Rev. Jaganath, Integral Yoga Minister and Raja Yoga master teacher, has spent a lifetime delving into the deepest layers of meaning in Patanjali’s words within the Yoga Sutras. Our series continues with the 33rd sutra of Chapter 1. This is a key sutra taught by Swami Satchidananda (and one he encouraged all his students to memorize) as a guideline for how to cultivate and navigate yogic relationships based on the principles and practices of classical Patanjala (Raja) Yoga. Sri Swamiji stressed that this sutra is like having 4 master keys to open the 4 locks to creating healthy interpersonal relationships that support maintaining one’s equanimity.
Sutra 1.33: maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣānām sukha- duḥkha-puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇām bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness (Swami Satchidananda translation). The mind becomes calm, clear, and bright when it cultivates and abides in the unconditional virtues of friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity in conditions, respectively, of happiness, distress, virtue, and absence of virtue (Rev. Jaganath translation).
Be a rainbow in someone else’s cloud. —Maya Angelou
This sutra is not just specific techniques to be deployed in situations of happiness, unhappiness, virtue and nonvirtue. More importantly, it is about cultivating an intimate relationship with friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity.
The focus is on practice and lifestyle rather than belief. Belief is a matter of accepting ideas. Practice and lifestyle are about self-transformation and direct experience of realities of life and Spirit. We see this here and in other sutras, such as 2.1 and 2.29.
We have come to understand faith traditions as emphasizing belief. Yoga, and all deep spirituality emphasizes practice. How we behave is much more important than what we believe. This is one reason why so much attention is given to this sutra in this text.
maitrī = friendliness; friendship, benevolence, good will, close contact or union, equality, similarity, a feeling of approval or support
from mid = to love, feel affection, to melt, to adhere
The main idea is to cultivate a mindset that projects, and is led by, friendliness in situations and people where happiness is perceived. Ultimately, it is about making friends with happiness, training the mind to recognize it wherever and in whomever it expresses.
In Buddhism, maitri is often translated as lovingkindness.
karuṇā = compassion; mercy, pity, mournful, lamenting, in the Rig Veda, karunā is considered a holy work or action
From kṛ = to do, or kṛ = to pour out, scatter
Karuna, compassion, is the deep hope that the suffering of others will be reduced. It’s not only a nice sentiment. Compassion is a powerful generator of a clear, focused, peaceful mind that naturally leads to selfless actions performed for the benefit of others. Science has recently affirmed that the happiness that is innate in giving is greater than the happiness derived from receiving.
Compassion is always associated with some sort of action. It’s not just feeling pity or empathy. But, to act, to reach out in compassion to someone who is suffering, can be difficult when confronting a person who we have issues with, who we might not like, or who has hurt us or those we love. That is why for the full transforming power of compassion to manifest, forgiveness is necessary.
We need to extend forgiveness to ourselves as well. We need to extend our compassion to our own shortcomings and mistakes. The danger is that if we can’t forgive and extend compassion to ourselves, the darker sides of who we are retreat to ever more deeply hidden recesses of the mind, only to come back with redoubled force. The need for forgiveness also applies to mudita (below). How can we delight in a virtue we see in someone we have issues with? In fact, without the ability to forgive, we might miss perceiving the virtue altogether. Let’s take a closer look at forgiveness. We can understand forgiveness as the restoration of belonging in a relationship. We argue, feel a break or fracture (minor, middling, or great) in a relationship. The sense of trust and belonging is damaged. When forgiveness arrives, the sense of belonging is restored. What about the guilt we carry for past wrongdoings? So many of us are in need of being forgiven. The fracture caused by guilt or believing that we are not good enough in some way can be so deep that virtually no one we know can heal it with their forgiveness and acceptance of who we are.
Sacred wisdom teaches that consciousness, Spirit, Purusha, is omnipresent. We also read in the Sutras that nature exists to give us experiences that lead to liberation. Put together, these truths lead us to a vital and true conclusion: we belong. We are children of the universe here for a purpose and to grow and find our spiritual freedom. We belong. We don’t need to ask the universe or God for forgiveness. We are already forgiven because we belong to God, to the universe, to life. We are participants in the dance of life, not just observers. We belong.
When we ask God, Guru, or others for forgiveness, it is for the sake of experiencing a restoration of the feeling of belonging in the relationship. Asking for forgiveness opens our hearts and makes us vulnerable to the forgiveness that was, is, and always will be ours.
A final thought regarding forgiveness. Life can be hard. So many changes and unwelcome and unexpected challenges arise. We can see arrayed before us every manner of injustice and unexplainable atrocities. Yet, if we can’t embrace all of life, we can never know its essence and source. We are caught in a thought habit of: “If it doesn’t make sense to me, then it is senseless.” How can a God that “allows” all these terrible events be wise, loving, and merciful? We can’t understand it. This amounts to seeking a God that is just a tiny bit less intelligent than we are, a God we can understand with our limited intellect. This is a symptom of believing that we should and can control life or God by our thoughts, words, and deeds. It never works. What are we to do? One way to begin is by forgiving God for not living up to your standards. The absurdity of this practice helps reconcile us to the ways and wisdom of life. We are released from the need to be in control of everything and, in a healthy way—that is not resignation—surrender to universal, cosmic Life, Truth, and Love, and Light. The answer to some questions just have to be lived out. The question of the sense or senselessness of life is one of them.
muditā = delight; happiness, gladness, joy with others
from mud = be merry, glad, happy, rejoice, delight in, sympathetic joy, a kind of sexual embrace, happiness at another’s success, a particular kind of servant
Mudita is the happiness that comes from expanding our vision of life and our concerns to include caring about and working for the happiness and welfare of others. When we extend our goals and desires to include caring for the welfare of others, we experience an expansion of joy. Mudita is also happiness connected to a view of life that anticipates, even perceives, the beauty, benefit, and inherent rightness of an object or event even before those benefits have fully emerged. It’s not a simple state of optimism, but an enhanced or expanded vision of life that experiences the harmony behind (and as the motive force of) all events and objects. For example, it is like appreciating a flower before it reaches its full bloom—before it manifests its colorful petals and releases its fragrance. Mudita requires faith, knowledge, and a more refined ability of perception. Mudita counters distrust, suspicion, and the tendency to reject happiness from things that are short-lived, a “What’s the point? It will only last for a moment” attitude.
The practice of mudita lifts the heart out of its anxieties over not having enough of what we think we need to be happy and secure. The heart, unburdened by these concerns, discovers new and greater gratitude and a powerful natural inclination toward generosity.
Mudita should not be mistaken for the excited state that many regard as happiness. Mudita is grounded in peace and faith. Mudita is born in a selfless, grateful, giving heart that desires and works for the welfare of others. Mudita rejects jealousy and envy. It seeks to break down all artificial barriers that separate us from each other and nature. It rejoices in the good fortune and happiness of all. Mudita is an eagerness and ability to support the joy and expanding spirit of others. The Buddha taught that one of our challenges is to cultivate mudita even in a world full of misery. There may be no more powerful practice in Yoga than mudita.
upekṣānām = equanimity; the act of disregarding, overlooking, indifference, not doing, omission, care, circumspection
from upa = to go near, towards + ikṣā = to look at or on
Look at the roots of the word. We could literally translate upeksha as, going near to look at. This give us the key to cultivating upeksha. When confronted with any nonvirtue, yogis are asked, to not turn away, to not jump to conclusions (a technique of avoidance of discomfort), but to remain clear, focused, and centered in order to correctly perceive the event and its ramifications. Clear perception and a tranquil mind also foster creative solutions where none were apparent before.
Upeksha strengthens our capacity to accept life as it is, allowing us to work with and not against inevitable change. It allows us to accept that nonvirtue exists, has a course, and may have roots and impacts on many levels. It is a state of mind that is not overwhelmed by ignorance, selfish egoism, dullness, agitation, hatred, or greed. Upeksha helps us to serenely accept loss and gain, praise and blame, sorrow and happiness. Because of this, upeksha helps overcome fear. Upeksha accepts with equanimity (not with resentment or reluctance) that all people have shortcomings and make mistakes. It helps us avoid condemning others. Instead, we come to rightly perceive, accept, and love others in their entirety, faults and all. We come to embrace all people regardless of their beliefs, behavior, or origin.
Through upeksha, we come to see how our own thoughts, words, and deeds may have contributed to hardships, tensions, and other nonvirtuous situations. This helps develop compassion. Upeksha replaces both an overly sentimental and an overly pessimistic view view of life with a powerful insight: All thoughts, words, and deeds, all events, have “side effects.” Some are obviously pleasant and beneficial, some cause hardship and troubles. Yet, somehow, they have a purpose.
Since we can’t eliminate or avoid negative situations and people, upeksha teaches us the limits of self effort. This helps cultivate humility, which softens the grip of the selfish ego on the mind, which in turn, helps cultivate:
Upeksha helps open the heart. The spiritual heart is a sensitive organ. It is the home of the Self, the Divine within. It is powerful, yet it closes easily to avoid getting hurt. The equanimity and fearlessness generated by upeksha encourages the heart to open. Upeksha is also the remedy for resentment. There can be no joy where there is resentment. Resentment is a reaction; a feeling of hostility or anger that arises as a result of a real or imagined wrong done. It is from the Latin, sentire, to feel. Re is an intensifier that also means to return. Resentment is an injured ego striking out in anger. Upeksha teaches us to stand firm in our center, knowing who we really are. Who we are is not determined by what others think of us or how we are treated. Although we should attentively and sincerely listen to the criticisms and observations others have of us, we need to develop an inner sense of who we are. Knowing that we are living a virtuous life as best we can, engaging in practices that uplift us and bring us ever closer to our source and essence helps a lot. When viewed from this vantage point, and armed with compassion, discernment, and inner tranquility, instances that once caused resentment lose their power to disturb our inner peace.
In Buddhism, upeksha means to discern clearly; to view justly. It is one of the most important virtues. It is a state of neither excitement nor suffering, but is independent of both. It arises in a mind that is in equilibrium and that transcends all distinctions. It is considered one of the seven factors of enlightenment.
We can also think of upeksha as having the attitude of a scientist, a mind bent on discovering realities not readily discernable. When yogis confront any unpleasantness, they don’t shrink from it. Instead, they examine it, looking for its roots and ramifications.
sukha = happiness; running swiftly or easily (applied to cars or chariot), easy, pleasant (rarely with this meaning in the Vedas), agreeable, gentle, mild, comfortable, prosperous, virtuous, pious, the sky, heaven, In Hindu mythology, sukha is the child of dharma (righteousness) and siddhi (accomplishment, perfection, power). (See 1.33, 2.5, 2.7, 2.42, 2.46)
from su = well, good, fine + kha = axle hole, state
The intent of cultivating friendliness toward the happy is, of course, to extend our compassion and energies to those who are experiencing happiness, but there is another level of benefit suggested here. It is to help heal any sense of envy or separation with those who are experiencing the smooth ride (sukha) as opposed to duhkha in their lives. The healing of what separates us (gender, religion, race, etc.) is central to every faith tradition.
The yogi is asked to generate the attitude of happiness regardless of the source of happiness. There are essentially two paths we can take to experience happiness. First, and the one we are most familiar with, is the attempt at lining up pleasurable experiences as tightly as possible with the hope of shutting out disappointments and preventing anxieties from creeping in and spoiling our happiness. The happiness we experience from this way of generating sukha is a fleeting form of happiness. Its roots are not deep and are very susceptible to damage.
The second source of sukha is within and is intrinsic to our nature. It is like an underground river of joy that flows regardless of our state of mind and external circumstances. Because of its special nature, it is often called joy or bliss, rather than happiness. The mind may be suffering, but bliss, a river that flows deeply within the heart, is unaffected. This means that it is possible to know joy beneath and beyond challenge and hardship. The joy we experience is far more vast and will feel more real and true than our sadness or anxiety.
Furthermore, we shouldn’t limit our understanding of bliss to being a personal possession. It is not stored in the mind like a gift in a box. It is a mighty river that flows in, around, and through us. It is experienced in a tranquil mind and loving heart. It is a peculiar joy that cannot be taken away because it has no cause. It just is. It is a manifestation of our True Nature.
duḥkha = distress; uneasy, uncomfortable, unpleasant, difficult, pain, sorrow, trouble, to cause or feel pain, discontent, anxiety, stress, a persistent background of dissatisfaction
from duṣ = prefix implying evil, bad, difficult, hard, slight, inferior + kha = axle-hole (Refer to 1.31 for more on duhkha.)
puṇya = virtue; merit, righteousness, goodness, auspicious, deserved reward, to earn or deserve, right, pleasant, purity, holy, propitious, fair, virtuous, sacred, moral or religious merit
from puṇ = to act piously or virtuously, to collect or accumulate, or pu = cleansing, purifying, to make clean and bright, to purge, clarify, illumine, or puṣ = thrive, cause to prosper + ya = from
Punya, virtue, is always understood in the context of thoughts, words, and deeds that are for the benefit of others. Virtue is that which brings the greatest happiness to the greatest number of beings. As such, virtues are not simply rules or codes of conduct, they are ways of perceiving and being, qualities that are integrated into one’s heart and mind that help foster the well-being and happiness of all beings.
Note that the word root of punya means to thrive; to cause to prosper. Virtue is not about ideas of holiness that the mind has constructed. Virtue is anything that brings harmony, that breaks down artificial barriers that separate us—it is about anything that fosters lovingkindness.
apuṇya = absence of virtue; impure, wicked (See puṇya, above and 1.33, 2.14)
The opposite of virtue, strictly speaking, is not evil or wickedness in Patanjali’s text. Punya = virtue; apunya = the absence of virtue. It’s like darkness. Darkness isn’t a thing, but the absence of something—light. Therefore, we can understand nonvirtue as a state of mind and being that ignores the unhappiness and suffering of others. A state of inner darkness also allows someone to engage in thoughts, words, and deeds that bring harm to others.
viṣayāṇām = conditions; sphere of influence or activity, dominion, kingdom, territory, region, district, country, abode, scope, compass, horizon, range, the reach (of ears, eyes, mind), period of duration, fitness, toward (experiences of)
viṣayā = an object of senses, anything perceptible by the senses, any object of affection or concern or attention, any special worldly object or aim or matter or business, sensual enjoyments, sensuality, an object, a fit or suitable object, the subject of an argument, category, the subject of comparison, a religious obligation or observance, a lover, husband, virile, auspicious, propitious, fair, pleasant, good, right, virtuous, meritorious, pure, holy, sacred, good work, moral or religious merit, religious ceremony (esp. by a wife to retain her husband’s affection and to obtain a son)
from viṣ = to act or from vi = asunder, away + si = to extend
bhāvanātaḥ = cultivate; to project
from bhāvanā = demonstration, argument, ascertainment, feeling of devotion, faith in, reflection, contemplation, infusion, steeping, finding by combination or composition, from
bhū = to become (See 1.28, 2.2, 2.33, 2.34, 4.25)
Bhavanatah suggests the place where anything is produced, gives birth, and grows. It is related to bhavana, a state of being or mind, abode, home, site, receptacle, and to bhava, being, nature, disposition, feeling (this last definition is mostly found in Bhakti Yoga). Home is where you have comfort, support, and safety. Birth implies emergence. The virtues listed in this sutra need to be birthed, and nurtured by contemplation and reinforced by action until they become our foundation, innate qualities of our inner spiritual home.
citta = mind; consciousness, field of consciousness (See 1.2)
prasādanam = calm, clear, bright; rendering clear, soothing, cheering, gratifying, rendering gracious, tranquility, grace, a gift from God, to be satisfied (the opposite of duḥkha), to be kind, gracious (See 1.33, 1.47)
from pra = before, forward + sādana = to cause to settle down, offer, grace, from sad = to sit, dwell
This sutra, beautifully called the Four Locks and Four Keys by my Master, Sri Swami Satchidananda, presents the same principles known as the Brahma Viharas in Buddhism.
Vihara translates as a place of rest and peace. It is also the term for temple and monastery and the residence of monks, a place where they can go for meditation.
Definitions of brahma include: holy, relating to sacred knowledge, that which is divine, Supreme Spirit, the absolute. The suggestion is that these principles offer a place to find peace, clarity, knowledge, and wisdom.
In Mahayana Buddhism, these teachings, also known as the Four Immeasurables, are regarded as perfect virtues. Their practice is required in order to help bring all beings to liberation. They are to be meditated on in the following manner:
The meditator generates these mindsets to all beings in all directions:
- Limitless lovingkindness
- Limitless compassion
- Limitless sympathetic joy
- Limitless equanimity
Here are two examples of using the locks and keys as the focus of a meditation practice from the Buddhist tradition:
1) Sit with a mind filled with compassion, kindness, sympathetic joy, and equanimity. Radiate these virtues, first in one direction, then a second, then a third, then a fourth, above as well as below, and all around and feeling connected with everything everywhere. Fill the whole world with kindness, sympathetic joy, compassion, and equanimity. Let your mind be expansive, serene, unconfined, and free from malice and resentment.
2) These four virtues should be practiced by taking each one in turn and applying it to oneself, then to others nearby, and so on to everybody in the world, and to everybody in all universes.
About the Author:
Reverend Jaganath Carrera is and Integral Yoga Minister and the founder/spiritual head of Yoga Life Society. He is a direct disciple of world renowned Yoga master and leader in the interfaith movement, Sri Swami Satchidananda—the founder and spiritual guide of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and Integral Yoga International. Rev. Jaganath has taught at universities, prisons, Yoga centers, and interfaith programs both in the USA and abroad. He was a principal instructor of both Hatha and Raja Yoga for the Integral Yoga Teacher Training Certification Programs for over twenty years and co-wrote the training manual used for that course. He established the Integral Yoga Ministry and developed the highly regarded Integral Yoga Meditation and Raja Yoga Teacher Training Certification programs. He served for eight years as chief administrator of Satchidananda Ashram–Yogaville and founded the Integral Yoga Institute of New Brunswick, NJ. He is also a spiritual advisor and visiting lecturer on Hinduism for the One Spirit Seminary in New York City. Reverend Jaganath is the author of Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Sourcebook for the Study and Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, published by Integral Yoga Publications. His latest book, Patanjali’s Words, is coming soon from Integral Yoga Publications.