Trial By Fire
The stay on the Bossier land turned out to be a trial by fire. Scorching in the daylight and numbingly cold at night, the yogis persevered as best they could. It was hardest for the mothers who had young children. For water, they beat the sand at the bottom of a dry riverbed and soaked up water in their towels for their children to drink.
For two days, the yogis meditated and survived in the heat and cold on that shadeless, shelterless land next to the highway while much of New Mexico drove by and watched. They must have looked like the pitiful victims of some terrible miscalculation. What were they doing – women, men and children – in that horrible heat?
There was an election going on. Robert Bossier, who ran a well-known restaurant not far away, was of one mind with Yogi Bhajan. They both recognized the need to do public relations for the yogis in the sand. The arrival of the potential governor provided a great opportunity to obviate any misunderstanding of who they were and exactly what they were up to. It was important that they not be associated with insurrection, any kind of crime, or illegal substances.
So it was that Bruce King, who would indeed become the next governor of New Mexico, was given a tour of the Solstice site. King, Bossier and Yogi Bhajan were all gentlemen and men of the world. A respectful camaraderie grew out of their meeting, though the candidate for governor could not bring himself to believe the sand yogis would survive a month in his state.
Then came the highway patrol. They had heard that subversive and possibly dangerous revolutionaries had set up a survival camp. The officers had been sent to keep an eye on them. This was the beginning of nearly endless harassment. The yogis were accused of breaking a fence, harassed for lighting fires at night in the riverbed, and for any imaginable infraction.
Word about the apparently hapless hippies also made its way to the mayor's office. He took pity on the poor strangers and disagreed with the police. "They are spiritual people," the mayor said, "and I will not let them die of thirst." He dispatched a tanker filled with water to the yogis in the sand.
Soon thereafter, someone started sending truckloads of watermelons. The big melons were a welcome sight for their thirst-quenching and nutritive value. Yogi Bhajan was quick to spoil the flavour of the luscious melons, however. He brought around a bucket of ground black pepper and scooped generous amounts on everyone's melons. Black pepper purified the blood, he said, and eliminated gas from the huge quantities of melon so readily consumed.
The melons also served another function. Some of the campers used the shells as handy head covers to deflect the scorching rays of the solstice sun.
Sit on your heels, arms in the air with the fingers locked together and the first finger up. Inhale and exhale deeply for two minutes.
Men chant "Ong" (Creator), women chant "Sohung" (I am Thou). After five minutes, relax for two minutes.
Assume the previous position and begin breath of fire for three minutes.
Stretch your legs out in front of you and bring your head to your knees for two minutes with normal breathing.
Spread the legs apart. Hold your heels. Breathe* easy for one minute. (*See Beginner's Notes.)
Sit in easy pose, legs crossed, spine straight, with the palms joined at the center of the chest. Chant: "Ek Ong Kar, Sat Nam, Siri Wahay Guru..." (June 16, 1970)
The Dedication of Guru Ram Das Ashram
In Los Angeles, while the Solstice Sadhana went on, that special day in the yearly solar cycle was celebrated in yet another way. The converted garage next to Jules Buccieri's antique shop at 8802 Melrose Avenue was about to receive an inspiring spiritual name
At Yogi Bhajan's instruction, the building with its high wooden rafters, hallowed over the previous months by the presence, hard efforts and blissful experiences of many seekers, was to become known as "Guru Ram Das Ashram."
Yogi Bhajan was a thankful and thoughtful teacher. He remembered well that night in Amritsar when he was but a boy and his father the doctor had despaired of relieving his fever and saving his tender life. It was Guru Ram Das who had appeared to Harbhajan in a dream and offered his remedy. And when, as a grown man, Harbhajan Singh had been bedeviled by his reliance on psychic powers, it had been Guru Ram Das who in the course of four and a half years of nightly washing the floors of the Golden Temple, had lifted the spell of Harbhajan's ego and made him whole.
So it was only fitting that the place where the Guru's messenger taught and inspired others should be named after the fourth Master in the holy Sikh lineage, the lord of grace and miracles.
Gerry Pond, who had contributed significantly to the renovation and upkeep of the designated ashram, returned from the Solstice in New Mexico just in time to share his music and the latest inspirations of Yogi Bhajan. Twenty-five people in all gathered to herald the dawn of that solstice morning in song and dedication.
Richard Lasser, whom Yogi Bhajan had just renamed "Baba Singh" consecrated the event with the reading of hymns of Guru Ram Das translated into English. At last, Gerry hung the beautifully-made wood and art metal sign over the door, and everyone celebrated heartily with a little feast for body and soul.
The Tenth Day of Solstice
By the tenth day of Solstice, it was time for the marriages. With Yogi Bhajan's encouragement, four couples came forward to take vows, Ganga being among them.
This time, the ceremony was different from the previous year. Yogi Bhajan's Sikh heritage was more in evidence. A Sikh prayer book known as "Gutka" provided the centerpiece around which the couples ceremoniously walked, hand in hand. The vows, composed by Guru Ram Das, were recited in poetic English for all to understand.
It was a clear blue New Mexico day, perfect for the wedding. Then, as so often happens in that area of the mountains, the weather changed very quickly. Soon, there was a storm blowing in. Then a violent rainfall, then the dry riverbed became a gushing torrent. And then the skies cleared again. The torrent subsided. Cactuses reached out their delicate blossoms. And the riverbed became almost as it was before.
The Solstice celebration was over. All that remained were the farewells and finding a way out of the sand trap they had put themselves in.
Lawton scouted the riverbed for a mile before locating a possible outlet onto the highway. A small business that sold stones for paving was located there. Having obtained the owner's permission, the gaily-coloured caravan of sand sadhus snaked its way along the riverbed and, to the stone seller's quiet astonishment, up the embankment, back to the world of pavement and long distances home.
The Atlanta Pop Festival
Lawton, for his part, had a special mission. After his weeks in Los Angeles with Yogi Bhajan, he had decided that if his teacher wanted him to be a teacher, then he would indeed be a teacher.
Having grown up in Florida, Lawton made his way to nearby Georgia. With him, he had ten dollars Ganga had given him, plus two pants and three shirts for his yogi wardrobe.
The grace of Guru Ram Das seemed to favour Lawton, who had driven to Solstice with Baba Singh and now had a ride in a VW van with a man and woman going to Atlanta. There was going to be a big rock festival an hour's drive south of the city and Yogi Bhajan was to give a talk there.
On July 5, Yogi Bhajan arrived. He was staying in a motel that had been rented out by the organizers of the rock festival. Lawton went out to see him and take in what he could.
One day, Lawton had a most memorable experience. His teacher was on the second floor balcony of the motel with his all hair down. Lawton could see how regal and majestic Yogi Bhajan looked with his mane full of hair. Around him, were the hippie organizers with newly uncropped hair peeking over their ears or just touching their shoulders. They were clearly in awe of the yogi in their midst, the yogi whose hair had never seen the cutting edge of a razor or a pair of scissors. (See HairInLaysTheTruth.com.)
Another time, Lawton just marveled at how the Master conducted himself in his busy motel room. A mirror over a sink was a prominent fixture of the furnishings, but in all the hours he sat with Yogi Bhajan, Lawton never once saw him even glancing into the looking glass. Like a spiritual sun, the Master shone consistently and selflessly. In his self-assurance, he never bothered to ponder or doubt his physical reflection.
Finally came the first day of the festival. Two hundred thousand people showed up. It was raucous and loud and often scantily clad. Yogi Bhajan's job was to take the stage and engage the young people's spirits, to give a blessing of sorts to the raw and restless Aquarian convention.
Yogi Bhajan had arranged for other luminaries as well to speak at the festival. Robert Bossiere, the métis restaurant-owner, had come from New Mexico to represent the First Nations spiritual tradition. Yogi Bhajan's friend, Swami Satchidananda, also joined him there, along with Christopher Hills of the World Yoga Society, Dadaji of the Ananda Marga, Swami Vishnu Devananda of the Sivananda Ashram, and one Yogi Amrit Desai. When their time came, each one of them took a few minutes to share their message, as the throng mostly politely listened.
After everyone else had spoken, Yogi Bhajan himself took to the stage. In simple words, he shared his dream of an Aquarian nation, healthy, happy and holy. Soon the entire crowd was on its feet, waving their arms, making "peace signs", swaying back and forth, chanting "Peace, Love, Peace, Love..."
Afterwards, Baba Singh asked Yogi Bhajan, "Sir, you've got to explain to me how you did what you did. You basically said the same things, in the same tone of voice, as the others. With your accent, you are even harder to understand than all those other people! So how was it that you could accomplish what you accomplished?"
Yogi Bhajan answered in a word, "Sadhana. A person who does sadhana every day has a power that nobody can match."
After the festival, Lawton stayed on. He made himself at home in the apartment of the festival organizer which was available with the final month's rent paid. Lawton the teacher moved in with some new yoga students and, by the Grace of Guru Ram Das, Harbhajan Singh Puri Ashram was begun. (See Guru Fatha Singh's, My Real Name, next. --
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