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High Noon in the Desert – Hare Krishna Hare Rama

Greetings, friends…..

Good morning (California time). It looks like spring may finally be breaking through. Has it been a long winter everywhere????

Well, I haven’t ‘blogged’ in a while. (That’s another one of these modern words, like ‘googled.’) Somehow, between parenting, working, and practicing music, many other important things on my daily ‘to-do’ list seem to fall by the wayside: caring for my aching bones, 12 step meetings, eating, WRITING! And then I wonder, does anyone read this stuff, does any one actually care what I write….. But I know those are the thoughts that dig deep old holes in my psyche for me to get stuck in, perhaps never to re-emerge…

So……..

The “Bhakti Movement” in the US these days is kind of strange to me. Wonderful, but also, weird. Wonderful because more and more people are experiencing the incredibly passionate joy of singing God’s names; and weird because, as Americans, we seem to feel the need to make it ‘special,’ and make ourselves ‘special’, and use Madison-Avenue type names to label and increase our ‘special-ness.’ We throw around words like ‘bhakti,’ ‘bhava’ and ‘ecstacy’ as if they are ice cream flavors or new types of kombucha. But in India, where all this stuff come from, these words denote deep spiritual states, attained by only a few very lucky and very devoted souls who then become inspirations for the rest of us. When we in the west get together for an evening of Kirtan everyone is so eager to ‘get off,’ to have a super high euphoric experience, kind of like a rock concert…. This is fine, I suppose, but it’s just sooooo different from what we experience in a small temple in North India, where the devotees feel like they’ve been chanting for lifetimes and lifetimes, oblivious to the highs and lows, riding the waves of emotion and mood, resting in deep longing and fulfillment and surrender, awaiting God’s mercy. Is ‘Bhakti’ just a ‘high?’ A cool, blissed-out experience? The great ‘bhaktas’ (devotees) of old all write of an immense love and an even greater dependence on their beloved’s response. “My Lord, I’ve done nothing to deserve your embrace, but please come to me anyway!!!” Oh well. Maybe I’m just an old curmudgeon, too hard on myself and thus too hard on everyone else…

Here’s a true story of ‘Bhakti’…… (I probably have many details of this story incorrect, and I thought I would do some research before writing it. But instead I’m just diving in. Please forgive any historical or theological errors.)

In a dusty desert village in West Bengal, in the 15th century, sat an old but still very active little temple to the Goddess. Day in and day out, for hundreds of years, the poor villagers had been prostrating themselves there to ask for better harvests, more sons, and more money; in other words, relief from their suffering. To some the Goddess responded, but to most She remained mute. As in all Hindu temples of that time, a young Brahmin (someone from the highest, priestly, caste) was engaged to officiate the prayers and offerings, and to distribute ‘prasad’ (consecrated food). Chandidas, as he was called, was deeply committed to his tasks, yet he was confused by what he perceived as the Mother’s callous ignoring of Her children’s requests. “Are you really there?” he would ask the statue. “Please, please show me that you are hearing my words!”… But there was no response.

One day, as Chandidas was preparing the ‘aarti’ (offering) lights, he heard a brushing sound coming from the other side of the worship hall. Turning around, Chandidas was struck by what felt like a lightening bolt to his soul. Was it the Goddess, herself? Well, that’s been the big question for over five hundred years. Because quietly working in the corner, partially veiled, was Rami, a young woman from the village, an ‘untouchable’ (the lowest caste), sweeping the temple floors. Chandidas gasped and whispered “Radha.” Rami lowered her almond eyes saying ‘Govinda, my Lord.”

And thus began one of the most remarkable love affairs in history. Chandidas, who had never written a single line of poetry in his life, began to record his romance with Rami with an incredible outpouring of songs of the love of Radha and Krishna; songs of ecstacy, songs of anguish, in the first person voices of both God and Goddess. Perhaps Rami wrote the songs with him, for the voice of Radha emerged even stronger and more clearly than did the voice of Govinda. Of this we’ll never know.

Meanwhile, there was another voice that began to scream and howl. The power structure of the village, the political and ‘spiritual’ elders, had become enraged at this blasphemous affront to the caste system, in the heart of the very temple itself. A Brahmin and an untouchable having an illicit affair!!! And cloaking it in the language of scripture!!! An outrage beyond compare!!! The two lovers were ordered to stop seeing each other. Rami was of course fired from her job at the temple and thrown back into her life of poverty and Chandidas’ every step was watched by the unblinking eyes of the town bosses. But did this diminish the path of true love? Not one bit. In fact, as they were forced to meet in more and more secrecy, the songs of Chandidas took on an even more mystical hue, invoking as they did the illicit, mysterious nature of Radha and Krishna’s divine love. But in a small town in 15th century India, secrets could not be kept for very long. Soon, Rami was banished and Chandidas was thrown into prison. Demanded to deny his love, Chandidas simple bowed his head and proclaimed the eternal reality of ‘Radha Ramana Hari.’ Tears streaking the dust and dirt of his face, the young Brahmin fell to the prison floor chanting the glories of the divine couple: “Hare Krishna Hare Krishna Krishna Krishna Hare Hare Hare Rama Hare Rama Rama Rama Hare Hare.” What difference was there for him between his love and passion for Rami and the ‘Rasa Lila’ (divine play) of Radha and Krishna? Nothing could stop the river of love flowing from Chandidas’ very soul. And so, in the ultimate act of fear, the village elders tortured Chandidas, finally tying his limbs to four horses and tearing his youthful body apart. As his soul departed his agonized body, the villagers could heard the words: “Hare Krishna…. My Rami, My Radha!”…..

Today, centuries later, the love songs of Chandidas are still sung reverently and, yes, ecstatically, by the villagers, Bauls, and devotees of West Bengal. Praising the divine lovers, falling at the feet of the divine lovers and identifying with the undying passion of the divine lovers….. With tears of longing to feel just a drop of what Chandidas must have felt. To have just the tiniest taste of true ‘Bhakti’, true love…… I’ve seen with my own eyes these mystic Bauls singing Chandidas’ songs, dressed in patchwork robes, begging the Lord for just one crumb, pounding out rhythms on a small drum or even just a wooden table, plucking a one stringed ektara, and remembering one of the great heroes of love, Chandidas, and his beloved, Rami.

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26 Responses to High Noon in the Desert – Hare Krishna Hare Rama

  1. Ana Holub says:

    Thanks, Jai. I read the whole post, with energy shivers and little tears in my eyes. You write beautifully, and you bring up important questions for American kirtan lovers: How do we embrace devotion, kirtan, prayer and love for each other in a way that is real to us? Can we go deeper than the rock concert “high”? and will we know if we have?

    My answer is yes, yes and yes. We feel the truth through our longing for a direct experience of Divine Love and our willingness to risk everything to taste it. Not everyone is in this place, obviously. But more and more of us are rising to the tender place of direct contact. Krishna and Rahda, Rama and Sita, me and Jesus (my beloved forgiveness master teacher)…

    Americans are so spoiled and so poverty stricken at the same time. But we are waking up, just as our brothers and sisters are awakening in a tremendous tribe all across our bountiful Earth.

    Thanks so much for your music, your thoughts, your humility and your mastery.

    here is a poem:

    Ram, meet Sita
    Sita, meet Ram

    Here in my heart
    a reunion

    Ending the anguish
    of being met, being seen

    by the eyes of another, outside

    For this moment
    lovers coo
    this moment

    it’s all I’ve got

    ******
    bless you,
    Ana Holub
    The Edges Are Friendly


  2. Ariana Saraha says:

    I’m glad you’re a curmudgeon – lends depth and a critical contemplativeness to your thoughts and opinions…

    And thank you for the gorgeous story – deeply touching to this soul.


  3. David says:

    YES, someone reads this stuff and not only cares, but thoroughly enjoys and awaits the next installment, of what you write!

    Thanks, keep it coming,

    J’aime ma!


  4. dariel says:

    Love of other, love of god and goddess, love of self,… same, same always same as love is all that is. Thank you Jai for your heart and your music and your constant reminder of love.


  5. Mindy says:

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. I don’t think you are a curmudgeon. It’s very easy to try to make something “special”, and yet cheapen it at the same time. I’ve never been to India, but I pray to go some day. I especially want to experience chanting in a temple. As someone who has participated in kirtan a number of times, I find it hard not to be concerned about my voice, in spite of encouragement otherwise. If, like me, a person has only participated in kirtans led by the “professionals”, I think it’s harder to just let go and not worry. I have listened to some amazingly raucous and passionate recordings of folks chanting in the temples in India. I feel certain I would not be self-conscious in that kind of setting.

    I myself cringe when I check out the tour schedules for various kirtan walas and read these events being described as “concerts”. It seems like a totally wrong word to choose. One doesn’t generally think of a concert being a true participatory event. Sure people may clap, dance and sing along, but this is still so different from the give-and-take of a kirtan, where the response is as meaningful and important as the call.

    I say keep being honest and voicing your concerns when you feel so moved. I’m so grateful to be able to read the stories you’ve shared here (as well as reading and hearing the stories of Ram Dass and Krishna Das and Shyam Das). I can’t be reminded enough of the spirit of the place from which this practice arose. Thanks again so much for sharing with us.

    RAM RAM!
    Mindy


  6. Deniese Christina says:

    …beautiful…someone is listening…
    someone is touched…
    perhaps only the Lord Ram…


  7. Steve Bamm says:

    My richest bhakti experiences have not been in the large, rock-concert type “bhakti” venues. I’m not sure that bhakti “scales” well, that is, retains its nectar and bhav with the large-scale “movement.” At least as its done here in the land of the dollar.


  8. Julia Lazar says:

    Totally care about reading what it is that you are thinking and experiencing. Please keep writing and sharing!


  9. Vishwanath says:

    Radhe Shyam !
    Love your storytelling!
    Love to you and your family,
    Vishwanath


  10. Sibylle says:

    Dear Jai,
    now that you mention it: I often wished to experience more humility in kirtan events, lately. But maybe that’s because I am only a square German ;-)
    We have a saying here stating that soft tones form a melody, too.
    I’d like to encourage less boosting. Isn’t it prayer in the first place?
    But then again: the important thing is we’re singing at all…
    Lots of love, Sibylle


  11. Kathleen says:

    remembering humility–thank you


  12. Rivers Sterling says:

    Jai, I LOVE your writing. Your words create a timeless portal into the elusive worlds of spirit. Your honesty with your own struggle is refreshing and heartening. You continue to show up and engage. You are doing The Work and this is inspiring.
    Keep Walkin’!
    Love and Appreciation,
    Rivers
    PS
    Come back to Asheville, NC!


  13. YogiSinzapatos says:

    Namaste Jai. Thank you. Keep on blogging.


  14. Daniel Tucker says:

    Jai! Sheesh man, what a story. Electrifying. And, dissappointing… having just spent a couple months in West Bengal, I may have entertained the illusion that there was at least *that* place where mystics were revered rather than persecuted. Oh well, I guess even West Bengal, land of so many Bhakti saints, has that kind of darkness woven into its history.

    What a moment, that thunderbolt recognition… Radha. What a mystery. Wow.
    Lotsa love,
    DT


  15. Chandika Jaya says:

    Thank you for sharing your words of wisdom about bhakti and sharing this beautiful story with us.
    ramramramramramramramramramramram!
    Chandika Jaya
    Kashi Atlanta


  16. Prajna says:

    Jai Radhe Shyam!

    Beautiful story, Jai. I love you for doing this blog, too, more please!

    This is the importance of satsang! We need people like you to remind us that there is always room to love deeper, that beneath the joy and bliss there is something infinitely more vast and profound. To never stop surrendering every moment, every experience at the lotus feet of our beloved guru or god. Otherwise we’re all in danger of stalling on the path, mesmerized by our preferences for this kirtan or that yoga class—or stuck in our aversions to slow bhajans, japa, meditation, etc.

    I used to go to kirtans and say to myself, “Oh, the energy is really shallow,” or “Wow, it’s really deep,” and I would credit or blame the kirtan singer accordingly, until one day it occurred to me that there is no limit to how deeply we can be present to divine love in every moment—it’s completely our own choice. As long as we depend on aesthetics to determine how open we are, we’re doomed. The story you shared here about Chandidas is so beautiful and relevant. Thank you, Jai.

    Love,
    P.


  17. bryn says:

    i am CRYING! Jai, this story is so beautiful i LOVE it. THANK YOU for sharing it. Govinda, My Lord. Govinda, My Lord. Govinda, My Lord. so sweet …


  18. Dr. Birte Nachtwey says:

    What a story! Another example of peoples fears and insecurities making them kill and torture their fellow human beings in the name of some moral system or ideas…. So sad and still going on so much in the world…. Does it make them feel so much more secure and better with themselves in their lives thereafter to make it all worth it? It is not always so easy to forgive them for they are not concious of what they are really doing there…

    I understand what your talking about the kirtan “high”. Looking für the next high to avoid ever feeling empty, sad, angry, alone, pain, helpless or any other so called negative feelings? A life on the run in bright sunlight without it ever becoming dark? Everything is great and nice and amazing? This is exactly why I am not so interested in coming to the US despite all the beauty of the land and nature. I encounter a culture that I find not easy to relate to very profoundly many times. But I come for your kirtan now and this is really the only reason that would be important enough for me. I have prayed with the native americans for over 20 years now and it has been a path of deep devotion and also discipline, sacrificing your flesh and physical comfort many times in a warriors way. To pray through ecstasy instead of pain and sacrifice has been a great change for me in the past years getting into tantra and now a little bit into kirtan. There are aspects of softness and gentleness in there that are very becoming on the long run…

    Namasté,

    Birte from Germany


  19. lillah lotus says:

    Beautiful story telling….
    I always enjoy your writing
    esp tales of your early indian adventures.


  20. Donna says:

    I am so happy to read this. The story is beautiful, but it’s your introductory words which struck a chord. My husband and I were just at Breitenbush with you, Jai. When we came home our friends asked excitedly “How was it???” And I paused…and thought: sometimes really great (that “Bhakti ‘high'”) and sometimes it just “was” whatever it was in the moment — special or not. But what I mostly came back with was a place to turn in my heart whether feeling great or struggling with life challenges….I have taken up a silent mantra: ‘Ram, Ram, Ram, Ram….” I thank you for that awakening.


  21. Jennifer Newell says:

    Jaiji, Thanks for taking the time to write your blogs, I really enjoy them. I guess I’m a fellow curmudgeon today ha ha! Your comments on the “Bhakti Movement” reflect my own feelings. It is weird to see something so profound turned into a “fad”. Someone mentioned to me the other day that the “Kirtanika”scene is passe. Who knew? I hope the Bhakti Movement will truly touch hearts in a spiritual way. With the warmest Aloha to you and your family, Jen


  22. mary James says:

    Thank you, Jai, for all your wonderful stories of love that never dies. Your music is full of your own passionate love for God. You are an inspiration to so many! May God’s grace always flow to you and your beautiful family. Thank you for sharing!
    Mary


  23. Lakshmi says:

    Radhe Govinda…..

    Yes we are listening, and loving your stories, thoughts and heart felt words. Thanks for sharing some essence and roots of this ancient practice that is new to us in the west. May we westernize it just enough for our western minds to become truly absorbed in its original purpose of soul awakening an hearts wide open to truth and love…. in the highs AND the lows… may our love remain constant and unsurpassable…


  24. Lisa M says:

    Beautiful, Jai. The full spectrum of life and its mysteries. May I be so dedicated to love in all forms.

    Hari Om Tat Sat!

    Love & namaste,

    Lisa


  25. Anastastasia (Anista) Blaisdell says:

    I love your honesty, and openess to such a wide growing public as more and more people come to know your music and you. I feel that is so humble of you. I appreciate that in you. I also see totally what you mean about the movement these days. Seems to be what America does with everything, one day it will fall back to the raw truth of everything…again…so much love to you and your beautiful family. I am so glad for you… I hope to see you at Kripalu again soon…


  26. sridhar says:

    upon entering the sacred temple of bhaktifest 2010 in joshua tree,california, you will be transformed back to the days of chandidas and feel his spirit and poetry, and move to the rhythms of the ancient souls- and remember we have all been here before.


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