Patrick M Davis represents a new generation of Americans who have embraced Hinduism. They have established a small temple in Austin, Texas where they celebrate Hindu holidays and do kirtan and puja regularly.
A journalism student, Patrick is the leader of a Hindu-centered spiritual community, and kirtan musician in Austin, Texas. He says while his connection with Indian spirituality is only a few years old, his “longing to connect with the Divine is deeply rooted. As a child, I was more involved in church than the rest of my family. I loved hearing Bible stories. I was an overachiever and always knew the answers to the Sunday School teacher’s questions,” Patrick told CSP in an interview.
During his teenage years, his beliefs started to shift. “I questioned what I believed and why I believed it. Blind faith was no longer enough for me. I became immersed in counterculture (particularly heavy metal music), cannabis, and psychedelics. I saw this new identity as contradictory to church life and started labeling myself as agnostic. There is some irony here because I now see music and psychedelics as direct pathways to Divine connection.”
A decade later, he found himself getting divorced and filing for bankruptcy. “During this time of profound change, I unknowingly set out on a quest for meaning. I looked for meaning at the bottom of many, many bottles of liquor and beer, but I didn’t find much there. Without knowing why, I picked up a copy of the Tao te Ching at a used bookstore. My search for meaning eventually led me to explore American folk music styles like bluegrass and old-time country. The simplicity and sorrow expressed in this music spoke to me deeply.”
Patrick is a self taught musician and would play the saxophone in school and later the bass guitar. Today he plays the guitar along with chanting. “I was really burned out as a musician because I was playing in bands and trying to really promote myself. I was going out to bars and playing and trying to get people to come and was really trying to sell myself. When I started chanting, it wasn't about me. It wasn't about my identity as a musician and my ego, and this piece of music that I had created. It was more about the experience that you can have through the music. That just really touched me very deeply when I started experiencing that.”
He moved to Austin, Tx in 2011 to pursue playing music more seriously. “I formed a band, recorded an album, and played countless live shows, but so much more has happened for me since moving here.”
Some of the Indian chants and music resonated with the music of the West. “It's partly like a lot of the older folk songs, and this might just be partially because they're so old. There are some songs that no one knows who the author of the song is. There are different variants of the songs and they've just been passed down orally and never written down for years and years. Then in the early 1900s the songs started to be recorded and have a more concrete identity. The traditional American folk songs didn't have a writer attributed to them that just kind of grew out of culture. I think it's very similar to some of the traditional bhakti songs that are there in India. We do ascribe authorship to some of them, but there's no real evidence, except by the style.”
Patrick got married, found a spiritual path, and decided to go back to school. “These three things are all tied together as my wife has been a huge supporter of my academic and spiritual pursuits.”
Around 2015, a friend started sharing American spiritual leader and philosopher Ram Dass’s lectures with him. “I wasn’t consciously looking for a spiritual path, but RD’s words resonated with me deeply. His talks made sense intellectually and also made my heart feel full. Not long after that, I learned about kirtan. Chanting mantras and the Hanuman Chalisa are the most heart-opening practices I have encountered,” says Patrick.
“Although I resisted at first, I now consider Neem Karoli Baba (Maharaj ji) to be my guru and Hanuman my Ishta Deva. They both grabbed a hold of me despite my reluctance. The practice and study of Bhakti Yoga have brought much peace and contentment to my life,” adds Patrick.
Currently, he hosts monthly online chanting and once a month satsang for the Ram Dass Fellowship Austin. He is studying journalism at Austin Community College and intends to transfer to the University of Texas to continue studying journalism and also study religion.
The change came accidentally through a podcast by Ram Dass with Duncan Trussel around five years ago. Patrick was listening to it along with a colleague with whom he would drive to work with. At that time “I didn't even know who Ram Dass was and we googled it up. The podcast was about his lectures from the 1960s to the present day. So my friend Matt and I, we would be at work and we'd be listening to the podcast, while we are working and then we would get in the car and drive home and just talk about it and have these great conversations and then everything unfolded from there.”
At that time, Patrick says everything was new to him. “I don't know if it was specifically one thing that he was talking about, but it was the way that he presented it and how modest he was and how he would talk about his own struggles and not trying to make himself seem very holy. He was very relatable and would explain things in an analytic way that made sense to my brain, but it was also like a heart connection going on at the same time.”
Initially, there was a need to have a guru. “I felt like I needed a physical guru on this plane but Ram Dass talks about that a lot too; that you don't need to meet the guru on the physical plane in this lifetime. I still haven't visited India and I would love to and I'm sure I will.”
Patrick describes an experience where Ram Dass’ guru Neem Karoli Baba reached out to him. “I felt like I was resisting him for a long time, but the more that I heard stories about him and read about him the more I felt connected.”
He says when he first started feeling the change, was the time when he and his wife started going to Church regularly. “She had started getting back into Christianity and I was putting all this pressure on myself that I have to pick one or pick the other, and no one was telling me to pick one. I was just making it up myself and I saw a post from the ashram at Taos, New Mexico with Maharaj ji’s picture which said, “See all religions the same as they all lead to God. And I felt like a physical thing happened in my heart when I read those words. So from that point on, I said okay Maharaj Neem Karoli Baba you are my guru and I'll stop trying to push you away anymore.”
Patrick says the people who have had those profound experiences have a different lens through which they see the world. “When those things started happening to me, I wanted everyone to have those experiences, but not everyone is is going to in this lifetime. So I think we need to just let people develop at their own rate and and have their own experience and not try to say you should experience the mystical.”
Coming from Iowa, a smaller state in the Midwest, which is into farming and manufacturing, Patrick says he did not come across Yoga for the first 30 years of his life. “But when I moved into bigger cities, there definitely was more focus on yoga and more people practicing. It is more in the culture so much so that in the past two to three years there are TV commercials with Yoga in them. “There's someone doing a downward facing dog, or someone is meditating and it could be for any product. One was for a cable provider and had to do with with doing a yoga video on your TV.”
In Austin, Texas, where Patrick lives now, there is a great awareness and presence of the physical aspect of yoga “because we are a very fit city. “We're very into fitness. So there's that aspect of it, but we also have a lot of hippie culture in Austin, too. The few yoga studios that I've been to in Austin don't play down the spiritual aspect of it. And a lot of them do have chanting at the end, or they'll have a separate event for chanting, or they'll have meditation classes. So I think people want the bigger picture.”
Patrick has been chanting Hanuman Chalisa for the last three year and it has become a foundation for his spiritual practice. “What Hanuman Chalisa means to me? When I started learning it, It almost felt like I was remembering something that I already knew from maybe, I don't know, a past life or something like that. Parts of it would come into my head and I didn't even know that I knew it. It was just coming from all sides of me. It was inside of me and I was also learning it. It's just obviously a way to connect with the divine energy and to practice devotion and it's also a way just to kind of separate myself from the stress of life with its meditative quality.
Patrick also does poojas in his shrine at home. “No one's ever taught me how to do a proper pooja so I basically just do my japa. I greet everyone on my altar and do my japa, my chanting, and that's pretty much it. I have been to a couple of temples, where I've taken part in puja, but my daily practice is pretty simple.”
At the Neem Karoli Baba temple in Taos, New Mexico, the only one in the United States, there is a big congregation of American people who are connected to Ram Dass. Neem Karoli Baba’s influence, says Patrick, “is very pervasive, in ways that people may not understand fully. Maharaj ji's presence in America has been more subtle and through his devotees. Daniel Goleman wrote a very well known book called Emotional Intelligence which had a big impact on the psychology world and funnily when I first went back to school, I had two separate classes where the textbook mentioned him. It was cool for me to see someone who had been with Maharaj ji. It was very much like a reassurance that I was connected and was doing the right thing.”