Krishna Das will be there. Jai Uttal will be there. Deva & Miten too. Even Shyamdas, the bhakti world’s most beloved Ambassador of Bhava, will be there, in all his bhavalicious glory. Journey OM: Into the Heart of India, the cinematic masterpiece in the works from veteran filmmaker and original bhakti bhaiya John Bush, promises to be the bhakti movie of the year.
Right now, you can be a part of this film’s development by pre-ordering the DVD and soundtrack featuring Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, Deva Premal & Miten and more. ACT FAST! The campaign ends at 1:19 a.m EST on Friday, April 24.
There’s a certain mystique about India that can be hard to define. For many in the bhakti world, the pull is strong, like that of a mother beckoning her children home. There’s an almost inexplicable longing that cuts straight to the soul, not unlike what we imagine the Gopi cowherds felt for their sweet Govinda.
Journey OM aims to capture that elusive quality that makes India unlike any other place in the world. But don’t mistake this upcoming film for some ordinary travelogue cataloging must-see pit stops on a well-trodden tourist path. Journey OM, according to filmmaker John Bush, takes you off the beaten track. Way off.
Focused on ‘Places of Passage’
Bush focuses his camera on so-called tirthas, holy “places of passage” that are believed to be sacred sites where the veil between worlds is thin, where it is possible for even ordinary humans to cross over from worldly materialism to spiritual nirvana with relative ease. (Tirtha is a Sanskrit word that translates to “ford,” or a shallow part of a body of water that can be easily crossed.)
Mother India is rife with tirthas — legendary places with thousands-years-old histories in Hindu scripture and mythology. For example, at the very Southern tip of India is the island of Rameswaren, said to be the place from which Hanuman and Rama’s army built the bridge to Lanka to rescue Sita from the evil king Ravana, as is written in the Hindu epic, “The Ramayana.” In the holy land of Braj there is Govardhan Hill, the mountain that Krishna, as a young boy, lifted high to protect the people of Vrindavan from the torrential rains that the god Indra had let loose in his anger. And the list goes on…
“These are power spots,” says Bush. “They’ve been identified over thousands of years as places of transcendence, where one can go from earthly consciousness to celestial consciousness.” Journey OM will take the viewer on a magical mystery tour of a dozen or so of these sites, with the intent of conveying a feeling of the sacredness of these places.
“Each place has its own story, its own flavor,” Bush told The Bhakti Beat. “The revelations along the way are really geared to have a transformative effect for the viewer, to impart that ‘inner-journey’ experience of a sacred pilgrimage.”
Bush, the inspiration and perspiration behind Journey OM, is the real deal. He didn’t jump on the mantra bandwagon yesterday; his bhakti roots are deep — more than 40 years deep to be exact. He was with Ram Dass back in the days of “psychedelic evangelism” of 1960’s America. Like Ram Dass, he traveled to the Far East in search of that same feeling of transcendence, of divine consciousness, sans LSD. He met Shyamdas when Shyamji was just 19, and developed a deeper friendship with him in the weeks before he died. The night Shyamdas left his body, they had been in satsang together, and Bush was in the car that, mere minutes after it happened, came across the scene of the motorcycle accident that claimed Shyamdas’ life. They had planned for weeks to shoot footage around Shyamdas’ home in Braj for Journey OM, which is dedicated to Shyamdas.
On the Bus with Maharaji
Along with Ram Dass, Krishna Das, Daniel Goleman and a host of others, John Bush was on “the bus” — the one that Krishna Das has told the story of countless times — that arrived at its destination at precisely the same moment that the elusive Maharaji, Neem Karoli Baba stepped into the street, leaving the bewildered Westerners on board scratching their heads with mouths agape.
That moment — the first time Bush met the Indian Saint — was a turning point for the long-haired hippy from America. “My life changed dramatically at that point,” Bush says. He had been on his way back home after a series of meditation retreats in a remote Burmese monastery. Instead, he spent the next couple of years following Maharaji in a kind of ongoing pilgrimage. It was when the young Bush first connected with the age-old tradition of spiritual pilgrimage, and became fascinated by it. It was also the period where Bush connected with kirtan, taking his turn as one of the Western wallahs in Baba’s entourage.
Later, back in the States, Bush roomed with Jai Uttal in Berkely for a period, and joined with Uttal, Krishna Das and Bhagavan Das in a bhakti band called “Amazing Grace.” They made a kirtan album, played at festivals and toured the Pacific Northwest, essentially launching the careers of three of the bhakti world’s best-known wallahs. But unlike his bandmates, Bush — a new father at the time — decided the life of a professional musician was not for him. He moved to Cambridge, Mass., and settled into a more traditional lifestyle, albeit one where kirtan and satsang continued to have a strong presence.
Fast-forward to the year 2000 or so. Career finished, Bush returns to his “long-deferred dream” of sharing with the world, through film, the sacred cultures he fell in love with as a youth. He filmed and produced an award-winning trilogy of pilgrimage films to Southeast Asia and Tibet, which were aired on PBS and around the world. His documentary feature film, “Vajra Sky Over Tibet,” is endorsed by the Dalai Lama and has been screened as part of the official program of His Holiness in more than a dozen cities.
Bush describes Journey OM as “wall-to-wall bhakti.” Not only does the soundtrack feature Krishna Das, Jai Uttal, and Deva Premal & Miten, but the entire film is steeped in the bhava of the devotional journey.
“Pilgrimage is part of the yoga of devotion,” he says. “My hope is that through the cultural immersiveness of this film, the viewer has their own transformative experience, their own inner journey.”
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