News from the Centre (June 2014)

Hello everyone,

May was a busy month here, and June is looking busier yet. Thanks to our regular resident community and off-land community members, we are ready for the summer season, including YSSI (Yoga Service and Study Immersion) which will be beginning very soon (or will have just begun when this newsletter is posted) and YTT which begins in a month.

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Apple blossoms in the orchard

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Sun setting at the Centre

I’d like to welcome all the folks joining us for the YSSI program. There will be 8 new people working in the kitchen, 4 in housekeeping, 3 in maintenance & landscaping, 2 in the garden and 1 in the office.

Uplifting AGM 2014

Dharma Sara Satsang Society held its AGM in May. Although annual general meetings sometimes have a reputation of being long and rather dry, this one was uplifting. We began the day with a work party in the morning, with people helping in the kitchen, housekeeping and garden and  cutting firewood for next winter – in the rain!

Johanna in the garden & Ronan, youngest karma yogi at the work party

Johanna in the garden & Ronan, youngest karma yogi at the work party

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Raven, Ben, David in the garden

Sid and Rajani in the kitchen

Sid working on his “Wild Tofu Surprise”; Rajani and Kalpana in the kitchen

After a fabulous lunch made by Sid, Kalpana and Rajani (Sid’s Wild Tofu Surprise), we gathered for the meeting and election of the DS Board.

New Board Members!

We have three new board members this year, two of them under the age of 40! The Board members are Lakshmi, Om Prakash, Chandra, Divakar, Rajesh (Jeramiah) and Saraswati.

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New Dharma Sara Board: Lakshmi, Chandra, Divakar, Rajesh. Front row: Om PK, Saraswati

ACYR Registration is Open!

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Registration for the 2014 ACYR (Annual Community Yoga Retreat) is now open! It’s a big one this year – our 40th annual retreat! Piet, our enthusiastic retreat coordinator says:

“We are aiming to make this year extra special, reinvigorating the original spirit. It is a time for connection and community, continued by the efforts of an amazing collection of people from all over the world who have been inspired by the life and teachings of Baba Hari Dass. This year we look forward to seeing familiar faces as well as bright, shining new ones, coming together in the spirit of karma yoga. Jai Sita Ram! Jai Hanuman!”

In this Month’s Newsletter

A few of our resident karma yogis have agreed to share some of their thoughts about life at the Centre. I asked them three questions: What work are you doing at the Centre? What are you working on within yourself? What inspires you? Here are some reflections by Tana, Raven, Jeff and Kris.

This month’s “Our Satsang Community” story is by Sudha Soleil (aka Theota Makortoff). She first met Babaji when she came to the 1976 yoga retreat in Oyama, in the Okanagan. Over the years, her life has gone through big changes, but her devotion to Babaji has remained steadfast.

In this issue, Pratibha again shares her wisdom in the article, “The Yogic, Sattvic Diet” Why do yogis eat certain foods and not others? In this article Pratibha addresses that question and explains the distinction between Ayurveda, with its emphasis on health and well-being, and Yoga, with its emphasis on purity on all levels.

I invite you to read “What should I do? What’s my duty?” This is a familiar theme in many people’s lives. So many of us, amidst the many choices life offers us, still wonder, “What should I be doing with my life?” Timeless teachings from the Bhagavad Gita and Babaji’s writings address this question.

EmperorsNewClothes-poster The Salt Spring Centre School will be winding up another school year later this month. The school’s play this year was “The Emperor’s New Clothes”, every student in the school taking part, a long-standing tradition at the Centre School. Enrollment for the next school year is higher than it’s ever been at this time of year, and will likely be higher yet as enrollment continues for several months.

As the Centre School year starts to wind down, the Centre residential community grows. We’re excited that our community is beginning its annual summer expansion, and look forward to you being part of life here at the Centre.

Love,
Sharada

What should I do? What is my duty?

babaji-febnewsDuty is not a popular concept in the western world. This culture, with its emphasis on individuality and endless personal choice, has an aversion to anything that smacks of obligation.

In chapter two of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna instructs Arjuna to perform action, “being steadfast in yoga, abandoning attachment and balanced in success and failure. Evenness of mind is called yoga. One should abandon the fruits of action, carrying out one’s duty; yoga is skill in action.”

Because we have so many choices, we can easily become confused about what we should do. Krishna is saying clearly, “Do your duty.” But how do we know what our duty is?

In his commentary on the Bhagavad Gita, Babaji outlines our duties clearly:

Duties for yourself, like eating, cleaning, exercising and working.
Duties toward your family, such as supporting the family by working at a job to earn livelihood, growing food, educating children and taking care of one’s parents in old age.
Duties toward the community, such as reducing violence and corruption in the society and caring for the needy.
Duty toward one’s country, such as being a good citizen and being prepared to help others whenever the country goes through a disastrous period.
Duty toward the earth; Nature creates, controls, guides and supports the creation. If nature is harmed by pollution in the air, water and earth, the whole universe will be affected.

Those are pretty straightforward instructions that we can all understand. We can strive to follow them regardless of our life situation. Whatever form the external work in the world takes, we can develop the attitude and the practice of choosing our action (rather than resisting and resenting it) because it serves others and serves life. If you’re working in a job you don’t enjoy, you can switch from the thought, “I have to do this work.” to “I choose to do this work because it’s supporting my family.” It requires a conscious effort to see what you’re doing from a different perspective, shifting from “What’s in it for me?” to “How can I contribute?”

Verse 19 of chapter 3 says: “Strive constantly to serve the welfare of the world; by devotion to selfless work one attains the supreme goal of life. Do your work with the welfare of others in mind.”

You have your duties and responsibilities to the world and you can do them with a smile on your face or with a sad heart and tears in your eyes. It doesn’t make any difference to the world but it makes a difference in the way you feel.

Shifting the angle of the mind isn’t always easy because we see the world through egocentric lenses. Our aim is the key. The mind should be aware of the aim, “I want liberation from all worldly pain.” If you keep this aim in mind it will naturally guide you in choosing selfless action. If you can bring hidden self-interest to light, you can transform selfishness to selflessness.

These instructions don’t tell us what to do in specific situations, but they guide us in making choices in all situations based on the principles by which we we want to live our lives. We don’t “have to” help others because someone else tells us to, but we can choose to help because we want to live with kindness, truthfulness and gratitude. Our actions then become a self-chosen duty.

Ego always gets in the way, but if you understand your ego, then it can’t possess your mind. There is always some ego in everything. One should beware of the ego turning to the negative side. Positive ego is important for progress in the world as well as in the spiritual path. Complete elimination is liberation.

Life is not a burden. We make it a burden by not accepting life as it is.

Wish you happy.

Contributed by Sharada
Note: All text in italics is from writings by Babaji

Our Centre Community: Sudha Soleil

Sudha Soleil (aka Theota Makortoff)

Sudha-Portrait

Sudha Soleil, part of our Centre family

It was summer of 1976. I was 25, single and ready for change. I planned to change my birth name, Margaret. I liked my name, but I found that when people called me by Margaret, it just didn’t feel like me. I was trying out Theota as a possible name.

I edited the BC Federation of Women newsletter, but I grew tired of all the militant feminist rhetoric, and wanted more spirituality in my life. I meditated 20 minutes a day using a technique from TM (Transcendental Meditation). I wanted to learn more about yoga. Chandra, a woman I met at SFU teacher training, was involved with a group who were putting on a yoga retreat. Her guru, Baba Hari Dass, would be attending the retreat.

I remember registering for the retreat at a place on. 4th Avenue. AD was there, wearing shorts and a tee shirt with a sweatshirt tied round his waist. I can see him standing there like it was yesterday. How was I to know that AD would become my all-time best teacher ever, and that this retreat would change my life?

Backpack and sleeping bag in hand, I travelled to Oyama via Greyhound bus. I met a woman named Nona and her two girls, Ruby and Lena, who were also going to the Retreat. After six hours on the bus, we were glad to finally reach our destination. We walked into the Oyama retreat site in the early evening, and were greeted by Shankar bearing plates of wonderful, vegetarian food for us. Whenever I think of that night, the pure love and beauty of that moment touches my heart.

This first Oyama retreat was 10 days long, and very intense. I was up at the crack of dawn learning cleansing techniques like pouring salt water through my nose. I went to every class, from pranayama to asana to afternoon sadhana. Just before supper I went to afternoon arati. Hungry and tired, I tried as best I could to sing the kirtan songs, which were mostly in Sanskrit. Everything was so unfamiliar. I can still remember grabbing handfuls of the prasad, a delicious assortment of nuts, seeds and fruits that was served in large, wooden salad bowls. If it hadn’t been for that prasad, I may never have learned arati.

I was very impressed by Babaji’s answers to people’s questions: Never speak against any religion. All true religions lead to the truth.

Some fond memories:

• Babaji sitting at the head of the children’s table.

• singing kirtan, while standing in a big circle around the children’s table, waiting to be served dinner. (Sometimes it seemed like we would never get to eat!)

After I got home from the Oyama retreat, I wanted to get involved with Dharma Sara Satsang in Vancouver, but something inside was holding me back. After the retreat I would wake up every Sunday and ask myself, “Am I going to satsang today?” The answer was always “no”, until December 5th, the answer was “YES”. What a wonderful birthday present!

I started attending Vancouver Satsang regularly. We sang spiritual songs together in English and Sanskrit, which I loved. We prayed and meditated together. I felt a strong bond developing with these people with whom I shared a common goal: to learn and practice Babaji’s teachings. We were co-aspirants, sowing the seeds for lifelong friendships as well. I felt a sense of belonging that I had been craving, but never experienced before.

Halloween in Aldergrove 1977 - Sharada with Nayana, Sudha, Kabita with Robin

Halloween in Aldergrove 1977 – Sharada with Nayana, Sudha, Kabita with Robin

Sometimes we worked together on activities outside of satsang. We had lots of potluck dinners; we all loved to eat! I learned how to figure out amounts when cooking for a large group. This was very helpful when I was helping cook at the Centre.

In 1977, I was preparing to attend my second yoga retreat at Oyama. As part of Dharma Sara Satsang, I was eager to help any way I could. I still remember AD asking me if I would head up the kitchen clean-up crew. I agreed right away, having no idea what I was getting into. It was hard work and I was grateful for the opportunity to be of service (most of the time). I was in the early stages of learning the practice of karma yoga.

I loved being at the retreat. I enjoyed learning more of Babaji’s teachings, and studying the eight limbs of Ashtanga yoga. I appreciated the opportunity to study again with Anand Das (AD), a very gifted yoga teacher. I felt like I had finally found what I had been looking for my whole life and didn’t know it. I WAS HOME!

Evening programs at the Oyama retreats were special. Babaji sat at the front, surrounded by devotees. Ma Renu sat at the back, knitting. I remember one evening, all of us sitting or lying on the floor of the huge program room. Thinking of that night brings tears to my eyes. Naresh read aloud a story written by Babaji. His voice was gentle and loving. For that brief moment, we were all Babaji’s children and he was reading us a bedtime story.

Babaji played a huge role in my life. He and Ma were, in a way, like parents to me, God’s way of making up for the lack of reliable adults in my family. My first letter to him ended up being 16 pages. I told him all the painful stuff that had happened in my childhood. He wrote back, telling me that as a result of my father’s anger, I had fear in every area of my life. My job was to work at removing this fear. Easier said than done. Over the years, I wrote him many letters, asking for advice. I was grateful that he answered every letter and shared his wisdom and good sense.

In the many darshans I had with Babaji, he gave me wise counsel. His feedback was sometimes candid, always right on. For example, when I told him I wanted to find a good man to marry, he said, “Grow your hair long. You look like you’re not interested in men.” When I grew my hair long, I reconnected with my feminine side.

Babaji had a great sense of humour. I was down in California at a retreat when the issue of finding a husband came up again at my darshan with him. When I was taking part in the retreat, three men, two of whom I had never met before, said Babaji told them to ask me to marry them. I still don’t understand what Babaji was trying to communicate with this bizarre little exercise.

I went home to Vancouver and was immediately offered a teaching job over the phone (something that rarely happens) at the school where Dharma Sara Satsang had a daycare (Rainbow’s End). I was hired to fill in for the regular learning assistance teacher who was off indefinitely with a broken hip. In the first week, I noticed a good looking, blonde man coming down the hall and I thought to myself, he looks nice. A voice inside my head said ” I will marry that man one day.” I was startled. Who was this voice? Did it really know who I was going to marry? Apparently, yes.

Phil was the childcare worker at the school. We had a chance to meet professionally because we worked with some of the same children. We began dating in April 1979. That summer, we went to California together for a holiday. I called Ma Renu and told her I wanted to introduce Phil to Babaj. She kindly allowed us to come to her home for a private darshan with Babajj. We sat on the edge of Babaji’s bed. He talked with us, asked us a few questions and then said, “Live together. It will change your life .”

Sudha & Phil wedding photo 1980 (Divakar on the left)

Sudha & Phil wedding photo 1980 (Divakar on the left)

We moved in together in October of that same year. On June 28, 1980, we were married outdoors, at what was then the Botanical Gardens at UBC. Music at our ceremony was provided by Kalpana and Anuradha, who sat under a tree with their guitars and sang like angels. On July 12 we had our yajna at Sid and Sharada’s place in Aldergrove. AD was our pujarii; he agreed to do our ceremony for us, even though he was not well. In this beautiful ceremony we talked about being friends to each other and committed ourselves to marry in all future lifetimes.

Sudha & Phil wedding yajna, AD officiating

Sudha & Phil wedding yajna, AD officiating

Anuradha & Kalp singing, Sudha & Phil's wedding

Anuradha & Kalp singing, Sudha & Phil’s wedding

On December 23, 1981, I gave birth to our beloved son Mischa Pavan. He has grown up to be a wonderful person and a loving son.

Sudha & Phil & Mischa - family photo

Sudha & Phil & Mischa – family photo

When I was 46, I was diagnosed with Early Onset Parkinson’s Disease. (Parkinson’s is a progressive disease of the nervous system marked by tremor, muscular rigidity, and a deficiency of the neurotransmitter dopamine, which affects most functions in the body, including movement, memory, behaviour & cognition, sleep, mood & learning.) From that time on, my health gradually got worse until I became physically disabled and had to get around in a wheelchair. I am forever grateful to Phil for his enduring love, care and support. We have been married 34 years.

Babaji’s teachings have been the cornerstone of my life since I first joined Dharma Sara Satsang in 1976. Connecting with others who also aspired to follow Babaji’s teachings has benefited me in so many ways. I learned to sing beautiful kirtan and play the harmonium. I developed a strong bond with Dharma Sara members; they are not only co-aspirants and friends, they have become family. Whenever Mischa Pavan or I visit the Salt Spring Centre, it is like going home. Babaji directed us to buy a piece of property, which would serve as a place to build a yoga centre for the community and provide a peaceful place for families to come. The Salt Spring Centre fulfills both purposes beautifully. A very special memory for me is of coming to the Centre to help hostess Women’s Weekends, and feeling like I was in the lap of God.

Sudha 1999, summer retreat at the Centre

Sudha 1999, summer retreat at the Centre

I loved going to the Retreats. I went to 5 retreats when I was in a wheelchair. When the challenges of being physically disabled made it too difficult for me to attend, I would send my Sudha book to the retreat. Chandrika would circulate the Sudha book and encourage people to read it and write me a note. (In the Sudha book I would write a letter for everyone to read, talking about some of the things I had been doing and asking them to write me a note ) After the retreat, as I was reading through the notes people had written, I was thrilled when I came across this note from Babaji:

Dear Sudha,

Jai Sita Ram

By God’s blessing I came to Salt Spring Centre. Day by day life is inching towards old age but God is so giving that I am still working physically.

I am thankful to God that he has given you courage to face your disability. Live with a positive frame of mind. Help others and go on living happily. May god bless you.

Baba Hari Dass

I am honoured that Babaji wrote me such a beautiful note. I am trying every day to follow his advice.

Thank you, Babaji.
Jai Sita Ram!

Karma Yoga Reflections – Raven, Kris, Jeff & Tana

In answer to the prompts: What work are you doing at the Centre? What are you working on within yourself? and What inspires you?, here are a few reflections contributed by some of our karma yogis.

Raven-Kris

Raven Hume & Kris Cox

Raven

Amidst the glorious singing of the frogs, blossoming flowers and the warming days and nights, I have deepened into my duties in and around the kitchen. I have also been deepening in my practice and study of Babaji’s ritual offerings: leading yajnas on the full moon and arati each morning. I’m loving the kirtan, satsang, Gita classes, and the opportunity to serve with such an amazing crew!

Kris

What work are you doing at the Centre?
I coordinate the various programs we hold over the season, the rental groups that come to use the Centre and the weekly yoga classes that are offered. I’m also taking care of the office administration and registration.

What are you working on within yourself?
I’m working on developing positive qualities – which sounds simple but is actually pretty challenging. I’m trying to let go of my own expectations of perfection, I’m working on the ability to let things go, and I’m trying to ask, “What is the kindest thing to do” (rather than what’s “right”) whenever I can.

What are you inspired by?
I am inspired by the love that people have in their hearts, and seeing people doing what brings them joy.

Jeff Fisher & Tana Dalman

Jeff Fisher & Tana Dalman

Jeff

I arrived to the Centre in early May and am grateful to call this calm, loving community my home for the summer. As the days get steadily longer, I am helping to keep our gardens watered and weeded for summer harvesting. This season, my intent is to keep life simple, leaving plenty of space to expand in the sunshine.

Tana

I’m grateful to be in a community that is practicing selfless service. It is here I touch a very deep place of peace, and wonder at the miracle of life.

The Yogic Sattvic Diet

IndianSpices-flicr-cc-peddhapati

While Ayurveda and yoga share the same roots in the ancient Vedic literature, they do have distinctive differences in their approach. In Ayurveda, we are working to maintain a balance of the three doshas – vata, pitta and kapha – within our physical-emotional-mental body – in order to live a productive blissful life, of bhoga (life in the world). We’ve talked in previous columns about vata, pitta and kapha (Ayurveda’s three basic bio-energetic principles) – how they manifest in our lives, and how to maintain their healthy balance.

In our yoga practice, our attempt goes beyond this: our efforts are directed toward increasing sattva (the quality of purity) in our life, and eventually, to achieve apavarga (liberation or purity of mind). These directions are not necessarily contradictory; in fact, the yogi will need a balanced physical-emotional-mental body in order to achieve the liberated state of mind.

Babaji spoke often about bhoga and apavarga – experience and liberation. We are all born into the world of experience, of bhoga. And many people spend their entire human life caught in its tendrils. Others of us begin to sense the need for a way out of the tangle of experience, and discover that yoga can help us clear a path through the jungle of bhoga.

This month, we’ll take a gaze through the lens of yoga – at the three cosmic gunas – sattva, rajas, and tamas, the subtle, eternal principles that govern the workings of the entire universe. And then see how to promote the sattva principle in our yogic life.

Sattva is the force of truth, purity, equilibrium, wisdom, light, intelligence, balance and peace. Rajas is the force of passion, energy, activity, will, dispersion. Tamas is the force of stability, ignorance, resistance, dullness, inertia, cohesion. All three of these infinite forces are constantly at work to create and sustain the universe. Their constant state of interplay allows creation to continue unfolding throughout eternity.

Bhoga (Experience)
In using Ayurveda to keep our life balanced, we work toward maintaining the balance of the doshas in our make-up at the time of birth. In this process, we are able to maintain optimum health and to engage with the outer world in a productive, balanced way.
We aim to create a daily regimen of food and drink, lifestyle habits, and exercise that will work to maintain the balance of the doshas in place at the time we are born. This natural balance will help support the basic tendency toward maintaining good health with which we are born. Depending on our dosha predominance, we each choose different foods, different herbs, different exercise patterns, different careers, different sleep patterns, that work to support a healthy balance for our unique nature-born constitution.

Apavarga (Liberation)
In the path of yoga, the path toward apavarga or liberation, our goal is to reduce the worldly forces of rajas and tamas, and to increase the force of sattva in our lives. We use the practices of asana, pranayama and meditation to turn our attention away from the pull of the world, to the inner world, and eventually learn to control of the thought generated by the mind. We expand our concern beyond our own self-interest. We learn to live a virtuous life through development of positive qualities such as patience, compassion, contentment, loving-kindness, and generosity.

Dietary Recommendations Contrasted

In its dietary recommendations, Ayurveda will sometimes recommend meat products, especially when there is a need to tonify a weakened condition. In our culture, many of our grandmothers would recommend ‘chicken soup’ during an illness; in the same way, Ayurveda will use animal products to bolster a patient who is in a weakened or debilitated condition.

In the path of yoga, we choose to avoid dietary elements that are stimulating, and meat is one of those. Yogis are more inclined to choose a strengthening combination of rice and beans to provide a good source of protein that avoids the heating, activating qualities of animal protein.

To support the development of sattva guna in our life, we may choose to focus more on a sattvic, yogic dietary pattern. A sattva-increasing diet will emphasize fresh, ripe, sweet fruits, well-cooked whole grains, green leafy vegetables, fresh organic dairy products that are not fermented (raw milk, butter and ghee), easily digestible beans (aduki and mung), fresh nuts and seeds (in small quantities), and honey or maple syrup as sweeteners. Spices such as cardamom, cinnamon, coriander, ginger, fennel and turmeric are suggested to increase the force of sattva in our being.

The yogic diet also includes abstaining from animal products (other than milk products). Meat, fish and eggs are heavy and more difficult to digest; eating animal products also violates the yogic teaching of ahimsa (non-violence). Mushrooms are another food that is considered tamasic from the yogic perspective; they grow deep underground, and generate a heavy, tamasic quality. Yes, some mushrooms can also be healing substances, but they are usually shunned in a sattvic diet. Strong pungents like garlic and onion can also be effective for healing, but are not taken as part of a sattvic yogic diet.

Remember that these recommendations come from a lengthy tradition of experience and practice. They will need to be discussed and perhaps modified in light of our experience in 21st century North America. For me a guiding principle has always been one of Babaji’s favorite mottos: “Life a virtuous life.” When I hold that suggestion in mind, I can usually stay in tune with the essence of a yogic lifestyle. Bon Appetit!

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen

Pratibha Queen is a yoga instructor and Ayurvedic practitioner, who attends Salt Spring Center of Yoga retreats on a regular basis. Feel free to email with any questions that arise as you engage in health practices to support your yoga practice: pratibha.que[at]gmail[dot]com.

Indian spices image by Peddhapati.