Bhagavan Das looks a little like Gandalf the White.
(You know, Gandalf after he came back from fighting the Balrog of Morgoth).
He holds his giant one-stringed ektar like a giant staff, and wears a long white robe and long white beard, and sports outlandish eyebrow hair.
So why did I (and two of my dear friends) want to drive to Jacksonville last Friday night to see him? For the darshan, man. More on that below.
When we first arrived at the historic musuem in downtown Jacksonville where we were to experience Bhagavan Das, I got a seat right up front next to my favorite Jacksonville yogi. I sat on a floor pillow that looked like it was placed there just for me. “Lucky!”
An enthusiastic yogi gave an introduction for Bhagavan Das. She called him a “living saint” and it was clear that she felt love and reverence for him as she read from her well-prepared notes. Since the event had clearly started, I figured I had totally scored with my sweet seat. Bhagavan Das was introduced and when the enthusiastic yogi left the stage to sit down, I realized I had stolen her seat! She shared half of it with me, and I shared half of another seat with my Jax-yogi friend.
Oh what a field day brain voice had with the seat fiasco! I was uncomfortable in my shared seats for the first part of the show, consistently shifting position so as not to upset my seatmates who must just hate sharing a seat with me! Finally I realized what I was doing and just relaxed into being exactly where I was. How difficult I make things sometimes…
So Bhagavan Das is an American yogi, originally from California. He spent oodles of time with Maharji, a great Indian sage that died in the late seventies and was the guru to many of my favorite American yogis, like Ram Dass (amazing author and spiritual teacher) and Krishna Das (famous kirtan recording artist and teacher). Because of all the time he spent in the presence of a great saint, I figured the enlightened energy would be just oozing off him. I wanted to sit with some of that. In India they refer to this experience of another’s energy (usually a saint) as “darshan” which literally translates to “sight” as in a “beholding” of another person.
I think of it sort of like a musical instrument – if you play a note on a piano, the strings on a nearby violin will start to vibrate and play that note too. Darshan is like that – just being around people vibrating at higher frequencies may help you to vibrate a little higher yourself. And it can be palpable – an unmistakable feeling you get in your body that gives you a direct experience of something bigger than yourself. That’s why I like yoga. Yoga is about direct experience: it calls you to see for yourself what great adventurers before you have seen. It doesn’t ask for blind faith. It just asks for some space – some judgment-free room in your brain where you believe it might just be possible for you to experience “yoga” (as in unity with all) for yourself.
So I’m a darshan-junkie, and I love to participate in kirtan and to hear interesting people talk. Bhagavan Das is one interesting character.
When he was 19 years old, with $200 in his pocket, he bought a boat ticket to India and wandered the continent looking for a teacher. He is pushing 70 years old now. He told us funny stories of his travels through India and quest to find a guru. He described his first meeting with Maharaji:
Light completely surrounding him [several feet] out from his body. I had never seen a human being in my life surrounded by this kind of light. And I was just, like, completely awestruck. I just stood at the door dumbfounded, my knees started to shake…I came in and stood there in awe…I dropped down to the floor and bowed my head in front of him…he put my head on his knee and he put his blanket over my head. And he hit me two times really hard, and I swooned back from his knee and I felt like he had knocked my brains out of my head – into my heart. All of a sudden, two rivers of tears came down my cheeks. Tears – It was like all the tears I had never cried my whole life were all waiting to come and they started flowing and I couldn’t stop crying and I wasn’t happy or sad and the tears just flowed like these two rivers.
Before talking about his guru, Bhagavan Das started the event by singing kirtan music. Kirtan is the singing of simple spiritual hymns, with simple beats, usually in a call-and-response fashion. I wasn’t expecting the kirtan to be super good, judging in classic mean-brain-voice-fashion prior to the event that it wouldn’t be as good as the Krishna Das’ kirtan, since Krishna Das is the more famous kirtan singer of the two.
Well lo and behold, mean brain voice was proved wrong (d’oh, maybe next time!) and the kirtan was really good! Bhagavan Das had a soulful resonance to his voice. His wife Kali (she sits to right of him in the pic above and I’m thinking about getting her dreads – think I can still pull off being a lawyer if I do? Comment below) led us in responding to the chants. I likewise enjoyed the melodic element that she brought in.
Here is a sample from that night:
So we we got to experience some darshan, to listen to some kirtan, we learned more about the awesomeness of Maharaji, and we got some sagely advice.
What type of sagely advice, you ask? Well he is obviously passionate about eating the right food. He described food as “sacred” and stressed the importance of preparing food with love and reverence.
He also gave parenting advice, cautioning that when we are children we worship our parents as God. He said we need to tackle our own personal shadow – and work on ourselves – or else our children will just take it on for us, and work through the same issues and karma that we have. He said that the best thing we can do for our children is to become whole ourselves, and to realize the guru or highest self within each of us.
Bhagavan Das emphasized that the “the guru is not a person, it is a principle…it is a pure awareness that all of us have.” He told us that there are many different paths to get there, and that each of us has to find our own path. He advised that living and non-living saints that had realized this inner guru for themselves (like Maharaji!) are always accessible to us; we simply have to “tune in” to hear them.
He finished with more uplifting kirtan. We clapped and sang with him. The event was a altogether enlightening and I’m definitely going to read his autobiography, “It’s Here Now (Are You?),” which chronicles more of the adventurers of the unconventional yogi.
I heart Bhagavan Das.
As we got up from our seats, I saw a clearly-marked “reserved” sign in front of the place I had sat down up front. Wow, had that really been there the whole time?