About an hour’s drive north of San Francisco and a stone’s throw from the ocean, nestled on a 250-acre ecologically diverse land in the town of Tomales, is the Blue Mountain Center of Meditation, known as Ramagiri to its residents.
Some ashrams scream opulence; others whisper exclusivity. The Blue Mountain Center of Meditation (BMCM) does neither. It invites you with a come-as-you-are message and is as low-key as its residents. It is only as you turn off the Tomales-Petaluma Road and on to the access road leading to the ashram that you realize you have arrived at a place where you can renew your connection to yourself and to nature.
Sightings of deer and rabbits are not uncommon, and the constant twitter of birds fills the grounds. The erstwhile chapel is filled with an energy that comes from years and years of meditation practiced within its walls by spiritual seekers.
Organic farming is practiced here, and the harvested fruits and vegetables take care of the bulk of the needs of the residents and the guests who visit for special events, including “seva” days.
Manicured lawns surround the samadhi of the founder of the ashram, Shri Eknath Easwaran. A single verse from the 18th chapter of the Bhagavad Gita, a book he often turned to, is inscribed on it.
In the 30 or so years that Kerala-born Shri Easwaran lived in the ashram, he taught a timeless eight-point program of passage meditation that has attracted a broad swath of seekers from different faiths, and even those from no particular faith at all.
Simple and yet profound, the program, which he first introduced on the UC Berkeley campus in 1960, offers a way of life that provides calm and security in an increasingly complex world. So responsive were the Berkeley students to his talks that Shri Easwaran soon found himself teaching what is believed to be the first accredited course in meditation at any leading university in the world.
The greatest appeal of the program is that it has an approach that is nondenominational, non-sectarian and free from dogma and ritual. It can be used within each person’s own cultural and religious background to relieve stress, heal relationships, release deeper resources, and realize one’s highest potential.
Best of all, the eight-point program supports a spiritual life that does not have to clash with professional ambition. In fact, a number of the ashram residents hold day jobs. India-born Abhijeet Dubashi is one of them.
Born and raised in a very tradition-bound family, Dubashi says that after he read Shri Easwaran’s Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living while a graduate student at the University of Texas some 10 years ago, “at an intense time in my life.” And after he attended a couple of weekend retreats at the Blue Mountain Center, he felt he was on a trajectory to the spiritual path.
“The eight-point program, which includes the daily two half-hour meditation sessions and mantram chanting has given a lot of structure to my life,” observes Dubashi who, after a five-year stint at as an electrical engineer at Texas Instruments, switched jobs a couple of years ago so he could be near the ashram. “I find myself working in great harmony with my colleagues, and working for the good of the company.”
Shri Easwaran’s students have recorded 4,500 of his talks, all delivered with gentle humor and in impeccable English. From them have emerged around 26 books – The Bhagavad Gita for Daily Living; Conquest of the Mind; Strength in the Storm; Take Your Time: Finding Balance in a Hurried World; Dialogue with Death and Passage Meditation, to name a few. Languages in which his books are currently in print include English, Bahasa Indonesian, Greek, Hungarian, Italian, Spanish, Dutch, French, Romanian and Telegu. A 2007 edition of his translation of the Bhagavad Gita has become the top-selling title in its field.
Even after his passing in 1999, Shri Easwaran’s teachings – a cornucopia of wisdom drawn from Buddhism, Hinduism, Sufism, Christianity and mystics of every faith, are as vibrant and relevant as when he gave them out. His wife, Christine, continues to be a prominent force in the work and life of the BMCM.
The simplicity and practicality of his writings is what caught the attention of Berkeley resident Shobha Menon Hiatt as she began reading his books nearly five years ago. As she puts it: “He has taken the wisdom from different scriptures, removed their abstractions and made it very practical. When I first read one of his books, I said to myself: ‘Oh, I can to that.’”
Boston-based physician Dr. Shashi Dwaraknath echoes that sentiment. “I read his book on meditation and immediately felt that something was now within my reach,” says Dwarakanath, who first met Shri Easwaran in 1995, when he was nearly 85 years old.
Dwaraknath is active in the Boston chapter of the Chinmaya Mission. She says the book resonated so deeply with her that “passage meditation seemed like something that would suit my temperament.”
She attends at least two spiritual retreats in Tomales each year. The eight-point program “recharges me and helps me be more effective in my work for the Chinmaya Mission,” she says.
Throughout the year, the BMCM holds spiritual retreats in different parts of the country, as well as in the United Kingdom. Some run for just a day, some for two, others for as long as a week. The northern California retreats are held in the retreat house, about a mile from Ramagiri. Experienced passage meditators from the ashram facilitate them. Young adults have their own retreats, and those over 65 have theirs.
A free seminar is being planned ifor the Bay Area this month, and another one will take place in September.
The seminars will be led by experienced passage meditators, and held in a relaxed, peaceful and welcoming atmosphere. Participants will hear how ordinary people in different contexts are practicing passage meditation in their daily lives, and how it is helping them in their relationships, home, and workplace.
This is a perfect first step for anyone who is considering attending a passage meditation retreat, starting their own practice, or are simply curious about what passage meditation is like.
There are no prerequisites, no pre-registration and no preparation is needed. You can just show up on the day, promptly at 10:30 a.m. Remember, it’s a come-as-you-are party, as Shri Easwaran would say.