Photo: Kailasha Temple: Shiva’s Abode, Ellora Cave #16. The culmination of the rock-cut architecture (756-783 CE). It’s monolithic structure is carved out of a solid rock mass, from the top down and the outside in, and made to look like a free-standing temple structure. [Bruce M. Roger, 2009]
“Life, as a pilgrimage from birth to death, has many stations.” So begins Stella Kramrisch’s 1946 landmark work, The Hindu Temple, an explication of ancient Sanskrit architectural texts. For aspirants unable to reach self-realization through Vedanta, she notes that pilgrimages to sacred sites are an alternate path to moksha, liberation, cited in the Agni-purana. Still, like yoga, pilgrimage requires control of the mind and body, spiritual knowledge (vidya), and the practice of austerities (tapas).
India is more than a modern political nation. It is a spiritual network of sacred sites, called tirthas, that forms a sacred geography. Tirtha comes from the root “to cross over” — both in the literal sense, such as a river, but also in the spiritual sense, such as “crossing,” as in its cognate, transcending, to be closer to God. Although I have enjoyed visiting many sacred sites over the last three decades, my primary purpose for going to India has always been to study at the Ramamani Iyengar Memorial Yoga Institute, which has become a sacred destination for many Iyengar yoga students worldwide.
Photo: Bruce Roger (left) garlands Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar during July, 1986 Guru Purnima Celebration at RIMYI. John Evans (center) garlands Geeta S. Iyengar (not in photo). Prashant Iyengar in background.
My pilgrimages to study at RIMYI have marked my different stations in life — my formal initiation into yoga, marriage, fatherhood, and family life. On my second trip to India, my prior host, my friend’s father-in-law, predicted, “First you came alone, and now with your wife. Later you will come with your children, and then grandchildren.” I only understood the full depth of his sentiment in retrospect.
Each trip to RIMYI has challenged me with a new set of tasks: the first to learn yoga, the second to learn how to teach, the third to learn therapeutics, the fourth to introduce my daughter to India, and the fifth to absorb the deeper spiritual truths with my wife, Linda. These missions have gradually revealed themselves over a long period of time, and only upon sufficient reflection.
In the pilgrimage of life, yoga links austerities (tapas) to the liberation (moksha) cited in the sacred texts: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras state that purification of body by self-discipline (tapas), of speech by Self-study (svadhyaya), and of mind by dedication to God (Ishvara pranidhana) reduces the causes of suffering (kleshas), chief of which is spiritual ignorance (avidya). Yoga purifies the body and mind akin to burning off the fog that obscures the sun, so that the light of the soul may shine through. Ethical and disciplined yoga practice reduces the kleshas and leads to samadhi, spiritual union. [PYS II.1-3] The highest level of samadhi, in turn, leads to moksha, liberation from the bondage of worldly pleasure and pain.
As pilgrims circumambulate the holy tirtha with only the name of God on their lips, so do yoga practitioners circumambulate the globe to purify their consciousness through study at RIMYI.
2012 Bruce M. Roger