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Light on life- BKS Iyengar

Book review by a seeker

11 May '24
5 min read


I recently came across this engaging yet bewildering book by the famous Yog Guru, BKS Iyengar. (If you notice, I have written Yog instead of Yoga. That is because I was severely admonished once, by a Yog-practitioner friend of mine, when I casually called it Yoga instead of Yog… :))

The book is a guide to living a fulfilling life by following Yogic philosophy. It relies heavily on  Maharshi Patanjali's Yogsutras. Yog Guru BKS goes from abstract concepts to applied knowledge, quite effortlessly, as he gives countless examples from his own life to validate the timeless wisdom of our Ancients.

It begins with basics- the mechanics of body and mind, The human body has five sheaths or layers. The outermost layer, the body, is the mass and is called Anna-may kosha. As we go inwards, there is Prana-may kosha, Mano-may kosha, Vijnan-may kosha and lastly Ananda-may kosha. Beneath these layers resides The  Soul, which is the same as The Supreme Soul or Mahat or God.

Yog means Union or Oneness- a state of non-duality. The purpose of Yog practice thus, is to go inwards and reach The Soul, The Supreme Soul that resides within us.

Yogsutras quite clearly tells us, what is Not us. I am not the body- as body will die some day. Likewise, I am not  my mind or senses or intellect as in deep sleep all of these abandon me. But when I wake up, I do know that I had a deep sleep. If I was asleep, who tells me that I had a deep sleep? Someone within me is observing me when I am in deep sleep- that is the Seer or the Observer or  The Soul. Yog is about removing all the unwanted sheaths and reaching This Soul.

But Yog by no means dismisses the physical body. Rather it regards physical well-being as prerequisite to Yogic pursuits. Accordingly, The Patanjali Yogsutras give a number of time-tested principles and practices that will prepare our body and tame our mind.

These Principles and Practises form the 8 petals of Yog. Briefly, they are:

Yama - These include rules for calming the mind- not to be affected or ruffled by others' actions or behaviours. Very cleverly, Maharshi Patanjali tells us to change our outlook toward different people. While he tells us not to take any of the external influences personally, he also gives us practical advise- adopt Maitri or Friendliness toward likeminded people, Karuna or compassion toward those in distress, Mudita or  respect for virtuous, and downright Upeksha or indifference toward viscious people. See the practicality of this advice? It tells us- Don't try to be a people pleaser.

Once mind is sufficiently calm, focus on Niyama - basic hygiene, both bodily and mental. Maharshi advises us to eat healthy food as well as think healthy thoughts. Even thoughts should be checked and the toxic ones should be nipped in the bud.

With a healthy mind and body, the focus can now be shifted to Asana - This step will make the  body strong and stable. (And we thought Yog was about bodily strength alone!)

Once the body is stable and strong enough, then and then alone Pranayama is advised. Prana is not to be confused with air. It is life itself. Pranayama thus, concerns itself with infusing life into every cell in our body. Since its pure and high energy, it is a must that to contain this energy, our body, which is the container, must be made strong. Yog Guru BKS very beautifully explains this point. You wont triple the electricity flow in your house without ensuring that the wiring in your house can sustain such an increase, because you know that in the absence of such a rewiring, simply an increase in electricity flow will not run your appliances at triple speed but will end up damaging them permanently. Thus Pranayama is advised only and only when the body is strengthened through sustained pracitce of first three petals of Yog.

Next is Pratyahara which requires us to still our mind by withdrawing the senses inwards. This is complemented by sustained practise of Dharana and Dhyana. Dharana is focussing inwards on something like breathe. and Dhyana is meditating upon it. The last petal- Samaadhi cannot be forced but will come to us on its own. It requires total surrender of ego, the I-ness. This I is not the Soul. This I is hungry and restless. It wants instant gratification, while The Soul that resides within, is divine, unchanging and completely unsullied by desires and senses..

This in a nutshell, is my understanding of the book. Its a great book by itself and also serves as a sneak-peak into Maharshi Patanjali's gargantuan work. As I read the book,  I was tempted to underline each and every sentence. Such is the timeless wisdom and so practical and relevant it is, even today, that it humbles you. I also liked the phenomenal scrutiny of various concepts like consciousness, difference between mind and intellect, difference between I and  The Soul, the distinction between knowledge and ignorance, relationship between thought and Samskara etc.  But that's for another time. As of now, I invite  you to read this beautiful and inspiring work.


Written by Vishnupriya VijayGanesh