My name is Jonathan Yates and I have been living at the Haidakhandi Universal Ashram for a number of years now. I first read about Babaji in “Autobiography of a Yogi” by Yogananda, but he seemed rather etherical, distant and vague to me. I was living in a small ashram in Columbia, MO, at that time. I had grown up in Central Missouri and, after graduating from high school, had moved into an Integral Yoga ashram of the Satchidananda tradition. Three other guys and I lived in a small house, practiced Hatha Yoga, and held chanting services morning and evening. There were other people from the community associated with it, but I never personally met Satchidananda. That’s when I read “Autobiography”. I took note of Babaji and liked the picture where He sits lotus-style, looking up at His third eye, but that was all.
I did not stay at that ashram very long, as I was young and needed a wider set of experiences. I was involved, for a while, in Steven Gaskin’s “The Farm,” living in a satellite community of about 30 or 40 people. But then I moved again. In a way I guess, I viewed the American culture as a dead end. It didn’t seem to hold a lot of promise to me. So I turned more to Native American culture and became involved in issues concerning native people. I especially keyed in on the Leonard Peltier case which is still going on. It seemed quite astonishing to me that something so blatantly unjust would go down in the official legal system of this country. Reading about the case and researching it, it seemed almost surreal to see the transparency of corruption involved -- how he was convicted and incarcerated for a crime he did not commit (killing two FBI agents). I was upset that society at large ignored the matter and felt that I should be “God’s eye on the scene,” so to speak, and take some responsibility for it. Unfortunately, this unjust situation continues, and Peltier has been imprisoned for about 30 years.
I first heard about the case in 1980 at the Black Hills Survival Gathering. There were many speakers addressing a number of Native American matters, and other environmental issues, such as nuclear power plants. I had been active in trying to prevent the construction of a nuclear power plant in Central Missouri, not just for environmental reasons, but because the mining of uranium, which is done mostly on tribal lands, involved Native American oppression and exploitation.
I followed the Leonard Peltier case rather closely and, in the autumn of 1984, I attended an evidentiary hearing in Bismarck, ND, along with many others, in order to show him support during the court proceedings. I never actually went into the courtroom, as it was small, but it was still an interesting event with many different speakers. We were housed in the gymnasium of the United Tribes School, a boarding school for Native Americans, operated by the tribes in a facility that had once been an internment camp for the Japanese citizens during WWII.
The speakers all had interesting, relevant things to say. One speaker was Margaret Gold (Sita Rami). She had first been representing Standing Deer, then Peltier as well, on religious human right issues. I had a chance to meet her, and was impressed by this contagiously energetic lawyer. While talking to her, I learned that she and her husband Rhade Shyam had spent time with Babaji at his ashram in India before Baba had left His body.
Leonard, Standing Deer and another inmate were transferred to a Federal prison in Springfield, MO, at that time, because Springfield had medical facilities. The inmates were on an extended fast to gain rights to Native American religious practice. The government wanted the leverage of medical options in dealing with the fasters, who continued fasting for about seven weeks. Margaret had moved to Springfield and begun practicing law on the inmates’ behalf. In 1985 the inmates were moved to Leavenworth, KS, and Margaret followed to Kansas City to continue her work for them. Rhade Shyam joined her there and this is where I met him. Before that, I had seen Margaret’s photo book on Babaji, but other than finding it interesting, I had not delved into it. But Rhade Shyam, just back from India, was working on a book on Babaji and I became more aware of Him. Sometime later, Rhade Shyam moved to Crestone to help other devotees start the ashram, and Margaret (Sita Rami) moved to Pittsburgh.
About that time I was also involved in the Navajo’s struggle at Big Mountain, AZ, where coal interests were trying to evict them from their ancestral lands. When visiting there, I’d sometimes stop in Crestone to see Rhade Shyam and he would show me around and orient me a bit. From the start I was fascinated by Crestone and the ashram -- its setting, the mysticality of the place -- and I kept thinking that I needed to come back for a longer period of time. This didn’t seem to happen very quickly. I came back for the nine-day festival of Navratri in the fall 1995. I returned in the fall of 1996 for Navratri, and stayed for 7 weeks. In 1997 I came back at summer solstice, just before Muniraj’s visit, and stayed on after that. By visiting Radhe Shyam at the ashram and reading ”I Am Harmony” I became familiar with the basic ideas of Baba’s recommended discipline of japa/karma yoga. Om Namah Shivaya.