Buddham saranam gacchami
You may have seen my earlier posts on T. K. Sribhashyam's book Emergence of Yoga as well as those on the Krishnamacharya documentary Breath of Gods with which he was closely involved.
In this post I've lifted extended quotes from T. K. Sribhashyam recent interview with Harmony Yoga (see my previous posts on his book Emergence of Yoga listed at the end of the post). It's hoped that these quotes will give enough of the flavour of this marvellous interview to encourage readers to read the complete interview and full answers to these questions, here
An interview with T. K. Sribhashyam
￼￼￼￼￼1/ “Emergence of Yoga” is an exceptional support either for novices, beginner students, advanced students as well as Yoga teachers. Was it a deliberate choice to touch such a large public when you decided to write this book?
...I realised that many publications give images of Āsanas and techniques, but omit to give indications to teachers. This may be because in the early days of Yoga, the writers did not think that such a detailed study was needed. So, Yoga learning and teaching became a sort of ‘imitation’.
Yoga is mainly based upon the language of Indian medicine, Ayurveda. Consequently, when we talk about the effects, they need to be converted to modern medical language, even if this language is known to us. Both a novice as well as a specialised person would understand better the importance of Yoga if the effects of Āsanas are deciphered into today’s physiological terms and concepts.
...Similarly, traditional Yoga practice is sterile without concentration (Dhāraṇa) and holding of breath (Kumbhaka). Even if we have many books on Yoga, little is said about Concentration. Since, in traditional Yoga teaching, Concentration in Asana is specific to the Asana, I applied my father’s teaching to indicate the concentration points advised to each Asana.
...These are some of the reasons why I worked on Emergence of Yoga, to make it open to a large public without limiting it to the Yoga’s students.
2/ Is it something that comes from your father and master, T.Krishnamacharya’s, teaching?
...My father and only my father transmitted Yoga to me. I have been faithful to his teaching. The language of transmission is different, but the spirit and truth of his teaching are not betrayed. I have been careful in preserving his teaching on such a precious science that Yoga is.
3/ How did your father/master T.Krishnamacharya transmit his knowledge to you?
...My father and my master transmitted his knowledge through oral tradition. Without entering into details, I would say that we had daily (my brothers and sisters) or weekly theory classes depending on our academic activities. These ‘lessons’, as he called them, covered not only Yoga, but also Upanishads, Darśana, etc. Many Upanishads, like Yoga Sutra were taught under many cycles. For example, when he completed his lessons on Yoga Sutra (the four chapters), he would restart with more explanations, comparisons, analysis, etc. Similarly, with the works on Hatha Yoga, Darśana, and so on. As such we had a sort of continuous teaching of almost all the subjects, he transmitted to us. The sessions were in Tamil or Kannada, two of our South Indian languages. We could take notes in the language we wished. The duration of lessons varied from just forty-five minutes to two hours. As we were young, he would give short lessons when the topic was difficult.
4/ Do you think that nowadays it is still the best way to share this knowledge?
5/ Is that the reason why you did not publish any book until now?
...He (Krishnamacharya) was very particular that I provide to the readers the Vedic origin of Yoga, even if no one brought to light this aspect. Similarly, he wanted me to bring to light the link between Āsanas and Dhāraṇa (Concentration)... This might be the main reason I decided to write this book “Emergence of Yoga” in my advanced age.
6/ What do you think is the most important thing that your father and master Krishnamacharya taught you?
7/ What is the most important thing that you would like to share with Yoga students?
...I would like to share the simplicity and love with which my father taught Yoga and Indian philosophy to all, keeping away all the science of logic and analysis from student’s mind. I am lucky in putting into practice these principles and that many of my students follow them, even if they have difficulties in applying them in their lives.
In a way, as he used to say: to be able to share the knowledge as though it would be for children who have not yet mastered the language. So too, the Yoga practice: teach with love, respect and tenderness.
8/ What do you think is the most difficult thing to teach (to pass down) to Western students?
9/ After so many years of teaching what would be the major advice that you would like to offer Yoga students?
...While maintaining their interest in the physical aspects of Yoga (especially Āsanas), I would also advise them to reverse the trend progressively, give added importance to Prāṇāyāma (not as a physical exercise), Dhāraṇa and Dhyāna, which would definitely help them cultivate peace, serenity, compassion, forgiveness and a peaceful death. As you all know, our fear of death is so intense that to learn and maintain the phase of a peaceful death is one of the invaluable treasures that we can easily build in our life and preciously safeguard it not only at the end of our life, but transmit it to our family members before our departure.
This reminds me of the father’s lessons on the concept of death: You may offer all your treasures to your children that would disappear like used clothes, but teaching them to love and accept death is the best heritage that you can offer to them. They would one day; the day they leave this mortal world, silently recognise and be grateful to you, those who witness such a peaceful departure, that is to say, family, friends, unknown people, would recognise the priceless peace emanating from your body and face. This is one of the main aims of Yoga.
I would say that this would be my major advice to those who teach and practice Yoga. Is it an advice or a duty?
Like my father, I am convinced that Westerners would not discard this unique opportunity.
10) Your other three books cover Indian Philosophy, including the tradition of your Family, please could you say what motivated you to write these books?
...Without discrediting western philosophy and its religious thoughts, I would say that Indian philosophy has a unique way of bringing its teaching in the format of images, which touches the mind and the heart of any reader or student, even if he or she is new to Indian cultural background. It is just like any infant creating images in his way from a story that he is listening to from the mouth of his mother or father, without even knowing the main personalities. The infant creates the images in his or her way and lives and enjoys the context.
By continuous listening, these images get encrusted in him or her and later when he or she is made to believe that all these stories narrated do have a sense, he or she will invoke the imprints of his experience of the stories he or she listened to and remembers the ambience of early listening. So too, the secret of Indian philosophical teaching: it offers us its teaching through innumerable stories, examples and analogies, without any dogma or bias. The students find that these teachings have a genuine universal value and try to apply any them in their lives.
The particularity of Indian Philosophy is to develop Peace and Bliss in us. It has kept apart or even rejected all sorts of conflicts, hatred or misunderstandings, because it knows that they are opposed to Peace and Bliss, and introduced the principle of tolerance to a high degree.
For reasons outside our scope, these two invaluable treasures escaped the western philosophy and its religions. There is more room for conflicts, fighting to establish one’s ego, loss of the real values of Peace and Bliss, refusal of the divine nature (as the Bhagavad Gita says, loss in the divine riches and gain of human, and demoniac supremacy), and attraction and attachments to material comforts. In spite of being aware that they are not permanent, that they feed constantly our greed, anger, hatred, infatuation, passion and so on, we continue to be anchored in them. However, the western mind did not lose its intrinsic search for Peace and Bliss. In fact, every westerner in his own way, feels that he or she is not at ease with himself or herself and that something is hindering the comfortable feeling in him or her. Sadly, this phenomenon is on the rise.
11) You mentioned in the Life Sketch of your Father that he mastered Buddhist Yoga in Burma. Would you be able to tell us more about this and what influence this had on your father’s teaching?
My father’s teaching of Indian Philosophy (Yoga Sutra, Vedanta, and even Hatha Yoga) had very often comparisons to the Buddhists thoughts – either to make us understand the flaws that existed in the Buddhist logic and analysis or to bring to light some similar views, especially in the psychology of Buddhism, so that we develop conviction in the Buddha’s teaching.
Apart from this, he used to receive Buddhist monks who would have long discussions with him on this philosophy. As often it was a private discussion, we did not dare to attend these lessons.
In the late sixties, when I went with my father on a pilgrimage to Allahabad, Varanasi and Gaya, he took me to Bodh Gaya for two consecutive days. It is here that he gave some important points of Buddha’s teaching, as also their method of Dhyāna, particularly their very significant mantra: Buddham Sharanam Gachami, Dhammam (Dharmam) Sharanam Gachami, Samgham Sharnam Gachami. I remember some elderly monks saluting him and expressing their happiness at meeting him. They sat in a corner in the Buddha’s temple and had more than an hour’s discussion. The meeting was completed by a silent meditation. Later, my father told me that they were his colleagues when he studied Buddhism. He taught me the technique and practice of Pranayama applied by the Buddhists and subtle differences between Hinduism and Buddhism. However, he was not criticising Buddhism in his lectures. My father had great respect for Buddha’s teaching.
We should not forget that Buddha is considered as one of the incarnations of Vishnu.
A successful Vedic ritual or even a meditation requires a healthy body and mind so that we can stay during the rituals and in a meditation for a longer period without getting disturbances from the senses and the mind.
12) It seems that westerners are generally interested in Yoga for its health benefits. In your experience, do you see much interest in their inquiry of the soul?
...Yes, despite this concentrated effect on the body, it is possible for westerners to take an interest in the spiritual aspects, since Yoga does not impose any dogmatic devotion or a spiritual practice which gives rise to fear or guilt in them. Its teaching is open to all irrespective of their religious convictions and beliefs. If we observe today’s interest in Yoga, you will find that more and more students take to Yoga lessons to cultivate and nourish mental peace and search of the inner peace. What was a shy approach in the west in the seventies is quite an open and much desired subject.
Now, it is for the teachers to provide them with the means to feed their desire to know, search and develop their inner peace, whatever name that would be given. As we say in India, God is one, but has many names. Similarly, the inner peace is one, unique, but it might be called with different names, just as one object can have many names according to the language used.
13) How is it possible to transmit the concept of Moksha to students unfamiliar with this?
14) Practicing Yoga in a group class has become prominent in the West; personal practice at home is less common. Can you say something about this in the light of your father’s approach to teaching?
In Mysore Yoga Shala, my father’s lessons were in groups. Very few had individual lessons. At home, he gave some private lessons to students and to his children. Owing to our school timing, even we, his children, had group classes with our sisters and our mother. Some of the members of the royal family, especially the women members, had private sessions.
When he moved to Madras (Chennai), he had mainly individual sessions, as he was invited to heal some important personalities. At home, owing to lack of space, the groups were limited to two or three people of the same family. Later, when, his children started teaching Yoga, we had to give our lessons in the available space. Naturally, we gave individual classes. However, when my father started teaching Yoga in Vivekananda College or in other educations institutions, the sessions were in groups.
...Here in the West, the individual practice is almost a fight against solitariness and its inconveniences, which you do not feel in a group session. You feel that a group stimulates your practice. However, I have realised that many participants allot some time for their personal practice at home.
15) Your father helped many people with his healing knowledge and abilities. How important do you think it is to understand Ayurvedic principles when applying Yoga as a therapy?
...Yes, my father was an Ayurvedic master and; he helped the needy to live a healthy life. He had the knowledge and the clinical competence. He did not learn Ayurveda as a ‘book knowledge’ juggling with words, but was a clinical medical doctor applying his talents while respecting the patient’s privacy, decency and humility.
A serious study of Yogic traditional texts, be it the famous books on Hatha Yoga (Hatha Yoga Pradīpika, Gherunda Saṁhitā, Shiva Saṁhitā, etc., the Patañjali Yoga Sutra or the Upanishads concerned with Yoga) would make us realise that the principle and practice of the science of Ayurveda in their traditional scientific way are referred to. Naturally, study of these works or the commentaries make us understand that anyone who studies them has to learn and understand first the scientific background of Ayurveda. Unfortunately, it might not be the case in today’s Yoga education, which has become a subject that can be learnt like a tourist visiting a country, sitting in an open-air bus taking photos or videos with an iPad and returning home to pretend his or her knowledge about the country.
...It is not only important, but essential, to understand the Ayurvedic principles if we want to apply the interrelated therapeutic means of the two systems to the students who are in need.
16) In Emergence of Yoga, asana, pranayama and mudra are presented in detail. I see no mention of the three bandhas. Please could you explain why they are not included?
You are right; my book Emergence of Yoga details Asanas, Pranayamas and Mudras, but very little on Bandha. I know that many yoga practitioners and teachers are attracted by Bandhas. Yet, I abstained from introducing this chapter, mainly because, they do not belong to the traditional teaching of Yajnavalkya. He gives a passing reference to them, not as a ‘physical knot’, but as a way to control our emotional spring of actions. Writing about them would have led to more confusion and conflict among the readers and made the book ‘heavier’. I did not detail Mudras in my book, as I was very particular about the volume at the time of writing, and I had the desire to write a second part on Mudra, Bandha and Dhyana. Moreover, the concepts of Bandha that you talk of are very recent – the period of Hatha Yoga and not that of Veda.
My father did teach us the three (the five) Bandhas; we practiced, but they were not in our programme of teaching, except Jihva Bandha in Shitali, Mula Mandha and Uddiyana Bandha in Mudras. So you see, it is not the method in other schools.
It is not always a muscular ‘knot’. It also means the hold of the anarchic activities of our emotions. Bandha, to hold also in a way, holding back the unnecessary activities of the sense perception or emotions. So, you have Indriya Bandha, Krodha Bandha, etc.; very rarely used in the usual yoga books that interpret Bandha as a muscular knot and give much importance to it. I do not say that they do not exist, but that is not the main aim of Bandha in the traditional Yoga.
Since all our human emotions reside and emanate from Mula (the region of Mula Kanda), Mula Bandha originally meant withholding unneeded emotional activities (activities that keep us away from God.