Devotion for peace and comfort

He sits cross-legged, covered in white. His hair is knotted in dreadlocks and tied into a bun on top of his head. He resembles a Hindu Santa Claus, with a big jolly belly and a long orange and white beard covering a childlike smile. He sways lightly back and forth with closed eyes as he plucks the strings of his tall, upright ektara and chants:

“Gang Ganapataye Namo Namah, Gang Ganapataye Namo Namah, Gang Ganapataye Namo Namah.”

His deep, commanding voice booms out the ancient Sanskrit words, as he purifies the evening with a chant to Ganesha, the elephant-headed god who is the remover of obstacles. The people sitting around him chant responses to the sacred words in unison. Some cry, some smile. Some look filled with bliss, while others seem filled with a longing for more. For some, this is a beginning, for others just another precious moment.

This moment was one of many that occurred recently during the kirtan, or ecstatic devotional call-and-response chanting session, at the grand opening of the Stillpoint Yoga Studio in Tampa. It was the studio’s first kirtan session with the widely-known American yogi, Bhagavan Das.

Bhagavan Das will come to Tampa again March 16 at the Stillpoint Yoga Studio located on Fowler Avenue. Shantilal Shah, the internationally-renowned tabla player, will accompany him. The event, which is partly sponsored by the USF Religious Studies Club, will also celebrate the release of his new CD, Now which was mixed by Mike D of the Beastie Boys.

Vaz Rogbeck, the owner of Stillpoint Yoga Studio, said that Bhagavan Das’ performance had a lot of energy.

“It was a great party,” he said.

Bhagavan Das is a California-born bhakti yogi, someone who performs yoga through love and spiritual devotion. In the 1960s and 1970s, he spent seven years in India and Nepal studying Hinduism, Buddhism and meditation, living the life of a sadhu, an ascetic holy man. During his visit to India, he became the first Western disciple of the modern Indian saint Neem Karoli Baba. He is also considered a master of chanting and Nada Yoga, meditation through sound.

“Chanting is falling in love with God through the sound of your own voice,” Bhagavan Das said in a speech before the kirtan in Tampa.

Chanting to God is Bhagavan Das’ spiritual practice, his bhakti yoga. Since it is becoming popular in the United States, Bhagavan Das said Americans have to realize that yoga comes from a deep tradition of devotion in India. He said he notices how it sometimes gets lost in the West because of the focus of American culture on shopping.

“It’s about devotion,” he said. “Chanting can take you into a depth of your own being and connect you with your love. We all love, and that’s what we do. We do what we love. So, whatever you love, you do, and you move towards that object of your love.”

But for most people, he said, this is difficult because of the mind’s attachment to the things of this world, such as shopping, making money and pursuing careers. There is no real satisfaction from these things, he said.

“If there was, then all the movie stars around the world would be happy because they have so much. But they’re not, so we know it’s not true,” he said.

Bhagavan Das explained that in bhakti yoga, people take their love for God and make that the focal point of their lives. Becoming attached to the name of God will bring a person deep fulfillment in this life, he said.

“God will give you everything you want, and what we really want is to be happy,” he said.

But, in order to realize God, a person has to really want it, he said. If it’s lukewarm, a person really won’t find that attainment in this lifetime.

“You have to want it like a drowning man wants air, a horny person wants sex and a hungry person wants food. It’s got to be in you,” he said.

Bhagavan Das said that people should ask themselves why they are here, why they exist.

“Is it all about enjoyment, pleasing the senses?” he asked.

When people are young they may think so, but as they get older, the enjoyment of those same experiences diminishes, he said.

If people can plant the seeds of devotion when they are younger, he said, they can go for the real thing, which is devotion to God. He said that the world could never really give people what they want.

“You have to find it in you, because it’s all just a passing show out there. It comes and goes,” he said.

The inner journey begins for people when they realize that there is nowhere to go and that wherever they go, they are always there with themselves, Bhagavan Das said. “You’re it. It’s all about the reality that you live in,” he said.

Persons who get into a daily spiritual practice in which they are setting forth an ideal and have a goal can attain that goal, he said. In doing this, people get rid of the distractions that keep them from finding their goals.

“The peace that comes from letting go and surrendering is incredible. Again and again, it keeps coming back to letting go of our own will to have a plan about where we’re going and a goal,” Bhagavan Das said in his book It’s Here Now, Are You?

Most people have a conception that we, as humans, will always live a full healthy life, grow old and die, he said.

“We have this myth that we will grow old and die, but it may not be so. We may not grow old and die because we live in a dangerous world.”

Constantina Rhodes Bailly, an Eckerd College teacher for religious studies and author of two books on Sanskrit poetry, said she enjoyed Bhagavan Das’ chanting. She has traveled around India, visited many ashrams, or Indian temples, and immersed herself in the Eastern spiritual scene as it developed in the United States, she said. She has seen so much and learned so much about spirituality that she said she has a meter in her head that helps her determine what is real and what isn’t.

“When I walked in (to see Bhagavan Das), I felt that this is the real thing,” Bailly said.

Mark Horowitz, a USF religious studies major, also attended the kirtan session. He loved it, he said.

“The reason I went was to meet someone who met God and hugged him,” said Horowitz.

Bhagavan Das was first introduced to the world through a book called Be Here Now published in 1971. A Harvard professor by the name of Richard Alpert, who later became know as Ram Dass, wrote the book.

Today, most people know Bhagavan Das for his spiritual music. He has performed kirtan at many different venues throughout the United States and has released several albums filled with his spiritual chanting.

For more information about the event contact Adam Bratter at (813) 985-1231 or visit .

Contact Bennett Grossmanat