"I`m a wild yogi" - Interview with Krishna Das
Ilya: My first question is about Bhakti yoga. You are singing bhajans, which are the part of Bhakti yoga in Indian tradition, so could you describe what is Bhakti for you personally? There is a lot of information available, describing Bhakti as love to God, but it is more interesting to learn your own experience as of a Western man, with a deep interest in Indian tradition.
Krishna Das: I don’t like labels of any kind, I`m a wild yogi. I don`t like being told if I do this practice then I`ll get the mercy of God, if I do this practice then I`ll get blessings, if I do this - I`ll remove all obstacles. I don’t like that stuff. In my opinion there isn`t Bhakti yoga, Dhyana yoga, Raja yoga - all that kinds of yoga it`s just a bunch of bullshit. There is your life and there is you trying to find what the fuck this is about. Where do we come from, where are we going, what do we want? What is this? How do you find what you want in life? Everybody wants love, everybody wants to connect to some people, to connect with particular kind of feeling that they want. People call it differently, but there is one thing they all are looking for, whatever it is, that is God. But I don`t know what that word "god" means, that means nothing to me. I don`t know what "God" is.
I have a great guru, that guru showed me what love is, that guru showed me that love is everywhere and everything is all the same, that everybody is a part of that, that there is only One in the whole universe. He never told me to do one thing or another, he told me to serve people, to feel people. He never told me to watch my breath or stand on my head, he never told us about those things, he never said anything like that. He told us to see all beings as divine, as included in that love, that there is nothing that should be left outside of that love. So, how are you going to do that when you are a cranky fart like me, when you are angry, full of shame, guilt and selfishness? How are you even going to see yourself as a part of that love? So what I do is I try to remember and re-enter that loving presence that my guru is for me. That`s what I try to do. Every time I sit down to sing- that`s what I`m doing. All day long I`m trying to remember that, trying to stay in that place and to watch my reactions and notice when I close off and get angry and then try to let it go, which is the same as if I sit down singing. When you sit down to chant and you start chanting, and then you notice that you are thinking about something, so you come back to chanting, all day long. It`s the same thing. I may not be necessarily chanting a mantra all day long, but I`m always aware as if I`m day dreaming or angry, or scared or whatever. And then you just try to let go of that and come back home.
Is that Bhakti yoga? Is that Dhyana yoga? I have no fucking idea, and I don`t care. People talk all that bullshit, everybody wants to be something - I`m a yogi, I`m a meditator. I`m not interested in the labels. When I sing "Shri Ram, Jai Ram, Jai Ram" do I know what Ram is? No, I haven`t a clue what Ram is, but I know what love is. And something tells me that if I keep moving in this direction I will have less and less questions.
Ilya: But still you sing "Jai Ram" or "Om Namah Shivaya" and not say "Coca Cola". So anyway you follow some Indian tradition.
Krishna Das: I know what Coca Cola is - it`s water with sugar and some flavors. I can see how it`s put together, but I can`t see how Ram is put together. That`s the point - these names are the names of something that`s beyond your ability to understand intellectually. So, through the repetition of these names it pulls you into that place beyond thought, beyond emotions, deeper than analyzing, deeper than an intellect. There is nobody to ask that question in that space, so it`s the difference. Surely I could say Frank or Tom or Henry, but I know Frank or Tom or Henry they were made by two people fucking and giving birth, that`s easy. But how was Ram made, where did Ram come from? I don`t know, because they say that even Shri Ramachandra, the King Ram is not the real Ram but could be just a poetry. My Ram is not that king, my Ram is not a temple, this is the real Ram, that`s what we are looking for and I don`t know what that is. But I have a sense of direction that I got from being with my guru and I may not know where I`m going, but I know when I`m going in the wrong direction. Like when I`m pissed off when somebody cuts me in a highway - that`s the wrong direction, so I let go and come back, because when you can let go it can`t be the real thing. If you can see it as an object it`s not you. If you know anything about Dzogchen (Buddhist meditation) it`s being aware of awareness. There is no subject-object, there is no one seeing, there is only process of seeing. This is same thing, it`s not different.
Ilya: In Tibetan tradition Dzogchen is the highest state of mind and they do a lot of preparation practice before.
Krishna Das: They do, traditionally they do a lot of preparation but in the last 50 years it`s changed tremendously. The previous Karmapa instructed people, instructed Dzogchen masters to reveal the nature of mind to people, to show people the nature of their mind without any preparation.
Ilya: This is very interesting and leads to my second question. You told that you always have a high experience in the presence of your guru and there is the same thing in Dzogchen. In order to show the real nature of the mind there has to be a personal connection between Lama and disciple. Previously it was always an individual transmission, whereas nowadays it more reminds a workshop or some kind of a show. When I listen to you singing, I feel something beyond the music. But when I listen to some young Western performers singing kirtan who have no such guru as you have, have no personal connection and experience with an Indian spirituality - it feels like it`s just a mere ethnic music for them. I don`t feel anything beyond that.
Krishna Das: I agree. But on the other hand gurus say that every repetition of the name plants a seed. There is no downside to it, if you know what I mean. But not everybody plants that seed as deeply in the soil, not everyone takes care of it the same way and waters it, so it doesn`t grow as quickly and as beautifully, but still it`s the seed. But let me say then - when I sing what you feel is my guru. This is the grace of my guru and people feel it, because that`s what he is - he is beyond. He is constantly present, he hasn`t gone anywhere and when I sing he comes out of my mouth. It`s not due to anything, I`m not a pure being, I`m not beyond my emotions, I haven`t transcended anything, but I love him and he has allowed me to serve him this way. That`s all, but it is true, sometimes it`s hard, you know. I think: I`m just a smug, I like to watch TV and get laid, and here I am and he is coming through me. What have I done? Nothing. But it`s his choice to come through me, so I have to honor that. But that doesn`t mean that when people sing and you don`t feel anything that there is no value in it. When people are singing they can`t be killing people, raping, stealing, robbing banks... they are singing, so it stops people from a lot of negative karma. And yes it is entertainment for the most part, but it`s just the way life is. And some people enjoy that, that`s ok, let them enjoy, why not? Who are we to judge.
Ilya: Perhaps later such people will discover deeper interest. Just as you say, singing is a seed which will grow.
Krishna Das: I don`t know, may be. It`s up to grace. If grace comes to them then they will feel something. But everybody is doing the best they can. They may not be very good in our eyes or somebody else`s eyes, but in their own eyes everybody is trying to do the best they can to get what they want. Problem is people are hungry and they don`t know how to feed themselves, and so they think they can say "Ram, Ram" and everything is going to be fed. It`s not that easy. It`s much more subtle and it takes a lot of living to learn. So, you wish everybody well with no expectations and that`s it.
Ilya: Do you remember your first visit to India? And do you remember how you met your guru?
Krishna Das: Yea. Sure. Actually, I met my guru before I went to India. Do you know who Ram Das is? Ram Das had been in India and he came back to America and then I met him. Somebody told me about him, so I went to see him. When I walked into the room where Ram Das was sitting something happened to me. And in that moment without a word being spoken I knew that whatever it was, that was what I had been looking for. It was real. It existed. It was in the world and you could find it. This was really a big thing, cause you gotta wind clock back 40 years - there wasn`t a lot happening, there wasn`t a yoga studio on every corner, there was nothing going on. There were few books: "Autobiography of a yogi", "Gospel of Ramakrishna", "Zen and Japanese culture" by D.T. Suzuki, a book called "Yoga and Health". I mean there were just a few things around. So, who knows if it`s real or just science fiction, when I walked into that room with Ram Das, I knew that it was real. Later I realized that what I felt at that moment was Maharaja`s presence and he`s never left me. I may have left him a few times but he has never left me. So, when I went to India and actually met him it was strange, because now there was this body attached to this feeling that I had all these years, it was amazing.
Ilya: Did he speak English?
Krishna Das: No, he spoke Hindi, but there was always somebody who spoke English and he didn`t need to be translated. Sometimes he waited for the translation sometimes he didn`t. You know this is your home, there is no distrust, there is no protecting, measuring or testing, there is no holding back. You want to give all of yourself but don`t know how. It was torture sometimes to sit with that love and not being able to, because you just didn`t know how. You are still too attached to your stuff and yet you were in it, it`s like jumping in a pool of water with all your clothes on. You are all constricted, you are trying to rip them off, but you don`t know how to open your clothes to get them off. And he was just smiling and laughing, he knew exactly what you were feeling, he knew how to call you more and more deeper into it without doing anything. You had the feeling everything happened but there was nobody doing it. People arrived, people left. Everything happened but there was nobody doing it, because he was nobody, he was completely merged in life, in God, in that, whatever that is. There was nobody doing anything anywhere and that`s really unique, that`s hard to find. He just threw his body away, you know. He didn`t say: ‘I`m going to die in a week and I leave this person in charge’ - he just fell over in a train station. And they took him to a hospital where he had been in a coma and he comes out of a coma and he sees needles in his arms, IV`s, all useless shit. Then he was gone.
He didn`t tell me to chant to people, I had to find for myself that this was the thing that was going to save my ass, this was the thing that was going to straight me out, reconnect me, this was my only life line. If I didn`t chant I was fucked and I would stay that, I had to chant. But he didn`t tell me that he made me find it, because if he had told me it would be different. I do this because this is what I do, this is who I am. This is it. I could do this, may be I could work in a gas station, so this is it. And I do this because I want to, because I need to, not because I`m trying to help anybody. I appreciate that it helps a lot of people, but I can`t be doing that for that reason, I'm doing this to keep my neck above the water. And as long as my neck is above the water then people can get help, if I go down then there is nobody to help. And that`s why I give a 100% to it, because I have to do this. I`m not doing this because somebody told me to or because I read it in a book that it's good for you. If you are hungry you have to eat, nobody needs to tell you that. But still even behind the scenes he is near. I would have been dead three or four times in this life, if not for this. I`m not exaggerating, I`m not joking, but he saved me. I don`t know why but he did.
Ilya: After your guru had passed away you didn`t visit India for a long period of time.
Krishna Das: That`s right. I was grieving. I was lost and my heart was broken. I thought that I could never find that love again. And fuck it - I wasn`t doing anything. I did a lot of drugs, I came to a lot of trouble, I did everything that I could to destroy myself and I failed. So, I`m not even good at that. It took about 20 years before I started singing.
Ilya: I`ve read that you started your first kirtans at Jivamukti yoga centre in New York?
Krishna Das: Yeh, that`s right I used to go down there and there were 5-10 people.
Ilya: Was it a strange thing to do at that time?
Krishna Das: Yes, it was unusual, but still people enjoyed it. There were just a few people, but more and more people started to come. Whenever I was in New York on Monday night I would go down there and sing for free. I was just happy to be singing.
Ilya: I`ve read in Jivamukti`s book that all people warned them not to use Indian philosophy in their teachings, as it could be damaging from the marketing point of view. That they should rather concentrate on the physical aspects. However, they didn`t listen.
Krishna Das: Yes, David and Sharon are great people. They are not going to lie about where this all came from and what it means to them. They are very courageous that way. Hatha yoga is not a physical practice, it`s not about physical - it`s about the subtle body, the nerve channels, the nadis, purification of the nadis, and it just happens that it helps you physically to become stronger and healthier, but it isn`t about that. People teach it like fitness - fine, trying to make money, but then we are very physical beings - we eat, we breath, we fuck and hatha yoga releases a lot of stuff in the body and brings the body some peace. Because if body feels peaceful, in mind may be we are not so peaceful, but we feel it and that`s a big thing. And once you feel it and you know what it is, then you want it more. And you naturally look to make that deeper, because you see it helps you to feel that peace. But the practice itself can`t take you very deep. You can do the same thing but different people can have different experiences, so people, who a ripe, might want to get it deeper, for people, who are not that ripe, it might take some time.
Ilya: It`s easier for the Western people to take up some practice or system of exercises, than to find an enlightened being and even in India this would be a challenge.
Krishna Das: Especially in India! And not even in India. The real gurus, the real saints - they don`t show themselves so much. Maharaji was known by millions of people, but no one ever wrote a word about him in papers, nobody wrote books about him. Ram Das was the first, because Maharaji gave him a blessing. Maharaji says: "blessings for your book". Ram Das says: "what kind of book?" He didn`t have a book in his mind. That happened because Maharaji wanted it to happen at that time, but before he refused to let people write about him. And he had freedom of movement he could go anywhere he wanted.
Ilya: Like wandering sadhu.
Krishna Das: You see, in reality health and happiness is in our nature. Yoga is not like changing something in your life yoga is to bring back. We are not doing something new, we are merely bringing back. We are in a wrong part and yoga puts us in a right part and even better to say in a real part. Because of the hectic world the modern society is running after pleasures and after hitting and hitting ourselves we still don’t get it. That why mother-nature punishes us in so many ways - diseases, unsatisfactory, problems. The thing is, that happiness which received with material, impermanent things - is not permanent, only permanent things can bring permanent happiness. Changeable things cannot bring unchangeable pleasure. Nothing is permanent in this world and even knowing that we still keep looking for pleasure in changing world. With this basic knowledge we should try and live content with the life that we have. Of course, it doesn`t mean that we should stop working, it is our duty to work, but we are going to get is not in our hands.
Ilya: So in your opinion he didn`t belong to a particular school or sampradaya?
Krishna Das: I understood that he was initiated into a Ram devotion in Ayodhya or something like that. I don`t know too much about it. And then he also had the earrings, so he could have been a Nath Baba, but he never talked about it.
Krishna Das website www.krishnadas.com