Tag Archives: devotion

The Nectar of the Name- A Story about Kirtan, Lila, and the Hanuman Chalisa

“People don’t know- every line of the Hanuman Chalisa is a Maha Mantra”
Neem Karoli Baba 

Many of us have come to kirtan and felt inspired, felt our sorrows lifted, or even experienced a deep healing or surrender. These are beautiful experiences that are meant to be cherished, but they are also ultimately just initial doorways into a rich and satisfying journey to God. Kirtan is more than just a temporary experience or emotional high. It is an opportunity to gain a taste of the nectar of devotion.

Just like in any worldly relationship, we first feel an attraction to someone, and some “high” in our body tells us we like them. If this initial attraction turns into a relationship, then over the years it has the opportunity to deepen into something even more satisfying than we could initially imagine. It has the possibility of offering an incredible healing and deeper sense of safety in the world. If this is true for a worldly relationship, then what to say of a Divine one?

What if our Lover was Perfect? What if They had no desires of Their own, save maybe for us to attain our own liberation? What if this Lover lived in our own heart as our True Nature? What if falling in Love with Them meant falling in Love with everyone, including ourselves? What if this Love affair fostered a sense of safety that stayed with us? Even through our most difficult times? Even through sickness, old age, and death? This is what kirtan can offer us- a chance to gain a taste of this nectar and to deepen this Holy Relationship.

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Psychedelic Awakening

These medicines will allow you to come and visit Christ, but you can only stay two hours. Then you have to leave again. This is not the true Samadhi. It’s better to become Christ than to visit him – but even the visit of a saint for a moment is useful. But love is the most powerful medicine.

Neem Karoli Baba

I will always have the highest respect for psychedelics. I am ecstatic by the current resurgence in research and the steady change in public perception. This post is my own small way to help break the taboo. The honest truth is that I would have never met Ram Dass or found the spiritual path if it was not for these early adventures, nor would I currently be working on my MSW or be doing any of the work I am doing. This experience, although one of the more memorable, was one of many, and it offered me a taste of faith, one that only really took root after meeting Ram Dass and coming in contact with my Guru, Neem Karoli Baba. Regardless, this was the first blossoming of the seed, the first rustling leaves of an awakening, the kindling on the fire of love…

We had taken two gel tabs of L.S.D., and it was coming on strong. Dan and I walked to a nearby city park in Eugene, OR, the manicured lawn displaying geometric fractals bordered by pulsing coniferous trees. The energy in my body was building fast, and it became difficult to move. I sat down in the lotus posture, a habit I had developed from the last year of active experimentation. I closed my eyes and began breathing. This began to calm the energy in my body, but it didn’t do anything for my deep unanswered question. Is God real?

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Guru Kripa

It is not necessary to meet your guru on the physical plane. The guru is not external.

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

For me, the Guru is how God becomes personal. The Guru shows me that God is not just an Eternal, Impartial, Truth, or even an All-Pervading Essence of Love, but is also a Being who loves me and all of us unconditionally. Before meeting the Guru, I had faith in God, but not a personal relationship. It was the Guru that gave that to me. Now I see that the lines of the Guru Stotram are true: “There is no truth higher than the Guru, no practice higher than the Guru, and no knowledge higher than the Guru.”

For some of us the Guru can take the form of a physical person on earth. A true Siddha, or Perfected Master, is a Being that has no ego. When you look at Them, all you see is the divine radiance of God shining through. There are no impurities to block the light. This Divine Presence is within all of us as our True Nature, but it is clouded by a web of desire and self-identification. A Siddha has none of that. You can clearly hear the voice of God in Their words, and Their body is a living Murti.  Their very life is the wisdom of the Vedas.

Such a Being cannot die. Their physical body may fall away, but the God within was never confined to that body anyway. We can still use Their form to connect with Them. We can look at Their pictures, sing to Them, travel to Their temples, and experience Their Grace through satsang with other devotees. The Guru shows Their devotees that They are still here, often times through dreams, synchronicities or miracles, but always through an inner knowing of the heart.

“When two or three people gather in my name, I am there” Christ (Matt 18:20).

The personal relationship with Christ experienced by many members of the Christian faith could be seen as an example of this. For me and for other members of the Neem Karoli Baba satsang, we refer to our Guru as Maharajji, a Siddha that left His body in 1973. Of course, if we don’t feel called to a specific form of the Guru, we can still connect to Her.

The Universal Guru is the God within every heart, and we can connect to Him by reading about any of the saints we are drawn to. Each one is a different mask of God, as if She just swaps bodies the way we might change clothes. This analogy took on new meaning for me the day I met Ram Dass for the first time. Still jolted by the Shakti of that encounter, I had a vision that night as I fell asleep on the beach. I saw two figures hovering in front of me, Jesus and Maharajji. They were both levitating a few feet off the ground, and a subtle light illuminated their bodies as they each shapeshifted back and forth into each others’ forms. Jesus would turn into Maharajji at the same moment that Maharajji would turn into Christ. This lasted for maybe 5-10 seconds, and then I fell asleep.

Some of us might not require any form. Since the Guru is within, if we are truly quiet, we can hear that still, small voice. The moments when I am connected to my intuitive heart are when I can most clearly see that the Guru guides every step of the journey.

I remember a dream I had shortly before I moved in to live with Ram Dass. Maharajji and I were both in a room together. He was barking ridiculous orders at me, and I was blissfully complying with all of them. “Bend over! Now point one arm up towards the sky! Point the other arm down! Spin in a circle! Now walk backwards!” We both laughed hysterically as my body spun around in the most awkward shape. I woke up from that dream in a state of incomparable joy. The message was clear- Maharajji is the puppet master, I am the puppet, and this dance we enact together is one full of rich, cosmic humor.

Even moments of confusion are the Guru doing His needed work. In suffering I find I am often ripped away into the deepest surrender. It is these moments that I cling to the Guru, not as a spiritual practice or an exercise in devotion or faith, but out of necessity. Sometimes it feels like hanging on for dear life. Other times it’s like I’m completely helpless to do anything, and yet there the Guru is, holding me when I can no longer hold on to anything.

“You can leave me. I won’t leave you. Once I catch hold of you, I don’t let go.”

-Neem Karoli Baba (Miracle of Love)

This is Guru Kripa, or the Grace of the Guru.  It is the realization that we are His, that the Guru has us wrapped up in Her warm embrace, that every aspect of our lives serves to draw us towards Them. All we need to do is listen to our heart, and, even when we forget, that too is a part of the Perfection that is the Grace of the Guru. It is through this Grace that we gain faith. This faith is not the same as a belief. Belief is in the mind, but faith is deeper than that. It is a knowing of the heart that the Grace of the Guru is with us every step of the way.

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What’s in a Name?

They say that these are revealed Names, that ancient Rishis pulled these from the depths of consciousness and placed them in this world as gateways to that Infinite Abode. They say there is something invariably healing about these vibrations, that they melt the ego as they ripple through our being. They say that these Names are perfect forms of God, that the Name and what is named are one and the same.

All I really know is that these are Names of my Beloved, and by saying them sweetly I partake in the language of the heart, engaging in an eternal love affair.  I know that  countless devotees have cried their pain, suffering, yearning and joy into them, a reminder that this love affair is bigger than me. It’s as if we are all Gopis partaking in Krishna’s dance, each one of us simultaneously claiming Him as our own. I am connected to a tradition of lovers that goes back millennia.

And I know that they do work.

They remind me that my Beloved is here, right here, in this world, in this body, in the depths of my being, in the face of every person I meet…

And what more could I ask for, but to be granted the possibility that at any given moment the Beloved might reveal Herself?

These Names are the Names of Love, and by saying them I engage in the most exquisite love making.

Maharajji said, “Go on saying your false Rams. One of these days you will get it right.”

So how do we say it? There are so many ways to say a Name.

Is it a chore list, something we ought to do? A magical incantation, a spell cast to bring the gods under our sway? Is it like rubbing flint, waiting for that one time when it will catch flame? Is it savory like morning pillow talk? Does it burn with yearning the way a flame leaps for air?

Or is it like the Gopis, whose ecstatic love moans reveal to us the potency of the Name, whose vocal emanations show us the healing vibratory power of the Name, who brought the Beloved completely under their sway simply by the power of their devotion, to whom nothing else existed except Krishna’s blissful form, who first ignited a tradition centuries ago when they screamed:

Śrī Kṛṣṇa!

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nirvanarupa

The word, “nirvāṇarūpaṃ,” rests in the first line of Tulsidas’s devotional poem, “Rudrāṣṭakam.” It is a compound word that means, “the form of nirvana.” It is referring to Lord Shiva, and the particular book I am reading translates it as, “eternal bliss personified.”

That is a lovely translation, one that plays my body like a sarod, my bones ringing in sympathetic harmony to the glories of creation. It is like a spell cast on my knees, weakening their very muscles until they collapse to the ground. It has become my muse for the night, and it inspires the question, “What is the verbal root of nirvana?”

Studying Sanskrit is another way for me to practice my devotion. I have a restless mind, the kind that would enjoy scrabble or a crossword or filling silence with meaningless words. I study Sanskrit for the same reason I write poetry. I am not disciplined enough to sit and meditate on the word “nirvāṇarūpaṃ” for 5 hours straight, but I find my own strange way, following inspiration like bread crumbs as I traverse the depths of the heart. First I find the page I need from the tomes of Sanskrit grammar.  Loosening it from its binding, I then meticulously fold it into an origami murti and place it on the altar of the wind.

Nirvana comes from the root √ “to blow.” It is in the past passive participle form “na,” meaning “blown.” It has the prefix “nis”, which here means “out.” Nirvana is final liberation, a state reached when the last trace of desire has been “blown out” or “extinguished.”

I quite like the translation of “eternal bliss personified.” It’s a poetic one that inspires devotion, reminding us that worship of the Beloved’s form is the highest bliss. The gods in heaven rain down flowers on the poet who translates it this way, knowing as they do how it captures the devotional mood. Tulsidas sings with them in a unison of praise, for he also writes in this bhāv. His words are arrows of fire. They melt the thoughts of even the most restless mind.

This flame reaches its climax at the Rudrāṣṭakam’s end. My eyes wince at the brightness of the page, and the night sky mistakenly prepares for the Sun. Lifetimes of longing are awakened in an instant when I read those glorious words, “O Lord! I do not know yoga, japa, or ritual worship. O Shambhu! I simply bow to you at all times and at every moment.”