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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.