I started watching the new Netflix series on OSHO/Rajneesh this week, and though I know that the point of the documentary is more on the political/town take over side and not focused on his teachings or even his followers, I am still intrigued by the mass following of a person/teacher and what that means for all involved. WHY? Well, obviously I claim myself as a “follower” of Iyengar Yoga and I know that from the outside there are many who view that exactly the same as any other “follower” of ______________ (fill-in the blank). And frankly, I am as shocked as anyone that I find myself in this spot.
I have always been what people might commonly call a “seeker”, but I also have an ingrained skeptical nature…especially regarding human beings. I was not one to ever be counted as a part of some group or community knowing that as a whole, human beings are kinda miserable and bound to screw things up by greed, lust, etc… I was not “religious” or “spiritual” or “new age” at all. I still consider myself a scientist and was an Anthropologist by schooling, so I had every plan to be alone in the woods studying gorillas like Dian Fossey.
I did not even know what yoga was when I started it and the physical practice was difficult, so it was not a “fell in love instantly”, “enlightened on first practice” kinda experience. After a few weeks, I could tell there was some change afoot, but it wasn’t “life changing” … until I read The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. At first reading, I knew I had found my path. It amazed me that the way my mind worked had been written down thousands of years ago by some guy in India, a place I vowed I would never go. It became clear that the physical aspect of yoga was just a drop in the bucket of knowledge that has been left for us regarding this subject and I was hooked.
But I found it strange that I kept going to yoga classes that distracted my attention instead of focusing it, which the Sutras say really is the goal of yoga – “stilling the fluctuations of the mind”. Sure, I was having fun with jumpings and trying poses, but would wander out of studios “high” and “scattered” and not focused at all….Until I went to an Iyengar Yoga class. I did not know who Iyengar was, just knew that when I left that class I felt like I had met myself on some deeper level. For one of the first times in my life I might have even said I loved my self – and that was powerful.
So, fast forward some 15 years that I am now practicing “Iyengar Yoga”, teaching “Iyengar Yoga”, and reading mostly “Iyengar Yoga” texts and information. I had traveled to India and fell in love instantly with the people and the culture and also felt “at home” there, but I still had skepticism about this “man”, this “guru” that people called “Guruji”…so I was determined to take trip #2 to Pune and the Iyengar Institute to check things out.
I put my shield up, had every intention of being disappointed, had in my mind the vision of every fallen guru and charlatan that had ever brainwashed, sexually abused, taken people for money and more fame. I was not looking for a guru, I wanted this practice, but I did not want to “worship” some person, so I had to see for myself.
I remember it clearly….not in the “he was filled with light and floated on air” kinda way, not in the “I saw him and was instantly in love with him” kinda way either. My first encounter with BKS Iyengar was pure relief….”freedom” in the sense that I knew it was this practice and not “HIM” that would enlighten me. He walked into the practice room and yes, people threw themselves at his feet, ran to touch him, etc…but he did not soak it up or expect it at all, did not work the crowd or demand attention. In truth, to me he seemed slightly “amused” and even “dismissive”…and for me, that was perfect.
Practice was his life and he expected no less from every one of his students….not because HE said so, but because the practice is the only way to the goal. He gave a lifetime example on how to live in the modern world AND practice yoga to its fullest – translated the very text of the Yoga Sutras into a living accessible example. He left behind more information on the subject than any one of us might be able to digest in our lifetime. He paved and lit a way that is practical for any person to follow. Not blindly just because he did, but because each of us has the power and the tools to better ourself individually and make a positive impact on the world around us.
My story of studentship with yoga is, even for me strangely, the very reason I might actually believe in a higher power, karma, blessings, etc…, but I do not see Guruji BKS Iyengar as that “God” or “higher power”. The term guru means “dispeller of the darkness of ignorance” and in his life he shed light on so many aspects of our being that it is hard to ignore.
This is the crux of why I am a “follower” or “devotee”…there is nothing new under the sun, we are all connected through time and space in some way, so to ignore tradition and lineage and origin is to build an ego of attachment to discovery and knowledge that is not ours alone…ever. To have a guru for me is not to lose myself in that person, or to even love that person unconditionally, but to utilize that light of knowledge to dispel my own ignorance, a place I can leave my own ego aside and humble myself to learn. I am grateful for that light and wish for everyone some person or teaching that might shine a light on themselves…to get out of your own way…to transform and know that your own truth is within.