Yoga Sutra 1.33 - Growing Kindness

The teachings of the Yoga Sutras were given by Patanjali some 2,000 years ago in the form of 196 sutras (threads) of wisdom. Each sutra contains a wealth of wisdom and taken all together, the Yoga Sutras present for the student of yoga the means, the goals, the obstacles and the joys of yoga practice.  It is all there in succinct form, what Mr Iyengar calls the threads upon which the pearls of yoga wisdom are strung.

Each sutra contains a teaching, which may be studied with your teacher, and extrapolated to uncover its full meaning.

Yoga Sutra 1.33 reads

maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya
visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam

The mind becomes clear and serene when the qualities of the heart are cultivated: friendliness toward the joyful, compassion toward the suffering, happiness toward the pure, and impartiality toward the impure.

Translated by Alistair Shearer
'The mind becomes clear and serene when the qualities of the heart are cultivated.'  What a beautiful idea: that we all have loving kindness, peace and generosity within us and that it can be cultivated, like a flowering plant, that it might grow stronger and shine forth and become the lens through which we view the world.
Patanjali goes on to assert that we should be friendly toward the joyful, which seems obvious enough, yet we can all recall times when we have felt a little jealous of someone else's good fortune; a little miffed when someone else gets praise and we don't; disappointed when someone else gets the thing that we have secretly longed for.  It's human nature to respond in such a way, but Patanjali offers an alternative: he suggests that we cultivate friendliness and positivity toward the joyful, thereby transcending our feeling of separateness. Seen in this way, we can embrace someone else's joy as if it it were our own, aligning ourselves with what is positive in the world.
'Compassion toward the suffering' - not just those who we know and love who are suffering, but those that we have never met and never will; compassion for those we find hard to love; compassion for those who are experiencing problems that we might think are self-inflicted or who we don't understand.  Patanjali asks that we move beyond judgement of another's situation and cultivate compassion towards them instead.  This might also include compassion towards ourselves if we are suffering; so many people are their own worst critics. 
'Happiness towards the pure' - how wonderful simply to be happy in the presence of someone who is virtuous, someone who is happy, someone who knows how to show love; to appreciate them for what they have and what they do and what they show us; to learn from those people by opening our hearts to them and letting them teach us what they have already understood.
'Impartiality toward the impure.'  Mukunda Stiles translates this as: equanimity toward vice.  I think this might be the most difficult part of the sutra.  It is very difficult not to judge and complain about people, to gossip, to deride, to blame.  The Dalai Lama writes in his book, How to Practice: The Way to a Meaningful Life of his friend who was imprisoned in a Chinese Communist gulag for almost eighteen years:
'He told me ... he faced danger on a few occasions. I thought he was referencing a threat to his own life. But when I asked, "What danger?" he answered, "Losing compassion toward the Chinese.” 
To view with compassion our foes, our opponents, the people we disagree with or whose decisions we do not approve of, to have compassion for those who fight us, or hate us, or who do terrible things... that takes grace and practice.  That takes a lot of love.  But here is the thing about love: it has to be given wholeheartedly and unreservedly, for if you are rationing it, you have not yet learnt how to love.  It is that simple.  So fight for what is right, argue your point, abhor violence and those who do harm, but view each human with whom we disagree, or who has done a terrible thing with as much kindness as a human who is on our side and only does good.  Until we accept that our foes are as human as we are, with the same fallibility and frailties, that they have been hurt and they have suffered too, we will not learn how to live in peace.  If the Dalai Lama's friend can feel compassion for the Chinese who imprisoned him for 18 years, we can find it for the man that jumped ahead of us in the traffic queue.
There is another way of interpreting this Sutra.  Mr Iyengar translates Sutra 1.33 as follows:
'Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.'
Similarly, the Bhagavad Gita advises: 'those ... who are the same in pleasure and pain, are truly wise' (2:14) and Kipling wrote: "meet with Triumph and Disaster And treat those two impostors just the same." 
When we can maintain our equanimity and humility in the face of pleasure and pain, success and failure, then our hearts will be at peace.  We cease then to require praise or success to feel content; and when days are difficult and things go wrong, we are not thrown into despair; without the barometers of success/failure to measure us, we are free simply to notice that here we are, engaged in life and living and doing ok.
Another way of reading this Sutra and applying it to our lives is that when we find ourselves experiencing an emotion that we do not enjoy (fear, anger, dislike) it dissipates if we deliberately practice the opposite:  so where we find meanness within, we can cultivate kindness to counteract it; where we find sorrow, seek joy; where we discover anger, work at patience.  By practising its opposite, we may diminish those negative feelings and bring peace to our hearts and minds.
The teachings held within the Yoga Sutras are like the tiny seeds from which great banyan trees of knowledge and understanding grow.  With the help of teachers and our own practice, we can bring to our lives the wise counsel of those who have trodden the path before us.
Sutra 1:33 is one that I return to time and again, because it is about kindness and love.  It is about the possibility of increasing our capacity for compassion, expanding the breadth of our love, strengthening our capability for understanding and connection.  The world needs more of all of those things.


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