Our Founder & Teacher Baba Hari Dass
Baba Hari Dass
Baba Hari Dass, affectionately called Babaji by his students, is the inspiration and foundation of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga. Babaji was a master yogi and scholar who had remarkable skill in sculpture, music, architecture, yogic philosophy, writing, storytelling, martial arts, and Indian cosmology. He was a leading proponent of Ayurveda (the ancient Indian science of health), and an author of many books.
Babaji was a mauni sadhu; a monk who undertakes a vow of continual silence. He undertook his vow in 1952 and never spoke another word aloud. He communicated primarily by means of a small chalkboard, which he often wore around his neck. Babaji had the marvelous skill of conveying a great deal in the fewest possible words – often distilling thoughts or teachings down to their essence. His life was to bring people to Sadhana, a daily practice for living a spiritual life. Each person felt a unique connection with him, and was inspired by his lifelong practice, devotion, compassion, and infectious sense of play.
“Love everyone, including yourself. This is real Sadhana.”
~ Baba Hari Dass
How Babaji came to North America
Babaji was a formative teacher of the well-known spiritual leader Ram Dass during his several months at Neem Karoli Baba’s Ashram in Kainchi, India in the 1960’s. Babaji resided there for years and was instrumental in helping to build the Ashram. Their teaching relationship continued through a series of letters from 1967-1969. The Ashtanga Yoga practices and observances that Baba Hari Dass taught Ram Dass were included in his seminal work, 1971’s Be Here Now, which became a counterculture milestone and brought many westerners into yoga. Baba Hari Dass detailed many of these practices in his own comprehensive Ashtanga Yoga Primer in 1977.
Ram Dass asked Babaji to teach a group of students from America so they could bring his teachings back from India. This interested group of students met Babaji in northern India, near Haridwar, in 1970. In thisgroup was a Canadian from Montreal, named Anand Dass (whom everyone called AD). AD had previously been Ram Dass’ road manager while on a speaking tour. It was through this connection that AD was invited to go to India and study with Babaji.
This pivotal time together in India convinced this diligent and enthusiastic group of students to arrange for Babaji to come back with them to the United States. AD went with Babaji and the group to California. Out of this first group, the Hanuman Fellowship was born, and soon thereafter our sister centre in Santa Cruz CA, the Mount Madonna Center, was created.
Babaji asked AD to return to Canada to start a Canadian group of students who wanted to learn and practice yoga. Through AD’s charismatic outreach, a group began to form in Vancouver. After their first year, a small contingent of these Canadian students went to visit Babaji in California. There, they invited him to Vancouver for the first time. For all who were involved, Babaji’s 10-day visit to Canada in 1974 was profound. It was at this that the Canadian society of students was formally begun.
Babaji gave the Society a name, the Dharma Sara Satsang Society.
Dharma – right living
Sara – essence
Satsang – a gathering of truth seekers
Babaji encouraged the organization of a yoga retreat the following summer, which he would travel back to attend. The retreat was a rousing success, bringing in hundreds of new faces and hearts. After a number of years renting campgrounds all around BC for what became an annual event, Baba Hari Dass encouraged the group to buy land, and after a long search, an old farmstead was purchased in the heart of Salt Spring Island, and in 1981 the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga was born.
“My only aim is to bring people into sadhana. For me sadhana is not only asana, pranayama and meditation. Sadhana includes developing positive qualities, building right conduct, closeness with your parents, friends, society, right livelihood, etc. The aim of life is to attain peace and happiness.”
~ Baba Hari Dass
A True Example and Teacher
Babaji was always an example of everything he taught, a true yogi and master teacher. He deeply understood all paths of yoga practice and philosophy: Bhakti (devotional); Hatha/Ashtanga/Raja (including asana, pranayama, and meditation); Karma (service); Jnana (knowledge/scriptures), and Tantra (wisdom); and he encouraged students to find their own path which best expressed their gifts.
He taught classes in the scriptures such as the Yoga Sutras, the Bhagavad Gita, Samkhya and Vedanta, and language classes in Sanskrit and Hindi. He loved bringing ancient stories to life on the stage, and created amazing plays of the epic Ramayana – a tradition which is still continued today. At both the Salt Spring Centre and Mount Madonna Center, he created the foundation for spiritual practice. He taught at the annual retreats, worked and played, and taught the fullness of yoga in all aspects of life. He wrote many books that shared his guidance, in practices and in stories.
Sri Ram Ashram
In addition to silence, Babaji also undertook a lifelong vow of poverty. After he began publishing his works and his books started selling, his American sponsor, Ma Renu, inquired as to what they should do with the money, as it would be contrary to his vow to keep it.
As a child, Babaji shared, he had had a friend who was in an orphanage where the children were treated very badly. From then on, he always had the desire to create a home of love and respect for orphaned children in India. So, with the money being generated from his publications, land near the holy city of Haridwar was purchased, building began, and with the arrival of babies and children in 1984, Sri Ram Ashram became a loving home for abandoned and destitute children. Sri Ram Ashram’s mission continues to thrive today, and many children have now been raised from babies all the way to adulthood. They are supported in attending university, pursuing their dreams, and becoming contributing members of society.
In places such as this, Babaji continues to positively influence lives, and in this way, his example and legacy live on. Many people around the world continue to see him as a guide, a loving spiritual teacher, and for some,a guru – one who illuminates the darkness.
“There is a hope of finding something. One doesn’t proceed in darkness, but takes a lighted candle, which is sadhana. The more you step forward, the more the path appears in the light of that candle.”
~ Baba Hari Dass
Babaji left his body on Tuesday September 25, 2018. His passing was peaceful, and he received loving attention and care throughout the final stages of his life.
While his students and devotees deeply miss the physical presence and example of their extraordinary teacher, Babaji’s wisdom, good works, and inspiration live on in the institutions he inspired, his writings, and all those with whom he came in contact. Many continue to feel his presence and encouragement, grace and teachings, and remain forever grateful for his compassionate example and aim.
To learn more about Babaji’s life, in his own words, his incredible autobiography, The Path Unfolds, is available for purchase.
To read more about his life and legacy, please visit www.babaharidass.org.
“Don’t think that you are carrying the whole world; make it easy, make it play, make it a prayer.”
~ Baba Hari Dass