I had the honor of meeting B.K.S. Iyengar twice on visits to study in Pune, India, but I cannot say that I really knew him. He was training his granddaughter Abhijata on both visits and would ferry or shout instructions to her from his designated space in the practice hall. I was expecting a Guru but I found a man. An extraordinary man, but not the superhuman being that my heart wanted. Looking back, I know I was seeking a spiritual "quick fix:" someone or something else that would transport me from my suffering. Even if Iyengar could have bestowed enlightenment on me in a moment's time, I know now that wouldn't have been in my best interest.
I have read and heard the story of B.K.S. Iyengar’s childhood so many times. The story of his serious illness, of losing his will to live, and how yoga transformed him. Not in a moment, but through years and years of dedicated practice. It took me many years to really take in this story and the message that he was conveying. Unlike many other saints that you hear or read about, who had special abilities from the time they were very young, Iyengar tells us that this was not the case with him, in fact quite the opposite. And, what this message conveys to me, is that awakening is possible for all of us willing to put in some hard work.
Hard work has been mistaken for grueling physical workouts in much of the asana-based yoga community, including the Iyengar community. I, myself am guilty of feeling guilty when my practice is not strenuous or intense. But, if I look at Iyengar’s legacy, I observed with my own eyes that his practice was very much not physically intense as he got older. But, it remained ardent and regular. The Sanskrit word tapas is often used to describe Iyengar’s practice. Tapas literally means "to heat”. It also means a practice of deep meditation in an effort to reach self-realization. The fire that burns within a practitioner, the necessary “burning zeal” that is required in order to reach enlightenment. There is no doubt in my mind that Iyengar had that. And, it was his greatest gift to us.
The part of this burning zeal that some of us may have missed though, is that there is not an outer accomplishment involved. We mistake the act of achieving advanced asana or being granted advanced certifications with progress on the path of yoga. Yet, the primary obstacle to experiencing the state of yoga or oneness, is avidya, ignorance of one’s own true nature. And ego, is primary to this this delusion. Believing that we are a separate “I” and protecting that “I”. This is the part of the practice that I fear we are losing in a competitive, accomplishment-based culture. It is my sincere hope that the memory of the man who gave away everything he had in the pursuit of inner knowledge won’t be lost as the memory of the physical man becomes a legend.
And so, as I age and deepen my practice, I will remember then man who never stopped practicing, who never stopped passing on his knowledge, who never gave up on the path to awakening. That is the man who will continue to live in my heart as I continue to find my own way in yoga.
This Blog post is dedicated to my teacher Manouso Manos. In this modern commercial age, we believe we have the free will to choose everything, but the truth is that we don’t really get to choose our yoga teacher. It is through Manouso that I have a connection to the lineage, the legacy of yoga transmitted through B.K.S. Iyengar. I am grateful and indebted to Manouso for his generosity and “burning zeal”.