’m home alone, I don’t know how to do it for myself. And it’s interesting, so this is the way Mahrajji’s suckered me in to doing something that’s good for me and good for others. Like, I knew I had to sing with people in order to clean out the dark corners of my own heart. It was an epiphany I had. And it was very clear. It was about singing with people. Not alone in my room. Which I would have never done. But give me a group of people and hey, you know. The Hindu Frank Sinatra comes right out. You know? You push a button…
But what’ the motive? The motive is to open my heart and to clean the shadows out of my, the darkness out of my own life. And, so, that’s the way it works for me. And I knew Muktananda pretty well. I traveled around with Him. Me and Ram Das and others, we traveled around with Him. We had a lot of fun with Him because He wasn’t our guru. His devotees were scared shitless of Him. But we didn’t care. Because He wasn’t our Guru. We had a great time with Him. It was very fun. A lot of fun for us.
Q: In the New Year’s message this year, Surya Lama Das or Lama Surya Das suggested five times a day, five seconds, he said, “Who can’t do that?”
Q: That’s it. I just wanted to throw that in.
KD: Five times a day. Five seconds. That’s reality. We are so out of it. It’s ridiculous. And we’re thinking, we’re so evolved. “I’m so high. I’ve been doing this for 14 seconds.” We really can’t do anything. But the chanting is nice because we like that, you know? It’s just that simple. We like it. We like how it makes us feel. And that’s because He’s transmitting. That’s Him. That feeling is Him. That’s the way I look at it. You don’t’ have to look at it that way, but that’s how I look at it. Because that’s my reality. That’s the way I see it. Yeah. So, I wanted to do some of that, can you give me that, who has a paper? Oh, over there, she’ll get it.
You know, I have difficulty feeling good.
It’s not easy for me to, when I’m home along, I mope. I’ve done it my whole life. It’s just who I am. I have to accept it. There’s no getting around it. And one of the things about moping is that, it’s hard to, hard to tell yourself nice stories about things if you’re depressed. Nice stories, happy stories make you sick if you’re depressed. And I’m depressed most of the time. However, one of the practices in bhakti yoga, devotional yoga, is prayer. Praying. And singing songs of praise. Which is a little bit different than mantra, which is the invocation of the actual Names of God. These other kinds of songs are descriptive of the qualities of love and divine love and real love. So, this prayer called Jaya Jagadeesha Hare, which means, “Hail to the Lord of the Universe”.
“Jag” is actually “world” I think. And deesha means “lord” so the “lord of the world” and this is, we heard this somewhere, I don’t remember where we heard it, back in India in the old days, and we decided, the Westerners, we decided to learn it and then seek and plan a surprise ceremony for Maharajji. We were going to bring all the special plates and the aarti lights and all the fruits and sweets and everything and we were going to do the first worship of Maharajji by the Westerners. So our friend KK, who taught us the song, every day we’d come back, he’d come over to the hotel, and we’d get in this room together and we’d practice singing it and learning it and so we were going to do, we had everything arranged for this one Tuesday, which is Hanuman’s day, we were going to do this big surprise for Maharajji. And do this prayer, sing this prayer to Him, and do this puja as worship. And it was for this Tuesday so on Monday we were at the temple as usual and He comes out of His room and He sits down and He says, “Do the aarti now!” And we didn’t have it memorized. We were going to have to read our books. You know, everybody had written it out. So, we went running to get our books and then we just stood in front of Him and we sang the aarti. We didn’t have the lights and all the fancy stuff. We just had; you know… it was so powerful. This is, you’ve got to understand, Maharajji didn’t sit still for a second. He was throwing fruit to people, talking to this one, talking to that one, this one, this one, throwing things all around, yelling at this one, yelling at that one. Never. As soon as we started singing, He just went… like that.
He sat there the whole time unmoving. It was really intense. Now from the moment I met Ram Das, I felt Maharajji and at that very first meeting with Ram Das, all of a sudden, I knew without a word being spoken, I knew that whatever it was I was looking for was real. It existed. It was in the world. It could be found. I didn’t know what it was but that was the thing that happened to me at that moment when I met Ram Das. And as I got to know Ram Das and spend more time with him, I realized that what I had felt was Maharajji and so I knew He was my guru. I just, I just knew that. And I, at that time, we didn’t know where He was and if I could ever see Him, but the point was that I knew He was my Guru. So, there we were, now in India, it’s like 3 years after I first met Ram Das, there’s maybe 8 or 10 or 12 westerners, a tiny little, not one of these huge scenes with tens of thousands of people. He kept the lid on it. He really did. And so, we sing this prayer to Him and then afterwards, He just sat there and it was like being suspended in space. It was, you couldn’t even breathe. It was so intense. And at that, in those moments after we finished singing, with us all just standing there in silence, the thought went through my head, “Holy shit. I never thought I would know that I was seeing my Guru with these eyes.” It was another level of, a deeper understanding and a deeper awareness of the connection. It was really amazing. So, when you read this,
“Hail to the Lord of the Universe, who in an instant removes the troubles of devotees and humble people.” People who are devoted.
“Meditating on You brings these fruits. The sorrows of the heart are destroyed. Happiness and wealth come to the home. And physical sickness is removed.”
You know, I had a huge attitude at the time when I read this line. I don’t care about money. I don’t want anything. I don’t care about those things. Of course not, I didn’t have anything. I didn’t have a life. I didn’t have anybody dependent on me. I didn’t have a kid. I didn’t have a house. I didn’t have a mortgage. So, I thought, “What do I need that stuff for?” he said. Later on, I understood.
So, this is actually written by another saint named Swami Sivananda from Rishikesh who wrote this actual prayer.
So “meditating on you” and whoever that “you” is for you, is ok.
“It brings these fruits. Sorrows of the heart are destroyed.” Wouldn’t that be nice?
So, meditating on Him, on That, on Her, on that Divine, that Love, sorrows of the heart are destroyed. Happiness and wealth come to the home. We all need… we need to eat. We need to pay our rent. And physical sickness is removed.
“You are my mother and my father. From whom else can I seek refuge? Who else will give me shelter?”
“Without you there’s no one. I have no other hope. You are the complete supreme Self dwelling within, beyond Brahma, you are the supreme Lord, the Master of All. You’re an ocean of compassion, the nurturer of All. I am the servant. You are the Master. Shower Your grace on me. You are the unseen One. The Lord of all Life. Oh, Merciful One, how can I ever find you with a mind so defiled? Brother of the Helpless, Reliever of Sorrows, you are my protector. Raise your hand in blessing. I’m lying at your door. Oh Lord, remove the impurities, my impurities and take away my sins. Increase my faith and devotion so I can serve the Saints.”
Now since in Hindi, the word is paap, which means, burn, a burning. So, it’s not a question of original sin like in the Christian fantasy. It’s about our own actions that have caused us to burn and suffer, not some original thing that we did wrong.
You know, one time, these Christian missionaries came to visit the Dalai Lama and they were talking about stuff and at one point, one of the missionaries said, “Your Holiness, what’s your idea of sin?”
He went, “That’s kind of a Christian thing, isn’t it?” They don’t have that. There’s no original sin in the eastern religions.
They have original worry. Which is just as bad. So anyway, that’s this prayer. We’ll sing it maybe tomorrow because it’s late now but, these kinds of prayers are a way of entering into that river of love that’s always flowing. Born in West, we don’t have the wiring for love that isn’t emotional or physical. We don’t have the wiring for unconditional love. We have to open up those channels and like, when I first read the Ramayana, the Ramcharitmanasa, that was incredible, I had no idea there was that kind of Love in the Universe and it showed me a whole new way. It opened up a whole new way of feeling things that I didn’t get on Long Island.
So, that’s one of the things that these practices do. They open up new pathways for these things to flow through us. And unconditional love is new for us. We’re not, we all know what it is because we’re all looking for it. But we don’t have a lot of experience with it. So have your unconditional dinner and we’ll have unconditional kirtan later.