I think I left off telling you about our Tuesday night adventure.  After the initiation with the  Mala beads, Devarshi (teacher) told a story about the lineage of Kripalu & the history of  yoga. For those of you who may be interested…..here it is.

Kripalu yoga is part of the Pashupata lineage. This tradition extends back to about 200 BCE. The Pashupata Sutram, the ancient text, was written & taught by a yogi named Lakulisha. Lakulisha lived and worked in Kayavarohan where he used yoga techniques to heal the sick.

Lakulisha’s teachings, which were powerful practices that quickly brought about transformation, started to spread quickly. A large spiritual community began to develop all over India. To accommodate the growing number of followers, he decided to build a temple where the devotional aspects of the Pashupata path could be practiced.

Lakulisha was a devotee of the Hindu God, Shiva, who symbolizes the transformational energy of yoga. Typically Shiva is honored in the form of Shiva Linga (a column of stone that symbolizes both the “infinite” & sexual energy). It is both a phallic and vaginal symbol, reminding the students that sexual energy is not only divine but also a source of spiritual energy when transformed by yoga practices.

Several years after the completion of the temple, Lakulisha called his foremost students to the temple in Kayavarohan and announced that his work here (on earth) was done & that he was merging back into infinite spirit.  Legend says that he led his students through a meditation and when they opened their eyes, Lakulisha was gone AND the Shiva Linga (stone column) had changed.  Now carved into the front of it was the form and image of Lakulisha.

His students, deeply affected and saddened by their loss, continued to carry on his teachings and honor the Linga. The Shiva temple, with the Linga of Lakulisha, became a pilgrimage center where thousands of practitioners came for inspiration. It was highly respected until the Muslim invasion of northern India in 1025 CE. The Linga and the city were destroyed, never regaining their former glory.

Until…..On May 1866, a farmer from the village of Kayavarohan was plowing his fields when the plow unearthed the large stone (Linga). The farmer did not know anything about the statue but had a sense that it was important. With the help from his friends, the farmer brought the statue to the village courtyard to be stored where archeological finds were housed. It wasn’t until nearly 100 years later that archeologists would discover that a very large city existed at this site (farmers land) a thousand years before.  Although it was a revered archeological “find” , the statue lay dormant until the visit of Swami Kripalu in 1955.

Swami Kripalu was a really interesting man. He was born in India in 1913. Swami Kripalu’s father died shortly after his birth leaving his family in a time of great financial hardship (due to the depressed economy & population explosion).  After several years of searching for a steady job, and unable to help his family financially, Swami Kripalu became suicidally depressed.

He went to his temple to pray one last time before taking his life when an elderly yogi appeared before him & asked him not to take his life but to live with him in the old yogi’s ashram.  Swami Kripalu was shocked that this yogi knew of his intentions even though he had told no one of his plan.  Swami K. felt the old man’s words to be a message from spirit and heeded his direction. Ultimately living with this yogi for the next year, where he learned the philosophy and practice of yoga. One day the yogi announced to his students (Swami K being one of them) that his work was done and that he would depart forever in a few days.

After the yogi’s departure, Swami Kripalu was saddened but he reentered the world. He found a job and educated himself  writing stories and teaching music to children. At the age of 30, he renounced the world and took monastic vows, from a traveling monk, officially becoming a Swami.

For the next 8 yrs., Swami Kripalu walked through northwest India as a mendicant (one who possesses no personal or worldly properties). He traveled through small villages offering instruction and inspiration to whomever would listen. Through these activities, he became renown as a yogi & spiritual teacher.

After many years of teaching & traveling, Swami K made a pilgrimage to a holy region of the Himalayas and received a vision during meditation. A young man appeared before the Swami and instructed him to stop traveling and begin practicing the specific yoga techniques that the old yogi had taught him. Stunned but inspired, Swami Kripalu began to practice more intensely with great vigor. After several months of practicing his routine, Swami Kripalu experienced an energy awakening. He was frightened by these profound experiences but continued his practice, trusting in his teacher’s protection.

Soon, Swami Kripalu increased his practice time to 10 hours each day. In addition, over the years, he experimented with different lifestyle approaches to support and deepen his practice. For example he fasted on milk for 3 yrs. & spent 12 yrs. in total silence. Eventually he retreated into seclusion, silently interacting with people for only a few hours each day.

In 1955, Swami Kripalu was invited to be a guest speaker at a spiritual celebration in Kayavarohan. For some unknown reason & a surprise to all, he accepted this invitation and broke his vow of silence & seclusion. After his lecture, he was told that one of the archeological items that had been unearthed indicated the presence of an ancient civilization. It was entirely possible that ancient city had been the origin of yoga and Hinduism. Some of the village elders offered him a tour through the courtyard where archeological finds were stored.

Swami Kripalu was shown the Shiva Linga and was taken aback.  The image on the front of the Linga was the young man who had appeared to him in the Himalayas during meditation. Could the young man have been Lakulisha?

Swami Kripalu moved to Kayavarohan and established a non-profit organization to rebuild Lakulisha’s temple & ashram, where aspirants could study and practice the deeper aspects of yoga.  He continued his re-building efforts in Kayavarohan until 1977, when he came to America, to live in the Ashram of one of his former students, Amrit Desai.

Amrit Desai met Swami Kripalu at the young age of 15yrs. Swami Kripalu quickly became a father figure to the young man. Amrit would visit him after school and spend time meditating and learning with his guru. They spent several years together in this way until Swami Kripalu’s move to Kayavarohan.

Amrit chose not to follow Swami Kripalu into monastic vows but instead wanted a career & a family.  He made the decision in 1960 to travel to America and go to school in Philadelphia to attend art college and study textile design.  He taught yoga on the side to support himself while attending school.  Amrit was a very popular teacher and eventually established a retreat center and ashram on a farm outside of Philadelphia.

At first he taught traditional, willful yoga. But as he learned more advanced practices from Swami Kripalu, he observed that the advanced spiritual practices required profound dedication and a willingness to undergo purification, traditionally practiced only in supportive, monastic settings. Desperately wanting his students to have these profound experiences, he began to explore, under Swami Kripalu’s guidance, the possibility of a yogic path adapted to modern life.

After many years of study and integration, Amrit developed Kripalu Yoga as a bridge to Swami Kripalu’s advanced practices. Kripalu yoga required discipline and surrender, but not to the extent that Swami Kripalu experienced. He brought the deep benefits (purification, spiritual attainment and transformation) of Kripalu Yoga to people living “normal” lives.

Swami Kripalu acknowledged and supported Kripalu Yoga as a powerful, transformational path for householders.

In 1977, Swami Kripalu came to America and spent 4 years living with Amrit in the ashram where he continued to teach & guide students. This guidance was very important to the community and contributed to the rapid growth of the Kripalu ashram. Swami Kripalu returned to India in 1981 and on Dec 29, he died there in the company of his closest disciples.

Amrit Desai was left to carry on the Kripalu tradition.

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