Last week I watched a video of Shri K Pattabhi Jois chanting.
It is a strange feeling to watch footage of someone you know well that is no longer here. When he passed in 2009, my daughter was a bit over a year old, and we had just moved back to California. I had taken her to India at ten months of age, so going back for his memorial just wasn’t in the cards. And maybe what I feel when I see these videos reflects that I am still in the process of accepting that he is gone.
While I wasn’t a student who studied with Pattabhi Jois in the 70s, I spent many months in India practicing with him and this man had a dramatic impact on my life. My heart knows his voice in the most visceral way. Seeing him talk brings back his counted classes, his way of talking to us, the humor, and the long ago conferences where he sat in the old house reading the newspaper and answering our crazy western questions. I remember being put into postures, and being shown how to move through the practice with his hands. I remember laying in Savasana and realizing that human or not, he was my teacher.
Memories like that aren’t thoughts. They are made of feelings, smells and sounds. And to see it on film is to remember him, and yet deal with this startling fact he is there, but he isn’t here now.
When I first heard that people were leaving the Anusara school I didn’t know why and it wasn’t really something that directly concerned me.
However what I did think about was Guruji and what started to happen after Shri K Pattabhi Jois died.
Pattabhi Jois was a charismatic leader. To an extent maybe all gurus are. On my first trip to Mysore in 2000 one of the fellows living there at the time confessed to not wanting to hang out with the new yoga students. He said that most of the people there were in the throws of the “Tearing down the Guru” Syndrome. They came to India with a lot of expectations, and they had to deal immediately with what Guruji was, and what he wasn’t. Those who stayed sorted it all out and decide what he had to share was worth the human side that he exhibited too. But not everyone stayed, and those that hadn’t sorted it out weren’t usually very happy people to be around.
When Guruji died things got somewhat complicated in a different but related way. Looking back now to me it is clear that many of us were following Guruji, and that meant when he died we had to sort out who we were going to follow. Ideally we were doing yoga, not just following some guy, but you don’t always think about it at the time when you are in love with your practice and you love your teacher too.
The “guru thing” can be complicated.
And that’s all the more clear today when we are in the throes of seeing in the Anusara world how a teacher can fall.
The reality is when we love someone we are in love with an image. When they die, or their inevitable humanity strikes, it can be heartbreaking, to whatever degree their failure shatters what we have believed in.
So it would seem valid to question the whole process. I mean, why go through that when you don’t have to? Or, why not just go to the yoga teacher for yoga asana and skip all that belief and faith and vulnerability stuff?
I hope that the beginning of this article explains a little of why.
For me the love I felt and feel for my practice and my teachers (Sharath and Shri K Pattabhi Jois among others) was an inspirational and tranformational force in my life. That love helped me do things I never would have been able to do left to myself, and helped me to find an inner strength and spirit I wouldn’t have otherwise known. They helped me face my fears and overcome my own inner obstacles. And read carefully. They helped me find my own heart. My own love transformed me. And yeah often it’s an image we have of them. And often that image will at some point be broken. But the method does work. And it can be argued that even the tearing down that sometimes will happen is a part of the process too. Part of growing up and really getting it again that we are all human.
I know that being a Guru is not easy. I deal with the one image I carry of my teacher. They deal with a lot of people and their images. They deal with a lot coming at them at once. On top of this, short of enlightenment not only do the tests keep coming, to my understanding the traps one can fall into become more subtle and complex. As many would say those aren’t shoes I’d want to have to walk in.
But in end, is the test of the method whether or not the guru falls? Or is it rather who we as the student become?
I would hate in the immediacy of what’s happening in the yoga world for people to forget those questions.
And I would hate for the efficacy of any method of yoga, or the efficacy of having a teacher that you surrender to in your yoga practice be written off because of the acts of one individual or a few.
We all have to decide what we can live with in a teacher and where we draw the line, and people themselves have to be accountable for their mistakes.
But as long as human beings are practicing yoga people will be human, and as long as there are reporters there will be stories that humanize people we look up to and respect.
For me my yoga is not one teacher, and the inevitable humanity of
a human that participates in any lineage does not lesson the power of our own practice or the transformation it brings.
“Do your practice, all is coming.”
~ Shri K Pattabhi Jois