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My Guru, My Self

Even a longtime student like Jivamukti Yoga Center cofounder David Life gets nervous when his teacher comes to town.

By David Life


I know a wise man named Dave. Dave is 91 years old—he showed me his driver's license—has no illnesses, does not wear glasses, and works full-time at a lighting store. I am interested in him; his life has a wisdom and refinement that appeals to me. And he is happy. Dave is a happy guy.

I wish I were that happy, so sometimes I ask Dave for advice. Dave says, "I don't think meat is healthy for you. I eat a lotta fruit. I think that's important." He also says, "I'm active, but I don't do rigid exercises. If I feel a kink, I lay in bed and twist around until it goes away. And I lift my legs up in the air and wiggle my toes. That's important, too." And finally: "I stay calm. That's very important."

But Dave hasn't told me how to stay calm. And I'm a wreck right now. My guru is coming to town, you see. My guru turned 86 this year. He is also a happy guy and a wise man. But our relationship is much different from the one I have with Dave. Shri K. Pattabhi Jois is my primary spiritual teacher. Dave is an inspiring person from whom I can learn a lot, but he is no guru. I can be separated from Dave for long periods of time and never even think of him. But I pray to a picture of Pattabhi Jois every day.

I'm a wreck right now because I'm nervous, mostly about "Him" visiting my village, New York City. I always have a certain anxiety about seeing him, but the fact that he is coming to visit my city is especially intimidating. After his last visit, in 1993, he didn't have great things to say about the Big Apple. He thought it was very dirty. I want this visit to be as spotless as possible, leaving him with a pleasant impression.

When I see him, my first words are "Welcome to New York, Guruji." And his reply is "When are you coming to Mysore?"

The Master Button-Pusher

This man knows the location of all my "buttons." With a few words he can make me feel like a maharaja-or like a bad child. When you commit to a master, the work you do together becomes deeply psychological. For Pattabhi Jois's students, asana practice becomes the outer structure for the real work, which is subtle and profound. Pattabhi Jois transmits his knowledge primarily through touch and backs up everything with Sanskrit scripture. He is old school. That's partly what I like about him. Good gurus are never really satisfied. And disciples have an irrepressible need for the guru's approval. This is a subtle driving force of the relationship.

The last time I was with Pattabhi Jois was one year ago to the day. It was the Gurupurnima 1999, a full moon traditionally considered an auspicious time for honoring one's guru—and, coincidentally, Pattabhi Jois's birthday. I had flown to see him at his home in Mysore, South India, and poured 20 kilograms of marigolds over my smiling Guruji.

But the Gurupurnima 2000 party in New York is hard for me. I'm much more anxious than I was in India. Instead of marigolds, my gift is a black Nike jogging outfit with white racing stripe and matching boxer shorts. (What do you give somebody who needs nothing?)

There are a lot more people at this NYC party, perhaps as many as 300. Everyone is awaiting Guruji's appearance. In New York you get used to people looking past you while you talk, eager to see any celebrity who might walk in. This party is no different, except that everyone is waiting for the same man.

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Reader Comments

Diana Alexander

Farewell for now to one the the "great ones" of this world.

what about david willams?
the one

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