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Baba Hari Dass, master yogi, teacher, and the founding inspiration of the Mount Madonna Center and Mount Madonna School in Watsonville, and Sri Ram Orphanage in India, died peacefully at home in Bonnie Doon, California on September 25, 2018.
Dass, or Babaji, as he was affectionately known by the many thousands of students and devotees who knew him, was a silent monk born on March 26, 1923 in Almora in the foothills of the Himalayas in Northern India.
Babaji was loved and admired for his wisdom, humility, patience, humor, encouragement and acceptance of all who came to meet him and learn with him. He possessed a profound sense of self-discipline and a deep knowledge of yoga and Indian philosophy. Babaji had a great love of children and a legendary sense of play. While treating everyone with a sense of equality, he somehow managed to form an individual bond with each of his students, inspiring them in spiritual practice, guiding them to self-reliance and bringing out their talents and gifts.
A life of service—and silence
In 1978 Babaji inspired the founding of Mount Madonna Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences, a widely known and highly respected spiritual retreat and seminar facility in the Santa Cruz Mountains. Mount Madonna Center is home to a residential community dedicated to support of Center activities, which include diverse programs in yoga and personal growth, the Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple and the Mount Madonna Institute. Babaji also inspired the Mount Madonna School (PreK-12th grade) which is hosted by the Center, and is known for excellence in children’s education.
In 1982 Babaji founded the Sri Ram Ashram, a loving home for abandoned children and a Nursery to 12th grade school near Haridwar in Northern India. Other centers dedicated to Babaji’s teachings include the Salt Spring Yoga Center and School on Salt Spring Island near Vancouver and spiritual communities in Toronto and Los Angeles.
Babaji was a life-long practitioner and master teacher of yoga who took a vow of perpetual silence in 1952. He communicated with those who gathered around him by writing on a small chalk board. His concise and deeply perceptive style of writing communicated volumes in very few words. He taught that yoga was a way of life that included virtuous living and self-reflection. An example of this is his often-quoted instructions for a living a good life, “Work honestly, meditate every day, meet people without fear, and play.”
As a teacher, Babaji lead by example. Once he was asked, “How do you accomplish everything you do?” He replied, “I have my discipline and I stick to it as closely as I can.” In the many years of construction and development at Mount Madonna Center, he would arrive promptly on Tuesdays, Thursdays, and Saturdays to conduct classes, take appointments, and lead work crews. Babaji also inspired play in the form of evening volleyball games after work days, music performances, and by writing many comedic teaching dramas about the search for liberation in a world full of illusions and scoundrels.
One of his signature features at Mount Madonna Center are Himalayan style, free standing rock walls that grace the property and create flat open land from steep hillsides. All were designed and built over decades by Babaji and his “rock crew.” They are testimony to his steady commitment for over thirty-five years, come rain or shine as he led the “rock crew” volunteers who quarried the rocks on the property and built the walls. Babaji worked with whomever showed up to help. The rock walls stand as a reminder that everyone has something to give to their community. Some knew how to fit the stones, some gathered small rocks for backfill and some loaded buckets of dirt. He would remind everyone that in community life it “takes big rocks, small rocks, and dirt to build a wall.” Each of us has a contribution to make to community, and everyone’s contribution matters.
A masterful, beloved teacher
Babaji was deeply knowledgeable in yoga theory and practice in the classical system of Ashtanga Yoga (eight limbed). He regularly taught as well as authored a number of books on Indian philosophy, including commentaries on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavadgita, Vedanta, and Samkhya Karika. He also authored several children’s stories, plays and essays of perennial wisdom based on his own experience and practice. Babaji was one of the earliest proponents of the ancient system of Ayurveda Medicine in the United States. Today Mount Madonna Institute offers a M.A. in Ayurveda Studies as well as several credentials and certificates in Ayurveda, Yoga and Community Studies.
Babaji has inspired generations of students. When once asked what his intentions were, he stated simply, “To make a few good people.” He also would say that the teacher could only point the way, or more tersely put, “I can cook for you but I can’t eat for you.” His brief comments written on a small chalk board have become aphorisms to live by.
While his students and devotees deeply miss the physical presence and example of this extraordinary teacher, Babaji’s wisdom, good works, inspiration and influence will live on in the institutions he inspired and all those with whom he came in contact. He was supported at the end of his life by his loving students, family, and Hospice of Santa Cruz County.
A traditional Vedic ceremony will be held on Sunday, October 7th at Mount Madonna Center to honor his life. Donations in his memory can be made to the children at Sri Ram Ashram through Sri Ram Foundation at www.sriramfoundation.org.