Yoga means to control the mind, to master the mind. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras begins by saying: Control of thoughts is Yoga—Yoga chitta vritti nirodhah (Sutra 1.2). But how is it to be done? Even the ideal disciple, Arjuna, says to Sri Krishna in the Bhagavad Gita: “My mind is verily restless, turbulent and obstinate. I deem it as hard to control as the wind” (Gita, 6.34). Here, Krishna makes a very helpful point:  “By practice and non-attachment, the mind can be controlled” (Gita, 6.35). This very same clue is also given by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras : Abhyasa vairagyaabhyaam nirodhah (Sutra 1.12). Abhyasa and vairagya mean practice and non-attachment, respectively.

Krishna and Patanjali are referring to 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 always be kept in mind. It’s something like meditating for five or ten minutes in the morning, five minutes in the evening and, then, simply leaving the mind uncontrolled and allowing it to go where it wants during the rest of the day. Or, it’s like holding the rudder for only ten minutes and then just leaving it uncontrolled, letting the wind toss the boat any way it wants; you won’t reach the shore.

When you see a boat or a big ship, what’s the most important thing there? It’s the captain standing in front of the compass in order to navigate the vessel. You set your boat to a particular degree, a particular direction. If it’s 180 degrees, then 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 and vigilance are necessary. If, by any chance, you make a mistake, if you get caught by the wind, then you correct your course.

I’m going to tell you a story to illustrate this point. 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 in order to go to a neighboring town on the river Ganges. So, around midnight, they went to the shore and found a rowboat. They were really well prepared. What kind of preparation did they have? They had plenty of gasoline—for themselves! Of course, rowboats don’t need gasoline, but the rowers may need it. What I mean is, the boatmen were drunk! They had really filled up their tanks, so they were walking slowly. They got down to the river, and the minute they saw a boat, they were so happy: “Ah, we got a boat—come on, get in.” Then, they found the oars and started rowing. They were just singing a song and rowing the boat. All night, they were rowing; and, slowly, the dawn finally came.

As you know, people normally come to the Ganges in the early morning to take a bath. The two boatmen saw a couple of people coming, but, surprisingly, the faces were familiar. “That’s strange,” they thought. “How did they get here so easily? We have been rowing half the night.” Finally, by the time it was a little clearer out, they began seeing familiar buildings. “Hey,” they said to the bathers. “We’re still in the same place. What happened?” But the bathers asked, “Why? Why are you wondering what happened? What did you want to do? Whose boat is this?” The men replied, “Oh, no, no. We just wanted to go to the neighboring town and come back soon. We’ve been rowing the whole night. I don’t know why we’re still here.” Then, the people exclaimed, “You fools! You forgot to undo the knot. All the while, you were tied to the shore.”

No doubt, the two boatmen had been practicing, months and months of practice. In the same way, students say, “Oh, I did all the japa. I did all the pranayama. I went to all the Gurus. I practiced every technique.” Unfortunately, however, they were still tied down. They didn’t detach from the anchor. That is to say that mere practice alone is not enough. Let’s know that positively. You must have that dispassion, which is called vairagya, or non-attachment. I don’t say that those practices are no good. In a way, it’s better than doing nothing. At least, instead of going to a movie, you’re hearing about Yoga. Likewise, if the boatmen hadn’t been  rowing all night in the boat, they would have been in the gambling den. So, practice is an advantage, no doubt. But you can’t reach the shore, that is, you can’t attain the goal unless and until the bondages are removed.

Unfortunately, in our boats, we don’t have only one anchor—there are thousands of anchors everywhere. Everything that you call mine, mine, mine is holding you. That’s why I say that 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 with which you can check the distance. 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 thing. If the list is really long, it means that you’re that far away from your goal. If you can reduce the list, then you’re coming closer. If there’s nothing for you to write as “mine,” then you’re 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. Every “mine” is ready to explode! You’re making your whole life a war field, throwing mines everywhere.

What I’m alluding to here is dispassion. You’re not attached to things. You can keep them around, but don’t call them “mine.” For example, they’ve given me this chair to sit in during my talk. It’s very comfortable, like a throne. I can even say that it’s my seat, as long as I’m sitting in it. But when the lecture is over, I can’t take it with me and leave. It’s only been given to me to use now. 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 everything up. No. Use it; don’t misuse it.

To make another analogy, a vehicle is given to you. Take good care of this vehicle, and put the proper fuel in it. If the vehicle is made to use high octane, don’t put crude oil into it. See that every nut and bolt is properly tightened—neither too tight, nor too loose. Sometimes, people themselves get too tight or too loose. Either way, too tight or too loose, there’ll be trouble.

Again, everything in life is given to you for your use, not to own, not to possess. And that’s what you call dispassion or detachment. Moreover, when you use whatever the object may be, 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’re still responsible.

This kind of detachment should be understood properly. You can’t become irresponsible, simply leaving everything and running away. If you do, wherever you go, you’ll still be attached to something. If you’re not attached to your mansion, within a few weeks, you’ll be attached to your teepee. What does it matter? It makes no difference if it’s a mansion or a teepee. It doesn’t matter whether it’s your nice suit, hat, tie and coat, or all the bleached out or worn-out jeans. How many people are even attached to even those worn-out jeans? Clothing is something to cover the body with, that’s all. It should be neat and clean. That attitude toward clothing is not going to bind you, as long as you’re not attached to it and don’t go to the other extreme.

Finally, unless there’s non-attachment, practices will not bring much result. Side by side, there should be abhyasa and vairagya: practice and non-attachment. They are the two wings of the bird, and both are necessary. 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.

By Sri Swami Satchidananda