We are because he was

It’s Guru Pournima today, the day we honour our gurus. In a pre-pandemic world, there would have been a 90-120 minutes programme that would include a talk or two as well as the release of the quarterly magazine and other books. The large hall would fill up quickly with both local and international students and one of the teachers would urge us to shift further in and towards the front to accommodate everyone. These occasions would see old students from out of town as well, a time for communal gratitude. That degree of bodily proximity though is a scary thought in today’s scenario. This year, the hall will remain empty while a talk by Prashant Iyengar will be beamed out via the internet.

I’m not familiar with Hindu rituals and traditions and hence have no understanding of what is done and the little that I have gathered is from seeing, listening and reading about it. I do find meaning in symbolism though, it is useful as an aid to staying with a thought, cooking it and letting it release its essence. There is a story in the Bhagwata Purana where King Yadu is told about the 24 gurus: earth, air, sky, water, fire, moon, sun, pigeon, python, sea, moth, honeybee, elephant and honey thief, deer, fish, the prostitute Pingala, the kurara bird, the child, young girl, arrow maker, serpent, spider and wasp. In classic Purana style, each of these is used to convey a moral and an exhortation for the seeker. Traditionally, one was supposed to memorize everything before the guru would begin to explain. In a sense, memorization would be preparing the field. I’ve found that as a method or technique, repetition can be a good teacher. It starts to reveal nuances much before one actually commences study. Perhaps it is the energy of sound that seeps in as a kind of intuitive sensing.

Guruji touched millions of lives, directly and indirectly through his life, his books and his teachers. I never had the privilege of studying from him but the teachers who teach me did and I receive his wisdom through their devotion to him. He lived a householder’s life while remaining a detached yogi, in itself unusual. He experienced the struggles of living in the world of familial responsibilities and ill health, discrimination and poverty. He knew human frailties first hand and through it continued with his sadhana and blazed a path for those coming after him. He lived through all the stages of life without shunning anything.

Guruji’s props make the gifts of yoga accessible to all

Personally, I feel Guru is a grace bestowed, one has to be deserving. I struggle with the concept of bhakti. There was a time when it happened but I lost it somewhere during a most difficult time and that overflowing hasn’t come back. There is a slow return to the practices that had built up over time and I hope that eventually I will be graced with that same sense of surety. Yesterday, the page opened to the chapter 9 in the Gita and my first instinct was to change it but decided to stay with the thought instead. I like to think of these random instances as being a way of life to nudge us towards what I most need to learn.

If you are unable to fix your mind upon Me, then by the ‘YOGA of constant practice,’ seek to reach Me, O Dhananjaya.

(BG – 12.9)

It has echoes in the Yoga Sutra, 1.14 and the use of Dhananjaya to address Arjuna is also significant in the implied fruits of such a constant practice. Like the divine charioteer was to Arjuna, Guruji is to his students, past, present and future.

We are because he was.

Teacher’s Day

In contemporary India, 5th September is marked as Teacher’s Day. A day when schools and colleges set aside regular work to acknowledge and appreciate those who mould minds and further a spirit of enquiry. It was instituted in 1962 on Dr. Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan’s birthday. The man was the second president of a free India and a lifelong teacher whose life was grounded in the principles of Advaita Vedanta.

Traditionally, we have always had an auspicious day in honour of the guru, guru pournima, but that’s usually celebrated in the classical disciplines of art, yoga, ayurveda etc. The young people in schools and colleges know of this one better.

A guru is a good fortune that few are privileged to receive. Good and great teachers are thankfully more accessible to us. They are also a rare breed but thankfully at the institute, we have many gifted teachers who share of themselves generously. One thing they all have in common is the spirit of studentship and exploration, never a stasis of knowing it all. Another is the deep satisfaction when a student had that moment of understanding and each teacher has a unique way of expressing that joy. It is a deep personal connect that unites the teacher and taught in a moment of union.

Yesterday was an interesting class, mostly practice alone and it felt like a return to normalcy. That shift is real for this stage of my yoga journey. I feel it in the way breath spreads in my upper torso, like rain. It spreads far more wider and every part feels watered. I look at Guruji’s pictures from the different locations I occupy in the large hall at RIMYI and see how his chest appears in all the photographs. Fearless. Stable. Unshakeable. And I am happy to be in the presence of his living legacy that extends beyond his physical life. One breath that unites across time and space.

The large hall at RIMYI which has been a sanctuary

Perhaps there is progress. My teacher has said we could try a beginner’s class and a therapy one instead of the multiple therapy ones. I don’t know how that will pan out but right now I am grateful for the possibility. It’s almost like I was in exile for two years from a regular class. The last three months felt incredibly long and gut wrenching in the amount of emotional and mental debris it threw up. Is it all out? Hard to say but there is acceptance to stay with it and experience despite the resistance. It’s hard to convey the breakthrough but I’m sure yoga has given this to many before me and will continue to bless more people after me too. It was possible because of my teachers and their teachers in an unbroken line of experential wisdom. The mark of their beauty is their abhyasa and vairagyam. I suspect they’d be uncomfortable with the gratitude but grateful I am, deeply. This is but a small tribute to their generosity and compassion.

My pranams from the heart.