A year ago today, the great yoga teacher BKS Iyengar died. He was such a light. Here is what I wrote in his honor in 2014.
Thursday, 20 August 2015
Tuesday, 4 August 2015
Today is a special day in the Hindu, Jain and Buddhist calendar: it’s Guru Purnima, a holiday where people can celebrate their teachers. For this reason, I think it’s a beautiful holiday for everyone, regardless of faith—though certainly faith comes into our relationship with any teacher in our lives, whether it’s listening to an insight or gesture when it’s given, or finding the space to understand it afterwards.
Perhaps you have someone whom you regard as a spiritual teacher? A guru, monk or humanitarian figure whose words and way of life you follow? Or maybe it’s someone in a classroom or a driving lesson whose words go beyond simply making sense and somehow become inspiring?
There is a beautiful lineage in yoga that the yoga teacher Ruth Lauer-Manenti talks about in her book, An Offering of Leaves. She talks about how sometimes in a class, our teacher will physically touch us in a way that feels helpful, saying, that teacher, too, was touched by their teacher in just such a way, and their teacher before them. “When the teacher is talking about kindness and you feel nourished by their words, something inside of you is stirred and something that was sleeping awakens. This is because that teacher also had a teacher who spoke about kindness and woke them up.”
It makes me think of the image of buckets of water being passed down a line, and it strikes me that good teaching can work in our lives like this. Many pairs of hands have brought me to this point in my life; many good people have given me tools to dig myself out of holes or build safer ladders to the stars; many people have held me physically and emotionally. On a day like Guru Purnima, it’s nice to take a moment to think of all the people in your life whose teachings have lifted you and supported you.
For me, I’m thinking of my spiritual teacher Mata Amritanandamayi Devi (Amma), and of my wonderful granny dressed in her white cardigan and sitting in her favorite chair; I liked sitting at her feet like that even when I was a grown up. I think of my incredibly patient driving instructor, Mo, who only lost it once, the day before my test when I was driving abysmally: “Love! What’s happening! You’re cracking up!” Family, friends, so many hands...
The word guru has its roots in the syllables “gu” meaning darkness and “ru” meaning light, conveying a sense of the darkness of ignorance being dispelled by light. Some friends and I had a discussion about the nature of a guru. One said, “the guru is in your heart,” then another said, “the guru is your heart.”
The guru is your heart. Happy Guru Purnima.