Calling Out to Hungry Hearts
King of kirtan Krishna Das speaks frankly about success, self-acceptance, and the power of just showing up.
BY: Interview by Amy Cunningham
If you've taken a yoga class in the last five years, you have no doubt heard the haunting, gripping, soulful chants of Krishna Das. A hip 55-year-old ex-rock-'n-roll musician from Long Island, N.Y., Krishna Das went to India thirty years ago and studied with revered yogiShri Neem Karoli Baba
(called Maharaj-ji ), thought by some to have been the embodiment of the Hindu monkey god Hanuman.
For Krishna Das (or Jeffrey Kagel, as he was known before Maharaj-ji renamed him), the experience of basking in the love and acceptance of his guru for two-and-a-half years was so powerfully transforming that everything since still seems tied to it. Today, he chants sacredkirtans
(songs in which the names of God are invoked) in concert halls, large yoga centers, and healing retreats. Fans find themselves transported by the mix of Sanskrit lyrics and Eastern instruments combined with rock chord progressions and Bruce Springsteen-like zeal. K.D.'s chant CDs-including his most recent and intimate "Door of Faith"-sell briskly not only among the folks you'd expect (like yoga pupils and teachers) but among world music fans, as well as older listeners on an inner journey.
But for Krishna Das, the road has not been easy from there to here. Two years after his return to the states, he received a call from Maharaj-ji to come back to the East, but chose not to go. A few months later, Maharaj-ji died suddenly, throwing his American pupil into a downward spiral of remorse, drug use, and self-loathing that only the kirtans he now sings seem to touch and heal. Once he fully realized that his teacher's words were living truths that he himself had the strength to responsibly impart, K.D. became whole--and as a not-so-coincidental byproduct-his career took off.
Evolved, at peace with himself, and successful today beyond his wildest dreams (he has been called "the Pavarotti of chant"), Krishna Das presents himself as a man who has studied furiously, fallen away, brushed himself off again, and tried to stand tall or, as he says, "show up."
Beliefnet.com Spirituality Producer Amy Cunningham recently spent three hours with Krishna Das in a Manhattan Indian restaurant.
We have a ten-month-old puppy at home and he responds very favorably to your music.
Aaaaaaaooooouuuu! (like a howling dog)
No, really! When we play it, he looks at us as though something very significant is happening. So what is it like now that people are thanking you for your music?
Well, I'm just reflecting the love that my guru has and all the presence that he is, and they are reflecting that right back to me, so it feels great. The fact that anybody comes [to hear me] at all is always a miracle as far as I can tell. Because I'm just focused on singing whatever I'm singing in that moment. I'm doing my spiritual practice.