The Yoga Community is now mourning the transition of another beloved teacher, Baba Hari Dass, who passed on September 25. Babaji was one of the early pioneers of the l960s who brought the spiritual teachings from East to West.
I was traveling when word came to me that one of my beloved teachers, Baba Hari Dass had left this world for another Loka. I had been thinking so much of him for several weeks before his passing, remembering the wisdom he had shared with me in letters and in person over so many years.
I first knew of Babaji as the teacher in India with whom Neem Karoli Baba instructed Rama Dass to study. When I heard that Babaji was coming to the United States, and would be within driving distance of my home in the Bay Area, I knew it was important to see him. I quickly organized a group of my Yoga students to attend one of his first satsang gatherings here in the United States.
We were surprised to find that Babaji was silent, but as in a game of charades, he was highly animated as he gestured with his hands, nodded or shook his head when we didn’t understand. A small blackboard hung around his neck held by a soft thick twine. It was a miraculous experience to watch this wiry little sadhu scribbling quickly in chalk, to answer life’s universal questions. He seemed to transcend the spoken word as he transmitted his vast wisdom through the gesture of silence.
A man sitting near him in the front row asked a profound question, “Babaji, how can I practice ahimsa, and remain in non-violence if a robber breaks into my home and I have to protect my wife and children?” There was a moment of silence where I thought this must be a Zen Koan with no answer…only the question. Then Babaji wrote swiftly on his little blackboard as one of his devotees read out loud, “If you were truly in non-violence, the situation would never occur.” I was stunned! He went straight to the core of the question. He didn’t diplomatically spiral around the question. His answer was like an arrow that awakened my sleeping consciousness.
When he finally settled in Santa Cruz, California, I would again take small groups of Yoga students and teachers to see him. Mt. Madonna was a small rustic building in the early days. We would hang out in his room as he encouraged our questions and delighted in our dialogues. He was so joyful, enthusiastic, and playful that he lifted our spirits, and always inspired us. Whenever I faced life’s challenges, Babaji was constantly there, striking to the heart of any issue with his impeccable insight and wisdom.
At a time when I was struggling with the issue of having several spiritual teachers but no Guru, he wrote me a three-page letter that soothed the pain in my heart. The last passage of his letter said, “Be like the Bee that sips the nectar from many flowers…but remember, don’t stay on the lotus after the sun goes down.” When the sun goes down, the petals of the lotus close so the bee is locked in and cannot fly. He was one of the few teachers in those days that didn’t emphasize the need to dig a well in only one place.
When I contacted Babaji with a severe Kundalini experience after the birth of my next to last child, he knew instantly what was needed. He sent me a message that I needed to come to Mt. Madonna for special Ayurvedic treatments and remain in seclusion for a short time. When I hesitated, the words he conveyed went through my heart like an arrow, “You will either go into Samadhi or go crazy.” His perceptions were like a profound laser beam. When I finally responded to his suggestion, I was healed.
There are so many memories of this great Sage who illumined the path of Yoga, and helped close the gap between East and West. His memory and legacy transcend his physical form, as his presence and teachings live on in those devotees closest to him and all those whose lives have been touched by him.
As I write this now, knowing that Babaji is no longer in his physical form, my heart is filled, not with sorrow but with joy. His name Hari Dass means “servant of God.” His lifetime was dedicated to serving God whether it was building a Hanuman Temple, putting on plays of the Ramayana, helping those who sought his council, or infusing greater understanding of Yoga through his teachings and writings on the Yoga Sutras. He has left a spiritual legacy for all who have been touched by his vast teachings.
There is the joy of knowing that those closest to him will carry on his wonderful work. Mt. Madonna continues to be a beacon of light in learning and healing modalities where the land infuses the visitor with unspoken spiritual awakenings. In his silence, Babaji has touched the heart of humanity through his presence of Being. I once asked him if he would ever end his vow of silence and he hastily chalked his reply…”When God Wills.”