Love is really all there is.
story David Bolling
Babaji is dressed in white, sitting comfortably cross-legged in the peaceful, pastel interior of his residence on the grounds of Sonoma Ashram.
The conversation is close to Christmas and is about love — not romance, but the real thing.
There is an easy silence in the room as he frames his thoughts.
Finally he says, “There are so many levels of love. The highest form is seeing the self in all. That is the highest form of love.”
But clearly, not the most common.
“Then we’ve got this worldly love,” he says. “I love you, you love me; as long as you get what you expect from me, then you love me. And if you don’t, then we go our ways. So that’s almost like a transactional love. We try to fill our emptiness by bringing someone else in our life. And we call it ‘love.’
“The highest love is really understanding, on a deeper level, that I’m not separate from you.”
Babaji suggests a metaphor of the sun reflecting in a large mirror.
“When that big piece of mirror breaks into thousands of smaller pieces, each piece begins to reflect the sun in its fullness. The divine presence is in each individual, and that is the common thread that unites us all.”
It may be the defining challenge of the human condition that most of us are trapped in the experience of our individual selves without the password, the pathway, the patience or the practice of surrendering our solo identities.
“On one level,” says Babaji, “we have our identities, our stories that we call ‘me.’ But on another level we are all the same. So yes, living a human life, we have our stories, and we have our identities, we go on living. But we are very blessed when we stop, take a step back, take a deep breath, and recognize our oneness. And that is love. That’s divine love.”
Hearing this, you may be compelled to respond that all major religions and spiritual teachings have a similar message, and yet we remain so deeply divided, so not connected in that divine union.
Babaji agrees. “All the different traditions, religions — they are based on love. The essence, the teaching of every tradition is that. But we have begun to worship the kettle and forgot drinking the tea. So how do we bring this on a practical level?
“It begins with the self, self-love. It becomes a lot easier to love the other when I’m feeling good, content, and settled within myself.”
But there may be a spiritual and existential Catch 22 here because many of us — perhaps most — will argue, ‘Well and good, but how do I do that? How do I feel better about myself?’
“Mm-hmm,” intones Babaji. “How do I feel good about myself? Well, it’s time for a change of the season, a new year is coming. So, looking at my habits, looking at how I spend my time, what can I do toward the betterment of my health and personal peace? That’s where we begin. When I’m settled within myself I have much more tolerance for others, I’m less judgmental, and I’m able to appreciate diversity. So in my opinion, if we really want to work on love, it has to begin with the self.”
And there’s the rub. Because in Western culture when we want to achieve something, we organize, we create strategies and programs, action plans and political solutions, activities that take us outside ourselves.
To which Babaji responds, “No matter how hard we work outside, unless our foundation is strong enough, we keep changing strategies, and we keep changing programs, and we are just busy being busy. I’m a firm believer in [the precept]that if we want to change the world, we have to change ourselves first — personal responsibility. As we see all over the world, people are fighting in the name of religion, dividing. Mostly, those fighting in the name of religion are so much on the surface. Had they done any self-inquiry, self-reflection, gone a little deeper, they would realize that love is the only way for peace and prosperity and happiness. We have enough that we can share.
“And,” he adds emphatically, “we don’t just talk about it and participate in groups. I think some very tangible actions are very important on each individual level. In this holiday season, this month is really a month of love, when Jesus was born. His whole life was about love. If we are able to forgive someone who may have done some harm to us, that is being proactive toward love. Able to forgive someone, accept someone for who they are, this kind of action not only brings a change in my life, it brings a change in society. Everybody who reads your magazine on love this season, if they took one action of love on the individual level, it could bring about the shift.”
This is, Babaji seems to suggest, not unlike what physics calls a “phase transition,” the kind of process that creates superconductivity.
“You see,” he continues, “every action that we take, a vibration occurs, our body emits that kind of vibration, and that vibration goes and touches many. We get overwhelmed by so much darkness out there, but even one little act of compassion and kindness and forgiveness, dispels that darkness. A room is filled with darkness, you strike a match, instantly the whole room lights up. One individual action may not create news big enough to write about, but it does bring about change on a very subtle level.
“And,” he continues, “this time of year, with the spirit of Christmas, it’s on everybody’s mind, they want to bring some change in their life, so the energy is already there. It just needs to be focused a little bit, and it will work like the wind behind the sail.”
Babaji, known more formally as Baba Harihar Ram, founded Sonoma Ashram in 1991 to demonstrate the principles and teachings of Aghor yoga, a thousand-year-old spiritual tradition from northern India. Part of the Aghor tradition is that the guru, or teacher, is easily accessible to the students, and that tradition is regularly demonstrated at Sonoma Ashram where Babaji is regularly on site and available for visits.
“We are totally committed to bringing peace to each individual,” he says. “To explore on their personal level, through meditations, and we teach meditation classes for free. Anybody can just come and start the New Year.”
The ashram is approved by the county judicial system as one of the places people can perform court-mandated community service.
“We have lots of young people coming here who have done some small [crimes], and after they’ve finished their hours they often say, ‘Can I come back?’ I ask them, ‘Why?’ and they say, ‘Well, the love and respect that you guys show here, I have never experienced that.’ Sometimes even one little instance like that can bring about a shift in a person’s life. And this is what the whole purpose of the ashram is, really, to bring each individual to that kind of work. That love.”
In a world divided politically, geographically, economically, and even spiritually, the simple acts of love Babaji describes emerge as humanity’s best strategic defense. Adversity, he says, triggers a natural response to be reactive.
“Instead of reacting, can we respond? And what will be a proper response? If you attack, the attack will come back 10 times more. So that’s not going to help. And being passive is not going to help. But we have some beautiful traditions of expressing love, like feeding the poor and taking care of the homeless and helping those in need. These are beautiful rituals of love. Whenever we engage in such acts, it always opens up our heart.”
Sonoma Ashram is located at 1087 Craig Avenue, Sonoma. Call 707.996.8915, or go to sonomaashram.org.