Whole Life Magazine

August/September 2013

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Page 29 of 51

K rishna Das—that honey-tongued vocalist who headlines kirtan festivals all over the world and has brought more people to the joy of chanting than probably any other kirtan singer on the planet—is at heart a blues man. hat's right, his idea of great music is not devotional chants, but Ray Charles and Mississippi John Hurt. How is this possible? To understand it, we have to back up a few decades. It all began with Ram Dass, albeit indirectly. Back in the infamous '60s, Jefrey Kagel, as our man was then known, was living on a piece of land in upstate New York owned by acidheads who returned from spending time with Ram Dass and, "My friend Steve had so much light coming out of him I said, Write down the directions, I'm leaving right away. And I drove all night." Kagel spent more than a year in the Ram Dass glow before realizing, "It really wasn't him, it was coming through him." He was determined to meet Neem Karoli Baba, Ram Dass's guru in India, but the guru didn't want to be found. It was only with great diiculty that any info could be pried out of Ram Dass, who inally told him to write to K.K. Sah, another devotee. An entertaining storyteller, KD unraveled this account from "KK" that gives insight into both the guru and the way KD perceived him. KK began: "I walked in with your letters—there were three by that time—and put them where he was sitting, and began to cut and peel an apple [cause Maharaj-ji had only, like, three teeth, so KK would cut up sot apples and feed him piece by piece]." When KK told Maharaj-ji the letters were from students of Ram Dass, he said "Tell them not to come." Now, this is the beauty of the show, right? Maharaj-ji had asked KK to take care of Ram Dass, so KK felt it was his duty to serve Ram Dass because it was Maharaj-ji's instruction. KK felt he was serving Ram Dass by promoting our cause, because we were students of Ram Dass, and now Maharaj-ji himself was interfering with the very service he'd given KK to do. KK began to pout and stopped feeding him the apple, right? So Maharaj-ji said, "What's the matter?" And KK wouldn't look at him, wouldn't talk to him. Finally Maharaj-ji threw his arms up in the air and said, "Okay, tell them what you want." Being a good devotee, KK wasn't going to make anything up, but what did he say? "If you happen to be traveling in India, the doors are always open." So that's the way Maharaj-ji is. He plays it fast and loose as if he doesn't know what's going on, but he's really the great puppet master." hat was enough of an invitation for KD, who responded very quickly. To those who did not recognize him, the guru he found might have seemed like just another petulant, aging man—Maharaj-ji himself liked to say he was nobody—but to KD, "He shined like the sun. Do the trees and lowers need instructions on how to grow? Our hearts bloomed in his presence, in that love. here was nothing to 30 wholelifetimesmagazine.com teach, no words were necessary. Our hearts opened and we experienced from within what real love is." It's hard to argue with this—who doesn't want to be unconditionally loved? KD's words here were recited like a familiar—albeit heartfelt—poem. Still, it's diicult to get a ix on Maharaj-ji; we Westerners don't necessarily comprehend the nature of the guru-devotee relationship, and this particular guru was more elusive than most. He had several homes yet moved about frequently and sometimes disappeared entirely. He was widely recognized in India as a saint and is said to have performed miracles, but had no mission to extend his teachings, and there was reportedly "no manipulation, no making people believe or hoping they would see things the way he did." So what was so compelling? "He loved us from the inside out and you began to feel something that you never felt before and it's quite natural to want to always live in that feeling." If you're just coming to this party, don't despair, you may still be able to connect with Maharaj-ji even though he's let his body. "Sing to him," KD suggested. "Look at his picture. Ask him to come. Yell at him. Get angry that he isn't there. Do whatever you have to do." It seemed almost frivolous to ask, but nowhere is anything written about Maharaj-ji's teacher, in a tradition that's long on lineage. "He never mentioned it as far as we know," KD answered. More important to KD was the profound spiritual connection. So when Maharaj-ji told him to chant, he did it with fervor. And then Krishna Das lived happily ever ater in spiritual bliss, right? Oh, if only it had been so simple. NAVIGATING ROUGH WATERS Before Maharaj-ji died, his inal instruction to KD was that same phrase he'd used earlier: "Do what you want." But it took KD a very long time to igure out what that was. Sex and drugs didn't work, nor did anything else. Finally, ater a dark, tumultuous period he went back to chanting. "I realized that if I didn't sing with people I would never be able to clean out the dark shadows of my own heart," he said. "hat was the only rope that was going to be thrown to this particular drowning guy." Watching KD in the delightful Jeremy Frindel ilm One Track Heart released earlier this year, it's not entirely clear he's worked his way through that darkness. here's a sadness about him. continued on page 32

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