Guru-Shishya Parampara The Guru - Disciple Tradition ~ by Geeta Iyengar


Guru Brahma Guruvishnu Gurudevo Maheshwarah

Guru Sakshat Param Brahma tasmai Sri Gurave Namah

You all know that I am not used to giving speeches, so let me pray in the words of the


Vanme Manasi Pratishthita

Mano Me Vachi Pratishthitam

My speech is rooted in my mind,

My mind is rooted in my speech.

If that is so, then the result will be the truth.

Gu is darkness and Ru is light. Guru is the one who leads us from darkness to light. He is the one who shows the light, who shows the path. The Guru is the one who opens the eyes of awareness of the shishya – the pupil. Light is always there, but it is covered by darkness. Jnana (knowledge) is always there, but Ajnana (ignorance) covers it. The Guru comes to the rescue of the shishsya to help remove the veil over Jnana. The Guru is the one who uplifts the shishya, purifies and clears the pupil’s intellect so that it may reveal the truth.

Modern thinkers always confuse people, declaring that a Guru is not needed at all. But paradoxically, when they say that, they are themselves acting as Gurus, advising others to renounce their Gurus. Though it is true that the Sadhaka has to tread the spiritual path to self-realization alone, the Guru is essential to show the right path, and to safeguard the pupil while he follows it.

The Guru is essential for a pupil who has little or no knowledge, energy, or feeling. The pupil is often like a stone. A Guru exposes his or her weaknesses for them to see and feel. He evokes the wish to root out ignorance and opens new avenues of intelligence. This is called Prajna-Jagriti. Awakening awareness is intelligence, the Guru awakens this Prajna, this knowledge that is hidden in the envelope of ignorance in the pupil. The Guru uncovers it at the right moment so that the wisdom comes and the light dawns. The Guru enriches the pupil’s Prajna and makes every effort to uplift the pupil. The curiosity that he kindles awakens the pupil’s potential will, the will to know. The Guru pours his potential energy into this curiosity as one adds fuel to a fire.

The Guru is a Karmadata,a bestower of Karma (actions) and a Jnanadata, a bestower of Jnana (knowledge), and a Shaktidata, a bestower of Shakti (power). In ishavashyopanishad, Yajnavalkya says to his pupils, ‘Kurvanneveha Karmani Jijeevishet Shatam Samah’ – “Live for a hundred years carrying on the work undertaken.” The Guru Yajnavalkya does not stop the pupil from doing Karma but says, do it desirelessly. The Guru teaches the pupil to do Karmawith Jnana and gives him or her the energy to do so. He awakens the shishya from the state of inertia. He opens the gate of the pupil’s dormant faculties and awakens the latent power and energy within.

That is why a Guru is needed. He does not hold your hand all the time, but is always there as a guide. He changes the very flow of tendencies in the shishya by sowing the seed of spirituality. The Guru gives love and knowledge, and nurtures the chitta of the pupil so that it gravitates towards Abhyasa (practice), and Vairagya (desirelessness, detachment) to recognize the soul – the Atman.

The Shastras (authoritative scriptures) give us the definition of the word Acharya, or Guru:

Achinoti Shastrarthat

Achare Sthapayatyapi

Svayam Acharate yasmat

Tasmat Acharya Vachyate

Acharya (Guru) is:

1. one who is well versed in the Vedas and Shastras and gives a proper and vivid meaning to them;

2. one who establishes the rules of conduct according to the Shastras; and

3. one who himself follows them, conscientiously, honestly and religiously.

So where, you may ask, does our Guruji fit in? He is just like anyone else, like you and me. He is not a Swami or Sannyasi. He is not a Veshadhari Guru (imposter) in saffron garb either. He is a family man with children, teaching Yoga, mainly asana, pranayama, and dhyana, and helping patients to rid themselves of their problems. He is not very saintly either, for he sometimes shouts and yells at everyone. Nor is he a scholar. Many of his students who come here call him “guruji,” but they have so-called spiritual gurus who are Swamijis and Paramahamsas. So in what sense do we call him “guruji?”

We in India consider tradition very important, though it is generally misunderstood. It is usually thought of as meaning something ancient that ought to be discarded and replaced by something new, so let me explain what it really is. The Sanskrit word for tradition is Parampara. It does not simply mean a custom, but a process of handing down the vidya (knowledge), kala (art), and the riches of Samskriti (culture) from one generation to another. Again, it is not something fixed or rigid. Tradition is an unpolluted, continuous flow embracing rational changes and experiments. The dialogues between Guru and Shishya in the Upanishads give a very clear picture of how the Rishis struggled to arrive at their conclusions. The search for the ultimate truth was always a kind of challenge, and there was full freedom to pursue it. Nevertheless, the traditional foundation was never shaken and that is why we find all the Upanishads have a chain linking them. Ski Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita declares that the message of Karma yoga which he is passing on to Arjuna, is not something newly devised by him, but something passed on by tradition, Parampara Praptam. He says,

Imam Vivasvate yogam Proktavan Ahamavyayam

Vivasvan Manave Praha Manur Ikshwakave abravit

Evam Parampara Praptam Imam Rajarshyoviduhu.

I (the Lord) taught this Yoga to Vivasvan, Vivasvan to Manu, Manu to Ikshwaku and in this way the tradition was passed on. But this Yoga was forgotten in the flow of time. I am telling you about the same ancient Yoga now, since you are my devotee and friend.

The truth is revealed only to those who devote themselves to this ancient art and who are devotees of the Lord.

Even Lord Patanjali, while writing the “Yoga Sutra” admits this tradition. The first aphorism, Atha Yoganushasanam– with the prefix Anu to the word Shasanam – clearly indicates the traditional order. The word Anu indicates that it is the ancient Yoga which is being taught once again. The word conveys continuity. Tradition links the past to the present and the present to the future, making further developments possible.

Children used to be sent to a Gurukula for their education at the age of seven. They would stay with the Guru at his home and study scriptures, art, and so on. Education was given in the house of a teacher. A pupil staying in a Gurukulawas called an Antevasin, and learnt from the Guru by being near him. Unfortunately, we have lost this method, and that is why the standard of education and intelligence has declined.

Our Guruji was lucky, as you know, since he was taught Yoga in Mysore by his Guru, Sri T. Krishnamacharya, who lived in Madras. Being a brother-in-law of Guruji, he performed Guruji’s thread ceremony [because Guruji’s father had died] which is a very important samskara – a sacred and sanctifying ceremony. It was considered to be a second birth, through which the Guru leads the shishya from darkness to light by giving him the Gayatri-Japa. It was a very significant and highly traditional religious initiation, which began the Brahmopadesham (instructions on Brahma). In Guruji’s case, his Guru sowed the seed of Yoga in him, which grew into a gigantic tree. It so happened that one of the senior pupils of Guru T. Krishnamacharya, named Keshavamurthy, ran away and Guru chose our Guruji as a Yoga teacher in the Yogashala, the place given by the king of Mysore for teaching Yoga.

Guruji learnt very little from his Guru, yet the Guru-Anugraha did not fail. Anugraha is the blessing by which the Guru passes on the knowledge without any direct contact or instruction. In fact I would say that the Guru’s indifference enlightened Guruji all the more, because he was not spoon-fed.

Sometimes Guruji says in class that he was not taught much by his Guru, which is true. This suggests that their relationship was not fulfilling, but in fact Guruji was so devoted to his Guru that he used to prostrate himself 108 times in front of his photo. I was not born then, but my mother told me about it. Perhaps it is this Bhakti and Shraddha, devotion and faith, that have led him to such a high peak.

Now, some clarification is needed here about Guruji’s method: It is not his alone, but has some parampara. It is considered a tough method, and people call it painful or rigorous because what it required is 100% perspiration. What it actually requires is 100% involvement. Discipline and alertness is what Guruji demands, so he seems stern, but it is only what he has imbibed from his Guru, T. Krishnamacharya, and he from his Guru. Iyengar teachers are thought of as strict: I would say that it has come down as a parampara.

You will be interested to hear about Guru T. Krishnamacharya’s Guru, as told to me in 1961, when Guru T. Krishnamacharya came to Pune and used to tell us stories about him.

Guruji’s Guru, T. Krishnamacharya, learnt Yoga somewhere in the Himalayas in Nepal, from his Guru, Rama Mohan Brahmachari. He was a family man and a very strict teacher. He used to wake Guru T. Krishnamacharya and ask him to do asanas in the middle of the night. Sometimes he would give him lots of sweets to eat, or ghee (clarified butter) to drink, and then ask him to do asanas. He spoke in Hindi, which is why Guruji’s Guru knows the language well. In his high-pitched voice, Guru Rama Mohan Brahmachari used to order his pupil, “Now do means do !” There was no argument. Similarly, in his turn, Guru T. Krishnamacharya used to demand discipline and practice, and he would suddenly ask Guruji to do asanas he had not been taught. This sudden demand made their Prakriti (nature) supply abundant energy, which one cannot even imagine. Guru T. Krishnamacharya’s method mellowed with age, but as he often told us, he himself had a tremendous struggle to learn Yoga.

The Gurus in those days were very strict, and their pupils obeyed them without question. If you look in the Prasnopanishad, you will find that each pupil serving at the Gurukula would not even ask a question unless the Guru Pippalada told him to. That was how it used to be. They had to wait a long time for such an opportunity, because the Guru himself used to clarify doubts at the right time, when the pupil was ready. You find open discussions in the Upanishads when the pupils have the capacity to take part in them, and they are quite friendly affairs: “Acharyaha Suhrida Bhutva Achasthe” – The Acharya becomes friendly when he finds the pupil is devoted. That is why disciples in the Upanishads used to serve the Guru, and this is how the relationship between Guru and Shishya was strengthened at the right time.

Guruji has imbibed strictness, seriousness, sincerity, discipline, and capacity for hard work from his Guru alone. Our Guruji is strict, but not rigid. His strictness is simply for the sake of discipline; it is not meant to harm anyone; he never misuses it. Due to the strict training from Guru T. Krishnamacharya, Guruji developed a good scientific method to give us. His methodology is now a well-organized and ready-made programme for anyone and everyone.

The old film of Guruji, taken in 1938 or so, shows an illogical sequence of asanas. The asanas are not at all interconnected as far as the anatomy and physiology of the body is concerned, and Guruji has worked a lot on this. He evolved the sequences of asanas, categorized them according to anatomical structure, physiological functioning, and psychological effect, so that they could bring the expected changes in the body and mind and in the spiritual search for self-realization.

The method of our Guru T. Krishnamacharya was a hard one. He used to stand on pupils’ stomachs when they were doing Urdhva dhanurasana and Kapotasana etc. Some time ago he told us that his Guru, Rama Mohan Brahmachari, used to keep heavy weights on the legs and ask him to lift his legs in Mayurasana. He used to ask him to climb a mountain and then do Pranayama. This was the method in those days to test the will power of a pupil to continue the tapas. This harsh method taught him to think in a new way. The main thing he did was to reform it and refine it without losing the link with tradition. Thank goodness Guruji did not give up practicing when he faced those tough techniques. His inner Guru guided him to continue the Sadhana and as a result we all have benefited.

Guruji evolved the method; he brought changes. He realized that attempting certain asanas suddenly without preparation can harm the body and the mind too. So he evolved the sequences of asanas scientifically. Many doctors agree with the principles. He developed a progressive approach from simple to difficult and complicated asanas. He categorized them by their effects, as being purifying, pacifying, stimulative, nourishing, or cleansing. He made the practice of asanas rhythmic and balanced without forsaking tradition. His Guru taught that the asanas should be done with quick movements. Guruji developed this further, introducing proper linking. This brisk movement, jumping from one asana to another, awakened the artist in Guruji. He had always wanted to become a dancer, and has once even approached Udayshankar, a great dancer of the time, with that in mind.

In 1961 Guru T. Krishnamacharya came to Pune, together with his third son. He gave lectures on Yoga in general and a series of lectures on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras too, and his son and I used to give demonstrations. I noticed that he would ask us to do any asana, in no predictable order. We could not guess which asana was coming. There was no connection, but I quietly did what he said. For me, giving demonstrations was a new experience at the time, but later, when I started giving demonstrations with my father, I realized the vast difference in the approach.

Guruji is a born artist. That is why he can guide us in our chosen art. Even now he can guide musicians, instrumentalists, singers and dancers towards improving their art through Yoga. To give a Yoga demonstration is also an art; if it were not, no one would appreciate this dry subject. There is a grace, a rhythmic tempo, a slow evolution in Guruji’s presentation. He will do the asanas fast when they demand vigorous movement, and do them slowly when they demand grace. He will do them swiftly when they demand attention. He will interconnect the asanas, keeping to the scientific base, such as spinal movements, physiological and organic effects.

In his demonstrations, the running commentary he gives is something unusual. Spectators are held spell-bound. He spins the asanas, maintaining their individuality. The demonstration with commentary is a superb combination of yogic philosophy, elaboration of the utility of asanas and their effects, the intricacies of them, and comparisons with other Yoga schools. Why am I saying this? Because it is the duty of Guruji’s pupils to maintain this method and preserve this art. Let us not forget it. Guruji’s art of presentation is totally original. Even if somebody tries to imitate it, the credit goes to Guruji, as he was the first man to do it. Swami Shivananda of Rishikesh called him “Yogi Matsyendranath” after seeing his demonstration.

When Guru T. Krishnamacharya was in Pune one day in 1961, it happened that my cousin and I were practicing, preparing for a Yoga demonstration. Guruji was there looking at us, as he had free time, which was unusual. As I was practicing, Guruji started explaining the points in each asana, correcting it, improving it, giving the clues leading towards precision and perfection. Guruji’s Guru was observing his explanations. Afterwards he went to my mother and praised my father for his precision. He appreciated the hard work that Guruji had put into the postures to improve them so much. The very next day, without telling anyone, he went to a goldsmith and asked him to make a gold medal with the inscription Yoganga-Shikshak-Chakravarti engraved upon it, meaning “Emperor of Teachers of Yoga.” Guruji was presented with it at a specially arranged public function. It was a golden day in his life, a Guru praising a pupil as “Emperor.”

Guruji has not studied medical science, but even so he has helped many patients. He has worked on different diseases, including AIDS. A shadow-reader from Bombay once studied Guruji’s shadow, according to Surya-Samhita. He concluded that Guruji had been an Ayurvedic doctor in his previous life in Kashi (Banares) near the Ganges. Though Guruji has not studied Ayurveda, his line of treatment is very close to it. You will find this topic elaborated in the new edition of Body the Shrine, Yoga Thy Light, re-titled Iyengar, His Life and Work. I will not go into the details now, because that needs a separate discussion all to itself. Today we are discussing Parampara.

I can only say one thing: Guruji was able to develop the therapy side because of his own practice. He experienced the Asana and Pranayama, totally merging into them. While practicing, he felt his own circulation, his own inner organs, their capacities, their movements, the breath, the energy throbbing, the involvement of the chitta. He felt the details of his body and mind and made his intelligence flow through both. Thanks to his hard work, his Sadhana, we his pupils, have actually come closer to our bodies, minds, and intellects. He has given us a method whereby we can experience them subjectively.

How did Guruji think of taking patients with disabilities – polio, paralysis, atrophy and dystrophy etc? The idea struck him when he was going through the Hatha Yoga Pradipika. The Guru Matsyendranath picked up a pupil, Chourangi, who was lame. By a mere touch of Matsyendranath, Chourangi was cured. This example was enough for Guruji to work upon. Though he has no Siddhi, he was inspired by it. He has taken on many such cases and improved them tremendously.

The method that Guruji followed was given him by his Guru, and though it was a hard and painful road, he did not give up or let it get him down. In fact, practicing asana and pranayama to the limit, and sometimes even over-doing it in the early stages, made him understand the students’ capacities. That is why he can point out exactly what is over-stretching and what is under-stretching; what has to be done and what has to be avoided. He thought of the various props and aids when he went through this painful process, though he himself practiced without any supports. The props are intended to produce in the body the full effects of asana and pranayama when a person is unable to do the full practice. Though Guruji invented the props, this method was already known in a crude form. Guru T. Krishnamacharya had a unique manuscript book called Yoga Kuranta. The clues it contained were enough for Guruji to develop the idea further.

Twenty years ago, when this Institute did not exist, we lived in a small house with two rooms. When he was teaching, Guruji would often ask my mother for certain household things like a grinding stone, a chapatti-roller, wooden planks and stone hand-mill, pillow, mattresses, and so on. My mother used to wonder what my father was doing. He used all these props on patients, to make different parts of the body function properly. The experiments evolved, and now we have props which are sophisticated and accurate. He used to use Chambers’ thick, heavy dictionary in Pranayama to open the chest, and we now have specially shaped pillows and slanting boxes for heart patients. All the props are his invention, thought up for the sake of his pupils. He proved to be a great scientist, so that even doctors wonder about his highly sensitive, imaginative power. Guruji’s approach and various methods are a precious gift to humanity.

Guruji has also considered women’s problems. Some time ago, Yoga was prohibited for ladies by some Yoga teachers, but Guru T. Krishnamacharya was always for it. He used to insist in public lectures that ladies should take up Yoga. As a further step, Guruji laid down a scientific and systematic programme for women in menstruation and pregnancy, as well as after delivery. Here lies his originality. Many women were unaware 25 years ago that certain asanas and pranayama could be done during menstruation. It is all Guruji’s discovery and nobody else can claim it.

Never forget that our Guruji was the first to introduce Yoga in schools for children. He was often criticized in the 1930’s and 40’s by Swami Kuvalayananda of Lonavala, but Guruji never conceded the argument. Now the Government is thinking about Yoga, discussing a syllabus and doing a lot of paperwork. But Guruji worked all this out long ago. He knows exactly what asanas to give to children of different age groups. He wants them to develop speed, skill, balance, enthusiasm, courage, discipline, physical and mental health, alertness, oneness with the work they do, and attention. It is a unique method. If not today, then in a few years time, people will realize it. I am sure they will be forced to adopt it because there will be no successful alternative.

I gave the definition of Acharya. Guruji has given us methodology. He has established a method and an approach for treading the path of Yoga (Achare Sthapayati). He himself is following it (Swayam Acharate). Now we have to see how Guruji is carrying out the teaching of the Vedas and Shastra (Achinoti Shashtrartha). Let us see how he is coming nearer to the traditional Gurus of the Upanishads.

You all know that Guruji was not trained in the Shastras, nor taught any scriptures. But where there is a will, there is a way. The urge to know the truth enlightened him. It is tapas– a burning desire – that brought him nearer to the Vedic and Upanishadic teachings.

Guruji does not give lengthy talks on philosophy. His way of giving discourses is again a unique one. While doing asana, pranayama, dhyana etc. he makes us experience many of the Upanishadic sayings, such as “Neti, neti,” “Annam Brahmeti,” “Pranam Brahmeti,” “Purnamadah Purnamidam,” “Yastu Sarvani Bhutani Atman Vanupashyati,” and many others. His approach is based on this. It cannot be explained here – it would need volumes – but I will try.

Take the Taittiriya Upanishad, Bhrigu-valli. Bhrigu Varuni approaches his father Varuna and asks him, “Adhihi Bhagavo Brahmeti” – “Teach me about Brahma. Tell me about Brahma.”

The father does not reply at once. He gradually unfolds the truth, asking Bhrigu to do penance. Only through Tapas he reveals the truth. Only yesterday you heard Guruji insisting on practice.

Varuna, the father, tells Bhrigu, “Annam Brahmeti.” At the first stage the Guru makes the Shishya realize, “Food is Brahman; from food beings are born, they live on food and after death enter into food.” This part is very close to the Panchagni Vidya of the Chandogya-Upanishad. In short it is this: the next generation is born out of the food that you eat, because the food gets converted into semen and ovum. The body is formed of food; That is why, basically it forms the Annamaya Kosha. Every pupil at the first stage of Yoga, while doing Sadhana realizes it at the physical level. Whether it is Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara or Dhyana, the vehicle – Annamaya Kosha – experiences it; and that is why the first realization is “Annam Brahmeti.”

The Guru further says, “Tapasa Brahma Vijinasasv !” “Tapo Brahmeti !” – know the Brahma by Tapas, Tapas itself is Brahma. Have you not heard Guruji saying this “Practice and practice only makes you perfect. Through practice, you evolve.”

Again, Varuna makes Bhrigu-Varuni understand Brahma step by step. Yesterday you heard the Vedic chantings at the beginning. I won’t chant everything, but you know how the Upanishad unfolds the truth further

1. Prano Brahmeti

Tapasa Brahma Vijijnasasva

Tapo Brahmeti

2. Mano Brahmeti

Tapasa Brahma Vijijnasasva


3. Vijnyanam Brahmeti

4. Anando Brahmeti

If yogic Sadhanahas to penetrate from Annamaya Kosha to Anandamaya Kosha, it is a great Tapas. You cannot prove this to a beginner as he cannot experience it. He first has to do a lot of work to discipline his body, to refine it, purify it, correct it, educate it, understand it. He has to make it a fit vehicle for further realization. That is why in the beginning it is more a bodily performance. When Guruji explains it in simple language, such as “from the skin to the soul” and “from the soul to the skin” you do not know that this is an Upanishadic method. He makes us uncover the sheaths.

He draws your attention to the limbs, the body, the muscles, bones, joints-their movements, their placements, the spacing and so on, which we understand as stretch, extend, pull, move, lift, mount, dismount, raise, turn, revolve, or tighten. Here you actually penetrate Annamaya Kosha. You animate the cells, providing the vital energy you energize it. Here you do the asanas and pranayama organically. You circulate the very energy through your awareness along with the breath. You make a particular organ function in that area with the breath, which you all experienced. You apply the mind there and that is Manomaya Kosha. You take a dip into the body with breath and the mind activates that part. The body-mind equipment is used with breath energy to search the Vijnanamaya Kosha, where you understand the difference between the knower and the known, ie between you and your vehicles-the soul and the chitta, ego, buddhi, mind, organs of action, organs of perception etc. You have experienced a state, while doing asana or pranayama, in which you witness the source of your being, and that can be compared to Anandamaya Kosha.

Guruji gives us Panchakoshatmaka Brahmavidya in his own method. Coming to Guruji’s demanding and commanding nature and strict disciplines, see Kathopanishad 3/14: “Utthishtata Jagrata prapya Varannibodhata Kshurasya Dhara Nishita Duratyaya Durgam Pathastat Kavayo Vadanti.”

The Upanishad is saying at the top of its voice how difficult is the path of self-realization and what keen attention is required. Whenever I chant this “Utthishthat Jagrat”, I remember Guruji’s voice at the beginning of class. The Upanishad roars like a lion, Guruji also roars like a lion. The Upanishadic Guru is impatient. He wants the pupil to react urgently, eagerly, immediately. Guruji also wants that from you. He says, “Come on ! Awaken ! Lift !”

What is the path like ? The Upanishad says, “Kshurasya Dhara Nishita Duratyaya” – “Like the sharp edge of a razor, which cannot be crossed easily.” Guruji says, “Balance in Sirsasana so that you are not leaning forwards, backwards, left or right.” His precision demands the skill to balance on the sharp edge of a razor. He will not even let you blink. At first you think, why such precision? But an advancing student realizes that only by approaching the asana like that do you experience “Tada Drishtuh Svarupe avasthanam.” The body, mind, intellect, all these are balanced, to experience the seer.

I remember another story from the Chandogya Upanishad, a story of Indra, king of the Gods, and Virochana, king of the demons, approaching Guru Prajapati about understanding the soul. After 32 years of tapas, Virochana goes away thinking that the body is the soul. Prajapati says, that which sees through the eyes is the soul, so they think that the image of the body that is seen in water or in a mirror is the soul. Virochana decorates himself with flowers and ornaments, mistaking the perishable body for the imperishable soul, and goes away satisfied. But Indra is unconvinced and comes back again. Here too, the truth is unfolded gradually. He does tapas again for another 32 years. The Upanishad teaches us when to give advanced instructions. The secret is not given to one and all. The upadesha(instruction) also has to be done at the right time, when the pupil is ready. The Guru gives advice and instruction in doses, like medicine. So Indra was asked to do Tapas with Brahmacharya (celibacy) in three installments of 32 years, and finally Prajapati taught him how the soul is above and beyond the body, above dreams, sleep and wakefulness. The soul is realized only in a super-wakeful state (Jagrata jagratavastha).

This story is essentially about self-realization, but it also illustrates the Guru-Shishya relationship. Guru Prajapati asks Indra to realize truth through experience, rather than supplying him with ready-made answers. The Guru introduces him to his body, and asks him to identify with it. Indra does not reject this, but comes back and encourages the Guru to give him advanced instruction. When finally the Guru is satisfied that Indra is ready, he gives him knowledge. Indra was purged by his Guru; our Guruji likewise purges us.

Virochana, on the other hand, goes away satisfied simply with the realization of his own body. But Prajapati does not reject him either: He understands Virochana’s capacity. Similarly, Guruji does not reject those who only come to exercise themselves, or keep fit; the door is open for both types of pupils.

To know what Guruji says or teaches, you have to know the Upanishads. Then you find an important theme and that is Parampara.

Again, I need not say how Guruji links sadhana with the Yoga sutras. While teaching asana and pranayama, he makes us experience the meaning of the Sutras. They become meaningful in the process of learning itself. He brings the Astanga Yoga into a single asana and into a single cycle of pranayama.

If somebody asks you, which is your parampara, tradition, who is the Mula Purusha, the originator of your system, say it is Brahma, Hiranyagarbhan – that is why Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita says, “I taught this Yoga to Vivasvan.”

The Pancharatra declares, “Hiranyagarbhah Yogasya Vakta / Nanyah Puratanah.”

Yoga was first expounded by Hiranyagarbhah. He is the Mula Purusha, Purushavisheshah. As Patanjali says, “Purveshamapi Guruh Kalen Anavachchedat” - “He is the teacher of ancients too, not being limited by time.” True knowledge – Jnana-never dies. Somebody will always be born to guide us. Our Guruji has shown a forgotten path. He is a link and that is why it is our duty to carry on.

We become a good link when we drop Ahamkara, the ego; only then will the light be seen, thanks to the Guru within you. You see the board at the steps before you enter the Institute. It reads, “Remove your footwear here.” In fact you have to take off the garb of Ahamkara at the same time as you take off your shoes. The expression “I know” closes all windows, and in fact puts “no entry” signs in the way of true knowledge. The Shishyas of the Upanishads used to approach their Gurus with Samidha in their hands. Samidha means a particular kind of wood, a fuel for the sacred fire. When you come here, Guruji wants you to come with body, mind, and soul, so that you can perform the Yoga Yajna and give the Ahamkara (ego) as an oblation in the Yogagni (fire of Yoga). If the ego interferes in the learning process, you are no longer a shishya, and the result is failure.

Guruji’s method is such that anyone can get name and fame. His method attracts people and many have benefited by it. But if due to this fame you forget your Guru, the Vidya (knowledge) cannot remain with you for long. Vidya divorces you when it feels you are interested in something else. What is this “something ?” The Ahamkara; Aham is I; Kara is shape. That which takes shape of “I”, which is not “I” but pretends to be “I”, is Ahamkara. Vidya is knowledge, therefore Ahamkara and Vidya cannot remain together. Jnana and Ajnana cannot remain together. Intelligence and ignorance cannot remain together. When Ahamkara goes, Vidya enters. The moment Vidya comes Ahamkara has to go. The moment light enters, darkness must go.

This makes me think of the story of Ahalya, a chaste and devoted wife of the great sage Gautam. Also attracted to Ahalya’s beauty was Indra, who one day transformed himself into a cockerel and crowed outside Gautam Rishi’s door. The sage thought it was time to get up and went to the river to bathe. Then Indra, now in the form of Gautam, entered the hut and enjoyed himself with Ahalya, who mistook him for the real Gautama. When the sage returned, she realized her mistake, and the sage cursed them both.

Ahalya had been confused, which made her identify with the wrong person. She had forgotten her own soul – Purusha – Gautam. She embraced Indra who was not her Purusha. She embraced Ahamkara, which was not Aham, “I”. The sage Gautam cursed her to become a stone, a rock. That is stagnation no movement, no development, no chaitanya (life force). Gautama told Ahalya that she would regain her human form when the Lord came to earth. So when Lord Sri Rama, ie Paramatma, God, came to earth, she was brought back to life by his touch.

We are all like Ahalya. The Drishta-seer, Purusha-is forgotten because we embrace Ahamkara, the ego. That is why we are like rocks. Yesterday Guruji told you to drop your ego. He has shaken you, awakened you. Drop the Ahamkara, the ego, and Alasya, laziness. If you have achieved something, good; thank God, but do not embrace the ego. If you have not achieved anything, drop the laziness (Alasya) and work, work hard, practice, and be honest and religious in your approach.

Yesterday you heard the Taittiriya Upanishad. In Shiksha Valli, the Guru, while saying goodbye to the Shishyas, says

Swadhyaya Pravachanabhyam Na Pramaditavyam.

Swadhyaya indicates studying by oneself. The Guru asks the pupil to be a student forever; never to miss one’s lesson or practice. Then Pravachana indicates imparting the knowledge to others. Here it is the teaching. It is a double responsibility. Even if you become a Guru, a teacher, you are not supposed to give up your practice.

Whatever has been taught by the Guru, do it. That will guide you. It is a duty of every pupil to preserve and protect this tradition. The same Upanishad says, “Acharyam Priyam Dhanam Ahritya Prajatantum ma Vyavachchetsihi” – “After presenting gifts pleasing to the teacher, take care that the thread of your lineage does not break.”

After all, what does the Guru want from you ? It is the knowledge (vidya), the art that he has given you. In return he wants moral, ethical, honest and religious practice as a gift. He wants you to preserve the art. Why does he say, do not break the lineage ? So that you can transfer the knowledge to the next generation.

Never compete with a Guru. On the contrary, when you get closer to the Guru, or when you are almost equal to your Guru, the Upanishad says, “Saha Navavatu.” Here, the Guru and Shishya both pray together. ‘May Brahma protect us both !” “Saha nau bhunaktu” – May both enjoy the Brahmananda “Saha Veeryam Karavaavahai” – “May we both work together.” “Tejasvinavadhitamastu Ma Vidvishavahai” – “May we not hate each other.”

Om Shanti ! Shanti ! Shanti !

Peace ! Peace ! Peace !


Lecture given on 12th July 1987 at the Guru Purnima Celebration, Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Institute, Pune by GEETA S. IYENGAR

[Published in 70 Glorious Years of Yogacharya B.K.S. Iyengar (Commemorative Volume) by Light on Yoga Research Trust Bombay – 1990 First Edition]