Love at the Root
Recently, Ram Dass’s beloved guru brother, Krishna Kumar (KK) Sah, passed away at his home in Nainital, India. The impact that KK had on Ram Dass, the many Westerners who traveled to India or met him in America, and the Satsang at large cannot be overstated.
“There’s nobody like KK. He’s somebody who’s completely turned to God, to love.” – Krishna Das
Tell Them What You Want
To begin with, there might not have been a Neem Karoli Baba (Maharajji) Satsang in the West without KK. When Ram Dass first met Maharajji, KK translated for him. Then Maharajji told KK to take Ram Dass home. He took Ram Dass not only into his home but also into his family and his heart; they bonded instantly.
Before returning to America, Maharajji told Ram Dass not to talk about him. Of course, he could do nothing else, but he never gave out Maharajji’s name or where to find him. Eventually, Ram Dass gave KK’s address to a few Westerners – including Jeff Kagel (Krishna Das) and Jim Lytton (Rameshwar Das) – who wrote letters requesting permission to come to meet Maharajji.
KK responded, “As you know, Sri Maharajji does not show any kind of enthusiasm or sentiment in calling the devotees to him, but his doors are always open. If you happen to be visiting in India and come here, you can have his darshan (be in his presence) as so many do, day in and day out… As you are so keen to see him, now it is up to you to come and have his darshan.”
Naturally, there’s a story behind the story. What actually happened was that KK had gone to see Maharajji at Kainchi with the letters from the Westerners. He put the letters on Maharajji’s bed and was feeding Maharajji slices of apple. Maharajji said, “What are those?”
“They are letters from Ram Dass’s students,” KK replied. “They want to come to see you.”
Maharajji said, “What do I have to do with these people? Tell them not to come.”
KK sulked. He put his head down and stopped feeding Maharajji the apple. Maharajji continued talking to other people. Finally, he looked down at KK and said, “What’s the matter?”
KK said, “Maharajji, I can’t tell them that. They’re Ram Dass’s students.”
This went back and forth for some time. Finally, Maharajji gave up in frustration and said, “Tell them what you want.”
“This was KK’s seva (service), to serve Ram Dass, and serve Maharajji by serving Ram Dass and helping him. So we were students of Ram Dass, and by helping us, he was serving Ram Dass. And now Maharajji was interfering with the service that he himself gave KK to do, and he was not going to stand for this.” – Krishna Das
Transmissions from the Guru
KK was not just the translator for many of the Westerners of Maharajji’s words, he was a motherlode of Bhakti traditions and a storehouse of the traditions of the saints. He made sure everyone knew what it meant to spend time with a being such as Maharajji, and how to receive these transmissions from the guru.
The true spirit of Satsang always shined in him. KK hosted countless Westerners in his home over the years as his near and dear family. You were welcomed with love and fed tea and biscuits at the very least. To him, family was about the closeness and intimacy of love, not politeness. He would get offended if you asked for something instead of simply “demanding” it.
Love at the Root
There’s no greater example of love and intimacy than the friendship of KK and Ram Dass. From the moment they met to KK traveling to America after Maharajji’s death to be with Ram Dass at Naropa, to decades worth of correspondence, their closeness was unmatched.
They were so close that nobody who knew KK well was at all surprised that he left his body so soon after Ram Dass. It felt like he didn’t want to live on this plane of existence without his guru brother. Maharajji had told KK to take care of Ram Dass, and now not only was his beloved friend gone, but his “duty” was also finished.
In one of his letters to KK, Ram Dass wrote, “No words can describe the joy of sharing this journey with you. No one but Maharajji and my mother has ever dwelt in my heart space so continuously.” In a different letter, he stated, “That you are in my thoughts so continuously, day after day, week after week, is surely a sign of how closely we are connected.”
Ram Dass also wrote to KK, “When I think of you I am filled with light and Anand (bliss). One form of Bhakti devotion is the worship of God as a friend. That form I learned through you, my dear friend. Where in this world or any other is one to find a friend as pure as you?”
At the end of his letters to Ram Dass, KK almost always included a drawing of a flower with the word ‘love’ in its root. He was once asked by a member of the Satsang why he did this. KK answered, “If there’s no love at the root, no flower can bloom.”
After Ram Dass moved to Maui, KK came to visit a number of times. Each visit, when it came time for KK to take his leave of Ram Dass, the emotion was overwhelming. KK’s emotions were always out in front. And it wasn’t just with Ram Dass – if you were a visitor to his home and it was time to say goodbye, it felt as though his heart was being torn in half. His love for the Westerners was incomparable.
Bhajans and Bhav
KK helped the Western Satsang open their hearts to the divine presence. He showed everyone what it meant to be in the bhav, the spiritual emotion of devotion. He was an exceptionally beautiful singer of bhajans (Indian songs) and kirtan (chanting the names of God), transmitting the melody and rhythm of the music in such a way that it could crack open even the most impenetrable hearts.
“KK was the most beautiful singer you’ve ever heard in your life. Unbearably beautiful.” – Krishna Das
He was instrumental in bringing the Hanuman Chalisa to the West, giving Krishna Das and Rameshwar Das the help they needed to translate and understand the Chalisa. Now it’s a huge part of so many of our lives.
KK was a scholar of the Ramayana, providing insight and clarity for the Satsang on that classic Indian tale. Every year in his hometown of Nainital, he was the guiding light for the Ramayana performances that were staged for Ram Lila, always tuning the actors into the right bhav for their role.
He also shared a very important teaching around the meaning of surrender, which he felt was misunderstood in the West. “Until we have full faith in the existence of that Absolute Power,” KK wrote, “we cannot feel its blessing upon us.” It’s truly an essential read for anyone interested in bhakti yoga.
Land of the Gods
KK grew up in the Kumaon Hills in the foothills of the Himalayas, an area of Northern India known as Deva Bumi, or Land of the Gods. His family followed the great yogi saints or siddhas, like Sombari Baba, Hariakhan Baba, and Brahmachari Maharaj. In his book, Deva Bumi: The Abode of the Gods in India, KK writes about the spiritual tapestry of this very special region and shares stories of the area’s beloved gurus.
From a very young age, KK spent time with these great beings, soaking in their presence through his father’s stories and his own experiences. He was only six or seven years old when he first met Maharajji, so he basically grew up in the lap of unconditional love.
KK used to cut school to spend time with Maharajji. His teacher was a devotee also, and he made a deal with KK to get darshan with Maharajji. “As long as you get me darshan, when you are absent I will mark you present.”
When KK finally did show up to class, the teacher said, “You have been absent so long and I have been marking you present. Now that you are present I will mark you absent.”
KK worked as a clerk in the municipal office in Nainital. After a few hours of work, he’d leave to see Maharajji at the temple. No one would dare reprimand him because they knew about his relationship with Maharajji. Unlike the other office workers, he would get all his work done in a couple of hours, and then take off to see his guru.
Maharajji gave KK the boon that he would forever be like a child. KK said, “I take full liberties because of this.” He was a fearless devotee; he had the devotion of an impudent child who could make demands of his parents and argue with them, always from love. Although he knew Maharajji knew everything, KK would still play tricks on him. It is a form of bhakti yoga that few are capable of – it takes perfect fearlessness based on full faith.
“KK’s devotion is not only sincere but intense and powerful.” – Krishna Das
After Maharajji left his body, KK devoted much of his time to Ram Dass and the Western Satsang. Even in his later years, he traveled to the U.S. several times. It was a true boon for all of us. He nourished our roots with love, and now we must ensure that this flower of Satsang, the Satsang he loved so much, continues to bloom.
– Noah Markus for Love Serve Remember Foundation