Chanting as a Heart-path to God

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November 30, 2010

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Tami Simon speaks with Jai Uttal, a Grammy-nominated musician who is best known as a world-renowned kirtan artist, kirtan being ecstatic chant in a call-and-response format. His music is an eclectic mix of contemporary and ancient musical elements from various cultures throughout the Eastern and Western worlds. Jai has created five albums with Sounds True, including Kirtan!, and his latest release, Bhakti Bazaar. Jai discusses chanting as a devotional practice, the story of Jai’s first trip to India, his experience meeting his guru, and his understanding of the many Hindu god and goddess figures. (67 minutes)

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Jai Uttal is a Grammy®-nominated pioneer in the world music community. His eclectic East-meets-West sound has put his music at the forefront of the world fusion movement. Jai's musical roots embrace a rich variety of cultures and traditions that span the globe and the centuries. From the hillbilly music of the Appalachian Mountains to the passionate strains of Bengali street singers, from the haunting rhythms and melodies of ancient India to contemporary electric rock sounds, Jai's music distills the essence of diverse musical forms.

As a child in New York City, Jai's home was filled with music. He began studying classical piano at the age of seven, and later learned to play old-time banjo, harmonica, and guitar. His musical interests encompassed a wide variety of styles, and over the years he experimented with many forms of musical expression.

Eventually this led him to the work of India's National Living Treasure, Ali Akbar Khan. At the age of 19, Jai moved to California to become a student of Khansahib for traditional voice training and to learn the sarod, a 25-stringed Indian instrument. Later he traveled to India where he was deeply inspired by the Bauls, the wandering street musicians of Bengal. Jai settled among them, communicating only through music, which ultimately helped establish his unique style.

During these early visits to India, Jai also met his guru, Neem Karoli Baba, and spent time with many great beings of both the Hindu and Buddhist traditions. He became deeply absorbed in the practice of kirtan, the ancient yoga of chanting, or singing to God. This form of prayer became the core of his musical and spiritual life.

When Jai returned to the US, his music had been transformed. He continued to study Indian music diligently while also performing in reggae, Motown, punk, and blues bands. He also began leading kirtan groups all over the country. The combination of Jai's exceptional vocals and exotic instrumentation produced a new and captivating sound. In 1991 Triloka Records released his debut album, Footprints, featuring world music innovator Don Cherry and Indian vocalist Lakshmi Shankar. The album received critical acclaim and led Jai and his band, the Pagan Love Orchestra, to international prominence. By the time his second album, Monkey, was released in 1993, Jai and the Pagan Love Orchestra had an enormous fan base with a top ten record on the world music charts. In 1994, Beggars and Saints was released—a tribute to the Bauls of Bengal—and again the album received international recognition, solidifying Jai Uttal's position as a world music visionary. During this time, Jai also produced two CDs for his teacher Ustad Ali Akbar Khan. Combining the brilliance of Khansahib's playing and composing with Western orchestration, Journey and Garden of Dreams became extremely popular in the Indian community.

Jai's fourth release, Shiva Station, was another leap forward. Capturing the raw urgency of his live performances with the Pagan Love Orchestra, and adding the mixing wizardry of veteran producer Bill Laswell, Shiva Station presented traditional chants in a totally new way. The concerts at that time united the temple and the nightclub, the sacred and the worldly, emphasizing the underlying theme that spirituality and devotion can pervade all aspects of life. Meanwhile, with the rise of interest in Yoga, Jai was receiving more and more requests to lead kirtan workshops and concerts all over the world. In the last few years, chanting has brought him to Israel, Fiji, Brazil, Germany, Switzerland, and India. Jai released a live kirtan CD entitled Nectar to begin to chronicle these powerful events.

In 2002, Jai Uttal and the Pagan Love Orchestra released Mondo Rama on Narada Records. The product of several years of deep musical and self-exploration through a time of true darkness, Mondo Rama has been called Jai's most personal expression to date and went on to be nominated for a Grammy as "Best New Age Album."

As Jai's work increasingly became devoted to kirtan, in 2003 he began the first of several recordings focused on the practice of bhakti yoga (kirtan) for the Sounds True label. These have included Kirtan! The Art and Practice of Ecstatic Chant, Music for Yoga and Other Joys, Loveland, Dial 'M' for Mantra, and Pranayama, a collaboration with his wife, yoga teacher and bhakti dancer Nubia Teixeira. It is this marriage and the subsequent birth of son Ezra that fueled a creative rebirth for Jai that culminated in the 2008 recording Thunder Love, a sonic approximation of darkness giving way to dawn and finally opening up to love. In 2010 Jai followed-up his very popular Music For Yoga and Other Joys with a 2nd edition to the series called Bhakti Bazaar. 2011 saw the release of two new albums, Queen of Hearts (Nutone), a unique mixture of reggae, ska, and samba rhythms, used as a backdrop for call and response, dance-oriented kirtan; as well as Kirtan Kids (Sounds True), the first record of its kind, created for families to sing, laugh, dance, and celebrate life together through call-and-response singing.

Jai adds, "World music is music from everywhere. Music that creates bridges. Music that unites hearts and cultures. Music that brings peace."

Author photo © Stephanie Mohan

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Chanting as a Heart-path to God

Tami Simon speaks with Jai Uttal, a Grammy-nominated musician who is best known as a world-renowned kirtan artist, kirtan being ecstatic chant in a call-and-response format. His music is an eclectic mix of contemporary and ancient musical elements from various cultures throughout the Eastern and Western worlds. Jai has created five albums with Sounds True, including Kirtan!, and his latest release, Bhakti Bazaar. Jai discusses chanting as a devotional practice, the story of Jai’s first trip to India, his experience meeting his guru, and his understanding of the many Hindu god and goddess figures. (67 minutes)

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Golden Tara to Who Helps Manifest and Fulfill Purpose

Meditating on Golden Tara shifts your sense of identity away from the smaller self that experiences itself as a separate being. When you identify with Tara in meditation and throughout the day, you realize that you are always in relationship with a fantastic, complex universe. Your energy increases because you no longer feel alone. You have Tara’s help, the help of friends, and countless other beings as well.

On the one hand, you are an infinitesimally tiny part of the grand whole. On the other hand, you have a role to play in the continuing creation of this complex universe. As you deepen and stabilize your inner Tara consciousness, your actions are imbued with love and compassion, arising from your understanding that you are an integral part of whatever you seek to change.

Remembering Tara also helps preserve your energies when you encounter unexpected obstacles; her golden light reveals the treasures hidden in the unwelcome stumbling blocks of life. Difficult challenges hold keys to awakening. Tara helps you approach problems as an inherent part of the journey, supporting you as you move toward them to uncover wisdom they might offer. They often provide a wake-up call to send you in a new direction, offering greater clarity about your life purpose.

This inclusive attitude creates more health in your personal ecosystem as well as the universal ecosystem. Ask Golden Tara to transform your challenging emotions into love and to increase your energy for discovering meaning and purpose in your life.

Tara’s Appearance

Golden Tara appears as the life-giving female buddha in a body of radiant golden light. She embodies the light of life itself. The vase in Golden Tara’s hand contains the power to increase our life energy, power, and material and spiritual resources. These resources support us in times of ease and times of difficulty, enabling us to discover and fulfill the purposes of our life on a moment-to-moment basis and over the arc of our lives.

For centuries, artists have created statues and thangka paintings of Tara, always adorned with jewelry. These sacred paintings, usually done on fabric and surrounded by brocade, portray the qualities of their subjects and convey teachings as well. Thus we take special note of Tara’s adornments. A crown rests atop her head. Necklaces of varying lengths cascade from her neck to her waist. Bracelets encircle her wrists. All have been crafted from gold with deep red and blue jewels woven into the designs.

Gold has been the preferred precious metal of jewelry makers for thousands of years. Gold is malleable; gold doesn’t tarnish. Golden light is associated with increasing life-force, healing, and holiness. Holy people of many faiths are often painted in an aura of golden radiance.

Many years ago, I heard a teaching that Tara’s jewels represent her experiences over lifetimes on her way to enlightenment and buddhahood. Profound understanding of the Buddhist teachings and her experiences as a woman led Wisdom Moon to vow to attain enlightenment as a woman and to persevere toward her goal. Tara’s life events were surely difficult and awe-inspiring, ordinary and phenomenal. All of them were precious contributions to her journey, which has benefited countless beings over hundreds of years.

The Mantra

Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha!

“Ohm Tahray Tootahray Tooray Sarwah Ahyoor Poonyay Pushtahm Kooroo Soha!”

When you recite the mantra of Golden Tara, you are urging (kuru) Tara to increase (pushtam) your life energies (ayur) and merit (punye), your contributions to adding positive energy to beings around the world, near and far. Mantra recitations need not be limited to formal practice. Use them throughout the day to slow down and focus on whatever task is at hand.

The Practice

First, visualize the entire mandala of Green Tara emerging into the space in front of you. You are surrounded by your friends, loved ones, and supporters, and she is surrounded by your teachers and all the twenty-one emanations. After the opening prayers, imagine Golden Tara coming into the foreground of the mandala. Recall her praise while visualizing golden rays of light streaming from her heart as well as the golden vase in her right hand, which rests on her right knee, palm open in the gesture of supreme giving.

As you recite her mantra, Om Tare Tuttare Ture Sarva Ayur Punye Pushtam Kuru Soha, imagine that you are absorbing this light and that other beings and other places are receiving the light of Tara as well.

Kuru, which appears in seven of the Tara mantras, carries a particularly bold tone. You’re not meekly asking Tara to help—you’re putting your whole heart and body into this request. “Tara, please do this for me. Remove blockages so more energy flows into my life and work! I’m counting on you!” The same tasks that feel overwhelming in one moment seem entirely possible in the next.

Tara can help you discern the wisdom inherent in the obstacles you encounter in your life and practice. Meditate on the continuity in your life—the joyful moments, the extremely painful moments, and everything in between. Your experiences are not meaningless fragments. Imagine a mosaic forming as you piece the fragments together into a beautiful coherent pattern. Invoke Tara’s wisdom to give you greater clarity about your life purpose and the means to fulfill it.

Recite the mantra at least 21 times or 108 times whenever possible. Then rest in the vibrational field created by your chanting. Allow frustration and doubt to dissolve, releasing energy for healing. You become richer in inner resources, which leads to enriched outer resources as well, both material and spiritual. Affirm your connection to all life forms in the universe. Know that the benefits of your heartfelt wishes and efforts will flow from you into the world.

As you bring the session to a close, visualize Golden Tara receding into her place among the twenty-one emanations. See the whole mandala dissolve into radiant light, which flows into you and merges with your inner light. Dedicate the merit or positive potential generated by the practice to the healing of all beings—with no exceptions.

This is an adapted excerpt from Tara: The Liberating Power of the Female Buddha by Dr. Rachael Wooten.

 

rachael wooten

Rachael Wooten, PhD, is a Zürich—trained Jungian analyst and psychologist who has been in private practice as a therapist for more than 40 years. An enthusiastic interfaith activist, she has studied and practiced in Buddhist, Jewish, Christian, and indigenous traditions throughout her adult life.

Rachael has been mentored by spiritual teachers such as her Tibetan root guru Lodrö Tulku Rinpoche and Rabbi Zalman Schachter-Shalomi. She has taught Tara practices under the authorization of Lodrö Rinpoche for more than 20 years. Rachael has offered Tara workshops through the Resource Center for Women and Ministry in the South, ALEPH: Alliance for Jewish Renewal, and C. G. Jung Society of the Triangle. She currently teaches a monthly Tara meditation group at Pullen Memorial Baptist Church in her hometown of Raleigh, North Carolina. To learn more, visit rachaelwootenauthor.com.

 

 

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A Grounding Meditation to Start Living From Your Heart

I would like to open with a grounding meditation. Feel free to listen to the meditation here or you can read along with the text below.

If I may, I’d like to guide you someplace warm. To an island not too far away. It won’t take much effort, just a few conscious breaths. And all I need for you to do is to stop. For this moment, stop seeking, stop solving, stop gritting and grinding. All you need is to close your eyes and receive. 

Quiet now, like water or sand. Settle now, like dusk and dew drop. One breath in, one breath out. One breath in, one breath out. Reorient yourself to face toward what is immovable inside you. Just look now. Trust and you shall see. It is there, to the left of your right lung, tucked just under your left rib, a warm small island, beating like a drum.  If you stand here long enough, you will feel the song inside being written, maybe even prayed over you. Moment by moment, it never stops. 

Can you feel you are unlacing something? Or better, something is unlacing you? Can you feel the fight stopping? The fear quieting? Can you feel your edges becoming more like wind or water, rather than shale and stone? Can you feel the light coming? The waves of warmth rising? 

Now move into this current of grace that your heart has created for you, and feel the great hush wash over you. Feel the substance of love holding your very atoms together. This is your heart, dear one. Never forget this is yours. Kneel here, whenever you are thirsty, whenever your feet are tired, or your hands are sore. Kneel here when you can’t see love any longer. Kneel here, dear one. Reorient yourself toward what is immovable in you.

My new book, Heart Minded: How to Hold Yourself and Others in Love, was written to help remind us, reconnect us, reorient us with our hearts. Through story and guided meditation, I lead you through the fraught and sometimes frightening places holding you separate from your heart. It is a journey of healing that teaches you how to see and feel not from the mind, but from the wise seat of your very heart.

Now more than ever, we are being asked to move into the consciousness of the heart. Where love, compassion, “at-one-ment” become our governing virtues. When we see through the eyes of the heart, when we become heart minded, we stand as a beacon of light, burning back the dark.

Please join me in the heart-minded revolution. 

This originally appeared as an author letter to the Sounds True audience from Sarah Blondin.

 

sarah blondinSarah Blondin is an internationally beloved spiritual teacher. Her guided meditations on the app InsightTimer have received nearly 10 million plays. She hosts the popular podcast Live Awake, as well as the online course Coming Home to Yourself. Her work has been translated into many languages and is in use in prison, recovery, and wellness programs. For more, visit sarahblondin.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Into the Belly of Meditation

Into the Belly of Meditation

By Jeff Foster

 

You are weary, friend. 

Sit. 

You are thirsty. 

Here. Drink.

 

You are hungry. Here. Take this. 

A piece of bread. 

A small bowl of soup. 

See how God has taken form! 

It is all I have but it will keep you alive.

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I will light a fire that will never go out. 

A sacred flame. Unconditional in its burning. 

To illuminate us in the darkness.

 

Oh. I see you are wounded. 

Bruised. Bleeding.

Exhausted from the world. 

You have suffered much, I know.

 

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Come. 

Take off these dirty rags. 

Don’t worry. It’s safe. 

There is strength in your nakedness.

 

Here. Wash. 

Rub this medicine onto your wounds.

 

Put on these robes, they are clean and dry. 

Lie down. Close your eyes. 

I will watch over us tonight.

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Listen. You have not failed. 

I see new life breaking through. 

I see birth. An insurrection. 

The sharp edge of hope.

 

I have no teaching for you. 

No wise words.

 

I only want you to trust what you are going through. 

To bring this fire inside of you.

Until the end.

 

I have known this pain. Yes

This courage to keep moving. Yes

This courage to rest, too.

The sacrifice of the known world.

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Friend. 

Drop into the belly of meditation now. 

The place you were always seeking. 

The vast silence at the Earth’s core which is your own core. 

Breathing into the gut now. 

The throat. The chest. 

Irradiating the nervous system with unspeakable 

tenderness. 

Flooding the body with soft, warm light. 

Drenching the human form with divine love. 

And sleep. 

And sleep.

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I may not be here when you wake. 

We may not meet again in form.

 

Yet I leave you with all you need. 

Food. Water. A bed. 

A chance to rest. 

A touch of kindness.

And your unbreakable Self.

flowers

This poem is excerpted from You Were Never Broken: Poems to Save Your Life by Jeff Foster.

 

jeff fosterJeff Foster shares from his own awakened experience a way out of seeking fulfillment in the future and into the acceptance of “all this, here and now.” He studied astrophysics at Cambridge University. Following a period of depression and physical illness, he embarked on an intensive spiritual search that came to an end with the discovery that life itself was what he had always been seeking.

 

 

 

 

 

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