Q: The Yoga Sutra is concerned with personal practice. It tells us in detail how we can transform our consciousness as individuals, but it doesn’t provide any guidance about how to transform the consciousness of those around us or how to guide them. Why this exclusive focus on self-transformation? Where can I look for help in learning how to transform our society?
A: Before you can attempt to guide others you need to learn to be a guide to yourself. For that your vision must be clear. In the words of Buddha, “Light your own lamp.” You must illuminate the ground right in front of you. That is the first step. If the ground under your feet is dark, you will trip and may fall. If you cannot see the path clearly, you will not know which way to go or how to go. In this circumstance, if you attempt to help and guide others, you will make lots of mistakes and waste a great deal of energy trying to fix those mistakes. It is better to illumine the space right in front of you, right around you, before looking any further. To do that, you must light your lamp.
Each of us is endowed with a powerful lamp—a self-luminous mind. The mind is the best tool nature has given us to help ourselves and to help others. Nothing is closer to you than your own mind. The scriptures tell us: “O human beings, protect and nurture your mind, because upon that depends the protection and nurturance of the whole world.” Once your mind is protected, guided, and nourished, you will have plenty of opportunities, plenty of wisdom, plenty of means and resources to help, protect, nurture, and guide others. When your mind is peaceful, focused, and clear, everything about the world around you is intelligible. That is why the Yoga Sutra places so much emphasis on personal enlightenment and on making your mind clear and one-pointed.
When your mind is clear and calm, you will not need anybody’s advice about how to help others and how to nurture your community. With a clear, one-pointed mind you will be able to see a little bit of the past and how that past is influencing the present. You will also see the relationship between cause and effect—between the past and the present—and will understand what will happen in the future if society is not able to change course. You will not need a guru, pandit, priest, or consultant to tell you what kind of service to render to others or how to best benefit your community, the environment, and society at large. You will know what is important at this stage in your life and in the life of the society around you, and that knowledge will be so clear and so compelling you will have no need to seek validation for your decisions.
All of us are endowed with a powerful, self-illumined mind, but its light is blocked by our fears, habits, cravings, and other mental impurities. The Yoga Sutra provides a systematic method for removing these impurities. It shows us how to remove the veil of darkness and allow our intrinsic luminosity to illuminate both the inner and outer worlds. As the mind becomes progressively brighter and more perceptive, it is infused with higher values, clear concepts, and a broader and more nourishing ideology. As we acquire this kind of mind, we become clear, calm, tranquil, loving, and kind. We are a light to ourselves and a beacon to others. That is why becoming a force for positive transformation in the world around us begins with self-transformation.