Thursday, March 21, 2013
My beloved cousin, Siddha Vidya das (aka Stevie), a devotee of the Hare Krishna movement, a priest and spiritual leader at the Miami Hare Krishna Temple, passed away last week. "His body seems to have completed its service for this life, paving the way for his soul to return to the Godhead," wrote Malati Devi Dasi, a revered member of the Krishna movement recognized for her relentless efforts to raise Krishna consciousness throughout the world.
Stevie was born and raised in a wealthy Jewish household in Omaha, Nebraska. His upbringing was not ideal. He and his sister Karen witnessed their mother battle cancer for decades. His father, a financially successful and charismatic entrepreneur, was highly intelligent, fiercely competitive, a demanding perfectionist, a stern father, and a difficult spouse.
Stevie was the eldest of my cousins. Thinking back, I realize that even as a teenager, despite his stressful home-life, he exuded a selfless, playful, delightful, and generous vibe. He loved all of his little cousins and gave each one a special name. Mine was "Bobby Baby." The last time I saw him, a couple of years back, he lit up and let out, "Hello, Bobby Baby." I am 54. He died last week at the age of 64.
I believe Stevie eschewed the material world in response to the unsettling issues he faced throughout his formative years. I daresay psychedelic potions and the youth protest movements of the late 1960s had a tremendous impact on his worldview. By the dawn of the 70s, Stevie was burned-out, tired, forlorn, and confused.
He began his journey with the Krishna movement in 1971. Krishna offered Stevie a vehicle as well as the encouragement that is necessary to begin a lifelong spiritual journey.
In the early 1970s, Stevie aka Siddha Vidya das became a disciple of His Divine Grace A C Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, the Founder-Acharya of the International Society for Krishna Consciousness (ISKCON). Stevie spent fifteen years at various ISKCON temples in Texas. Then, in the mid-1980s, he arrived at ISKCON Miami and never left. Through the years, he dedicated his mind and soul to seeking spiritual knowledge and truth. His unflagging devotion and scholarship impressed fellow devotees. He earned recognition as a holy man—a priest. He knew the Bhagavad Gita word for word from beginning to end. He relished studying and discussing the underlying theological and philosophical issues contained in the scripture.
Stevie's Initiated Name: Siddha Vidya das
The devotees who came to know, love, and respect Stevie strung the ancient Sanskrit words "Siddha" and "Vidya" together meaning: "Servant of the One who has full Knowledge of the mystic realm.” "Das" is a title of respect used in many Eastern religions to signify one who is a servant to God. His friends and acquaintances called him "Sid' for short. Everybody loved him for his wit, intellect, compassion, devotion, humbleness, and talent for raising people's spirits—not just the ones from his temple, but also folks in the community, and fellow devotees from every continent, save Antarctica. He had a terrific sense of humor and nurtured his penchant for coining nicknames throughout is adult life.
A Celebration, a Poem, a Song
A couple of days after his passing, a gathering assembled at the temple in Miami where Siddha Vidya das had been a priest for so many years. There, many well-wishers and Krishna devotees chanted and honored Sid's spirit and devotion to Krishna. His sister and some cousins were fortunate to be among the group that celebrated his spirituality. His devotees accepted us with warmth and compassion.
After the rituals, family, friends, and devotees shared fond recollections of Sid/Stevie. Later, we departed from the temple and entered a hall where a lovely feast had been prepared. There I met Christophe. We struck up a conversation. Like me, his clothes were ordinary. Christophe mentioned that he was a devotee and attended the temple. For the past ten years, he listened to Sid preach. As the conversation evolved, we asked about each other's lives. He practices Eastern medicine. I mentioned my dog photography business. He smiled and recollected a song, an ancient song, about how a dog's loyalty to his master is a metaphor for a true devotee's loyalty and dedication to the teachings of Krishna. He grimaced as he tried to recall the words of that particular song. As we departed, I gave him my business card. He assured me that he would be able to find the song and send me the words.
The next morning, I checked my email. The one with "Hey Bob" in the subject line grabbed my attention. It was from Christophe. He wrote:
"I found the old song I mentioned. Sid would soulfully sing it for sure. It shows an aspect of his mood of devotion, and you can relate to it.
Here it is in English. Sid would have chanted it in Sanskrit.
1) Now that I have surrendered all I possess, I fall prostrate before Your house. You are the Supreme Lord. Kindly consider me Your household dog.
2) Chain me nearby and maintain me as You will. I shall remain at the doorstep and allow no enemies to enter Your house. I will keep them at the bounds of the moat surrounding Your home.
3) Whatever remnants Your devotees leave behind after honoring Your prasada will be my daily sustenance. I will feast on those remnants with great ecstasy.
4) While sitting up, while lying down, I will constantly meditate on Your lotus feet. Whenever You call, I
will immediately run to You and dance in rapture.
5) I will never think of my own maintenance but rather remain transported by a multitude of ecstasies.
Bhaktivinoda accepts You as his only support.
In his lifetime, my dear cousin reached a state of rapture—a very rare accomplishment indeed. A generous man, Siddha Vidua das humbly shared his awe and insights with those he knew well, passing acquaintances, and passers-by. He loved to follow college football, listen to The Beatles, and sun bathe. He leaves behind a young son, his secular wife, a loving sister, aunts and uncles, adoring cousins, countless devotees, and friends.
His heart was pure and his hands were clean. So long, Stevie. Farewell Siddha Vidya das.