1.37 Be Like Water, my friend.
YOGA SUTRAS OF PATANJALI | CHAPTER 1 - SAMADHI PADA | VERSE 37 | COMMENTARY
Vitarga-vishyam vaa chittam
वीतरागविषयमं वा चित्तम्॥१.३७॥
Vi̅tara̅gaviṣayam va̅ cittam ||1.37||
By remembering the one who is devoid of cravings (the mind can be made steady).
“The mind is like water – it becomes the thought you engage in.”
- Sri Sri Ravi Shankar, An Intimate Note to the Sincere Seeker
You can go and ask a 5th grader about the five elements the body is made up of – Earth, Water, Fire, Air and Space/Ether, and you can go to the greatest scientists, biochemists, neuroscientists in the world and ask them what elements is the mind made of, or if it even exists and not get a conclusive answer.
There is no experiment yet to verify the existence of consciousness. The only proof is the claim that I have a mind, but the individual claim is not a concrete proof in the field of science. What the mind is, and from where it generates its thoughts and moods is debatable for modern science. It is a difficult topic to express for the ancient science and philosophy as well, but it, in my opinion, does a better job in providing insights of its workings and how to handle it.
There is a quote that I encounter frequently – “You become what you think”. There are many versions of it, but this is the essence. In the words of Swami Vivekananda, “We are what our thoughts have made us; so, take care about what you think.”
In my childhood, I used to get angry at my friends frequently. I would complain to my mother about their actions and how they irritate me. My mother used to tell me that if I keep thinking about them, I would also start doing the things I don’t like. As I grew up, I have noticed this occurrence – I have noticed the qualities of the people I think about to manifest in me. It is very subtle, it is very minute, but it happens. You can experiment with yourself. Think about a person who has a short temper and shouts for no reason. Your head will tense up and you may even feel a little angry yourself. Now, think about a person who loves you very much – can you feel the love bubbling in your chest?
The mind is like a receiver, and the thoughts are like frequency. Whatever frequency you are on, that is the channel you are going to pick up and gather information from, and the mind becomes what thoughts it engages in.
Vitaraaga means ‘without raga’ - a person who is free from cravings of the world. Such a person has no greed, or passion of fulfilment of desires. It is not that desires don’t arise – the desires don’t inspire feverishness. There is Vairagya. Such a person has a steady mind. Maharishi Patanjali says that one can achieve a steady mind if one thinks of a person who is with a steady mind – it can be your spiritual master, a saint, or any enlightened being.
There is a need to be careful in this practice. A practitioner can become stuck on the person they are contemplating upon. The goal of the practice may be lost. That is why in Indian culture, practitioners are asked to contemplate on their spiritual Master, but reminded that the Master is not a physical entity, but pure consciousness. Otherwise, the practitioner feels separate from the Master, and places the Master at a distance on a pedestal. Since there is a distance, a despair takes root in the mind. Instead of dropping off stagnant thoughts, another illusion is created that become a huge obstacle.
Sri Sri Ravi Shankar was once asked by a devotee that how could he become like him (Sri Sri Ravi Shankar). Sri Sri replied, “You are me. I am you.” This simple answer is the essence of the sutra, and a path in itself to Liberation.