Monday, December 28, 2009

On Being with Amrit, Yogi Desai & Gurudev in India

The American Nobel laureate Saul Bellow once wrote a story about a wealthy, successful and famous man who sold all his worldly possessions, shucked his social roles, and set off to find a renowned holy man who reputedly lived simply, serenely and happily. Being something of a Donald Trump of his time, the wealthy man's plans were heralded well in advance of his arrival.

When he finally showed up, the holy man greeted the wealthy man warily, saying: "Sir, I have heard of the great sacrifices you made in order to come and see me. I only hope I can say something that will satisfy your hunger for wisdom and peace."

The wealthy man responded gleefully, and pragmatically. "I didn't come all this way to hear you say anything. I came here to observe how you lace your shoes."

This is how I felt about being with Amrit Desai, the person, the Yogi and the Guru in India.

When he was riding on the bus with us, or touring the village where he grew up, he was Amrit Desai. a fellow traveler bursting with enthusiasm to show us, his modern Western friends, the original primal Indian setting where he spend the first thirty years of his life. Having worked with him at the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health -- situated on the tony former estate of Andrew Carnegie in the Berkshires -- I was expecting a reverse Horatio Alger moment. An awkward return from riches to rags; a fracture in the space time continuum. Though that notion was quickly dispelled when Yogi Desai casually and personally interacted with the people in the village as though he had never left them and it. Additionally, as anyone who was on the tour and took pictures can show, although the villagers may be poor by American standards, the expressions on their faces did not show the kind of spiritual impoverishment that has become so common in modern Western societies. It actually makes perfect sense that someone coming from such a simple and earthy background would so effectively represent deeper values than materialism and consumerism to the world. When he was talking to any of us individually about personal matters he was also being Amrit Desai -- the caring person and candid friend who comfortably shares from his personal worldly experiences that so mirror our own.

When he led seminars and demonstrated the practice of yoga he has mastered he was being Yogi Desai -- a sublime energy maestro simultaneously traversing both the interior and exterior worlds while effortlessly articulating the ineffable. He was also Yogi Desai whenever he socialized with us informally, conducting himself with august discrimination in speech and action. He was the ultimate Yogi off the mat -- at 73 years of age a living vibrant vessel of health, self-discipline, spontaneity and good will.

And when we got to the temple of Malav, the place where Shrii Kripalvanandji is entombed, a good-natured young Swami advised Yogi Desai and us that -- being as we were in India, and at a sacred site -- we should be observing more of the traditional Indian 'guru-disciple protocols'. So we did. And it was enjoyable to do so -- spontaneous, voluntary, and heartfelt. So when the Swami later told me that he was planning on going to America  I, in turn, advised him to try to enjoy the American protocols of informality and classlessness.


I've been observing Yogi Amrit Desai lacing his shoes (figuratively speaking; I don't think I've ever seen him in a pair of shoes) for going on thirty years. I know him personally as an exceptionally caring person. I look up to him as a role model who was tested by life in a most severe, dramatic and public way and who not only successfully endured the crisis, but came out on the other end a better person as well as a more refined and authentic Yogi. Real princes are made, not born, and for me, Yogi Desai, by working through his obstacles and shortcomings, has became that rare prince among men -- someone who now effortlessly inspires honorable values and wholesome conduct in others.

And I also know that there is a guru in him that contains a wellspring of esoteric knowledge, advanced understandings of human nature, and a transcendental perspective derived from his distinguished lineage of gurus and practice of sadhana. I honor and cherish the fact that that is within him, and in me.


In all the time I've been observing and participating in this grand living experiment of lacing together yoga and America, I have never before seen the person I most associate with being the impresario of this adventure -- Yogi Amrit Desai -- more enjoyably and seamlessly living fully his roles as friend, teacher and sage as I did on the lineage tour of India. It was a blessing for each and all of us to be a part of this exhilarating peripatetic posture flow.

And It's almost enough to make me request an encore rendition from Shrii Santosh Muniji of 'God Bless America'. (Santosh Muniji is the presiding guru at the Temple of Malav and a lover of sadhana as well as all things American, especially its music.)

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