Babaji with Makaan Singh 1979-2003
“Bewilderment to Surrender”
What keeps becoming true for me over the years of yoga study, like an illusive peekaboo moon, is that my true self is beyond my mind and when I let go of doing and trying, it is waiting within. Babaji began cracking this de-lusionary mind in many ways. I seem to need daily reminders or I get inflated with ego.
When I went to see Babaji in '79 and '82 I was a young foolish artisan believing I was a yogi. At 31, even though I had been meditating, studying yogasana, and living in intentional communities for years, I knew little of true Indian thought or devotional life. As a successful artist, it was easy for me to look back at my many spiritual high's and feel like a special person to be treated like a special person. Babaji changed all that illusion and he keeps on my illusion game to this day. Whatever I am passionate about usually proves to be illusion. The testing of my spirit continues, especially when teaching or working. Babaji named me Makaan Singh which literally means butter lion. Makaanji, which I often was referred to in Herakhan, is another name of Krishna, the child butter thief. What I learned from Babaji, and studying Yoga philosophy was the same; So what if you know what bliss is like. Get to work. So what if you feel special. So What, everything is special, everything is sacred. Get to work. Let go of desires, power and relationship bliss and get to work giving your gifts. This is the same thing my own father told me, and I rejected, as a teen. If I get to thinking I am Krishna, I know a surprise is coming.
I will share some personal Babaji stories from Herakhan: Babaji first put me to work on the cave side, painting one of the new Temples. There were six at that point. When I reported to work under a Swiss man named Sundar Singh, I told him I was a successful artist potter. He told me with a smile, " Yes and I am a medical doctor in my country". In the first few days in Herakhan I spent time drawing the temples and landscape. I asked Babaji through an interpreter if he wished me to draw something for him. He looked at me and said " No nothing" and I knew immediately it was time for me to get to karma yoga of his choosing. After a month or so I figured out a photographic composition on the river with the main temple in the back ground. I waited awhile with my camera, one warm afternoon as Babaji and his entourage came across the river, into my composition. Just as he got close enough and was about to cross the water, he stopped everyone and just looked at me. It took me a few moments to realize what he was asking me for. Shortly, I bowed low, he brighten up and posed. After all, a photographer does not own what he is shooting.
Later on my second trip to Herakhan I was fortunate to catch Babaji alone in a new spring garden on cave side. He did not see me as I approached behind some vines. He was dancing like an excited child, prancing from flower to flower to express his joy for each of the plants’ beauty. I was stunned to see these nimble, childlike antics coming from his large round body. I stopped and bowed. He stopped, came over and said "You, go to eat". I knew this dance was not just for the flowers; I never let myself put down my own wonderment again.
That spring I was given the management and head cook position of the infamous "Italian Restaurant". It was a tea and soup shop on the cave side. I was soon way busy, baking bread, curdling yogurt, cooking soups in primitive adobe wood stove and oven. After about a month of success I was told to close the shop in preparation for the coming monsoon rains. I had just spent all of the shop’s money, and some of mine, on food for the shop, and was rather upset about what to do with it and the debt I had incurred. So I told Babaji about this debt, not knowing what to do and feeling depressed. Later that night Babaji announced that every one was to come to my shop the next day and buy food from me for gifts. Sure enough many of the European devotees came and bought fruit and veggies for themselves and as gifts for Babaji to distribute. I met many wonderful devotees that day and felt Babaji`s community spirit through all of them. Someone even bought a huge gunny sack full of peanuts for the villagers. The shop broke even in the end. There are many stories like this in which Babaji showed us simple ways of working together, simply. Time and time again I watched him create intimate exchanges showing his love of each one of us. I began to think of him as a personal friend, and as a leader that I was fond of for the way in which he kept authentic human moments spontaneous and fun. Even though the work of the Ashram kept its punctuality, Babaji was a master of surprise and intimacy, moving from spot to spot, creating little groups for snippets of authenticity. I will never forget him sitting amidst dogs and children laughing and joking and giving gifts, for hours. I will never forget seeing him in a chariot with a few of his rich devotees who brought the horse and carriage. They were bumping along the rocky riverbed trails laughing loudly. In many ways it seemed Babaji transcended the role of spiritual teacher, but there he was every morning, before dawn, giving chandan personally and performing fire offerings like he had for decades.
I miss Herakhan very much but have never had the money to return. I did, however, have the fortune of living at an Ashram of his in Hawaii. I began my drumming and yoga teacher career in a humble way there. I also helped with the beginning of the Ashram in Colorado. Marriage and artistic pursuits got the best of me in the 90"s and I lost my connection to devotional life for a decade. I was practicing Native American Rituals and studied Vision Questing with John Milton in Crestone. Eventually, repeated quests and the yoga I practiced in the wilderness, gave me a clear message that I had unmistakable gifts and I needed to start teaching. Then in my first Yoga teacher training I had the realization that I was wrong about it not being possible for me to incorporate devotional life into a city householder existence. Then in my study of yoga therapy and its philosophy, I was brought back to a kinship with my old Guru from Herakhan. Much of the history of yoga reaffirmed for me Babaji’s lifestyle of spontaneity with the free thinking, forest dwelling sages of ages past. Babaji continues to be an inspiration for me to get out of my limited mind and let myself be in the radiance of each moment.
Makaan Singh Michael Burt,