Written by Srđan Mareš
If we approach kīrtan with our minds, we will miss it. If we approach it with our hearts, we will get it.
1. About Kīrtan
Considering that the practice of kīrtan (originally, the recounting of stories and saints and deities, usually in the form of song. In modern language, it is nearly synonymous with bhajan, which means devotional music. It constitutes a form of bhakti yoga (the path of devotion). To grasp this text effectively, focus less on intellectual comprehension and acquiring new information, and instead, emphasize experiencing it through feeling.
From our birth until our death, we are spiritually evolving. The main difference that can occur from person to person is whether the person is consciously or unconsciously walking that path – in other words, are we aware of the inner change, or are we still asleep and completely ignorant of our spiritual nature? Upon awakening and recognizing the task at hand, we begin our search for the “right tool” that can expedite the journey and ultimately lead us to self-realization.
Kīrtan is one of those tools.
In ancient India, they devised the design to ensure that anyone could effortlessly engage in it. Kīrtan involves the harmonious chant of mantras alongside musical instruments. The practice encourages everyone to vocalize sacred phrases, aiming to blur the distinction between “performers” and “audience.” The mantras maintain simplicity, enabling everyone to join in after a few repetitions. Typically, the rhythm progressively accelerates, elevating the group’s vitality and enabling open participants to connect with the core of kīrtan.
Once experienced, it typically triggers a transformation within the individual, eliminating certain obstacles, offering fresh insights into life, and ultimately fostering an affectionate connection (bhāv) with a Deity, God, Guru, Life itself, or any other interpretation. This marks the juncture – when words fall short, direct experience becomes essential for a thorough comprehension.
2. About the Spiritual Path
During ancient times in India, within the context of Sanātana Dharma—representing the “Eternal Ground Rules of Existence” or “Eternal Righteousness”—spiritual paths were categorized broadly into four types:
Rāja Yoga – the path of dissolution – through the practice of meditation (dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi…).
Karma Yoga – the path of selflessness – through volunteering (action without expectation…).
Jñāna Yoga – the path of knowledge – discerning the true from the untrue (viveka, vairagya…).
Bhakti Yoga – the path of devotion – through surrender and worship (kīrtan…).
Every person is more inclined towards one of these paths and less towards the other three, depending on their spiritual constitution. As our experience showed, the best way to walk one of these paths is to feel which one is best suited and use it predominantly, but also practise the other three and use them as support for the main one.
For example, most of our members are on the path of Rāja Yoga, and we use kīrtan (bhakti yoga) as support. It is often said that kīrtan is the “shortcut to self-realisation”. Being one of the easiest practices, especially in contrast to the “hard work” of long hours of sitting in meditation or struggling with one’s own greed and insecurities while practising selfless service. In kīrtan, you just chant the holy word, and things happen. That is true unless the mind steps in and blocks the inner development. What often happens is when we approach kīrtan, we just disregard it as some exotic Indian music and spend the entire evening analysing it and comparing it to previous musical experiences. When we approach it as a spiritual practice, we make an effort to shut down the mind, open up our hearts, and only then are we able to really experience it.
Lotus Band started out as a non-formal gathering of people who practise yoga in our local yoga studio in Belgrade, Serbia. Each gathering was like the spontaneous creation of a bonfire where everybody was contributing to the warmth and light of that bonfire, one way or the other, through playing some instrument, singing, clapping, meditating, or simply uplifting the energy of that place.
Things continued spontaneously, kīrtan evenings were organised, more people came, and more hearts were opened. Considering that most (but not all) of our band are Mohanji’s followers, our band often had the honour to perform at his retreats and other events. That was always something special – to play devotional music, feeling that boost of energy supporting us from the back, lifting us even higher.
Our band has no fixed form – anybody who feels kīrtan and is able to somehow contribute to it is welcome to join. A lot of people joined, and a lot of people left. That way, we reflect the aim of our spiritual path, the Highest Truth, that which has no form but is everything – as it is said in India, “Neti Neti” (neither this nor that).