I can’t believe it’s already been six years since Guruji’s passing. At the same time, I can scarcely believe it has only been six years, so much has changed in my life since then. I can only be grateful and hope that all the love and strength I so abundantly received from my teachers then, and still do now, allow me to leave this world, a little better than I found it. This is what I wrote, shortly after his passing away, while still living in NY:
“The word guru is derived from the Sanskrit root “gru” literally meaning heavy, weighty. Jokes about rotundity later in life aside (and Guruji loved chocolate until very late in life!), it is understood that the guru is heavy with experience, knowledge and wisdom that he or she imparts on the dedicated student as they see fit.
My favorite interpretation, however, is that the guru is not light like a feather, swayed this way and that by the winds of change. He is not bound by the citta vrttis (fluctuations of the mindstuff) that we are so prone to: “the weather was great this morning but now it’s kind of crummy… I received praise from so and so and felt great but then so and so criticized me and I felt bad… I looove this pose but haaate that other one…” and on and on, the peaks and valleys the mind latches on to, up and down, constantly swinging back and forth. The guru is more like a rock than a feather; relentless in faith in the teachings, compassion for the seeker, good cheer for all.
Another etymology is that of a dispeller of darkness; ‘gu’ meaning darkness, and ‘ru’ meaning “dispeller.” It is commonly understood that your teacher will illuminate the darkness of ignorance with the strength of knowledge. Thus, by extension, your guru can be any being in your life who helps to shed some light into those dark corners, or as I say at the end of my class, “We give thanks to the beings of light in our lives, who walk the path a little ahead of us and help shine our way.”
Shri K. Pattabhi Jois was such a light in my life. Guruji, as he is affectionately known to friends and disciples alike, passed on from this realm on May 18th of this year , at the age of ninety three. He is the man credited for bringing the system known as ashtanga vinyasa yoga to the West, and you can rest assured that any class you venture into that includes sun salutations and flow draws heavily from his system of breath and movement.
A couple of things I learned from Guruji:
Be loving: What I am learning, cultivating, hoping for, is to posess the kind of love and generosity he had for all. From the first-time drop-in to the decades-long practitioner, he was so present in that moment, his warmth and love exploding over cultural or language barriers until it manifested in pure love. Even when he was in dragon mode, bellowing across the room and fierce as lightning, if you looked closely there was a twinkle of a smile in his eye. He saw the god, and the good, in all his students.
Be Courageous:The concept of limitations does not exist in the guru’s world. He knows better than I think I know what I am capable of. “Why fearing?!? You TRY!!”, he would proclaim, and proceed to wrap me into shapes previously impossible. “When you come to Mysore?”, he asked in ’03. Something in me responded without rational thought- ‘Next year, Guruji’. I made it happen- quit the cushy dayjob and made the five month pilgrimage to study at his feet, to trust that the universe would catch me at some point on the way down as I took the leap. “Why fearing?!? You DO!!”. And I did.
Be Grateful:After class or conference, there was always a sea of eager students queing up to say thanks. We would touch his feet and sometimes give a hug. Say thank you. There was never the rote “you’re welcome” from him. It was always a variation on the Elvis-like response- “Yes, yes, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you”. I never gave much thought to it until his passing, attributing it to his shaky command of the English language perhaps? I think I get it now. Without a student, there can be no teacher. Without a seeker, there can be no practice. So, thank you. Thank you very much. Thank you, thank you.”
Guru Brahma Guru Vishnu
Guru Devo Maheshwara
Guru Sakshath Parambrahma
Tasmai Shri Gurave Namaha
Guru is creator Brahma; Guru is preserver Vishnu;
Guru is also the destroyer Siva and he is the source of the Absolute.
The Guru that is nearby, the Guru that is beyond all form.
I offer all my salutations to the Guru. -From Adi Shankara.