Sample from the Winter 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

An Interview with Jai Uttal

Jai Uttal is a 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.

Integral Yoga Magazine (IYM): What is the essence of kirtan?

Jai Uttal (JU): Kirtan is a spiritual practice that is not merely music to listen to but to share the depth of the call and response kirtan and the mantra. To me spirituality and bhakti, the path of devotion, is about accessing everything that’s in our hearts. I think that with devotional practices like kirtan it’s about finding everything that’s in the heart—touching it, feeling it and releasing it in the prayer and in the music.

IYM: Is chanting healing?

JU: Well it certainly is for me and from what people say it is for them, too. Yoga practices, meditation practices and devotional practices are all healing modalities. Most of us live a life in which we are locked down inside, very tightened up inside and very afraid. Spiritual practices untie that knot and melt the walls down. We are held by the great Mother and she sees our fear and she caresses us and says, “There there, it’s okay, I’m taking care of you,” and to me the surrendering into that trust is so much what the spiritual life is about. When I think of the great Mother, I think of my guru and his protective energy. Though he’s a man, to me he is the divine mother.

IYM: Please tell us about your guru. Did Ram Das introduce you to Maharaj-ji?

JU: When I was 19, my whole agenda got shattered immediately after I went to India and found out that this guru I had come to see was in prison. So, my agenda on a lot of different levels got shattered. A lot of my beliefs, a lot of the illusions I had put on myself got shattered. I was in New Delhi and I didn’t know what to do with myself, but I felt kind of in a good mood. I felt free after shedding some of these illusions I didn’t know I had. Suddenly, I felt a lot lighter. I went to a bookstore and the bookseller said that Ram Das was in town giving classes in a hotel. In America, I had been friendly with Ram Das so I went to the hotel and they said he was visiting his guru in Vrindavan. So, it was kind of the feeling of wandering through the forest picking up little clues because I didn’t know what to do or where to go. So I went to Vrindavan to see Ram Das and that is how I wound up meeting Maharaj-ji.

IYM: Did you immediately feel a connection with Maharaj-ji?

JU: I was at a place where I wasn’t interested in a guru. I had been with a guru who had turned out to be a murderer, so I was pretty jaded. My mind wasn’t ready for another guru, but my spirit was ready—Otherwise, I don’t think Maharaj-ji would have brought me to him. I wasn’t interested in a guru-disciple relationship, but what happened was that gradually Maharaj-ji started to reveal to me the eternity of our connection. It wasn’t like I found my guru and suddenly he’s my guru. It was more like the veils that stopped me from being aware of this ancient connection gradually lifted and even to this day, how many years later, they are still lifting…

rest of this article in the Winter 2009 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.