What is the truth? And does it change with time?
As I contemplate on the aftermath of my father's passing, I am faced with this intriguing idea. Why does the transition of death bring about a change of truth with people who were associated with that person who passed?
When my grandfather passed in 1989, a lot of students of the tradition who were actually students of my father, Sir TKV Desikachar, suddenly claimed to be students of my grandfather T Krishnamacharya. They even started promoting themselves as equal representatives of the tradition, despite having much lesser experience in Yoga, and also much more inferior knowledge compared to my father. Sure enough, thanks to the generosity of my dad, they had met Krishnamacharya, and also even had the honour of taking a few classes. But this does not necessarily make them students of the grandmaster.
Many of these people were definitely good at heart and genuine in their learning. Why does this impulse of changing perspective take over?
There may be many reasons but I have a theory. This is based on my own experience, as well as watching closely many of my own students and many of my father's, over three decades of my life.
Many students are drawn to Yoga because something is missing in their lives. Fitness is not the only motivation. If that were the case, all Yoga practitioners could go to aerobics, sports or the plethora of other options to keep oneself fit. They are drawn to Yoga because of something deeper. A spiritual lacuna in their own lives. An emotional deficit. Or perhaps a search to find meaning for life that they have not yet found.
In a Yoga tradition like ours, where personal and spiritual transformation forms the very fulcrum of the teachings, especially in a one to one setting, this is an even more significant reason why students come to learn. Very often students come to our tradition when they have tried all other systems which could not provide them answers or solutions to what they were seeking.
Students work with their teachers individually over a long period of time. And through this intimate connection where their voices are heard, their feelings are held and their path is slowly unveiled, they start to develop an awe towards their teachers, and very soon put them on a pedestal.
And even as they evolve in this journey, dealing with their darknesses one after the other, this feeling of glorifying the teacher only intensifies. Even if they are not vocal about this, they start to feel it. I have seen so many of my father's students, and many of my own, beaming with this feeling. They felt protected. They felt they belonged to something special. They felt that they had found home. A perfectly safe place where nothing could go wrong.
Yet as the relationship develops over a longer period of time, signs that the teacher is also human, and have their own trials and tribulations, start showing up. However, these are conveniently, and more importantly consistently, ignored. Students don't want to see the defects in their teachers, especially those who have helped them so much. The idealisation blinds the perception. No one thinks that the house that they have invested so much in is faulty.
At the same time, another dimension is happening concurrently. Their own teachers, are also students of their masters. And very often they are also in awe of their teachers. And the students see and feel this. My father and I witnessed how much my grandfather cherished his teacher. I saw how much my father respected his master. My dad's students also saw this. My students saw and felt how much I treasured my father.
This phenomenon creates a great feeling of glorification of the teacher's teacher. The Grand Master feeling.
Now even as the teacher-student relationship develops further, a heart to heart connection is established. This is indeed the beauty of Yoga and why it is so profoundly beneficial. And, in this safe cocoon of bliss, vulnerabilities are shared. Students start to find moments where even the teachers are also vulnerable. They start to see that the teachers also may have had traumas. They may also have moments of sadness, grief, anger or profound suffering. These moments are typical when faced with the death of a family member and teacher.
And while this is charming in the beginning to witness the genuine emotiveness of their teachers, students start to get confused as time passes. They think, "Now wait a minute, I was searching for a safe home. I thought I found it, but now you are telling me that it has some problems” or "I thought my teacher was perfect. But he/she is just like me!"
Such doubts start to creep in and this eventually infiltrates the trust they had originally placed on the teacher. The moment this happens, the relationship starts to fail, especially when there is not the acceptance that the teacher is also allowed to be human.
The vulnerabilities of the teacher are even more revealed when the teacher's master is close to his/her end. I saw this in my father. And in myself when my own father was dying. In this state, it is possible that the teachers are not as available to their students, certainly not as much as they were earlier on. Especially as a very strong and capable container. This further drives a deep wedge between the students and the teacher.
At this point the student's bubble of safety starts cracking and in a desperate attempt to retain the secure feeling, an unconscious urge to disconnect from the teacher, and rather connect to the teacher's teacher, the grand master, even if he were merely an image, starts to manifest. And this, I believe, is what I saw in many students of my father as they distanced themselves from him, and claimed to be students of my grandfather instead. And this is what I see now, with some of my own students or students of my father's other students as well.
My father was so benevolent that he remained silent and did not confront their fabrications. His philosophy was very simple. He let them live their lies, while he continued to focus on his own teaching and dharma.
Some claimed that they had so many years of studying with my grandfather, forgetting that my father, the true successor of T Krishnamacharya, had lived together with his teacher till his teacher's last breath. Nothing compares to the learning that he had as a very close and intimate student of his master.
Some even misled my grandfather into signing a blank page, in the guise of seeing an autograph, only to later use his signature in a foreword to a book they would write. While others exclaimed that they had studied intimate secrets on the Yogic teachings that no one else had access to.
While my grandfather was alive, these students saw their relationship to him differently. But the moment he was gone, their truths changed.
Unfortunately, the dignity of my father's silence gave some credibility to these claims, at least in the eyes of the public.
Almost three decades later, I see history repeating itself, with my father's transition bringing forth similar situations.
Students who studied with me have started to declare that they were private students of my father’s. Students who studied with some of my father's other longer term students, seem to have forgotten their own teachers and now claim they have studied Yoga Therapy directly under the supervision of Sir Desikachar. Many who have hardly known him are now writing memoirs and articles in magazines and newspapers when they were hardly close to my father. Some even falsely blogged about his health, when they had not been in contact with him for more than a decade, nor even bothered to reach out to the family to find out how he was. Even more fascinating, some of those who claim in articles to be close to our family, have not even cared enough to send condolences to my grieving mother.
I know that these are not just situations affecting my family, and my tradition. I know other Yogis, who like me, are the successors of their family traditions, have faced similar experiences.
Even as I continue to search for these answers in my heart, I invite all those in the Yoga world to do the same and reflect the motivations of such actions.
These situations create a strong case to focus on self empowerment in Yoga, and to remind ourselves that as students and teachers, we have the right to remain human.
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