Krishna Das and Hindu chant on German radio!

Playground on RBB Kulturradio is a late-night (German time) program of world music… and I was brought home in an odd way by yesterday’s broadcast of music by Krishna Das, an American convert to Hinduism who is becoming well known for an American version of the kirtan, a devotional singing style which even in recordings just gives you the feeling of getting right to the root of all of humanity’s spiritual strivings. German radio playing an American Hindu’s devotional music influenced by the spiritual culture of India!

Of course anybody of my generation knows the flirtations of the Beatles with eastern cultures – George Harrison’s “My Sweet Lord” being the best known setting of the “Hare Krishna” chant 🙂 …

Why did this come off as a “homecoming”? Well, I’ve had a few brushes with the East and various East-meets-West figures in spirituality… In the late 70’s, at a visit to St. Joseph Abbey in Louisiana, I heard a talk by the late Bede Griffiths, a British Benedictine who worked on the fine border between Hindu devotional culture and Catholic monasticism. A disciple of his, Russill Paul, is a musician offering workshops incorporating Hindu customs and a Christianized version of this participatory musical style, and at one of the “Creation Spirituality Workshops” (influenced by Matthew Fox) in the 90’s I encountered him leading us through “Om nama Kristai”, a chant with movements that meant something like “Christ, I surrender all to you.” (I actually got to jam with him later at another event too!)

The centering quality of this music has been absolutely amazing – a bit of downloading from Napster and a quick capture of the samples from RBB’s webcast have kept me in peace for over 24 hours now 🙂

The renewed question for the classic church musician in me… not to neglect the devotional, irrational, repetitive, mantra-like aspects of music and meditation. Especially walking among Lutherans now, this becomes a great concern – how easy it is for them to think rationally, verbally efficiently, in a time-limited fashion, and lose the ecstatic, interior, meditative aspects. (Catholics who like their short, spoken “low mass” might fall in the same category…) Yes, Taize and traditional Western chant has some element of this, but are a few snippets from this repertoire enough? What about worship planning, where so much concern for time leads sometimes to minimizing redundancy, “cutting for time,” picking the “shorter option” instead of really getting people caught up in the prayer. A never-ending quest…

Leave a Reply

You must be logged in to post a comment.