In the early 1970s, Seigler Hot Springs, California was the site of the first Integral Yoga Ashram. It was called Yogaville West and it was inhabited by a ragtag motley group—including me—who became the first ashram residents there. Some folks were pretty grounded (and I would put myself in that category). Others had certain specific skill sets like carpentry or welding, but had emotional issues that were incomprehensible. I came to realize that our Guru, Swami Satchidananda, would often look forward to pair people up on projects who totally did not get along. He would call it, “Rubbing and scrubbing.” This was how you would learn to get along and resolve your issues.
I remember once standing between the blade of a machete and an argument with one of the ashramites. Another time, during a silent retreat, I had four karma yogis stirring a huge pot of stew from burning and one such mad man came bursting into the kitchen screaming and yielding a machete. I don’t even remember how I quelled that situation. It could have ended in 3rd degree burns and lawsuits as well as an arrest! Thankfully, it all ended peacefully.
When I showed up at Seigler Springs, I had a smorgasbord of skills. I had studied general and polarity massage, I was a trained para-therapist, I was an exceptional baker and cook, and married to Ranjani who was even better than me in the baking and cooking skill set. I had been the director of the Integral Yoga Institute in Berkeley and was a trained Yoga teacher and meditator. I felt Ranjani and I had a lot to offer the community.
As soon as we got to Seigler Springs, it was my strong feeling that we are moving into a very conservative community. So, we would need to be very discreet with our hippie and Yoga ways. We considered various ways to do this: be part of the volunteer fire department and Elks Lodge, etc. We could have a public open house and invite the community. We should start small, so as not to overwhelm the local residents—perhaps begin with just a few carpenters, plumbers and electricians and a few cooks. We could slowly build up the infrastructure and as we gradually bring in more and more people.
The ashram was on a 64-acre hot springs resort with 13 private hot baths, an indoor marble pool fed by the spring as well as an outdoor pool, a lithium bath, a bath at the mouth of the spring, two building we used as dormitories for monks and nuns, a main hotel building, and cabins for families. This was in Lake County, California above the wine country of Napa Sonoma. You would have to be out of your mind not to want to live in such a paradise. Well, we completely overtaxed the system.
How were we going to make money to support this new ashram? How were the bills going to be paid? I had an idea. I had a friend who owned a bakery and that seemed to do pretty well. So, I negotiated a great price for a pizza oven, a mixer, a pie maker (which we never used), cooling racks, and other assorted equipment. I went through some of my friend’s recipes—all of which I thought were horrible. Ranjani and I experimented. She used to make these amazing things called Rama Rocks, with nuts, coconut, and chocolate. George Harrison had a recent song called “Apple Scruffs,” and since we were living in apple country, apple orchards abounded. Jeevakan (another ashramite) and I would make contacts at various orchards and I went to work making these Apple Scruffs bars, and they were incredible. Either Paraman (another ashramites) or I would drive them to health food stores up and down California. They were a huge hit. One thing lead to another. There were no decent bagels in any health food store. There was not a single taker at Yogaville that backed up my bagel idea. Yet, as I was madly baking and tossing these gems of golden brown on the cooling table behind me, all they could do it complain while I worked and worked. I knew the bagel business was going to be a success, when I turned to the cooling table to bag these wonders to take to the stores to sample—there was not a single bagel on the table. The ashramites had eaten our profits! I started over but locked the bakery door from then on!
The bagels were a wild success! Narayana had a great idea: buy a truck and start a distribution company. We brined olives and sold oils, the bagels, Apple Scruffs, nut butters, and more. The early days of our bakery was like baking in the gulag. It was so awful cold, we were unprepared for the weather. I would have two of my starter mix in giant mixing bowls next to the fire barrel, turning them constantly and keeping a wet towel over them so they would not dry out. Then punching them down, and starting the process until they were ready. We would cool them, pinch them boil and bake them. They all always sold out. But, after our oven blew up, we moved our kitchen to the nearby Seventh Day Adventist College.
We were all extremely poor. Most of whatever money that we made went into renovations on the ashram property. We were living on oatmeal and nettles. After a few meals it was getting very old. One weekend, Mr. Bernie, the manager of the College, invited us for a meal. Since they were completely vegetarian we had an idea: Load up on food and take doggie bags back home. We could live on this for several days. Plates were piled high with lasagna, veggie burgers and tofu hot dogs, potato salad—you name it.
That same day, Swami Satchidananda (Gurudev) made a surprise appearance at lunchtime. He was with Felix Cavaliere from the famed group, The Rascals. I introduced them to Mr. Bernie. I mentioned how Mr. Bernie had invited us all to lunch and we could help ourselves to whatever we wanted and as much as we wanted. Mr. Bernie told Gurudev how proud he was of us and what a wonderful job we were doing.
I asked Gurudev what he wanted to eat. He said, “I will have a peach and some cottage cheese.” I carelessly announced, “Oh no, Gurudev, you can have whatever you’d like.” He sternly replied, “I just told you to get me a peach and cottage cheese.” He then looked at Mr. Bernie and said something to this effect. “Mr. Bernie, I want to thank you for taking care of my children with such loving kindness and to show their appreciation for your generosity they will eat every morsel of food from their plate and I will see to it that they do.” He stood there purposefully staring at us as we forced the mountain of food we had piled up to eat—and take back with us to the ashram for our upcoming meals—down our gullets. We all were sick as stuffed pigs before slaughter. Gurudev concluded his visit with these words: “Let this be a lesson to you. Never take advantage of another person’s hospitality. Never!”
About the Author:
Ralph Ramanan Schultz was an Integral Yoga teacher and Integral Yoga center head for many years. He later became an ordained Tibetan Buddhist monk and given the name: Kongchog Pema. He lives in central Virginia and is a frequent speaker at Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville.