Meeting Guruji


            He was waiting for me. I was walking to his house. Having not been there before, not knowing Mysore, not yet feeling at home in India, and feeling slightly lost, with a map, hand drawn by David Life, I was walking to what I hoped was his house. Then almost 2 blocks or 8 houses further down the road, on the right hand side, a small, elderly (seventy-five at that time) man, stuck his head outside the front door of what was indeed his house, looked right at me and started yelling, “You come, yes you come!” I started running and when I got there he said, “I waiting, I waiting” and I believed it to be so. So from the beginning I realized that Guruji, and my relationship to him and later to his daughter, Sarasvati and his grandson Sharath, was not going to be logical for how could a man who did not know me, nor that I was coming, greet me as he did, and why would I, at that time, a somewhat suspicious and slow moving person start running?

I realize now, thinking of that time, that the feeling I was having while running to Guruji, encapsulates what my spiritual practice has been over these last 26 years.  It was an experience of moving in a direction of benevolence towards a source of goodness, an embodiment of love, never divisive, never proud, always encouraging, reliable, and welcoming. This is a feeling I never want to forget. Of course I could never forget meeting Guruji, “You come… You come…. You come inside, you come upstairs… you take practice, you stay 3 months” but at times, thru the ups downs and adversities in life, that supreme invitation sometimes seems far away and by recalling it I am once again connected to the path of running towards Yoga.

Guruji was a kind and wise man. His kindness and wisdom was so large that it transmitted to his students who felt wise and kind in his presence. It was an empathetic experience that hopefully would impress us such that how we behaved not in his presence would be the same as if he was there. He loved his life; his family, and students, teaching, travelling, studying, reading the newspaper, and shopping for vegetables or jewels. He knew all the shopkeepers, enjoyed talking and laughing with them, and they appreciated his visits. “Sri K Pattabhi Jois was in today,” they would say such that this had given their day and store special meaning. He was not “above it all”. Rather, because he had a special way of looking at the world, a vision that he said would take more than “new eye glasses”, there was always something deeper, a poetic realization of God manifesting in the “ordinary” that he saw and pointed out regularly.

He wished that everyone would get along. It upset him when students fought with each other. When students did argue he would invite them for lunch or rearrange the classroom so that the two disharmonious students were right next to, practically on top of, each other. This way the students would get the message and the friction would blow over rather than escalate. He was a peacekeeper naturally. He paid no attention to gossip, even if it was about himself, as he was too absorbed in his prayers and the goodness of his life. He always had time to talk with a student, sit for yet another photograph, or meet another parent or child of a student. He never made a student feel bad or silly. He remembered if someone had been sick or had had a problem at home. After meeting my father years later, pointing to his right eye, he said, “Your father, I looking,” and I knew he was seeing in his clear mind my beautiful father and that within a few words he expressed great and real concern.

He said over and over that yoga was “union with God” and that this was established thru the eight limbs of Patanjali’s Yoga system that starts with not harming others. The difficulty of that practice makes one humble and that humility is necessary as it replaces arrogance and conceit. His faith in this way of life sets an example for any student who truly wants that way of life for him or herself.

After that initial meeting with Guruji, I was fortunate enough to stay in Mysore for several months. When I was leaving Guruji asked if I was happy. “Happy?” he said…”You happy?” and I answered him, “Yes Guruji, I am happy” for I was. I had a sense, perhaps for the first time that I could be happy thru practice, and that anything was now possible. He repeated the question several times with a stern look on his face and each time I assured him, “Yes, I am happy.” Then he said, “……keep it…..keep it.” Another way of saying, it will take practice.

 That happiness can be more stable in our lives, and less dependent on external circumstances takes dedicated practice over a long time to realize. It’s easy to let adversity, disappointment, anger, layer over layer of additions and conditions to clutter and cover our what Pema Chodron calls “basic goodness” or in Guruji’s words “God”. But the practice of the eight limbs, ashtanga yoga, that Guruji taughtworks in ways that take effort and reflection, to uncover, pare down, and release oneself from negativity and unkindness.

It’s helpful on the path to have friends, those capable and desirous of lasting relationships. In the last years of Guruji’s life he sometimes forgot my name. Then he would call me, “Lisa’s friend” and it made me happy that this was how he thought of me; as someone’s friend. As Maharishi Patanjali says in book 3 of the Yoga Sutra, strength comes from friendship. Friends who learn how to communicate with one another, who work to bring people together not apart, who strive to create a harmonious community, who study together and apply their studies to life’s situations, who practice side by side and not competitively, and do not say things that they don’t know are true, and do not walk away from each other in hard times, are friends who share and care about the teachings.  With these types of friendships and a collective respect, the potential for progress and grace of yoga practitioners, and especially practitioners connected in direct or even indirect ways to Sri K Pattabhi Jois, is great. We are all very blessed.

As I was leaving I heard Guruji saying what he said all the time, “Thank you very much, thank you very much, thank you very much.” He was a genuinely thankful man. Even if you asked him, “Guruji, how are you?” He would simply answer, “Thank you very much.” Or if he gave you an assist in class, helped you bend over backwards and stand upside down, afterwards he would say, “Thank you very much”. He didn’t stand there waiting to be thanked. He wanted to be the one to say, “Thank you.”