We descended through the deserted small towns of the Catskill Mountains, the six of us in Zenzalai's car, wending our way back to Manhattan, chanting in the call-and-response of siddha yoga. I was behind the wheel, because Zenzalai, the brilliant jazz singer I'd met during my week at the ashram, had broken her foot. The second day, Zenzalai had been rushing forward to receive shaktipa--literally "descent of grace," in which the guru transmits spiritual energy to the seeker--off the tip of a peacock feather.


Om Namah Shivaya
Robert Gass
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Om Namo Bhagavate Muktananadaya
Gurumayi Chidvilasananda
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Pilgrim Heart
Krishna Das
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From the Circle of Saints
Sri Laxmi Naranyan Tiwari
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Chants of India
Ravi Shankar
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"Om Namah Shivaya," we chanted: Om, the primordial sound of the universe; Namah, to honor or bow to; and Shivaya, Divine consciousness: "The Divine in me honors the Divine in you."

We stopped for gas. As I squeegeed our windows, a car pulled up beside us, packed with identifiably Jewish men: black suits, white shirts, keepahs, and varying degrees of facial hair. I imagined how the Hindu ragas emanating from our vehicle must have sounded to them, my ancestral brothers, and how I must have looked to them: Jewish enough, with wild hair from my weekend of chanting, meditation, and Siddha coffee, cleaning the windows of a car full of happy chanters.

I wondered what they would have said if I told them the truth: that one of the things I dig about siddha yoga's practices of chanting, meditation, and selfless service is the degree to which it enhances my Jewishness. There's an apt geographic coincidence: Shree Muktananda Ashram is situated in what used to be a series of grand hotels from the golden era of the Borscht Belt, for decades the domain of summering New York Jews. The sprawling campus is frequented today by yuppie seekers, chanting themselves into states of bliss, wrapped in stylish woolen shawls beneath the huge crystal chandeliers, but the place is still infused with the energy of lox-eating comedians, Saturday-night mambo contests, and shuffleboard.

The spiritual paths of Judaism and siddha yoga are also strikingly similar: a mystical journey toward God along which one's limitations are removed through age-old rituals. Realizing my connection with the Divine is compelling, but to be perfectly honest, I came for the music.

Siddha chants are based on the Indian and Pakistani raga (Sanskrit, "color" or "passion"), a melodic system consisting of five to seven notes meant to evoke different moods or atmospheres (rasas, Sanskrit for "essence," "taste," literally "sap" or "juice"), which are unique to different times of the day or night.Devised by the Hindu sage-priest Bharata, who lived in India around 500 C.E., and refined by the philosopher Abhinavagupta, who followed Bharata five centuries later, rasa behaves like a prism, transforming the basic menu of human emotions (delight, laughter, sorrow, anger, energy, fear, disgust, heroism, and astonishment) into higher, contemplative aesthetic states (erotic, comic, pathetic, furious, heroic, terrible, odious, marvelous, and quietistic).