Our History

Community Life of Practice

Although Mount Madonna Center opened in 1978 the story begins much earlier. Like all good stories it has several motifs that contribute to its richness.

Baba Hari Dass arrived from India to California in 1971, invited to teach yoga by young Americans who represent the generation of seekers and idealists now known as the Baby Boomers and sponsored by a UCD Art Professor who recognized the need to cultivate peaceful 

strategies in those turbulent times. So, the first motif is Babaji’s inspiration and teaching.

Babaji is silent, disciplined, loving, and fiercely committed to supporting virtuous life through yoga teachings. He inspired all who met him to practice self-development for the good of the whole. He told us that, “As soon as you say, ‘I want to be a better person’ that is the beginning of yoga.”

Babaji Water Tank
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The second motif is America itself. Our history of volunteerism, tolerance of religious diversity and support for the spiritual quest, our ever re-occurring communitarian movement, and the questioning of authority and defiance of hypocrisy that were hallmarks of the ‘60’s and ‘70’s. Young Americans of the time wanted to live peaceful lives in harmony with nature and with one another. We wanted to create a Center where yoga could be taught and practiced, and where our values could be put into practical action.

The third motif is the synergy of the dynamic forces at play. What exceptional creativity and surprise arose from a community of practice coalescing around karma yoga (yoga of selfless service), forged in the fire of compromise, passionately applying naïve idealism to important practical challenges, and set in a gorgeous rainforest on a beautiful mountain with a view of the Monterey Bay!

“To build a rock wall, you need big rocks, small rocks, pebbles and dirt”

teaches us to accept all and value each person’s contribution.

From 1971-73 many people, mostly in their 20s, gathered around Babaji to learn yoga. His definition of yoga includes classical Ashtanga Yoga as a philosophical umbrella for methods (such as postures and breathing, meditation and concentration practices), for living a virtuous life (as explained in the tenets of yama and niyama), for self-development through selfless service, education, work, art, and play. We practiced as individuals; we worked as a group to host yoga retreats and perform the ancient teaching parable Rāmāyaṇa.

In the process of working together we realized we needed a place that could hold all of our activities and allow us to join together in building and supporting a spiritual life. A Land Steering Committee was formed that guided discussions concerning mission, ownership, financing, and 

organization. Our mission was to be a container for personal transformation through spiritual quest, intentional community and service. There would be no private ownership. Financing would be done internally. Organization would be based on collaborative models.

The search for land to build a Center started in 1974. We searched throughout Northern and Central California for two years. The old Chamberlain Ranch was found in 1976 and after its purchase was negotiated another two years were spent in County proposals and public permit hearings. In 1978 our Rezoning to Recreation/Timber Preserve, our Organized Camp Permit, and permission to develop Phase 1 and 2 of our optimistically ambitious Three-phase 12-year plan was granted. Nearly 40 years later we are working to complete Phase 1!

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In the fall of 1978 a family of four, a couple, and a single man moved onto the property owned by the non-profit Hanuman Fellowship as its first stewards. Work, study, practice and programs started immediately with Babaji and volunteers joining three days a week. Babaji taught Yoga Sutras, Ayurveda, and meditation. He and Fellowship volunteers worked side by side to build new structures, repair old ones, fix the roads and water systems, tend to the forest, make rock walls to create flat land, create program offerings for the public and organize life into a rhythm of yoga practice and study, selfless work, group play, and community events.

Our learning curve was very steep. Living in nature, in community, was not the peaceful idyllic dream we imagined. We learned that if we were to succeed we would need to communicate, compromise, cooperate, work hard, respect different natures, and become kind. The challenges seemed too much at times. Yet we were guided by the practical and loving presence of a yoga master in whose calm yet energetic presence no task seemed too hard and no one seemed unworthy.

Perhaps our biggest learning was to accept that what we had planned and anticipated was not what developed. In this learning we became open to the possibilities that could develop. As a result we can be amazed and appreciate all that has developed.

“Communication is the root of all problems, compromise is the root of all solutions”

teaches us to share ourselves, develop our voice, and look for collaborative solutions.