Last week my friends ,family and I randomly ended up in condo next door to the annual Ram Das gathering in Maui. In attendance were many devotees of Neem Karoli Baba, the 60s Indian guru of many well known teachers of dharma, including kirtan master Krishna Das and notable author, Jack Kornfield. Ram Das goes back to the 1960s as the Harvard Psy. professor, experimenting with LSD, getting inspired and then getting fired along with Timothy Leary just as he was beginning his lifelong quest to inquire into the nature of “self”.
Timothy Leary’s spirit, lingered in the counterculture shade of the Maui palm trees, where sky meets the ocean and sand , where older devotees, enjoying their 30 year+practice, soak up as much in Sun as there as in dharma, then bask in both, while not making any excuses about enjoying a frozen piña colada in middle of the day and getting up at the crack of dawn for outdoor yoga. It was immaculate. Krishna Das, always the heart and soul, the singers- singer, for the body of people, was reflected in the pure enthusiastic heart of Neem Karoli Baba himself, who lingered everywhere. I was able to offer pranams to Ram Das as he passed by and contemplate the unusual but unique situation I found myself in.
Within the karma and dharma of a family reunion, we had ended up a beach away from the event and were invited by attendees to share in the time and sing with them. So between explorations of Mother Maui, we sang the names of Saints, Sages and Gods with our dharma heroes. During our separate adventures, we sang our own, made up kirtans, encouraging each other to let more of our voice out and take a chance that just letting it rip would do the trick.
It did the trick for us. We sang everywhere we went, from the moment we first landed and kept it going throughout the entire time we were on Maui. Intermittent between songs were laughter and connection that were made more delightful because half the time the only words we shared were about dharma and devotion. Many of our actions were better informed too as we brought more intention to what we did and communicated among each other. As the Full Moon rose, chanting away, I made a commitment during that special time to keep up the song and the dharma and to hold them as one. This was made over a fire ceremony offered by friends and family. Sticking with yoga brought this entire experience together for us. We all felt the blessing of our situation.
When I look back on how I heard of yoga, I know someplace along the way, Ram Das was nearby. And I don’t remember when I first heard the word yoga, but it occurred much prior to my popular understanding. So I might have, like many people, developed a conceptual, pre-verbal, understanding of yoga that suddenly had acquired a name- and I followed the jargon and teachings of those who came before and have made a lot of my own intentions based on that understanding. Who knew back then that what I leaned included the lifetime of work a guy like Ram Das. He brings life to dharma in a way that allows me to take my own journey, be it to India or into my held beliefs painful, joyful or otherwise. It is only my journey to take while up ahead Ram Das laughs and beckons me and everyone onward.
Popular culture aside, the benefit of dharma is available to anyone who seeks it and puts it to use. A guru is not someone to mimic or imitate, because we could not share in their precise and exact karma anyway and certainly have our own dharma to attend to. A guru cannot also be simply associated with, within the absence of our own karma and dharma. We have our work to do. The guru wants above all for us to be liberated. For our sake and theirs, it’s probably lonely and boring being the who knows. Dharma is to be a shared experience.
This experience and the outcome in my shared world with my friends and family feels like an empowerment. I can finally open up to my song and share it, to sing with people to sing their song with them. I am so grateful for dharma in my life and to Ram Das and Krishna Das. I heard KD in 1999 and I wanted to sing just like he did. So I did, in private and in a way that worked for me. Back then I felt like a fraud because even though I had the desire, I did not understand just what I believed in and without the heart the mind can’t be unbound.
So I sang the Hanuman Chalisa, the Bhagavad Gita, the Ngondro , the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, the Heart Sutra and everything and anything, pop-songs and all the Greatest Hits- and now I’m ready to share. I sorted it out, do the little things the masters recommend in passing. Those are seeds of dharma. I’m glad I waited, so those seeds could grow roots.
I’m sticking with the teachings, simple and heard in passing because even in pride and ego they flourish. One day they win and the ego is happy to surrende. Keep up the practice of whatever dharma you know and it will take you to “All”. Or just keep singing.
See you all soon and often, look for chanting on the schedule on Thursdays at 8pm, Friday’s at 9am and Saturdays at 11am
Much Love- Casey