Last night, in honor of his 97th “birth anniversary,” hundreds of yoga students gathered at Govinda Gardens to celebrate the life of B.K.S. Iyengar.
He’s such a world-renowned individual that Google even released a doodle of him yesterday to commemorate the “tremendous control and discipline” exhibited by the “pioneering and deeply spiritual yogi.” Yet last night, I was fortunate enough to be around those who knew him as a person too. Senior students (our senior teachers) from all over the world told priceless tales of Guruji.
Several described him as a mystic. Many expressed that he was a human being who delighted the simple things in life, such as a walk on an empty path in nature or a ride in a fast car. As a fellow human, he was as quick to laugh and smile; as a teacher, he was quick to shout with ferocious intensity. He balanced these qualities. A word that came up again and again, which would surprise those who knew him only by reputation, was patience.
The air was thick with love (and mosquitos). Patricia Walden’s speech was infused with it (the love, not the mosquitos). She expressed a clearly heartfelt sense of wonder and gratitude in a story of being adjusted by Guruji in paschimottanasana. He adjusted her in such a way that she was brought to a state of inner silence, a loving grace “like I’d never felt before,” and a feeling of infinitude inside. I too have experienced Guruji’s touch, and Patricia’s words precisely described what I experienced. Tears of joy, the best kind, sprang from my eyes at the memory. They seemed to want to jump out and join the collective sea of gratitude.
Stephanie Quirk related his qualities of character back to the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. As someone who spent many years in Pune, Stephanie was able to observe his character over a long period of time. She said that three traits in particular stood out: The connection of śraddhā and virya, maitrī, and satya. Śraddhā is the intellectual firmness that is gained when faith, confidence, and reverence come from revelation. Virya expresses vigor, energy, potency and valor (see Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, p. 73-75). Guruji’s śraddhā was so strong, Stephanie said, that all of the obstacles to living with virya were removed. His faith in yoga was absolutely complete, and this in her estimation was what allowed him to achieve such greatness. His practice was imbued with staya, truthfulness. And he exuded maitrī, friendliness, towards all.
I was so glad to hear Stephanie and others emphasize his essence of maitrī. His reputation is so so ferocious (he was known as “The Lion of Pune,” after all) that the friendly side of him was overshadowed, at least in the popular imagination. But to me his friendliness was his most striking quality. This from one of my Facebook posts in 2013:
The highlight of the evening was the surprise speech given by Prashant Iyengar.
“The embodiment has unfathomable depth, yet we work on the periphery,” Prashantji said, urging us to take our practices deeper. He explained that although we were able to observe Guruji’s poses from the outside, we have no idea what was going on inside.
Prashantji said that Guruji conferred hundreds of teaching certificates to his students, but not once did he confer a certificate for being a good student. Imagine his patience to work with us anyway, he said. He urged us to remember Guruji’s “culture of practice” and thus do our best to be good students.
And that note, the celebration was finished. It always comes back to this: practice. Practice well, and with devotion, uninterruptedly over a long period of time (sūtra I.14, LOYSP p63). Aside from our memories, impressions and emotions, the practice is all that remains. Our practice is what Guruji would wish for us as well as how we can connect to him every single day.
Right now, as I sip the dregs of my morning coffee and finish off this post, students from around the world are gathering at the doors of the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute (RIMYI). Morning practice is from 9:00 to noon, and as soon as I click “save and publish” I’ll go join them.
And just like that, the 2015 Yogānuāśanam intensive is over. My colleague from L.A. said it would go by in a flash, and it has (more posts to come – I'll be unpacking this experience for a looooong time). What I could do, I did.
Iti Yogānuāśanam: That is all. The practice remains.