Here is the unabridged version of the article written by Frans Moors about his relationship with TKV Desikachar, his teacher and mentor for over 30 years –
An important meeting –
I met Sir (TKV Desikachar) for the first time at the KYM in 1981, with Claude Marechal. I was doing teacher training with Claude at that time. I had joined a 5-week seminar facilitated by AG Mohan, who was Sir’s assistant in those days, when the KYM was located at St Mary’s road. The KYM was too small so the seminar was held in another part of Madras, as the city was called back then.
At first, I had a private meeting with Sir; he wanted to know about me and why I was there, and I was struck by his kindness and his piercing gaze. During the seminar he came once a day to give our group a one-hour presentation. At the end of it, I had another private meeting with him to share my impressions and my wish to come back the following year. As it happens, I went back every year for 35 years, sometimes twice a year, and for the first seven years I took classes with the KYM teachers. At each visit the same ritual took place: First, a private meeting with Sir when he would ask about my expectations and appoint a teacher to instruct me on particular topics. In those days and for the next 30 years we were very fortunate to hear his lectures on Saturday mornings, mainly about the Yoga-Sutra.
Then, after seven years of annual visits to Madras, Sir took me aside one day and said: « I think it is time for you to study the Hatha-Yoga-Pradipika. Come tomorrow morning. » He also said that it was the first text he had studied with his father and, without comparing myself to him, I thought it was a good omen. From then on I became his student and had private classes with him twice a day.
In 1982, after a big yoga congress in Zinal, Switzerland, Sir asked Claude Maréchal – one of his closest students at that time – to create a yoga magazine in French. When Claude asked Sir what he should call the magazine, Sir answered: « Viniyoga ». At that time we didn’t know about this concept because Sir had not discussed it with us. And yet… Viniyoga was soon to become a reference in the yoga community. Claude asked me to help with this project, and consequently I was to meet Desikachar more often, in Madras and various other countries, to collaborate on the magazine.
Soon after that, Sir decided that parts of Yogavallī – his father T. Krishnamacharya’s commentary on the Yoga-Sutra – were to be published in our Viniyoga magazine. Although I was not yet a direct student of Sir, I met him very often to record these sessions on tape. It lasted for 17 years. Once I was back in Belgium after my stay in Madras, I would listen to Sir’s voice for hours to transcribe what I had recorded on the tapes. This exercise made me very familiar with his manner of expressing himself.
The magazine was very well received and even became a reference in the field. The term « Viniyoga » was adopted by dozens of regional yoga associations, studios and yoga federations in Belgium, Spain, France, Italy, Switzerland, the USA, Canada, etc. Some of them still use the name today. Sir came to Europe, mainly to France (in 1983, 1984…) to teach seminars attended by hundreds of people, where he explained the concept of Viniyoga. In 1984, in the South of France, Sir gathered about 30 teachers from around the world amongst his direct students and their assistants for a « Special Viniyoga Selection Seminar ». At the end of this course, Sir selected 12 participants to prepare for another so called « Higher » Viniyoga Seminar. I was fortunate to be among them. In 1986, Sir asked these 12 teachers to attend a seminar in Paris to review our skills and knowledge. Following that, we were required to prepare a paper and make a public presentation during a third seminar held in 1987, in Grimetz, Switzerland. This presentation was carried out in front of an audience of about 100 people as well as a panel of international experts in various domains. At the end of the process, five of the participants were awarded the « Special Viniyoga Diploma » signed by TKV Desikachar, the president of the European Yoga Union Gerard Blitz, Yvonne Millerand (both former students of his father), Professor R. Pannikar (a specialist in theology and Indian Studies), Professor E. Serrano (a psychiatrist) and by other heavyweights in the fields of yoga, medicine and Indian studies. These five laureates – of whom I was fortunate to be one – were, in turn, allowed to issue Viniyoga diplomas and certificates.
Today, some people who were not yet born at that time are pretending to have ownership of the name « Viniyoga » : I find it astonishing.
In the late 1990s, Sir realised that the name Viniyoga had become a label, a sort of trademark that some people used and abused. He was not happy about that. He was disappointed by the behaviour of some of his close students. He told me : « Viniyoga is not a tradmark. If the name creates divisions, do not use it anymore. A few well-known teachers who should be setting an example actually disgrace the name by their conduct ». As the situation was only getting worse, he asked us to stop using the term: « If you respect me and if you respect my father, continue to apply Viniyoga but do not use that name anymore. » I asked him if his decision was irrevocable ; he said yes, then he added : « You will see : one day some fool will try to make it a brand name or something like that ». Since Sir had decided to stop associating with this name and with the Viniyoga magazine, I stopped working for it, and the magazine ceased publication.
« You are my guru »
So I had successfully gone through the Special Viniyoga Diploma evaluation process. I had also presented a very good paper in the final exam. When I saw Sir again in Madras a few months later, he told me : « You are my guru ». Later, when he introduced me to his father, he said : « Father, he is my guru ». Krishnamacharya, who often kept his eyes closed during those years, half-opened one eye for a moment, then closed it again. Clearly, the comment had not disturbed him in the slightest. As for myself, I still had no clue what my teacher had meant by it.
A few years later, as we were conversing on another subject, he told me : « In the final exam for the Special Viniyoga Diploma, when it was your turn to be interviewed by the jury, you simply said that you did not know the answer to a question, and that you had to ask your teacher. You were the only one to acknowledge your ignorance about a question, and to say that you had to check with your teacher. This is the reason why I call you my guru. » I think it was the last time he ever mentioned it.
Sir could be a staunch advocate of traditional models when they served a noble purpose, but he could also be modern and creative. Some people live by their traditions, but they may use it to serve their own interests or exert their power on other people. Sir wanted to sweep off what was old and dusty and make way for new developments when he thought it best. Vedic chanting is a good example of this : originally it was only performed by men of the brahman caste who specifically trained for it. But – following a visionary remark of his father’s – Sir encouraged the KYM to teach Vedic chanting to anyone who expressed interest in it, even Westerners. It was a bold decision back then, and many Hindus were horrified! Sir even provoked them by asking western women to recite the Vedas in ceremonies attended by conservative Hindus. Today, there are thousands of women in the world who practice Vedic chanting. One day, an orthodox brahman told a group of women, after hearing them chant : « You [ladies] are the future. I have five sons but none of them embraced my tradition. They are all in the USA working in IT. This tradition, to which I have dedicated my life, could die. »
Sir challenged us to do things that were difficult for us. Some of us can tell you stories of how we were encouraged to do things which we did not think ourselves capable of : writing articles in English (as our second language), writing and publishing a book, chanting in public or reciting chants we had not learnt before, speaking in front of hundreds of people, taking up the stage in a symposium, organising a conference, asking a famous personality to participate in it, leading a workshop on a topic we had not prepared, etc. At times he asked us to improvise on something very challenging, with no preparation.
During the 35 years of my relationship with him, I was fortunate to work with each member of Sir’s family, on a range of various topics, during some weeks or longer. Sir would delegate, but he was always there in the background, vigilant and discreet, then all of a sudden – like a conductor – he would take the lead again… until such a time he could not do it any more…
In 2006, he invited a group of close students to a seminar of revisions and tests to certify us as Teacher Trainers in the new organisation that had been created. I had already received the Special Viniyoga Diploma – as I previously mentioned – to certify me as a Teacher Trainer. I wonder if I am the only student of Sir to have received this certificate twice. Is this the reason why, in May 2009, he asked me to assist him in a Teacher Trainer Certification seminar in Austria ? He was tired, in poor health, and could not focus for an entire day of teaching. He, who had always supported me (and who supports me, still) had decided to reverse the roles for a few days. Right from the beginning he told me that he would be there alongside me but that it was I who had to conduct the seminar and at the end of it decide on who would pass and who wouldn’t. He also asked me to assess all the written papers and oral exams. At the end of each day he took me aside and did some rituals, some of which I did not fully understand. We did a lot of chanting and he instructed me how to perform some special gestures. This experience left me with a special feeling, difficult to express ; It felt like in those moments he was counting on me.
« Don’t be a monkey »
Sir wanted us to be sincere and honest. He could not bear to see Western people imitate Indian sadhus or swamis by wearing saffron robes and religious signs from a tradition that was not theirs. He often said : « Krishnamurti once told me : « don’t be a monkey ». I will never forget his advice. » He wanted us to just be ourselves or find ourselves through genuine svādhyāya. For him, this aspect of yoga was very important.
There was a clear difference for him between mimicking and learning from someone: at one point he wore his watch with the dial under his wrist. After a while, seeing some of his students doing the same, he put the dial on top again. In a yoga congress in 1982 he was surprised to see many westerners copying eastern behaviours. It had become a fashion : jewelry, clothes, food, etc. One of the organisers had a dog called OM. Then he saw ‘OM’ painted on the toilet walls and it made him really upset. In reaction to it, he gave a lecture called « Use and abuse of OM. »
Yoga is relation, relation is meditation
His narrative was never complex but it was always profound, sensitive and intelligent. His presentation of concepts that others would explain in complicated manners was always clear and accessible. To make himself understood he was not afraid of repeating ideas and examples. His definition of yoga remains crystal clear : « Yoga is relation. » It is so true : to be in yoga is to be in a profound and sincere relationship. He also added : « Relation is meditation. » When one is paying genuine attention to someone else or to one’s self, one is in yoga. It is easy to carry out some exercises and to be distracted or pulled away from our own self. But if we simply raise our arms as we inhale, being fully present, it is yoga. And if this relation lasts a bit longer and goes a bit deeper, it becomes meditation. We should be in meditation when we practice yoga postures. Likewise, if we are successful in establishing an intimate connection with our breath while doing prāṇāyāma, we are in meditation with our breath.
When Sir was teaching a single person or a group, he was often in meditation, fully present. He said : « The goal of yoga is to make our mind more flexible and more firm. This is the yoga that was transmitted throughout generations, from teacher to student. The word « yoga » means connection or union, which implies that there are two components to be linked. Yoga is the relationship, by means of the mind. Relation to myself or with the exterior. » And he went on :
« To have the correct attitude, I should have the correct relationship. Without a balanced relationship, I cannot have a balanced attitude. The quality of the relationship is the key, and the relationship may be with my body, my mind, my state of health, family, friends, or God… That is yoga. My dream is that in the 21st century all beings will respect each other and communicate harmoniously with themselves and with each other. »
One day, he told me : « You are a religious man. » I was very surprised because I definitely do not call myself a « believer ». However, Sir respected my life choices. This comment really puzzled me, but he never explained it any further. It was on my mind for a long time, like a sūtra. I reflected, in order to understand what he had meant and it ended up becoming a sort of svādhyāya. Several of my friends had a similar experience : some passing comment of Sir had turned into a platform of meditation. Sir and I frequently talked about religion. I used to observe how Indians live their lives and I shared my impressions with him : I told him that, in my opinion, many Indians confuse religion with superstition. Sir did not visit the temple very often but he respected his parents’ tradition. In a seminar he could talk about īśvara for hours but when someone asked him a personal question about it he would say something like : « I don’t know. For me, God is my father. ». However, in his last years I believe that religious rituals became a more important part of his life.
He was not « Superman ». He had limitations, as we all do. He could get angry. At times I saw him dominate his anger, but at others times I witnessed how he was overpowered by strong emotions. Some of his fits of anger had a value to educate, while others were more spontaneous. He comes from a family with a very strong temper. He could in turn be gentle or fierce. Impatience was another trait of his personality. His mind was so sharp that his understanding was often way ahead of others. This required a great amount of patience on his behalf.
He also could admit that he was wrong, as I witnessed several times. I remember one occasion, while in the pre-selection process for the Special Viniyoga Diploma, after a particularly challenging session where other people were tested, I told him that I would have made some mistakes, had I been asked. He replied : « Yes, all of us have made some mistakes in our teaching. » This response meant a lot to me, I found it extremely encouraging : he made us feel that it was acceptable to make mistakes and that he took his share of responsibility in them ; he was always encouraging.
Although he was very steady, Sir was sometimes influenced by his students to an extreme. For example, at one time I had published a few articles by a psychoanalyst in Viniyoga magazine. One of his students gave him a partial and incomplete account of these articles and it threw Sir into a sudden (and unfair) fit of anger, much to our surprise. A few years after that episode he met Hellfried Krusche, a German psychoanalyst, who became his close student. His opinion about psychoanalysis rapidly changed, and eventually he and Hellfried wrote a book together. So, from that point onwards, he always said that yoga and psychoanalysis can be complementary. He also observed the positive effects of the two disciplines combined.
Sometimes, Sir’s opinions could change suddenly and swing to the opposite side. This was challenging for us. We used to call him « Professor Pariṇāma », because of how often he changed his mind. He could lead us down one path and then take a sharp turn and switch directions. These changes were actually useful for me, they taught me to see things from a different perspective and sometimes understand situations more clearly :
« We are here now, and no longer there. So let us start from the present and forget the old idea what we were clinging on to. Our current objective has nothing to do with the previous situation. »
As part of the celebrations of his father’s 100th birthday, Sir was teaching his first seminar on meditation. At the end he told me : « You are going to make a book about this. » So I started working on it, slowly. In the meantime, another student quickly put together a similar book based on some conferences that Sir had given. So, I was a bit discouraged and I put my work on the back burner for a while. Eventually I resumed the task and completed it, then presented it to him : « Here you are, Sir, it is finished. » He looked at me and asked : « Do you really want to take this old skeleton out of the closet ? » For him, the project was long dead. He had moved on to something else. That is how he was sometimes, our Professor Pariṇāma.
Family was Sir’s absolute priority, it was sacred for him. While he was in class, any member of the family could walk in and talk to him. His attention for his wife and children was very moving. When he was overseas he called them every day. Even the extended family was important to him and he tried to maintain good relationships with them all. I was fortunate to be with him several times when he visited one of his sisters or aunts, or his brother who lives in France. Sir was world-famous, which I guess was not always easy for his brothers and sisters to deal with. He always tried to give the message that his fame was not a big deal, so his behaviour was natural and spontaneous, despite the fact that it was awkward, sometimes.
During a seminar in Madras, there was a man in our group who brought up problems he had with his wife because of his involvement in yoga. He asked Sir what he would do in the same situation. This was Sir’s response : « I believe that with good balance both can coexist. But if it really proved impossible I would give priority to my family. I am a family man. » In other circumstances he mentioned his own father – T. Krishnamacharya – in a family situation: « My father was an extraordinary man. As far as yoga was concerned he was my teacher. I never doubted anything he said, always followed his instructions to the letter. But one day I said to him : « You are my acarya in yoga, yet as far as family goes, you have nothing to tell me. You were never an example in this domain. » »
Varioius things occured in the few years before and after 2000, complex events that I find difficult to untangle. During that period one of Sir’s close students went through a painful episode with his family. Sir did his best to support him, but his intervention led to a sudden split between the two of them, followed by some attempts to fix things. One day, I had been in the presence of both of them and following that Sir told me : « I made a mistake. I spoke to him as I would speak to an Indian student, but he is not Indian. » This really affected Sir ; he was very sad about it.
At about the same time, the arrival and increasing influence of his second son on the yoga scene led to some conflicts. The son had his own students and kept them away from his father’s students. Some of Sir’s closest students felt threatened and did not deal with Sir’s son’s influence very well. When they began to criticise him, things turned sour and some of Sir’s students left. At any rate, this is how I am interpreting those events today, now that time has passed. I believe that these were challenging times for Sir, but again, family came first. As for me, I was fortunate to be out of the immediate circle so, along with a few other students, I was not affected too much.
In 2005-2006, Sir told us that he relinquished all decisions and responsibilities and that his son was to be in charge from that point on. New structures were created and many changes took place. During a seminar I asked him if we could take a group photo with him and he said : « I don’t know, please ask my son. » I found this answer disturbing because until then Sir had always made his own decisions and readily given permissions. The following year I asked the same question and he said : « He doesn’t want us to take photos any more. He takes them himself. »
Aside from that, accusations of inappropriate sexual behaviours were occasionally made against his son. I personally did not believe them back then. Around that time, Sir started to make small mistakes, every once in a while, when he was teaching, and we would just correct them. As the years went by, mistakes and confusion gradually increased, to the point that, eventually, it became obvious that Sir was getting more and more tired and was no longer able to present any subject in a coherent manner. He was clearly unwell, but his family never spoke to me about it. They always avoided that subject and even when his disease became more serious, the topic was taboo. My colleagues and I thought that Sir deserved to be left in peace to rest. Instead of that, he was still used as an instrument and exhibited for a few more years, for the sake of visibility and, as it seemed to us back then, financial reward. We found this very shocking.
I recently read an article by David Le Breton, a researcher and professor of Sociology at the University of Strasbourg. In this article he explains how sometimes extreme fatigue can take over in the mind of individuals who have exhausted the resources that gave their life sense and purpose. These people slowly withdraw into themselves and end up loosing memory at the same time as they withdraw from society. This opinion is also that of my friend, a psychoanalyst, who says : « When he was no longer able to connect his values with the life he was living, Desikachar may have withdrawn mentally to chose a path allowing him to remain unaffected by unpleasant events ; it saved the integrity of his teaching and of his family. »
In January 2014 my friend Martyn Neal and myself went to Chennai. Martyn was also a very close student of Sir’s. We knew that his mental and physical health were getting worse and we went there with the intention to say « Farewell, thank you Sir », thereby putting an end to our long relationship with him. His family gave us all the support we needed. Sir was already no longer himself. Our visual contact with him – which for so many years had been so powerful – was not there. But he vaguely recognised us. He liked to go for a drive at 10 am daily, and again around 4 pm. We went with him nearly every day for a week, and he repeated my name : « Frans Moors, Frans Moors », but nothing else. During these long stretches of silence with Sir in the car twice a day, we felt like we were having deep long conversations with him without a word ever being said. They became meditations, and they gave us some peace, far beyond anything words can express.
I flew out of Chennai with a deep sense of peace and never went back as I have nothing further to do there.
What is left, now ?
Many beautiful memories, the positive ones far greater than a few regrets. Sir’s teachings had a powerful impact on my life, and some of his short sutra-like comments left marks. Memories of so many classes, trips and seminars, his words still echoeing in my ears and in my mind. His smile, his sense of humour, his generosity, his openness, all of this shines in my memory.
Adaptable and creative
His ability to adjust to each student was extraordinary. He could turn one practice into ten more thanks to the subtlety of his perception and his capacity to adapt according to the needs and aspirations of the person in front of him. His creativity seemed unlimited, but he never used it to impress people. It was always to help the students. The infinity of adaptations he came up with, his respect for the students, the way he interpreted their body language, their expressions, what they said or did not say : it was absolutely formidable.
What’s more, he was never bound by any rules. For him, rules are there to serve the students and not the other way around. When I was younger it was important for me to understand all the rules and systematically put them in practice. I was naive and believed that we had an obligation to do things in certain ways. Then one day, in our group, a man had injured his right hand and could not use it to control his nostrils. Sir said : « Use the left hand. » I was disturbed for a few days. Another time, I thought I would be smart and pointed out that a colleague had demonstrated Vīrabhadrāsana with the right leg forward first, while we had learnt to start with the left. Sir showed us how for that person it was better to start with the right leg, while it was not the case for another. I can smile now about the many fixed ideas I was stuck with and trying so hard to reinforce, back then. Then, all of a sudden, Sir had some new, alternative idea and he made a suggestion that proved efficient, kicking me out of my comfort zone and making a huge dent in my rigid beliefs. He rejected stereotypes and expected us to adapt solutions for the benefit of each student. One of his most useful inventions, in my opinion, was the use of stick figures to draw the postures. They are now universally used by many yoga schools to show the sequences, variations and structure of a course with clarity, precision, and in record time.
The majority of people think yoga is a synonym of postures. It is a very narrow view. I have been asked many questions about my āsana practice with Desikachar. Oddly, for a long time we didn’t talk about it. He knew I was practising every day and he was aware of the kind of practice I was doing. He knew that with Claude – my trainer – I had acquired solid technical foundations in āsanas. He also knew that I had reviewed āsanas with the KYM teachers in previous years. Still, I had opportunities to spend time with him to review the vinyāsas of more than 200 postures, with their preparations, variations, compensations and so forth, for the main ones. I frequently observed him when he gave practices to other people and was always fascinated by the great emphasis he put on the breath in āsana practice, and on ratios in particular. Prāṇa for him was a essential aspect of practice : without it the postures had no life.
At the beginning of the 1990s he told me : « Frans, I think you should stop doing the headstand. » He knew that I stayed in that posture for a long time every day. He added: « I have something else to keep you busy », and now, 25 years later, this « something else » is still keeping me busy.
Sir was genuinely interested in people who came to see him. He really cared for them and sometimes it led him to do things in a seemingly unorthodox manner. He had know-how, wisdom and technical knowledge, and that helped him to identify potentials and understand people as they are. After we learn the techniques, we have a tendency to get stuck in our vision of how to do things. Sir was always capable of innovation, he was not stuck to any standard models and always came up with solutions that, at first, challenged these models. For him, the well-being of the student was always the priority. He encouraged us to develop our autonomy. He had no tight grip on his students, so you had to request his attention. If I wanted something, I had to ask for it. When I asked for nothing, he gave me nothing.
Teach by example
We can be intellectually brilliant but if we conduct ourselves in a despicable manner, it makes our teaching completely meaningless! Will the students remember the theoretical principles we have taught, or our actual behaviour? In the early years of our relationship, he sometimes surprised me by saying : « I have to go to the market, come with me. » So we went out to buy cauliflower, papaya, a few bananas… and then back to have class. It had taken an hour or so. We would chant for 10 minutes and then the class was over ! At the beginning I was wondering if I had to pay for these classes. As a matter of fact I never knew what to pay, for we never spoke about money. « Give whatever you want », he said, and there was no use asking again. After a while I realised that going to the market, interacting with people or visiting a friend were precious opportunities to observe his behaviour in society. Another time he asked me to accompany him to visit an important man who happened to be very full of himself : he gloated in the most ridiculous fashion, pretending to be a « yoga teacher », but he hardly knew how to move and breathe, had an enormous belly and lied on the sofa like a couch potato. Sir listened to him patiently and made no comments. When we left his house, as we were walking down the steps he said : « A yoga teacher should never have a big belly. »
Where his own lifestyle choices were concerned, Sir had great tapas or discipline. Over the years we saw him eliminate several things from his diet. One day he gave up coffee entirely, even though he liked it very much, I think. Another time he said : « I will not eat apples any more. My father liked apples, so every time I see an apple, mentally I offer it to my father. » He also gave up mangos and a few other things. Of course, he never drank alcohol. He was very strict with his own lifestyle choices. We knew that he would rise very early to practice around 4 am (which, for me, is still the middle of the night!), and that he practiced prāṇāyāma every day early in the afternoon. He was also in the habit of « purifying » himself before talking about a delicate subject. He would say: « I will be back in a few minutes, I have to… » and with a quick nostril control gesture indicate that he needed to go away to do a few minutes of prāṇāyāma. On these occasions our class was shorter…
Family was very important to him, as I already mentioned. It was probably an emotional anchor for him. But after his father’s death, I believe he became very lonely. He bore the weight of his student’s secrets all by himself, as well as his own issues and concerns. One day he told me : « A yoga teacher diploma must be earned every day. I have to demonstrate that I deserve my diploma every day with my eldest son who has greater limits than we do. A yoga teacher is someone who must be capable of giving a practice to someone who is suffering, someone who is handicapped or has real challenges in life. »
Sir was generous with his time, his presence, his support and his teaching. Of course, he transmitted a wealth of knowledge to us all. But there was also smaller things like coffee, chocolates, fruit… he almost always gave us something before a meeting or welcoming session… He could not greet anyone without giving something away. He also gave more precious objects: some books, a watch or a mala that had belonged to his father, etc.
One year I was having some problems at work and he said that I was in a toxic relationship that could make me very ill. I was about to leave Chennai a few days later and he advised me to stay a few weeks longer. So I trusted him and extended my stay, even though I had to give up my plane ticket. We had long conversations. He suggested that I put all my classes and activities on hold for six months in order to reflect and start fresh with something new. He said : « I will come to see you in Belgium, and we will organise a big seminar to promote your new programs. » He kept his word, of course, and gave two weeks of his time to visit me in Europe. We went to Belgium, then to France, and he taught the seminar with me. He did the same for another student who had family issues, for another who was seriously ill in the USA, and probably for others who I have forgotten or am not aware of.
Learning to say ‘no’
I sometimes feel that he taught me many things with short sentences, almost like personalised sūtras. I told him that I had left school on the day I turned 18 because I was going through a crisis and was not focused on studies : « You have no diplomas but you have many talents. Many people know it and will come to study with you. You will have to learn to say ‘no’. » Later on he gave me some examples from texts and real-life situations to illustrate the importance of learning to say ‘no’.
Sir’s presentation of the Yoga-Sūtra was simply luminous. Somehow he managed to get across the meaning of some sūtras that other teachers made completely unintelligible. And what’s more, he would bring sūtras to life with real examples of daily life. I was always struck by how direct and honest his explanations were; this is what we would call satya in classical yoga. He was authentic, clear and direct. He always made a point of speaking his mind: to say what has to be said, to the person who should hear it, in the correct circumstances, having reflected on why and how it should be said : « A true statement is not satya if it is not appropriate. To refrain from speaking is not satya either. »
This remark really stuck with me, and I often tried to find the correct attitude in this regard, with mixed results. Sometimes we must break a silence if it is obsolete. Discretion is certainly a virtue, but to allow a misconception to be regarded as valid when we have the authority and ability to set it right, would only encourage lying and cheating. We must be careful not to fall into this aspect of anumodita presented in YS II.34: to be silent when we should speak is asatya.
Friend and student
The way Sir used to observe people was amazing. I was fascinated by the sharpness of his perception. When he observed people’s breath, their body and physical attitude, he noticed many things that totally escaped the rest of us but he hardly ever discussed or commented on these. One time he explained to me that he had recorded a few chants on tape. He gave the tape to a student, X, to send it to Y – a well-known personality. The recipient, Y, wrote to Sir to say: « Thank you for the tape and the leaflet advertising the work of X. » « What does this make you think of ? », Sir asked me. I reflected on it and the next day I said that in my opinion the attitude of X had something to do with the kleśas. I added : « But still, he is your student. » He said : « No, he is a friend. He is very scattered. He comes to see me when he is in town. We talk, but he’s never asked anything from me except occasionally to borrow this or that. I am always happy to help him. » Since that day I was very cautious when he said someone was a « friend ». Nevertheless, this « friend » called himself a student of Sir for many years. Desikachar truly appreciated people he called « friends », he loved them sincerely but expected more from his students than he did from his friends. I think that, for him, students ask questions and put what they learnt into practice. They must show faith, regularity, punctuality, discretion, respect, and keep an appropriate distance. Most importantly, the student’s absolute priorities are learning and transformation. I never understood how he did that, but as soon as we had some other plan in mind – like sightseeing, a show, going to the beach for the week-end – he would set an appointment for class at the exact same time. It was his way to check that our priorities were in the right order.
He used to make us laugh; sometimes it was on purpose and sometimes unwillingly. Although he was unforgiving with himself, he could be forgiving with his students, so long as our behaviour stayed within the acceptable limits. One time we were in Switzerland – Sir and a few of close students. Claude Marechal and I were walking down a steep path and Sir was walking up to us, carrying a bag. When he saw us he shouted : « Hey Belgians, I have some Danish pastries for you! » It was a six-pack of Carlsberg [the Danish beer], to honour our reputation of beer drinkers!
Humble, genuine and quick
There were many other things I used to admire in him, like his very sharp mind, his intelligence, and more than anything else, his humility. He never tried to promote himself. He had strict principles but at the same time he was very open. These might seem like opposite qualities but, in fact, they are complimentary. Sir could be extremely demanding yet also very tolerant. He was practical and matter-of-fact about things. His actions were as quick as his mind ; this was the case even during meals: he would eat as fast as possible and not linger after he finished. The exception was when he was with us. He knew that in our culture meals are an opportunity to relax and converse with others, so he made efforts to respect our slow pace when we ate. We could always count on his rapid response to our letters and faxes. When I asked him to write a preface for my book on the Yoga-Sūtra, he took a piece of paper and wrote it for me in less than three minutes.
Sir was proactive: he gave us a goal and encouraged us to get moving. He hated lethargy, fought heaviness and the lack of forward momentum : « Go ahead and get started », he said. He then observed how things developed and if it was not good he could turn things around completely. It seems to me that action was a major therapeutic method for him. Indeed many people who walk on a path are actually looking behind them, living in the past, being victims or feeling sorry for themselves. Sir always strived to give us a purpose, even if it was temporary. To be fully engaged was essential. In many cases – and even where I was concerned – I witnessed how efficient this approach was. Quite often a person with a purpose is so involved that they forget their complaint.
Time works like magic
I have talked about my relationship with Sri TKV Desikachar and reflected on certain events, but I am not the only one who has observed that time can transform our memories : it makes distances shorter or longer, turns trivial facts into important ones and important facts into trivial ones, modifies the situations, etc. My recollections are the reflection of today’s perception and the same events may be described differently by other protagonists. That is how it is and we must accept it.