Hari Goes to High School

For the past five years I’ve had the honor of participating in a local high school’s annual “Yoga Minimester.” It’s pretty awesome: the students spend three days learning about yoga and meditation. This year, I had two classes with them: a guided meditation practice and their closing session, which included an introduction to kirtan: call-and-response chanting of Sanskrit mantras.

At the beginning of their Minimester, the students heard a bit about the history of yoga and discussed the issue of cultural appropriation. After that, the focus was mostly on mindfulness and contemporary postural yoga. My presentation on mantra and kirtan would be their introduction to the intersection of philosophy, theology, and music in the yoga tradition.

I began my presentation by telling them that I started practicing yoga when I was about their age. And that to get to the yoga studio when I was their age, I had to walk through the snow for two hours uphill both ways.

Actually, that’s not true: I didn’t really walk to the yoga studio . . . because there were no yoga studios to walk to. At least not in suburbia nor in most cities. Back then, the only places you could learn about yoga were in books or on your local public television station.

Or at a yoga ashram. Which brings me back to what I really told the students when I began the class: that, these days, yoga is commonly thought of as a physical practice with a spiritual component. But when I first started practicing, yoga was thought of as a spiritual practice with a physical component. And I learned the spiritual practice of kirtan while living in a yoga ashram.

I asked if any of them had ever experienced a kirtan before. Unsurprisingly, the one student in the class who raised her hand was of Indian descent; I had a feeling that, for her, we were heading into familiar territory. And so it was.

For her classmates, not so much. But, they were willing to go along for the ride: I introduced them to some basic concepts, we chanted Oṁ together, and then we chanted the Hare Krishna mantra back-and-forth a few times. That was it. Short and sweet.

When we were all done and getting ready to leave, the Indian student asked me about my name. She said, “My mother told me that ‘Hari’ is a name of Krishna . . . ?”

“Yes,” I replied, and I proceeded to explain the meaning of my name as follows:

Krishna is called by different names that correspond to his different features, qualities, activities, and relationships. The name “Hari” means “he who removes darkness and sorrow from the hearts of his devotees.” Kinda nice.

The name “Hari” also sounds a lot like the name “Howie,” which is the name I moved into the ashram with, a fact that surely contributed to my guru’s deliberations on what “spiritual” name he would give me when I was formally initiated into the yoga lineage I still subscribe to.

“Howie” was also an enthusiastic kīrtanīyā; I could always be found in the middle of the kirtan attentively playing musical instruments in support of the lead singer or leading the kirtan myself. Hence, Harikīrtana.

The word “dāsa” means servant, so, when you add “dāsa” after the word “kīrtana” (the technically correct transliteration of the Sanskrit word for “glorification by chanting”), put it all together and adjust the spelling a bit, you get Hari-kirtana das: “the servant of the communal chanting of the holy names of the one who removes darkness and sorrow from the hearts of his devotees.”

Proof once again that Sanskrit is a very efficient language.

Sharing my knowledge of yoga and meditation with teenagers who are the same age I was when I began my practice is an interesting experience. I rarely come in contact with people so young and having once been so young myself feels like a very long ago and far away experience, almost as if it happened in a dream.

I know it happened because I was there. And I have witnesses. Still, it feels like that period of my life was really a previous life. My inner and outer worlds have changed so much and so many times since then that I’m certain I’m not the same person I once was.

Or, to be more accurate, I’m the same person now as I was then but the conglomeration of psycho-physical attributes I remember identifying myself as when I was a teenager is very different from the conglomeration of psycho-physical attributes that’s doing the remembering.

Try it sometime: remember yourself far enough back in time that you can A) see a distinction between who you were then and who you are now, and B) still be able to connect the dots between early impressions on your mind and lasting results in your life.

It’s an interesting way to test the theory of transmigration of the soul, the journey of the self through an open-ended cycle of repeated birth and death, within the experiential framework of a single lifetime.

I do these kinds of thought exercises just because I like to blow my own mind. You may find that it does the same for you.

Anyway, whoever I think I am now is looking forward to next year’s Yoga Minimester and a new group of students with whom I can share my experience of yoga. Whoever I thought I was then never imagined that I would ever be doing such things.

Hoping all’s well in your world,

– Hari-k

1 thought on “Hari Goes to High School”

  1. Hari Goes to High School” is a heartwarming and insightful piece that beautifully illustrates the journey of self-discovery and spiritual growth. It’s inspiring to see how the protagonist navigates the challenges of high school while staying true to his spiritual path.

Comments are closed.