Two days ago I received the news that Shyam Das had passed away. It was a motor bike accident in Goa, India.
If you don’t know Shyam Das, let me tell you who he was to me. I was just in India on retreat led by Govind Das of the Bhakti Yoga Shala in Santa Monica. We visited Shyam in Vrindavan, his home for more than 30 years. I already knew who he was from Bhakti Fest, a yoga & kirtan festival that happens 3 times per year, where he has been one of the primary musicians since the beginning.
Vrindavan is an entire city dedicated to the worship of the Radhe-Krishna tradition. It is, in some ways, a difficult place to be due to pollution, poverty, crowds… and in some ways a magical place full of love, respect, devotion to the Divine in the form of Krishna.
Our group spent two days with Shyam Das, visiting ashrams, gurus, saints and temples. We walked for what seemed like hours in places that don’t exist on Google maps. We ate the most delicious meals featuring flavors I’ve never tasted. We chanted “Radhe Krishna! Gopala Krishna!” over and over again on a boat ride down the Yamouna River as night fell. We listened to well-researched stories about the lineage of Krishna and the folklore of the Bhraj (area surrounding Vrindavan — the birthplace of Krishna, I think.) We fed peacocks in the park.
What I know about Shyam Das is that he was loved and respected by everyone we encountered; that he dedicated his life to studying, honoring, and sharing the light of the Divine, that he was generous, good-humored, and kind; that he opened my mind to the possibility of an entirely different approach to living.
Two short weeks after our visit to Vrindivan, I, myself, was in Goa, on the back of a motor bike, speeding around blind curves in the dark, swerving around other drivers and the occasional cow that wandered into the road, begging the driver to slow down, praying for my life. All sorts of dreadful scenarios flashed through my mind and at a certain point, the only thing I knew to do was squeeze my eyes shut and chant to Ganesha, lord of safe travel and remover of obstacles. Somehow, I arrived home safely at my beach hut that night.
I have never been so grateful for my life.
In honor of the life of our beloved teacher, scholar and friend, Shyam Das, I vow never to take my time in this body for granted, and to use it as an instrument for living a life of fierce passion, love and devotion. Namaste.