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.
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
One of my dreams has always been to attend a kirtan with Krishna Das. I don’t know how many hours I have spent listening to his music. It always fills me with a sense of joy and understanding that everything is alright. Krishna Das music has also been the main factor behind many of my spiritual experiences. As I sit and listen to the music I tend to float away and where I end up is always different. Due to this I was eager to experience his kirtan in person. I looked at his website and noticed that he had schedule his yearly heart of devotion kirtan & workshop in New York. I knew I had to take this opportunity. I could no longer wait until he might cross the sea to play in Europe. I booked my flight ticket and headed to New York. I didn’t know what to expect and I didn’t want to get my expectations up so I’d end up disappointed.
Finally the day was here. I was about to see Krishna Das live for the very first time. I arrived at the Church of St. Paul and St. Andrew well in advance to get good seats. Luckily I was able to get seats on the front row, sitting just a few meters away from him. The concert started with the special guest Baird Hersey and Prana singing a few songs. It was really beautiful and I was glad I got to experience their music as well. But as they said themselves, we were all waiting for the King of Kirtan. He finally took the stage and sang the wonderful song My Foolish Heart. I could instantly feel the vibration in Krishna Das voice. It touched my very being. After the song he sat down at his harmonium and begun with the Hanuman Prayer. Directly at the first Ohm I felt something. A space was created within me. A space where only the kirtan and my awareness existed. Time and space ceased to exist and I was floating in infinity.
As the kirtan began I started singing along. In this moment I could feel Maharaj-jis presence. Everything else ceased to exist and I could feel only his presence. There was no thoughts that would interrupt. I just kept my eyes closed since I felt that it enhanced the experience. I was in my own cocoon where I took in the experience of God chanting and God responding. But the cocoon I was in was not only mine. It was the space of everyone in the room. With the chanting everything merged into one. There was no separation in the space. It was a hundred times stronger than what I experienced listening to Krishna Das on my stereo. My state of awareness was something beyond that.
The kirtan practice give you an opportunity to forget everything else and enter into your divinity. But it also create an opportunity for practice. As the evening progressed I noticed I couldn’t stay there indefinitely. Sometimes my thoughts came in the way and sometimes my body ached which made me come out of it. The same goes for life. There’s always something trying to take away from your true self. The more we can find ourselves within our divine space, which become so apparent during kirtan, the more joy and happiness we can find in our lives.
The strongest experience during the whole evening was when the band performed one of Krishna Das newer songs called Om Namo Gurudev. As the chants to Maharaj-ji kept repeating I just felt how my heart opened up. Finally I could not hold it back anymore. The tears just started bursting out of me. But it was not tears of sadness, it was tears of joy. I just felt how my life, my existence, the whole universe was a product of the grace of Maharaj-ji. Being able to experience life was all due to his grace. Every precious moment I owe to him. I owe to God. Even though there were so many people in the room I could not hold back my tears, nor did I want to. These were tears of gratitude and I did not want to hide them from anyone.
As the evening progressed I experienced such genuine joy. People were singing, dancing and there was a smile on every person around me. I remember thinking to myself, I wish I could do this every day of my life. If people would know the feeling that Krishna Das create with his music there would be much less sorrow in the world. I felt so thankful and happy that I would experience it again the next day.
During the workshop there were less people which created a closer feeling. People were asking questions to him and with his answers you could sense the authenticity within him. He was doing all of this from his heart. Krishna Das was very honest with his answers, which I really appreciated. He gave you an answers that made you think instead of giving you what you only want to hear.
I especially enjoyed his stories of Maharaj-ji. He was able to create a glimpse of who this wonderful saint was. Throughout these two days what was amazing was that you could actually feel Maharaj-ji. In the voice and the music Maharaj-ji was dancing. With every answer during the workshop you could sense a lot of it came from the wisdow Krishna Das gather during his time with Maharaj-ji.
I left New York with such great experiences and I had learned so much. Whenever I think back of these two days it brings a smile to my face and I can feel Maharaj-ji within my heart.