'We are beyond our body and mind. We are even beyond our dreams.'

By Bobby Clennell and Richard Jonas
Interviews with Prashant S. Iyengar were conducted in February 2010 at R.I.M.Y.I. by Senior Teacher Bobby Clennell and Certified Teacher Richard Jonas, using questions suggested by Kofi Busia. 
A more complete version of this interview will appear in Busia’s upcoming book.

 

Question: You live with one of the most famous yogis who has ever lived. What is your first memory?

Answer: Never ask the background of a common man. I am not an epoch-making person who you should ask: How did you become great? That is not a pertinent question to ask me. Whereas a great man can take credit for his subnormal background, an ordinary man cannot. If I say, I was stupid in my childhood, I was undeveloped intellectually, you will say, No wonder. Whereas when Guruji says that he came from humble beginnings, weak health, that he was undeveloped intellectually, that gives him greater credit for having overcome. If I say I was that, they will say about me, 

You are still this. [Prashant laughs.] He was a great Father, I am an ordinary son. These questions are personal, as if I am a great man, and I should reveal how I’m superhuman… 

[Prashant’s first memory was] nothing significant. We were like any average man’s family. Guruji was not great then. People thought he was a madcap [because at the time, teaching yoga was an unusual occupation].

He was a great Father, I am an ordinary son.

Q:    You were a highly accomplished violinist. What made you take up the violin, and what part did it play in your life?
A:    Music played an important role in my life—not violin. I played the music, and it has its impact, whether it’s singing or any instrument. It is music which impacted my making, developing my emotional faculties and emotional perception. Music is a language without words. My mother was also a musician, a singer. Music was in our blood. A lot of audio and concerts were around us.


Q:    It sounds as if there was a lot of music in your early life, largely through your mother.
A:    In those days I heard some of the top classical musicians; many of them are not existing now. I used to attend their concerts; they influenced me a lot. I was also influenced as a student, not just as a listener to music, so I had a different grasp of their personality and their nature. Usually when one attends a concert, one is only a fan of music, whereas I was a musician, so it wasn’t just gratification for the ears. Being a student of music, I learned a lot about not just how they sing, but about their imagination.

Western music is all skill. One must have a good voice or good skill, then they sing the composition. There is hardly any room for creativity. Indian music is 99 percent creativity and only one percent composition.

As a student of music, I could feel what they were trying to sing … It was wonderful for me to understand their emotional personality, their life history etc. I heard the maestros of the 60s and 70s, among them Pandit Kumar Gandharva, Bhimsen Joshi, Ameer Khan, Badegulam Ali Khan, Jitendra Abhishakhi, Ravi Shankar pre-1965, Vilayat Khan pre-1980, Bismillah Khan, Ramnarain.

Q:     Yehudi Menuhin gave your father his first major exposure in the west. What is your clearest memory of him?
A:    He was a legendary musician. I started violin after I heard his name and heard his violin on audio. He was my inspiration to start violin. The year was 1961—I was 13 years old.

Q:    What had you heard? What made your eyes light up?
A:     Guruji had brought LPs of Menuhin. I particularly liked his unaccompanied Bach, and then Mozart, and the Beethoven Sonata of Spring with his sister Hepzibha on piano. In 1962 he came to India with his sister and he visited Guruji’s center in Mumbai. I did not meet him; I was a child then.

Q:    And then you played for Menuhin.
A:     In 1969 I met him and played for him, on the terrace of a house in Mumbai. I was a little excited, but I was not anxious. People came for a party there. My sisters and I entertained, playing music on the terrace for about two hours. While I was playing, Menuhin was sitting five feet in front of me.

Q:     Why did you stop playing the violin?
A:     Because of the accident I could no longer play the violin. That was 1979. It was a highway accident. Our car and a truck collided. I won’t say anything was lost because everything is for our good: that’s what I believe.

Q:     What have been your great influences?
A:    There are certain things that have been contributory to my life from past lives. That is invisible, that is heritage. I can’t say who influenced me. It is the past life impressions, it is subliminal impressions: they have contributed mightily to my life. These days man is used to revealing his godfather, his kingmaker. “Because of this person,” we say, “I have become this or that.” That can happen in the material world. But in the spiritual world, it is not only the person who has given me that.

So many series of teachers have come in previous lives. I got the elevation life after life after life. That was important: for me to come eye-to-eye with the guru in this life. It is not right to forget them, those who have given a pedestal for us to look higher and higher. These are impressions, samskaras, I got by birth.

Your nature will be different than your siblings’ natures. My nature is different from my siblings. We came from the same parents, we got the same bounty: Why are we different?

Because of past lives. We have brought different things with us, so there is a big difference between brother and brother, brother and sister. Each one has different potentials. That is past lives. That makes a mighty contribution in man-making.

Near the time of the Institute’s inauguration, Prashant S. Iyengar shows the altar at R.I.M.Y.I. to his nephew, Kaushik.In the second place, I did not have a sudden radical change in my life. My life has been in a channel given me right from my birth. Nothing has radically changed me—not Krishna, not Guruji even. From childhood I have been the same. Still I am an average man. Nothing extraordinary has happened in my life. I am coming up with a momentum which I was given from my birth. So far I have not been given a quantum leap forward, and suddenly, overnight I change. Such change has not occurred in me. I am an ordinary common man going in his momentum.

 Q:    Has the creative inspiration for which music is renowned—that music must have put into your life—continued?
A:    Music ha s had a long-lasting effect on me. The whole life is influenced by that, the emotional fabric. Indian music is divine and there is a touch of the divinity in music … I listen to a lot of music today, mostly Indian classical music, sometimes also western classical. For the last 20 years I am not going to many concerts, because they are late-night, but I hear a lot of music, I hear a lot of audios.

Q:    What effect did your father’s own Guruji, Sri Krishnamacharya, have on you?
A:    I first saw Krishnamacharya in 1962. He was already very old. He was fond of me, because of my bent of mind, the philosophical bent of mind … Because I knew he was a very scholarly person, I used to discuss with him certain philosophical tenets. He was surprised that I was that much studied in certain philosophical tenets such as the Vedanta at that age.

My mother was an icon for me: her nature, her tolerance, her nobility, her generosity.

Q:     What is the difference between a guru and a father? How has your father influenced you, as a father and as a guru?
 [Again, Prashant chose to answer with humor.] I am an ordinary man… If I say, I have a guru, I must give credit to him, not debit. If you are scratching the violin and you say you are a disciple of Menuhin [that is not appropriate]… Don’t ask a student to speak on the guru. It is a shame on him. But you can ask a guru to speak on a worthwhile student.

As a yogi you have your body and breath.
The breath becomes a painter’s instrument; the embodiment is the canvas.

Q:    Thousands of people travel from all over the world to study here with you and your family. What contribution have they made to your life?
A:    I am here to contribute to their life; I am not expecting them to contribute to my life… I am basically here to contribute for them. It is for them to acknowledge if I have contributed.

I’m here to teach them the subject of yoga. By teaching, I have learned. Students have helped me evolve in my life. I say to students, You are entitled to take fees from me because I have learned from you. Any student will contribute, whether they are western or Indian. We learn from students eloquence, we learn interaction.

Q:    What makes yoga of value to the world, particularly at this time in history?
A:    Yoga is a bounty to the world, but it has become for some a consumer product. If yoga is not for worldly life, it can’t be for the world. As a bounty for the world, it comes as a consumer product, a consumer package, and I’m deadly against that.

A consumer package is always attractive, and always deceiving. The customer will always be deceived. They say, My product is very good and will you buy it? The package must always have more attractive, superficial value. If yoga is going in that channel, we’ll have to provide a package which is more eclectic. Then that will be pseudo-yoga.

I am teaching yoga, I am not propagating yoga… Propagators of yoga say how it is good for the world, how it will improve physical maladies, it will help your mundane life. I don’t need consumer packages. I am a teacher of the subject. My concept of the subject is not meant for the world; it is not a worldly subject. If I say it is for the world, it becomes a mundane subject, a worldly subject, whereas yoga is sublime, profound… I am not the one who professes yoga for one and all. That is not essential yoga.

Q:    What about “the western mind” makes it difficult to grasp the essence of yoga?
A:    Basically it is not just the western mind. Even the eastern mind—those that are materialistic people—basically they think our body and mind are what we are. We are beyond our body and mind. So we are not what we want to think; we are even beyond our dreams.

The materialistic man doesn’t believe in this. He thinks, There is nothing beyond my body and mind. But we exist beyond our body and mind. Those that are skeptical about this, it is difficult to teach them yoga. We are eternal beings. We don’t take birth, we don’t die. If you want to be a student of yoga, you must believe in this. If you don’t believe this, you won’t learn essential yoga. You will learn something that is cosmetic, that is for the here and now. Yoga is not for the here and now.

If one doesn’t believe in God, in Karma, in existence before birth and after death, it is very difficult to teach them yoga. It is difficult to teach yoga to materialistic, profane, atheistic, temporal people, whether western or not.

Q:    You have said, “There is no yoga without sound and no sound without yoga.” What is the effect of sound on yoga, on Asana, and on Pranayama?
A:    Yoga is meditation. Meditation entails absorption. There is no meditation without absorption. Meditation requires some dissolution. The sound from Nada (there is no English word for it, there is no definition of the word) is where the mind can dissolve. Otherwise mind will only dissolve
in Nada

I say, No yoga mantra, no yoga. Yoga is always meditation. Not using a chant, you can’t get enchanted. Not being enchanted, you can’t meditate. A mantra is a chant, a chant is a mantra. No thought, no meditation. If you have no thought at all, there is no meditation. You must have a thought so you have confinement to thought, absorption to thought. Profundity of thought is required. It must be a profound thought; only then do you meditate. Any thought is a combination of words. No words, no thoughts. What are words? Combinations of little letters. If you remove word from thought, thought will be zero. If you remove all the sound, there will be no words. Without words, there is no meditation.

You can’t meditate on a laptop, you can’t meditate on money. You can have meditation on God, on nature, on transcendence. Metaphysical principles are a locus for meditation. You can’t be mundane and say, I am meditating on a financial problem. You have to meditate on something that is profound…

You can’t meditate on a laptop, you can’t meditate on money. You have to meditate on something profound.

For you to be sitting quiet, you want an atmosphere around you which can quickly trigger a placid state in your mind. You can’t sit in an airport terminal and say, I want to be quiet here. You have to be in the sanctum sanctorum to be transcendent. Why do you burn incense? To create this kind of atmosphere. Meditation [can be] on a mantra, on Nada or on thoughts, a concept which is sublime, metaphysical, non-mundane… All these are made of words. Words are made of letters, letters are sounds.

Modern science calls it the Big Bang. We call it Om.

Q:    There are external sounds. There are the sounds within. There are the sounds made by the vocal chords. Is there such a thing as a sound of silence? If so, how would one make it? And what is its relationship to yoga?
A:    Silence is not absence of sound. Silence is absence of hearing. You cannot be bereft of sound; anywhere you go you will have sound. Can you escape from the space? Space is made up of sound. Whatever the matter is, on a subatomic level it is made up of protons, neutrons, electrons. Similarly, all space is comprised of sound particles. Space is nothing but sound. That is metaphysics. That is why they say the first creation was the Big Bang. From Big Bang, came space. This is modern physics. They accept that space came from sound. Modern science calls it the Big Bang. We call it Om.

Modern physics accepts that space comes from sound and all the rest comes from space. Any matter comes from space. Space is womb of all matter, and space comes from the womb: which is sound. Shubda tan mantra

If a wonderful musician is singing, what will the donkey say? We all appreciate a wonderful voice, a wonderful tone, wonderful music. But a donkey says, Why this human being is making such a noise?

Q:    What references are there in the ancient scriptures to the relationship between yoga and sound? And what contribution have you, personally, made to this study? What is your original insight upon this matter?
A:    If you look into Pranayama kosha, it is nothing but sound forms. In metaphysics, all energy is sound forms. No sound, no energy. That’s why the Pranayamaya kosha is the energy body. The whole energy body is sound forms.

Like you have 26 letters in English, we have 50 sound forms in Sanskrit. There are 50 petals in the six chakras. Fifty petals for 50 sound forms. There are 50 shrines on the planet to Shakti, the consort of Shiva. Most of them are in the Indian subcontinent. Each of the shrines has one letter, therefore there are 50 shrines.

There is the mythical story of nectar being churned out and served… the goddess carried this nectar to heaven and some drops were spilled. Fifty drops were spilled on the earth, and these are the 50 sound forms of Sanskrit.

Q:    Your mother inspired your father and his work. He constantly acknowledges her and named his institute after her. What effect did she have on you; what effect does she continue to have?
A:    A lot. In my mind makeup, there is a lot of the influence of my mother. She was an icon for me. If I may say so, even much more than my father; my mother was a greater icon to me. Her nature, her tolerance, her nobility, her generosity, her accommodating-ness—all were exceptional.

She was an almost anger-less human being; her generosity, nobility, quietude, tolerance were exceptional.

Q:    What are your studies now? What are you working on?
A:    I haven’t had any formal studies in philosophy. I studied by reading on my own. I had the inclination. I carried out my studies on my own. And from past life, things have come. [Prashant told us his newest book is a discourse on yoga. He writes for an hour each day.]

Q:    Do you like writing?
A:    Yes. Because what one can speak and what one can write is different. Good orators can speak well but can’t write well. When I get to writing, creativity is in a channel which isn’t offered to me when I teach. When I teach, I speak in one way; when I write, I speak in another way. What I teach, I cannot write; what I write, I cannot teach. Music has contributed [to his writing]. Music can make us express something which is not words. My writing ability, my eloquence and oration, have improved because of music.

Q:    What is the relationship between yoga and science?
A:    A physical scientist’s perspective on yoga [is not the correct one]. Yoga is not a physical or medical science—yoga is a science by itself. The science of yoga deals with both the physics and the metaphysics of man. Where does man stand in relation to nature, and where does nature stand in relation to man? This is what the science of yoga gives us.

The science of a human being will only discuss the things of medical science. That is not even .00001 percent of man. Man is much beyond that: we are not just bodies of flesh. There is not much difference between dogs, horses, cows. Cows have been the same for the last 10,000 years; they are still eating grass. But what about man? What was he eating 10,000 years ago—and now he is eating pastas and pizzas! Man has been changing.

Yoga discusses the human being, the physics and metaphysics of man.

Simple things like what is the source of mind. Modern psychology says the source of the mind is the subconscious tendencies: the source of the mind is the garbage. Metapsychology places this instead in the cosmic mind.

As I said, the Big Bang is physics; Om is metaphysics. The moon, Mars, the sun, the other planets are studied by astronomers and by astrophysicists. Astrophysicists study the moon from a physics point of view. We look at the moon differently: we relate the moon to lunacy, we relate Venus to passion, Saturn to viciousness, etc. As far as astrophysics is concerned, there is no difference between Venus and Mars—but why does Mars have the martial influence, the martial nature? Guruji’s chart has a very strong martial nature. Guruji will never be behind the people, he will always lead and impel the people…

Astrologers have a different perspective. What is Prashant for you? I walk on the street and someone sees me. You revere me as a teacher so your reading of me is different than theirs. I go to a radiologist; he sees the pathology of me—but if I go to a face-reader, he will read different things in me. I am the same. You revere me, you have one reading. Somebody neither likes or dislikes me, no attachment and no aversion, he will look at me in one way. I go to a radiologist, he looks at me differently.

They each have a different perspective, they will all divulge a different thing about Prashant. They may all be right, but they are not projecting the whole Prashant.

If you are an artist and you are given a pencil, you will draw something. As a yogi you have your body and your breath.

Q:    What is the relationship between yoga and art?
A:    If you are an artist and you are given a pencil, you will draw something.
As a yogi you have your body and your breath. The breath becomes a painter’s instrument, for his artistic work. Breath is used as a device for artwork; there is a breath art. The embodiment is the canvas for that art.

Q:    You use humor in your teaching. Often you’re very funny! Can you talk about the role of humor in teaching and learning?
A:    Yes, humor must be there. When you are relishing your food, you require certain side dishes which increase the relish of your main dishes. Otherwise the main dish is not so delicious. When a serious subject is being taught, if there is something lighter in between, the comprehension is better. Otherwise they can only go for 20 minutes. They say you can read for 20 minutes straight, but no more.