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Call and Response Ep. 55 The Practice of Chanting
“As much as we like to think that we’re running the show, it’s always those little epiphanies, those things that (we) all of a sudden understand or all of a sudden, we just recognize something or we know something. It doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from within. It feels right. And if there’s one thing that the spiritual path is about, more than any other thing, or if there’s one thing that the spiritual path requires before anything, it’s that we learn to trust ourselves.” – Krishna Das
Oh, I thought it was a rooster. It’s a baby. Hello baby!
He wants us to keep singing, but that’s just too bad.
Because you can sing and sing and sing but if we… what do we do when we’re not singing? What happens to us? We sink. You don’t sing, you sink. So the issue is, what do we do the other 23 hours of the day when we’re not doing practice? How do we go through that time? How do we live in our lives and how do we find a way to do that in a good way? That’s one of the issues. Life is an issue. When I first went to India, and I had just really gotten there, I was up in the mountains and the town I was staying in had a beautiful crater lake up about 7,000 feet. Beautiful, in the Himalayas, and at one end of the lake there was a very ancient temple to the Goddess Durga. So, at night, I was walking around, and around the lake and I was passing that temple and I heard this chanting coming from inside. I just stopped. I couldn’t move. I had never heard anything like that, certainly not in the temple on Long Island.
Thank you, that was for you.
So, and I was just struck the intensity of the chanting, at how powerful it was and how everybody was completely in it, you know? And I just felt, all of a sudden, I just knew that this was something that I could really do. Something I could really give myself to. You know, some years before, I was up in the mountains in New Mexico and, at the Lama foundation for the winter with Ram Das and we heard that there was this artist from New York who had gone to India and learned how to meditate and now he was living just down the mountain from us in, North of Taos New Mexico. So, a bunch of us went down to visit him and we went into the room with him and we sat there for a while and everybody was asking questions. I kind of hung out in the back. I wasn’t talking because I was listening to everything. And after an hour or so, we were leaving and I was the last one out the door and he grabbed my arm as I was going out the door and he looked at me and he said, “You, you have to find out why it is you can’t give yourself 100% to whatever you’re doing.” And, you ever see like, in those taxidermy shops, you know, the squirrels on the wall? Like this? That’s what I felt like. He nailed me to the wall. Because that was the thing that was killing me, you know? I could never really do whatever I was doing. I was always… I could never really give myself to what I was doing, 100%. Not even 10%. I was just too scattered or whatever and I just didn’t know. I just didn’t know how to get into things. And I can remember that day just like it was yesterday and it was just a few years ago. Like 50. So, when I was outside that temple that night up in the mountains and I heard this chanting, that’s what I knew immediately. That this was something that I could really do. So, I was just standing there and some guy was walking in and he kind of grabbed my arm and he said, “Come in, come in, you must come, you must come.” He dragged me in and I sat down with these guys in the temple and they were just wailing. It was unbelievable. And they came, “Come sing, sing, sing.” I didn’t know what they were singing, you know? Later, it turned out it was the Hanuman Chalisa. I didn’t realize that until much, much later. It was a Tuesday night, which is Hanuman’s day. So, that was the beginning and after that, everywhere I heard chanting, I just went there. I just soaked it in. And, I was not gathering material for my career because I was never going back to America. I had no intention of ever returning to America. I had sold everything I had. I gave my jeans away, sold my car, my guitar, everything. And with a whole $200 I went to India. So, I just felt that pull. And there was no question at all about it. I just knew. And that’s how things work. As much as we like to think that we’re running the show, it’s always those little epiphanies, those things that all of a sudden understand or all of a sudden, we just recognize something or we know something. It doesn’t come from the outside. It comes from within. It feels right. And if there’s one thing that the spiritual path is about, more than any other thing or there’s one thing that the spiritual path requires before anything, it’s that we learn to trust ourselves. That we learn to listen to our hearts and to trust ourselves, which is something that we are not trained to do. “Don’t look at me like that. Don’t. Do what I say.” That’s how I grew up. Don’t trust myself. “You do it my way. This is what it is. I’m telling you.” So, it takes a long time for us to really learn how to feel what’s right for us. There’s so much static in the head. And a lot of times, we think, “Ok, I’ve got to get it together.” But that’s not how it works. We are not running the show. Although we think we are. And the more we learn to listen and to feel what our intuition, what our feelings are telling us, where we learn to honor those feelings, the better it is for us and the better it will be for everybody in our lives. What does this have to do with chanting? Good question. Glad you asked. These Names that we’re singing, in India of course they call them the Names of God. But where is that God. Up there in the sky? And is it the sky over the United States or is it the sky over South America? Which sky is it? This God that we’re talking about lives within us as who we really are. Not who we think we are. And we think we are all day long, every day. So, how do we get out of those obsessive thought forms that we’re so identified with, that push us around, make us feel good, make us feel bad, make us go here, make us go there? How do we release those? And how do we begin to thin out the belief that we are who we think are and that we’re running the show? Well, these Names, they come from within us. They don’t come from outside. Nobody made these Names up. There was a Being who had a realization of Reality, who recognized Reality, entered into one-ness with the universe and then brought this name into the world for us to follow that Name back into ourselves, into God, into Love, Real Love. So, that’s why there were so many names, because so many Beings have entered into that place and out of compassion they’ve come back to bring us a path to finding that. There’s lots of philosophy. There’s lots of different practices. They’re all designed to move us more deeply into ourselves. My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, used to say, “Ram Nam Karne Se Sab Pura Ho Jata.” “From the repetition of these Names of God”, these Names, “Everything is accomplished. Everything is brought to fulness and completion.” He said it over and over to us. So, we have to add some practice to our daily life. You know, we’re floating down the river, heading towards the rapids and we look at the bank of the river and we think the bank is moving and we’re sitting still. We have to find a way to get towards, move towards the bank of the river and move within our own hearts, deeper within our own Being. And that’s where these Names come from and that’s why the repetition of these Names, it reshapes our insides. It reshapes our mind, our thoughts. And that’s why I said last night, when you sing, and that also goes for when you do quiet repetition of the Name or mental repetition of the Name, you just stay with the sound of the Name and when you notice that you haven’t been paying attention, you just come back. And that happens, can happen a thousand times a second, if you’re really looking. You just keep coming back. That’s all you do. And in fact, since we think we’re doing everything, there you are, “Hare Rama Rama Ram, Sita Ram… What am I supposed to do… tomorrow at 3 o’clock I have to do that thing… I can’t remember… hare Rama Rama… what am I supposed to do? Oh… Hare Rama Rama Ram.” So, you were singing and then, the next thing is that, “Oh, I’ve been thinking.” So, then you went back to the singing, right? That’s how it works. But, how did that happen that you woke up? That you noticed that you weren’t paying attention? You just weren’t paying attention, then all of a sudden, you noticed you weren’t. How did that happen? Did you do that? Did we do that? No. We were just lost in dreamland and all of a sudden, oh. I’m lost in Dreamland. Ram Ram Ram. That moment happened. It happens as a result, a direct result of all the practice we’ve done in the past. All the many times we notice and come back. This life or many lives before, those moment of awareness, of waking up are the fruits of our practice in the past. Otherwise, we get born, we go to High School, drink some beer, watch some tv and we die. And we’re never here for a moment. What makes that moment happen where we woke up? And where does the longing come to find something deeper in life? Why do we have that? And why don’t, why are there other people that don’t? It’s just a question of the karmas we ourselves have performed in the past, either in this life or some other time, and those karmas are coming to fruition. Those flowers, those seeds are growing. Those flowers are blooming. Flowers of awareness. We didn’t do that. You sit down to meditate, “Ok, I’m going to really pay attention. What was I saying? I can’t remember. Oh, yeah, I was like… Oh, wait, I’m supposed to pay attention, ok.” You just, you can’t do it. You make an effort to pay some attention and then you notice you haven’t been, so you make the effort again. That coming back and making the effort again plants a seed inside if you. That action is a karma. Recognition, paying attention. Recognition, back to the Name. Recognition, back to your breath. Recognition, back to the fact you’re standing on one toe on the rock in the middle of the ocean. You’d better pay attention or you’ll fall in. You know, you know that joke about the guy who says he wouldn’t want to join any club that would actually invite him to join? That’s me. And I don’t want anything that I can imagine in my head about what it might feel like when I’m, you know, when I really have a good meditation. Or a good chant. Anything that I can conjure up in my head, that’s not going to be the thing. So, we just try to let go. So, when you sing, don’t try to make, don’t try to crank it up and get some kind of blissful experience. Because it won’t last. The only thing that lasts is who we really are. Our true nature is always here. And if we try to conjure up some kind of experience, good luck. You won’t be able to hold onto that, either. So, why waste the time? Practice is to be done disinterestedly, which means, you do the practice, you give yourself as much as you can to the practice and you let it work on you. You don’t try to make it happen. You’ll never be able to do that. What’s the sense? But try if you like. It’s up to you. Knock yourself out. Believe me, I’ve been trying for 50 years and nothing happens.
Finally, you just say, “Ok, let it be.” Then you do the practice and you wound up, you wind up tuning into a deeper place inside of yourself where there is some joy, where there is some peace, where there is some happiness because that’s our true nature. That’s what’s underneath all our stuff.
And you know, my Guru never told me to go out and spread the word and chant with people. He never told me that. He asked us to sing to Him, which we did because He liked it. And when He liked, that means that we got to spend more time with Him, which was what we liked. So, it worked perfectly. But He never told me to do this. He never told people what to do so much, except maybe “Go away.” I had to find out for myself what I needed to do for me. If He had told to chant with people, I would have started with people maybe right after I came back from India. And in fact, I did for a while with Ram Das. We traveled together and I would sing and He would talk. But that didn’t work. I had to kind of go down into the valley of death into the darkness of my own soul until I found what I could do to bring some light into that place. And that’s the only time when I finally understood what I needed to do, then I could really do it. Otherwise I’d be doing it because He told me, which is ok, but it didn’t work for me. I’m very stubborn. So, when I finally understood that I needed to chant with people in order to clean out the dark shadows in my own heart and that that was the only way I had to do that, that’s when I started singing with people. So, you have to find what works for you. And you don’t have to wait for a big ephiphany, just jump in and do something. If it’s working, fine, if it’s not, fine. Do something else. It has to feel right to you or you won’t be able to give yourself to it. When I went to India, I thought, “I’m going to be a celibate yogi living in a cave for the rest of my life.” Right. Ask my daughter if I was successful.
So, then after two and a half years, Maharajji looked at me one day and He said, “Go back to America.” “What?” He said, “You have attachment there.” I didn’t know what He was talking about. This was 1972. He said, “You go back when your Visa’s up”, which was in March ’73. I didn’t know what He meant, “What does He mean, I have attachment in America, I don’t care about anything there”, he said. Well, everything that happened to me from that day until this day, that’s what He was talking about. You can’t bypass stuff inside of you. You can’t. There are no shortcuts. The karmas that we ourselves have created must come to fruition. How we deal with those things as they arise in our lives, that’s up for grabs. That can be, there are different ways of dealing with things. But you can’t avoid your own stuff. Where are you going to go where you’re not going to be and your stuff is not going to be. A cave in India? Yeah, right. Bugs. Mice. Snakes. You’re not going to like that. No tv. No iphones. You think you’d be cool with that? Yeah, for about 10 minutes. First night you spend alone with the leopards outside the gate. Oh, yeah, you’ll sleep well. Once you enter the path, the best of dealing with things is to accept that whatever’s in our lives is there for a reason. We don’t know the reasons because we’re not in charge of what comes to us in life. But if it’s in our lives, it’s there because it’s supposed to be there. Because it has to be there. Sometimes that’s not a lot of fun. There’s so much suffering in this world. All of us have broken hearts. All of us have been betrayed by life in so many ways and beaten up in so many ways. That’s ok. Let’s deal with it. And how do we deal with it? We do some practice. We learn how to let go again and again and again and again and again and again and again. And learning how to do that, training ourselves to do that in a moment of practice, whether it’s 2 minutes a day or an hour a day, whatever you do, that movement of letting go will keep functioning through the day to some extent. And then the things that used to really screw us up, they won’t affect us so deeply, but we’re not going to notice that, necessarily. The real changes are off the radar, under the radar because it’s that person who’s evaluating and judging and noticing and taking and counting and all that stuff, that’s the thing that’s getting thinned out, little by little. So the repetition of the Name is a very very good practice, a very powerful practice, because ultimately, they say in India, they say, The Name and what is Named, God, are not different. That means, when we say “Ram” we don’t experience That because we’re stuck in our heads. Time will come that the Name will go on repeating itself within us and it will carry us deeper into our own true nature, our own hearts. Ok. That’s enough about this. Questions, anybody have anything to say?