Yoga Sutras 1.25 & 1.26: God and the Guru

Vyasa grants Sanjaya divine vision

The next two sutras continue discussing Isvara pranidhana and the nature of Isvara or God. Before we go on, I want to point out that the translation I’m using (The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Commentary on the Raja Yoga Sutras by Sri Swami Satchidananda) uses the masculine pronoun for Isvara. On one hand, what we’re talking about is far too big to be limited by our ideas of gender: God is neither male nor female yet encompasses all the attributes of both. On the other hand, we reserve words like “it” for inanimate objects and things that lack intelligence. If you don’t believe that God or the universe is intelligent, bear with me for a minute and you might change your mind.

TATRA NIRATIŚAYAM SARVAJNA BĪJAM. 
In Him is the complete manifestation of the seed of omniscience.

In other words, Isvara or God truly is the alpha and the omega and contains everything in between as well. God is the big bang. God is time and space. All knowledge, all events, all beings are contained within this one ultimate reality.

Perhaps you’ve played that mind game where you try to imagine what exists outside of the known universe, beyond the edges of space, before the big bang, etc. When you do that, you’re basically exploring the possibilities of the ultimate reality. Patanjali says that ultimate reality is Isvara.

SA PŪRVESĀM API GURUH KALENĀNAVACCHEDĀT.
Unconditioned by time, He is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.

I admit, this one makes me scratch my head — hey I never claimed to know it all!

Notice the word “guru” tucked into the Sanskrit above? Let me refer you to Pandit Rajmani Tigunait for an excellent discussion of what guru really means. If you don’t have time to watch it right now, bookmark it and come back to it later because this is powerful and essential information!

The short version is that guru means “one who dispels the darkness of ignorance.” That teacher or guru can come in infinite forms, and the ultimate guru and source of wisdom is what we call God. This is why when we devote ourselves to that ultimate truth and try to live our lives in alignment with it, we make great progress.

Seriously, though, watch the video because Panditji does a perfectly beautiful job of describing the common misconceptions about gurus and how to correct them.

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Charlotte Joko Beck on Authority

Zen Tree

After years of talking to many, many people I’m still amazed that we make such a problem of our life and practice. And there is no problem. But saying that is one thing, seeing it is quite another. The last words of the Buddha were, “Be a lamp unto yourself.”  He didn’t say, “Go running to this teacher or that teacher, to this center or that center” — he said, “Look — be a lamp unto yourself.”

What I want to discuss here is the problem of “authority.” Usually we’re either an authority to others (telling them what to do), or we’re seeking someone to be an authority for us (telling us what to do). And yet we would never be looking for an authority if we had any confidence in ourselves and our understanding. Particularly when there is something in our life that is unpleasant or baffling or upsetting, we think we need to go to a teacher or authority who can tell us what to do. I’m always amused that when a new teacher comes to town, everyone goes running to see him or her. I’ll tell you how far I’d walk to see a new teacher: maybe across the room, no farther! It isn’t because I have no interest in this person; it’s just that there is no one who can tell me about my life experience.

But you may say, “Well, I need a teacher who can free me from my suffering. I’m hurting and I don’t understand it. I need someone who can tell me what to do, don’t I?” No! You may need a guide, you may need it made clear how to practice with your life — what is needed is a guide who will make it clear to you that the authority in your life, your true teacher, is you — and we practice to realize this, “you.”

-Charlotte Joko Beck Everyday Zen: Love and Work


This was the first book on meditation that I ever read. The meditation taught in yoga classrooms is pretty different from zen meditation, but I believe they’re aimed at the same goal. I have been reading and re-reading this book since I was about 14. the other day, I was reading it while soaking in the bathtub and looking for new perspectives on the creative life. What she says about being your own spiritual authority applies very well to the creative life, I think. No one can teach you to be a great poet or singer because you simply have to find your own voice, find your own truth, and speak it.

You can have guides, both creatively and spiritually. You can have people who introduce you to the works of the past. You can have someone to affirm that what you’ve created is effective, that it’s reaching your audience. You can have someone to prompt you (as I hope to do) and help you nourish your own growth. But you are your own real authority.

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