A Great Soul: BKS Iyengar by Krisna Zawaduk

December 3, 2018

We all have our unique experience of BKS Iyengar. He did not know my name, or speak with me directly, though I am sure that he would have, had I the courage to approach him. We did exchange a “namaste” and mutual pranam on my first visit to Pune when my partner, myself and children (6 and 10), entered the RIMYI for registration. He gave us all a warm, welcoming smile and even the kids were in awe. Serendipitously, that first trip to meet the master was in July, and the Guru Purnima celebration fell on my birthday. This most unforgettable birthday gift came wrapped in music and tributes and a profound address by Guruji. The absolute crowning moment of that day though, was to bow down at his feet in gratitude and receive his blessing.

I was one of many who came on the scene when Guruji had already “retired” from teaching, but that did not mean that he was unavailable! I was fortunate enough to experience his teaching in Pune when he took over the classes, commandeering the microphone, demonstrating on himself and others. He would have impromptu lessons in the practice hall and I would jump to my feet whenever there was an opportunity to gather round him. BKS Iyengar’s eyes might be roving the practice hall from his corner while he was in an asana. That could be quite unsettling, his gaze made you feel completely exposed; like you could not hide anything from him. I have seen him assess a person’s physical and mental/emotional state from the quickest glance, and I’m sure he assessed mine too. On a number of occasions I heard him speak and while I do not remember exact words, there was always a transmission. BKS Iyengar, in the spirit of all great lineages, was a phenomenal transmitter of Yoga on all levels, from gross to subtle. And we, having stepped into this lineage stream, got to reap the benefits of his life of practice. This is not yet our end. He encouraged us to carry on our own inner life of practice.

As a young student, I marvelled at his physical ability, and later at his depth of understanding and adept articulation on the vast subject of yoga. What I now find most significant is his luminous way of being. BKS Iyengar had unshakable integrity, which is rare in this day and age. A brilliant beacon, his whole life was lived in Yoga. Never straying from his one-pointed focus, BKS Iyengar never fell from grace, instead, he exuded grace. His son, Prashant Iyengar, describes Guruji’s radiance and steadiness as being like the sun:

Though the sun is the same but the receivers of the sun are differently positioned. Similarly with Guruji, the people were differently positioned and they had different perceptions. But Guruji was one and the same like the sun at 150 million kms emanating the temperature of 10 million degrees ... The sun is not the same for all ... But the sun is the sun. Similar was the case with Guruji. He was like the star and everyone could sight him. He was not a common man so he was sighted by everyone and different people had different understanding of him. They had a different perception of him, different assessment of him, but he was one and the same. He did not change.[1]

I experienced Guruji as a condition. His exalted awareness and clarity of perception were used with generosity, and an aim to uplift those around him. This “way” about him, this condition he lived in, and the context in which he lived, are by far the most inspiring to me now. Have you heard this phrase, “How you do anything is how you do everything”? Did he not do everything with intensity, generosity, penetrating intelligence, awareness, devotion and remembrance of God?

So many teachers have great stories about his personal touch in asana or how he healed them. Mine is a pretty common story of a woman very far away who has benefitted in all aspects of life from his influence. I recognize the power of a guru to transcend time and space to guide those who have aligned with him—and so many around the globe have chosen to do this, align with him. His influence permeates much of my days as I try in my own small way to be awakened to what is here now, in the body, with the breath. Students who’ve never met BKS Iyengar tell me of the impact he has had on their lives too, with tears in their eyes. Guruji truly reached so many in his lifetime. His writings, for example, continue to provide unknown numbers of people with guidance in sadhana. In a way, he is still apprenticing us all, meeting us where we are.

Guruji has hundreds or maybe even thousands of quotable quotes! His words could be as precise as his actions. And the words, like the adjustments in the physical body, were succinct and to the point, nothing extraneous, like a sutra. His commentary on the Yoga Sutras was not just an academic rendering— he flushed out the real life in these sutras and brought the ancient teaching alive through his subjective experience and understanding. The fact that many of his books are titled “Light On” (Yoga, The Yoga Sutras, Life) is not lost on us. He did indeed shine a light on these facets of yoga, which is the function of a guru: to remove the darkness. He was a master of communication, a broadcaster of truth.  He challenged us to look at our lives and how we did not fully inhabit our bodies or use our intelligence to the fullest. He constantly delivered these truths that were sometimes hard to hear.

I am sure anyone out there who has ardently followed BKS Iyengar’s teachings holds gems dear to their hearts. I will share that “reaching the infinite being within” is my current gem. It’s from yoga sutra II. 47: prayatna śaithilya ananta samāpattibhyām. BKS Iyengar was not the first one to introduce me to the idea of actually reaching the soul, but he was the one who gave me the longest lasting and most profound tastes of that kind of immortality. He conveyed this “reaching the infinite being within” by giving experience of nonduality through the practice of asana. It was obvious to me that Guruji saw beyond the exterior of another person, to the infinite being within. He was passionate about getting us to see this ourselves. I feel this was one of his greatest teachings and that he has transformed my own ability to perceive.

When I think again of Guruji’s condition, I see a man who lived in touch with his own infinite being. If you were lucky enough to be in his physical presence, the radiance of his body was something to behold! I believe a direct result of having seen sight of his soul. He didn’t strike me as having an obsession with the body, though he understood kaya sadhana—that practice takes place in and through the body. He reminded us that the body is the vehicle for the soul, and that yoga teaches us how to live and die well. “Live happily and die majestically”, he said as his own death came near.

BKS Iyengar unabashedly delved deep into the mysteries of life and death. His own embrace of death came with the presence and peace of knowing the spirit. Geeta Iyengar said to the media on August 20, 2014, “Even while going to the hospital, he said, “Let them do whatever they want, whatever treatment they want to give my outer body but I am peaceful inside”. This is what he said. He had the contentment of completing his work . . . Nothing was hidden from the time he began his practice, to his illness and his death. Even last night he was telling Abhijata, “I have shown you all these things. Now realize them for yourself.”[2]

Can you intuit what a great sacrifice this man has made for humanity? A pioneer, innovator, and benefactor extraordinaire! A man with a compassionate heart. He gave of himself selflessly, his life an open book. On this, the occasion of his centenary year, let us pause and reflect on the greatness of this man, how he touched the world and our own lives.

Jai Guru, Mahatma BKS Iyengar!


[1] Prashant Iyengar, Guruji—The Radiant Sun, Yoga Rahasya Vol 21 No.4, 2014, YOG. p. 16-17.

[2] Geetaji Expresses…, Yoga Rahasya. Vol 21 No. 4, 2014. YOG p.15


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