For Easter weekend, I took a “Chant-cation.” Destination: New Orleans. I stayed clear of Bourbon Street and the Bourbon. My Rx is based on healthy living, topped off with spiritual sprinklings. The main draw in NOLA was Good Friday kirtan. A community chant with Prema Hara at the Wild Lotus Yoga studio in the colorful Healing Arts Center building downtown.
Kamaniya, the female half of the duo, took a break from playing the harmonium to read an anecdote about Mother Teresa. The passage, from “The Journey Home,” was about a young Jewish boy’s encounter with the saintly frail woman. A college student, Richard was in India, seeking his own path to enlightenment. He had to wait for darshan with Mother Teresa until she was done scrubbing pots. When all the kitchen items were cleaned, she shared some wisdom with the American spiritual searcher. It was easy to serve a bowl of soup or rice to the poor, she said. The difficult part of the equation is to feed someone’s heart. “The greatest problem in this world is hunger. Not hunger of the stomach, but hunger of the heart. Poverty is a lack of respect for one another.”
She said, “When the impoverished people of Calcutta die in my arms, I see in their eyes a light of hope. I do not see this light in the eyes of many of wealthy powerful people of the West. Real wealth is in the hearts of those with faith in the love of God. The world is in desperate need of those who will give the poor-hearted this hope.”
Kamaniya and her husband, Keshavacharya, spend their lives trying to feed that hunger. They are full-time kirtan gypsies. Basically, their home is their camper. They travel around the country leading kirtan, an expression of love and devotion. They say that Bhakti is a way to send and receive your love, to the divine. All you need to chant is your breath.
That’s why my Rx was a Chant-cation. I felt I needed to nurture my heart. With kirtan. A form of devotion using chant. Just like anything else, you need to constantly recharge yourself. One dose isn’t enough.
“This medicine cures everything. It’s a real shortcut,” Keshavacharya said about bhakti. “It’s free. BUT…medicine needs to be taken regularly. Sound vibrations are the most powerful thing. It’s like acupuncture on the earth.”
Despite their dedication to bhakti and kirtan, Keshavacharya acknowledges you don’t just “been there, done that.” He’s still practicing, he told the crowd of bhakti enthusiasts in New Orleans.
The vibrations radiate out. When I was in Turkey, the sounds of the call to prayer were extremely soothing. Meditating in the mosques, under the domes and minarets, had a special effect. Keshavacharya explained that the vibes from chant can affect plants, and ultimately the universe.
“Everybody gets shaken. With TV and news…our mind goes crazy. And the chanting is the easiest way (to counteract those negative effects.)”
Keshavacharya explained why we need to chill and chant. He, himself, turned his life around when he began to chant. Born and raised in Switzerland, he tended to chill out by smoking marijuana. He turned his girlfriend on to grass, and evidently turned her off when he went straight. He found a much healthier alternative to drinking and smoking. His voice. He became a monk, chanting for hours every day. Then, he moved to New York City and began leading kirtan sessions, where he met Kamaniya who was leading kirtan at popular yoga studios in New York, like Jivamukti and Integral Yoga.
While both have beautiful voices, Keshavacharya is quick to point out that kirtan is for everyone. Many of us are self-conscious about singing, and our voices. When you chant, it doesn’t matter if you can carry a tune, or follow the beat. It’s all about what comes out from the heart.
“Kirtan is not about the instruments. It’s not about the voice. Or the melody. The goal is to just be with the mantra. It’s not easy.” If you’re a multi-tasker, it’s hard to let your mind relax as you chant. When he started he realized he didn’t want to be a slave to his multi-tasking mind. He felt as if he was always running behind his mind. “With practice, it takes years to convince your mind. Your mind becomes your servant.”
Most of us need a chill pill. Hence, my series of workshops: 1) Chill Out and 2) Chant and Be Happy, the latter of which begins in time to celebrate the 45th anniversary of George Harrison’s release, Chant and Be Happy.
For more on Prema Hara visit www.PremaHara.com
For more on Kirtan, click on the Kirtan button at www.TheNamasteCounsel.com/yoga-blog
For more on The Journey Home and its author, Radhanath Swami, plug in his name in the search engine of my blog page.
Reserve your spot in Chill Out and/or Chant and Be Happy.