Happy Guru Purnima! A day to celebrate and honor our teachers. The Indian tradition is the Guru Purnima festival, a celebration falling on a full moon in the month of Ashadh to pay gratitude and respect to gurus, as well as role models and teachers who have made a special impact in your life.
Generally, Hindus celebrate this auspicious day in memory of great sage Vyasa who was the earliest guru of Hindu religion. Buddhist spend their day by practicing yoga and also remembers Lord Buddha who gave first sermon at Sarnath. Farmers show love, care and hope that their crops get ample amount of rains in the coming time. In modern time, Guru Purnima is celebrated by conducting various special programs by students and they express their gratitude in the form of gifts or flowers.
This one is especially auspicious with the blue moon and all.
To help celebrate the day, we’re sharing this excerpt from an interview with one B.K.S. Iyengar, aka Guruji, who passed away almost a year ago, but led such a long and vibrant life. Here are his words from 2005 on the relationship between yoga and religion – something of increased interest as of late – followed by his lovely instruction and leading of a group OM. Interview courtesy of the Iyengar Yoga Institute of New York who are holding their own Guru Purnima Festival tomorrow, Saturday August 1. More details here.
On October 14, 2005, we had the pleasure of hosting a monumental event in honor of our Guruji, B.K.S. Iyenger. After an artistic and devotional yoga demonstration, acclaimed filmmaker Mira Nair interviewed Guruji. After the interview, Ms. Nair asked Guruji to lead the crowd of 3,000 in sounding the word OM. It was a moment all who attended will never forget. Below is an excerpt of Mira’s interview with Guruji, along with his moving and eloquent description of sitting for OM.
Guruji you write in the book that “yoga is not meant to be a religion or a dogma for any one culture”. While we know that yoga sprang from the soil of India it is meant as a universal path, a way open to all regardless of their birth and background – Patanjali used the expression sarva bahauma – of universal some 2500 years ago. What part do you think religion has, if any, in yoga?
You know first of all, the word religion does not suit in self-culture. Religion has no denomination in our vernacular language even in Sanskrit. The word dharma has been misinterpreted as religion. The word dharma has a tremendous bearing on human beings. The definition of dharma (what you call religion) is that which upholds sustains and supports. In modern terminology they call it religion. So it is not sectarian religion. When I say sectarian, God-made religion has no difference at all; it’s single. But man-made religions are what create problems for all of us.
So yoga teaches us how to live honorably and gracefully. The eight aspects of yoga are taught for man to develop that quality of grace. Yoga is that which makes you to build up. I call that a self-culture; it’s not religious culture. But when you have to touch self-culture, sectarian divisions do come into the picture. I’m trained in India, and the way in which I was brought up I say I belong to Hinduism — I am a Hindu. But yoga does not say follow the Hindu religion. Similarly if you have been brought up according to Christianity, there is no difference. Moral practices are there, ethical practices are there, intellectual practices are there, divine practices are there – identical. Let us take those identical ideas, and let us build to become one human race, one human religion – not demarcation of religions. That is what culmination I’ve given in Light on Life. As we have layers in the body, there are seven religions in the world — important religions. So these layers of the human being, let us pair one after the other and then you will find only oneness. The child does not know any religion. The child who is born it is a gift of God and has no feeling of inner religion. So also we should learn from the birth of a child how we have to live and continue so that we live with the child’s innocent mind which does not know any divisions of religion but knows the truth of religion — that we are the children of God. And that’s what yoga teaches.
Guruji can you lead us into OM’s?
All of you sit straight. I don’t want you to stand. Think that you are standing though you are sitting on the chair. Treat your tailbone as the feet – as the center of the feet. And the two buttock bones are the actual feet. So sit on the buttock bone from the back to the front, the center like an arch – reverse arch – touching your seat. When you stretch your body, the torso – close your eyes, drop your eyebrows down; when you close your eyes the upper lid should come down, not the lower lids going up – again open your eyes: slowly bring your upper lids to come and touch the lower lids along with the eyebrows. Don’t bend the head down.
Hear the inner sound from the ears and take the vision – reverse the vision of your eyes to the inner space which you cannot measure either through physical eyes or intellectual eyes. It is so deep inside. As you descend the energy of the brain from the four hemispheres let the energy touch the stem of the brain or the egg of the brain so that the four hemispheres’ energy recedes to the center. And from there, it has to dip down towards the seat of the heart which is the seat of the mind. And as you are sitting, see that your feet, the buttock bones are firmly established on the seat. Gradually stretch the frontal spine – do not jerk the back spine – but the frontal vertebras, creating space on the anterior part of the spine which is known as the physical energy.
Ascend the physical energy from the front of the tailbone to reach the core of your being which is exactly just near the diaphragm, the center of the diaphragm. Similarly, bring the intellectual energy from the head to descend so that both the physical energy and the intellectual energy reach at the seat of the intelligence, the heart. At the same time your vision should follow the descendence of the energy of the intelligence as well as the ascending energy of the physical body. And you will know where they meet.
Take your ears inside. Release your tongue. Do not touch your tongue to rest on the upper palette. As you are in sleep, as the tongue is completely quiet, non-moving, here also learn to relax the tongue and let it rest on the lower palette. Remain quiet. Passively look within, not only with your eyes, but with your ears, so that the mind becomes quiet and your brain becomes silent. In the silence there is auspiciousness. In that auspiciousness the incantation has weight. Look within. Let your inner layer of the skin also look within without dropping the height of the spine.
Along with me, after I say AUM, I request you all to sound AUM.
AUM is not a Hindu mantra. The first word to open the mouth is akara – A – you cannot open the mouth without the word “A” – you cannot speak without rolling the tongue – that’s why “U” comes – so silence comes from the “M”; so it has nothing to do with Hindu religion. AUM is the three words which makes one to speak. Therefore the importance of AUM and they call it as “shabda brahma” or brahma, the creator, in these three words where the language has come to existence. Therefore the Hindus use the word AUM as a bija mantra, as a seed for talk. Therefore let us all pay respects to these three words which makes us to live, which makes us to create, generate, protect and destroy what should not be used.
Slow, soft exhalation. Do not do an inhalation. If you inhale you disturb the vision of your eyes. So let the vision be deep inside.
AUM chanting going on.
Hear the sound of silence. Let your ears move in to feel the source of the vibration. And that is self.
Wish you all the best in yoga.
- BKS Iyengar’s Last Practice In Photos
- Jake Clennell on Filming BKS Iyengar: ‘I have never in my life seen such an expression of love and devotion.’
- My Journey with Guruji: Lessons and Reflections From 40 Years of Practice with B.K.S. Iyengar – by Bobby Clennell
- What is Iyengar’s Legacy, and What is Ours?