Week 20: The Timeless, Limitless, Guru (Sutra 26)

“Unconditioned by time. Isvara is the teacher of even the most ancient teachers.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sa Purvesam Api Guruh Kalenanavacchedat

Sah: He | Purvesam: of the ancients | Api: even | Guruh: teacher | Kalena: by time | Anavacchedat: unconditioned, uncut from. 

According to Merriam Webster dictionary, the word teach, which is a transitive verb–meaning that it is something that is done to something or to someone–is defined in the following ways:

“Definition of teach

1a: to cause to know something; taught them a trade b: to cause to know how; is teaching me to drive c: to accustom to some action or attitude; teach students to think for themselves d: to cause to know the disagreeable consequences of some action; I’ll teach you to come home late 2: to guide the studies of 3: to impart the knowledge of; teach algebra 4a: to instruct by precept, example, or experience b: to make known and accepted; experience teaches us our limitations 5: to conduct instruction regularly in; teach school.”

The intransitive version of the word–meaning that it only involves action that is taken by a subject–is the word teacher, or Guruh/guru, which, according to this same dictionary, is:

“Definition of teacher

1: one that teaches; especiallyone whose occupation is to instruct.”

A teacher, therefore, is 1) someone or something who devotes themselves to the task of helping others gain knowledge/knowing, often due to a “strong inclination,” or calling (voluntary or involuntary)–as in the definition of the word vocation (a synonym of the word occupation used in the definition above)–, or 2) one who serves a specific purpose/function that allows others to gain knowledge/knowing.

One can, based on this understanding, become/be a teacher by a) calling or “destined” predisposition and/or through inspired “choice,” b) by example (either voluntarily/intentionally or involuntarily/unintentionally through the the simple reality of cause and effect/karma of one’s actions (whether directly or indirectly),* or c) by both predisposition/nature and based on function.

In most cases, the two converge.

Isvara, the Supreme Purusa, the Source of all knowledge, the true Self of Asamprajnata Samadhi, the source of all of creation (and the reality and manifestation of all of creation itself), is the creator of knowledge, and also the “vessel” through which knowledge is contained and passed on to others (in both subtle and tangible form).

This original source of knowledge, Patanjali reminds us, is the original and ultimate guruh/guru, unconditioned by time.

The knowledge from (and of) the source of all of creation is eternal and ever-present.

This knowledge has been passed down from (and by) numerous teachers for centuries, who connected back to the source within their unique manifestation of The Source and then distilled knowledge for others to understand and use in different ways. But, the knowledge from (and of) the source of knowledge itself is always present for everyone at all times.

Isvara, therefore, is the teacher of all teachers.

Life and knowledge, and all that is manifested within it, is, therefore, the true and ultimate guru.

When people in our modern day societies hear the word teacher, the immediate image that comes to mind is that of a person.

Everything in life, however, can teach you a lesson, and therefore be a teacher, since everything in life contains knowledge for you to gain understanding from.

But, in the same way that you cannot write complex paragraphs without first learning the ABC’s, understanding the true Self of Samadhi cannot come without first preparing yourself for this knowledge. If you are not prepared with the right foundation, no matter how clearly a lesson may be communicated to you, the message will get garbled and lost in translation.

This is what the eight limbs of Yoga help practitioners to understand and overcome. The first limbs of Yoga are like the ABC’s of self knowledge. Building from there, every level that is mastered on the way to the ultimate knowledge of the true Self of Samadhi, moves you closer to fuller understanding of your self.

Through preparation and devotion you move closer to your true self.

This is why if you are serious about your goal of Asamprajnata Samadhi, you have to practice/study each day.

So, have you been working on your Yoga continuously (remembering that there are eight limbs to choose from)?

Have you been learning all that you can from both your human and non-human guruhs/gurus/teachers?

What have these teachers taught you lately, and how are you implementing these lessons in your Yoga practice and your life moving forward?

*Think of how you can learn from watching others’ lives or their actions, how you can gain knowledge though words, how you can learn lessons from interactions in the present, and from the actions/relationships of the past, etc. There are numerous ways in which events, things, and people become teachers by example and/or by function by choice or just coincidentally, or accidentally.

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