Anjula Ram talks with Krishna Das
by , May 25, 2015
Anjula Ram: Hi this is Anjula Ram for Conscious Life News and I am here at Bhakti Fest 2014. I’m honored to be here today with Krishna Das. Welcome.
Krishna Das: Hello, how are you?
Anjula: For you who don’t know, Krishna Das is known as the rock star of Yoga. He’s a kirtan singer. Could you just break down a little what kirtan is?
Krishna Das: Kirtan is a chanting practice. It’s a spiritual practice, a meditational practice, but it involves singing and chanting. In India what we chant they call the names of god, but really what we’re talking about is a way of turning towards our own inner heart, our deepest reality, deepest center—and of course in India they say that’s what and where god is, but we don’t need to worry about that.
The main thing is to try to turn within and calm the mind and develop a better quality to our daily life, make us better human beings, people with relationships that really bring what we want them to bring. Everybody wants the same thing, but we have dead ends.
Anjula: What is that one thing that everybody wants?
Krishna Das: Everybody wants not just love, but wants to be able to love and to have their love accepted and to be accepted and to be loved. They say in the east that real love, unconditional love, doesn’t come from the outside. It is our true nature.
Anjula: That love that we’re searching for in life comes from within, and Kirtan can play a very important role in bringing that out; would that be a good way to put it?
Krishna Das: Absolutely. It’s like—they always tell the story of the musk deer that has this incredible smell around it, a beautiful perfume. He runs around looking for it everywhere, but it’s in its own belly button. It is really like that. Everywhere we are looking for affection or for acceptance. We want our love to be accepted and we want to be loved in return, but it’s very difficult to find that in the outside world. It is impossible, actually. You can have friendship with people—good friendships, deep friendships, supportive friendships—but love doesn’t come from the outside.
Anjula: Now I think that when a lot of people hear something like that and they try and sit with themselves to find it, it’s very difficult.
Krishna Das: Sure.
Anjula: So let me look somewhere else. It’s hard not to look outside because we function in this outside world.
Krishna Das: Yes.
Anjula: Outside there is such a vast amount of stimuli and teachings and messages and so on, so when we are engaging with the outside world we have all these different options. I think even though it lies in our core that’s when the role of gurus and spiritual teachers can come into play because, in a sense, it is looking outside, but only for them to guide us back within ourselves. Could you talk a little bit about?
Krishna Das: This is a real big question. First of all there is a big difference between teachers and gurus.
Anjula: Could you just separate the two for us?
Krishna Das: A guru is somebody who is realized, who has become the truth. They are no longer searching. There is no longer any kind of personal agenda of any kind. They have completely submerged themselves in love and truth and reality. You don’t really need a lot of those, but teachers are those of us who have been around a lot, have studied a lot, have met a lot of teachers, maybe even have a guru as part of their own practice and are sharing the methods they have learned to quiet the mind and open the heart and become a good human being.
I always say, “Go out there. Go around and meet as many teachers as you can. Listen to all the methods that they talk about. Really make an effort to find something that works for you.” But a guru is something else. People run around all the time, all day in and out, and they never look up at the sun. Without the sun, none of us exist. That’s the guru. The guru is like that.
The sun shines on everyone and everything unconditionally. It shines on miserable people, good people, murderers, thieves, saints, everybody, equally—exactly equally. That’s what a guru is, because the guru is someone who has become the son of love, which is God.
Anjula: Do you believe every one of us here in physical form has the potential to-
Krishna Das: It is not even a question. That’s why we are here. The fact that we don’t recognize that is just part of our delusion, but once the delusion level starts to come down you see that everybody wants the same thing, and the same thing is looking out of each one’s eyes—the same thing. The same consciousness is looking out of everyone’s eyes, but we don’t see that seer. We only see the stuff. It’s question of finding a practice that gradually frees you of your being glued to the stuff and allows you to relax to yourself a little bit.
Anjula: I think honestly, in this day and age, even though it is a very good thing that consciousness is becoming more spiritual, it can be overwhelming in the sense that there is so much out there. There are so many people who are teaching so many things. So in your personal journey I know you spent time with Ram Das, and then you were with-
Krishna Das: Neem Karoli Baba.
Anjula: Could you tell us a little bit about that experience? What was the transitional point for you? When did your life, if there was a time where it flipped more in to you actually really living in that space of what you know…?
Krishna Das: I am working on it just like everybody else. I think there were a few times in my life where I got bumped up a couple notches. The first time is when I met Ram Das. I hardly knew anything about him, only that he had been to India and come back. I was 21. I was crazy. I didn’t know what I was doing, but I went to meet him. I walked into the room where he was sitting and without a word being spoken, the minute I walked into that room I knew that whatever it was I was looking for was real. It is real! It existed! It was in the world! You could find it! That’s like, whoa! That made a real change in my life. I got close to Ram Das and then I wound up going to India to be with his guru. and I stayed there until he sent me home to America a couple of years later.
Anjula: Go home now.
Krishna Das: Go home! Get out!—like that.
Anjula: I believe you had started doing kirtan and were going to share that with the US and the western world. I think there’s this thing in the air with the lot of people of wanting to do something more meaningful. Do you have anything to impart on for those people who are still trying to discover that?
Krishna Das: Everybody has a different role to play. You have to find who you are, not who anybody else is. There’s no model out there that fits everybody. I am not singing. I’m like somebody who has been floating out in the ocean for 30 years and is drowning. I am up to here. I start singing I am gone. That’s why it worked for me because it’s like breathing. I’m not trying to do anything for anybody else.
I am aware that people get a lot from it and that it helps people in so many ways—and that’s phenomenal.
Anjula: It is not the reason.
Krishna Das: I know where that help comes from. That’s the guru. I’m just like an old rusty pipe and he picks me up, makes beautiful music with it and just throws it down again.
Anjula: It’s probably the humility that allows such beautiful work to come through you. I think that’s what it is when we’re doing what we are meant to be doing. It’s something working through us rather than us doing a something.
Krishna Das: That’s a very good way of looking at it. It’s true. You know there are so many different models for understanding this stuff, but that’s very accurate as far as it goes.
Anjula: I know a lot of the kirtan you use is from the Hindu traditions.
Krishna Das: I also do stuff from Tibet and from Buddhist tradition. I’ve studied a lot of Tibetan Buddhism and have done a lot of Buddhist meditation over the years.
Anjula: Do you have any insights as a Jew and then and being exposed to Hindu influences?
Krishna Das: I was as Jewish as the Pope.
Anjula: Could you speak a little about transcending religions through music?
Krishna Das: People take religion very seriously, and they get angry with you if you don’t. My guru loved everyone equally. He had devotees who were Hindus. He had devotees who were Buddhist. He had devotees who were Muslim, Sikhs, Jains, everyone. He had devotees from all different religions because religions are actually paths to that goal. If it is working for you, fine. A lot of times the problem is that religion has ceased offering methods to find happiness and just becomes something about blind faith, and that creates a lot of problems.
Then your faith is always tenuous and, if somebody doesn’t believe what you do, they are your enemy. This isn’t about blind faith. This is about experience. You do this, this is going to happen. If you stop worrying you will be happy. How do you stop worrying calm your mind. How do you calm your mind? You could sing a little bit. It is not a mystery.
Anjula: These different faces of god, names of god that you chant about, do you have any favorites, you want to discuss a couple of what energies they carry?
Krishna Das: I have lived in India my whole life and I never paid any attention to that.
Anjula: How interesting.
Krishna Das: Really, I never paid, they are all same to me.
Anjula: Beautiful, okay.
Krishna Das: I once asked my Indian father who is great yogi who has been with our guru for 40 years, I said, “Baba, who is great Vishnu or Shiva?” He said, “How can you compare infinites?” These things are so far beyond our limited ability to understand. I think you should deal with what we know, which is our own bullshit. That’s where all the pain comes from, our own nonsense, our own fears, our own shame, our own guilt, our own selfishness, our own manipulating people for our own benefit. If we could get over that, lighten that load up a little, we would be a lot happier and life would be very different.
Anjula: There is this positive law or attraction, think positive stuff going on and…
Krishna Das: I don’t think positive.
Anjula: It was about to cover this with you because a lot of people when their own shit comes up basically then they just want to focus in on something positive. I believe that’s the suppressing stuff. There are certain things that people do when their own crap comes up. We project to outside. When your own crap comes up as Krishna Das, what do you do?
Krishna Das: Well, I just mope around until it passes. I do the best I can. I keep doing my practices. I don’t stop. I keep offering that up, but when you offer something you have to let go a bit at the same time. That’s not the easy part. I just keep doing the best of my stuff and everything changes.
People, when difficult stuff arises, they try to find something else to latch on to, because there is a fear that this is going to be too much to handle. This one is going to kill me, right? I don’t want to deal with this.
They go out and get drunk or they get laid or just do something else to take their mind off of what’s going on. That’s a survival technique, and it might work temporarily, but the problem is that doesn’t really work. That’s why they say you should try to start doing some kind of spiritual practice and do it a little bit every day, no matter how you feel because you need to develop that strength. When the really difficult stuff comes it is not going to destroy you completely.
It comes to everybody; difficult stuff and death comes to everybody. There is no escape. The more we know that in our being the more precious life becomes. And the more we want to live in a good way the more we get out of life. We get more joy and more out of our relationships and more out everything. It is not a negative thing to think about that. It actually makes life more precious and more alive.
Maharaj has said something. He said people come already taught by God. It’s an interesting concept. Really, people just need to listen to themselves; the whole thing is to learn to trust yourself, learn to listen to your intuition. You just need to pay attention to yourself and not see yourself through other’s eyes all the time. See what you want, who you are, what works for you. That’s the whole path, to listen to yourself. You are not going to find God out there. You are only going to find it in here, and the only thing in the way is your nonsense. The whole thing is to learn to listen to yourself.
Anjula: This is interesting because I was going to ask you what about balancing the seen and the unseen world.
Krishna Das: I don’t see the unseen, so I don’t know about the balance.
Anjula: In a way you answered it because I think right now all the stuff that’s going on is really just stripping away our own stuff so what is the God-given birthright of who we really are can actually shine. Then we would know what we need to do, where we need to go, who we need to see, what we want to embody.
Krishna Das: Absolutely. For any religion that’s based on blind faith, the other side of blind faith is not looking inside. These religions believe that devil is inside, so meditation is evil. Actually, that’s a belief.
Anjula: Oh wow. I never heard that meditation is evil.
Krishna Das: Yes, because the devil will get you if you try to calm your mind. You got to praise the lord this way, sing to the lord this way, do this, do that, all outside. What can come from that? Not much. Maybe a little temporary calmness, maybe a sense of community, which gives you some sense of safety or something, but no real anything can come from that.
Anjula: I think the one universal thing you can maybe say that is to quieten the mind so we can hear our own truth maybe. Now what does you practice look like? What is your day look like where you are? What do you aim for in your day to live your practice?
Krishna Das: Well there are certain practices that I do every day and I know from knowing myself that if I don’t get them done early in the day it is going to be fucking pain to get them done because I go to sleep. I try to do my stuff as early as I can in the morning, which doesn’t mean early since I don’t wake up in the morning. I am up until 2 every morning, so I don’t wake up until 10 at the earliest if I have anything to say about it.
The thing is that my day and my life is not just about doing practices, and it is not about chanting only. All these things I do, really, to try to be in the room with my guru, to be in the presence of that love all the time. If I’m talking to somebody I am trying to pay attention to that person. I’m trying to see, to really be, in the situation not just like, yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. It’s all part of your practice. It’s not just one thing or another. That is not enough.
Anjula: Your practice is actually living it, which is that you live in being in that presence.
Krishna Das: Yes. Because we do these practices not for the sake of just sitting on our asses and getting hemorrhoids. We do these practices to be a good human being and become open and caring and strong, and that’s what they are supposed to do. That’s how they are supposed to manifest in the world.
Anjula: There are some practices I think that start to take over in people’s life like, “Wait I have to go and do my meditation.”
Krishna Das: On one hand, good. If somebody knows what they need, who is the judge? On the other hand, you might get the sense that this person is doing that out of fear and they keep backing off from things. But people do the best they can and hopefully the practice itself will give their hearts some strength so they can overcome their fear.
Mostly everybody just wants to go the easiest way and not really face the difficult stuff, but as Buddha pointed out, that won’t last because sooner or later you hit the suffering. You have to find a way to deal with that issue in life no matter where you go and what practice you do. You could put yourself in a trance that lasts a thousand years and come back and be the same asshole you were. You can. Yogis do that.
Just because you brought the mind to one point there is no guarantee that any of your karmas have been destroyed, or any of your tendencies, your vasnas, have been purified or anything in any way. But through the wrong teaching, the misunderstanding of teaching, people pick the easy way out.
There was a story about this Tibetan lama who went to Burma or Cambodia where the Theravadans are, down in that area. He was going to different monasteries and he got to this one monastery and the disciple said, “Oh, let us show you our guru.” So they walked out and there was this stupa, this cement pillar 10 feet wide and 20 feet tall and the lama said, “Our guru is in there. He went into Samadhi and after a couple of months he didn’t come out so we buried him. We closed him up.” And lama said, “Oh, that’s too bad!”
The disciples were shocked. What do you mean? What do you mean?
He learned how to meditate, but he didn’t learn how to live. We in the west are really very much babies at all this. There a lot of subtleties to this. If you are using these practices to avoid living and avoid your own step, you are not helping yourself. But everybody is doing the best they can. Let them do it and hopefully their own hearts will lead them into the right situation for them.
Anjula: I know you have quite a relationship with Hanuman. Could you speak a little bit about your relationship with that energy?
Krishna Das: Well my guru, Neem Karoli Baba, was considered to be an avatar or incarnation of Hanuman. Hanuman is considered to be the perfect servant of god, of Ram. Of course in the Ramayana that takes a particular shape, but it is also an internal story. It’s the story in the Ramayana where Ram’s wife is stolen by the daemon with 10 heads.
Krishna Das: Which represents the fives sense and their objects, and Ram is like the paramount and the supreme soul. Sita, his wife, is considered to be the Jivatma, a reflection of that soul within us, the so-called individual soul, and Hanuman is that flow of grace that connects the two of them.
Anjula: That lineage is very descriptive of the work that you do, really. For me personally, building awareness of these concepts and ideas and teachings and learnings and so on is that we go and can bring them into our being.
Krishna Das: Yes.
Anjula: What is your advice on living in this world? We need to be places. We need to get stuff done. You offer something to the world. You are getting grounded here.
Krishna Das: First of all, I don’t resist. If this is what has to happen, I go. I don’t want to be anywhere else, really. It’s not like I want to stay home, but I have to travel. I do what comes up in my life to do. Why is that? Because I take that as what my guru actually wants. He has created all this leela for my sake so I can free myself from all this stuff. So I surrender to that as best as I can and not fight it.
I bitch and moan every once in a while and mope around, but for the most part, I am getting better at just going ahead and doing it. The idea is try to be everywhere you are as completely as you can. I’m not talking to you wishing I was somewhere else. We are here. This is it. This is not a mistake. We are not supposed to be somewhere else doing something else. If we were, we would be.
In order to be here as present as we can we, in order to do that—if you need a philosophical overlay for it—you sit down and just take it as my guru’s offering to me. This is his prasad. This is this moment, and then the next moment and the next moment.
Anjula: It goes right back to what you were saying earlier. It’s just knowing inside who you really are and surrendering to that.
Krishna Das: Yes, exactly, because that’s where it all is.
Anjula: Now there is a duality that plays in this physical realm. It’s not just about I am present for everything I am doing. There is stuff going on that, as a humanity we do need to address in some way or another. It may look different for different people, but we are living in this world that does have dark stuff still going on in it.
Krishna Das: Well first of all, if you want to alleviate suffering in the world you can’t be angry because that anger is going to create more suffering. John Lenin used to say all the right things, but there was an underlying anger in him, emotional stuff that had never been processed and so he didn’t create peace. No one person created peace. You do the best you can with what’s given to you.
I have connections with people all around the world because I travel around. Last summer I sang in Kiev and my friends were great. The Ukraine was turning towards the West and then Russia just stepped on them. Who knows if they would have a country in a week? I just skyped with my friend last weekend. She wanted me to talk to the people, and what do you say to these people? They are really living in this place where they don’t know what’s going to happen. Terrible suffering. You just never know.
That’s why you have to take care of your business as best as you can every time—no matter what it is or where you are—and do some practice so that you are completely prepared when the bullshit comes, when the difficult stuff comes. Ram Das always says.”Love the soul not the ego.” If you get caught in the drama, your reactions are going to also cause suffering. You try to meet that wave and just go with it a little bit and not fight against it. If you fight against it, it consumes more energy and makes it worse. If you let it take you and rock you back and forth for a while eventually it slows down.
It is big world. There are a lot of people in it, and there is a lot of suffering out there. It affects everybody, even those of us who aren’t right now immediately affected by it. It is out there. That anxiety surrounds us. It follows us to sleep at night. It follows us all day long. Without finding some anchor in our own hearts, it is very little what we will be able to do to help people. But you do whatever you can, on the other hand.
Don’t sit around thinking about how bad you are and blah, blah, blah. Get out there and do whatever you feel moved to do, but also recognize that you are just one person. I was driving along in my car one day. I was delivering some CDs of mine to a radio station in New York. I was driving along and I thought, “Oh, maybe I should listen to some of this.” Everybody else does it in their car. I put my CD on, and I’m singing Hare Krishna Das, Hare Krishna Das when somebody cut me off and almost drove me off the road. I flipped out and I was going to kill this person. I pulled up beside and looked over and it was just a little old lady. She could barely see over the steering wheel. And I went, “Oh.”
First of all, she wasn’t aiming at me. That’s one thing about anger. We think, and it even might look like that, it might be directed at us, but it is really us? Or it is coming from their own view of us? Not only it wasn’t anger, but she didn’t even know what happened.
I just laughed and thought, “At least I’m still an asshole.” That’s right, and I drove on. That’s how hard it is. That’s why you have to do some practice regularly to get down into those knee jerk reactions.
It’s all nice to say, “I am not going to have anger.” Then somebody gets you and then you’re gone. Right? Practice is what gives us the strength to let go enough and not to have that first reaction once that button has been pushed. So you have to practice to take some of the wiring out of that button so it’s not such a charge every time.
Anjula: That’s a good way of putting it.
Krishna Das: The other side is that some people might get angry and then really get depressed about it: “Look at this. I fucked up again. I can’t believe I am still like this. This is so horrible!” And then spend a month or two doing that to themselves. You have got to let that go, too. “Yeah, the whole thing happened. I was stupid. I am not surprised.”
Anjula: It happens to all of us. I would like you to just talk a little bit about what forgiveness is and what not being in that loving space means for you. How is that?
Krishna Das: Well, say you are in an office and some guy is just scowling at you day after day and you think, what is it? What did I do to this guy? Then you find out he has got brain cancer. You realize you’ve been taking this personally for no reason. At that moment you have forgiven yourself; you have forgiven that person. There’s a certain cutting through that has to happen before you can really forgive, otherwise we just hide behind it.
You get like the Salvation Army. You go around saving everybody and forgiving everybody and really haven’t forgiven yourself. It’s through seeing things clearly that all those things disappear, all those emotions disappear, all those reactions disappear—but you can only see things clearly when you have calmed the mind a little bit. And each person can do that for ourselves. Nobody can do it for anybody else. If we don’t do it, it aint going to happen.
Anjula: One of the personal truths for me in calming my mind is to have chanting or kirtan on. You feel like you’re in a different space. There are different things for different people, but whether it is—whether it is doing yoga, meditation, whether it’s going and working out—if you know things that bring you to a more relaxed space in your mind, that’s a good place to start bringing more of those practices into your life. It’s not a cookie-cutter recipe.
Krishna Das: Definitely, yes.
Anjula: Thank you so much. Be happy. And this is Anjula Ram with Conscious Life News.