I have been traveling since receiving the very sad news of the passing of a dear friend and Master Teacher, Sir TKV Desikachar earlier this month. My heart goes out to his wife Meneka, his family and devotees throughout the world who carry on the teachings inherited from a great lineage.
The power Sir Desikachar brought to integrating ancient teaching into the world today will continue to inspire and light the path of Yoga throughout the millennia. A great light has been lost in our world but lasting legacy is left behind. Like his father, the spirit of wisdom and inspiration will forever live in the mind and hearts of Yoga aspirants for generations to come.
I wish to express my deep respect for Sir Desikachar and hope to convey the profound effect of this great Master on me.
The first time I heard Sir TKV Desikachar speak was at the European Union of Yoga Conference in Zinal, Switzerland in 1983. He was fearlessly castigating the huge gathering from all over the world for the flagrant use of the sacred syllable “Om,” on T- shirts, mugs and other items sold in gift shops.
He then turned his attention to the Yoga Sutras. He was so powerful in his delivery that his words still resonate with me today … “In Chapter I Patanjali says, Tasya Vachakaha Pranavah. It is commonly translated as the name of Iswara is Om. No!” he shouted holding the microphone with one hand while dramatically gesturing with the other. The vast congregation was transfixed. It seemed as if not a person moved or took a breath. “Pranava means to bring forth the name. It does not say Iswara, God or Om! Patanjali says to bring forth the name. He doesn’t say Om or Iswara,” Sir Desikachar repeated forcefully, at the distortion now circulating throughout the world Yoga community.
I remembered that my Sanskrit teacher also defined pranava as pra to bring forth and nava, as name. Sir Desikachar was powerful as he finished a talk that quieted the room bringing us all back to the deeper and more accurate aspects of Yoga.
During the conference, I met with him privately, asking him to come to the U.S. more often because students in this country needed to reintegrate the authentic spiritual teachings with the physical practices of Yoga. He refused to let me sponsor him because I had been sponsoring his uncle Mr. B.K.S. Iyengar in the U.S. Sir Desikachar allowed me the grace of loyalty, even though I felt I belonged to Yoga and not just one teacher.
Years later in 1995, when Unity in Yoga and the Israeli Yoga Teachers Association put on a conference in Jerusalem, Sir Desikachar came as a speaker and teacher. He said that he was drawn to the theme, “Yoga for Peace In the Middle East.” He too, believed that Yoga could be a vehicle for peace throughout the world. He and Indra Devi, a student of his famous father Sri Krishnamacharya, appeared on stage together reminiscing about the early days of her studies with his father, and his own reluctance to enter into the studies and practice of Yoga.
Later he took me aside saying, “I have never forgotten our conversation in Switzerland many years ago when you said that Americans are interested in spirituality. I always thought they were only interested in the physical. For many years, I have wanted to tell you that you were right and I was wrong.”
After that whenever I saw him, he would embarrassingly honor me as one who saw the great benefits of Yoga before he did. He told me of the struggle with his famous father who wanted him to continue the Yogic lineage but he wanted to be an engineer.
Sir Desikachar continued the Yoga lineage to give the world the benefit of his inherited knowledge. He was an amazing teacher of Yoga therapy, philosophy and life. He had an impeccable way of taking the most difficult concepts and making them simple, which is the definition of a true Master.
In 2002, when I went with a delegation of Yoga teachers to Chennai, India, his entire family greeted us at the Yoga Mandiram, which houses the Maha Samadhi of Sri Krishnamacharya. Sir Desikachar and his family welcomed us with flowered leis and welcoming Vedic chants. He and his wife Meneka gave us classes in the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita. My heart was filled with the joy of being there in the center of this great lineage, inhaling the ancient scriptural knowledge and how to incorporate them into daily life.
When it was time to leave, Meneka honored me with a print of her watercolor painting of her famous father-in-law. As the group was boarding the van, I mistakenly mentioned to Sir Desikachar that I had taught for so very many years, and felt it was time for me to retire. He turned abruptly, caught me by the shoulders and with dark eyes smoldering, he emphatically said, “You cannot retire! You were in Yoga before I was! You saw its benefits before I ever could! You cannot stop now! You are the premier teacher of Yoga in the U.S. You must write and leave the legacy for teachers of the coming generations!” I was startled. It was as if the voice of God was either guiding or chastising me through him. “In the Bhagavad Gita it says something to the effect that if one takes in teachings and is blessed as you have been by many masters, and you don’t give it out to others, you are like,” he paused for a dramatic moment, “you are like a thief in the night.”
I left feeling as if invisible boulders were on my shoulders. That day he gave me not a mission but a commission that I took seriously. His words throughout the years have inspired me to maintain my teaching. When I feel weary, his words continue to motivate me to teach and share the teachings in writing.
My gratitude and respect for Sir Desikachar are eternal.