by NinaPhoto by Melina Meza
1.33 By cultivating an attitude of friendship toward those who are happy, compassion toward those in distress, joy toward those who are virtuous, and equanimity toward those who are nonvirtuous, lucidity arises in the mind. —Yoga Sutras, translated by Edwin Bryant
Something Richard Rosen wrote in the post Richard Rosen Clarifies the Meaning of Avidyareally struck me:
"By the by the classical yamas and niyamas aren’t prescribed as means to make us better citizens. This may be a byproduct, but their real purpose is to calm things down in our wildly fluctuating citta and prepare us to meditate."
Although years ago I wrote about the concept of how the yamas help you cultivate equanimity in my post Yama Drama: Considering the First Branch of Yoga, saying that using the yamas as guidelines for your conduct would help you prevent your life from turning into a soap opera and thus allow you to experience more peace of mind.But because we always hear so much about the yamas as being moral or ethnical guidelines, I hadn’t really thought of this the original purpose of the yamas and niyamas until I read that quote from Richard. But sutra 1.33, which I’ve quoted above, makes it crystal clear that the reasons for conducting yourself with friendship, compassion, joy, and equanimity toward others is to allow “lucidity” to arise in the mind (not to be a good person). And Edwin Bryant describes practicing according to this sutra as an off-the-mat type of meditation for quieting the mind.
“This sutra prescribes a kind of mindfulness or mental cultivation off the mat, so to speak, that is, in day-to-day affairs outside of the context of citta-vrtti-nirodha—type meditation.”
So how does cultivating friendship, compassion, joy and equanimity toward others help us calm our minds? As we age—or simply move from one stage of life to another—what often interferes with our ability to be content are the feelings we have when we compare ourselves to others. If we’re honest with ourselves, we realize that comparing ourselves to others can trigger some ugly feelings, including envy, jealousy, anger, and intolerance.
“Hariharananda suggests that envy generally arises when we encounter people whom we do not care about experiencing happiness. Even a pious person can invoke our jealously and we take cruel delight when we find an enemy in misery.” —Edwin Bryant
But according to Patanjali cultivating positive feelings for those who trigger the negative ones, we can “remove” the negative feelings that are disturbing our equanimity.
“By being a well-wisher toward those who are happy, as well as those who are virtuous, the contamination of envy is removed. By compassion toward those who are miserable, that is, by wishing to remove someone’s miseries as if they were one’s own, the contamination of the desire to inflict harm on others is removed. By equanimity toward the impious, the contamination of intolerance is removed. —Edwin Bryant
This sounds hard, I know. But it reminds me a story I once heard Jivana tell about how his original motivation for creating the Accessible Yoga community was envy. When he moved to Santa Barbara he felt a bit jealous of the other yoga teachers who had successful careers teaching what he himself wanted to teach. So, inspired by pratipaksha bhavana (sutra 2.33 below), what he decided to do was to create a venue where these very teachers—the ones he envied—could do their good work. Although he wasn’t directly inspired by sutra 1.33, his practice of pratipaksha bhavana toward those he envied sure sounds like cultivating an attitude of friendship and joy toward the happy and virtuous to me.
One way to start with this practice could be to use Patricia Walden’s “precious pause,” described at Self-Study for Emotional Well-Being. As you meditate, practice yoga mindfully, and/or go about your everyday life, notice the negative thoughts or feelings towards others that arise. When you observe this happening, pause and watch your thoughts without reacting to them. This will give you the opportunity to consider a different reaction instead—in this case one of friendship, compassion, joy, or equanimity.
Sutra 2.33 Upon being harassed by negative thoughts, one should cultivate counteracting thoughts. —Yoga Sutras, translated by Edwin Bryant
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