Sareeram suroopam thadha va kalatram,
Yasacharu chithram dhanam meru thulyam
Gurorangri padme manaschenna lagnam,
Thatha kim, thatha kim, thatha kim, tatha kim?
“Even if you have a pretty body, a beautiful wife, great fame, and a mountain of money, if your mind does not bow at the Guru’s lotus feet, what is the use? What is the use? What is the use? What is the use?”-- Guru Ashtakam by Shankaracharya
It was my good fortune to meet Sri K. Pattabhi Jois, better known as Guruji, in Encinitas 37 years ago. In addition to teaching Mysore style classes six days a week for three months at the old church in Encinitas, Guruji also generously agreed to teach yoga theory classes at his son Manju’s house three nights a week. At that time Guruji’s command of English was limited, so much of the talk would be in his native Kannada, interspersed with lengthy chants from the scriptures in Sanskrit. He would go on at great length regarding the given subject, sometimes laughing and occasionally moved to tears, then turn to Manju and ask him to translate. Manju would then provide us with a very brief synopsis of what his father had said. I couldn’t help but think that we were losing a lot in translation. At the end of each class Guruji would have us chant the Guru Ashtakam—eight verses in praise of the Guru. The Guru Ashtakam tells us that no matter how much worldly success we achieve, without the blessing of the Guru, none of it is of any use. Guruji was a humble man and his intent was not impress his greatness upon us, but rather to help us recognize the great opportunity we had to learn from an authentic yoga master, someone who had been trained for twenty-five years by the great T. Krishnamacharya—possibly the greatest yoga teacher of the 20th century.
Friday July 31st is Guru Purnima, the full moon of July that is specially designated as the day to express our love and gratitude to our spiritual teachers. K. Pattabhi Jois was born on the full moon of July in 1915, so this year’s Guru Purnima marks the centennial of his birth. I was fortunate enough to be in Mysore for Guruji’s 80th and 90th birthday celebrations. These were both very memorable and happy occasions, when I had the privilege of sharing Guruji’s joy as he basked in the love of his students and family. Those of us who were present had the opportunity to experience a great feeling of community and purpose, to renew and deepen friendships, and have a great time hanging out together. Over a teaching career that spanned seven decades, Guruji lived to see his dream of spreading Ashtanga Yoga throughout the world fulfilled. It is inspiring to reflect on how this man, through passion, perseverance, devotion, and lots of hard work, was able to touch thousands of people and change their lives in many meaningful and positive ways. It is hard for me to imagine a life without Guruji’s presence. Maybe I would have had a pretty body, a beautiful wife, great fame, and a mountain of money, but I doubt it. Whatever small worldly success I have had, the greatest gift I ever received was the blessing of my Guru.