Toward a Discourse on Peace and Wisdom

High Tide, From Sougwen’s Etude Op.2, an ongoing series of meditations on form and memory. In the artist’s words: “The Études’ deliberately minimal approach alludes to an abstract narrative of loss and revival.”

The man of yoga who is able to overcome, here on earth, the turmoil of desire and anger- that man is truly happy.

I’m currently in preparation for a month-long yoga teacher training which will take place in September in Montreal.  As pre-work, incoming students have been assigned a comprehensive list of readings to finish prior to the first day of instruction.  Yesterday, over a cup of very very strong coffee, I dedicated myself to 2 hours with The Bhagavad Gita.

In the following excerpt, Krishna expounds on a topic I’ve previously explored in the context of habit and consumption– the alienation of the self through material accumulation— and forms an argument for the causal implication of ‘sense objects’ in impeding spiritual transcendence.  Piecing together Krishna’s advice, I understand the argument as follows:

When the mind constantly runs after the wandering senses, it drives away wisdom, like the wind blowing a ship off course.
But the man who is self controlled, who meets the objects of the senses with neither craving or aversion, will attain serenity at last.
Abandoning all desires, acting without craving, free from all thoughts of “I” and “mine,”  that man finds utter peace.
Nothing in the world can purify as powerfully as wisdom; practiced in yoga you will find this wisdom within yourself.


So Krishna advocates that in order to find peace one must “draw back all his senses from the objects of sense, as a tortoise draws back into its shell”.  In another reading, I  found that Sri Swami Satchidananda echoes these sentiments in his interpretation of Patanjali’s 15th sutra of Book 1, “By renouncing worldly things, you possess the most important sacred property: your peace.”  But that’s not all.  “There is another aspect or benefit of non-attachment. It is mainly a person with a detached mind who can do a job perfectly,”  Satchidananda argues, “When the mind is free from personal interest we do our work well and feel joyful.”

In perhaps my favorite passage I’ve read thus far, Satchidananda discusses the practical application of this vairagya, or non-attachment, as it concerns a yoga teaching practice.

[T]he other day I received a letter from a disciple who runs one of my centers.  Another Yoga teacher visited his IYI and asked him, “Don’t your students ask for something more?  In my classes, if I don’t teach something new each class, they say, ‘What is this?  We paid you and got this yesterday.  You are teaching us the same thing today; why should we pay more?  Unless you give us something new, we won’t pay you more.’ So I carefully arrange my lessons in such a way that every day I can add something new, so that I can ask for more money.  But here, I see the same old stuff every day and people are coming more and more and nobody seems to be disappointed.”

Then my child said, “We don’t sell Yoga; we just teach for our joy.  The people contribute as they want.  There’s no business here, but rather the heart is working.  Probably in your case you expect money, and so you are interested in teaching something new every time to get more people and more money.”


Even in my lectures, I don’t quote many scriptures or try to give something new every time.  Probably if I were to play back tapes of my past talks, it would be the same ideas again and again.   People might say, “The swami says nothing new– the same old swami, the same old stuff.  Why do they listen again and again?”  I feel happy and they all feel happy being there, so they make me happy and I make them happy.  We just spend a little happy time together, that’s all.  We just talk about something or do something in the name of Yoga.  Yes, that is the secret.  There is a joy in being together, that’s all.  So that is the life of detachment.  There is no expectation.


It has taken much effort to make sense of just this small amount of theory.  Of my struggle to work through the reading assignments, Matt helpfully advised not to worry too much about it, that the same concepts would come up again and again.  I remember being given similar advice about Karl Marx during my first year of graduate school and I remain now as I was then: confused but excited nonetheless.


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