Friday, June 30, 2017

Bangalore Yoga Ratna Awards

I wrote about Vachananand Swami about nine years ago on my rather inactive Jagat Jindagi blog. He is stationed in Bangalore, where he has been doing rather well in teaching yoga in the Baba Ramdev style. He has a popular television show on yoga in Kannada and puts on public yoga performances and camps.

Swamiji had been asking me to come to Bangalore to visit for some time and this year he asked me to come for the Yoga Ratna award ceremonies that he has been organizing for a couple of years on International Yoga Day, June 21. I was to receive a "Yoga Sammana" award.

Shwaas Guru (Vachanananda Swami) with me at SRSG in 2015.
I was very impressed by Swami Vachanananda's aplomb and natural talent in public, his way of dealing respectfully and warmly with all his guests, his savoir-faire in organizing and managing this large event, and many other good qualities I observed in him.

In my short acceptance speech, I stated my appreciation for him. I said he may call me "guruji" because I once taught him English, but he is a Swami and I am merely a Dasa.

Later I wrote the following:

You are a natural, Shwaasa Guru, you have no doubts about your mission. You are confident and enthusiastic, and I noticed you also have a quality I saw in Swami Veda Bharati: you like people, you care about people. You talk with children. People sense that and it attracts them to you.  
What is good is that you are still young and have so much energy. So in the years to come, I am sure that you will have a tremendous impact on teaching yoga to the world.  
I also like the way you have respect for your gurus. I like that you seek out seniors in the yoga and Hindu world and ask for their blessings. You are teaching correctly by doing so. You don't place yourself as a competitor to them or a critic, but as a junior member of a great team that is teaching yoga to the world.  
I also very much liked your statement: "Everyone knows that yoga came to Kannada from the Himalayas and the north, but our saint Basavanna contributed one practice at least that I am also teaching, and that is tratak of the Shiva linga." This is very good because in the future it means that you will teach more and more the spiritual side of your tradition, which I know is very deeply embedded in your personality and is probably where you derive most of your energy.

What else can I say, except may the blessings of all your Guruvarga be upon you. Jai Radhe!
After I finished, he whispered to me, "You made my day." I thought that was very sweet of him. I certainly do hope for the best for him, I only worry that for a young, charismatic sannyasi, the pitfalls are many. If he can avoid them, he will do great things.

A theme that came up repeatedly was the "non-religious" nature of yoga. Shri M, for instance, made a point of saying that even an atheist can be a yogi. My response to this was that yoga makes everything better -- it makes eating, sleeping, work and study better -- so it is about improving life. It is true that one can be an atheist and practice yoga, but the ultimate improvement in life is to know God. So the thing that yoga improves most of all is one's religious endeavor.


I am also thankful to Swami Vachan for reviving my hatha practice. I was a little embarrassed when he said he wanted to do a video of me doing asanas. I told him that I was really a bhakti-yogi, so not to emphasize the hatha too much. But he came with his crew and supervised the shooting of the video, even coming several times to fix my cloth.

Usually I do my asanas only dressed in a kaupin, so I don't have the usual yoga-pants wardrobe. When I came to Bangalore, I asked for something to wear for the video and they gave me orange shorts and a teashirt with the ashram logo, which did not fill me with enthusiasm. But Swamiij pulled out a white cloth from his drawer and showed me how he transforms his sannyas dhoti into a suitable cloth for doing asanas. Rather looks like a big diaper. It kept coming undone, though, while I was doing the poses, so Swamiji kept coming up to me after almost every asana to help put it right.

Since I hadn't been doing my hatha practice regularly I was afraid I wouldn't be able to do much. What happened, though, is that I was very sick for the 36 hours before this film was taken. I had a sudden attack of amoebic dysentery and so I had been fasting, involuntarily. The end result was that I lost a bit of the weight I had been putting on and this also made more supple than I had been in quite a while.

Me with Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy and Tao Porchon Lynch.
In the hotel I met Pilot Baba and his disciple, Keiko Akawa, who were both given Yoga Ratna awards. I shared my room with Swami Ishwar Ananda, who came with them from Haridwar. The principal guest at the program was Anna Hazare, who at 80 still practices yoga every day.

The real star of the show, however, was undoubtedly Tao Porchon-Lynch, who at 98 is still a real dynamo. She has incomparable energy and awareness for one of her age. She is a living testimonial to the benefits of a lifelong practice of yoga asanas and meditation. As the central attraction at the Yoga Day festivities over several days, she was constantly sitting for newspaper and television interviews, demonstrating asanas like sarvangasan, matsyasan and so on for the spectators, and she even did a ballroom dance number! And the bright smile never left her face for a moment. And she always wears high-heels!

She was accompanied by Teresa Kay-Aba Kennedy, her student and a very interesting person in her own right. Among other things, she has a PhD from Harvard and spent years working in the private sector. She was the first person to open a yoga studio in Harlem. She now has her "life coach" business, but at present spends most of her time traveling with and helping take care of Tao, with whom she co-wrote the memoirs, Dancing Light.


Monday, June 12, 2017

Update from Birnagar

I have been in Birnagar since the beginning of the month. I was hoping to give a regular Bhakti Sandarbha class, but that has not materialized and perhaps will not.




I was cleaning the room where I am staying and found these two photos from 1980 that seem to have been lost. They were ravaged by humidity and have been restored by a friend. The restoration could perhaps be done better for the second picture, but it was more damaged than the other, so the task was difficult.

I first met Sri Lalita Prasad Thakur in 1975, met him again in early 1978 and then several times in 1979 and 1980, staying for several weeks at a time. Then not long before Prabhu left the world, I went to Vrindavan, so I was actually in Govardhan when he ended his worldly pastime.

Harigopal Dasji was reminiscing yesterday in the car as we drove to an engagement in Dhatri Gram. Doctors wanted to give him cataract removal surgery when he was 94, and he refused because he did not want to take any injections. He said, "I have never take an injection in my life, I am not going to start now. Anyway, what do I have left to see in this world?"

Apparently Prabhu never took allopathic medicine in his entire life. He self-medicated with homeopathy. But on the very last day, when Prabhu was not responding to questions, in a state of samadhi, the doctor proposed an injection and asked the disciples, who agreed. But Prabhu remained unconscious until he let out a final gasp five hours later.