from the bhakti trail…in holland

On the Bhakti Trail here in Holland, famous for its tulips, wooden shoes and cannabis coffee shops I am reminded of the power of both the weed and bhakti culture. I am being hosted for Concerts and Bhakti workshops in 3 different cities across the country. Each of my hosts is a graduate from The Netherlands “Kirtan Flight School” a 4-day music intensive workshop that I teach with Dave Stringer. Dave named it “Kirtan Flight School” based on a quote from Peter Pan which says “If you can’t teach me to fly, teach me to sing”. At the flight school yoga teachers, studio owners and music lovers alike show up with a desire to dust off their neglected musical instruments or simply to sing themselves alive with their voice and hands. We make little bhakti (kirtan) bands out of the group and culminate the weekend with the bands opening their hearts, chanting to the divine and leading kirtan. It is extremely euphoric and an incredibly transformational process. 

I am delighted to see four years after this experience that the graduates are still enthusiastically chanting, bonded to one another and doing all they can to stay in the Bhav (a devotional and blissful state of being). The desire to connect to something outside of themselves remains so strong they are cultivating bhakti events of their own. The fire ignited in their hearts cannot, and will not be extinguished.

On my walk through Den Bosch after our Friday night concert my musical partner Erhard and I notice a cluster of folks outside the local coffee shop. When you are sporting a head full of platinum blonde dreadlocks as I am you become accustom to being provoked into conversations on the topic of marijuana. I was stopped and asked if I wanted weed. “Couldn’t I just get it in there?” I replied. I was reminded that there have been changes in the law – only Dutch residents are now allowed to purchase cannabis. Holland evidently has been struggling with its legislation over last few years to preserve its “weed” culture. A culture, much like the bhakti one, in its search of being/awareness and bliss. 

In Northern India cannabis is referred to as Bhang (an edible paste mixing hemp with milk and fruit) and is a part of ancient yogic traditions used by some Sadhus and Sufis to boost meditation and to achieve transcendental states. Despite years of prohibition it remains an important part of Indian culture and the government licenses bhang vendors for its Ayurveda medicine.

The euphoric effects of cannabis, smoked, eaten or mixed to drink are undeniably sought after. In Both Holland and Northern India there are governmental efforts to regulate but consumers are passionate in their desire to preserve the availability. It made me wonder if Bhakti Yoga is in jeopardy of being subjected to legislation?

A universal human desire for mind expansion or obtaining stillness within the monkey mind seems to be a popular goal and like most goals there are many different paths to it. Who is to decide which is right?

Bhakti? Bhang? Bong?

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