June 3, 2011

Walk the Talk Show with Waylon Lewis: Krishna Das, on The Meaning of Kirtan & True Service as Path.

“Should be capital R!” Used with personal permission, not published elsewhere.

Krishna Das… “has been called the Chant Master of American Yoga by The New York Times, the Pavarotti of Kirtan by Yoga Journal and is notable for making yoga and chant music more accessible to Western listeners. His music layers traditional kirtan—chanting of the divine names—over popular arrangements and songs.”

Most importantly, he’s the real deal: a fun, yet serious man with a voice that could move mountains to dance. Waylon Lewis, editor-in-chief of elephantjournal.com (proud to be a media partner in KD’s Denver appearance), talked this morning:

Waylon Lewis:
First question. It’s been maybe five years since I saw you, and had the honor of talking about spiritual materialism, Trungpa Rinpoche, the meaning of kirtan, and what (if anything) it did for those who don’t know or understand kirtan. Five years later, having had the pleasure of joining various communities in kirtan, I have pretty much the same question.

What is kirtan? Is it in itself a meditation or spiritual practice, even for a newbie who may not understand what’s going on?

Krishna Das:
It is a meditation for sure. When you are really singing, you are not thinking and without small self-fixation you are simply being. All without medals or pats on the back. That is part of the power of chanting…so many times when we sit to meditate, we have the program running “I am mediating”…”I am doing something.”

Chanting bypasses this by allowing us to feel some joy in the moment. No intellectual understanding is required.

My Guru, Neem Karoli Baba, saw the Path as a ripening process…chanting puts us in the sun so we ripen more quickly.

Waylon Lewis
Is that why you connect so well with the yoga communites, and Buddhist and meditation communites? Because kirtan is service, and devotion to…what, the present moment? I see you’re working a lot with Sharon Salzberg, and John Friend, both of whom I recently had the honor to interview again for our Walk the Talk Show.

Krishna Das:
Really I think the credit goes to my guru, who was open with all different traditions. So I am just carrying on that way. Also I get tremendous joy from meeting Great Beings from all traditions…it is such great blessings. I’m going to Kalachakra with His Holiness the Dalai Lama in July in DC.

Waylon Lewis:
Wow. That’s wonderful you’ll be there.

And a wonderful sentiment. One thing I love about you and your service, KD, is that your service is so joyful, so heartfelt…but that because it’s through music it connects with just about everyone. I see your tour includes stops where you’re playing with Edward Sharpe (who we also just interviewed), and other wonderful bands. Do you see it as part of your service to communicate the message of love and peace and compassion beyond our choir—beyond the spiritual community generally, to mainstream America?

Krishna Das:
I am not a man with a mission. I am a drowning man and chanting is my rope…I guess there might be a lot of people holding on to the same rope.

Waylon Lewis:
That’s a relief to hear—a great reminder—that we serve best when it’s agenda-less?

Krishna Das:
My Guru used to say”All One” all the time…best to see it that way

Waylon Lewis:
I’m curious about the name of your bus tour: Samsara by Bus Tour. Love that. Samsara, in the Buddhist tradition, refers to suffering, confusion, the endless cycle of ignorance, aggression, attachment…is that the “Samsara” you’re referring to?

Krishna Das:
Samsara is this world that we appear to live in.. The tour name harkens back to “Babylon By Bus Tour” of Bob Marley…another saint.

Waylon Lewis:
So…in inviting friends who may be wary of yoga or kirtan or meditation or all that “hippie” stuff, is there…is there anything newbies can study or learn from by way of intro to how to enjoy and participate in kirtan for the first time? Whether they’re seeing you at Wanderlust or the Paramount or wherever else (I see you travel a ton)?

Krishna Das:
Just getting there is the main thing…I find that most people will loosen up over the course of the evening. There is really a transmission of my Guru’s love and presence…most people feel something.

Also it is not religious…I’m not sure what to call it really. It is meditative and non-intellectual and more about doing a practice and seeing how one feels at the end of it. One review of one of my CDs said “I really liked that music, but it was very repetitive.” I think you could say that guy didn’t get it.

Waylon Lewis:
Right: he saw it as melody or performance, not practice.

Krishna Das:
Music is the sweet syrup that the medicine of the name is hidden within.

Waylon Lewis:
Love that.

Krishna Das:
And, yes, I am on the road most of the year. Don’t know how much longer I can keep up at this level…but it’s what I do. Kinda a one trick pony.

Waylon Lewis:
Well I thank you for your service and hope you can stay on the road or perform from a great home base where we can join you. I’ll see you in Denver, you got me!

Final question: for whatever reason it’s been on my mind a lot, this year…perhaps all the natural catastrophies, related or not to climate change, but in any case causing such dramatic and horrific suffering. In a world full of subtle and not-so-subtle aggression, selfishness, tragedy, and just day-to-day emotional upheaval and confusion…what can each of us do to wake up, again and again, to what Trungpa Rinpoche called “ordinary magic”—to remember to celebrate this world and precious human birth?

Krishna Das:
Each one of us can try to be the best human being that we can..it will mean something different to each of us… some people will do medical rescue work, some will meditate… we each have our unique bleeings to follow and transmit.

Waylon Lewis:
So that’s it. elephant is now at nearly 600,000 unique readers a month according to Google Analytics, we’ve won some significant social media awards and passionate followings…it was a tough decision to take the magazine online, but now that we’ve survived our talk show is starting back up, and we’ll work and play hard every day to hopefully be of some benefit and, as you say, our practice is our rope and path. Anything I and elephant and Walk the Talk Show can ever do to support your work, it’s our honor.

Krishna Das.
Much Love to you.

Waylon Lewis:
Love to you, boss! Great to reconnect.


Joining KD in Denver? See you there.

Monday, June 20 · 7:30pm – 9:30pm

The Paramount Theater

1621 Glenarm Place
Denver, CO
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