10 Questions Series: Krishna Das

February 2, 2014 by Chris Grosso

Krishna Das

 

NAME: Krishna Das

BIO: Layering traditional Hindu kirtan with instantly accessible melodies and modern instrumentation, Krishna Das has been called yoga’s “rock star.” With a remarkably soulful voice that touches the deepest chord in even the most casual listener, Krishna Das – known to friends, family, and fans as simply KD – has taken the call-and-response chanting out of yoga centers and into concert halls, becoming a worldwide icon and the best-selling chant artist of all time, with over 300,000 records sold. 

 

Q: Who and or what, do you attribute the person you are today to?

 

A: There’s no question about this, it would be my Guru Neem Karoli Baba. As my life goes on and I get a deeper understanding of who he is, I become more and more awed by him and how and what he has done for me and continues to do for me. It’s almost indescribable and actually, I think it is indescribable because the way a being like that works is completely off the radar. So as my vision clears, I begin to see his presence more and more deeply, and not just now, but before and forever. It is the experience of Him, on a daily basis, that continues to boggle my mind and melt my heart down.

 

Q: What are some of the musical albums or musicians/bands that have impacted your life and in what way?

 

A: One would actually be a record, because this is going back to the 60’s, and it’s called Music from the Connection. The Connection was an Off-Broadway Play about junkies waiting for their connections by The Living Theatre. My father had the record and it was live jazz on stage every night. I’m pretty sure they were junkies (laughing), but they were also really great jazz musicians. One of them was Jackie McLean who I later became very friendly with. When I had a record company, he was the first person I wanted to record. Jazz Pianist Freddie Redd was actually the first person I recorded with Jackie being the second some thirty years later. It was a very beautiful circle, which was very powerful for me.

The next would be Bob Dylan’s The Time’s They Are A-Changin’, that and every single one of his albums up to, and including, Blonde on Blonde. I could be wrong, as I am now almost the older generation, but I don’t think there’s ever been a situation like the one during those first years when Dylan really began to manifest. I don’t think it’s possible for anyone to understand who wasn’t there. We waited for Dylan’s record to come out to know what to think about things because the times were changing, and very quickly. The 50’s were dissolving into nothing and the 60’s were beginning to blossom, people were beginning to think differently. There was the civil rights unrest, social unrest, new electronics, mind-altering drugs and everything was changing. Dylan was riding the crest of that wave and was like the avatar of that change. Everyone I knew just waited for his records to come out because they’d show us where our minds could go and how it was possible to think in new ways about life. It was truly extraordinary.

 

Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club would be one, there’s no question about that.

 

There is also a recording by Ray Charles called, Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music. That album is just unbelievable. Here was this black, gospel and blues singer, and amazing piano player, visiting the kingdom of white southern country music from Nashville and Memphis. He took these songs, completely reinvented them and it’s extraordinary. It was really an example of the power of music changing my life.

 

There’s another very powerful record that moved me but I honestly don’t remember the exact name. I believe it was something to the effect of The Nuns of Ramakrishna Mission (maybe) Singing Prayers to the Goddess. I used to listen to that over and over again. I wasn’t even really sure what I was listening to at the time, though I later went on to become a priest of a Durga Temple, but that was one of my first connections to that lineage in this life. I never did hear it again after around 1968 or 69.

 

Q: What is one of the most shocking experiences you’ve ever had?

 

A: There was a time that I was in Benares during my first visit to India and I was on my way to Vrindavan, traveling by myself. I bought a ticket for the third class train because I had no money and that was the cheapest ticket I could get. So as I was walking towards the train I noticed an entire first class car a little further down the tracks that was completely empty and had no lights on. I went over to take a closer look and the door was open so I snuck in. I closed the door behind me and was in hog heaven. It was unbelievable. I was alone in a first class compartment that actually had foam on the seats and it was extraordinary. I sat there wondering what would happen and after a while, the train pulled out of the station. I thought, “This is incredible.” It was an overnight train and I was to wake up in Mathura so I fell asleep very happily. I woke up at some point during the night and didn’t know where I was. There was no movement or sound. It was completely dark and quiet. I was still in the train car but It wasn’t moving and I didn’t know what was going on so I got up and looked out the window but couldn’t really see anything. I got out of the car only to see it sitting on the tracks all alone. It had been detached from the main train and was sitting all by itself in this tiny little village station in the middle of nowhere. There was no one around. There were no lights anywhere, there was nothing. It was pitch-black and my mind just went, “what the fuck?” so I just stood there and it was cold. I only had a shawl, not even a blanket, and proceeded to sit on a little bench outside next to the tracks. I was all alone in the world and no one knew where I was. I had no way of contacting anyone. It was an extraordinary moment. It shocked me right out of my normal flow of consciousness. It was such an incredible moment. The stars were brilliant in the sky, there were no lights anywhere, and no one in the world knew where I was. I had the feeling I could just walk off into the night and disappear and no one would ever find me. It was such a beautiful and extraordinary moment. So I sat there until dawn when finally some light filled the sky. I saw someone walking in the field next to the station and people started slowly showing up and walking in various directions. There was only like fifteen or twenty people around but life was starting again after that temporary hiatus. A train pulled into the station, which I got on and moved back into my life. It was just amazing.

 

Q: What is one of the most beautiful experiences you’ve ever had?

 

A: I was in a temple in India on June 15th & 16th of 1995 and it was the celebration, or bandhara, of their opening. There were tens of thousands of people coming to take a meal (or Prasad) offering from the temple. I was in a very bad psychological state previous to this but during those two days, Maharaj-ji lifted me into a completely different state of consciousness. It was as if he had drawn the curtains completely open on the stage of life and I experienced a completely transcendent vision of the way things are. He showed me what one of his greatest devotees,  Siddhi Ma, called his “Big Form”, or His Universal Form, and that was an absolutely life changing moment. It changed everything for me after that. It was as if everything went from black and white to color. It was if life was no longer happening to me, but was now happening within me. As long as I was in the experience, which lasted over nine months, I was able to see the real state of the Self and the Universe. It gave my heart a true vision of what life is all about, and what our place in the Universe is. It showed me the canvas on which life is painted. It awakened a real faith in me, about what is.

 

Q: What is one of the most defining moments in your life and why?

 

A: Meeting Ram Dass. Before I met him, I didn’t know any of this was real. I had only read books and met a couple of Swamis here and there but they didn’t affect me very deeply. When I first met Ram Dass, I walked into a room where he was sitting and all of the sudden I knew that whatever it was I was looking for, and at that point, I didn’t know what to call it, but whatever it was, it was real. It existed in the world, and it could in fact, be found, and that was a very big thing. It was a very big moment of my life.

 

Q: What do you believe are the benefit, if any, vs. the dangers of mind-altering drugs?

 

A: I don’t think drugs like cocaine or heroin have any value at all. I’m not sure about marijuana and hashish but they are very low level and still in the sensory realm. However, LSD, peyote, and mescaline, I believe those substances can actually give you a glimpse of the way life is. Maharaj-ji said, “The yogi medicine” which he called LSD, “can bring you in the room with Christ, but you can’t stay. If you want to stay, only love will work.” He did say it was good for beginners though because it could give them a glimpse of what this is all about. I think many of those who took it did get a glimpse and certainly, many did not, or they had a very bad reaction to the glimpse because they held on to tightly or didn’t have the karmas to open into it. I think it’s all karmically determined. That’s not to say that everybody in the west needed these chemicals, because I don’t think that’s true either. For many of us who took it though, it was a very powerful way of unraveling our defense mechanisms and allowing us to experience something directly.

 

Q: What are some films you’ll never forget seeing for the first time and why?

 

A: There is a movie called Pather Panchali by an Indian filmmaker named Satyajit Ray. I saw that film in college at Stony Brook when my state of mind was very un-peaceful. It’s a very beautiful and touching movie. It takes place in a Bengali village and it was like déjà vu when I watched it. Everything was familiar to me, everything. How the people spoke, how they moved, their gestures, the village life, and I was in shock. I felt like I knew exactly what this was. There’s a scene in the movie where the woman’s daughter dies and she lifts her head up to the sky to wail, to cry out, but when she opens her mouth, instead of words you hear a note on the sitar (which I later found out was played by Ravi Shankar.) When that music started, my heart broke open and I knew I had to go to India. I knew I was going there and there was no doubt about it, I had to go. It was a very powerful moment. I love films, there’s so many powerful ones I’ve seen but I’ll leave it with that one.

 

Q: Does God exist and if so, in what capacity? If not, why not?

 

A: You’ll just have to ask Him or Her. That’s not a throw away answer either. I completely stand by the statement (laughing).

 

Q: What do you think your greatest contribution to humanity is?

 

A: Simply it’s chanting, that’s what I do. It’s my service. I’m serving my Guru by chanting but we’re all one as he always said so I’m serving Him, I’m serving myself and I’m serving others all at the same time. I think that’s the way it always has to be for us as human beings. Not for the Saints because they don’t have a personal story line any more.  They don’t have a closet full of stuff. But we normal, average human beings, when we serve, we’re also helping ourselves, we’re creating very positive karmas for ourselves. Of course, that’s not why you do it. You do it because that’s the nature of who you are, to serve and do whatever you can to release suffering in both yourself, and others, and that’s what I try to do through chanting.

 

Q: What does the human experience mean to you?

 

A: I think the entire spiritual path is really about becoming a complete human being. Spiritual practice gives us the strength to become a good human being and by good, I mean someone who doesn’t create negative karmas for himself or others. Someone who doesn’t create suffering for others, or for him or herself. That’s what the human experience is, if in fact anything is actually happening at all. It depends on where you’re looking at it from. I don’t believe in intellectual up-leveling, I believe in dealing with things as you experience them. For instance, people often ask me things like, “Is it really all faith, or karma, or do people have choices to make?” and I say, “If you think you have a choice, make it.” If that’s the level of reality you’re living at, and it’s certainly the level I’m living at, I make decisions all the time.  If you think there’s a decision to make, make it and make it the best decision you can. So the human experience is about becoming a good human being and I think that everybody in their hearts knows what that means.

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Chris Grosso is a public speaker, writer, recovering addict, spiritual director, and author of Indie Spiritualist: A No Bullshit Exploration of Spirituality (Beyond Words/Simon & Schuster) and Everything Mind: What I've Learned About Hard Knocks, Spiritual Awakening and the Mind-Blowing Truth of it All (Sounds True). He writes for ORIGIN Magazine, Huffington Post, and Mantra Yoga + Health Magazine, and has spoken and performed at Wanderlust Festival, Yoga Journal Conference, Sedona World Wisdom Days, Kripalu, Celebrate Your Life and more. Chris is passionate about his work with people who are in the process of healing or struggling with addictions of all kinds. He speaks and leads groups in detoxes, yoga studios, rehabs, youth centers, 12-step meetings, hospitals, conferences, and festivals worldwide. He is a member of the advisory board for Drugs over Dinner.
  1. Nicole Ensor says:

    Very insightful questions. I enjoyed reading this.