Sparks of Divinity: A Tribute to B.K.S. Iyengar

Iyengar laughingIn honor of what would be B.K. S. Iyengar’s 96th birthday this coming Sunday, I decided to reprint the mini biography I wrote for the souvenir program for the attendees of the 1984 International Yoga Convention held in San Francisco. He was 65 that summer, just about my age now. He had already accomplished so much, and yet, from our perspective in 2014, we can see he was just getting started.

It is impossible to overstate the effects that this one man has had on the planetary and cosmic levels of consciousness emerging in the human in the early years on the millennium. Great achievements generate admiration and respect, but Guruji’s life evokes unfathomable awe. He was certainly very human. He had insecurities and emotional confusion like all of us. But when he was grounded in the cosmic field, his genius knew no boundaries, and he kept on channeling somatic brilliance right up to the end.  May we all find the inner light of yoga, and all those ‘clues’ he left us, that will guide our own continuous pursuit of the ever elusive excellence he so embodied.

The Genius of B.K.S. Iyengar can scarcely be appreciated by even his most senior students. For over fifty years Mr. Iyengar has been applying his incredible strength of will, his keen penetrating mind and brilliant intuitive perceptions to the exploration of the art of 84 convention coveryoga. The subtlety of his insight has enabled him to refine this ancient practice to a degree of scientific precision that is awe-inspiring in its simplicity and completeness. The artistic beauty of his asanas reflect an inner harmony with the universe that is breath-taking to behold. His therapeutic applications of asana and pranayama to treat a whole spectrum of ailments have astounded medical practitioners from all over the globe. His ability to infuse his students with the fiery discipline of tapas has generated a renaissance in the study of yoga that has spread to six continents. We are greatly honored to have Mr. Iyengar with us in the United States this summer and are especially privileged to have him honor us with a lecture demonstration on the art and practice of yoga.

Bellur Krishnamachar Sundara Iyengar was born on December 14, 1918, in what is now part of the Karntaka state in India. As the 11th of 13 children, ten of whom survived, young sundara had numerous brothers, sisters and in-laws. One of his brothers-in-law, Professor Unknown-2T. Krishnamachar, a great scholar, student and teacher of yoga, became Sundara’s Guruji in 1935, initiating him with the Gayatri Mantra, and teaching him a few asanas. The early years of practice were extremely difficult for Sundara, whose weak constitution and stiff body made the practice of he asanas quite painful. Guruji was a kind-hearted but hot tempered man and his young student was too timid to complain. But Iyengar was a fast learner. Within a few months he gave his first public performance and soon after that was asked to train other students.

The next several years saw him traveling about the region, demonstrating the asanas to the Maharajahs, doctors, professors and others. In 1937, his Guruji asked him to travel to Poona to start a yoga program at one of the colleges, and Poona has remained Iyengar’s images-1home to this day. For the next nine years he persevered in his practice and teaching, in spite of serious financial difficulties. Students interests waxed and waned and income was non-existent for long periods of time. Many a day was spent without solid food. Physical exhaustion and emotional depression were constant companions. In 1943, through the arrangements of his family, Iyengar married a 16 year old girl, Ramamani. She became his life long friend, “guardian angel”, and source of tremendous emotional support during the difficult years. Their first daughter, Geeta, was born in 1944 and the family later grew to include five daughters and a son, Prashant.

By 1946 the fortunes had begun to turn for the better. More people were becoming interested in Mr. Iyengar’s teachings and he was having success in treating various maladies with the yoga asanas. The next few years saw his fame and reputation grow. In 1948, Shri J. Krishnamurti, the well known philosopher, visited him in Poona and Mr. Iyengar helped him with his asana and pranayama practice. This began a relationship that would continue for another twenty years. The West became aware of Mr. Iyengar’s work in the early 1950′s, with Yehudi Menuhin playing an instrumental role. Mr. Iyengar accompanied him to Switzerland in 1954 and returned again in 1956. By the early 1960′s he was regularly conducting workshops in Europe, training western students in the art of yoga. “Light on Yoga was published in 1964 and soon the entire world became aware of Mr. Iyengar’s genius.

In 1973, Ramamani died quite suddenly at an untimely age. This came as quite a shock to images-2family and friends alike as she was beloved by all. It was at this time that plans were being drawn for a new yoga institute in Poona, and in January of 1975, The Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Unknown-1Yoga Institute was inaugurated. Thousands of yoga students from India and all over the world have traveled to Poona to study there. images-4Today much of the teaching is done by Geeta and Prashant, Two of Iyengar’s children and excellent yogis in their own right. The classic treatise, ‘Light on Pranayama, Iyengar’s most recent book, was published in 1981. This all encompassing guide to that powerful yet infinitely subtle art stands, in the words of Sri Krishnamacharya, as “a precious gem in the firmament of yoga.”

B.K.S. Iyengar has dedicated his life to passing along the knowledge and wisdom that he has learned. That so many of us are slow to catch on to what he is saying must be extremely frustrating to him. There is so much that he ca teach us, if we can only accelerate the learning process. But he always maintains his sense of humor in the face of our human frailty. As he often says with a mischievous look in his eyes, “I have given you the clue.” The seeds of his wisdom will continue to sprout in our consciousness for any years to come. With unswerving faith and dedication to the art of yoga, Mr. Iyengar has proven that one person can have a tremendous effect in the world. May we all be so inspired in our own lives so that our practice may help bring peace and sanity to the planet.

Editor’s Note: Bibliographical information was taken from “Body the Shrine, Yoga the Light“, published by the B.K.S. Iyengar 60th Birthday Celebration Committee, 1978.

New Writings From Krishnamurti

imagesAlthough the renowned spiritual teacher Jiddu Krishnamurti passed away in 1986, his legacy is alive and well in beautiful, and way too dry, Ojai, California, home of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America. This fall will see them release a new book, “The World Within”, containing never before released material. This is a ‘compilation of Krishnamurti’s hand written notes from his personal diary that explore topics discussed in personal interviews with the people around him.” This excerpt was published in the summer/fall edition of ‘Foundation Focus’, the KFA newsletter. For more on Krishnamurti’s teachings, go to jkrishnamurti on line.

All spiritual teachers encounter the challenge of language. Words can have multiple connotations, and the same word can have radically different meanings to a broad spectrum of readers. Here Krishnamurti uses the word self to mean to “I” sense created by the ahamkara. We might call it the egoic self as it is composed of likes and dislikes, ragas and dveshas, and emerges as thought. Krishnamurti writes a lot about ‘thought’ and the suffering it creates, but also describes how to see through, or beyond thought to wholeness, timelessness, eternity. For those of you studying Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, note his reference to ‘svadhyaya’, self study, and the awakening of viveka, discriminative understanding, by activating the ‘buddhi’, the innate or non-personal intelligence, to realize Purusha, the timeless.

“The creator of time is the self, the consciousness of the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’: my property, images-9my son, my power, my success, my experience, my immortality. The concern of the self over its own state creates time. The self is the cause of ignorance and sorrow, and its cause and effect is desire, the craving for power, wealth, fame. This self is unified by the will of desire, with its past memories, present resolutions, and future determinations. The future then becomes a forum of lust, the present a passage to the future, and the past the driving motive. The self is a wheel of pleasure and pain, enjoyment and grief, love and hate, ruthlessness and gentleness. These opposites are created for its own advantage, for its own gain, out of its own uncertainty. It is the cause of my birth, my death. Thought is held by the will of desire, by the will of self, but sorrow and pain begin their work of awakening thought; and if this awakening is not maintained, thought slips into comforting beliefs, into personal fantasies and hopes.

But if the slowly awakening thought begins to gently and patiently study the cause of sorrow and so begins to comprehend it, it will find that there is another will: the will of understanding. This will of understanding is not personal; it is of no country, of no people, of no religion. It is this will that opens the door to the eternal, to the timeless.

The study of the self is the beginning of right thinking – that the self that is held in the will of desire. This self creates continuity by craving for immortality, but with it comes the everlastingness of sorrow, pain, and the conflict of the ‘me’ and the ‘mine’. There is no end to this save in the will of understanding, which alone dissolves the cause of sorrow.”

2014 YLT Weekend 9 Summary

Weekend 9: We are at the 3/4 Pole and heading home!
Continuing themes:
Spiritual Awakening,
Refining the Energy Lines and Patterns
Structural Refinement in the Asanas to Integrate the Teachings

Overall Theme for this Weekend:  Introduction to the Bhagavad Gitaimages-8

The major theme of the Bhagavad Gita is Spiritual Awakening, as described in the Vedantic mantra, ‘Tat Tvam Asi’. It is presented in the fundamental spiritual trinity: the guru or teacher (Krishna), the teachings (Gita), and the student (Arjuna). You also see this Buddhism with Buddha, Dharma and Sangha, and, in a slightly distorted way in Christianity, with Father (Mother) as teacher, Holy Spirit as symbolic of the revealed knowledge, and Son (Daughter) as students.

‘Tat Tvam Asi’ says the teacher to the student, after presenting the teachings: that truth, that wholeness I have just described, is you. You are the Whole. You, at the ultimate core of your being, are limitless and free. This is true for all beings. This truth is just waiting to be ‘realized’. And nothing needs to be changed! The spiritual eyes open, and OMG, there it is, ever-present, and infinitely intimate . Krishna reveals this to Arjuna over the 18 chapters of the Gita. And, ideally, we find it revealed moment to moment in our yoga practice, and in life.

The Gita also discusses the two majors means for a spiritual seeker to arrive at this awakening. This is Arjuna’s ultimate quest. The first is known as the path of knowledge, Sanyaasa, which involves renunciation of all worldly connections to pursue spiritual knowledge and insight. Traditionally, this path is for older adults who have completed raising a family and participating in society, and is the fourth and final stage of life for them. Also, a young seeker who is spiritually and emotionally mature may also become a sunyaasi, but this is not an easy path for the young, as the temptations of life are relentless and powerful.

The second means of spiritual knowledge is the path of action, also known as karma imagesyoga. In the Gita, the path of karma yoga means that every action you take in life is used as a means to deepen your spiritual self knowledge. Seva, or selfless charitable work is one aspect of karma yoga, but not all. This is the path Arjuna must take, although, as we see at the beginning of the Gita, he is trying to weasel his way out of his karmic duty. Arjuna argues that sanyaasa should be his path, however, Krishna will not let him escape and explains that action in the world is a valid means of spiritual knowledge, if one understands the two main principles of spiritual action. These are described in the Gita as follows:

Chapter 2, verse 48

yogasthah kuru karmaani sangam tyaktvaa dhananjaya
siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhuutvaa samatvam yoga ucyate

Remaining steadfast in yoga, oh Dhananjaya (Arjuna), perform actions, abandoning attachment, remaining the same to success and failure alike. This evenness of mind is called yoga.

Chapter 2, verse 50

buddhiyukto jahaatiha ubhe sukrtaduskrte
tasmaadyogaaya yujyasva yogah karmasu kaushalam

One who is endowed with the samatva buddhi, sameness of mind, gives up both punya and paapa here, in this world. Therefore commit yourself to karma-yoga. Karma-yoga is discrimination in action.

One of the key themes weaving through the Gita is the relationship between the two paths to pursue self-knowledge, the path of action in the world, or karma-yoga, and the path of sanyaasa, the renunciation of the world. Sunyaasa is commonly known as a path of awakening, but Karma Yoga is not. Karma refers to any action performed, and also the results of those actions.  Punya refers to desirable results, and paapa to undesirable results. In these two verses, Krishna presents a two-fold definition of karma-yoga: samatvam yogah ucyate and yogah karmasu kaushalam.

With reference to the results of your actions, there is sameness, samatva, in your response. With reference to action itself, because there is a choice involved, a karma yogi always chooses to follow the rules of dharma, basic ethics and morality.

These two verses are commonly quoted and frequently mistranslated and misunderstood. Verse 48 is often found to say “give up the fruits of your actions” implying that a yogi doesn’t participate in the world and is not able to enjoys the fruits of creation. It is like saying you can cook a wonderful meal, but you cannot enjoy eating it. Of course this makes no sense at all. You may create a delicious feast, that pleases everyone. Or only a few. Or it may not come out as well as you would have hoped. A Yogi experiences all these possibilities as food for awakening, or as Ram Das wrote, ‘Grist for the Mill’.

Verse 50 is often translated as ‘yoga is skill in action’, but one can be a very skillful con artist, which is certainly not yogic. The principle here is discrimination. Can I be very clear as to what my actions are and why I am choosing to do them. A better translation might be yoga is ‘mindfulness in action’, or ‘wisdom and compassion in action’.

The underlying teaching here is that you are the author of your own actions. You can choose to do something, or not do it, or do it differently. As a yogi you would always act for the benefit of the whole, not out of self-centered interests. However, the results of those actions are totally out of your control. They may be exactly what you wanted, more than what you wanted, less that what you wanted, or the total opposite of what you wanted. Whatever the result, the yogi receives the result as prasada, a gift from the Divine. This is samatvam, eqanimity with what arises. There is nothing to give up, other than the attachment to a specific outcome. If your action was successful, fantastic. Enjoy the moment. If it was unsuccessful, that’s okay too. Experience disappointment if that is what arises, but recognize that the “Self” is unaffected by success or failure.

Now, as we are human, our unfolding life will continue to present situations where we act out of self interest, and bitch and moan when we things don’t go the way we want them to. No avoiding this reality. The yoga is in how we respond to these delightful experiences where our responses to reality are not quite up to Krishna’s ‘ideal’. Compassion is very helpful. Perspective also helps.

Asana Practice: Refining the flow of energy through the hip joints, at all times, in all images-1postures and movements.
1. Begin in the feet: arches ground the energy; create an imaginary ‘ankle to heel’ line, as long as the line of energy from ankle to toes. Talus is the keystone.
2. From femur head, drop weight down onto arches, grounding out through heels and toes, as knees and ankles slightly flex. This is the skiers tadasana, also used by all athletes as neutral gear, pre-movement. It allows a relaxed and alert energy state everywhere in the body.
3. Grow a tail to open the mula dhara in a third vector (the two legs are the other vectors).images-2 From here lengthen the spine through ears and crown chakra. From head to tail open energy channels in both directions. Now the chakra line/spinal energy line is now free of the hips and can flex and extend around the hips without collapse or holding on. (Relatively speaking, of course!)images-1

4. Flex and extend energy for imaginary back flip. In this second stage of a back flip, Mario Edwards uses his arms to amplify the tail vector helping to keep the spine long as he loads ankles knees and hips in flexion. In full sequence, there is an images-2alternation between flexion and extension of the legs as the spine stays long.

5. Take this feeling into down dog – up dog – down dog until you can integrate both actions into each pose, down dog in up dog, up dog in down dog.

6. One leg dog to flip dog, to one leg handstand on the wall. We’ll save the one christopher tungarm hand stand for another day. Christopher Tung looks like he is doing trikonasana, so I had to put this in! Notice the energy lines through his inner heels and inner ears, and heart center through grounding arm. Fantastic fish body pose. Love it!

7. Standing pose cycle using the back flip and fish body energy lines, trikonasana through revolved images-4parsvakonasana. Add the frisbee throw spiral lines for the twists. Find the flexion/extension action in the spiral.

8. Sirsanasa, sarvangasana, any transitional poses, savasana