How To Succeed In Yoga

Swami Satchidananda, New York

Yoga means to control the mind, to master the mind. Patanjalis Yoga Sutras begin by saying, 'Control of thoughts is Yoga - Yoga chitta Vritti Nirodhah' (1, 2). But how is it to be done? Even the ideal disciple, Arjuna, says to Lord Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita, 'my mind is verily restless, turbulent and obstinate. I deem it is as hard to control as the wind,' (VI, 35) but here, krishna gives a very helpful point: ‘By practice and non-attachment the mind can be controlled.’ (VI, 35)

This very same clue is given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras also: 'Abhyasa vairagyaabhyaam nirodhah' (1, 12). Abhyasam and vairagyaam mean practice and non-attachment.


This means continuous practice, not just one day a week or five minutes in the morning or evening and the rest of the time you just do anything you want. No, the aim must be kept always. It’s something like meditating for five minutes in the evening and then just leaving the mind uncontrolled and allowing it to go where it wants the rest of the day. Or like holding the rudder for only ten minutes and then just leaving it uncontrolled, letting the wind toss the boat anyway it wants, you won’t reach the shore.

If you see a boat or a big ship, what is the most important thing there? The captain standing in front of the compass, the navigation. You set your boat to a particular degree, a particular direction. If it is 180 degrees, you go completely straight, always 180 degrees. You may say, 'Oh I'm just a couple of degrees off, it doesn't matter'. But where will you end up? You may say, 'I missed by only one or two degrees', but at the end the distance is really great.

That is why constant attention, awareness, vigilance is necessary. Somebody must be holding the wheel, watching the compass. Is it going in the right direction or not? If by any chance you make a mistake, if you get caught by the wind, then you correct your course. The navigator must immediately work out the course correction. Either in a ship or a plane, without that course correction, you can never reach the destination. If you start in New York wanting to end up in Los Angels, probably you will end up in Miami!

Particularly if you read a little bit about flying, you see that there are so many things involved in it - tailwind, headwind, crosswind, temperature changes. You have to calculate all these things to see that your plane goes in the right direction. It's a beautiful lesson. I read a little about that and was fascinated. Just to fly a plane we need all these things. What about this plane the body? Here also we have headwind, tailwind, crosswind, turbulence, how many things! If a big plane flies close by, you get disturbance, you get pulled. So you have to be constantly at it. The pilot's work may even be easy, but the navigator's work is really difficult. We should be constantly at it. That is what you call practice. But mere working alone is not enough, without proper Vairagya, dispassion. I am going to tell you a story to illustrate this point.

Two Boatmen

Once upon a time there were two boatmen. They knew how to row, but they didn't own a boat. One day they wanted to steal a boat and go to a neighbouring town on the River Ganges. So about midnight they come to shore and found a row boat.

They were really well prepared. What kind preparation? They had plenty of gasoline. It was a row boat, no? Row boats don't need gasoline, but the rower may need it. What I mean is, they were drunk! So they had plenty of 'high octane gasoline.' They really filled up the tank.

So they were slowly walking. You can imagine how they were walking, hm? They come down to the river and the minute they saw the boat they were so happy. 'Ah, we got a boat, come on, get in.' Then they found the oars also and started rowing. They were just singing a song and rowing the boat. All night they were doing it.

Slowly the dawn came. Normally, as you know, on the Ganges in the early morning people come to take a bath. So, they saw a couple of people coming but the faces were familiar. 'That's strange' they thought. 'How did they get here so easily? We have been rowing half the night.' By the time it was a little more clear, they began seeing all the familiar buildings.

'Hey, hey,' they said to the bathers, 'we are still in the same place. What happened?'

Then the bathers asked, 'Why? Why are you wondering what happened? What did you want to do? Whose boat is this?'

'Oh, no. no. We just wanted to go to the neighbouring town and come back soon. We have been rowing the whole night. I don't know why we are still here.'

'You fools. You forgot to undo the knot. All the while you were tied to the shore.'

They had been practicing, no doubt, no? Months and months and months of practice, 'Oh, I did all the japa, I did all the pranayama, I went to all the gurus, I practiced every technique.' No doubt. But unfortunately you are still tied down. You didn't take out your anchor.


Mere practice alone is not enough. Let us know that positively. You must have that dispassion, which is called Vairagya or non attachment. I don't say those practices are no good. In a way, it's better then doing nothing. At least instead of going to a movie, you are hearing about Yoga. If not in the boat and rowing the whole night, they would have been in the gambling den. That is an advantage, no doubt.

But you can't attain the goal, you can't reach the shore, unless these bondages are removed. Unfortunately, in our boats, we have not just one anchor, there are thousands of anchors everywhere. Everything that you call ‘mine, mine, mine’, is holding you. That's why I say if you want to know how far away you are from your goal - call it God or peace - I can give you an easy method to check the distance. You want to know? The easiest way is to gather some paper and start writing down everything that you call ‘mine’. My house, my body, my brain, my intelligence, my child, my wife, my money, my race, my country, my this, my that. List everything that you can call ‘mine’, don't omit even one. If the list is really long, you are that far away from your goal. If you can reduce the list, you are coming closer. If there is nothing for you to write as ‘mine’, you are there already.

That's all. It’s very simple. You don't need to practice anything. You don't even need to practice any other Yoga. This is the essence. If you really want to get peace, the simplest way is to make a check, how many mines have I put around me. The more mines around you, the more you are in trouble. Isn't it so? Because every 'mine' is ready to explode! You are making the whole life as a war field, throwing 'mines' everywhere. If you have already thrown them, call a good mine sweeper - the guru. Mine-sweeper or 'mine'-sweeper. He will know how to take away the fuse. Once the fuse is taken away, there won't be confusion. How will he take the fuse out? He will just change the label. He will take the label away from all that you call 'mine, mine, mine,' and put 'Thine, Thine, Thine.'

Use, But Don't Misuse

That means dispassion. You are not attached to things. You can keep them around, but don't call them 'mine'. They have given me this chair. It's very comfortable, like a throne sitting here, it's fine. I can even say it is my seat as long as I am sitting in it. But when the lecture is over, I can't take it with me and go. It's only given to me for my use. Likewise, everything, even your body, is given to you for your use, not just to pamper it, constantly standing in front of the mirror for one and a half hours and patching every thing. No. Use it. Don't misuse it.

A vehicle is given to you. Take good care of it. Put the proper fuel in it. If it is made for high octane, don't put crude oil into it. See that every nut and bolt is properly tightened, neither too tight nor too loose. Because sometimes people get too tight or too loose, is it not? Either way, there will be trouble. It is all given to you for your use, not to own, not to possess. And that is what you call dispassion or detachment. When you use it, you have a responsibility to keep it clean, to use it properly. The responsibility is there. Don't think that because it's not yours, you can just do anything to it, or leave it. You are still responsible.

So this kind of detachment should be understood properly. You can't become irresponsible or just leave everything and run away. If you do, wherever you go you will still be attached to something. If you are not attached to your mansion, within a few weeks you'll be attached to your tepee. What does it matter? It makes no difference if it is a mansion or a teepee. It doesn't matter whether it is your nice suit, hat, tie and coat, or all the patches on the worn-out jeans. What is the idea behind all the worn-out jeans? How many people are attached even to these jeans, with hundreds of patches? The dress is something to cover the body, that's all. It should be neat and clean. That's not going to bind you as long as you are not attached to that and don't go to the other extreme.

So unless there is non-attachment, practices will not bring much result. Side by side there should be abhyasam and vairagya - practice and non attachment. They are the wings of the bird and both are necessary. So with the help of these two wings, let your soul soar high to bring you perfect mastery over your own mind, to enjoy perfect peace and joy always.

Om shanthi shanthi shanthi