The king of kirtan, Krishna Das is the biggest selling chant artist of all time and pals with people like Madonna and Sting. While in Dubai recently, he sat down with Awakenings to reveal how chanting transformed him from a “brutally unhappy” young man into the ‘Elvis of meditational mantra music’… and what chanting can do for you. Words by Tamara Pitelen.
To put it simply, chanting mantras is the ongoing repetition of divine names wrapped in a package of rhythm and melody, said Krishna Das to the large Dubai audience who turned out one Saturday night in April to hear him chant and play.
“Just like a sugar-coated pill, the medicine we need to heal is the names of these gods while the music and chanting is the sweet syrup that makes it palatable,” says Das, who is commonly known as KD.
“Through the repetition of divine names we gradually uncover what’s already in us, which is divine love – who we really are. These names are the names of the place within us that are who we really are when we’re not obsessed with external things.
“The repetition of these names is very powerful. Gradually something happens that we’re not prepared for – we get happy. This happens through the release of obsessive thinking. It’s a simple kind of happiness, it’s not the kind that depends on anything other people give to you; whether people are good to you or bad to you or if you’re getting the kind of thing you want in life.”
THE POWER OF CHANTING
According to KD, the fact that these words and sounds have been used as the names of deities is not why they are powerful – the power lies in the vibration and real meaning of the sounds. The names came before the deities themselves.
“Where do the chants come from? We don’t know. On one hand people might say ‘these are the names of the Hindu deities’ but what does that mean? It’s the same if you say, ‘they’re God’s names’. What does that mean?
“These words, these mantras and sounds, have a frequency, a vibration. They carry the transforming power of the real meaning of what they are. This real meaning is not intellectual or emotional; it’s experiential.”
For example, a mantra usually begins with Om or Aum – the primordial sound; the sound said to have its origins at the time of the creation of the cosmos – also referred to as the ‘Big Bang’.
But don’t take anything on blind faith, says KD. “Try the practice and see how you feel. It’s never going to be what you think it is because your thinking is limited by what you know with your senses and your mind.”
GROOVES AND GURUS
That mantra chanting has the power to transform your life is something KD has learnt first hand. As a young man he was, he says, “brutally unhappy.”
“I was very, very unhappy when I was young. I felt incomplete; I felt like I couldn’t get what I wanted, I didn’t have good relationships with women and I wasn’t enjoying life at all. A lot of it had to do with my parents and the way I grew up. They were good people but they were emotional disasters so I didn’t have tools to be with people or get what I wanted. I had a tremendous longing to be happy and I was looking for something. So I went to all these swamis who came to America but nobody ever really turned me on. Then I met a guy who changed everything. His name was Ram Dass. I walked into the room where he was sitting and without a word being spoken, I immediately knew that whatever it was I was looking for, it was real; it existed.”
After meeting Ram Dass in 1968, KD flew to India to study – turning down an invite to join a band called Blue Oyster Cult, which went on to be one of the most successful rock bands of the 70s. In India KD discovered chanting and that changed everything.
“I didn’t know what the words meant but I felt something. It doesn’t matter what the words mean. It doesn’t matter that the words are from India, or from Islam or that this is a Christian chant. What matters is what you’re feeling. Get in touch with the feelings within you because the more time you spend listening to that music inside of you, so to speak, the less time you’re moping around thinking, ‘I’m not having a good hair day…’ You learn to sit more deeply in yourself and you spend less time in negative states of mind.”
THE ART OF HAPPINESS
“The thing is, everybody wants the same thing. The biggest arsehole in the world wants the same thing – to be happy. Some people think they get happy by hurting other people but those actions come out of unhappiness, desperation, frustration and not knowing that there’s anything else to do.
“Money, careers, relationships… that’s all the stuff that we think is going to make us happy. But nothing is going to make us happy. Happiness is our true nature… real happiness is what we are underneath all that, all the time. To find that place is what we want to do.
“The problem is that in western culture, the whole idea of inner transformation is lost. You grow up, you work, you drink beer and you die. And nobody says there’s anything more to life.
“When people chant with me or hear the CDs, they feel something that they didn’t feel before. They think ‘wow’ and want it again. So they start looking and that’s called the spiritual path. It just means you recognise that nothing material in this world is ever going to be enough. Not even the affection of another human being is enough because we’ve all had affection at times but where are we now? It’s not enough. It’s good and we want it but there’s a limit. We want to find something that doesn’t have limits and it’s perfectly reasonable to want that because it exists and that’s what the chanting points us too. The feelings come from this limitless space of love that lives within each one of us. That’s who we really are. It’s so simple really. Simple but not so easy. You have to make some effort. We spend a lot of time chasing stuff. How many times have I been out to clubs looking for a girlfriend? If I’d spent all that time at home meditating, I’d be divine by now!”
Go to www.krishnadasmusic.com
HOW TO INTRODUCE CHANTING INTO YOUR LIFE
That which uplifts by constant repetition is a mantra. The sound vibration of a mantra permeates every cell of your being and is beyond the cognition of the mind. For example, what exactly happens when you chant Om? It shifts your energetic vibration. So you can chant to shift your energy and your state.
Ok, so how do you start?
1. The internet. YouTube is full of mantra chanting. Do a search on Krishna Das, perhaps start with his version of OM Namah Shivaya. Find a few musicians you like and buy or download the CDs. For some free or affordable mantra chants, try:
www.krishnadasmusic.com, www.ommantra.com, www.mantramp3download.com http://meditationmp3.net
2. Download an app: Like this Japa Android app for Chanting Mantras, go to http://tiny.cc/japaapp