Recently I went to see Krishna Das perform in Brisbane this year at the Old Science Museum. If you haven’t heard of him then I know you’re not a yoga teacher because he’s pretty big with the yogis. He’s an American man who went to India, found a guru and has spent the rest of his life performing Kirtan, Sanskrit call-and-response chanting.
It was my first time seeing him live and it was a very powerful experience. Kerry and I opted to take our shoes off and sit on the floor, and right on time he appeared.
There were just two of them on stage: ‘KD’ with his harmonium, the keyboard instrument that’s hand-powered by a bellow that wheezes as you play, and his drummer friend, playing the tablas, traditional Indian drums.
He was very charming in an understated New York kind of way. Obviously very sincere about his chanting but very low-key, with a lot of laughs along the way. He welcomed us all and said “So, the way this works is I chant something; and then you chant something back to me, that may or may not sound anything like what I just chanted”.
And then he closed his eyes, started singing and playing and he was off and we just followed along. There were about 8 songs and they each took about 15-20 minutes, so for two and a half hours we chanted sanksrit back and forth, listened to stories and at the end it seemed to be over so quick!
And right at the end, speaking quietly with no instruments, KD spoke and wrapped up the evening with some simple words. I can’t remember them all but the words that stayed with me were these: “if there is a path, then it is to be in the world, with an open heart, and to not be afraid.”
And I decided then and there that such fine words needed a poem for a home.
In the Temple of Science the Servant of God
evokes his wheezy witness,
invoking things divine and beyond time,
removed from all distress.
He has the keys to what is beautiful,
the drummer’s fingers dance with delight;
and we surrender to ceremony, to mystery,
chanting darkness into light.
Shoeless and penitent, we pilgrims hear the call
and tentatively respond,
and though we stumble over the language of love,
our words are never wrong.
“There is no failure,” he baritones,
“We’ve already fallen! Success is assured!”
The peace that surpasses understanding is felt,
in every ancient word.
And if there is a path;
if words must be prayed,
then may I be in this world with an open heart,
and be not afraid.