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At The Feet of The Yogi
By Kirpal S. Khalsa, Ph.D.

Chapter Eight
Maharaj Ashram

The ashram was named after one of Yogiji’s teachers, Sant Virsa Singh Maharaj. This teacher gave Yogiji some of the mantras used in yoga classes and was instrumental in Yogiji’s coming to America. During early yoga classes a framed picture of a standing Virsa Singh’s rested next to Yogiji’s meditation picture on the altar. In time Yogiji would break with this teacher and his presence disappeared from our story.


Sant Virsa Singh Maharaj

The Ashram consisted of 11 acres of New Mexican high desert with a south/west face and no visible neighbors. Juniper and pinion shrubs, prickly pear cactus and sage brush dotted the rolling hills in a vast panorama where the desert met the blue mountains in the distance. The air was so pure that distances were deceiving. The mountain peaks to the west were a good forty miles away but it looked like I could easily walk there.

Dawson had invested in a well, pump, water tank, generator, a system of pipes and water spigots, goat pen, a large rotor-tiller and an eight by thirty-five foot trailer. It was well set up for the basics but quite rustic. One acre was an abundant organic garden. Tents, tepees and a small dome housed an assortment of hippy/yogis who called the ashram home. We did our morning sadhana in the dry sandy wash at the bottom of the property.

Besides Dawson, Karen and I, our group consisted of Cosmos Lovejoy, a balding hippy from Colorado who was Dawson’s right hand man, Danny a recent escapee from Hog Farm commune in Taos, Martha, a beautiful women from Quebec, Jim a philosophy graduate student and his wife Krishna, a spacey flower child from Los Angeles and Ginger a young woman who seemed to float on air. Andy and Bill, my good friends from Tucson, arrived in Bill’s VW van a couple of weeks after me. There were others. People tended to show up, stay a while then disappear. Most residents were mid-twenties to mid-thirties. At eighteen, I was the kid.

Of course Karen was my age but she was Dawson’s wife and ashram mother. I recalled her from my high school days in Tucson. She was a very quiet, hippy looking girl who did not hang out with the other hippy types. I could not figure her out. She was from my neighborhood and rode the same school bus as I. I sat in the very back of the bus with the other cool dudes. She sat near the front by herself. She never said anything to anybody. I wrote her off as a kook. But one day I saw her on the back of a huge motorcycle with a very cool dude driving. He was older, had long hair, a handlebar mustache and hip clothes. Whoa, I thought, she hangs out with cool dudes who are out of my league. She later told me that the cool dude was Dawson.

Dawson fit my ideal of a yoga teacher. First, he looked like a yogi. He was tall with long blond hair, wore beautiful white Indian yoga clothes and spoke with a knowledge and authority that was well beyond his years as a practicing yogi. Second he could wrap himself in knots, hold difficult positions forever and he loved it. He often ended his classes with songs and mantras accompanied by his guitar. When not teaching he dressed in work clothes, oversaw the various projects at the ashram and joined the rest of us in whatever was on the day’s schedule.

I remember a couple from Los Angeles showed up one day dressed in beautiful white kurtas – traditional Indian shirts. They had met Dawson at a yoga workshop and were interested in moving into the ashram. Dawson crawled out from under the flatbed truck dressed in stained overalls and covered in dirt and oil. Most of the rest of us were in similar states of dishevel. I had spent most of the day irrigating the garden. The poor yoga students were shocked. I guess they expected us all to be perfect yogis, immaculately dressed, meditating from dawn to dusk and living in the bliss. Needless to say, they did not stick around.

A couple weeks after I arrived, Yogiji visited the ashram. There was no place for him to stay on the land so he was hosted in Pojoaque with Sam and Robin, two of Dawson’s early students. As Dawson showed him around the property, I followed along at a safe distance. I realized what a large man he was. He towered over Dawson who was himself quite tall. With his large turban, black beard, linebacker-like physique and pure white robes he looked like a giant. Yet he walked delicately on the uneven ground in little white Dr. Scholl sandals that somehow stayed on his feet.
At one point he asked for a glass of water. Dawson dashed the fifty yards to the trailer as if he were on fire and dashed back with the water. Wow, I thought. What devotion. If he had asked me I probably would have objected to being asked in the first place, wandered down, found something to eat and eventually returned with the water. I had a lot to learn about this teacher thing.

Next day we all went up to Truchas to visit Tom and Lisa Law. During the sixties they were in the middle of the counterculture movement, helping the bands in the San Francisco psychedelic music scene, hanging out with Ken Kesey and the Merry Pranksters and later, living in the New Buffalo Commune in Taos. Now settled in Truchas they were raising a family and working the land with organic farming. They were two of Yogiji’s earliest students who featured prominently in the Movie “Woodstock”, where Tom taught Kundalini Yoga. Many years later Lisa would document their adventures in a beautiful book called “Flashing on the Sixties”.

In typical rural New Mexico fashion their spread was quite rustic. They had a modestly comfortable adobe house, a couple of ramshackle outbuildings, several pieces of farm machinery, including and old Ford tractor, all surrounded by twenty acres or so of cultivated land. A group of mostly naked children ran around completely unfazed by arrival of so many guests.

We from the ashram dressed in our best yogic whites to accompany the Yogi in his entourage. We were met by a wide assortment of Truchas locals, mostly hippie types, many in their work clothes who came in right from the fields. Tom and Lisa hosted this motley crowd with grace, served a delicious lunch from their garden and welcomed Yogiji to their home.

Dennis Hopper of recent “Easy Rider” fame and a couple of other Hollywood types were visiting. I expected to meet the very cool Billy from the movie. Instead he looked pretty much like a drugged out hippie but with slightly higher quality clothes.

        
Dennis Hopper
May 17, 1936 - May 29, 2010

Yogiji met with them inside the house. How very exciting I thought. If he plays this right we could get some very famous students. Yogiji, of course, had other plans.

“Are you something special?” he said pointedly to Hopper, his eyes fixed.

Hopper shrugged.

“Don't think I don't see you. You’re just a little shit. But you think you’re important.”

Jeez, I thought. Give the guy a chance. Hopper squirmed uncomfortably. Yogiji was not done. “How much longer are you going to piss your life away before you get it together?”

Hopper sat there stunned. “I’m not pissing my life away,” he said weakly.

“Do you think God put you on this earth to screw around?”

“I don’t know.”

“Why, not,” said Yogiji as he bit into a slice of peach.

Hopper did not answer. Yogiji began talking to Lisa Law in a warm and conversational tone. In my very limited understanding, Yogiji definitely did not play it right. Hopper sat there like a chastened child.

That was so heavy I thought. I wondered if Yogiji would apologize for his rude words or at least say something nice to make him feel better.

Oh man, was I young and dumb.

This was my first experience of seeing the Saturn teacher at work. His words were confrontational, challenging and even threatening. There was nothing nice about it. Yogiji was the hammer. Hopper’s ego was the nut. When the hammer came down two outcomes were possible: the nut either cracked or scooted away.

As we were leaving, Yogiji called Hopper over. He held on to his hand and spoke gently. “God has given you a beautiful opportunity this lifetime. Serve others and He will serve you.”

We never saw Hopper again. He went through a few years of burning the candle at both ends. Eventually he became one of Hollywood’s most respected actors bringing integrity and spiritual values into his work and his personal life. Whether his brief encounter with Yogiji had anything to do with his later awakening is mere speculation.
-- Chapter 9 is next.

      

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