Founding Member Feature: Chandra
I met Babaji in 1974, in the attic room of Spruce Street House in Vancouver where so many of us assembled. As soon as I entered the room and saw him I knew that life would never be the same – it felt like stepping into another realm of existence. I felt very warm and as though I wanted to have no barriers of any kind between me and this beautiful, shining teacher. As a young person I was very devout. The impression I had upon meeting Babaji was that this was how I had imagined Jesus to be.
I had moved to Vancouver from eastern Canada because I had heard about the teachers arriving from Asia. I rented a house in Kitsilano at 14th and Yew, worked in social work and later taught school. My boyfriend and I were studying Tai Chi in Chinatown and he set up a Tai Chi studio in the basement of the house. We were married in 1975 in an Indian fire ceremony at the first Dharma Sara Satsang Society retreat which was held in White Rock. Some of Babaji’s students who are now part of the Mount Madonna community were there, including Janardan, Sita, Ratna and Radha. My relatives came from Nova Scotia and Ontario and Babaji did Indian stick dancing with Aunt Geri from the Annapolis Valley. Anand Dass, our dear yoga teacher and devoted student of Babaji’s conducted the ceremony, wearing Babaji’s hat. Everyone enjoyed the seventy pound carrot cake from the Naam restaurant, with the large and lovely OM symbol on top. We started having satsang at our home in Kits on Sunday afternoons, going to Abbotsford and then Aldergrove on alternate weeks.
The next two years Babaji and Ma Renu stayed at our home when they came for the retreats – Babaji used to come to be with the satsang in Vancouver before we all headed out to the retreat location. The house filled up for darshan – children, neighbours, satsangis. Babaji always liked the children best. I told Babaji that I felt as though there was something keeping my heart from opening fully. He looked at me and wrote, “It will open”. The experience of life became deeper, truer, more expansive; in a state of love because the unity of all became so undeniable.
This was the era of Oyama retreats at Camp Hatikva on Kalamalka Lake– there were large groups of children for childcare. As members of Dharma Sara we worked as a team with Babaji to put on the retreats and a few of us stayed up late at night laughing and talking with him in his room. Some of the experiences of that time reflect the Sufi saying, “You have to learn to love the sound of the ego screaming!” One day in summer 1977 I asked Babaji, “If there was one thing I could do to really improve my sadhana what would it be?” He slowly wrote one word on his chalkboard and circled it: CHILD. The next year Joseph Ramesh was born.
A few years later, before Ramesh’s third birthday, Babaji helped my husband and me to see that it was best that we separate. We had sought his counsel when we saw that our lives were going in different directions. He was firm that there was no point in being miserable. It was a surprising development but I knew he was right. Shortly after the separation I met Allan. Our first date was to a Passover service hosted by Sharada and Sudarshan! Allan was enchanted by kirtan and the members of satsang and little Ramesh. We celebrated our marriage at the Salt Spring Centre very soon after it was established. Kishori and Sharada were the bridesmaids and Nayana was the flower girl; Anuradha, Mayana and Madhab sang. Allan and I have now been married for thirty precious years.
The spring when I was planning to go to Yoga Teacher Training at Mount Madonna with Sharada, I became pregnant. Babaji said to come to the training anyway – it was a magical summer in California: Ramesh played on the foundations as the new community building was begun, and ‘baby inside’ enjoyed the teaching and the kirtan. That fall, Gabriel was born and Kalpana, Varuna and Heather Martin were there to greet him at his birth along with Ramesh, Allan and me.
The next few years when Babaji came to Vancouver he again stayed in our home, this time on West 15th at Blenheim in Kits where Allan and I lived with the children. Mayana and her daughter Radhika moved in to an apartment in our house. I was teaching post natal yoga classes at the Dunbar Community Centre and Allan was working in software development.
A change came once the Centre was purchased. Many satsangis moved from the Lower Mainland to Salt Spring Island and to Santa Cruz and I felt the absence of community. We traveled to the Centre often but work kept us in Vancouver. In 1987 we moved to Vernon in the Okanagan Valley, not far from Oyama. A spiritual community that Allan was connected to had located in Vernon, studying a tradition from the Caucasus, related to Sufism. We joined that community, found work and raised our children there. We have been in Vernon for 25 years. I remember once a person asking Babaji how to be closer to him. He replied, It will happen through regular sadhana. We kept in touch with our beloved Babaji through sadhana, letters, and visits to Santa Cruz and Salt Spring. Meanwhile we applied what we knew about karma yoga in community life. For example I served as a minister in our esoteric church for 12 years and Allan has played piano for Sunday services since 1988.
I worked for many years as Education Director of a college and found daily support in my work through application of yama and niyama. At University of Calgary I took a graduate degree with a focus on Spirituality in Higher Education. A key text was Paramhansa Yogananda’s The Essence of Self Realization as well as materials from other traditions. One outcome was an even stronger commitment to Babaji and the profound gift of sadhana. Babaji shone light on the teachings of classical ashtanga yoga for us all and gave us a path for life. He told us, teach to learn. It is so clear that the Guru dwells in the heart.
In 2006 Allan and I travelled to India to Sri Ram Ashram while Babaji was there and visited the Kumaon district where he was born. Then in 2009 Gabriel and I spent a month with Babaji at the ashram and travelled into northern India. It is hard to describe how engaging, rewarding, and intensely enjoyable it is to be with the children at Sri Ram and how strong is the pull to return!
Our children, now adults, are students of Babaji’s. They understand spiritual values and community bonds. For all of us the Salt Spring Centre has been a place for deepening family connections through sadhana, for darshan with Babaji, and for satsang. At the 2009-2010 New Year’s Retreat at Mount Madonna, Gabriel met dear Emily, the daughter of long-time students of Babaji’s. They married earlier this year and participate in the Vancouver satsang with Divakar.
When I retired from my job I was elected to serve on the Board of Dharma Sara Satsang Society. I feel a deep connection with the Centre and see that the help of many is needed to keep it fresh and alive – it is truly about the synergy of selfless service, sadhana, and satsang. What a blessing to be part of Dharma Sara community!