Founding Member Feature: Girija
I was born into a very loving family, in Montreal, Quebec. It was my parents’ influence that gave me the inspiration to explore life. In that atmosphere, and from a very young age, I met quite a few spiritual teachers, some pure, some not so pure. Some of these popular teachers got caught up in sexual experiences with their followers. Very quickly I could see through the game they were playing; that was not what I was looking for in a teacher.
I had a sense of what I wanted, having been exposed to Eastern philosophy from an early age, and gravitated toward it very quickly.
I came to BC in the early 1970s. I knew of Baba Hari Dass from Ram Dass’ book, ‘Be Here Now’, and knew that he was a teacher of repute. I was told Babaji was in California, so I headed to San Francisco. The man who gave me a ride to the airport couldn’t find the address where Babaji was staying, but when I jumped out of the car to catch the plane, I found the address under my foot! I hitchhiked up to Davis and managed to find my way to the house of Ma Renu, the woman who sponsored Babaji to come to North America. Unfortunately they had just left the day before for a retreat in Santa Rosa. Here I was, nineteen years old, hitchhiking by myself, not knowing where I was going – and I just missed him – so I headed back to San Francisco, then hitchhiked back to BC.
I was living a wild life, with no restrictions from my family, doing whatever I wanted. I don’t know how my parents managed me, but my mom would rein me in whenever I’d show up, and she’d tell me about the benefits of meditation over LSD.
There were several of us living communally in Belcarra Park, up Indian Arm, BC. That’s where I met Alan (later Shankar). A group of us were running Manna Natural Foods in Burnaby, living in a big house, but that’s a whole other story. After many adventures exploring raw foods, living in Mexico and Guatemala, always following our interest in spirituality and health, we ended up at the Swami Sivananda Ashram in Quebec, taking our Yoga Teacher Training at the same time as Janaki and Raghunath (then Penny and Rodney). Having been there twice before with my mother, at age 12 and then 14, I knew the teachings there were pure.
In 1974 I finally met Babaji, and that’s when he gave me the name Girija. I knew I could trust him and that he was a true yogi (along with Swami Sivananda and Swami Vishnudevananda). There was no need for me to search anymore; I had come home. I could talk with Babaji so easily.
Over the years I’ve had four children, and all of them have been part of the love that I’ve received from everyone in my whole life, including Babaji. I’ve been fortunate to have him, and others, to show an example of living according to the principles I believe in, Ashtanga Yoga and Ayurveda, and other forms of the Vedic philosophies, passed down throughout the ages. With the guidance of my teachers, Babaji in particular for the past 38 years, I’ve been shown how we can live in this world. I consider Babaji my spiritual teacher, but I don’t put him up on a pedestal; he always taught that the guru is within us. If we live by the principles of Ashtanga Yoga, we will eventually become aware of who we are, our true selves, the true guru within us all. That’s the message I always receive from Babaji.
It doesn’t matter what you do in this life; it’s how you do it. That’s the essence of what yoga tries to teach us, and Babaji exemplifies this. Babaji supported me and encouraged me in pursuing my natural inclinations to study health care in one form or another, and introduced me to Ayurveda. I’ve studied western herbology, Native American herbology and Ayurveda. My interest in alternative medicine is a deep karmic thing; my father was a very good medical doctor and a medicine man in a deeper sense. When I’m helping others in their health pursuits, it’s a deeply satisfying feeling.
In the 1990s, I was a paramedic, teaching yoga and preparing ethnobotanical gardens for the native community in Alert Bay, tree planting, doing triathlons and raising four kids. We lived in a small community, and help was needed on BC Ferries, so they hired me. I was working for the ferries and part time as a paramedic (not to mention all the other stuff), plus I had enrolled in nursing school, which Babaji had suggested for years. So what did I do? I became a marine engineer!
All in all, I have found the basic understanding of one’s self is the most important. No matter how many marriages, children, and careers I’ve had, mountains I’ve skiied, retreats I’ve attended in the jungles of South India, looking into how I conduct my life, ‘self inquiry’, is paramount. Understanding gratitude, learning from each experience, good or bad, that is my journey. Allowing the Truth of who I am, not the person next to me, but MYSELF, is the greatest gift I can give to humanity. When one sees the Truth of your own Realized Self, you will always shine and give, naturally. This is what Babaji has allowed me to witness through His example.
I am honoured to have known Baba Hari Dass and wish only to continue developing myself to allow my inner Truth to reveal itself and bring me back to my natural state, Self Realized Awareness. With that knowledge I can never judge, nor never criticise, and only support and love all, no matter where I live, work or play. This was Babaji.
My involvement at the Centre has always revolved around the teaching of Ayurveda. I still enjoy working as a marine engineer, I enjoy the people I work with, and I’m also still studying, practicing and teaching Ayurveda. Ayurveda and Ashtanga Yoga are my life.
I hope I will have the pleasure of meeting everyone, again, at the Salt Spring Centre.
Om Shanti Om,