Founding Member Feature: Mamata Kreisler

This month’s Founding Member Feature is not a founding member, but is by the daughter of two longtime students of Babaji and former residents at the Centre – and the only child born on the land (at least while it’s been a yoga centre) – Mamata Kreisler, daughter of Rajani and Rajesh. Read it and learn what it was like for her to grow up in a yoga community – definitely worth reading.

Growing up at the Centre

Mamata and her mother Rajani

Mamata and her mother Rajani

I was born at the Centre in 1985 – in the cabin that later became the Phoenix Cabin – and I grew up there. It was my home for 12 years. It was a great place to grow up. 70 acres as your backyard, other families living just minutes away and fun trails to lakes and creeks never left a dull moment. I have so many memories of being a kid at the Centre:

At the piano, 1986

At the piano, 1986

Most mornings when I was really little, I would wake up in the cabin alone and have to walk up to the main building to see my mom, who managed the kitchen and was always up early getting breakfast ready – or go to Sharada’s to bang on her piano. Having sleepovers with Sammy and Leala (Satya’s daughters) in their teepee down by the woodland trail was a great memory, and walking through the orchard to see my dad at the nursery was a daily occurrence. I remember riding my bike down the mound – when it really was a mound – with Leala, each of us sticking one leg out and thinking we were so cool. I liked the mound like that. Many of you won’t even know what I’m talking about, but what we call the mound now is nothing like it used to be. It really used to be a mound, that is, a big hill. That’s before the rock walls were built and the top was made flat.

I got to do lots of things that other kids would never have had the chance to do. My dad taught me to drive the ride-on mower when I was four years old and I used to mow the grass all over the land. I remember getting into trouble when I let other kids ride on it with me when I was mowing.

Wheelbarrow full of kids, 1989  Joah, Chrisana, Mason, Mamata, Soma

Wheelbarrow full of kids, 1989 Joah, Chrisana, Mason, Mamata, Soma

Some other special memories are of Leala and I sneaking into the walk-in cooler – with the lights off – to scare ourselves, which is ridiculous because I’m afraid of the dark. Another daring escapade was when Lisa (Chandrika and Harvey’s daughter) and I snuck into the staff kitchen during the summer retreats to make mint tea with Inka (now called Krakus); we thought we were cool because we were sneaking around.

My other “jobs” at the centre always included helping. Sharada used to joke that one day I’d run the Centre because I liked to walk around with a clipboard. I liked to organize things (still do) so people could actually find them when they needed them. My mom taught me how to do facials for Women’s Weekends, so I could help when there weren’t enough therapists. I also helped her build the swedan box, and I remember the building of Chikitsa Shala.

On her bike, 1990

On her bike, 1990

I remember the mama cat who showed up one day and had kittens in the top shop. Asia (Bhavani Chlopan’s daughter), who was around two years old at the time, named the mama cat Dipsum, and I named all the others. We gave most of them away at the Saturday market in town, but we kept Dusty and Smokey. Lots of you may remember Smokey because she lived in the main house. Dipsum and Dusty eventually moved in with Sharada.

It’s almost Shiva Ratri time at the Centre again. Shiva Ratri was one of the kids’ favourite times. Sammy, Leala and I, along with Mason (Cynthia and Peter Bennett’s son) and Joah (Ramanand and Bhavani Chlopan’s son) – and later Jesse and Ayla (Savita’s daughters) – got to have a big sleepover in the yurt. The adults were staying up all night, so we stayed up, too. I remember it snowing on Shiva Ratri and going outside during the night to dance around and make snow angels.

Leala and Mamata, temple dancers in the 1991 Ramayana

Leala and Mamata, temple dancers in the 1991 Ramayana

Another thing we all loved was Ramayana. I started out at age 5 as a temple dancer in the invocation to Saraswati, the first scene at the beginning of the play. I played other roles over the years, dancing and acting. We all looked forward to getting bigger parts each year.

I went to the Centre School from grades one through nine. We did lots of theatre in school as well, ones we wrote, lots of Shakespeare and lots of musicals. I got to play Maria in the Sound of Music and Wendy in Peter Pan.

Mamata and Asia, May Day at the school, 1995

Mamata and Asia, May Day at the school, 1995

My mom was the school bus driver (yes, we used to have a school bus), and I’d go on bus runs with her. Our bus only went down Cusheon Lake Road and Beddis Road. For the south end route, though, you’d have to connect with the public school bus to go further. I did that once in awhile when I was going to the south end to my dads. I sat next to a kid who asked me, “Why do you go to that school?” I think he thought it was weird, but that had never occurred to me. It wasn’t weird; it was fun. Apart from the regular school stuff and theatre, I played a lot of sports. I was a tomboy and played mostly with the boys.

Mamata as Pippi Longstocking and Sharada as a clown, Halloween 1993

Mamata as Pippi Longstocking and Sharada as a clown, Halloween 1993

In 1993, when I was 8 years old and in Usha’s class, someone came to the classroom to get me, saying something had happened and I was to come right away. They took us to the cabin – the one my mom and I had been living in, the one I was born in. There had been a fire. My mom was already there, and so were the firefighters from the Fire Department. There was a strong smell of smoke. Even now, the smell of smoke reminds me of that moment. After that, we lived in the main building until a new cabin was built for us.

Summer retreat at the Centre was so much fun! When I was really little I was scared of getting candy from Babaji, but it got easier as I got older. The kids were always excited for tea time when Babaji would give out candies. You’d get to hang out with Babaji and obviously (in our world) we felt cool when we got to sit next to him. The other thing about retreat time that made it so much fun was that all our cool, older guy friends (Toby, Jai, Susheel, Jesse, PK, Yogi, AJ, etc.) came and did Power of Pranayama demonstrations, and hung out with us. We played Capture the Flag every night. (AJ, if you’re reading this, I hope you are sufficiently honoured to be included in this group of cool guys). Volleyball was always a must and basketball tournaments became a regular occurrence for awhile. I thought for sure I was going to be trampled on multiple occasions during those tournaments but somehow, I made it out of them alive.

Hanuman Olympics was the highlight of the retreat. It was held in the front field (before the garden went in there). The big tent would be set up for the event. There were so many events – real events that everybody competed in. So much fun! In the evening there’d be a big talent show. My friends and I always did dances.

My memories of growing up at the Centre mostly have to do with having fun. I didn’t really take advantage of the learning possibilities, as I didn’t realize the “outside world” wasn’t the same and not all people grew up that way.

After we moved off the land, I went to high school, got into dance, and began to learn about the “real world.” I was planning to go to university to study dance, and then I got into a car accident. That was on October 1, 2003. My ability to continue what I thought my journey was going to be changed completely. I was unable to do anything I had put my mind to for the past few years, and my excitement for the future slowly vanished. I couldn’t picture what I was going to end up being able to do.

I stayed on Salt Spring Island for another year and a bit, did physiotherapy and other treatments, but nothing seemed to work. I moved to Victoria, enrolled in a business administration program and got a government office job. That was it for a while. Then my friend started talking about yoga, asking all sorts of questions about how I grew up and wanting to know more about what asanas can do for you. So I agreed to take him to a yoga class at Yoga Shala, and slowly but surely I started to realize how much I enjoyed asana, and how much I could simply focus on my body instead of everything around me. I started going more and more often. It was hard at first because I found myself comparing my current flexibility and strength to how I was before the accident, but that changed over time. When I got a roommate to start practicing with me, I quickly noticed how much her attitude started to shift, becoming more positive. This gave me a huge push toward wanting more yoga in my life – and the possibility of sharing that positive lifestyle with others.
In 2011 I decided to do Yoga Teacher Training. I was so excited – until I got to the airport, at which point I sort of freaked out. I had never done anything on my own before. I was going to a place in Costa Rica where I knew no one, and I don’t speak Spanish very well. It turned out to be the best time of my life – a huge shift for me. I opened up and allowed myself to really let go and to get in touch with my emotions and explore how I really felt about things. I actually made myself – with the help of my two wonderful roommates – spend time alone to see what it was really like. This, of course, didn’t happen too much as I quickly got to know the group I was surrounded by and loved every one of them. I got to share it with people I hadn’t known before, and with whom I’m still in contact. As the month came closer to the end, all I was missing was my boyfriend, Kris, and would tell him, when there was finally internet service so we could connect by skype, to fly down and bring my bed.

With Kris and their dog Biggie

With Kris and their dog Biggie

Kris and I have been friends for six years, but we haven’t been together that long. Last May we went to California and I took him to Santa Cruz. On our last day there we went to Mount Madonna Center and were lucky enough to see Babaji, again. I had seen him the previous year, and he still remembered me.

Sammy, Leala and I still talk about Babaji, and wonder what will happen when he passes away. I can’t imagine him not being here. For me and for all of us kids, I think this has been the best way to grow up.

Teaching yoga


Currently I’m still living in Victoria, in a cute little house we bought last year, and now we have a dog, Biggie. I don’t think we will stay here, but where we will go hasn’t been decided – somewhere smaller, more community based. I’m teaching three yoga classes a week in Victoria in addition to working full time for the government. Yoga alleviates the stress of my government job, and teaching yoga doesn’t feel like work. I like to help people, to support them in accepting themselves as they are, with whatever they can do. It’s a joy to be able to share yoga with those who are open to receiving it.


Founding Member Feature: Mayana Williamson

Mayana, part of the Centre family

Mayana, part of the Centre family

When I saw the blue poster, I knew my life was about to change. It announced Dharma Sara’s first Yoga Centre on 4th Avenue in Vancouver, and when I read it I thought, “That place is going to save my life.”

It was 1976, I was a musician and a teacher, and I had studied music at UBC, travelled around the province playing cello in a string quartet, lived communally with people I loved, learned yoga from a book and practiced it every day. But I was lost, and after a brief marriage during my student years I knew something was missing, I just didn’t know what.

Mayana playing for a Vancouver “Music in the Hospitals” tour - 1974

Mayana playing for a Vancouver “Music in the Hospitals” tour – 1974

I went to Sunday Satsang not knowing what to expect and found a room filled with warmth and friendship. Sharada walked right up to me when I came in the door, and said, “Hi, I’m Sharada!” with a big, welcoming smile. I felt part of the group from the moment I walked in.

I loved chanting, loved the ritual, and loved the community. Most of all I knew I was in the right place, knew Baba Hari Dass was my teacher and was excited to meet him when he arrived in the summer for what would be the second annual DS summer retreat. What was it like to meet Babaji? My heart cracked open and tears poured down my face when he walked through the arrivals door at the airport. I loved him instantly.

A group of us moved into the Trutch Street House where I lived with my sister Mandira, Anand Dass (AD), Kalpana, Lakshmi, baby Shyam and five other adults. We lived together as “family” and it was an extraordinary time as we fit together the lives of ten people who had yoga and Babaji in common and not much else! Learning to live together began a process of smoothing out our rough edges that would continue for many years. AD chanted OM every morning at 5am in front of the big puja table in the main room with anyone who got up early enough to join him.

Wedding fire ceremony - 1977

Wedding fire ceremony – 1977

I met Bishambhar when he came to choir practice at Trutch Street and we were married in 1977. The wedding was at a temple in Burnaby and the reception in our Centre behind the first Jai store. The next year Radhika was born. I loved being a mother, yet continued to be challenged by a back injury that had kept me bedridden most of my pregnancy. I had major surgery and doctors couldn’t explain why I didn’t recover in the months that followed. In my search for answers I met a healer who had been through something similar. From her I learned there are many dimensions to getting well, and I knew if she could do it then I could too. Learning to heal myself was another spiritual awakening for me.

By the time I was well Bishambhar and I had separated, the land scouts had found property on Salt Spring Island for the Centre and work had started to get the building ready for programs and retreats. Radhika and I stayed in Vancouver making trips to the Centre whenever we could. We continued to have Satsang in Vancouver. I taught music and we lived with Satsang folks at the Laurel Street House, and then with Chandra, Al and their boys Ramesh and Gabe. AD thought it was a miracle that my back had healed. I told him it wasn’t a miracle, just a lot of hard work, yet recently I’ve come to think we were both right.

Our children grew up together. Radhika and Ramesh - 1984 and 2007

Our children grew up together. Radhika and Ramesh – 1984 and 2007

I loved parenting with other moms. Sharada, Chandra, Sadhana and I all had babies around the same time and whenever we were together those kids had four “Mums”. It was common to hear someone say, “Go ask Mummy Sharada” or “Mummy Chandra will help you with that”. Adults got their work done and children were happy. Radhika told me a few years ago, “You always knew which one was yours. That was the one you went home with.”

Right from the beginning whenever we were at the Centre I worked in the kitchen, and after we moved to the Island in 1987 the kitchen continued to be at the core of my karma yoga. I loved Rajani’s women’s crews and later cooking with Vasudev. Once when I wavered about what I should be doing for my spiritual development Babaji told me, among other things, “The Centre is there for your karma yoga.”

I took charge of the kitchen, first for summer retreats, then year-round. The kitchen became the centre of the Centre for me. My private moment of the day was in the evening after everyone was in bed and all was quiet. I would go to the kitchen to do a late night check and look at the next day’s plans. After the organized chaos of the day the hush was palpable. We once had tee shirts that said, “Find peace at the centre.” I found peace in the kitchen.

Mayana preparing for dinner – 1994

In the early days Babaji told me, “Do music.” Music had always been my life and my livelihood, and in kirtan my heart opened when I sang to God. I played harmonium and gradually led more kirtan, my voice refining as I gained confidence. In productions of The Children’s Ramayana—a musical with more than 70 children, a choir and a band—I found another place to throw my heart into music, teaching actors their songs, singing and directing the choir.

Backstage with Guha at a Ramayana performance - 1995

Backstage with Guha at a Ramayana performance – 1995

Singing for Bhakti Night – mid 1990s

Singing for Bhakti Night – mid 1990s

Every summer we prepared for Babaji’s retreat visit with great excitement. During the retreat, time seemed suspended. We worked hard running the retreat. We enjoyed quiet focused classes, the sweetness of kirtan in Babaji’s presence and the fun of tea-time on the mound. When the day came that he was to leave, everyone gathered in the parking lot to say goodbye. But some weren’t ready. We jumped into cars and headed to the ferry to visit in the parking lot, then onto the ferry where we gathered around his car for more, and finally to the airport for the last sweet moments as we waited for the boarding call, and then waved as they boarded the plane.

Mayana, Anuradha and Radhika waiting for the ferry with Babaji – 1984

Mayana, Anuradha and Radhika waiting for the ferry with Babaji – 1984

Waiting for the ferry – 1993 (Mayana bottom right)

Waiting for the ferry – 1993 (Mayana bottom right)

One year at the airport we found ourselves on one side of a wall with Babaji on the other. The top half of the wall was glass, so we could see him waiting to board the plane. But the line wasn’t moving. We watched Karuna and Bhavani and others chatting with Babaji and waited to wave them off. Babaji turned, looked at us for a long moment and then ducked down so we couldn’t see him. A minute later he popped up with a look that said, “Here I am!” He was playing peek-a-boo with us! Just the way we did with our children when they were small. It didn’t matter that we weren’t children. Every time he popped up we laughed and were as delighted as two year olds. We imitated him and there was peek-a-boo and laughter on both sides of the wall. “Play,” Babaji has told us again and again, and that day was another reminder of how easy it is to play anywhere, anytime.

I am blessed with Babaji’s teachings, and with the Centre as my spiritual home. Chandra said it eloquently: “Babaji shone light on the teachings of classical Ashtanga Yoga for us all and gave us a path for life.”

In December, 2008 Kurt and I married and we have been away from the island to be close to his work. We hope to spend some extended time at the Centre in the future.

In December, 2008 Kurt and I married and we have been away from the island to be close to his work. We hope to spend some extended time at the Centre in the future.

Founding Member Feature: Ramanand Chlopan

Ramanand, part of the Centre family

I grew up in a family of nine – my parents and six kids, 4 girls, two boys. I was third in the lineup. We were raised in a Roman Catholic family (although my father was Eastern Orthodox and had to get permission to marry my mother). We went to church most Sundays and I was an altar boy. I have a memory from when I was a kid – unrelated to church – of being able to sit in full lotus; little did I know….

I went through a period of partying when I was in my teens. When I was 21, still living in Sooke, I had the realization that if I kept up the party lifestyle, I would not make it to 25. I hopped a train to Saskatoon where my high school friend, Jeff, and I got a place. We had an older friend who introduced us to Ram Dass, meditation and Eastern spiritual philosophies. We led a very pure and chaste lifestyle and talked endlessly about spiritual concepts.

I was initiated into TM in June of 1977. In 1978, I got a letter from my sister, Cathy, who was living in a L’Arche community in Victoria. Among others, Vidyadhar and Trudy lived in the community. During that time my sister and Vidyadhar attended a yoga retreat in the Okanagan. Cathy talked about jal neti and funny skits, and said the guru was Baba Hari Dass. I put two and two together and realized this was the same Baba Hari Dass I had read about as a kid in my brother’s copy of Be Here Now in my parent’s basement. I was intrigued and wanted to meet this teacher called Baba Hari Dass.

Within the next year, I moved back to the coast with the intention of contacting Babaji’s satsang. On April 1, 1979, I confused the Dharma Centre with Dharma Sara and had tea with a very nice Tibetan Lama in Burnaby. I persevered and made it to a satsang at the Mount Pleasant neighbourhood centre the same spring. This is where I heard the kirtan, “Alakh Niranjana”. It felt so familiar.

Ramanand & Bhavani’s wedding at the Centre 1982, puja conducted by AD (Anand Dass)

I was living in Sooke, taking the summer off – which my best friend and I called the endless summer. I went to the Yoga Retreat at Oyama and met Babaji. He seemed like the genuine item so I endeavoured to make it to the New Year’s retreat in California. Babaji gave me my name, Ramanand, which means the bliss of God. Following the retreat, I moved to Vancouver to be with the satsang. I went to Sunday Satsangs, started singing and accompanying on guitar, attended pranayam class with our beloved Anand Dass and went to the full moon yajnas at the Hindu Temple in Burnaby. I remember them as brilliant glimpses of spirit.

Ramanand at woodworking school in Nelson, 1983

The following year, I made my way down to California and attended yoga teacher training. By this time I was “on the bus”. For me some of the highlights were times of being around Babaji – like the Maha Shiva Ratri when the first Mount Madonna program house burnt down, Babaji said “it doesn’t matter”, and immediately began leading a party of people to deal with the wreckage and move on to the next thing.

Dads & kids on the mound, 1989 – Rajesh & Mamata, Ramanand & Joah, Devendra & Serena

While Babaji is very serious about sadhana, he has a humorous side. He engineered pranks such as the women dousing the men with water as they were posing for photographs with Babaji.  The following year the men wanted to get the women back, so Babaji designed a puja outside the main house that was apparently intended to dedicate the mound; however, it was a set-up, complete with special mantras like “bring, fling”, a signal to the men waiting nearby to start flinging cream pies at the women.

Ramanand the rock star, with his buddies, 1996

Around the mid 80’s, I asked Babaji if I could do the pujas and he told me I could learn. I did my first puja in 1986 at Guru Purnima. The next year I was honoured to baptize about 30 or so satsangi kids ranging in age from infancy to ten, including my own son, Joah.

Ramanand & Kalen, 1996

A moment that’s precious to me is the morning after the Maha Shiva Ratri in California before the building burned. I spent a good part of the night overdosed on bhang (no longer done – this was in the early years). The next morning, when Babaji appeared, along with people singing “Hara Hara Mahadeva Shambho”, I felt like Ebenezer Scrooge on Christmas morning after his night with the spirits. I cannot sing that song without feeling that elation.

Ramanand with Joah & Kalen, fall 2001

Although, on some levels we miss the shining example that Babaji has set with his own actions, I feel we are at an advantage in that we have to do it ourselves. Through our practices and satsang, the kirtans and the memories, it is up to us to create a sense of his presence. You can still find me at the Cente on most Sunday afternoon, singing kirtan and sharing in the hosting of satsang, as well as conducting full moon yajnas and singing and conducting pujas at Maha Shiva Ratri. As a long-time member of the satsang and a founding member of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga, I feel it is an honour to inspire others to a more spiritual life.

I would be remiss not to mention my cherished friends in the satsang family. We’ve been through so much together.

Jai Ram

Founding Member Feature: Mahesh and Abha (Roy and Raye)

By Mahesh, dedicated to Abha

Mahesh, 2000

I was born in Vancouver in 1934. As a child, I stuttered and was very shy. I grew up in Vancouver, Westminster and Squamish, living with my grandparents. My grandmother taught me a lot about spirituality. Raye was born in 1935. Her mother died when she was very young, and she was raised by her aunt and uncle. She grew up in Vancouver, but interestingly, spent a year on Salt Spring island with her aunt and uncle, going to the Isabella Point School. Both of us had spiritualist upbringings.

Before I met her I was selling real estate and doing log salvaging, so I was pretty busy. I had also been drinking heavily and doing a lot of shady things. My doctor told me, “If you continue drinking, I give you six months to live,” so I cleaned myself up.

That’s when I met Raye. I was 20 and she was 18. I told her I would marry her in two years – and that’s exactly what happened. From the first moment I saw her, I was devoted to her. I followed her everywhere; these days I’d be charged with stalking. I wanted to be with her all the time. She had been very cloistered and had probably gone on only one date before she met me. All the girls in the typing pool where she worked warned her about me. At that time I was going around with five different women, and two of them thought I was going to ask them to marry them. I have no idea why Raye stuck with me. I most likely wouldn’t be here if it weren’t for her. I wish she was still here.

Abha & Mahesh, just married, 1954

Back then I wore very colourful clothes – red, pink, bright green, shirts with ruffles – and Raye didn’t like them. Because I wanted to be with her I surrendered, and ended up wearing browns and greys. There were things she gave up and there were things I gave up. We had disagreements, of course, but we always worked things out. We always ended each day with a hug and a kiss, regardless of what went on during that day.

I told her I didn’t want to have any children. She laughed at me – as if it was up to me – but we didn’t end up having children. We spent 3 years (1960 – 1963) camping in Europe in a Bedford camper (a car that I had camperized).

In the early 70’s when we were living on Barnston Island, we went to hear Ram Dass speak in Vancouver. There was a poster on the wall, with a picture of AD (Anand Dass), about yoga classes. I said to Raye, “We should go to that.” She said, “You’re not interested in yoga,” but we did go to the class at 6:30 in the morning. I had never gone to a yoga class before – and I never stopped after that.

Mahesh and Babaji – mid 70’s

In 1974 Babaji came to Vancouver and stayed at the Spruce Street house for 10 days, and we came from Barnston Island to meet him. We stayed for several hours, playing lots of games with Babaji.

During the years that followed there were retreats, satsang, and the search for land which took us all over BC. There were also lots of meetings about raising money to buy land. In the process, the Jai store was started; Abha was a driving force in the store, serving as the buyer, first for the 4th Avenue location and then the Broadway store.

When the land was purchased, SN and Kishori moved from Barnston Island to Salt Spring Island. Abha and I also left Barnston, but we moved to Vancouver. We lived above the Jai store for a while, then moved to a house on 21st and Blenheim. At first we’d go to Aldergrove for satsang (where Sid and Sharada, Sanatan and Anuradha, and various other people lived), and later to 4th and Burrard in Vancouver behind the Jai store. It was during that time that the land on Salt Spring was purchased.

Mahesh, 1994

I remember getting people together to pledge money for the land. I matched everyone’s donations, but there wasn’t that much at that first meeting. Abha thought I was crazy the way I threw money around. When the property was bought, I told Abha that as long as Babaji is alive, I’d always help the Centre, but after that, who knows?

We moved to Salt Spring Island in 1990, having had property on the island since the 70s, but we never lived on the land.

Over the years I’ve supplied and run heavy machinery and helped with the rock walls. A lot of the rock for those walls came from my property. Meanwhile, Abha was totally involved in the Centre. She went to a lot of meetings, and she procured beautiful things for the Centre. She loved to make things beautiful.

Stuck bobcat – 2000

I got annoyed sometimes about how the Centre administration chose to spend money. I have a business background, and have a different approach to money than some others. I also have a habit of just doing things without going through the proper channels, and nearly got banned from the land when I started making the driveway. (For those who don’t know, the driveway to the school was begun by Mahesh; vehicles used to drive right through the property in front of what is now Chikitsa Shala). Later someone was hired to complete the job – too bad – I could have done it for a tenth of the cost.

All those stories are in the past. My involvement in the Centre is to see it function, and if help is needed, I’ll be there.

The memories I treasure are of Abha. She always looked so beautiful out in the garden. She was in nature and became one with nature in the garden; it was her sanctuary. Her dahlias still bloom every year in the Centre’s garden.

Abha with flowers, 2000

Abha, 2000(?)

Abha was always with me and I was always with her. We did our own things, but we were devoted to each other – a relationship that I wish everybody had – one of total trust. It was a wonderful trip. To have her interested in the spiritual path like I was was absolutely beautiful.

The original DS members put in karma yoga time and money for the Salt Spring Centre. It was just like bringing up a child. To walk onto the property as an old man and see all the shining faces and bright smiles brings joy to my heart – like seeing a child who has succeeded.

Mahesh, 2000

Founding Member Feature – Sanatan

sanatan at the ashram 2012

Sanatan at the Sri Ram ashram, 2012

I was already a seeker looking for a living master when I heard about Babaji in Ram Dass’ book, Be Here Now. Then The Yellow Book by Babaji showed up in my hands, and I was inspired. Around that time, Anuradha, my girlfriend from university, went to Vancouver and started studying with Anand Dass, one of Babaji’s first students in the west.

Shortly after that – in 1974 – we took a trip down to California to meet Babaji, who was living in the home of the woman who had sponsored him to come to North America, Ma Renu. When we walked in, I saw all the women sitting devotedly at Babaji’s feet. I didn’t feel drawn to sitting near his feet, so I sat back and observed. Later I realized something more had happened that I hadn’t noticed earlier. I had been deeply moved on a subtle level – I could feel it in my meditation that night.

My life was changing. I had been living up north in Fort St. John, and decided to move south to Vancouver. I was making wooden toys for kids at that time, living in my school bus that I had converted into a home – a mobile gypsy home. Anuradha and I moved the bus to the communal farm in Abbotsford to live with Sid and Sharada, Ravi Dass and Aparna and Anusuya, all students of Babaji’s, plus Stewart and Isha, who were also on a spiritual path. It was the beginning of a spiritual community. We lived there for two years, then moved to Aldergrove for four years, still living in community with other students of Babaji. We went to Vancouver each Sunday for satsang at our town yoga centre.

It was during that time we began the search for land. I was part of a group of seekers – spiritual seekers and land seekers – looking for a home for our community. We looked at land in Vernon, Kelowna, Whistler, Vancouver Island, Lumby, the Fraser Valley and the Columbia Valley. Eventually a place was found on Salt Spring Island that everyone liked. A bunch of us early Salt Spring Centre pioneers came to our new Centre to live. In those days, we just called it ‘the land’.

We lived on the land in our school bus for a couple of years, in the trees near Sharada’s house where the old barn was, where I set up a portable workshop. One of the first things I did on the land was put up a basketball pole.


Sanatan in his mobile workshop with some of the children from the Centre school.

I had been a karma yogi at the Centre for quite a few years when Babaji asked me to be Centre Director. I accepted the role and did it as well as I could till destiny called me to other things. My main focus was always the aesthetic improvement of the Centre, improving what was here, making the land beautiful. I spent fifteen years or so enthusiastically building rock walls with Babaji, including three years working on the fountain and pond.

Apart from being a karma yogi and working on projects with Babaji, I also really enjoyed sitting in darshan with him, embracing his wisdom and wit. I also love kirtan – and participating in Babaji’s practical jokes such as The Great Pie Fight and the Mr. Satellite Chronicles.

The game goes on. I’m still trying to accept the present moment, noticing how I distract myself from being content in this moment and knowing that regular sadhana is where it’s at and peace is all there is. As an elder, if there’s anything I’ve learned over all these years, it’s be still, be quiet and enjoy it.

100th & 30th Anniversary Open House

Salt Spring Centre of Yoga Open House

Yoga Classes, Farm Tours,
Local History Presentations and Refreshments
Sunday, September 4th, 2011, 12-3pm

This year marks the 100th anniversary of the historic Blackburn residence, the main house of the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga as well as the 30th anniversary of the Centre’s purchase of  this fertile land in the middle of Salt Spring Island.

On Sunday, September 4 we are hosting an Open House to celebrate these two special anniversaries. This will be an opportunity for the Salt Spring community to visit the Centre, learn about the history of the land and the Centre and share in our celebration. With free yoga classes for the whole family, treats from the Centre’s acclaimed vegetarian kitchen, tours of the organic gardens and the land, this is a wonderful opportunity to join the SSCY community for an afternoon. Throughout the afternoon we will also offer tours of the heritage house which was built in 1911 by the Blackburn family, the namesakes of the valley, the road and lake. Experts in local history will be present with archival photographs and stories of how land and residence has transformed over the last hundred years.

The Blackburn House – A Brief History

The house was built in 1911 by Allan Blackburn, a Scotsman from Skye. It was designed to emulate the original Blackburn home, though on a smaller scale. That home, named Roshven, still stands in Scotland, overlooking the islands of Eigg, Muck and Rhum. The Blackburn house consists of two and a half stories, each of approximately 3,000 square feet. Originally, it also contained a private Catholic chapel. This can still be seen in the semicircular apse and attached tower. When the Blackburn family first lived on the land it was used primarily as a Holstein dairy operation.

Allan Blackburn died in 1925 and was buried in St. Paul’s Cemetery at Fulford Harbour. His wife and son moved away from the property, and it was eventually taken over by the government which altered the interior and operated rehabilitation programs in it until after the Second World War. Subsequent owners reestablished it as a dairy farm, but when the Dharma Sara Satsang Society bought it in 1981 it was being used as a museum/gallery known as Galleon Manor.

When the property was purchased, it was in need of extensive work and renovation. As a community founded on the principles of karma yoga, or selfless service, the Dharma Sara Satsang Society worked  to improve the land and buildings while preserving their original character. Much of the seventy acres has been kept as untouched forest, with a beautiful trail running through it. Through extensive volunteer efforts, the Salt Spring Centre of Yoga has grown and flourished into a vital community with an organic farm, an independent elementary school, a flourishing karma yoga community and guests  from all over the world who come to take part in the Centre’s programs. Things look somewhat different now than they looked 30 years ago, but as Sharada Filkow, a long term resident at the Centre says, “the form has changed, but the foundation of karma yoga has remained the same.”

We look forward to sharing this celebration with the community. Please join us.

Hanuman Is Back!

Hanuman Olympics 1983
The Hanuman Olympics
was a revered tradition since the earliest days of the Annual Family Yoga Retreat at the Centre. Aptly named after the monkey hero of the Ramayana who is an embodiment of selfless service and strength, the Hanuman Olympics are a sports day with a yogic twist and is all about grown ups and kids having fun together under the summer sun.

Hanuman Olympics 1983
The tradition faded away a few years back as the original participants became busier running the Centre (not to mention older). But now, under the leadership of Piet Suess and his crew of enthusiastic karma yogis (of Capture the Flag fame) – Hanuman Olympics is back!

Continuing in the spirit of the original, it will feature all the old favourites: races for different ages, obstacle course, the famous sack fights and Tug of Peace – and more.

Start training now and come play!

What’s your favourite Annual Family Yoga Retreat memory? Share yours in the comments below!