I.26 स पूर्वेषामपि गुरु: कालेनानवच्छेदात

sa pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenānavacchedāt
saḥ pūrveṣām api guruḥ kālenā anavacchedāt

“That [īśvara], unlimited by time, is the teacher also of the ones who came before us.”

We are limited by time, and we look to disciplines of thought, bodies of established knowledge, teaching traditions and individual people–teachers, mentors, leaders–for education and guidance. Yet the first source of right knowledge, according to Patañjali, is direct perception (see sūtra I.7).

Patañjali’s exploration of īśvara centers on knowledge. In sūtra I.25, we are told īśvara is the seed of all knowledge, the ultimate source of knowing. Īśvara–unlimited by time–was teacher of the ancients. Īśvara is teacher today.

In religious settings, direct experience of the divine would be called Revelation.To the yoga practitioner, direct perception itself is experience of īśvara. The turn to the seer within, the intent to come into alignment with pure awareness, is īśvara-praṇidhāna. Yoga is a practice, an experience, a process of becoming. It happens Now.

Different cultures view the role of the teacher differently. In the United States, our tradition of education prizes independence of thought. In India, deference to the teacher is paramount. Patañjali’s message transcends these differences: the source is īśvara.

The relations of the soul to the divine spirit are so pure, that it is profane to seek to interpose helps. It must be that when God speaketh he should communicate, not one thing, but all things; should fill the world with his voice; should scatter forth light, nature, time, souls, from the centre of the present thought; and new date and new create the whole. Whenever a mind is simple, and receives a divine wisdom, old things pass away, — means, teachers, texts, temples fall; it lives now, and absorbs past and future into the present hour. All things are made sacred by relation to it, — one as much as another. –Ralph Waldo Emerson, Self-Reliance


“The Sanskrit term guru, translated here as ‘spiritual guide,’ can be interpreted as ‘one who leads from obscurity to light.’ Tradition refers back from master to master to a supreme being as the origin of yoga, attributing every discovery to God. The respect for this is evident in India, where it is customary to bow down to the guru before receiving the teaching. In India, the term guru designates any person who transmits wisdom, teaching, or knowledge, or who is the spiritual head of a family.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on I.26

“The obstacles, trials and tribulations in the path of Yoga can be removed to a large extent with the help of a Guru.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga, p. 28

“This spiritual Puruṣa, the Supreme Spirit, is the first and foremost teacher, neither bound by place, space or time. He is all and all is He.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on I.26

“And so īśvara-praṇidhāna is turning to that Timeless Principle which is ancient of the ancients, for, It has neither beginning nor end. The sudden turning towards the Timeless Being–this indeed is the instrument of instantaneous transformation.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on I.26

• Have you encountered obstacles in an attempt to “go it alone” — in practice or in life?
• Have you had the experience of a teacher helping you past difficulties or blocks to your learning and growth?
• Can a close relationship with a teacher in itself become a limitation (in your experience)?
• Where do you locate your ultimate teacher?



masculine pronoun, 1st person singular

that, he


masculine pronoun, 6th case plural, “of the”
 the previous ones, ancients (from pūrva, “in front of, previous to, Eastern”)




masculine noun, 1st case singular

teacher, especially spiritual teacher, venerable person (from guru, “heavy”)


masculine noun, 3rd case singular, “by”



masculine noun, 5th case singular, “due to”

non-limitation (from an, “not,” + ava, “off,” + chid, “to cut”)

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