Arjun Bruggeman is the tabla player of world famous kirtan singer Krishna Das. In this interview Arjun talks about his own spiritual journey, how he met and started to play with Krishna Das, meeting Ram Dass, his relationship to Neem Karoli baba and Siddhi Ma and more.
The first time I ever heard of Sri M was when Magnus shared a video he had seen a few days earlier. When I watched the video, I was initially quite skeptical, but the more I listened and focused on the story he shared, I became increasingly interested. A few moments later, I began to feel a very strong pull towards him.
Sri M has lived a fascinated life where he met and lived with great spiritual masters. He was born on November 6, 1949 but his journey began well before this. In a past life, Sri M was a direct disciple of the great guru Babaji who lived in the Himalayan mountains. One day while sitting and meditating in a cave, a man came to Sri M. The man was exhausted because he had walked very long to meet Sri M, or Madhu who was his name in the past life. The man who visited him was Muslim and wanted to learn the truth from M. But M denied the Muslim man because he did not want any disciples. The Muslim man felt heartbroken and no longer saw any meaning with his life. If he could not find the truth that his heart cried out for he felt that he could as well die in order to unite with God. He threw himself into a nearby lake and drowned. His master Babaji was very disappointed in M and had him reborn as a Muslim in his next life to make a similar journey as the Muslim in order to understand the suffering he had created for the man.
Sri M was born in his present life as Mumtaz Ali Khan to a Muslim family in Trivandrum, Kerala. Already at an early age, he showed great interest in religious writings and when he was 9 years old, a man appeared to him in his garden and this man would prove to be his future guru. When he got older he started to feel a strong pull to go to the Himalayas to find the truth. After a long and tough hike he eventually reached the mountains and ended up at the holy place Badrinath where he hoped to find a master he could follow. However, he found none and a total hopelessness filled his heart and he no longer felt any desire to live. He felt the same feeling the Muslim man had in M’s earlier life. Just when he was ready to give up and throw himself in the river he saw a fire from a cave, and from within the cave a voice called for him. When he was 19 years old, he left his home in southern India and started the journey towards the Himalayas. After a long and tough journey he reached the mountains and searched around the holy place Badrinath after a master. But he found none and a total hopelessness filled his heart and he no longer felt a desire to live. He felt the same feelings as the Muslim man felt in M’s past life. Just when he was ready to give up, he saw a fire outside the Vyasa Cave, and from inside the cave a voice called for him. Inside sat the very man who had shown himself to him in the garden as a child. The man turned out to be his guru.
Sri M lived and learned from his guru for 3.5 years until he was told to return to society again. Since then, he has shared the knowledge he has learned and guided people on the path. He has formed the organization The Satsang Foundation and released a number of books. Including the bestseller Apprentice to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiographyr. This book is wonderful if you want to know more about Sri’s amazing story and he has also released a sequel where he continues to share his exciting and amazing story.
During March 2017 we visited Villa Unspunnen in Switzerland and attended a retreat with Sri M. We talk about our experience during this retreat in Maldorma TV- Episode 20.
In April 2017 we traveled to Villa Unspunnen in Switzerland for a retreat with the yogi Sri M. In this episode we explain how we found out about Sri M and we share our experience of meeting Sri M in person.
On the right: Swami Sivananda, founder of The Divine Life Society. On the left: Swami Chidananda, became the organisations president after Sivanandas passing.
In April 2017, Tobias and I traveled to northern India to visit different holy places in and around Nainital, Rishikesh and Dharamsala. When we planned our trip to Rishikesh, visiting Sivananda Ashram ended up being quite high up on our priority list. The Sivananda Ahram is the main ashram of The Divine Life Society, created by its founder Swami Sivananda, a famous Indian saint and guru. However, not to long before our trip to India, none of us had ever heard about The Divine Life Society or Swami Sivananda, so how did this place become one of our top priorities during our stay in Rishikesh?
The reason why I went to India in the first place was because a vision I had during a spiritual experience. I knew from that vision that we were supposed to go to India and that one of the locations we should go to was Rishikesh, but I did not know why. For this reason, we did not really know what places to visit in this area. However, I felt that the higher Self would take care of that and that I did not really have to worry about finding out. I trusted in God.
When Tobias and I was planning our trip to Rishikesh I remembered that the Indian yogi Sri M had written about a few holy places in and around the city in his book Apprenticed to a Himalayan Master: A Yogi’s Autobiography. In the book he talks about his meeting with Swami Chidananda at Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh. I noted this place as one possible location to look into some more. I later googled Swami Chidananda and instantly fell in love with the man I saw in the pictures. He radiated such love and divinity. I watched a short film about him at Youtube called Chidananda,Walk with me and my love for him grew even further. I did not, however, feel any direct pull at the towards his guru and the founder of The Divine Life Society, Swami Sivananda.
After this, a number of strange events occurred, and “the why” of visiting Rishikesh became quite obvious. Well, at least one reason why we should go there became obvious, because I was open to the idea that there might have been multiple reasons (which turned out to be quite right). The following weeks after my discovery of The Divine Life Society the name and the people associated to this society popped up everywhere. It was almost absurd how unlikely these synchronicities were. In particular, did the picture and name of the current president of The Divine Life Society show up in the most peculiar ways. By then, I just knew we had to go there, and I had a strong feeling that we were supposed to meet the current president Swami Vimalananda. However, I did not have any high hopes that this would actually happen.
Swami Vimalananda in the middle. The current president of The Divine Life Society.
Later, when Tobias and I came to Rishikesh after an amazing time in and around Nainital, we decided to go to The Sivananda Ashram quite early on. The ashram is a huge complex with many buildings. We actually got lost for a short while searching for the main shrine called Holy Samadhi Shrine. We didn’t use the main entrance when entering the ashram since we came with our scooters and had to search for a parking lot and therefore ended up walking amongst the buildings not really meant for visitors. Suddenly I saw this old man walking in front of us together with a younger man and I immediately recognized him from the pictures that mysteriously had popped up everywhere while planning our trip. The old man was no other than the current president of The Divine Life Society, Swami Vimalananda, the very man I had felt we where supposed to meet. He just happened to be the first person we ran into.
We went up to him and talked for a while. He turned out to be a very kind, loving and humble person. We didn’t talk about anything particular. He asked us where we were from, and said he had been to Sweden a few times. We then took a photo together as a memory and parted ways. Immediately after we parted I knew intuitively that this meeting was the reason why we were supposed to come here and I didn’t feel any need to stay at the ashram any longer. To this day, I have no idea of why this meeting was important, only that it was.
Even though I did not feel any need to stay, we stayed for quite some time anyway just because the place was so beautiful. Walking around in the main hall, reading the quotes of Swami Sivananda, I started to see how extraordinary this saint had been and an affection towards this man started to grow. All over the ashram, beautiful quotes where written on the walls, and the spiritual messages they conveyed affected me deeply. The Divine Life Society is such an amazing organization spreading love and spiritually worldwide and I would recommend visiting the beautiful Sivananda Ashram if you’re in Rishikesh.
We returned to the ashram for two more days attending kirtan and also the evening arti at the river Ganga. The ashram became our favorite place in Rishikesh. I did also meet Swami Vimalananda one more time but did not talk to him this time. I just sat in his presence, listening to him reading holy literature. Nothing else was required than sitting in the hall of the master Swami Sivananda, listening to this loving man. I did not feel like searching for anything. Just sit there and Be. Perhaps this beautiful quote of Swami Sivananda says it all, even though I just caught a small glimpse of it: Seek, find, enter, rest in God.
Magnus recently traveled to Hawaii where he attended the Sunday satsang with Ram Dass & Krishna Das. He share his experience from this event and also share what happened when he also attended a kirtan concert with Krishna Das.
Last november Tobias traveled to New York to attend a kirtan concert and workshop with Krishna Das. He share what he experienced and learned from this event.
At the end of November 2017 I went to Maui, Hawaii, to attend the Ram Dass Thanksgiving satsang which he held together with Krishna Das. The following day, Krishna Das also held a kirtan concert. During both evenings, the beautiful church of Makawao Union Church was filled with people who came from all over the world hoping to get to know the path that Ram Dass and Krishna Das have been teaching for years – the path of the heart. The meeting with these two people came to affect me deeply and they touched my soul, and for days after my intellect struggled to understand what had happened in my heart.
The first evening started with Krishna Das, along with his band, playing music for about an hour before Ram Dass entered the stage together with Krishna Das and Raghu Markus. During the evening they talked about subjects such as joy, love, ego, soul, God and, of course, their guru Neem Karoli Baba. But for me, it was not the words that were important or that left an impression on me. I had already read the books, listened to the talks online. To me, all of this was overshadowed by Ram Dass’s presence. It was obvious what an enormous effect he had on the people in the church. It’s hard to put into words how his presence affects one’s self and others, but noone can avoid noticing what an incredible human being Ram Dass is. He is like a sun that illuminates everything in his presence. And for my part, what I loved most of all was his silence. In it was more than words could express. It was as if his invisible hand was stretched out to me and touched my soul. A palpable silence appeared within me in which I stayed the whole evening. Ram Dass was impossible not to love, because he was love. He was joy and peace. Never before have I met a person like him. I think nobody in the audience wanted the satsang ever to end. The church was so full of love and joy and we all sat there and drank as much as we could while we had the chance.
After the satsang I was given the opportunity to go up to Ram Dass to take a photo for this article, which I had decided in advance to write. As he took my hand and looked into my eyes, my heart burst open and I could barely speak. I got my pictures for the article and just barely managed to say a few words before I somewhat dazed walked away. It would take several days before I could start to understand what had happened this evening, if it’s even possible to understand.
The next evening it was time for Krishna Das’s concert. For several years I have listened to his music daily and it has been a big part of my spiritual practice and for many years I have longed for an opportunity to attend one of his live concerts. He has an incredibly down to earth, humble and lovely way to be, and it’s very easy to feel good around him, but it’s when he starts to sing the true magic takes place. During the evening I sang along song after song and gradually I went deeper and deeper into myself and the evening would turn out to be like a rollercoaster of experiences.
The first experience came when he sang Good is real / Hare Ram which is a song where he mixes Indian kirtan with American gospel. I felt that I could fully relate to his words and suddenly I experienced the Beingness that is the source of everything. I experienced how all I experience was within me, within my own Being. I felt boundless, happy and full of love. I have experienced this before during meditations and now it came back again.
Later, between two songs, Krishna Das pulled a joke and a woman behind me laughed loudly and I found myself judging her for trying to get Krishna Das’s attention. I felt very ashamed of my silent judgment and went into a bad mood. Then I realised that I was actually judging myself because I had not laughed at the joke as she had. My judging of her was in reality a covert judging of myself. I had looked down on myself because of how I am as a person, who was unable to laugh at the joke, and this judging of myself I projected on to her to avoid looking at myself. But after this painful insight came the next one that lifted me up again. I saw that I do not have to react and act like other people do, that I can choose not to laugh without judging myself for it. That I do not have to do what others do and I can be confident in being myself. In other words, I found love for myself, and with that insight my judgment of the woman went away and was instead replaced with love. The totality of this entire episode took place in just a few minutes and afterwards I can see what an amazing personal insight and transformation I experienced there and then. Never had I thought that so much would surface from within me during this concert.
The next experience during the concert came to the song Saraswati. I saw what simple technique it is Krishna Das teaches us. How it is enough to just remember God. To repeat his name over and over again. The rest will take care of itself. You do not have to try to get into different states of mind, try to be happy or look for anything. You only need to repeat God’s name over and over again, and things will happen by themselves over time. You do not have to worry about when and how. It happens when it happens. Just keep doing it. I really connected with the beauty of this teaching.
After this experience, I again lost contact with the joy that came with my insights and I could no longer feel the high I had just had. Then I realized that it’s not the high that is It. The highs comes and goes, but It is always there. I started to see that between my different experiences of ups and downs there was always something in the background, and suddenly it hit me, I remembered God in my heart. I felt how God was there, in the middle of my chest, radiating out in all directions. I suddenly remembered several occasions during the evening when I had been fully aware, but how I forgot about this when I returned to unconsciousness again, but how I could now see that it was just my definitions of It which caused me to miss It when It did not fit my definition. I now felt how everything was God, and that I was all. It was a memory brought to life. A recognition rather than a discovery. I remembered God in my heart. There he was. As me. Where he had been all the time.
The days after meeting Ram Dass and Krishna Das were confusing in many ways. My intellect had difficulty understanding, because in the exterior that not much had happened, but something had happened in my heart. I had recognized God within my own heart. I felt that a change had occurred within me. It was an humbling experience and I felt a huge gratitude.
On the plane back home to Sweden I discovered another strange thing. For a long time I have studied and followed several gurus and saints. In addition to Neem Karoli Baba, I have been strongly influenced by Ramana Maharshi, Martinus, Papaji to name a few. But when I now thought about them, I could no longer feel them like different individuals. This was very confusing for my intellect, because I had different faces of them in my mind, but in the plane of feelings they were all one. And they were one with Ram Dass and with Krishna Das when I thought about them too. It’s hard to put this feeling into words of not being able to see the difference between different individuals. The difference is still there in the outer experience, but on the inside, in the heart, they are all one. In my experience when I think about them, they are all The One. And also, I can not separate them from myself. Underneath the surface I can now feel something I could not feel before. An underlying relationship that is impossible to put into words. It’s still a bit unclear, but it’s there every time I look.
These two days with Ram Dass and Krishna Das really exceeded all the expectations I had prior to the event. I still feel dazed and find myself searching for words. But on the other hand, I also feel that no words are needed. The answer IS in my heart all the time. Of course, I still find myself drawn into the dramas of my life and tend to forget, but as soon as I turn my attention back to my heart, I remember. I remember God in my heart. In mine and in yours.
Thank you Ram Dass and Krishna Das. Thank you Maharajji, with all my heart, thank you! <3