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❝India blasted me into billions of spinning particles
and then slowly reshaped me,

a process that was somehow simultaneously both excruciating
and ecstatic.❞

I can’t begin to claim complete knowledge about all of the layers of history and philosophy and theology represented by the mantras I learned to chant while I was there, but I can attest to their power. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar and not always a particularly focused practitioner, but I am deeply committed to the process of inquiry that the practice of yoga suggests.

I do know that my sustained encounter with mantra chanting has acquainted me with a state of expansive stillness and conscious repose, and that this encounter has irrevocably shifted the course of my art. I once read that Thomas Jefferson took a copy of the Bible and cut out the parts that most resonated with him, then reassembled his selections into a work that reflected his own way of saying his prayers. I suppose it is fair to say that as an artist, I am engaged in something of a similar process with yoga. I don’t know exactly where the journey I am making ends. I’m just trying to report honestly from where I am.

One of the things that interests me most about kirtan is how the responsory aspects of it blur the distinction between performer and audience. I was trained as a visual artist and as a jazz musician, so the lens that I view kirtan through is informed by the perspectives and concerns of the art world. I didn’t start out as a devotee or a bhakti, I became involved with chanting when I was hired to go to India to make some films for an ashram. I was an outsider trying to comprehend what it was that I found so compelling about kirtan, and this outsider perspective has continued to inform and enable the ways that I introduce chanting to the uninitiated.

Kirtan is rooted in a very old and profoundly joyful Eastern tradition. But I don’t know that it is possible for me to be traditional. I’m a Westerner, and I can’t help but bring my own cultural biases with me. My intention, however, is be authentic, in the sense that what I am doing originates in my heart. Yoga points toward awareness of the essential oneness of things, so from this perspective, to align the individual-dissolving Eastern tradition of kirtan with the individual-expressing Western traditions of gospel and jazz and rock music is no contradiction, as they both arise from the same impulse toward expressing what is ecstatic and liberating and transcendent.

~ Dave Stringer