Krishna Das says chanting the names of Hindu gods isn't religious—it's just joyful.
Headlining concerts around the globe, and now with 14 albums to his name, Krishna Das is a megastar in the world of kirtan (devotional chanting). Ironically, it took walking away from a promising career in rock 'n' roll to get here. Back in 1971, as Jeff Kagel, he followed in the footsteps of his friend Ram Dass and traveled to India, where he met his guru. There, he embarked on a lifelong journey of bhakti (devotion) yoga that has inspired thousands of spiritual seekers to discover their own wellspring of love.
YJ: How did you get to this place in your career?
KD: After my guru, Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaj-ji, died, I crashed pretty heavily. I had gotten into a pretty closed-down state. I was standing in my room in New York at the time, and I completely understood that if I did not chant with people, my heart would never open again.
YJ: Chanting Hindu gods' names intimidates some Westerners. What is the meaning behind this practice?
KD: We can't understand the real meaning of these names with our minds. The real meaning of these names, and the real result of practicing like this, is that the presence that lives in our own heart is released and uncovered. And this is the real meaning of these chants. This is why kirtan is not a Hindu practice. It's not even a religious practice. This is a spiritual practice. It's not something you have to join or give anything up for. It's something you add to your life.
YJ: What is a guru, in your opinion?
KD: The real way you spell guru is L-O-V-E. The guru is what leads you to that love inside. The real guru is your own true Self. Some people get to meet another physical being that embodies that for them, and others don't.
YJ: When your guru died, it was devastating for you. How do you recapture that love?
KD: That's essentially what my life is about. You come into the presence of that love, and you recognize that it really does exist, and you have to find it. Finally you realize you have to find it within yourself. Until you recognize the truth of that, you will always be looking for it outside.
YJ: Do you ever tire of singing the same songs over and over?
KD: Yes. But once you start chanting, that feeling, that boredom, that nastiness, just becomes another thing to let go of. It becomes a part of the practice. And that's a very key thing. Practice has to be your whole life. It can't just be 15 or 20 minutes or an hour a day. There isn't spiritual life and worldly life. Gradually, inevitably, everything in our lives leads us to that love.
YJ: You were asked to sing with Blue Oyster Cult. Do you ever regret not doing it?
KD: Not at all. And the funny thing is, everything I thought I wanted from being a rock 'n' roll singer in a band, everything I thought that would let me feel, I'm getting now—from this.
YJ: Do you ever just want to bust out in song that's not kirtan?
KD: I do, all the time! You should hear us at sound check. We do Van Morrison, Willie Nelson, Rolling Stones. We do everything. We're totally nuts in sound check.