I like to think of Barat Das—who has no car, no telephone and who looks far younger than somebody in his eighth decade of life should—as the sadhu of Kapi‘olani Park. I don’t think he considers himself a sadhu, but I know that when he was a spiritual seeker traveling around India in the 1970s, the sadhus had a big influence on him. For the past twenty years Das has been teaching yoga for free in Kapi‘olani Park beneath a Y-shaped yoga tree. Sometimes twenty people show up, sometimes two. If it’s rainy and nobody shows up, he wraps himself in a poncho and sits beneath the tree to meditate.
The day I come to practice in the park, Das gently clasps my shoulder and says, “Just try your best.” I stand with about fifteen other yogis in a big circle, setting aside my yoga mat and burying my toes in the grass. Das leads us through a physical yet meditative practice with lots of attention to the sun, the moon, Mother Earth and our breath. The sun is close to setting, and the moon happens to be out against a clear blue sky, making a convenient gazing point during balancing poses. It’s all very pleasant and peaceful … until the angry man goes nuts.
From beneath a nearby tree a furious man’s voice thunders through the park. At first it seems like a terrible argument, but gradually it becomes clear that it’s a monolog, filled with cryptic threats, racist slurs and ferocious denunciations of the pharmaceutical industry. Das has us all balancing on one leg with our arms stretched overhead in vriksasana, Tree Pose. He does not acknowledge the angry man but continues walking slowly around the circle, exhorting us to root our standing foot into the earth, stretch our arms toward the sky and keep our attention on our breath. We remain in Tree Pose for a long, long time, hearing the angry man’s meltdown but not attaching to it. We let it blow between us, around us and past us. We are a circle of trees swaying in a passing storm. We are practicing yoga. And at the end, after the sun has set and the storm has subsided, we om.