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Yoga Sūtra I.37

वीतरागविषयम् वा चित्तम् 

YS I.37 vītarāgaviṣyaṁ vā cittam

When we are confronted with problems, the counsel of someone who has mastered similar problems can be a great help.

The Heart of Yoga, p. 160.

TKV Desikachar translates this sutra like this: “When we are confronted with problems, the counsel of someone who has mastered similar problems can be a great help.” (The Heart of Yoga, p. 160). He then adds that the advice we seek can come from a living person or from the study of someone alive or dead. The Taittirīya Upaniṣad I.11.4 recommends: “If you are not sure about what to do or what right conduct is, you should consider and follow the example of the sages, who know the better ways to spiritual awaking.”

Pre-modern commentators, like Vyāsa, tell us that when we contemplate someone who is free from desire (vīta-rāga), and, by implication, exhibits a stable and clear mind or any of the other valued qualities exhibited by those well established in their yoga practice, like compassion (karuṇa) or non-violence (ahiṃsa), then we ourselves seem to absorb some of the self-same qualities. One way to bring steadiness to the mind, therefore, is to be open to the advice of a mentor. 

Many know that TKV Desikachar’s father, T Krishnamacharya, was his mentor for over 30 years. When Desikachar needed advice on a difficult matter, he could easily turn to his father and his teachings, for help. 

This sūtra points out, among other things, the benefits of studying and emulating the characteristics of those who have lived or are living an enlightened life. There is nothing false in this. We might call this strategy ‘contemplating the sage’. Contemplating those who are free of desire etc., perhaps through their writings or stories about them, can lead us to an unshakable peace and contentment.

Just because we contemplate someone of great merit does not mean that we should allow ourselves to become overawed or bewitched. Regardless of their accomplishments or influence, it’s always worth reminding ourselves that we are studying people. And people are just people.

Questions for reflection:

  • What qualities do we admire in our role models?
  • When faced with challenging situations, what would our role models think and do, how would they behave?
  • What would they tell us to do? What advice would they give?
  • Can we picture ourselves acting more like our role models?

Contributed by Michael Wegerer


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