Founding Member Feature: Sri Nivas

Sri Nivas (SN), part of the Centre family

I first met Babaji in 1974 at the ‘Spruce Street House’ in Vancouver where a number of Babaji’s students were living. Ma Renu, the woman who had sponsored Babaji to come to North America, had brought him to Vancouver and dropped him off as she was going to visit friends on Salt Spring Island.

I went to see him with Abha and Mahesh and my wife-to-be, Kishori, mostly as an observer and out of curiosity. Although Kishori was enamoured, I was far more interested in the concept of community based on the principles of right living.

Gathered around Babaji, with SN standing on right

The next year we visited Babaji again briefly, and then in 1976 went to our first retreat on our honeymoon. I went to one yoga class taught by AD (Anand Dass), one of Babaji’s first North American (Canadian!) students.

For a number of years we held regular yoga retreats at Camp Hatikvah in the interior of BC. My way of escaping from the crowds was to do maintenance with Mahesh.

Prodding by Babaji led us to begin a search for land to start a spiritually based community. From the outset, buying land was a major goal of the Dharma Sara Satsang Society, and I became involved in the search. Our search ranged from Cherryville, deep in the BC interior – which we nixed because of the short growing season – to various places in the Fraser Valley and Vancouver Island.

After searching over the whole province, we came across the ‘Blackburn Road’ piece in May of 1981; in early June we purchased it with donations from many members for the down payment and the knowledge that our store, Jai, in Vancouver, could meet the mortgage payments.

The house in 1981 (where the main entrance is now prior to the addition of the lobby). "There was a lot of work to be done!" - SN

Kishori, our 3 month old daughter Mallika and I moved to the property next door to the Centre in September of 1981. The Centre farmhouse was quite run-down and had been abandoned for about six years. We began working on the renovations almost immediately. I continued to be involved in a major way – in fact I’m still working on renovations.

Kishori, Mallika and I moved our mobile home to the property when Mallika was four. After two years we purchased our own property and built a house.

The renovations continued. Room 108 – the main floor guest bedroom – was the only room in the house that was insulated. All the chimneys were falling down so the house had no heat. All the plumbing had long since frozen and burst. The lobby and most of the dormers upstairs didn’t exist. There was a lot of work to be done!

Building the greenhouse in 1984 (SN standing second man from the left)

At the first yoga retreat on the land in summer 1982, we ran out of water and had to order tanker trucks for water. Originally there was only a dug well that didn’t supply nearly enough water. We called in a dowser who located the spot for our existing drilled well.

The hexagonal outhouse in the garden

We bought haying equipment and for many years cut our own hay, which we sold at very marginal prices. Cedar fence posts were split, the garden area got fenced and a garden was started. We built an octagonal (hexagonal?) outhouse in the garden from scrap lumber from the house renovation.

Today, apart from the main house, the only existing original structures are what are currently the farm office and the tool shed, the latter known for some obscure reason as the Top Shop. They had been milking sheds from the original dairy farm.

For me, Babaji’s teaching is all about right living and creating harmony in the world. The Centre has been, and remains, a major influence in my family’s lifestyle and how we view the world.

7 responses to “Founding Member Feature: Sri Nivas”

  1. Jules says:

    Wow SN! I’ve never seen the photo of the farmhouse in 1981. It’s inspiring to see what can be accomplished, thank you for everything you’ve built, fixed, repaired, restored and revived. Thank you for bringing your steady presence to the Centre!

  2. Amaresh says:

    Wow, didn’t know the farmhouse looked so bad and the people so good back then!! It would be great if someone could identify the other people in the pictures. Good work SN.

    • Usha Rautenbach says:

      Hello Amaresh. I can do a bit of identification for you.
      I love that 1981 photograph of the Centre for its portrait of the daft door halfway up the wall on the left; that was the door to the first schoolroom occupied by the salt spring Centre School in September 1983; now Room 108, but so transformed you’d never know if you hadn’t been there day in day out. The pic is taken by Raghunath, and requires some identification, because the tanned karma yogi leaning out the upstairs window (cleaning it) is Janaki Polden, his wife. The outhouse was designed and built by Raghunath, and was neither octagonal nor hexagonal but pentagonal. He was building a triangular treehouse for his twins, Jaya and Hamsa, not long after…

      In the photograph of the Beautiful Young People gathered around Babaji, the person up the tree looking down on Babaji is AD (Anand Das). The seated people from left to right are: RD taking notes (Ravi Das, who was publishing our first yoga magazines and books when I first arrived in Vancouver 1978; absent from the pic are Aparna his wife, and Manju his little daughter, around the same age as Sudarsan and Sharada’s eldest, Daya), and on the other side of Babaji, reading what he is writing, is Mayana Williamson’s sister (Manjurika? a ‘senior moment’ is unsettling my certainty suddenly); on the right in front of SN is Kalpana (yes, our Kalpana Tabachnick, of Yoga Teacher Training skill, not-yet-married to AD-up-the-tree; now married to Divakar).

      In the 1984 photograph of the greenhouse being built, from left to right are Anuradha, possibly holding in her right hand a pink feather duster, and who-knows-what in her left hand, but looking ritualistic as should be expected; then standing, on SN’s right, karma-yoga-in-charge Vidyasagar, called Video-Sugar by the school children not-for-no-reason; and on SN’s left, I think it’s the person who used to come from France, with the French name that is escaping me, but Sharada could tell you all about him, I haven’t seen him for years. The person in the white touque may be Sanatan – he was certainly there; but who might be under the cowboy hat I don’t remember, unless it’s Satyanand, who was also there, and who is now Dancing Bear (Marc Suess, Maya and Piet’s dad).

      I hope that helps, and I hope someone can clarify the name of Mayana’s sister! My apologies, Usha

  3. Peter (Ashoka) says:

    What a great look back on the centre, from the ground up… a wonderful transformation. Loving all the new features on the website and in the news letters too.


  4. Cameron Coutts says:

    What a beaut story, a nicer man you will ever meet & an inspirational example of Karma Yoga.
    Shine on Sri Nivas

  5. Kishori says:

    Hi there Amaresh – the people in the top photo to the left of Babaji is Baba Narindra Dass, Anand Dass is in the tree, the woman peeking around the tree writing is Pratibha, then SN, the woman to the immediate right of Babaji is Kalpana Tabachnick, then Mandira (Mayana’s sister), then with her back to the camer is Ratna Dass from Santa Cruz. I believe this picture was taken in 1976 at Kalmalka Lake in the Okanagan – Camp Hatikva. In the lower photo, Anuradha is sitting – then VidyaSagar, SN, then Swarup (can’t remember his english name but he was a diamond salesman with AD), the guy behind Babaji is Rahunath Polden. Amazing eh?

  6. Zozumina says:

    Did your Babaji ever teach at an ashram /private residence on Joy Rd, near Occidental CA??
    Is that too esoteric??

    I remember meeting an amazing person at my neighbors house in probably 1973 or 74. I had no idea what yoga was..Or who he was supposed to be…I knew my neighbors who were very West Indian in their approach to life and interior decor and I was re-upholstering the entire inside of their Volkswagon Bus in WHITE BURLAP !! How pure is THAT!!…. anyway, this person “Babaji” just blew me away in the two minutes I was in the room with him!!!

    Was it Babaji???

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