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Appreciation for the "The Yoga of Kirtana" book

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In my view the primary challenge for the Krishna consciousness movement is to both preserve and understand the essence or spirit of the teachings, and to be dynamic in our outreach. The understanding I have gained from reading Prabhupada and other Gaudiya teachers is that being a devotee means being a compassionate, introspective, thoughtful, and broadminded person, looking for the good in all, while sharing the truth of Krishna in a way that is accessible and practicable to our audience.

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I have read Satyaraja's new book, "The Yoga of Kirtan" and I absolutely loved it. To me this is an example of mature, respectful outreach. Why? For starters, the whole philosophy of Krishna consciousness is presented in brief, as is the mission of Chaitanya Mahaprabhu, and the chanting of Hare Krishna. There is also a good sprinkling of our Gaudiya Vaishnava brothers and sisters throughout, which is part of the point of the book: to showcase them and to also respectfully allow us to meet the primary movers and shakers of the modern kirtan world. (who I might add are doing what followers of Lord Chaitanya should have done -- namely popularize kirtan and the holy names).

I personally love biographies and here we have a rare opportunity to hear how devotees -- many of whom we either know or have heard of -- have come to take up KC and/or their love of kirtan. Hearing how devotees have come to Krishna is always inspiring and magical -- the Lord works in mysterious ways! In addition we now have a face to put to the other kirtaniyas from a wide range of groups. I found it a fascinating read in so many ways. I learned so much! I now have an appreciation for Krishna das, Syamdas, and others, for example, since I have now heard their story. We don't have to accept everyone's philosophy as such, yet we can appreciate their sincerity in coming to a spiritual path -- how they were obviously guided in taking up chanting with such enthusiasm. In this, I am sure, they have much more than I. It is convenient to put people and groups in boxes, yet there is much more complexity to people and groups than labels.

For me one of the most informative interviews was with Shyamdas. He first came into contact with Neem Karoli Baba who was the guru of Ramdas (of "Be Here Now" fame) and others. Shyamdas is a learned devotee of Krishna in the line of Shri Vallabhacharya. It is his opinion that contrary to the perception of some of Neem Karoli's followers, the Baba is actually a Vaishnava! He had the heart of a devotee, lived in Vrindavan, gave his followers prasad (with no onions or garlic), followed Ekadasi, and chanted the name of Krishna and Ram -- though he allowed a wide range of understandings to emerge around him.

Shyamdas learned Hindi and some Sanskrit, studying the Vaishnava literatures, and because of this came to see Neem Karoli Baba as a Vaishnava. It seems the Baba was quite an avadhuta. You will have to read it to see it all in context, and decide for yourself. Rather amazing, actually! Perhaps Shyamdas is speaking out of the bhava of a devotee, though his opinion is based on his study and experience.

And there are 20 other biographies, including Yamuna Devi, Patrick Bernard, Bhakti Caru Swami, Dravida das, Rasa, Agnideva, Shri Prahlad, and Vaiyasaki das among our Gaudiyas as well as famous kirtan singers who have popularized kirtana, like Krishnadas, Jai Uttal, David Stringer, David Newman and others.

I know there are different conceptions of outreach, and we may not agree with another view. Still, some presentations appear to me to be overly conservative, even fundamentalist or fanatical. In many ways our movement can be perceived that way -- as narrow and provincial. I don't think this is a proper way for the broad campaign of Prabhupada, his predecessors and Lord Chaitanya to be thought of. Books like this, and devotees like Satyaraja and others, are presenting a more inclusive, respectful, and accommodating -- though still true to the essence--presentation of KC. We don't want to be like some fanatical religionists who in the name of their prophet or aspect of God, condemn others as one of their primary tenets (or so it may seem).

In my view the primary challenge for the Krishna consciousness movement is to both preserve and understand the essence or spirit of the teachings, and to be dynamic in our outreach. The understanding I have gained from reading Prabhupada and other Gaudiya teachers is that being a devotee means being a compassionate, introspective, thoughtful, and broadminded person, looking for the good in all, while sharing the truth of Krishna in a way that is accessible and practicable to our audience.

When I was a new devotee I often used the "smashing" technique to put other paths down (as I thought this was the proper way), and sometimes I hear devotees still using it. However, unless a person is realized, I don't think this is at all useful or effective in promoting the ideals of Krishna consciousness. That is my experience anyway. We have to judge a thing or any type of presentation of Krishna consciousness or Gaudiya Vaishnavism by the results! From what I have heard and read, "The Yoga of Kirtan" has been well received in the modern Western yoga world and more. It also shows a broadminded and progressive face of Krishna consciousness. This is much wanted!

The bottom line: We don't need to beat people over the head to reach them. That's certainly one way of presenting the philosophy. But many don't respond well to that approach. There is also a step-wise technique, getting them there gradually if they want that. Satyaraja's book might be seen as a manual of style for those devotees who want to gently help intelligent people see the wisdom in Krishna Consciousness. I underline the word "intelligent," since these are the kind of folks who don't respond well to bullying of any kind. They want to see the data and make up their own minds, or feel if Krishna is right for them. Kudos to Satyaraja for recognizing this and for giving us a book that, in the end, will help us spread Mahaprabhu and Prabhupada's message to the world.

Combined comments from old site

Fri, 10/17/2008 - 14:34 — Go-Seva
Very educational

Hare Krsna~ I actually bought this from the author while standing in the prasadam line at the Philly Ratha-yatra! He's very friendly in person, and was just meandering about with a handful of books; I noticed him right away, as I think he sort of resembles a young Tom Hanks... Anyway, as a real lover of kirtan, I really enjoyed this book and the many different world views of this form of music. It was interesting for me to find out about other cultural paths to God through kirtan, especially the Sikhs. In addition, as I am a HUGE fan of Yamuna Devi's cooking, I was very surprised to learn of how she basically started her devotee life with kirtan. It really makes me love her even more!

Also, I really liked the interview style of the book. It enhanced the personal nature of the music and the artists, making them seem very accessible.

Unfortunately, I haven't listened to the CD for some reason, but will pop it in tomorrow morning for some nice rousing wake-up kirtan! That gets me going right away! Hari Haribol!


Fri, 10/17/2008 - 13:05 — abrennan
Great book

Like Karnamrita I really enjoyed reading this book. It is a great book for anyone to read. It's a shock to see how popular Kirtan is. People are singing the names of the Lord all over the world.

Like Karnamrita I like a good biography. Many of these interviews are spiritual biographies tracing the moments in the lives of people that brought them to sharing the names of God with others. Some of them are quite famous.

One of my favorites, the singer Karnamrita devi dasi is there also. Her CD "Dasi" is always playing on my mp3 player. But now it's being challenged by the Yoga of Kirtan CD.

Whether you know about Kirtan or not you will enjoy this book. Those who know about Kirtan will gain a deeper appreciation for it's history and its current rising popularity. Those who don't know about Kirtan will find themselves dancing to the rhythms and calling out the names of God whilst listening to the CD that comes inside the book.

Check out the home page here:

The Yoga of Kirtan

Listen to the tracks and get the book here:

Krishna.com Bookstore

Thanks Karnamrita.

Hare Krishna