The Lion of Pune, Rumi and I
“The power of love came into me,
and I became fierce like a lion,
then tender like the evening star.” ~Rumi
Many years ago I had a dream in which the Yoga Master, Sri BKS Iyengar called me to Pune to “take care” of me.
BKS Iyengar, whose students call him Guruji or Mr. Iyengar has been named “The Lion of Pune” because of his unswerving faithful, fiery, fierce, frenetic, fearsome way of teaching yoga. He is also known for his compassion and capacity to serve as a healer through his therapeutic approach to yoga. This man’s presence is much larger than his 5 foot frame. When I told a friend who practices yoga that I was going to work with Iyengar, he said, “Dude, that is like going to learn how to bat with Babe Ruth!”
The day after I arrived in Pune, I went to the RIMYI in Pune to meet the him. As I bowed to Guruji, I realized that I was in the presence of a truly remarkable man. A felt a tremendous sense of gratitude and reverence, but there was also a fair dose of terror. I have never before experienced a man who emanates such “energy.” It was like the way the air feels during the moments right before an electrical storm. You know when this man is in the room, his energy is almost tangible.
It takes immense faith to take one step toward the
Lion in the presence of the Lion…
This is the real step on the Path; all the other
steps are just vanishing footprints. (The Real Step, Rumi)
For the next two months I spent my days at the Institute in the practice hall and the library trying to learn as much as I could about and from this 94 year old genius. I saw him on his mat practicing daily for at least 2 hours! Often he would stay in Sirsasana (headstand), Viparita Dandasana or Kapotasana (deep backbend) for 15-45 minutes each. This man practices challenging, almost painful looking poses, but he becomes so still and calm, while energetically seemingly to flow like water… He encouraged me to integrate more relaxing, restorative poses to bring me toward stillness.
Mr. Iyengar’s daily routine consists of waking at 5:30 am for a bath, coffee and pranayama, followed by the newspaper and another cup of coffee. At about 9:15 he goes to the Yoga Hall to practice and/or teach for about 3 hours. After that there is a bath, prayers and a vegetarian lunch. His afternoons consist of corresponding in the library, reading, and STUDYING. He is often teaching on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and sometimes Thursdays. Vegetarian supper comes at around 8pm where he spends time with the family or watching news before retiring at 10:30 or 10:40. All of this at 94 years of age! He said to us one day as he was chastising his senior teachers. ”I am a senior learner and a junior teacher.”
A man with this type of discipline, inquisitiveness and commitment expects nothing less from his pupils.
Do not expect to be always happy on this way.
You have been caught by a Lion, my dear…Watch the man beating a rug.
He is not mad at it.
He wants to loosen the layers of dirt. Ego accumulations are not loosened
with one swat. Continual work
is necessary, disciplines. (Disciplines, Rumi)
My first direct encounter as a student came at medical class, where he roars like a lion commanding respect and demanding precision, determination, humility, and vigilance. Rumi’s Chickpea to Cook poem sums up how this little chickpea (me!) felt with the chef Iyengar seasoning him!
A chickpea leaps almost over the rim of the pot
where it’s being boiled.
“Why are you doing this to me?”
The cook knocks him down with the ladle.
“Don’t you try to jump out.
You think I’m torturing you.
I’m giving you flavor,
so you can mix with spices and rice
and be the lovely vitality of a human being.”
Eventually the chickpea
will say to the cook,
” Boil me some more.
Hit me with the skimming spoon.
I can’t do this by myself.”
The cook says,
“I was once like you…My animal soul
grew powerful. I controlled it with practices, and
boiled some more, and boiled once beyond that,
and became your teacher. “ (Chickpea to Cook, Rumi)
“Be Direct. That is how I was able to spend time with the great people of the world.” (when I approached him in the library)
“You think you are an expert. How am I to teach you?”
“Do not use destructive will power.” (as I shook and struggled to hold a pose)
“Don’t do with your head! Bring your trunk to your brain!”
“Your brain is hyper active, it must be made hypo active.”
“I’m not going to be here 24/7 for you.” (after he told me to do a few poses)
“Don’t help him, he must learn to do on his own” (as one of the assistant tried to help me)
“The brain must be the witness in your case.”
“You must now consolidate all of the things I have been teaching you.”
The ruby and the sunrise are one.
Be courageous and discipline yourself…
Work. Keep digging your well.
Don’t think about getting off from work.
Water is there somewhere.
Submit to a daily practice.
Your loyalty to that
is a ring on the door.
Keep knocking, and the joy inside
will eventually open a window
and look out to see who’s there. (The Sunrise Ruby, Rumi)
When Guruji speaks of his pupils or students, he often calls his pupils his “children.” This depth of love and compassion is probably much of the reason why he is a master teacher. This along with his discipline. He says, “To be a teacher, you must roar like a lion on the outside and be meek as a lamb on the inside.”
When Guruji addressed all of us, he constantly encouraged us to purify ourselves through the fire of practice…
“You have to practice with tolerance patience and perseverance, and then only each one can drink the nectar of life… by their own sadhana…
Brother/Sister, stand the pain.
Escape the poison of your impulses.
The sky will bow to your beauty, if you do.
Learn to light the candle. Rise with the sun…
What is it to know something of God?
Burn inside that presence. Burn up…
You tighten your two hands together,
determined not to give up saying “I” and “we.”
This tightening blocks you. (Tattooing in Qazwin, Rumi)
“God Bless you all.” ~Guruji
Let us give thanks for the Masters like BKS Iyengar and Rumi. Let us disciplined in our practice and pray for the courage to be Fierce with our Love.
With Love and Gratitude,