Conference Notes with Sharath Jois: KPJAYI, 21 October 2012
Sharath began with reaffirming, “Yoga is not new.” He cited that there are so many ‘manuscripts’ that describe the yoga experience and that explain how to practice yoga. There is the Bhagavad Gītā, the Upaniṣads, and the Vedas. The Ṛṣis of long ago practiced yoga to develop mind control too, so that they could then attain higher states of consciousness.
In the Bhagavad Gītā the original teaching of yoga is said to have come from Kṛṣṇa and through a direct descent (paraṁparā) from his first student, Īśavān, who then taught it to Manu, and continuing down in this way from generation to generation. Although, through the ages, this knowledge gets distorted and lost, and so Kṛṣṇa takes birth again to teach it. It is in this context that Kṛṣṇa is teaching Arjuna. That is, during that time, Truth or Dharma had become too oppressed and obscured due to the rise of Adharma or unrighteousness.
Arjuna was confused by the pending war wherein he was to battle against his own grandfather and so many other of his relatives and friends. So Kṛṣṇa had to help restore Arjuna’s mental clarity. Because of this confusion, Arjuna was not able to understand clearly what his duty was. We too have to realize our own duty (karma/dharma) and to do that. We are born with a purpose that we must accomplish.
Sharath recounted that 100 years ago – when Krishnamacharya was wanting to learn yoga – it was very difficult to find a good yoga teacher. People were mistakenly afraid that yoga would make you leave your life, families and friends behind – i.e. become a saṁnyāsin, a renunciate – so there weren’t many people practicing yoga. Krishnamacharya wanted someone who could teach him the practical experience of yoga – beyond the theory he had already learned from his previous extensive studies. It was not easy back then; he had to travel all the way to Nepal, and then he spent several days persuading his teacher to be, Ramamohan Brahmachari, that he was worthy. Ramamohan wouldn’t even address Krishnamacharya himself; he instead sent his son outside to give him a couple of rotis, and to tell him to eat and go. But Krishnamacharya was stubborn – he wouldn’t go – and he eventually gained Ramamohan as his teacher through discussions spoken in Sanskrit which convinced him that he was not an ordinary person, that he was fit for learning real yoga. Krishnamacharya stayed with his teacher for 7-8 years and learned many yoga Śāstras. He learned the Yoga Korunta – composed by Vāmana Ṛṣi – which is the text from which this practice is based.
Sharath recalled that even as recently as 20 years ago – here in India – the misconception that yoga was only for saṁnyāsins was still prevalent. Back when Krishnamacharya was learning & teaching yoga, the intention was purely for self-transformation (anuṣṭhāna), to elevate the consciousness. Guruji was among only a few students who studied for a long time (more than 20 years) with Krishnamacharya. The others were Keshu Murthy (apparently he is the really bendy person in Krishnamacharya’s book Yogāsanagaḷu) and Mahadeva Bhatt. So intense was Guruji’s desire for developing the inner yogic experience that he lived a very disciplined life. He would wake very very early and begin his chanting and yoga practices, then he would teach yoga for several hours, then again he would resume his chanting. Now a days, yoga has become more like exercise. Even the martial arts were originally practiced for this same reason: self transformation. We should have this same original goal of self transformation, of elevating our consciousness too – and not just while we’re practicing āsanas on the yoga mat, but in our whole life as well! (More about this later.) We should not just approach yoga to learn āsanas so that we can teach yoga. That is limited. If we approach yoga for higher, more spiritual goals, the journey is endless. “Yoga is bigger than everyone…Yoga is what happens within you…You can experience, but can’t own it.” It’s like the Sun. Through the Sun, we can take energy, get Solar Power, and health, but we can’t ever own the Sun. “We don’t even own this body. It goes back to Nature. One day you have to give it back.” This led Sharath to begin talking about the larger picture again, and he told us a short story which I’ll paraphrase:
It used to be common in villages that there would be a large tree where people would gather – usually in the evenings – to relax, catch up with one another, and generally enjoy the company of the community where they live. There would be a platform built around the base of the tree for the people, and it was called a “People Tree.” Now a days though, people watch soap operas on the TV, and tend to only talk about those fictitious stories rather than connecting with their own families, neighbors and friends. But it happened once that a young man was wondering about this tree. “What use is this tree?” he asked. “It doesn’t give fruits or fire wood or anything. It is completely useless. Why do we have it? We should get rid of it!” An older man of the village said, “Boy, it is because of this tree that we have such good clean air, and a nice place to gather. This tree cleans the air. It is very important.”
Sharath reminded us that a clean and healthy environment is important. The yogī needs a pure place to support having good thoughts; clean air is also very important. This supports both our physical and mental health. We can’t just do āsanas on the yoga mat. We must take care of all living beings. Every living being has the same right to live a clean and healthy life. [Sharath tooks this opportunity to let us know that the windows in your practice space should be alpa-dvāra, open a little bit to allow fresh air to circulate through the room – especially when you’re practicing with a lot of other people, because what one person is exhaling, another person is inhaling!]
All Yoga Śāstras describe yoga as withdrawing the senses ((sp?) avaṭa-cakṣu) and realizing the purity inside. These texts describe the inner purity as covered by six enemies or shells. Like when we dive into the ocean to get the pearl, we have to remove the shell. But our inner purity is covered by six shells (Ari Ṣaḍ Vargas): Kāma (lust, desire), Krodha (Anger), Mohā (Delusion), Lobha (Greed), Māda (Pride), and Mātsarya (Jelousy). If we allow these to develop inside of us, they will destroy us! If we want to gain proper knowledge of the divine – which has no form – we have to develop certain qualities within ourselves. Then those six shells will break open and we see the inner purity. This is for everyone. Everyone is capable of doing this! Everyone can walk from Mysore to Bangalore, but most will doubt, or make excuses: “Oh my legs hurt,” “I’m tired,” etc. We have to apply effort in a proper way. Our work should be to understand how to get rid of these six spiritual enemies.
Āsana practice comes first. The Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā doesn’t list the yamas and the niyamas because you can’t really follow those. They have to be developed inside. But we can’t just show people on the outside. People wear Saffron Robes (sign of a Saṁnyāsin) or carry their yoga mat over their shoulder, but that doesn’t mean they’re spiritual. How we are inside doesn’t show on the outside. Doing handstands doesn’t mean you’re a big yogī. Even Sambhav (Sharath’s son) can do a handstand.
Sharath tells another story:
In a village there are two very big scholars, Shastri and Sharma (two family names that mean they are supposedly scholars, like Jois means astrologer). These two were always discussing and reciting the Śāstras, Upaniṣads and the Vedas. One day a young man was walking through their village, and he sat down under the big People Tree. He sat silently in meditation. After a while, so many of the villagers came and sat there with him. They too sat quietly in meditation. No one was saying anything – just meditating. After some time passed, Shastri and Sharma noticed this, and Shastri said to Sharma, “What is this none sense? Why are all of those people gathered around this young man. He probably doesn’t even know anything of the Śāstras, Upaniṣads or Vedas.” Sharma replied, “Let us go over there and we’ll quiz him. Let’s ask him questions to show in front of everyone that he doesn’t know anything.” So they went over there, and immediately as they sat near the young man, they forgot all about their questions – instead they too began to sit in meditation.
It’s like that when someone really knows the Inner Truth, they have this type of effect on others. They can teach it to others just from their own presence. So much has been written about the famous defining Sūtra on Yoga: yogaḥ cittavṛttinirodhaḥ. Four pages, ten pages have been discussed about this, but we can’t understand this without practicing. Guruji put it so simply, “Practice, all is coming.”
One other story-joke was told earlier during conference:
In India, usually the man’s family seeks a bride for their son. It’s like that (or used to be) the two families get together and decide if they’ll get married or not. Usually the bride moves in with the groom so the groom has to first have a good job; otherwise, why would anyone want to marry him. In the Star of Mysore (a local paper), you’ll see ads for this. But once there was a man who had no job. He wanted to get married, but had no job. He saw an ad in the paper that a family wanted a man to marry their daughter and live with them (this is the other way around from normal). This unemployed person was very excited. He thought, “I won’t have to work – except to help around the house – and this family will provide for and take care of me.” So he called them up and arranged an interview. The only thing was the ad had not stated anything about which cast or sect the family belonged to. So the man, not knowing which marks to wear on his forehead, wore every manner of cast marking on his forehead. When he arrived at the interview and they say him, they immediately asked him, “Why are you wearing so many marks?” “Oh, I really want this job. So whichever marks you wear in this family, I’ll keep only those.”
By David Miliotis