Recent Kirtan Videos

November 5, 2013 — Leave a comment

Here are four videos from a recent kirtan I led in Maui. They are the “closest thing to professional” videos that I own so I thought it would be good to share them with my friends.

All four chants are from the kirtan that was part of the Ram Dass public satsang on Maui.

Recorded live at the Makawao Union Church on August 25, 2013

Zach Leary – vocals and harmonium
Dana Huffman – guitar
Kit Thomas – bass
Vidu – percussion

Even more interesting than the release of Apple’s latest mobile operating system, iOS 7, is how we as a collective are responding to it. In the past the common lens in which we viewed change in our society came in the form of fashion, music, politics, tolerance and industrial advancement. This is still true to some extent but what we’ve now done is added a new layer to how we are experiencing change – cyberspace.

Every time there is a new “major” update to the digital eco systems we spend most of our time in there is always an endless stream of of both public and professional pundit outrage over the changes. Anyone who has been on Facebook for more than three years can certainly attest to it. Go ahead and think about the last time Facebook made a major update to it’s product; chances are you can’t even remember what they were and all that you recall is that you were pretty upset about it. All of the Facebook posts about missing the old Facebook and that Facebook isn’t listening to it’s users were common and nearly everyone came across them in their newsfeed. Fast forward three years and Facebook’s stock is at an all time high, it’s user base is massive and once again no one can recall what those changes were.

Enter iOS 7. Apple, more than any other company, has the feverish rabid zeal of a dedicated user base that’s akin to a blood thirsty dog getting a bone. Every single move the company makes is up for tremendous scrutiny while products continue to fly off the shelf. It’s as if the dog loves to bark at the person feeding him.

If I was CEO of Apple I for one would constantly be laughing while resting assured on Steve’s philosophical blueprint he laid out for the company. I’d also go back time and again to the answer Henry Ford gave when asked about why he never asked his customers what they wanted; “If I had asked people what they wanted, they would have said faster horses.”

In the world of technology of course it’s important to pay attention to what people do and don’t like about certain trends but it’s also paramount to remember we are at the dawn of the movement and no one knows what’s around the corner. Things mutate almost organically and without logic.

The most fascinating aspect of peoples reaction to iOS 7 is not the dismissal of the new color scheme, or the “swhooshes” and “blips”, it is the admission that such protest of these changes completely changes their day to day world. We live in the operating systems of today. iOS 7, OS X, Windows, Android, Facebook, etc have all become inextricably linked with our practical behavior. It’s not the sending of the email that’s important anymore, it’s the how we send the email that is important. Finally after nearly two decades of mass adoption how the interface for cyberspace looks has become just as important as the function itself.

Steve Jobs knew this long before most. He preached that design, both hard and soft, WAS the product and that they could not be separated. Apple always had in it’s DNA a belief that what you’re experiencing while you are “doing” is just as important as the “doing” itself.

Arguably, the traces of this product philosophy can go back to the counter culture movement of the 1960’s. Anyone who has taken any psychedelic or practiced any type of meditation knows that how the human mind interfaces with consciousness is at the core of happiness. Are we approaching life through a hyper kinetic disorganized system that is laden with fear and distrust? Or are we floating through life with peace, compassion and focus of mind and body?

The same can be said to our digital lives – are we spending time debugging our broken computer and navigating through endless windows of dialog boxes? Or are we accomplishing our digital tasks with grace and ease?

This, without really saying it, is why people get so worked up about the changes in their favorite operating systems? It’s so vital that they are easy to use and require a hassle free relationship. Whether or not you believe this to be true, one thing is for certain – you won’t even remember what iOS 6 looked like a month from now.

What do me and Ritchie Havens have in common?

Well, nothing really. He was a large African American 60s revolutionary folk singer and I’m an anglo fledgling bhakti musician. With that said, we both share passion for love and music.

And more importantly, he opened Woodstock ’69 and I am opening Bhakti Fest ’13.

It will be early and empty, but if you are there and want to start Bhakti Fest off with me and my friends, be there at 9 am on Thursday. We’ll do our best to start things off right.

With inspiration coming from this great Ritchie video when he opened up that other festival.


If you find yourself on or near Maui on August 25th come to the Ram Dass public satsang at the Makawao Union Church. I’m so honored to be leading the kirtan for this event. It will be a joy to share this practice with you and for our beloved Ram Dass.

The Meta Institute’s founder Frank Ostaseski will be joining Ram Dass as they will co lead an afternoon of dharma talks, meditation and reflections.

All of the details are below on the flyer.

Jai Sri Ram!

-zl (ramana)

Loving Kindness Satsang with Ram Dass, Frank Ostaseski and Zach Leary (Ramana)

Loving Kindness Satsang with Ram Dass, Frank Ostaseski and Zach Leary (Ramana)

“It is incumbent on every generation to pay its own debts as it goes. A principle which if acted on would save one-half the wars of the world.” – Thomas Jefferson

In my previous post I alluded to the concept of generational tyranny and Thomas Jeffersons fascination with the concept. Again, to reiterate – this means that the actions of the current generation should be such that it not leave an indelible mark on any future generation. For instance, this generations debt is that of its own and generations to come should not be left paying the bill. Of course there was no way Jefferson could have known that this thinking could be extended to that of the ecology. And certainly one could argue that the current ecological crisis could be described as a “war of the world.”

This past Earth Day I became sensitive to the notion that the idea of generational tyranny couldn’t be any more relevant to that of the ecological/climate change cause. At the very core of what Earth Day is about is protecting the Earth and our ability to live on it for generations to come. That’s about as stark a mission as anyone can make up.

Science is in near unanimous agreement that we have caused some sort of damage to the fragile ego system of the planet which in turn means that we will have to make some huge adjustments in the way we live. And those adjustments better happen really fast. Some say that the Greenland ice shelf may break off in the middle of this century which may cause Manhattan and London to go underwater. Other reports say some very recent satellite photographs indicated that the Arctic Sea has 80% less ice than it did 20 years ago. There are mountains of evidence that make up a body of truth that says this is at a crisis level. They go on and on.

Even though most sane people know this to be true we still see very little action from any major Government and for the most part we still let the petro-dollar keep it’s relevance as the worlds true economic superpower. If we look through history’s lens we can trace both our progress and our destruction back to the rise of the Industrial Revolution in the 19th century. The economic benefits of the late 19th centuries industrial advancements happened so quickly, and for so much of the Western world, that it created a universal utopia on how to view the world. There suddenly became far more ways for man to seek his own “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness” than ever before due to the new found options of creating income. From here on out progress became definable only in economic terms or that of the GDP. This was such a powerful shift in the way humans were living up until that point that these profoundly Western imperialist ways have even seeped into eastern cultures like India and China.

Now that we are over 100 years past the dawn of the Industrial Revolution we are left with the bleak reality of the damage we’ve done to our the planet as a result of our economic prosperity that we are being forced to reconsider some of the ideas of what we think is important or what we define as success.

“The planet does not need more ‘successful’ people. The planet desperately needs more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers of all kinds. It needs people to live well in their places. It needs people with moral courage willing to join the struggle to make the world habitable and humane and these qualities have little to do with ‘success’ as our culture is the set.”
-Dalai Lama

Let’s go back and take a more macro view of the planet’s peril and perhaps adjust our sensitivities to it. Let’s go back to the idea of what the ecology and green movement is about and why an important distinction needs to be made. This is the distinction between saving the planet and saving ourselves. George Carlin brilliant and famously riffed on this saying we shouldn’t say “Save the Planet”, we should say “Save the Humans.” It’s true, the planet will be fine as it has been for 4 bilion years. It’s our ability to live on the planet which is in jeopardy. Carling goes on to say “the planet will shake us off like a bad case of fleas.”

This is funny and provides comic relief but if you step back to truly consider the differences you will see it to not only be true but to be an urgent distinction. This past Earth Day I grew tired and cynical of the new age movements rhetoric on the unofficial holiday and started to think about Carlins idea a little more . I’m truly tired of the new ager’s “honoring the mother” bumper sticker movement and it’s endlessly saccharine sweet need to hold hands and do a beach clean up. Sounds so bitter for a self professed hippie who drives a Prius I know but it’s true.

It’s important because we don’t need to go on and on about using less plastic or not driving BMWs as much as we should shift the focus to protecting the ability of our species to continue it’s survival. Anyone reading this post may still be able to enjoy our beautiful Earth as we know it but will our grandchildren? And that can not be more clearly expressed in how the future generations will view our legacy. Will some nameless environmental leader be saying 100 years from now “At present our energy crisis is at a code red level due to circumstances and planning that our ancestors failed to act on at a time when it could have been prevented.”

Quite frankly I think more people would resonate more with saving their grandchildren than they would saving a distant Alaska wilderness. The bumper sticker thinking on the movement needs to shift. Enough honoring the divine mother earth and telling her that we love her, let’s start talking brass tax.

In the latest Rolling Stone there is a worthwhile new piece that focusses on the fierceness and determination of the new climate change freedom fighters who are taking on Big Oil and the US Government very effectively. Gone are the days when hippies and “granola” types were the only ones listening to this cause. Todays climate change leaders are policy wonks, scientists and angry young people who are using technology to mobilize a movement that literally every single person can’t afford to ignore. I can’t think of one other hot button issue that applies to every person no matter what.

“It’s time to take the blinders off and see what the industry (big oil) is doing to us. The message that I want to put out there is that normal, everyday people have to take up this fight” says Cherri Foytlin in Rolling Stone. She is a mother of six who founded the Gulf Coast activist group Mothers for Sustainability.

The ripple from the 60’s new idealism has been felt for nearly 40 years now. Much of our progressive dialogue originated in the 60s, the flexibility for what art is acceptable, the continued quest for equal rights, the gay movement, the health food movement and the green movement all came to fruition because of the shift in awareness that was experienced nearly 50 years ago in that brief lightning in a bottle era. This was one of the great redo’s in modern civilization to ever happen with such swift momentum. This was was the great success of the 60’s and why it’s legacy can still be felt. However, many still view these movements to exist in cultural perceptions only and lack any sort of brick and mortar actions.

The modern green movement and it’s tent pole landmarks like Whole Foods or the Toyota Prius work because they have created actual choices, both cultural and practical, that the everyday consumer can take part in. Various Earth Day festivals that go on around the country are so easily lumped into hippie gatherings where seitan and dreadlocks rule the day.

We must stop with the notion that we are trying to save the planet as some sort of new age crusade about honoring and cherishing Mother Earth. Not only is it annoying and a cause for separation but it also falls into the cliche of airy fairy causes where the protesters smoke too much pot and don’t get anything done.

We must instead learn to talk about our survival as a species as the only reason to care about this in the first place. Again, the modern ecological movement and the potential risks of doing nothing effect every single person on our planet and every single person who has yet to be born who will live on this planet. It’s not a liberal or conservative cause. It’s not a rich or poor one either. It’s a human one.

Save the humans.

It’s been too long since I’ve last posted and through the support of my friends I’ve been encouraged to post a little more. I’m glad people do read what I post when I actually get around to it. The metrics on this blog are somewhat strong enough that there may be hope for me to actually write a book. So thank you!

I’ve been in Maui for about a week and now and am comfortably settling into the splendor of the islands and the aloha spirit. Hawaii is a powerful place where you can actually feel the land speaking to you. I’ve never been the type of person who believes in this sort of thing. I never really felt “connected” to the land so to speak. I’ve been inspired by and of course find certain places in our material world extraordinary. But to actually feel the land loving you and supporting you through times of transformation is a new experience and one that I’m happy to be enjoying.

Besides enjoying the obvious pleasures of Maui (the beach and Ram Dass) I’ve been spending a lot of time watching and reading a lot of history; namely critical thinking on the American Revolution, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin and the philosophers that made up the body of thought on The Enlightenment.

As we see this difficult week in American unfold I keep coming back to the original ideas that formed this nation and a thought keeps occurring to me – The Enlightenment for the 21st Century.

Living in the material world while maintaining a spiritual soul brings up several rational ideas of our true nature. And even a few dystopian ones about the future of our species. If you believe, like I do, that our soul is eternal, full of knowledge and full of bliss then it’s baffling that we see our souls take birth in this sometimes maddening world.

If you sit with that idea for a moment you then realize it’s actually not baffling at all and that it is perfectly sound and cause for just awareness. Yes, our souls exist as an eternal form of boundless love but it’s also taken birth into this human incarnation that is tied very firmly to the material world and with that comes the laws of nature.

Since the dawn of existence everything we know has been violent and explosive. The Big Bang was an enormous burst of fire and violence that, after billions of years, subsided into a gentle expanding universe that could support a fragile ecosystem like Earth. So it’s no wonder that human beings kill, bomb, rape and cause destruction to it’s own kind over and over and over again. It might take some time for us to learn to love ourselves and to slowly adapt the way the universe did to support this planet in the first place.

Lately, people around me have been talking about the current state of our global society. And to that effect it seems that we are generally in a disagreement about the answer to that question. Some people, like many older people I know, feel that this is a world gone mad and are completely pessimistic about our survival. Part of this point of view to me has a lot to with technology and media. The world has become so much smaller as a result of what we see and hear all the time that it creates this illusion that things are crazier than ever. If you knew everything that was going on in the world at any time in history in the same way we do now you’d think the same thing.

Thomas Jefferson was very vocal about the idea of generational tyranny and wanted to take action to avoid this situation that was already on the horizon in 1790. So much so that he actually came up with a formula that defined a generation as being 19 years old and that everything America was about needed to be reviewed every 19 years, even the Constitution. His thinking on this matter originally took shape after noticing that the American debt would continue to increase and that it would be a form of tyranny to leave it to the generation that came after who had nothing to with it. Did you know that the national debt was already at $71,000,000 in 1790?

Another take on our global condition is that we are living in the most peaceful time in recorded history. For instance if you lived 400 years ago you may very well have could have died at the hands of a violent rage or political upheaval. Even as recently as the 1970s if you were of a certain age in this country you were forced to join the Army if they needed you and thus your fate may have ended in violence. Today, it’s not like that. A person of my kind would have been burned at the stake in yesteryear for being an obstructive eccentric witch perhaps. The subtle variations of The Enlightenments “the science of man” speaks to is ripe for study even today. In 2013, we have more options than ever before as to what kind of awareness based dharma we we want to live. We can be a banker or a lawyer but we can also be a healer, a writer, an artist, a psychedelist, a freak musician, a professional cognitive dissident or something else that defies a label. This is the very essence of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

At present I stand in the middle which feels somewhat noncommittal. I do think that the world has more opportunities for one to manifest there ideal state of living than ever before but the divide between cultures and classes is still so extreme. For instance, it would be hard to say our world is less violent when you’re talking to one of the 100,000 plus families of innocent Iraqi civilians who got killed in that war. Is it the world more fluid and harmless for an upscale white male from Los Angeles? Most definitely yes. Until we have one political administration that can serve an entire term in office and say that it doesn’t have any innocent blood on it’s hands I’m afraid we still have too much work to do than settling on our hearts and laurels.

Taking the approach of a spiritual pragmatist combined with an ongoing revision of how the science of man exists in the world is a worthwhile looking glass. Both our spiritual conditions and our technological advancements are combining to form a radical new man that will define our future.

The title of my book will be “Who are you now? Awakenings through technology and spirituality.” I plan on exploring many of the above topics the best I can. With that said, I do have one overwhelming issue that I need to address before I go on. Like many great dissertations before, pointing out the problem is easy – it’s pointing out the solution that is difficult. Do I have one solution that I can put forward? Certainly not. That is where the challenge lies; how do we turn awareness and philosophy into action?

Looking forward to sharing more.