Braja Raja – “The Dust of Braja”

courtesy of the Shyamdas Foundation

When I was a child growing up Africa,  we called all friends of our parents ‘Auntie’ or ‘Uncle’ (in french ‘tantine’ or ‘‘tonton’) which was an honorific and considered respectful. And among the aunties and uncles, there were those you wanted to be related to: Too cool not to be yours. And they actually didn’t care for honorifics. Heartbreaks, delights, anything: you could call them and they would always be there for you. You would never feel uncomfortable around them.

Shyamdas – affectionately and respectfully called Shyamdasji – belongs to that category, as a spiritual teacher. He had dedicated his life to the music, literature, and people of Braj. He spoke Sanskrit, Hindi, Gujarati, and Brajbhasha. He was a scholar who insightfully translated and commented many of the songs and writings of saints from the Pushti Marg tradition (Shri Vallabhacharya, Govinda Svami, Raskhan, Surdas and others). His immense knowledge was only surpassed by his joy  – ananda.

Shyamdasji lived in the bhav, mad in love with God and in service. He left his body in January of 2013.

Regular students of my classes are familiar with his voice … and his laughter!

Today, I’d like to share Braj Raja with you.

All these sacred and ancient teachings are preserved and distributed through the wonderful work of the Shyamdas Foundation.

As Shyamdasji would say: “It’s all Hari’s grace

Radhe, Radhe!


Guru Purnima

Tuesday, July 19th 2016 is the full moon of the guru, also known as  Guru Purnima

Manorama explains that: «  This celebration is marked in July because in India the rainy season happens at that time. It is said that teachers and students can’t easily move when the heavy rains come so the opportunity to bond and set a good course of study together is present during this time of year. It is for this reason that July has become known as the month of the guru »

In the Jivamukti lineage as well, the July Focus of the month essay is about the Guru Mantra.

Yesterday, the open class I taught was dedicated  to all the great teachers in our lineage and I read a story from the Jivamukti Yoga book.  The whole chapter is worth reading thoroughly.  Here is a excerpt from it:

A month later [after Shri Brahmananda Saraswati’s passing] we returned to Ananda Ashram. After midnight, as Sharon was heading to her room to go to bed, she decided to meditate for a few minutes in the main room where Shri Brahmananda often sat to teach. His simple seat was still there, as he had left it. All the lights were out; just one candle was burning. Again, Sharon felt that longing to be close to her guru. She rested her head on his seat and once again, those mysterious sounds rushed in. She picked up her head, thinking perhaps she was hearing water running through the pipes in the house. She heard nothing. When she put her head down on the seat again, she heard exactly the same sounds that she had heard emanating from his body. Shri Brahmananda was once again giving her his timeless message that we are all beyond the body and mind; we are the vibration of the I-AM.

We close every Jivamukti Yoga class with this chant acknowledging the guru:

Om Bolo Sat Guru Bhagavan Ki Jai Victory to God, the only real teacher.

God and Guru are the same. When we experience God in a teacher, the devotion we feel is transformational. Guru can remind us of God. We are thus reminded of our own divine nature.

Regularly, I play Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati’s CD « Chanting sanskrit » and especially the guided meditation that closes each CD. His OM always shakes me. Through his powerful voice, I feel the potency of his being, beyond physical form. But sometimes, I forget these precious gems.

Last February, I caught a very bad cold. I was coughing so hard I couldn’t sleep. Sitting was relatively comfortable so I propped myself up with as many pillows as I could find and played the meditation very loudly. For the whole 7 minutes it lasted, I did not cough. Then I thought, it was just a coincidence. I repeated the experiment three times. My cough had stopped. And I was finally able to sleep through the night (after three sleepless nights in a row). The February Focus of the Month was about the healing sound of yoga. At the end of the essay, Jules Febre (who wrote it) asked the question:  «  Why do so many yoga classes start and end with Om? Why is it considered a healing sound? Truly the best way to find out is to start chanting Om, because as Sharon Gannon says, “ through repetition the magic is forced to arise.” »

From other worlds,  Shri Brahmananda Saraswati gave me an answer and manifested a miracle. It took me a bad cough and a certain hopelessness to not being able to sleep, to remember the teachings. Why was I so blind? I could only laugh at myself.

Yogic teachings honor the biological mother, as the first guru;  guru literally means, dispeller of darkness. Not only did my mom give me life but her departure (she abruptly left us on August 30th 2010) was an invaluable life teaching. We truly never know when and how death will occur. The journey of the loss and the gain can be a deep cycle of growth. May we all learn from it. The yogi strives to live an impeccable life, always ready for “he whose date and time of arrival we do not know”. For the realized yogi,  the time of death is a conscious departure. In sanskrit Mahāsamādhi, literally means the great merger.

Shymdasji took his  Mahāsamādhi reciting mantra and dedicated his life to the teachings of the path of Grace. He had me fall in love for the Pushti Marg’s sacred texts and sounds. I am forever indebted and grateful to him.

I honor and respect Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati , the gentle swami Nirmalananda, the great Sri K.Pattabhi Jois;

Deep pranams and love at the feet of Radhanath Swami Maharaj. His last book « The journey within » is a treasure for every seeker, irrespective of her or his faith.

I feel so fortunate to have found teachers I can trust. They have and are still affecting my life very positively:

Lady Ruth, my adored mentor;

My teacher Yogeswari, a force of goodness in this world;

Our precious teachers Padma (Sharon Gannon) and David Life, I look at them and my heart is filled with awe and love.

Yes, it all comes back to love. The Love of God. It is the true ground of being.

Aside from my home altar, I carry with me always my prayer beads, a book, a recording, a small gift, all those are little reminders of love. We have embarked on a sacred journey, the journey of remembering our eternal, divine souls. May we never miss an opportunity to say « Thank you » to these high beings and saints who have touched our hearts.

As we rise in love, may our know-it-all-ness, our fears, our doubts and our lack of faith gradually melt.

To all of my teachers, I bow and say: Thank you for being in my life and for the many miracles of your love.

In gratitude always.


Story 12

I could listen to Shyamdasji all day long.

There is a single essence that permeates everything … To taste that essence that exists everywhere and is also within every heart, is what the Bhakti Yoga experience is about. Everyone who understands it will love it. Because Bhakti promotes in you, the thing that is most important, which is the joy of your own soul.Shyamdas-ji (1953 – January 20th, 2013)

.. however a blessed soul may be, she is definitely accepted. Within the Path of Grace, Hari does not judge the actions of the soul; she is uplifted through the power of grace. The soul’s spiritual dharma is to take Hari’s refuge. Shri Mahaprabhuji says in his “Krishna Ashraya”,
“I pray to Shri Krishna. He uplifts everyone who takes His shelter.”
In the Path of Grace, the main thing is Krishna’s grace and not the worthiness of the soul. Those who take refuge receive grace – Excerpt from 252 Vaishnavas, translated by  Shyamdas-ji

For introducing me to the practice of Āśrayarefuge; for the gift of mantra, for his contagious love of God, for his eternal teachings … I am forever grateful to Shyamdasji.  Shyamdas was a great bhakta. He was the embodiment of Hanuman. He was a saint. He showered love on Earth.

Radhe, Radhe!

Remembering My Beloved Teacher Shyamdas

by John Smrtic

My phone battery had died, so after I woke up that morning, I plugged in my cell and found an unusual series of messages.

My head was already spinning as my father had failed precipitously from Alzheimer’s in just over a month’s time and was placed on Hospice care days earlier. But could it really be? Shyamdas had passed away? We sat stunned in my Albany apartment, not sure how to react or what to do. It was a heavy Sunday morning. There was still so much left, I thought, in our lila. And of course, I had to visit him in Vrindavan. Shyamdas was killed in a motorcycle accident in Goa? I couldn’t even wrap my head around this given the rest of my circumstances. Tears paraded consistently down my cheeks for some time and eventually dissipated into a cold silence.

Processing and coming to terms with the loss of Shyamdas has been a long journey. In fact, I miss him more with each passing day. Knowing the intensity of his devotion and the depth of his spiritual life, there was a part of me that knew in my heart that he was going to be OK in his transition.

Dealing with my father’s impending death and the devastation of end stage Alzheimer’s at his very young age of 62 (at the time), had consumed me mentally and emotionally and it was a challenge to keep my head above water while trying to cope with it all, care for him and maintain the rest of my life. Because of this, it wasn’t until months after Shyamdas’s passing that I was able to mourn in a way that I felt was appropriate and to begin to even understand the profundity of the gifts that he had so freely given to me.

Shyamdas Taught Bhakti

Shyamdas was my first bhakti teacher. He didn’t open the doors to Krishna devotion for me, but rather blew them right off the hinges. He taught me the power of a devotional lifestyle and the potency of bhajan and the Holy Names of Hari. In a short amount of time, he gave me direct access to the bhav, as it can be experienced in the presence of those who are like him, rasikas, or nectar connoisseurs. Shyamdas taught me so many important lessons on the yogic path, some that were challenging at the time, and others which brought a chuckle but were deep nonetheless. I recall the first time he came to Heartspace Yoga in Albany to give satsang and kirtan after my class.

As my students emptied out and he entered to set up, he approached, in his unique, swaying gait, belly first, and spoke in his way so familiar to those dear to him: “John, man, slow boat. Asana. Slow Boat. Devotion is where it’s at.” I’m smiling so wide as I type these words and recall this experience.

Shyamdas was a devotee and a scholar, which suited me well, with a devotional constitution and sincere interest in the deep teachings and scriptures. He was the type of person that I could email at any time and ask for the etymology of a Sanskrit word or the “inner meaning” of a mantra – and get a quick, thorough response. I could write him and ask for his translation of Shri Vallabhacharya’s “Nirodah Lakshana” and he would eagerly reply. I could sense a sincere thrill in him that a young Westerner was even slightly interested in these life-changing yogic teachings of non-dual devotion.

Shyamdas was always going to be around. He would always return from his beloved Vraj to bless us in the upstate New York “Bhajan Belt.” We would always get to take a blissful spin down the Hudson once or twice a year on the Bhajan Boat. We would always be able to ask him for his unique tulsi necklaces from Vraj, so they could adorn our necks. We would always have his unique presence at the Omega ecstatic chants. We would forever be greeting each other saying, “Hari Hari,” “Radhe Radhe,” or “Jai Shri Krishna” (JSK for short).

But how truly blessed we were to have even a moment with this rare, ignited soul. His quirkiness was matched and exceeded by his intense devotional sincerity and this made him a “character” to hold dear and treasure. Sometimes my friends and I joked that he was like a “mad scientist” of bhakti – mad for Krishna. Dare I even say (and I will speak for no one but myself here) that because we were around him so much and had such access to him and his teachings and bhajan, that we may have lapsed into the smallest amount of taking him for granted. Shyamdas was always going to be around.

Perhaps this was his final teaching to me, to us. Don’t ever take anything for granted, and don’t ever miss the opportunity to tell someone you love them. We literally have no idea what the next day, yet alone moment, will bring.

I did make it to Shyamdas’ home in Jaitpura, a town in Vraj, at the foot of the sacred Govardhan Hill. However, he was not there, in body anyway.

Just over a year to the day of his passing, I sat on his beloved rooftop overlooking Giriraj Govardhan and the Shri Nathji temple. His passing taught me to indeed, never take anything for granted, and as a result and in the midst of caring for my father in his terminal, devastating condition, I took three weeks to travel to India on pilgrimage with my beloved teachers Sharon Gannon and His Holiness Radhanath Swami Maharaj. Would I ever again have the chance to go India with my two teachers? Thanks to Shyamdas, I knew I had to go, and I finally did make it to his beloved Vraj. Now I know why he called this sacred land home and why it was difficult for him to leave… and why he always kept going back. That’s why I am going back to Vrindavan too, because in his words, “The bhav is too good here to leave.”

Find Good Company

Beloved Shyam. He taught me, us, so much. Once he said to me, “The only thing I really got good at was hanging out.”

This is a very profound teaching. “Seek exalted company,” he would say. And just keep showing up. This is the power of satsang. All can be accomplished in the company of exalted bhaktas. From Neem Karoli Baba to his beloved guru, lineage holder in the Pushti Marg, His Holiness Shri Goswami Prathameshji, Shyamdas sought and found the pure saints and devotees of mystical India and he got really good at hanging out. Through his commitment and curiosity, his direct realization and blazing passion and experiential insight, Shyamdas brought and unraveled the deepest yoga mysteries and revelations to us. Shyamdas’s impact on the Western yoga movement cannot be quantified and he is one of the true pioneers and teachers. He brought India to us.

In so many ways, Shyamdas’s path and teachings are the embodiment of pure yoga and must be exemplary in the burgeoning Western yoga culture. Shyamdas’ life demonstrated that devotion and humility are two of the most, if not the most, quintessential ingredients to spiritual realization and growth. We needn’t look far to see the “follow me” and “look at me” culture of yoga in the West, particularly relating to the physical practices.

The Path of Grace

Shyamdas taught that in the Path of Grace, the highest aspiration, the goal even, of this life is to be a dasa or dasi, “a follower of God”. The goal isn’t to be a famous, popular teacher with lots of “followers,” or a kirtan celebrity, but rather to serve and follow the One.

All grace and realization flows from that divine relationship. In bhakti yoga, the constitutional position of the individual soul, which Shyamdas would say is comprised of sat, chit “but mostly ananda,” to the Source, is one of eternal servitude. Without devotion and humility, the nectar stream of grace runs dry. Grace is the condition, as Shyamdas taught, where through love, God falls under the sway of the devotee. It is through grace that all things are possible. It is the supreme state that leads to bhava, enlightened devotional sentiment. The condition of law is the natural condition and is when the individual soul is under the control of God. It is through this devotion and humility that we enter the lila, or eternal love play of the Lord and his beloved souls, a playful, bliss-filled reality that is beyond reason and is available to experience in this world, in one’s purified heart and beyond.

“All is Hari’s grace,” Shyamdas would frequently say. Stephen Theodore Schaffer is a servant and follower of the Lila Master, Shyam (Krishna who is dark like a rain cloud).

Once in an email, I greeted Shyamdas as “Prabhu,” which means “master,” and it is also a name of Krishna. In certain Krishna devotional communities, but not in his Pushti Marg, prabhu is a greeting for a man. He immediately responded, “I am not Prabhu. Krishna is Prabhu. I am a das.”

Shyamdas taught me that in this age where it seems like everyone wants to be a master, offer “master classes,” have followers, the real movement in our sadhanas must be from the mentality of master to becoming a humble, loving servant.

Shyamdas, my teacher and friend, thank you for letting me hang out with you.

Shyamvan: The Shyam Forest

The Shyamdas Foundation invites you to plant a tree by the Govardhan Hill in memory of our  beloved Shyamdas

Hari OM!

Just released!


Devotional practitioner, translator, author, speaker and musician, Shyamdas (1953-2013) brought India’s ancient Vedic literature and medieval devotional renaissance to life in the West. An accomplished practitioner-scholar and guide to the 16th century philosopher Vallabhacharya’s Pushtimarga tradition, Shyamdas published more than 15 books on Bhakti Yoga and the Path of Grace. Shyamdasji’s overflowing good mood and ability to relate to every individual and situation with bhāva (divine, good mood) made him an instant best friend to so many. His profound contributions live on in their hearts, and in his audio and written publications. These teachings come from a 4 night gathering of his students and friends, in Woodstock New York, in August of 2012. The content will inspire your mind and heart, and leave you with a feeling that you have chosen just the right thing to listen to. Like his musical albums, you can hear love and devotion in his voice. He was a rare gem, a unique soul who showered a divine mood wherever he went, lingering after and now forever, as he has moved on to another realm and left us longing for his form, but knowing he is formless and supreme, and everywhere present.

Andrea Boyd

Swept Up in a ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ With Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute MahaMantra (VIDEO)

“We’re going to end on this,” Shyamdas said, as he launched us into the final powerful crest of an epic Hare Krishna chant that undulated like the waves of an ocean for 45 ecstatic minutes (two-part video below).  It started as

via Swept Up in a ‘Tidal Wave of Bhav’ With Shyamdas: Epic 45-Minute MahaMantra (VIDEO).