I spent several years serving my beloved teacher Ram Dass on Maui. It was during this time that I committed myself to the practice of kirtan and bhakti yoga, the yoga of service and devotion to God. I also received the rare chance to be in close proximity to a man who truly lives from the heart. Whether he is lecturing on stage, at the dinner table with friends or alone in his room, Ram Dass rests in and acts from a place of love. I believe that this is the most important thing anyone can learn- to live from the heart, to act from the heart, to sing from the heart.

This is Ram Dass’s main teaching today, and it continues the teachings of his guru, the great saint Neem Karoli Baba, who said “Love everyone, serve everyone and remember God.” I try to make these three words, love, serve and remember as the foundation of everything I do.  I can’t think of any better map to navigate life with.

I want to do anything I can to develop these qualities in myself, thus I often find myself singing, teaching, writing, and serving whenever and wherever anyone will let me- this has included a wide variety of settings from yoga studios, music festivals and retreat centers to homeless shelters, hospice clinics and jails.

Kirtan is a practice of bhakti yoga, or the yoga of love and devotion towards God. As it says in Be Here Now, “The way bhakti works is you just love until you and the Beloved become One.” It is the call-and-response chanting of the various names of God/Goddess from the ancient Sanskrit language. All of these Names point to the deepest reaches of our own heart space where our True Nature resides.

I sing the Holy Names for one simple reason- I have to. This is the medicine that works for me. It is what constantly renews and reminds me of my faith, and it is the Light that shines on the unconscious parts of my being.

Activism also plays a big role in my spiritual practice and my dharma, and I spend a good portion of my time writing about the intersection between activism and spiritual practice.  I also offer workshops for social and political activists to provide tools to be more effective in their activism and to use it as a vehicle for awakening.

I draw my inspiration from my beloved teacher Ram Dass, the great Indian Saint Neem Karoli Baba and the monkey god Hanuman. In the Ramayana, one of the great sanskrit texts of Hinduism, Ram (God) says to Hanuman, “Who are you?” Hanuman replys, “When I don’t know who I am, I serve you. When I know who I am, I am you.” This captures the essence of what the sacred can awaken in us: a life-long calling to be in service and devotion to Love. It is through this service and through this devotion that we begin to realize we are not separate. Love is the very nature of our Being. It is who we are.

Sitaram Dass