Prahlad Tipanya Retreat At Banyan Grove
Posted by Rahul Brown on Jul 17, 2018
Whether it is five minutes on a national stage or a few hours on an evening performance, two things remain true: Prahlad-ji remains unchanged, and the audience is left wanting more.
Much like the 15th century saint Kabir who inspired Prahlad-ji’s journey, he has a way of getting to the heart of the matter instantly with the incisiveness and clarity, even as it’s offered humbly with love. In chatting before the retreat began, he says to me, “Rahul-ji, the work of the Sufi saints and saints of all traditions and eras has been to break down boundaries and bring people together. Through transcending differences we’re able to approach Oneness-- but to reach it we must concentrate our minds. That concentration cannot be simply an intellectual type of concentration. It must be a whole-body phenomenon. This is what we will approach today through the doorway of music, which has a way of transcending the mind and touching a deeper place.” And indeed, within the first few minutes of his melodious voice and accompaniment, there were tears beginning to well in the eyes of some of the 40 of us who were fortunate to gather for this daylong retreat at Banyan Grove.
Prahlad-ji began by humbling telling us that he was not much of a musician, and that it was the words of Kabir that both became a path to introspection and reason to pick up the instruments he’s now played for well over 30 years. Indeed, he’s a folk musician without classical or professional training. What makes his singing special is that he’s walked down the path illuminated by the words-- that the music is coming from such a deep place inside him that it’s inside all of us too.
The yogic poetry of Kabir often has themes of breath mindfulness and death mindfulness. Watching the nature and type of breath occurring in the body, even as we quicken our alertness with the awareness of death’s continual approach. He sang of guarding our sense doors with vigilance lest we’re ensnared by the objects of our senses and trapped until death steals us away like a thief in the night. A question arose around why these songs of death are such joyful and ecstatic songs. The answer came that when we guard our faculties well without falling prey to sensual and senseless distractions, the spectrum of our energies invariably converge into love. When that condition is met, death becomes a gateway from bounded love to unbounded borderless love. To liberation.
When a participant asked about Prahladji’s instrument, the tambura, he shared about how just like there are five elements that comprise the body that each of these five strings create a sound that resonate in a different part of our being. Yet for the music to be pleasing, the strings must be tightened and in tune with the other strings. So too our own various inner elements and corresponding mental states must be in balance with each other for their interplay to give peace within and to others.
Someone asked about nada yoga, the ancient Indian system of healing and insight through sound. Another person asked about Prahladji’s experience with energetic channels in yoga known as ida, pingala, and sushumna. He shared through a song followed by an explanation around how bringing the breath into balance is the key and the gateway. Balancing the breath is central to balancing our masculine and feminine, solar and lunar, projecting and receiving propensities and qualities. Inside this balance, we enter into a new kind of flow which illuminates various psycho-spiritual centers --also known as chakras-- in our cerebrospinal column. As the energy passes through, there’s a kind of fluttering and unstruck sound which occurs in each chakra-- each of which also has a unique color and a smell. Contemplation and concentration on these unstruck sounds and their source leads to an illumination. Prahlad-ji demonstrated a yogic asana, or posture that he practiced, along with a bandha, or lock which assists to activate the flow of this energy. He also cautioned against trying this out yourself, especially if you get distracted by pain in your legs :-)
Though a fair chunk of our group had some level of Hindi proficiency, English speakers got the inside scoop just as clearly through the brilliant translation of Linda, Pranjali, and Amba. There were moments that were so captivating that you could see Linda dive into the delightful nooks and crannies of the metaphors and poetry, still as alive and fresh and brand new even after sixteen years of close association with Prahlad-ji. Some exchanges were so profound, that we were amazed to have such expert translation even on the other side of a mind-blowing experience that felt beyond words. At other times, the translators tears were streaming as they relayed what participants said back into Hindi so Prahlad-ji could hear about what we were receiving from the music. It was profound to witness how the energy and music transcended translation, often hitting everyone well before we understood the light within its lyrics. You could sense an a kind of vibe and insight that one participant described as both cutting like a sword at the same moment that it blankets you in love.
What was clear throughout the day is that the entire event was a co-creation for which it was impossible to identify a source. Whether it was the beautiful space and atmosphere of Banyan Grove, or the yard grown and hand-picked apricots that showed up, or the dolmas that got added to our lunch menu, or the half dozen folks that cooked for the musicians, or the last-minute out-of-this-world chai, or the constant helping hands that were cleaning and arranging, or the guests who showed up on their birthday, or after the passing of a relative, or on the heels of challenging interactions with family, or just arrived all the way from the part of the Planet we call Iran, or the perfectly timed coos of glee from a baby, it all was a one-of-a-kind experience that took everyone to bring to fruition. It really does take a village to make these events happen. To echo one of the lines of poetry, we may not know where this came from or know where it’s going, but we can find out by deeply listening to the ripples that still reverberate in our bodies.
May that loving flow that began long ago and passed through Kabir, that passed through Prahlad-ji, that touched us at the retreat, awaken more deeply in all til we experience humanity as our family and transcend the borders and identities that crumble in the light of true sight.