Dave Stringer kirtan: non-dualist philosophy meets uplifting chant to create a neuropeptide dance of divine proportions.

May 17th, 2011 by Dearbhla Kelly

If you’ve had the experience of chanting with kirtan maestro Dave Stringer, you know how talented he is, not just his musical acumen and his dynamic presence, but also his gift for bringing the teachings of yoga to life in his incisive and wry musings on everything from the Bhagavad Gita, to quantum physics and the nature of time. And then there’s his voice!

But most people probably aren’t aware that Stringer views his practice as philosophical statement as much as artistic expression. He opens every kirtan program with ‘Shivoham, Shivoham’ – a definitive statement of Advaita Vedanta, the non-dualist philosophical system which views Brahman (God, or ultimate reality) as beyond form and attribute.

Shivo’ham, Shivo’ham

Mano buddhya hankara chittani naham

Na cha shrotra jihve na cha ghrana netre

Na cha vyoma bhumir na tejo na vayuh

Chid ananda rupah shivo’ ham shivo’ ham

I am neither the mind, intellect, ego nor memory,

neither the ears nor the tongue nor the senses of smell and sight,

neither ether, air, fire, water or earth.

I am consciousness and bliss. I am Shiva, I am Shiva.

Na punyam na papam na saukhyam na duhkam

Na mantro na tirtham na veda na yajnah

Aham bhojanam naiva bhojyam na bhokta

Chid ananda rupah shivo’ ham shivo’ ham

I am neither virtue nor vice, neither pleasure nor pain,

neither mantra nor sacred place, neither scripture nor sacrifice.

I am neither the food nor the eater nor the act of eating.

I am consciousness and bliss. I am Shiva, I am Shiva.

Apurvanam param nityam

Svayam jyotir niramayam

Virajam param akasham dhruvam

Ananda mavyayam

I am beyond all things.

I am everlasting, self-luminous,

taintless, and completely pure.

I am immovable, blissful, and imperishable.

Aham nirvi kalpo nira kara rupo

Vibhut va cha sarvatra sarvendri yanam

Na chasan gatam naiva muktir na meyah

Chid ananda rupah shivo’ ham shivo’ ham

I am without thought, without form.

I am neither detachment nor salvation nor anything that could be measured.

I am consciousness and bliss. I am Shiva, I am Shiva.


The view is the kernel of Jnana Yoga wherein the Divine (Brahman) is understood as beyond all concepts; any attempt to capture the essence of Brahman using language necessarily distorts since Brahman must be experienced to be understood: Brahmavit, Brahmaiva, Bhavati. So it is with our own nature. Any label that we give ourselves can at best point to some aspect of our identity. But who we are outruns any labels, even those of our own choosing. Who we are is unbounded.

From this opening statement Stringer guides participants in the chant to an experience of ourselves as unbridled bliss and joyful expansion. The move is from transcendence to immanence, the understanding of divine nature as beyond all form to divine nature permeating all form. My friends, we are now in the dynamic and throbbing terrain of Kashmir Shaivism according to which ultimate reality (Brahman) is consciousness and consciousness pervades everything. The world of manifest form is the expansion and contraction of Shiva’s all-pervading consciousness expanding, pulsating and dancing as Spanda (creative vibration). We are the pulse in the music, the dance of Maheswara and Matrika Shakti, the interconnectedness of all in the field of love.  But how did we get here?

We got here under Stringer’s expert guidance using the technology of kirtan to change brainwave frequency and alter neurochemistry by activating different parts of the brain eliciting feelings of euphoria and contentment. Siva (left brain, linear, stillness) becomes Shakti (right, non-linear, dynamic) – radiance awakened, molecules shimmering, vibrating, resonating out beyond the periphery of spatio-temporally located body and brain into the field of Consciousness, transcending dualism.

Siva joined with Shakti, consciousness unbound becomes creativity manifest. Unity in flux, dynamic stability, the microsmic beta brainwave morphs to the macrocosmic delta. The ripple of the universe’s pulsation spreading to the field of the once-atomized individual brain. A journey to the core of Siva on the wings of Shakti, the electrical charges released when ligand binds with receptor bringing a message that can’t be delayed, a secret that must be told in order to initiate a new surge of biochemical bliss. A chemical charge bringing us closer to nerve-ana, those neurological pathways, electrical charges taking us towards ecstasy – ekstastis – out of stillness into the blissful surge, from exile to homecoming, alienation to recognition, cacaphonous multiplicity to the stillness encompassing all sound. We are home, in the blissful play of consciousness that is ultimate reality, our very own nature.

One Response to “Dave Stringer kirtan: non-dualist philosophy meets uplifting chant to create a neuropeptide dance of divine proportions.”

  1. Seeing Dave Stringer was my first introduction to Kirtan.I wondered why I had never touched it in my life of folk singing.Would have been easier than singing my long winded tales.I arrived that evening totally open to this new experience.Did my research and intellectually comprehended what was to happen?Purchased his songs to glimpse the voice to unfold.I thought I was ready.Knew the words and had a good grasp of the melody.This is what followed.
    It was an old tin shed in Gosford ,NSW Australia 3 years ago.
    Dave had the ultimate degree of control in the musical process.He wanted to give us pleasure(to a certain extent) and give us what we anticipated.(so someone like me wasn”t lost altogether)He was free to craft Kirtan to whatever he desired.It must have been a supreme temptation for him.I was enthralled by Shivo’Ham Shivo’Ham because he brought into that moment its meaning.He was a free performer.He allowed the music to manifest a ‘will of its own’He took the risk and I was about to venture on a sacred journey. As the Kirtan continued I lost my judgement I sang with a pure feeling of contentment.

    Through his Kirtan I moved from the present that was to be set in stone of the past. The future was still open.The act of singing seems to give the singer a profound experience of creating time and losing the ability to think.Past,Present and Future are concurrent.This was another time dimension. I had been touched by something of a spiritual nature.In my silence after the event the words echoed “Shivo’Ham ShivoHam’

    Kirtan is a part of my life now and yes I still sing my long winded tales but a new world of Sanskrit Mantras dedicated to the Divine are a large part of my life.
    If Dave’s performance that night had been different this world would have been lost to me.I have always felt blissful and at home with music but Kirtan has been the extension long overdue.Thankyou Dave.

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Photos by Robert Sturman.