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The temple of Kirtan

Kirtan is a word that connotes a type of temple or monument which is constructed by repeatedly mentioning, saying, reporting, and telling - in the sense that a physical temple is constructed by repeatedly placing bricks, or other construction materials.  In this regard, Kirtan has aspects of study, training, practice and performance. 

This temple of Kirtan, once constructed, is no different than any other temple: it is a facility for particular forms of sacrifice.  Sankirtan is the svarupa, the true, or essential, form or nature of Kirtan.  It is differentiated from mere Kirtan by evidence of spontaneous emulation in sacrifice: in the sense that a Priest facilitates the spontaneous emulation in sacrifice of a devotee within a Temple they construct or maintain.  When Kirtan is performed successfully, others emulate the construction and perform the sacrifices too.

Kirtan is accomplished by any of the athletic or performing arts through play; these plays are undertaken through a system of Asanas for the purpose of Dharma, Artha and Kama.  Sankirtan manifests the Vedas themselves: as the Vedas are not the words, but the melody which carries them, so is the Dharma not the play, but the player.  

Like all Yoga, Kirtan is an individual and lonely practice.  However, there are reasons for which Yogis gather to perform not only Kirtan, but numerous other things.  Kirtan is performed together typically either because of the need for the assistance of a Priest or the Priest's need for assistance in sacrifice, but also for study, training and practice.  

When people play together, a harmony and concord naturally arise which make success easier: as a fairer price is settled upon by buyer and seller in auction than in individual bargaining, as a melody is stronger when sustained by multiple voices, as a team of athletes succeeds where an individual might fail, as an army succeeds where a single warrior would fail.  The merchant sings advertisements of their price and wares, and the buyer spontaneously responds.  The athlete wins a game, and their fans spontaneously celebrate in the same victory.  The musician plays the melody, and the words are immediately sung by a thousand voices.  It is by Sankirtan that spontaneous mutual service for the same goal arises: truth, love, fairness, and numerous other objectives which are shared are achieved.  This is not mystical, but the result of the fact that all beings desire the same things, and when they work together, these become priorities which overcome any minor differences which differentiate the individual players.  We all desire truth, and love.

There are tools for play which players rely on, as there are tools to accomplish any task easier.  A single musical instrument can keep the tone steady for a vast number of musicians by remaining constantly in true tune, a drum can keep an army marching in the unity of courage by remaining constantly in true rhythm, a book can keep every voice in harmony by maintaining the constancy of verbage, the northstar can guide millions on different journeys by remaining in constant position in the sky.  The tools of Kirtan are designed toward constancy: an objective standard of perfection to which every participating Yogi may look for guidance.  Say the name of fire in a theater - and everyone runs in terror!  When you say a mantra, or the name of a beloved, their influence is brought to bear; by repeating training, confidence is gained.

When gathered for group Kirtan, each Yogi strengthens, guides and reinforces each other, together with whatever tools are used.  Kirtan is an expedient means by which even amateur Yogis may share in expertise and confidence - if only for a while.

There are simply too many techniques to summarize here, each specific to a particular tool, or objective of a particular sacrifice.  However, it may be said that as each instrument in an orchestra must be both heard and not dominate, these techniques are intended to bring harmony among the multiple efforts of each Yogi.

Kirtan relies on the use of Maya (magic, illusion, abstraction - like a graphical representation of numbers, or a 2 dimensional rendering of a 3 dimensional object, or the convincing performance of a theater actor, etc.), and this makes it both effective and dangerous for someone who is unskilled or insufficiently trained.  Of the numerous dangers of Maya in Kirtan, the greatest is entertainment: the athlete or musician must enjoy the game differently than the spectator, and each must remember their place.  For the spectator, it is easy to become entertained and too passive in their witnessing, and in such a dreamlike state, gain no benefit from the work of Dharma.  For the athlete, it is easy to become entertained and too active in their participation.   

If a Yogi stays aware of the Maya by perceiving the tools through which it is created, this danger is somewhat minimized: this is why it is necessary to first train in describing the merits (gunakirtana) of the players and their tools, why Puja is necessary to honor all those who play.  This act of friendship helps one remain conscious of the Maya, and not be overcome by it. Understanding the illusion does not rob it of its potency, only its power to control.  Understanding the illusion permits the Yogi to benefit from it without being overcome.  Taste each ingredient in the meal, smell every flower in the perfume, see every color and stroke in a painting, discover the actor behind the mask of your favorite character - if you can understand and praise the study, training and practice the player on the field undertook, even if they oppose you, you not only can come to understand what athleticism truly is, but will doubtlessly emulate them and exceed them.  

There is no honor in overcoming a less capable opponent, only in withstanding their antagonism.  There is no honor in speaking over a more eloquent voice, only in patient dialogue or supporting chorus with it.  The honor of a Yogi is observed in their self-restraint, their collaboration and cooperation, their ability to construct and service the temple for the sacrifice of this self: it is in Kirtan that we willingly give up our own individual voice to lend it to the choir.  Our voice, distinct and powerful, is important to hear - but is frequently bettered by supporting others.  

While entertainment is a desired effect of the performance of Kirtan, and necessary to achieve Kama, the enjoyment of the work, it is not the primary goal.  Performance is often the best (and sometimes the only) means by which a student may come to understand the Dharma.