A few months prior to my trip here to Mysore, I received a shocking e-mail message from my good friend Matt informing me that our mutual friend Krishna had suddenly died from a heart attack. Krishna was younger than myself and full of life. It was nearly unthinkable that I would never see him ever again. I have known Krishna for many years. He was one of the first Indians that I met and befriended on my first trip to India in 1995. From the beginning I was drawn to his huge heart and incredible warmth. He would always go out of his way to help me out in any capacity, small or big. He had a very special affinity for the foreign yoga students coming to visit Mysore and befriended many of them.
As a tailor by trade, Krishna also had a special knack for knowing what kinds of clothes the yoga students wanted and built a good business out of catering to them. Krishna was tremendously influenced by his associations with so many Westerners. I have had some questions over the years about just how positive this influence was on his life.
I do know that my own life was tremendously enriched by his presence. On each of my trips to Mysore (8 trips over the past 10 years), I spent a copious amount of time in his company. He always had kind and generous words for me. There is something very special about someone who is always there for you. Whenever I had a moment, especially when I was feeling blue in any way, I would drop by his shop for some sweet conversation and a cup of tea. Through the years, he made many clothes for me, arranged many travel and personal details and just was there to help me in any way that I needed it. His place in my life when I was in Mysore was integral. As I've said, I never really ever imagined that he would not be there for me.
When it all comes down to it, it is our closest friends and family, the ones who are nearest and dearest to our hearts, that make up the essential fabric of our lives and who we are. Far too often, we lose sight of this truth, placing our priorities on aspects and areas of our lives which are extremely transient and temporal. In order to live a truly good life, it is crucial that we remember what is essential to the highest aspects of our Selves. I am constantly looking for ways not to take those closest to my heart for granted. I am always looking for ways and gestures to acknowlege and honor their place in my life. Very little is worse than realizing that you have lost sight of what truly matters in your life. I believe that the greatest sins that we can commit are the disrespect and disregard of those aspects and people in our lives which bring us the most joy and the most fulfillment. Correspondingly, there is no greater blessing than the conscious and active honor that we express towards the most special and beloved people in our lives (which should definitely include our own Self as well!).
The yoga shala was closed this week to celebrate Guruji's 90th birthday. It was a grand affair held in a huge local hall with over a thousand people in attendance. This year has added significance for me, as it is the 10-year anniversary of my first visit to Mysore. My first trip to Mysore was in 1995 when Guruji celebrated his 80th birthday. I remember it being such a special time because, just like this year, many, many of Guruji's longtime students made a special trip to Mysore to celebrate his birthday. It is incredibly heartwarming and inspiring to be amongst so many accomplished practitioners and teachers (Tim Miller, Richard Freeman, Lino Miele, John Scott, Eddie Stern and so many others). It was evidently clear that everyone in attendance had such love and devotion for Guruji. There is no doubt about how deeply and how powerfully Guruji has touched the lives of his students and just how much good has come out of his life's work.
For those of us who have been experienced the life changing power of this practice, there is a special urgency to honor it's place in our lives. Each of us can express our gratitude, respect and appreciation in many different ways. For me, I do that by returning to Mysore time and time again to deepen my practice to and to remind myself just how precious and powerful this place and Guruji's teachings are. I also continue to find ways to honor the goodness in me that has resulted from this practice and to continually look for new ways to deepen and expand that goodness (changes in attitudes and daily practices which include scriptural and Sanskrit study, mantra recitation, acts of charity and kindness). I also express my appreciation and love of the Ashtanga practice and for Guruji by teaching this practice to others in a fashion that is as faithful to the method as Guruji and Sharath has taught it themselves as is possible. Each of us, when we undertake the gift of this practice, become responsible for maintaining as high a level of integrity to the practice as possible. There truly is great power in this practice and it is very important that that power is not abused or misused. Each of us must look deeply into our hearts and soul’s to determine just what that means and to act accordingly.
In the end, this practice is all about the realization of our highest potential as human beings. As such, we must always be on guard not to lose sight of what is truly important or to get lost in the delusions of our own ego and sense of self-importance. This is not an easy task and inevitably we all will fall prey to the machinations of these darker and more immature aspects of ourselves. That is precisely the gift and the power of great teachers like Guruji. They are a constant reminder of what it means to stay true to your Self. At the same time, it is not enough to rely solely on the teachers we have blessed with. We must also find ways to connect with the highest aspects of our Selves in as many ways as possible. This is the power of visiting holy or sacred places, of studying scripture, of the numerous practices and resources that are at our disposal.
So let us not simply celebrate Guruji and what he represents on his birthday alone. Let us find the multitude of ways to celebrate and strengthen the highest levels of our Selves each and every day of our lives.
Day three here in Phuket has arrived. One of the reasons I wanted to come to Phuket, is that Mae and I were here last year right before the tsunami hit Thailand with such devastation (we departed Thailand on the 25th of December and the big wave arrived on the morning of the 26th!) and I wanted to return this year to re-visit the disaster area to see how the rebuilding was going. I also wanted to check and see if some of the lovely Thai people that we met last year on the beach had survived. I thought about them a lot during the past year.
It is very eerie to see how life has continued to go on despite the multitudes of deaths that occurred during the tragedy and all that was destroyed. There is, of course, a lot of new construction going on, as a majority of the buildings along the beachfront were completely destroyed. Within a year or two though, there will be no trace of the massive destruction that took place, except in the memories of those who were present during the disaster.
Looking out over the calm sea and gently rolling waves, I cannot help but think of the transitory nature of life. No matter how traumatic the changes that we experience, in a relatively short period of time, all that is left of those changes are memories and thoughts and sense impressions. These internal impressions are like dreams. There are times when it is difficult to tell the difference between what actually happened, what we imagined and what we dreamed. The more we are consciously aware of the transitory nature of life, the more freely and lightly these impressions flow through our experience. Suffering begins to happen when we attempt to hold onto these impressions as if they were permanent or real.
Being here in Phuket also is great reminder about how uncertain life can be. I remember last year how beautiful and peaceful it was at the beach. We were having such a wonderful time that Mae kept suggesting that we should think about staying on a bit longer. No one could have imagined what was going to happen. Thousands of lives were either ended or were altered dramatically in a matter of hours. It is so easy to take this life for granted, to take ourselves and those close to us for granted. It is in the very nature of the mind to do so. That is why it is crucial to find ways to remind us just how precious and fragile this life is. We cannot lead any kind of awakened life unless this awareness is clearly in front of us. If we live under the delusion that life is certain and predictable, even in the smallest of ways, we will cease seeing life, reality as it truly is. This point cannot be emphasized enough.