On Grace: A Conversation with Krishna Das
by Timothy Frazier·
Kirtan singer and longtime friend of spiritual thought leader Ram Dass, Krishna Das discusses his life, the Guru's grace and his time spent in India living with Maharaj-ji.
Listen to the full interview here:
TF: I’d like to start with your childhood: Were you raised in a spiritual household or was that something that you found later on in life?
KD: There wasn’t anybody in my family that was spiritual. There wasn’t even anybody that was religious. As far as spiritual meaning, actually speaking something, there was nobody that I know of in my family. They were a bunch of cranky people. But, you know, not bad people. Just, my grandfather, my father’s father was born in 1900. He was the first one born in America. His family had gone to London 10 years before that. So they were pretty removed from Europe already. So, all they wanted to do was assimilate and be American.
TF: Where were they coming from?
KD: Russia/Poland. That area. Where it was one thing (Soviet Union). Ya know, there was nothing, nothing at all. My parents were liberal, democratic people. But they weren’t involved in anything, really. They weren’t doing politics, nothing. Everyday, just trying to get by.
TF: We're there any key moments in your life that led you down the path you’re on or that took you to where you are today? As far as spirituality is concerned: what do you think helped you develop your own spiritual practice?
KD: I don’t know that there was one thing. I know that I always felt, there was always this feeling that I was missing something. Like there was a piece missing. If it’s missing and you don’t know what it is, you can’t really look for it. I just had this sense that, you know, what is this?
KD: I was really unhappy. Really, really unhappy. One this was that a friend of mine came back from the Southwest with peyote buttons. So I took a peyote between my junior and senior years of high school. That was a life-changing experience. I got so happy. I could not believe how happy I was.
TF: That’s me on psilocybin.
KD: The other thing was, everything was different but I knew that this, that I was experiencing was more real than anything that I had come in contact with in all the first 17 years of my life. So, then I knew that there was something else after that. I think I got even more depressed because there was no way to get back there. Then, I think somebody gave me, “Autobiography of a Yogi” and “The Gospel of Rama Krishna”, those two books. That was also a big thing for me because there were, you know, we didn’t have that on Long Island.
TF: Was that your first introduction to Hinduism?
KD: Yeah, sure. That and also Zen and Japanese culture. I still have that original book somewhere. So now I began to understand that there was something out there that you could find. I remember reading a book on Buddhism when I was on the track team in high school. I used to throw the discus. I would read these books when I was sitting there waiting for my turn. I remember reading a line that said, ‘In Buddhism, it’s believed that your enlightenment is up to you.’ And I went, “What?” You’re a teenager, nothing’s up to you.
TF: That’s some pretty profound stuff.
KD: I was like, “Wow. Me? Bring it on.” So, 50, 60 years later, I’m still bringing it on. But still, that was a big moment. Then, I graduated high school in ’65. So the ’60’s’ really started to happen at that point. Bob Dylan, the folk music scene - and then I got into blues. Mostly Mississippi Delta blues, stuff like that. I played guitar and all that. That got me through a lot of stuff. Every once in awhile you’d hear about some Indian guy who came to America. There was this guy who came. He was living in this shitty, shit-hole in the lower Eastside. Somehow I heard about him, that he was giving lessons in yoga. So I went there, on this bare-wood floor, grimy, grungy with roaches running around. I’m doing Hatha yoga on this floor. But at least I learned something and then I kept on doing it.
KD: It was still a very tumultuous time for, at that point. Swami Satchidananda had come to America and his scene was growing in New York. I went for yoga lessons there. I didn’t like to so I didn’t go back. One time, not far from here in Monroe, there’s an Ashram called, Ananda Ashram - it was started by a spiritual teacher. That teacher had went away and Swami Satchidananda had went there to stay there for awhile. Every once in awhile he would do a weekend retreat. So at this point, I was living upstate in Napels and I was driving a school bus for the Kingston high school. I had gone up there to go to school at Napels - they had started an Asian studies institute. So I went to meet this guy who was running this. I was all full of like, “wow, you know?” This guy just, he just slammed me. He had ben the secretary of Rabindranath Tagore, who was this great poet - very spiritual guy. I was expecting somebody that, ya know...
TF: ...Someone to be open and welcoming and he’s the opposite?
KD: Yeah, he was this cranky old fart. It was so terrible. It destroyed me. I wound up quitting school after a month or so. Sometime in that, I think it was probably that fall, Swami Satchidananda was doing a retreat. So I went down there for a day. Swami Satchidananda was giving a lecture. But there was this other Swami sitting next to him. Very austere looking, very thin. He had his eyes closed the whole time. Swami Satchidananda was talking and I had been to a bunch of his lectures and I knew at the end of his lecture he would go, “Hari Om.” So he finished talking. I was waiting for the ‘Hari Om.’ I had my eyes closed. But instead, this other guy burst out and started singing. It was ‘Shri Ram Jai Ram Jai Jai Ram’ and I didn’t know what it was. It was a full-on electric explosion in my body. Everything got lit up. So, it turns out, I didn’t know who it was. Cause I didn’t know anybody there to talk to. So I just left. This was in ’67, fall of ’67 maybe? No, fall of ’68. Three years later, four years later: I’m in the temple in India with Maharaj-ji. A car pulls up, a bunch of Swamis come out of the car. They come over the bridge and they go right into Maharaj-ji’s room. I mean, it was like they knew they were welcome. We’re standing, the Westerners were standing outside the room. All of a sudden, I hear, “Shri Ram...” the same.
TF: Same guy, huh?
KD: It turned out, it was Swami Chinmayananda, who was the successor to Swami Sivananda, the Devine Life Society, Sundaranand, Vishnudevananda - those people. Who was a very good baba. He loved Maharaj-ji, Marjaraj-ji loved him. He had known Maharaji-ji for many years. Maharaj-ji would alway ask him to sing. So, when I heard him sing the first time, he had already known Maharaj-ji and already been singing to Maharaj-ji. So that connection - at this point in my life, I didn’t know anything about Maharaj-ji. So, I was like, “Woah, what was that.” So anyway, it was shortly after that, if that was fall ’68, that winter is when I met Ram Dass.
KD: When I met Ram Dass, that was it - everything changed. He was radiating. He was transmitting. He was just lit-up.
TF: Had he already spent some time in India?
KD: Yeah, no he had come back from India. Otherwise, Richard Alpert went to India, Ram Dass came back. So, when I walked into the room where Ram Dass was sitting, long story: I went up to New Hampshire to meet him. The minute I walked into the room, without a word being spoken, without eye contact - he was sitting on the bed in the corner with his eyes closed. I walked into the room and I was struck. Immediately, I knew that whatever it was that I was looking for was real. It was in the world and you could find it.
TF: That’s a very profound experience.
KD: It was the first day of the rest of my life, actually. Really, because this is the first time that I knew that it was really. I just, I didn’t know what it was. I didn’t know what to do, where to find it. But I knew it was available and it was real. That was the beginning. So then I got closer to Ram Dass. I hung out with him a lot over the next year and a half. Then, I went to see Maharaj- ji.
KD: I had figured, I had seen that it was coming through Ram Dass, him (Maharaj-ji). He (Ram Dass) still had his egoistic stuff, just like we all do. But what was coming through was the old man in the blanket.
TF: Could you tell me about your experience living in India with Maharaj-ji?
KD: It was the happiest, it was the most intense period of my life. It was essentially the happiest, cause it was like finding a home - being at home. Everything was familiar to me in India. I was completely at ease there, in a way that I never felt that before.
TF: What are some important lessons you learned from spending time with Maharaj-ji? KD: I’m learning lessons everyday.
TF: That’s good. It means you’re still evolving as a person. That’s a good thing, right? KD: Sure, yeah I hope so. If this is the end I’m in trouble.
KD: Well, you know, Saint Paul says, ‘By grace I was saved through faith.” It’s the grace first that gives you faith. Then the faith gives you confidence to keep going. Because, if grace itself was enough, everybody would be enlightened. So I once asked Siddhi Ma, it was after Marharaj-ji left the body. Marharaj-ji used to tease us. He used to say, “I have the keys to the mind. I could turn your minds against me.” He would laugh and we would say, “Baba don’t do that, don’t do that.” He’d laugh and go “transfer ho jaga”, “I’ll transfer you”. It was so funny. I mean, it was just teasing, playing. But, he did say that. So I said to Siddhi Ma, I said, “Ma, Maharaj said he has the keys to the mind.” So to me, that means that I am where he wants me to be. I mean, he’s the one doing it. He has the keys to the mind, so I’m in relation to him and connected to him. My mind and me, I am where he’s put me. So I said, “Is it all his doing? Or is my effort required?” It’s a famous question, ya know, grace or effort? She said, “Krishna Das, it’s all grace. But you act like it isn’t.”
TF: That’s interesting.
KD: Yeah, in other words: done deal. There’s no time. There’s no space. There’s only this moment and this moment is eternal. There’s no coming and going. There’s no-one here. There’s only one of us in the whole universe. We don’t know that and it not enough to know that, intellectually. It has to come to your cells, to your molecules. Because, then it becomes real. Your experience becomes real.
TF: So what are some things that people can do to have that self-realization and do a better job at filtering out the external bullshit? Cause obviously, as you know, in our Western society we’re taught from a very young age that if you want to find God: look outward. If you want to find happiness: look outward. How do you shift through that noise and instead, turn your focus within?
KD: You know, when Buddha came out of the jungle, after his enlightenment. He said, “Yo monks, there’s suffering.” That was the first thing he said. Life is suffering. There’s always suffering involved in life. There’s always dissatisfaction. That’s the prerequisite for doing spiritual work. Most people don’t recognize that. They’re involved with pleasure and pain - holding onto pleasure and pain. That’s all that occurs to them. It never occurs to them that there’s anything else. If it occurs to you that there’s something else, that already is the result of your own karmas. Nothing happens without a cause. So, it doesn’t make anybody better or worse than anybody else. It’s just the question of the work that you yourself have already done in previous lives. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be interested in this shit. There’s no reason. What payoff do you get from sitting around, crosslegged, with your eyes closed? You’re not watching tv, you’re not getting laid and you’re not eating a good meal. You’re just sitting there, you know? Most people would rather do those other things.
KD: So, somebody once asked me, Sting sang on one of my CD’s, so people say, “Come on, tell me. These big stars, they’re not really, seriously involved with spiritual stuff, are they?” I say, “No, you’re wrong.” They’re the ones who experience, directly, that no matter how much stuff you get - it don’t make you happy. The rest of us still think: maybe if I got a little more of that it would be okay. But these people have access to everything. Endless amounts of whatever they want, whenever they want it. So they know, they’ve experienced that it doesn’t work. What they do with that experience is that some people get strung out on drugs. Because, if nothing works there’s no sense, you know - this at least numbs me.
TF: Trying to fill a void.
KD: Semi-pleasant. So, that’s also a karmic fruit. So, other people might actually get interested in understanding that and learning about why they’re suffering. Unfortunately, that’s the deal. You know, until you’re thirsty, you will not drink. No matter how, you know, you can take a horse to water - unless it’s thirsty, it won’t drink. You can’t force water down the throat. That’s brutal because, you see how much suffering there is in this world. It’s all because, because that’s the nature of this world. Nothing outside of you can ever fully satisfy you. Temporarily, it can be okay. But, nothing lasts. It’s easy to say it, but it’s very, you know, I see spiritual practice as ripening process, not a learning process. When we do these practices, when we calm our minds and you know, develop a little compassion and kindness for ourselves and other - that’s a ripening process. The practices ripen us. They bring our hearts and our minds into the sun. That ripens us.
KD: If you don’t plant seeds, nothing’s gonna grow. The seeds you do plant, that’s what’s gonna grow. If we plant seeds of anger and aggression and fear and shame and guilt - what are ya gonna get? More of that. If you plant seeds of trying to let go of that stuff, then you’re starting to develop a new, a different attitude. I’ve seen so many miracles. I’ve seen so much. I’m still a smuck, you know. It’s like, the karmic wave, you know. You can’t rush it. You have to deal with it and recognize that. You have to develop a technique for getting through the day. The path of devotion, one technique is to try to see everything as, or accept everything as the gurus’ offering to you. Whether it’s pleasant or unpleasant. That’s a technique. Whether it’s ultimately true or not, it’s hard to know - because we don’t know ultimate. But all we know is: how do we get through the day. So, if you get really strong in a technique, it gives you a way of getting through the day without crashing into any brick walls and making more suffering for yourself. But in order to get a practice deep enough, you really have to work at it. You can’t just wish. Wishing isn’t enough.
TF: So do you think it’s important to have a sort of devotion to, whether it be a spiritual practice, a higher version of oneself, God, call it whatever you want. Do you think that’s important to have in order to filter out the ‘noise’ that we were previously talking about and find some sort of equilibrium?
KD: Yes. But, what’s implied by in your statement, when you say filtering out, it’s not that you’re gonna filter out. It’s more a way of not being closed down by things. You don’t have to push things away.
TF: So learning how to interact with it and not affect you personally, let it drag you down, or anything like that?
KD: Sure, yeah. That’s one way of seeing it. Yeah, for sure. It’s just that the reality of how that would work. You have to calm your mind. Everything comes from the mind. All the suffering is in the mind. The same thing can happen to two people, one can be destroyed by, their whole live’s destroyed. Another person can overcome, like Ram Dass with the stroke. He said to me many times, “The stroke saved my life.” He had stuff, he had a lot of anger and he a powerful, well developed ego. For the lack of another word, ego. Underneath everything else, he was really unhappy. He had no way of dealing with some of the things inside of him that he couldn’t really release. The stroke gave him the opportunity to rise to the occasion.
KD: At first, he said that Maharaj-ji gave him the stroke. Because, intellectually he was saying “Everything that happens to me is by Marharaj-ji.” So when he went to India, the only time after he was in the wheelchair, Siddhi Ma looked at him and told him, “Ram Dass, Marharaj-ji would never give you a stroke. The stroke is your karma. What Marharaj-ji gives you is the strength and the grace to overcome the effects of the stroke. Use it as your spiritual practice. Do not be destroyed by it.” That’s exactly what happened by the end. I used to tease him. I used to say, “You’ve finally become what we thought you were 40 years ago.” He had to surrender. There was no option. If you don’t surrender, you suffer. He recognized that he had to surrender to the reality of what it is and accept it. He had to become humble and accept help from people. This was a guy driving sports cars, playing golf, flying planes, Harvard professor. This is a guy who was very big in the world. He can’t get out of a chair. He can’t talk hardly. So he had too. Surrender is not, “okay I give up” no, it’s not giving up. Surrender means agreeing to fight. It’s like in the Bhagavad Gita when, at the beginning, Krishna is teaching Arjuna. Arjuna says to Krishna, “I can’t. These are all my relatives. I’m not gonna fight.” Krishna smiles and says, “Well it sounds like you’re talking truth. But are you really?” He proceeds to show Arjuna, like an onion peeling off layer after layer after layer, until he gives Arjuna divine vision and Arjuna sees the way things really are. Arjuna finally agrees. He gets ready to fight. That was the Dharma. That’s what he had to do. He had to do his practice and work with that. Otherwise, he’d be destroyed by that.
KD: But he (Ram Dass) embraced it. I never heard him complain. Maybe he complained sometimes to the people who were intimately taking care of him. Because he couldn’t do anything for himself anymore. He couldn’t wipe his own ass anymore. He couldn’t get out of bed. He couldn’t turn in bed.
TF: That’s rough.
KD: The on the other hand, he was getting urinary tract infections. One after the other, after the other, almost dying twice a year, or more. I mean, rushed to the hospital or getting IV’s with this special antibiotic. It was a constant, it was constant uncertainty about: are you dying today or tomorrow? He lived with that. That was extraordinary. Rather than fear, it was acceptance, you know. That’s not easy. That takes incredible strength. Surrender takes ultimate strength. Even so, it only happens ultimately by grace.
KD: Like Ramana Maharishi says, “If you ask the mind to kill the mind, or the ego to kill the ego, it’s like asking the thief to be the policeman. There’d be a lot of investigation, but no arrest will ever be made.” So, it’s like that. He overcame anger, cause he had a lot of anger, oh my. Back in the old days with Maharaj-ji, he would get angry. He once through food at somebody, one of the Westerners, in front of Maharaj-ji. Maharaj-ji says, “Ram Dass, something wrong?” Ram Dass said, “I hate Adharma (non-Dharma) in myself and others. And I feel so impure” Maharaj-ji looks up and down and says, “I don’t see any impurity.” He says, “Ram Dass, love everyone and tell the truth.” Ram Dass said, “The truth is: I don’t love everyone.” Maharaj-ji, “Ram Dass, love everyone and tell the truth.” So, he had no option. I mean, maybe so people won’t understand why there was no option. It wasn’t that he was being forced to do that, that’s not why there’s no option. It’s because that’s what he wanted more than anything. To be able to do that. But he was being prevented from doing that by himself. So how does it happen?
KD: It’s like when I started singing with people, after 6 months, I actually quit. That’s it, it’s over. I’m not doing this anymore. Because I could see what was gonna happen. I could also see that I was a hungry guy and I was gonna use all this energy to feed my hungry desires. That wasn’t gonna be good for me. That wasn’t gonna be good for anybody else. That was not why I started chanting. I started chanting because I had let go of his (Maharaj-ji) hand. After he died, I got totally fucked-up for a long time. He had never let go of my hand. In fact, he used to say, “Once I take a hold of your hand, I never let go. Even when you let go of mine.” Not if, cause he knew. So, I suffered a lot, for 20 years.
TF: In some previous interviews of yours, I think you mentioned that you were very attached to his physical body? Psychical presence, rather than the spiritual aspect?
KD: I was, the so-called spiritual aspect, after I met Ram Dass, I felt Maharaj-ji everywhere. He was like the sky. Then I met him and I fell so in love with his physical being. In some ways I lost that other connection. So when the body disappeared, what was I gonna do? Drugs, sex, rock- and-roll, running around crazy. Anything I could do to numb the pain. But then, after 20 years, I started singing with people because I had this epiphany in my apartment in 1994 - 21 years after he left the body. If I did not sing with people, I would never be able to clean out the dark shadows in my own heart. With the understanding that, that was the only thing that was causing me suffering. It was up to me. It was inside of me. Either I do it or I don’t. It took me a little while to get with the program. So, yeah the problem was, so I did start and then 6 months later I quit. Because I saw I wasn’t able to do it the right way.
TF: Did you feel like it was becoming more of a self-serving thing, rather than doing it for the right reasons?
KD: No, no it was definitively. I don’t even know what that means. All I knew was that I was hungry and I was gonna eat and gobble everything up that came to me.
TF: I suppose what I should say is I mean ego serving, as opposed to doing it for the right reasons you’re doing it because of an egotistical purpose or something along those lines.
KD: Yeah, I know what you’re saying. I don’t use that word, ego, that much because there really is no ego. It’s just thoughts. Because no-one thinks, show me where your ego is, you know?
TF: That’s a good point. That’s a great point, actually.
KD: But, we think we are who we think we are. At that point in my life, I was hungry for many things. It was being offered to me. I could see what was happening. I was horrified because that’s not what I really wanted. What I really wanted was to connect with Maharaj-ji again, in a deeper way. But, I saw that I wasn’t able to do that. I was in terrible despair because I was being prevented from doing the only thing that I could do to save my ass. I was being prevented by me. So I started singing. I said (to Maharaj-ji), “You gotta fix this. This is your problem. I’m singing to people in your name. You don’t fix it, I don’t sing. Goodnight.” Wake up in the morning, nothing happened, day after day. I went to India and I, every day it was like hell because nothing changed. The despair was almost unbearable. I couldn’t do anything about it. I was the problem.
TF: You had to figure out how to get out of your own way, so to speak.
KD: How do you do that? You are your own way. You’re the problem. There’s nowhere you can go where you won’t be. It was terrible. So, I was in India and I was living with the Toaries. Then, I went to stay in the temple in Kenchi, in the mountains. Siddhi Ma said to me, “What’s your program? What’s your plans?” I said, “Well, you know I probably have to be back in America by the end of May.” It was like the middle of May. I wasn’t in the temple yet. She said, “No, you have to stay until June 15th. There’s a big celebration of the opening of the first Hanuman temple that Maharaj-ji made. You have to stay. You have to see Maharaj-ji’s big form.” I said, “What is she talking about?” I made some calls back to the States. Nobody’s looking for me so, next day I said, “Yeah, I can stay.” So, everyday I wake up and I’d say, “Don’t you understand? Nothing’s changed. You have to fix this.” Nothing happened. So, the night of the 14th, I went out to the back of the temple. In the old days, there was one light bulb in the front of the temple. Now, there’s lights everywhere. So, I found this one little corner where there was a shadow and you could see the sky. I was just looking up at the starts and I was taking to Maharaj-ji and I say, “I don’t get it. What’s the deal. You could do this. Why aren’t you doing this? I told you, you have to do this. You know I’m leaving in a couple of days and you haven’t done anything.” So then I just said, “Well, I don’t understand. I can’t make you do it if you don’t wanna do it. Alright, I’ll go back, I’ll sing. How bad could it be. Goodnight.” The next day, everything changed. In retrospect, that moment was the moment of surrender. There was no option. He wasn’t gonna do it. Was I really not gonna sing, when I knew that it was the only thing that I could do to save my ass?
KD: That was a New York surrender. It was really the end. It was terrible, the feeling of the despair. So the next day, everything changed. That day was really, I mean there were a few of these moments, maybe I hope they’ll be more, but up till now - that day was the day that changed my life. I was able to come back and sing and really sing and not hold back at all. It was very different.
TF: I had done some reading in the past that there’s a number of people that believe that Maharaj-ji is earthly incarnation of Hanuman and I wanted to get your thoughts on that. Do you think that maybe he’s an earthly incarnation of the Devine? What do you think?
KD: Why only earthly? It could be the whole universe. Well first of all, we use these words like we know what they mean. Like, “OH yeah, he’s a form of Hanuman.” Come on, what is that? So, the answer there is, yes, of course. Whatever that means, yes. So, you know, Maharaj-ji used to say, “Hanuman and Christ are the same.” He would say, “Who’s Hanuman?” And we would say, “Oh he’s the perfect servant.” He would say, “The breath of God.” In the Greek gospels, the translation of the gospels that was the first one written from the Aramaic, the word for holy spirit is ‘breath’, not spirit. Spirit is up there, out of the body. Breath is in the body. It’s here, right here. It’s the Father, the Son and the Holy Breath.
TF: That’s interesting.
KD: Yeah, so whatever that means. It’s impossible for us to really know what that means. Other than to make a lot of assumptions, which is good to do. When the Westerners first went there (to Maharaj-ji) we wanted to get into this. How do we, so we looked to the Indians to see what they did. Most of the Indians worshiped Maharaj-ji as Hanuman and Shiva also.
TF: There’s certain text that reference Hanuman as, I think the 11th avatar of Shiva, I believe. KD: Yeah, it's not actually an avatar, it's an emanation in a sense.
TF: I know in a lot of different text either Rama or Krishna and Shiva, they kind of help each other out with different tasks.
KD: They’re all parts of the same thing. They’re not separate beings.
TF: Exactly. It all goes back to the same thing. I like to think of it as ‘God on a different day’. God on Monday. God on Tuesday. That’s maybe not the most intelligent way to put it. You get what I’m driving at?
KD: Yeah, it’s just like you and me. You and I. You think you’re you. I think I’m me. But our true nature is actually the same. We have different functions. It’s a sense of functions and activity that’s different. That activity takes a form. So, Hanuman is like this flow of grace that’s always, you enter into that flow and it takes you into your true nature and to Ram - which is the same as Krishna, which is the same as all, there’s only one of it. It looks different at different levels.
TF: It’s just different paths, but it all leads back to the same one thing.
KD: Absolutely, yeah.
TF: Do you think the same could be said about other worldly religions like Christianity, Judaism, whether it be Allah, Jesus, because I kind of have that thought that it all leads back to the same place.
KD: There’s only one place. There can’t be two places.
TF: I just like to think that God takes whatever form that maybe you might most identify with or that I might most identify with. That could be very abstracted or that could be Jesus on the cross, it could be whatever.
KD: Sure, absolutely. Ultimately, it comes down to transcending the allusion of separateness, that we’re separate beings.
TF: The veil of Maya.
KD: Yeah, ultimately comes down to seeing through that. There are many different techniques and paths to do that and many different beings who have achieved that who have taught different methods. As typical human beings, we only use that to separate ourselves and blow each other up.
TF: Do you think your way of achieving that would be with your kirtan and chanting practice?
KD: That’s one of the ways that I enter into that presence again, yeah. You could say it’s my main practice but it’s just, the practice itself is just part, really my spiritual practice is guru kirpa, guru’s grace. That’s what it is, entering into Maharaj-ji’s presence. These are the techniques that are available for me to enter into that presence. That presence, you could call that anything. You might call it something and someone else will call it something else, fine. You still have to get into it. Which means letting go of your stuff, temporarily, at least and entering into a quieter place - a deeper place.
KD: Maharaj-ji said himself, “The repetition of the name (you’re continually repeating these names) everything is accomplished.” What else does he have to say? Now, I heard that 50 years ago. Have I spent every moment of every day repeating the names? No. I’ve done endless amounts of bullshit. Because, that’s what I’m qualified for.
TF: I think that’s also just a part of human existence, too.
KD: Some other person might have heard that phrase and went off into the jungle and we’d never see them.
TF: Like Shiva in a cave trying to kill off negative thoughts.
KD: But not me and I got into all kinds of trouble. But it’s funny I got into all my trouble after meeting Maharaj-ji. Before, I was too afraid to get into trouble. Now, I came back and it was as if we were on a train, the train of our life and it stopped at a station. We looked out the window and we see Maharaj-ji. We go running off the train to be with him. Then, like he said, we got transferred and we find ourselves back on the train of our life. The same train, the only difference is that we now know him.
TF: You get to carry a part of that with you.
KD: Now we know that we have that and that makes everything different.
TF: You didn’t exactly come back by choice did you? He sent you back?
KD: Psssh. He sent me back for sure. But he kept me there. He kept me there for two and a half years. He was the one who got my visa extended...So I had a whole year. So at the end of that year Maharaj-ji, that’s when he said, “You go back to America. You have attachment there.” I have attachment? I left everything. I sold my guitar. I gave my jeans away. I was never going back to America. I said, “Baba, but I’m just learning Hindi.” “Too back, you have to go.” I didn’t know what he was talking about. I had nothing. I had a bag with some clothes, a drum and my xterra. That’s what I had, my whole life and I was happy. I was with him. Now I know what he was talking about. Every single thing that happened to me since March 3rd 1973, when I landed in New York, every single thing is what he was talking about. This was my karmas, this backlog, this wave that was waiting. When I was with him, that wave was on-hold, in a sense. He did that so he could fill me up with stuff.
TF: Help you open it, maybe?
KD: Yeah, sure. Help me open my heart. Whatever he had to do, he did. He sent me back and this huge wave crashed over me. It’s still crashing, it’s still receding. Here it is, 50 years later and I’m still, I got a kid, I’ve got a grandkid - all kinds of shit going on. This house, this is his problem, this house. I had no house. I was living at a friends, renting a place just down the street. I come to the temple once, Siddhi Ma, this is long after Maharaj-ji was gone, she says, “There are these Indian people they want to help, these devotees, they want to help you get a house of your own.” I said, “So what. You’re telling me to take this money? I can’t do that.” All these people, my assistant, the people who put it together, who keep me on the road - their whole lives, they’re being help up by my chronically-inflamed vocal cords. You want me to take on more responsibility? I can’t do that. She said, “Maharaj-ji always said, ’Thik ho jayega’.” Everything will be okay. Every time I came back to India for the next two years, the first thing she said, “You got a house yet?” So I saw this house was for sale.
KD: What are you gonna do? You can run, but you just can’t hide. There’s no way to get away from yourself.
TF: Life has a very strange way of taking different twists and turns, but you always end up following a certain path. One’s own Dharma, whatever you want to call it.
KD: Yep, very true.
TF: I have a bit more of a loaded question for you: In your opinion, what do you think the meaning of this existence is for us and what do you think happens when we leave the body?
KD: The meaning of existence. I don’t know about meaning. But we’re here. We exist. We only think were separate from each other and the universe. So the reason, whether it’s a reason or not, what we’re here to do is to relieve ourselves of that delusion. That includes, whatever, all the different deities, all the different saints, all the different Gods and Goddesses. Those are all techniques, those are all paths to relieve ourselves from the illusion that we are separate beings.
TF: And we just keep doing it until we, hopefully, get it right.
KD: As long as we have karmic debts to pay, we keep taking bodies, again and again. Not necessarily all physical bodies.
KD: If you don’t do practice in life, you won’t have any ability to navigate the after-death states with any intentionality. In other words, you’d be swamped and just blown around until you take another body.
KD: They say the only thing you take with you when you die is your state of mind. Even the body goes. If you haven’t done practice, if you’re not connected to some spiritual tradition or lineage, really connected...
TF: You’re not gonna be in a good state of mind when you pass.
KD: Exactly, there will be a lot of fear and anxiety. It’s funny, there was this thing in the Times the other day about this Christian pastor, not a priest. He started this big, one of these new, not new age, churches kind of thing. He was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer and he, instead of freaking out, he realized that he wasn’t ready to die. He saw that he needed to get closer to God, he said. One of the things he said is, “It’s not enough to love God, but you have to feel loved by God.” Most people don’t feel loved.
TF: Do you think that’s because they’re looking outward, rather than looking inward?
KD: Of course. Especially Christians.
TF: Absolutely. That’s basically my family right there, so.
KD: I mean they believe the devil lives inside. So they’re not gonna quiet their minds cause ‘the devil will get ya’.
TF: Yeah, it’s ‘evil’. It’s bad, ya know. You’ll burn for eternity.
KD: That’s what we call self-loathing. Nothing else but self-loathing.
TF: Hate your true nature. Try to look for things that appease it, on the outside.
KD: Yeah, it’s just that it doesn’t work. If it worked, great. But it doesn’t work. The problem is that people don’t recognize that it does’t work. Because they also don’t have the karmic seeds to actually have that understanding. It’s not that they’re bad people. It’s just that they haven’t done the work in one birth or another to actually recognize suffering as something that’s temporary, instead of just trying to keep pushing it away.
TF: Rather than fight against it, just accept it and try to overcome it.
KD: Yeah or ignore and try to cover it up, numb yourself.
TF: If you could go back and give yourself any advice what would that be? Do you have any other advice for anyone who’s listening to this who may be stuck in a rut or a shitty day-job they hate trying to better themselves? What advice do you have for people?
KD: As far as what advice I would have given myself when I was younger is probably the same thing I would tell myself today: Chill the fuck out. Slow down and take it easy. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Give yourself a fucking break. As far as other people, you gotta find a way to calm your mind and to learn how to release thoughts and emotions that are causing such inner turmoil. You have to plant some seeds. Every time you sit down and quite your mind, that’s a seed that’s planted. That’s a karma. So regardless of how it feels in that moment, you’ve still just planted a seed that will grow later, too. So, basically, it all comes down to being a good human being. Whatever that means to each individual.
KD: You’ve gotta find out how to become a good human being. How to think about other people. Maharaj-ji never taught us and told us to do practices to save our own asses. When I was going to kill myself in the temple. I was having a whole on nervous breakdown - hallucinations, everything. He said, “What are you gonna do, jump in the river? Hahaha.” “You can’t die,” he said. “Worldly people don’t die.” He said, “Only Jesus died the real death.” I’m in a Hanuman temple in the Himalayas and that’s what he’s telling me? What the fuck? I said, “What” and he said, “Because he never thought of himself.” Thoughts of ‘me’ didn’t arise in that being. There was no ‘me’ anymore. It was just God, reality. So, there was no agenda. There was no egoistic, separate sense of self. Then he said, “Someone dies and people cry and mourn and they stop eating. But after a few days, they’re laughing and joking and eating again.” One attachment replaces another attachment. This world, Samsara, is the flow of attachment. “No attachment, no world,” he said. Wow, I’m still working on that one.