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.
Baba Hari 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.
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 to12th 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.
It is known that Babaji left home at age eight to join a “gurukul” (school for spiritual aspirants). In this early part of his life he engaged in intense spiritual practice in remote areas. Part of his practice was selfless service and to that end he built many well-known temples and ashrams in the foothills of the Himalayas. He was admired and beloved by the local people of Nainital where he built Hanumangarhi, one of the most famous temples of the region. The Sankat Mochan Hanuman Temple, on the property of Mount Madonna Center, is built in this same style.
Babaji arrived in the USA in 1971 at age 49 upon the invitation of two American students who had studied with him in India. He was sponsored by Ruth Horsting (also known as Ma Renu), a professor who was just completing her career in the Art Department at U.C. Davis. For a time after Babaji first arrived he resided at her home in Sea Ranch. Knowledge of Babaji preceded him to America through a book titled, “Be Here Now” written by former Harvard Professor Richard Alpert, also known a Ram Dass, who learned yoga from Babaji in India. As more students came to know of Babaji, a group formed at University of California, Santa Cruz led by a young Canadian student of Babaji’s known at Anand Dass. Seeing the sincerity of the students toward the teachings of Babaji, Ma Renu decided to move to the Santa Cruz area so he could be closer to his students.
In 1972 the Hanuman Fellowship, a non-profit organization was formed to hold Babaji’s teachings and the activities he inspired. In 1974 Babaji’s students began to host regular yoga retreats at a variety of camps in the Santa Cruz area. As the retreats became more popular, Babaji introduced the great Indian spiritual classic the Ramayana as a skit to celebrate the last day of the retreats. From these humble beginnings, the production grew over the next forty-three years to become the largest and longest running production of this classic in the western hemisphere.
In 1975 the members of the Fellowship began to look for land to establish a yoga and spiritual teaching center, staffed by a residential community of practice. Finally, in 1978 Mount Madonna Center for the Creative Arts and Sciences was established on 350 acres of Mount Madonna overlooking the Pajaro Valley and Monterey Bay.
For ten months each year Babaji taught, encouraged, worked, and played alongside the Mount Madonna community he inspired. Two months of the year he would return to India to give guidance and energy to caring for abandoned and destitute children. This lifelong passion began when Babaji was quite young. After seeing a friend who grew up in an orphanage badly abused, Babaji pledged that one day he would build a loving home for destitute children in India.
In 1974 Ma Renu started the Sri Ram Foundation for this purpose and Babaji dedicated all of the income from his writings to support a children’s home and school. In 1984 land was purchased near Shyampur Village outside of Haridwar in Northern India and the project began. Two years later, the first children came. Today Sri Ram Ashram is home to more than 60 children and hosts a private school for almost 600 children from the surrounding villages. There are now many children who grew up at the orphanage who, thanks to Babaji’s love and dedication, have gone on to lead fulfilling lives with successful careers and families of their own.
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 USA. 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 was held on Sunday, October 7th at Mount Madonna Center to honor his life. Additional information is available at www.mountmadonna.org. Donations in his memory can be made to the children at Sri Ram Ashram through Sri Ram Foundation at www.sriramfoundation.org