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Stephen Theodore Schaffer

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Stephen Theodore Schaffer Obituary
SCHAFFER, STEPHEN THEODORE Stephen Theodore Schaffer, known to most as Shyamdas, was killed in a motorcycle accident in Goa, India on Saturday, January 19. He was 59. A musician, prolific translator of Sanskrit texts, and author of dozens of books, Shyamdas was a pioneer in bringing Indian and yogic traditions to the West. He traveled to India when he was 18 in 1971, and has lived continuously in India ever since, returning to the States part-time. Shyamdas wrote the manual on being a free spirit, infusing his life and all those around him with a sense of play and spontaneity. Shyamdas first studied under the tutelage of Neem Keroli Baba-Maharaji-who was guru to Ram Dass, among others. He spent many years studying and living with His Holiness Shri Goswami Prathameshji , one of the leading masters of Hindu spirituality. During his time in India, he developed fluency in Sanskrit, Hindi, Guajarati, and Braja Basha, translating thousands of pages of ancient texts into English. He became enamored with the mystic poets of North India, particularly the poems of Surdas, widely considered the Shakespeare of Hindi literature. Over the last decade, Shyamdas packed rooms at places like the Omega Institute in Rhinebeck, New York with hundreds, even thousands, of devotees who came to hear his teachings and chanting-more commonly referred to as bhajans, a word derived from Sanskrit for devotional song. His teaching style was infused with a mix of humor, calling his Woodstock community the "bhajan belt" and sprinkling in phrases like "aum shalom," a remnant from his secular Jewish upbringing. One of his trademark characteristics was that he was equally adept at making his rapt audiences explode in laughter as he was able to make them contemplate the scriptures of the Bhagavad Gita. He touched the lives of so many with his sharp wit, deep intellect, loving nature and ability to make even the most esoteric concepts accessible. Shyamdas often traveled with an entourage, not because he purposefully cultivated one, but because people just naturally flocked to him. Growing up in Woodbridge, CT, neighborhood kids would gather on his doorstep to receive their marching orders for the afternoon. Outside of his career as a musician and author, Shyamdas was an exceptional athlete. At 13, he became the state wrestling champion of Connecticut. Later in his life, he continued to ski and play tennis, winning matches against people half his age. He was also a devoted and loving father, son, brother and uncle. For Shyamdas, his spiritual practice was in pursuit of the bhava, what he described as "the enlightened, inspired state of pure being." "Bhava creates in us a direct experience of the unity of all things," he wrote. To put it another way, he was in the highest pursuit of bringing bliss and uplifting the people around him through his music and teachings, as well as everything he did in his daily life. He is survived by his mother, Gloria Schaffer, who served as Secretary of State for Connecticut from 1971 to 1978. He is also survived by his sister, Susan S. Ryan, children, Hannah Lila Seligson-Schaffer and David Marks Schaffer, son-in-law, Andrew Geffen Eil, his niece, Mae Ryan, his brother-in-law, Frank Ryan and his partner, Allyson Kreim.

Published in The New Haven Register on Jan. 27, 2013
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