About Light on Life
Guruji himself was keen to reach a wider audience provided it could be done without compromising the integrity of the subject. His whole life has been devoted to propagating yoga in its purest form and the book is just a continuation of that.
This book challenges the reader to think for themselves, and does not present a potted wisdom that would be avidly swallowed but immediately eliminated. There is a danger that people who do a lot of bodywork, including yoga teachers, can become intellectually passive. We have to discover the asanas for ourselves, even though we are taught them in class by a teacher, and thinking is the same process. We have to discover for ourselves the meaning of yoga so that it comes alive for us, even though it is guided thought. As John says: “Someone can’t do an asana for you so that you get a benefit. In the same way, other people’s thoughts do not benefit us in quite the way we tend to think they do. It’s what we think out for ourselves that brings the real benefit. We can digest it and eventually integrate it. The aim of the book is to make people actually think for themselves instead of bamboozling them with arcanities”.
In 1979, an accidental injury forced Guruji to re-learn his yoga and his own practice. John was in Pune just before the accident and then just after it, and says:“since I was an absolute beginner, except for the fact that one knew he had an accident, I wasn’t myself aware of the difficulties he was going through. It wasn’t as if to the naked eye he suddenly was a physical wreck. He very much kept inside the sensations of pain and difficulty he was experiencing, and just worked away, and I didn’t know enough to see a difference or to see the struggle. It was not something that was generally talked about. He turned misfortune into something good because it forced him to re-learn things and enabled him to get back the freshness of being a beginner and that helped him to avoid the mistake of pulling up the ladder behind him. He was forced by the accident to go back, in his terms anyway, to the bottom rung so he never forgot to keep the bottom rung on the ground for the lowliest invalid or the poorest practitioner. He turned that misfortune to our advantage and used it to deepen his own penetration.” The wisdom and insight gained during this period is not contained within Light on Yoga, which was already a classic text by that time. Light on Life is truly an up-to-date representation of Guruji’s practice and philosophy.
The book also contains several anecdotes about Guruji. It is not an autobiography but contains descriptions of personal experiences that illustrate the points being made. John explains that one advantage of having the book partially written by somebody else is that Guruji would not have, out of modesty, put certain things in about himself. These little anecdotes sprinkled throughout the book serve to leaven the text and create a personal interest. It’s not that Guruji was not willing for them to be known at all; it’s that when he writes, he sits down to explain the subject and it is not his nature to put in personal details. As Guruji kept saying throughout the writing process, “the book is not about me”. But the book does provide a very strong impression of Guruji’s own inward journey, and the stories about his own life and struggles serve as examples to us.
As for myself, I am often reluctant to declare that I am a yogi. I can only say that I am on the path, and am very near. I can say I’m a forerunner no doubt. I am near the goal, let it come on its own. I have no motive. I had lots of motives in the early days. I have no motive now. My motive is only to continue what I learned so that I may not slip back. It’s not an ambition, but I do not want to have a fall - anavasthitattva. And I do not want to develop the character of tamasic nature in my system, that’s all.
One of the aspects of his life that he does talk about in the book is his relationship with his wife, Ramamani. Astadala Yogamala (Collected works) 2 begins with a tribute to Mrs Iyengar and John remembers correcting the English on that and hardly touching a comma, because it was just straight from Guruji and read absolutely perfectly.
I had a passionate marriage, and if my wife, Ramamani, was alive today the intensity of our feelings would be undimmed. Often one partner in a marriage will pursue yoga or another spiritual path, and they will leave the other partner behind. They must not. They must do whatever they have to in order to bring the other partner along or to always return to the other partner. This is the only way to keep the marriage strong.
Guruji’s absolute adherence to the practice of yoga shows the difference between faith and belief. We tend to use the word faith nowadays to mean belief, as in “faith-based schools”, but what that really means is accepting a load of beliefs unconditionally. Guruji has lived his whole life on faith, but that didn’t mean acting on untested premises; it meant having the courage always to go forward, to explore, to test, to question, to find out for himself and then to go further and further intelligently, in incremental steps, both as teacher and practitioner. That is acting on faith, it is not living one’s life according to a set of preexisting beliefs, which are based in the past and are bound, at some point, to lead one astray. Guruji’s faith is best expressed in his own words at the conclusion of the book.
Yogic fire (yogagni) exists in a latent or pristine state in everyone. It has consumed my life. But nothing is accomplished forever. If I let cool ashes cover my fire through carelessness, arrogance, or laxity of practice, the fire will lose its transforming heat. I have not retired and I never shall. I will always keep the inner fire burning.
That is why practice (sadhana) cannot be stopped. Of course I age and regress at certain levels. But my body and mind are the servers and followers of the soul. The unity of these three gives me the right to call myself a yogi. But even though I am on a spiritual level, I will never say that practice is not required.
I am old, and death inevitably approaches. But both birth and death are beyond the will of a human being. They are not my domain. I do not think about it. Yoga has taught me to think of only working to live a useful life. The complexity of the life of the mind comes to an end at death, with all its sadness and happiness. If one is already free from that complexity, death comes naturally and smoothly. If you live holistically at every moment, as yoga teaches, even though the ego is annihilated, I will not say, “Die before you die.” I would rather say, “Live before you die, so that death is also a lively celebration.”
Hokkusei, the great Japanese artist, said when he was already in his seventies, that given another ten years, he would be a great artist. I salute his humility. Let me conclude by quoting the words of the Spanish artist Goya who, in the seventy eighth year of his life, when he was already deaf and debilitated, said, Aun aprendo – “I am still learning.” It is true for me too. I will never stop learning, and I have tried to share some of these lessons with you. I do pray that my ending will be your beginning. The great rewards and the countless blessings of a life spent following the Inward Journey await you.