I taught this eternal practice of yoga to Vivisvan the sun-god; Vivisvan gave it to Manu, father of mankind; Manu passed it to King Iksvaku. Thus handed from one to another, it was known by saintly kings. But over a great passage of time this yoga was lost to the world. Now I am teaching the transcendental secret of this ancient yoga to you, Arjuna, because you are my devotee and my friend.
Bhagavad-gita 4, 1-3
I waited all day for bedtime, when my dad would continue his spiritual history of kirtan and the world. That history spoke of an ancient spiritual civilization wherein yogis lived in harmony with one another and divine nature, and spent most of their time absorbed in blissful spiritual practices such as kirtan, a form of meditation based upon sacred sound. With the advance of time, however, the influence of materialism slowly became stronger and many yogis came to identify more with the external material-powers of technology than with internal spiritual practices.
My dad explained that with declining spiritual vision, the former yogis became increasingly greedy, lusty, and angry. And, just as an elderly person becomes increasingly week and dependent upon the support of a walking cane, these people became more dependent on external things as a source of happiness. Eventually, spiritual practice was forgotten in the greater community consciousness just as an adolescent forgets the innocence of childhood. Even their access to spirituality was externalised and materialised, taking to be designated by birth rather than by inner qualities. As such, “spirituality” came to uphold a brutally oppressive cast system. All of this led to a scarcity mentality of competition and conflict where people and Mother Nature came to be seen as things to be used and exploited rather than as divine personalities to be respected, nurtured, and protected.
As humans took from Mother Nature according to their greed rather than according to their need, she withdrew her bounties deep within her surface as a turtle protects itself by withdrawing its limbs within its shell. Thereupon humans were forced to work hard by ploughing, digging, and drilling to reach nature’s resources. When the harmony that had existed for so long between humans, nature, and the Divine was lost, even learned people came to view the forgotten mysteries of spiritual practices like kirtan as the stuff of superstitions, myths, and legends. Meanwhile the external squirrel like accumulation of things substituted the sage like inner cultivation of peace, love and joy, as indicators of success. In time the people who had become like squirrels realised that no matter how many acorns they collected, they were not happy. Alcohol and drugs were invented to address this issue, making them even less self-aware and ever more dependent on external stimulants as sources of joy. A new profession called psychology was also invented, supplying people theories and drugs to motivate them to get back out play harder in the squirrel-race to accumulate the externals of money, sex, drugs, and fame.
Through all of this history, small bands of yogis had continued to practice, preserve, and teach the forgotten yoga tradition of internal spiritual practice. And, as people became disillusioned and questioned the external materialistic paradigm, these yogis were there to revive the humans who had become like squirrels, by providing access to spiritual power and thus reminding them about their earlier greatness. This they were able to do thanks to Vyasa, the yogi who thousands of years earlier had the foresight to codify the teachings of yoga within texts called the Veda or “The Knowledge”, also called yoga texts.
Some 500 years ago, Sri Caitanya, a saint, spiritual reformer, and Divine incarnation, gave particular emphasis to kirtan. Breaking major social trends he made Divine connection available to everyone without distinctions of caste, colour, or creed, giving everyone the opportunity to become fully enlightened through this simple and blissful spiritual activity. In the 1960’s Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada introduced kirtan to the West, leading a group of singers and dancers under a tree in New York’s Tompkins Square Park through the summer of 1965. Later he sent disciples to Europe where they enlisted the support of Beatles John Lennon and George Harrison, who were responsible for having Hare Krishna kirtan released as a single that topped music charts around the world. As my dad ended the story, he showed me a kirtan album he had recently purchased called “The Radha Krishna Temple”, produced and released by George Harrison on the Apple label.
When dad left, closing my bedroom door, I lay in bed wondering if I might ever see the yoga texts he spoke of, or meet the modern yogis who live by them. I too wanted to be a yogi… One day, several months later, I felt this dream was becoming fulfilled when my dad gave me the Sanskrit name Prahlada. He said he was naming me after a five-year-old yogi from thousands of years before. Prahlada means “one who gives happiness”. My father gave me a lot of hope and happiness that day when he named me Sri Prahlada. Through my life, I have endeavoured to share that happiness with others, particularly by sharing the magic of kirtan.
Have you ever wondered what it might be like to live as a yogi and study the ancient yoga texts? Feel free to comment with any thoughts or questions.
Sri Prahlada was practically born into kirtan and has been singing and playing kirtan across the globe since childhood. He has performed kirtan in traditional, as well as rock and reggae styles before audiences of tens of thousands. Along with the likes of Krishna Das and Jai Uttal, he features in Steven Rosen’s book “The Yoga of Kirtan”. He often performs with a five-piece band featuring the hypnotic harmonium, rhythmic base and mridanga drum, melodic guitar, chiming karatals, and vocal harmonies. Sri Prahlada’s heart and soul permeates every moment of every kirtan he sings, transporting his audience to the realm of spiritual consciousness. He maintains a kirtan website http://www.sriprahlada.com where he nurtures a kirtan community by providing kirtan event news, films, music downloads, and other kirtan related resources.
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photo credit:by evanbdudley