Reflections on the Godfather of American Kirtan. ~ Melissa Codispoti
Words of gratitude for a spiritual teacher.
Many articles have been written about Krishna Das. I highly recommend Krishna Das’s book “Chants of a Lifetime — Searching for a Heart of Gold” for a personal account of his transformational path. This is my story of what I found in this man many refer to as the godfather of American kirtan (call and response chanting performed in India’s devotional traditions).
I became aware of Krishna Das (he prefers to be called KD) in 2008, when I picked up KD’s cd The Greatest Hits of The Kali Yuga. I was blown away by this deep soulful voice that reached into the depths of my heart. After watching the enclosed documentary, “One Life at a Time,” I knew two things: I couldn’t wait to get to a kirtan and I had to meet this Krishna Das.
I checked his website and he was touring. I purchased a ticket and started working on part two. I wanted to meet him. I emailed his assistant, Nina Rao, and requested a ten minute interview, for a yoga project. Not only did I get to meet KD, but he graciously answered question after question for over 45 minutes. One of KD’s many gifts is that he makes each person feel as if they have known him their entire lives. I left feeling like the Grinch on Christmas, whose small heart grew three sizes that day.
I wanted to experience kirtan on a deeper level so I attended a KD weekend retreat at Yogaville in VA. This was the first time I was ever in such an intimate embrace with my higher self that I actually could feel the oneness of all. During the Maha Mantra, I had a vision of Maharaj-ji. He was surrounding KD with this thick cloud of utter and complete unconditional love and I was perched in the palms of his hands. In that moment I knew that I could not look into that brightness for very long because the light is so bright that we can not sustain it here.
At that time, I knew very little of KD’s guru, Neem Karoli Baba. KD was, once again, gracious enough to sit with me and tell me a few stories. I was very interested to learn more and he was kind enough to send me several books on Neem Karoli Baba along with a copy of his book and CD Flow of Grace (which is still one of my favorites). I followed up Yogaville with an Open Your Heart in Paradise retreat in Hawaii. It was a transformational retreat with nightly KD kirtans and the most heart opening yoga with Saul David Raye that I had ever experienced.
I arrived back in the midwest with a mixture of sadness to be away from that energy and a renewal to cultivate that sense of oneness in myself. In the early months of 2010, I was complaining about how much I missed KD’s kirtan (yes, we yoginis occasionally give in to that temptation to complain). I must have been sending my frustration into the universe as I opened my email and discovered an email from Hay House Publishing announcing, “You are the Grand Prize Winner of a trip for two to see Krishna Das at the Hay House Publishing — I Can Do It Seminar in San Diego.” I assumed it was junk mail, but was quite intrigued that KD would appear in my email. So I took a peek into this email and, yes, I had actually won an all expense paid trip for two to San Diego.
All travel arrangements were made by Hay House, so all I had to do was pack and get on the plane. Coincidentally, as I was heading into the back door of the hotel, guess who was walking out? Yes, it was KD! He invited me to join him and his band members for lunch. I did not want to intrude, but they all assured me it was okay. He gave me a few more book recommendations and I felt so fortunate to have met such a magnificent group of people.
I would attend over 8 workshops with KD from 2008 — 2011. The last one was at Bhakti Fest in September of 2011. It was by far the most magical of all. At 8pm, as KD took the outdoor stage, the skies opened up in the desert and rain started pouring. We had to relocate to an indoor venue where at least 1,000 people were crammed together in a space that probably would hold 400 comfortably. Needless to say, personal space was at a premium and pretty much non-existent.
I was fortunate enough to have grabbed a seat right next to the stage where I not only had a perfect view, but most importantly there was a portable fan blowing right on me. It gets very hot in a room that full. With the first utterance of OM and throughout the entire two plus hour set, the grace that permeated the room was palpable. The energy was electric with so many people gathered for one devotional purpose — to open our hearts.
KD is one of the most authentic human beings I have ever met. His humility in the face of this new found kirtan fame is welcome, if not a bit surprising. He has a wickedly funny sense of humor and just when you feel that he is arriving straight off a cloud from heaven, he will do something so humanely male that it makes me laugh out loud. I will never forget watching KD as he was just about to take the stage in Hawaii and he, with his back to the crowd, grabbed his package to do the well known adjustment that we women look on in horror and wonder, “how long can this action possible take?”
Luckily, he is able to remind us that yes, he is just a male wandering the earth, allowing us the opportunity to become part of his devotional practice. KD is not a performer. I have never been in his presence where I felt he was performing for me or anyone else. KD strictly opens up space to allow us to participate in his devotional practice to his guru and through that space we are changed forever. Our hearts open up and we begin feeling and living from our hearts as if for the first time.
KD told me that we are all walking around creating our own personal movie – a movie of our version of reality that we project through a “dust covered” lens onto the world. The dust on the lens is our selfishness, shame, guilt, fear, anger and all the things that revolve around the world of me, myself, and I. We can never truly see people for who they really are until we begin removing this dust. The more clearly we see things, the less we demand that the world conform to what we need it to be, because that feeling of completeness is being found from within.
Three things make KD’s face light up like the sun — whenever he speaks of his guru, his daughter, or his grandson. At one of KD’s retreats, his daughter and grandson arrived for a visit. You could almost see this pure light going from his heart into hers. During lunch KD, smiling from ear to ear, with a diaper bag on his shoulder, walked in with a sense of purpose and devotion as he lovingly prepared a lunch plate for his daughter.
When I mentioned to KD that of all the voices I have heard in my life, his voice was the one that really went straight to my heart, he replied, “you’re hearing my guru, that’s what I hear and that’s why I do this, so I get to hear him sing. He (Maharaj-ji) knows that he and I are not different, but I don’t know that, so I say it comes from him because that’s the way it looks to me. It’s all in his blessing that I am here at all.” This is what makes KD so authentic. His devotion comes from a primal place and through that space he opens up, we are all included in this intimate embrace with grace — and it is utterly delightful.
Melissa Codispoti has been practicing yoga for over 13 years. The balance and mindfulness she discovered on the mat, led her to become a Registered Yoga Teacher (RYT) in 2009 and a Thai Yoga Massage bodywork practitioner in 2010. Her classes specialize in connecting the Mind, Body, and Spirit through a heart opening, musically enriched, dance flow yoga class that is accessible to everyone. Melissa believes that the yoga mat is a sacred place for self-reflection, healing, and joy. She likes to bring a sense of playfulness and childlike enthusiasm to her students and she is very enthusiastic about kirtan and travels frequently to participate in the practice.
Melissa feels deep gratitude for her amazing teachers that continue to be a source of inspiration and guidance: Mike Curtis, Saul David Raye, Krishna Das, Margot Milcetich, Dr. Chen, Tsoknyi Rinpoche, Mark Whitwell, and all of her yoga “peeps” =)