Garuda Das Kavirāja is Professor of Philosophy and Religion at Christopher Newport University, Virginia and Director of Studies in Religion. He is also Distinguished Research and Teaching Faculty at the Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley. He lectures around the world on his translation of the Bhagavad Gītā, on the philosophy of Yoga, as well as on the teachings of the Krishna Bhakti tradition. When he is not lecturing, he guides, counsels, and mentors students on living the life of the heart or bhakti.
He has been practicing various forms of meditational yoga since he was fourteen years old, when he became a vegetarian (and later on a vegan) and became a serious student of the Bhagavad Gītā. In 1972, he took up the life of a bhakta and received harināma and brahminical initiations from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Śrīla Prabhupāda in 1974, committing himself to the Brahma-madhva-gauḍīya tradition of Krishna Bhakti. He has been faithfully serving ISKCON and the devotees within ISKCON, in various capacities, for nearly fifty years.
Prabhupāda authorized Garuda Das for academic training and teaching through Rupanuga Prabhu and Bhakti Svarupa Damodar Swami, and so he became the first devotee to enter academics for the sole purpose of presenting Krishna Bhakti from an insider’s perspective.
In September of 1977, Prabhupāda received a letter from Garuda Das informing him of Garuda Das’s acceptance at Harvard for graduate studies, along with Garuda Das’s first master’s thesis on the Caitanya Caritāmṛta. Prabhupāda then told Satsvarupa Das Goswami, “Tell him I am pleased he is preaching on such a high platform.” (See Prabhupāda’s Blessings for more).
In 1976, after three years of undergraduate study at Johns Hopkins University, Garuda Das completed his bachelor’s degree at American University in Washington, DC. He then went on to get his master’s degree in South Asian Studies at the University of Chicago, where he had been pursuing doctoral work. Garuda Dās then went on to receive two master’s degrees from Harvard, one in the history of religions and the other in comparative religion, and proceeded to become a Resident Fellow of the Center for the Study of World Religions at Harvard. Ultimately he earned his doctorate from Harvard in Comparative Religion, with a specialization in the classical Sanskrit texts on Yoga philosophy and Krishna Bhakti theology.
Garuda Das has taught and lectured at Harvard University, the University of North Carolina, as well as Duke University. For two years he was a visiting professor of Sanskrit at the University of Virginia. He is regularly consulted by and participates in dissertation committees as a reader or advisor for doctoral candidates in Europe and America. Oxford University has invited him to England on several occasions to conduct doctoral dissertation examinations. He has presented numerous papers at professional international conferences in India, the United States, and Europe. In 2013, he was awarded his university’s highest recognition for Excellence in Teaching and Mentoring.
Garuda Das has over one hundred publications, including several books, encyclopedia and journal articles, as well as book chapters and reviews. He is also Senior Editor of the international periodical, Journal of Vaishnava Studies. He published the books, Dance of Divine Love: India’s Classic Sacred Love Story: The Rāsa Līlā of Krishna from the Bhāgavata Purāṇa, with Princeton University Press (2005), and Bhagavad Gītā: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song, with Harper Collins (2007). Garuda Das also completed, edited, and contributed two chapters to Tamal Krishna Goswāmī’s book, A Living Theology of Krishna Bhakti: Essential Teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupada, which he got published with Oxford University Press (2012). Book projects on which he is currently working are the following: The Bhakti Sūtra: Concise Teachings of Nārada on Sacred Love and Bhagavad Gītā Concordance: Comprehensive Word Reference with Sanskrit and English Indexes, both to be published by Columbia University Press; The Yoga Sūtra: Concise Teachings of Patañjali on Perfect Union, to be published by Yale University Press, and The Yoga of Love: Sacred Bhakti Poetry from the Rāsa Līlā of Krishna, to be published by Oxford University Press, New York.
Among his publications, he is known for his own translation of the Bhagavad Gītā published by Harper Collins Publishers, with over 40,000 copies sold since 2007. Garuda Das’s Bhagavad Gītā: The Beloved Lord’s Secret Love Song has garnered numerous invitations from the world famous Smithsonian Institution—an honor rarely afforded anyone, including members of the academic elite—where he has given over three dozen lectures on the philosophy of the Bhagavad Gītā, comparative religious thought, and related subjects since 2007.
He has employed Prabhupāda’s Bhagavad Gītā in the college classroom for over 20 years, where thousands of his students have studied and discussed Prabhupāda’s Gītā. Garuda Das’s own academic and literal-poetic translation of the Bhagavad Gītā verses published by Harper Collins was produced precisely with the idea to support the siddhānta of Prabhupāda’s Gītā. Garuda Das’s translation emphasizes the ultimate conclusion of bhakti, and in doing so verifies and validates the bhakti-infused interpretation and vision in the verses of Prabhupāda’s rendition.
Garuda Das also holds the highest standing registration/certification in the yoga world with the rating of E-RYT 500 (Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher at the highest 500 hour level) bestowed upon him by Yoga Alliance, Arlington, Virginia. He is also recognized by Yoga Alliance as a Yoga Alliance Continuing Education Provider (YACEP).
Service to ISKCON
Garuda Das served as a pastoral counselor for over twenty years, from 1984 to 2005, serving over a hundred devotees in crises of faith, in matters of grief and loss, ashram conflicts, ISKCON leadership and institutional issues, in understanding difficult instructions given by Prabhupāda and in scripture, etc.
The BBT Trustees, around 1984, appointed Garuda Das to determine the editorial criteria for examining and accepting the content of future BBT publications. The BBT also commissioned Garuda Das to pursue several BBT research and publishing projects in the 1980s and also around 2004. Garuda Dās was involved with the Bhaktivedanta Institute at its inception, upon an invitation from Bhakti Svarupa Damodar Swami.
Many devotees throughout the years have consulted Garuda Das on matters of writing, philosophy, Sanskrit, translation, academic directions, etc., including Satsvarupa Das Goswami, Rupanuga Prabhu, Tamal Krishna Goswami, Bir Krishna Swami, Jayadvaita Swami, Gopiparanadhana Prabhu, Giriraja Swami, Radhanath Swami, Anuttama Prabhu, Bhakti Svarupa Damodara Swami, Sadaputa Prabhu, Sesa Das Prabhu, Bhakti Caru Swami, Brahmananda Prabhu, and many others.
Garuda Das edited and completed Tamal Krishna Goswami’s doctoral dissertation posthumously, by contributing the introductory and final chapters of the book. He got the work published by Oxford University Press, entitled, A Living Theology of Krishna Bhakti: Essential Teachings of A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Prabhupāda (2012). Additionally, Jayādvaita Swami approached Garuda Das for guidance in writing his book, Vanity Karma (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust, 2015), in which he acknowledges Garuda Das, saying: “My thanks go first to Graham Schweig, professor, author, and lifelong friend. . . . he served as my advisor throughout.” Garuda Das also wrote the Foreword for the Swami’s book. Further, Bhakti Caru Swami not only consulted with Garuda Das for the writing of his memoirs, but he also asked Garuda Das to write the Preface for his book, entitled, Ocean of Mercy: A Search Fulfilled (Bhaktivedanta Book Trust in 2016).
Garuda Das lives in Southern Virginia on the wooded banks of a peaceful pond near the Atlantic Ocean with his life partner and beloved wife, Krishna Kanta Dasi. Together, they offer personal spiritual support and guidance to Garuda Das’ students, initiated or aspiring disciples, and inquiring friends. Krishna Kanta Dasi helps create and design Bhakti oriented teaching materials that Garuda Das engages in Yoga teacher training programs, via The Secret Yoga Institute, which they founded in 2006. Krishna Kanta Dasi also assists her husband in the production of his books in various ways. She and Garuda Das also participate together in the annual Vaishnava-Christian and Vaishnava-Muslim interfaith dialogue meetings hosted by Anuttama Das in the Washington, DC area. In 2017 Krishna Kanta Dasi compiled and edited the book, Bhakti Blossoms, for which Garuda Das wrote the foreword. It is the first collection of contemporary poetry by women in the Bhakti tradition, featuring the voices of 108 participants from diverse sangas around the world.
Who is a Kavirāja?
Kavirāja is a Sanskrit word consisting of two words, kavi (“poet” or “an enlightened one”) and rāja (“king” or “the highest”), that together mean “doctor” or “teacher” at the highest level, as in “doctor of philosophy” (PhD). In 2004, in Sandy Ridge, North Carolina, a venerable bhakta and senior disciple of A. C. Bhaktivedanta Swami Śrīla Prabhupāda, Śrī Śivānandajī, bestowed this honorific name, Kavirāja, on Garuda Das. Just before Garuda Das was to give his talk on Gaura Pūrṇimā, Śrī Śivānanda Prabhu introduced him as Garuda Das Kavirāja to the large and approving Gaura Pūrṇimā audience. Garuda Das has not only received a doctoral degree, along with two master’s degrees from Harvard, and been a professor of religion for over 25 years, but he has also been recognized with the highest honors in the world of Yoga. With that in mind, after long deliberation, and the prodding of Premānanda Vilāsa Dāsa, his first disciple, Garuda Das finally accepted the title of Kavirāja appended to his name.