Baba Hari Dass
Founding Inspiration of Mount Madonna Center, Mount Madonna
School and Sri Ram Orphanage India dies at age 95.
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
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 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