Krishna DasIf 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 yogi Shri 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 sacred kirtans (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." 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.

Do people ever tell you that your music heals?
I get a lot email from people who thank me for the CDs who've just gone through chemotherapy, surgeries. So believe me, I don't take this lightly. But I don't do it for other people. There are no other people. It's just us. We are one. If I was just performing, that presence, that grace wouldn't be in the voice for people to feel. It would be something else. Who you are is what you transmit. No matter what you're doing. So you might as well get that right.

What does chanting literally do?
listenListen to Krishna Das
  • Puja
  • Mere Gurudev
  • Sri Hanuman Chaleesa
  • The way I look at it is that these chants come from a place of being inside of us that's deeper than where we spend most of our time. So when we turn our attention to them, it brings us deeper into ourselves. Along with that inward motion may come a lot of experiences--happiness, joy--but essentially, those are side products of moving deeper into ourselves. These [chants] are revealed names. These names come from a deeper reality. They also say that the name and the named are the same. That means when you are repeating the name Ram, you are actually in Ram. We don't necessarily experience that because we are so attached to our thoughts and our emotions and our feelings and our senses. But the truth is--according to what they say--that the name and God are the same, which is interesting. You know, St. John of the Cross said, "In the beginning, the Father uttered one word and that word was his son and he utters him forever in everlasting silence."

    The silent name that resounds without end, that's the true name. That's everywhere all the time, so we're trying to find a way to dive down deeper into that place and out of this froth. And of course, with the blessings of my guru, it happens with a lot of power and a lot of grace.

    You met Ram Dass [author of New Age mega-hit Be Here Now] in the late sixties when you were twenty, right? Not long after Ram Das himself had had a life-transforming visit with Maharaj-ji. Did Ram Dass say to you, "You should meet my teacher?"
    No, Ram Dass wasn't allowed to talk about him. Maharaj-ji didn't want people to come. But Ram Dass couldn't help but talk about him because it was just oozing out of him. And you know, when I met Ram Dass for the first time, I then, in that very second, came into contact with Maharaj-ji, with his presence. And then, I actually dreamed about him.