I was having a little guru confusion a while back. Neem Karoli Baba, or Maharaji as he was affectionately known by his devotees, despite no longer being in his body, had touched my heart in such a way that I undoubtedly innately trusted him as my guru. Over the years of coming into contact with spirituality; however, I was gifted the Bhagavad Gita As It Is, the Prabhupada version, numerous of times. Being the placebo master I can be, I felt it may be an auspiciously directed sign and that I should give in to Prabhupada as a possible guru, and follow his way of doing things, his prescribed japas and rather strict path to liberation, even though it never touched me intuitively on a heart level. After much inner debate and trying to fit my amoeba-shaped peg into what felt like a square hole of the ISKCON, I finally talked to one of my satsang friends and teachers about my dilemma, and was rather directly steered away from Prabhupada and his movement, placing a heavy asterisk next to his name.
A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada
Fast forward a couple months to getting weird late night at Fractal Beach music festival off the coast of Miami, my wife and I, amidst the chaos, decided to have a moment of intent and spaciousness. I grabbed the ukulele from the tent at camp, and we trounced over to the beach, soft waves lapping up and fizzling out on the sand, under the star-spattered dark crystal that was the clear obsidian night sky. Finding a quiet spot where we could really merge, we sat down, taking in the moment, and began singing the Hanuman Chalisa, a 40 line Hindu chant to Lord Hanuman. In this setting, on this beach looking out onto the dark, immense Atlantic Ocean leading up to the grand cosmos above, we hit moments of fusion with each other, with the setting, and with the Chalisa. The wild sounds of dubstep and people partying in the background phased out as the chant took over, expressing itself to the universe, as the universe, through us. At a certain point it didn’t feel like we sat down to sing the Chalisa, it felt like we simply put all the correct ingredients in the garden, plopped down as seeds in a fertile area, and the Chalisa grew out of us.
I was startled out of this flow when I began hearing finger cymbals down the beach in the distance. They went in such a pattern with the Chalisa melody that we were locked into that at first I thought someone could hear us and were playing along to our chant. After finishing our song, we listened closely and amongst the sound of the wind, waves, and wubby rumblings of the festival behind us, our ears syphoned the sound of a harmonium down the beach, playing alongside the finger cymbals. We decided to rove across the sand to check out what was emanating these vibes. Upon inspection we walked up to a group of five absolutely joyous human beings sitting on a blanket facing each other. One was beating a double sided Indian drum, another wofted away at the harmonium, a small air-powered key instrument used in Indian devotional singing which seems to be the cross between an accordion and an organ, and another rang the hand chimes which had first drawn our attention over. They were all smiling, swaying and singing kirtan, a call and response form of devotional chanting used in bhakti yoga. This was a beautiful sight indeed, as we realized others had the same pull as us to go out and sing to the water meeting the night sky.
The Beach Sunset (because Iphone 4's don't take pictures well in the dark)
Although no formal words were exchanged, as the chant was in motion, they recognized our intent, and opened up for us to sit in their circle and sing. It was a very loose, sharing intensive kirtan, where when the vibes built up it in such a way, the next person would take over leading in such a gracious natural pass-off. After a while I caught on that all the chants were directed at Krishna and his wife Radhe, using various names given to these Hindu deities. This was beautiful to me, as chanting Hare Krishna was one of the first times chanting really took flight for me, and is one of my favorite chants, despite having brushed it under the rug after feeling strange about Prabhupada and his ISKCON movement after my fake, forced calling to it, and the diminishing of it from my older devotee friend. It was pure grace to have a breakthrough like this and fully feel the love and vibration of chanting to Krishna once again. Seeing the pure loving devotion in their eyes, and feeling the bhav build within them as the song and chanting rose in waves like the ocean beside us, my heart was touched in such a warm and tender way.
At the end of each chant, when the music built in such a pungent ferocity that you could feel your molecules jumping with joy and Krishna dancing on your tongue, they would do a big callout to Prabhupada, their guru. When they did this, I could see the pure, unwavering, unflickering, unfiltered devotion in each of their eyes, so intensely in the moment, so fully opened in love and adoration for the being that had shown them their way to Krishna. They were singing with as much devotion and love to Prabhupada as our satsong does when we sing to Neem Karoli Baba. It was no different. Different faces yes, but the vibrational eminence that was being exuded was completely the same. That’s when it hit me, “Sab Ek,” translated to, “All One” is what Maharaji would always say, “Many forms, All One.” It doesn’t necessarily matter what ship you are taking to the other shore, as long as you get there. Some vessels are going to float and steer better for different people in different situations. Everyone has their own path, and everybody’s relationship to the guru, which in this example is the vessel that helps guide us to the other shore, is a completely personal one.
Neem Karoli Baba, or, "Maharaji"
Ramanama Maharshi said, “Guru, God and Self are One.” This takes the concept of guru from being outside of us, or some giant lofty thing, into being a personal relationship, and just as all of our personal relationships are unique, so will be our individual relationship with the guru, whichever the form it decides to present itself in. I learned from this little lila, or divine play, that whatever blanket my mind tries to throw over form in attempt to understand it, means absolutely nothing compared to the vibrational quality that is flowing out of whatever sector of the universe one happens to be abiding in at the time. I feel blessed to have met and sang with these souls within the frantic intensity that is an electronic music festival. This auspicious little node, a yin within the yang, was truly one of the most beautiful, soft, spacious, warming moments of my existence, helping me break down barriers of separation and begin to see light, oneness, and the path within every form just a little bit more.