A few days ago Youtube suggested me a video, a song, with “Hare Krishna” in the title, so I checked it out. I’ve written about another song by the same singer here already and I’m fairly familiar with his earlier music, but this turned out to be new to me. I knew he used to sing “Hare Krishna” in concerts but I haven’t seen it on any records.
The reason might be because it’s from a movie that came out after I joined so I never watched it and didn’t know it existed, until now. At first I thought it was too sugary but as I listened to the lyrics I thought it deserves to be explained and shared, not that I can really explain it with my meager intelligence.
We’ve had a fair share of famous singers using Hare Krishna in their records, starting with George Harrison. Boy George was a poster boy for a while, too, but there’s one notable difference with this Russian “B.G.” – his songs have always been very cryptic, like sutras. Btw, I’ll use “BG” to spare English readers from parsing his full Slavic name. In the previously covered song I saw appearance of Lord Caitanya, for example. Second appearance, to be precise – because that’s what Hare Krishna movement is – Lord Caitanya’s entrance into lives of those who were not fortunate enough to have lived in India five hundred years ago. I don’t know if anyone else can understand that song this way, no one on the internet, afaik, but I insist that this is a legitimate interpretation. Just reflect on the meaning of that line from Bhaktivinoda Thakura – “all the people of the world are patiently waiting for the time when Lord Caitanya’s party comes to their door.” Just think about it’s meaning, let it sink into our hearts, and I’m sure you’ll see Mahaprabhu everywhere, too.
Anyway, back to this song. It appeared at the end of the movie, I haven’t watched the whole thing but from the plot descriptions it looks like a weird spy story. The song is timed in such a way that “Hare Krishna” comes exactly when the credits starts to roll – a reward for those who really pay attention, just like the Holy Name itself. The movie begins with another cryptic song about “Blue Janitor”, which I knew by heart in those days, but I never thought that it was about Krishna before I read our books. “Janitor” is simply an urban substitution for “cowherd boy”, function is the same. Perhaps it deserves another post. The video I post here is an extended version and singer’s voice is much much older than back in 1991.
In this song Christians can definitely hear about Christ – lyrics open with the prayer for “vanished swan” which disappeared into darkness. Russian case inflections make it suggestive that the speaker prays *for* this swan, or *about* this swan, which kinda blows Christian interpretation – who are we to pray *for* Jesus? We can pray *to* him, but not for him, right?
Then comes the refrain – “let the saints give us protection”. Just think about this prayer at the end of each verse – how often do we appeal to the help of the parampara at the end of whatever it is we have to say? How often do we realize that we are completely dependent on our predecessor acharyas? How often to we reflect on the meaning of “rupanugas”?
Typically, our prayers start and end with Srila Prabhupada, but his strength didn’t come from nowhere – he spent years of sleepless nights praying at the Rupa Goswami’s samadhi for help and guidance, weeping alone in the darkness. Srila Prabhupada’s mercy wasn’t “causeless” in this sense – he fully prayed for it, pardon the pun.
So, who do we pray for when we embark on any new adventure? “Let the saints offer us protection”. Saints, not the Lord. Who are we to appeal to the Lord directly? If He ever listens to us it’s only because of the mercy of the sampradaya.
Second verse is fully encrypted, 256 RSA key. If in the first verse “swan” can easily be identified as JC, the second verse talks about “sleeping trees”. What are they? Who are they referring to? It’s like passages from Rig Veda that can be easily translated but their meaning is still incomprehensible. And there are passages there that haven’t been properly translated yet – it’s still just a word soup to Sanskritologists. So, I don’t know what Christians make of it, but to me “sleeping trees” are us, ordinary people who haven’t been awakened to our real lives yet. Spiritually speaking, we are senseless like trees, even though we can move about in the material world. This translation makes sense to me.
Second line talks about wind that doesn’t touch their dreams, or can’t touch their dreams, or won’t touch their dreams. How to parse this prayer? What I see is Lord’s mercy which is still being withdrawn from us. His lilas are ever growing but they don’t touch our miserable, tree-like existence. They don’t cross into our lives, they can’t cross down here, and they won’t. But if we pray for it… That’s what we do with chanting Hare Krishna, after all. We beg the Name to descend into our lives and wake us up from our dreams. But it won’t – not until we make ourselves ready. In the Bible there’s a line in this regard: “many be called, but few chosen”. Unless we are chosen, we are like sleeping trees. Chosen – it means the final word belongs to the Lord, it’s not up to us.
Lord’s mercy is unlimited, but it won’t come into the heart filled with anarthas. So by constantly chanting, mantra after mantra, round after round, day after day, year after year, we slowly chisel away all the accumulated dirt in our hearts and hope that one day we’ll become worthy of Lord’s mercy. Therefore we pray for the “wind” that normally doesn’t disturb these sleeping trees. “Wind”, btw, is the property of air, it’s what brings movement, brings change into the world. It purifies and liberates and lifts us up. It’s a very appropriate prayer whichever way you look at it, and it ends with the appeal to the saints to extend their protection.
Next verse reminds us that in front of the Lord we can’t offer any excuses. We can’t blame anyone else, we can’t pass our faults as someone else’s. We can’t be dishonest. This is a very important point – the Lord resides in that corner of our hearts where we are absolutely honest. How often we ourselves go there? Not very, right? But that’s where the Lord dwells. But what to do about our faults? Next line tells us – “you yourself is a justification enough”. What??? How can this bag of envy and cheating and lust be a justification for anything? We can’t process it in our ISKCON realm of four regulative principles, for example. We can’t contemplate a situation where the Lord would accept one’s committing sinful activities and forgive one for that. It’s our red line – four regs or out. Nevertheless it’s the truth – our existence is justification it itself to appear before the Lord and become accepted. How so?
The easy answer lies in “tat te ‘nukampāṁ su-samīkṣamāṇo” verse from Bhagavatam which says that for a devotee absolutely every situation, even an unfavorable one, is a blessing from the Lord. The point is that whatever the Lord arranges for us, even if detestable by everybody else’s standards, is His loving and caring arrangement for our purification and benefit. When seeing it this way, as a matter between oneself and the Lord and without trying to impress others, one can appreciate the body and its karma given to us as a justification in itself to invite the Lord into our hearts, or rather to reveal Himself. With this vision one automatically gives up propensity to lie and hide his sins – there are no sins between us and the Lord, only His unlimited mercy and our lack of appreciation for it.
Next line further elaborates on this condition of the heart – one stands before the Lord without “bread in his hands”. In Russia honorable guests are greeted with a loaf of freshly baked bread (and a serving of salt), but once we open our hearts to the Lord we realize we have nothing to offer to Him. We own nothing in this world and so we feel totally unqualified to receive Him. There are lots of personalities in Srimad Bhagavatam who attained Lord’s mercy but we are not one of them. Narada Muni discovered that every one of the otherwise celebrated devotees has this attitude of being unqualified and undeserving of Lord’s mercy in Brihad Bhagavatamrita.
Another feature of the soul in this humble position given in this line is that one has “no guiding star” in his life. To anyone else we can say that we follow this person or that person, this idea or that idea, prefer iPhones or Androids, liberals or conservatives, but in front of the Lord we have no one else to follow and no places to go, no other destinations. The song informs us that at this moment one feels himself infinitely alone. I suppose because the world and everyone else in it just fades away and disappears from view. Who are you going to turn to when you are standing before the Lord? No one else is there. Alternatively, the “star” in this verse can refer to stars pinned on the chests of brave soldiers and generals, feathers in one’s cap, so to speak. Makes sense as well.
And then, after a couple of minutes of the flute solo (this flute like instrument really carries the entire song), comes the last verse which repeats the line about “vanished swan” but this time it says that He disappeared only to come back to us again, and this time refrain has changed to “saints HAVE given us mercy”. This turn makes the song into an outpouring of vipralambha, the pain of being separated from the Lord, not just lecturing on things. Without deeply feeling Lord’s absence one cannot possibly cry for the Holy Name. Harinama IS the cry of the soul separated from the Lord, it’s not the sound of someone content with his life. It doesn’t happen to people who still think they own things, have positions, reputations, interests, goals, “guiding stars” etc. It’s only when we distance ourselves from these worldly things that we can turn our attention to the Lord and utter His name with love and devotion. Let the saints extend us their mercy so that we can actually do that.
After processing all this I decided to change my first impression as “sugary” of the Hare Krishna chant that follows this verse. It might appear sugary due to lack of chanting practice by the singer, but its foundation is solid.
There are many other things I want to appreciate about this song. How the word “prayer” appears only twice in five minutes but every line is tied to it grammatically – because of Russian inflections of verbs and nouns. I guess that’s what it feels like when translating Sanskrit – there simply are no tools in the English language to convey all the nuances and poetic beauty they produce. That is not to say that English poetry is somehow deficient, but it’s different, and it means that it expresses certain feelings but not the ones found in Sanskrit, or in this case in Russian. They are beautiful in their own way, but different. Just like there’s no equivalent for the sweet beat of mridanga. Lord’s madhurya needs appropriate instruments to be expressed, it can’t be done with whatever drum you can find, you can’t express it fully without mridanga.
Did I mention that the movie with this song came out in 1991, which means it was recorded even earlier? Possibly at the time when Russians had only underground Bhagavad Gitas or, maybe, first imported Teachings of Lord Caitanya and Isopanishads at most. How did BG get this deep insight into our philosophy? For one thing, it’s not really unique and is common to all religious paths, Christianity included (but not to all Christians, naturally). Come to think of it, their anticipation of the second coming IS love in separation, though they don’t normally talk about it this way.
In this connection we can remember the story of Narada Muni who experienced a brief appearance by the Lord and then spent the rest of his life longing for Him. It was certainly love in separation, and we can see similar examples of echoes of the original separation of the gopis in Vraja everywhere. It reverberates through the entire world, manifesting itself here and there, and it takes real appreciation for it to spot it in everyday events. At this point I don’t mind whether it comes from our devotees or from people like this BG. We should feel forever indebted to whoever brings it to us – amanina manadena. How else can we expect to chant the Holy Name? Only by seeing His mercy in every soul, every object, every phenomena coming into our experience.