I love chanting. For the past eight years, my main music preference has been that of Krishna Das, a Jew from Long Island who traveled to India to become a Hindu and was forced out of his ashram because his guru decided he needed to share his music with the world. He is, to sum him up, the Bruce Springsteen of chanting.
I've been to three of his concerts, two of which included some of the holiest moments of my life. Intermittent in the holiness, however, are reminders about the unholiness of people--aka there are always assholes at the Krishna concerts.
At my first concert in San Francisco, I was sitting alone in a church pew, squeezed between strangers. (My friends claimed to have other "commitments" that night..you know who you are, ahem Carolyn, Crem, and Per). Despite not knowing anyone, I felt connected to everyone. In fact, I spent the first song completely entranced by the people around me; all of us sitting quietly at first, many with their eyes closed, singing in unison, opening up our hearts, and chanting words in sanskrit that we didn't quite understand, but that we knew were holy hymns.
In front of me sat a large bald man sporting a leather jacket, aggressive jewelry, a couple tattoos, and a goutee. He was really feeling the music. I found the juxtaposition of his physical stature but his quiet chanting beautiful. As he chanted, he slowly lifted up one of his fingers, obviously expressing the "power of one,"and rhythmically pumping his finger to the beat of the "hare krishnas." He had a soft whimsical smile...UNTIL...
the couple next to me started whispering sweet nothings into each other's ears, undoubtedly feeling the love of this "power of one." Suddenly, Mr. "Whimsically Smiling Hells Angel" turned around and barked at the couple, "SHUT THE HELL UP!"
It was awkward. Really awkward. The couple paused in shock. I paused in shock. And then the man turned around, smiled, and started his "one" chant again. Umm..... COMO??!! I felt weird. And distracted. And annoyed. What the HECK?! How DARE HE?!
And then, there was my most recent concert a few weeks ago. I dragged my partner in crime, Alex, to Webster Hall in the East Village. When we arrived, there was a line around the block of people clutching yoga mats and meditation pillows. Everyone was smiling. When we finally got inside, we anxiously searched for a spot to sit down, finding a small place in the back. People were frantically trying to save seats. "You can't save seats!" a 40 year old woman-turned-kindergartner yelled. "Stop pushing me!" another meditator-turned-screamer yelled. Smothered between angry yellers who would soon-to-be-enlightened chanters, six foot one Alex awkwardly sat cross-legged, his knees scrunched to his chest. "Move OVER!" someone yelled out. "SHUT UP, we can't move ANYWHERE" another person yelled. "YOU Shut up!" another person yelled back. Alex looked over at me with a panicked look that expressed claustrophobia and bewilderment. "Hare krishna?" I responded. "I.....think I'm gonna stand," he whispered fearfully. "Good idea," I feverishly agreed as we jumped out of the mob scene, gasping for breath.
Rudeness amidst godliness is not unusual. My mom witnessed it when she was in an ashram in India, noting how yogis would hoard fresh fruit for themselves even if it meant depriving those further back in line. My siblings and I experienced it every Sunday after church when we would inexplicably fight during the 7 minute ride home. I see it every time I walk out of church and watch 300 congregants walk over a homeless person as they rave about the Word of God and the power of loving our neighbors.
It's as if the universe wants to ensure that the second we start to feel like we're righteous and holy, we are reminded of our flawed humanity....so as to say, "oh yeah? you think you're disciplined in your faith? deal with this asshole!" or "you feel full of God's love? try sharing it with this guy."
These recognized moments of un-enlightenment always seem like buzz kills. But perhaps it is these moments, not the obvious moments of peaceful holiness, that are the true gifts for our faith. They are moments that allow us to practice godliness as opposed to just observing God. They are moments that allow us to practice our faith, as opposed to just reciting our faith. They are moments that remind us that our religiousness is not just a belief, but rather a discipline that must be practiced to be perfected. They are moments that force us to stop patting ourselves on our backs for being "good" and lead us to kick our asses into being better. Perhaps then the holiest experiences are when we stop the chanting and simply send love to the assholes.