In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali warns us of the pitfalls of attachment. Non-attachment, we learn, is a powerful spiritual practice. Human beings tend to hold tight to what we believe is ours: possessions, identity, the attention we believe we deserve. We may even cling to honoring our yoga teachers.
Patanjali tells us we must let go of attachment to clear the path to Self-knowledge. Notice that is Self with a capital S. Of course, honoring our yoga teachers helps us commit to the practice, at least as beginners. In a sense, we are all beginners. Throughout the journey, we will need to learn from those more adept and experienced than we are.
But we must also be our own teachers. And we must learn to let go of it all!
Yoga is an Experience of Being
As yogis, we can approach enlightenment, not through our thoughts, but through experience. This means honoring our yoga teacher and the experiences each of them gives us. It also means honoring the teacher within ourselves. As we move along the journey, we gather more tools.
One of the first tools Patanjali gives yogis is meditation. If you think back to your first experience with meditation, it was probably a lot different than it is now. The goal of meditation is to go within and connect to what we already know but have forgotten.
But how can we be sure we recognize truth within? Can we learn to meditate without a guide?
Honoring Our Yoga Teachers as Ourselves
Few of us can do anything—including learn to meditate—on our own. While truth is within us, the first step to uncovering it is acknowledging that we’ve forgotten it. A good teacher will show us the way to ourselves, not attempt to control us and our behavior.
To address the idea of honoring our yoga teachers, we can look to the Yoga Sutras and our Patanjali for guidance. The sage suggests there is an ultimate teacher who dwells within us. We need a starting place—a resource—to help us find our own inner light. Our yoga teachers are that resource.
That doesn’t mean we should defer power to our teachers. We need to choose our guides with care and not simply look for a set of rules or practices to follow. Yes, our teachers are more experienced and can direct us, but we must eventually find our own power and steer our own spiritual growth.
Different Paths to One Goal
There are many yoga teachers and teaching styles. That doesn’t mean they are all equally effective. It just means we need teachers who can meet us where we are and help us move forward. And remember always the ultimate teacher.
Patanjali acknowledges that yogis can become enlightened in many ways. The pace can be slow, moderate, or quick, depending on one’s discipline and practice. The quickest way to enlightenment, though, is through devotion to the supreme teacher, Ishvara (sometimes spelled Ishwara.)
Honoring the Supreme Teacher
In sutra 1.24 (version by Reverend Jaganath Carrera), Ishvara—the supreme teacher—is described as “a particular yet universal indweller, untouched by afflictions, actions, impressions and their results.”
Ishvara is the teacher of teachers and the power that drives our inner voice. In some versions of the sutras, this power is called God.
Early in our yoga practice, we need teachers to help us recognize and begin to move beyond our egos and chattering minds. We need our teachers to introduce us to the practice of yoga. Then we need teachers who can help us advance.
Choosing Our Teachers
If you’ve practiced with more than one teacher, you know each is unique. To be effective, a yoga teacher needs to connect with students and vice versa. If something your teacher tells you doesn’t seem quite right, either in general or for you, pause. Before you find a new teacher, consider whether you are resisting truth or whether the teacher is misleading you. Sometimes, it’s not easy to know the difference. Let your conscience be your guide.
Remember, though, your conscience is not your mind; your conscious is Self Knowledge. A still mind will help you move toward inner knowing. The best teachers will lead us to Ishvara.
Yoga is a journey with no end. There is only practice. The longer you travel, the more infinite and expansive your perception of truth will become. Thank your teachers for their guidance on this journey. Especially thank the teacher that dwells within you!