What have you been doing in the last few years with your yoga practice and pilgrimages?
The last 8 years I've been teaching Yoga and I've always been a sort of practitioner of yoga. To me, I look at it as an extension of what I did with the music. I was always interested in the ideas of self improvement and increasing the quality of our existence. Yoga's an excellent way to reach out to a difficult community like that. It's fantastic. It's a fantastic career, it's a fantastic practice. For those who are interested in more spiritual things, I take them on a pilgrimage to India. So, I just got back from a few weeks in India with about 20-25 people which was really satisfying. We just go on pilgrimages to holy places, we practice yoga, we teach from the ancient books of India. It's real nice.
Did anything noteworthy happen on this latest pilgrimage?
India is one of these places that you get a lot out of it if you go there with a spiritual intention. If you go and you try to just enjoy it like a vacation [you will find] there are so many better places to go on vacation. If you like a great beach, there's better beaches. I think with India it's one of these things [where] it's been a spiritual hub since before time was recorded. Therefore, if you go in with a spiritual intention there's still very spiritually minded people and places that can really inspire you. I think it was the mood of all the students that actually made it very special. It was actually a pretty memorable trip for me. Everybody had a pretty good intention on the trip. It infects, it infects you- the people you hang out with.
Are you still involved with ISKON? What are your current thoughts on it?
It's like an institution of spirituality and I've got a lot of respect for it. I'm not really involved in it, like I don't live in an Ashram per se but I've got friends within that institution. When I lived in the Ashram, it was where I lived but I'm married with children right now. It's more in the periphery of my life but I appreciate it as an institution that provides outreach. For example, I wouldn't ever have heard of all this if it wasn't for Prabhupad, who's the guru of the Krishna devotees and his desire to go to the west and explain these things that have been talked about in India for thousands of years. Because he had that desire for outreach, I've benefitted. So in my heart I'll always have an incredible appreciation for it. I'm not really in those confines right now but I have a great appreciation for that time that I was. It was sort of like a training ground I think. It's like when you go into a university; you study there, you learn there and then you take what you learn and you bring it to your own life.
Someone was saying to me how when you become a devotee or a monk or something you lose all of your individuality. I was think it's so far from reality. What happens is you actually learn to let go of some of your bad habits. You learn to study the wisdom books of ancient India which are very similar to the wisdom books from around the world. Then, you learn how to apply that. At a period of your life, it is sort of like a training ground like the army is or like some disciplined institutions like a university is. Then you get to take those tools and start to really find out what you are within this body. Like I was a musician or some people are artists or some people are more mathematical. You take those same wisdom principles and apply them to your life.
How do you connect discipline, health and spirituality?
Well you need discipline in order to have good health right? I can't just eat candy all day; I'm not going to be very healthy. In order to get good at anything actually you need discipline. Be it material well being or be it spirituality. You can't be just whimsical and get the same results. That's why in all systems of education there's a lot of discipline. You want to be a great acrobat, you want to be a great magician, you want to be a great photographer - you need discipline. If you want to get good at eating very well and doing detoxes or cleanses, you need a lot of discipline. Basically, the senses have to be curbed. You can't just whimsically follow your mind, your senses around. You have to understand what you want to be and work towards that. I think that's true of anything you study.
What does Youth of Today stand for in 2011?
Well, I don't really know. I'm not really in Youth of Today in 2011. We're just doing some reunion shows. I think it's probably made up of a bunch of guys who really like Youth of Today and playing songs for our fans. It was sort of like a seed for me of where I am today. Some of the songs I haven't sung in a while [and] when I sing them now, it reminds me of where my head was, at that time. I appreciate what I was going through and my struggles and my
desire and my passions. I can definitely see how it sort of related to where I am today. I felt like I was fortunately on a good track with my life. You go back to the idea of wisdom literature. Those are the things I was blessed to be into at a young age. So that’s why Youth of Today, when I was 19 years old, it might have seemed a little precocious. Who's this 19 year old talking about control of your senses and discipline and what goes around comes around? It was because I was into books like that. I felt like if I could just read these books and write the words in a way that people could understand them, the lyrics would be timeless. I'm lucky I was into what I was into at a young age. Most people go through crazy 20s and it's only into their 30s when they realize, "man, I can't drink like this, I just gained 50 lbs in the last 10 years," or "I can't live like this anymore." At a time when I was 19- not drinking and vegetarian, at least back then, it was sort of a rare thing.
How do you feel about Straight Edge today?
I don't really know enough about it truthfully. I'm not really part of the music scene. I'm part of the yoga community, I can comment on that. I really don't know much about it, what it's like or what the people are into. Are they cool? Are they not cool? I think that those basic parameters are smart but it can also be mixed up with huge amounts of ego and then it can defeat the purpose. That's true with anything. Anytime you try to do something for a good cause it can get wrapped up in your own ego and then it can cause harm as well.
So you don't consider yourself a part of the hardcore scene anymore?
I'm not involved whatsoever, I was just asked to do some reunion shows.
How did those shows come about?
I don't know, somebody gets my e-mail, sends me an e-mail and Porcel wants to do a reunion. Somehow it comes about. It wasn't like a planned thing but then if we're doing like 3 of them, why not do a couple more? I think everybody in the band that's playing is Straight Edge and they still like playing those songs.
Would you still use the words Straight Edge to describe yourself?
I don't use the word; I think it's irrelevant to my life. That's just a different way somebody has to understand what you are. It's just a different map, a way to see reality. When I was 21, 22 [years old], that's how I viewed it. When I was a monk, I had a different map of the way to view reality. Do I walk around calling myself "Straight "edge? No, but if that's all a person understands than I don't mind using it. I don't use my name Ray, I use my name Ragunath but if someone calls me Ray I'm not offended. That's how they know me and I'm ok with that.
Can you explain the meaning of the name Ragunath?
It's a name for Rahm. Ragunath is a name for Rahm like we would say "God". Ragunath Das means "The servant of Rahm", "The servant of God".
Mixing God and spirituality with Hardcore has been very controversial, how do you see this?
Who cares? They're trying to take God out of music? You can't take God out of anything. Music started as tribute to the divine or tribute to higher powers from Native American to Indian to African. It's all offering prayers to higher energies. How can they divorce God from music, just because it's punk rock? Maybe I'm reinstating what music was supposed to be. Maybe they've lost out. Maybe they've lost the touch of music. It's a tribute to the divine. Maybe I'm reestablishing what music should be.
I'm driving by a truck right now in New Jersey that's orange with Judge hammers on the back of it. I've got to pull over and look at this. Judge crossed hammers, I've got to find out who's car this is. Maybe it's Mike Judge's. You know what? I'm actually not far from Mike Judge's house! That's where he used to live I think. I wonder if that's his car?
You talk to him much over the years?
I haven't talked to him much, maybe once. I really like him though, really nice guy. We sort of lost touch. We both sort of did our own thing you know? That's ok. Sometimes I run into people like that, from that scene and you're hanging out with them like they're your oldest friends and it's like not a day has passed. It happens a lot with these people because you're sort of so connected with them.
Do you ever view Youth of Today and Shelter as one continuous band?
Not really. I mean, as continuation of my life and my writings and stuff like that but they are sort of different chapters of a book. They're definitely distinct. I got too far from what I was that I stopped and started a new chapter. If people want to contact me they can go to my website www.ragunath.org