One of the primary goals of this blog was for me to explore my understanding of my spiritual and philosophical life. Which I have, but in general terms. This will be my first post looking at my understanding of doctrine– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras specifically. (What are the Yoga Sutras? I’m not a scholar and I don’t want to write a history; let’s just say it’s “A Good Way to Approach Life If You’re a Yogi.” I am a yogi. A lazy yogi, a resistant yogi at times, but a yogi nonetheless.)
It was my plan to go back to the beginning of this book and work through it in order, blogging about it as I go, but the fact is, I don’t think about it in order, it’s like a big silver spiral that I keep going round and round on, deepening my understanding each time I revisit an idea. Each sutra is a single statement or paragraph, but each one contains whole worlds of epiphany.
Here’s what led me to understand I needed to revisit a particular Sutra:
I belong to a couple different Facebook communities, exploring subjects I’m interested in. They are normally very inspirational, upbeat, creative and emotionally nurturing. But there is this one guy…
I’m actually embarrassed to say that the Facebook posts of one person that I don’t even really know managed to upset me. It wasn’t even personal or anything, I was just troubled that someone would approach other people in a disingenuous way. But why the heck do I even care? Most everyone in this particular Facebook community is courteous, funny, encouraging… So why on earth did one person get under my skin like that?
It ruined the first half of my walk, making me testy with Indi, which I hate, I almost never take out my frustration on my dog. I apologized and once I got her attention away from the squirrel and back on me, I’m pretty sure she forgave me. Dogs are awesome like that.
On the home stretch, I suddenly thought: the four locks and the four keys.
This is Sutra 1.33.
[The locks are puzzles or challenges we face every day. The keys are attitudes we can cultivate in order to preserve our calm and peace of mind.]
The first lock is happiness. The key is friendliness. What it means is that you should cultivate an attitude of friendliness toward those who are happy. Sounds easy, huh? It’s not. Jealousy and envy taint our friendliness much of the time. I’ve actually said about people (before I studied the Sutras, of course!), They’re so happy and perfect it makes me want to puke. Admit it, you’ve thought that before, too. This disturbs our own calmness. It’s better to just be happy for people when something good happens to them. My translation says: “If we dwell on happiness, looking for it like a miner’s eye seeks gold, we will cultivate it in our lives.”
The second lock is unhappiness. The key is compassion. What it means is that you should cultivate an attitude of compassion for those who are unhappy. This is particularly difficult if you, as an outsider, can clearly see that the person is the source of their own unhappiness, making the same mistakes over and over. We may feel impatient, uneasy or frightened by someone’s unhappiness and so we turn away from them. It doesn’t mean enabling them, but it does mean being motivated by a sincere wish for their well-being.
The third lock is virtuous. The key is delight. This one is much like the first one, to me. It means you should cultivate an attitude of delight toward those who are virtuous, those whom you admire. The more we rejoice in the traits of others we admire, the sooner they will be ours.
The fourth lock is non-virtuous. The key is equanimity. This is, I think, the very hardest one, and the one that spoke to me as I walked home this morning. To respond to what you perceive as non-virtuous with equanimity, not anger, is hard. So when someone is a jerk, or you witness an injustice, you should maintain your equanimity even though being angry and upset would be justifiable. Can I repeat that this is freaking hard to do? But it’s kind of like Annakin Skywalker going over to the Dark Side because he gave in to anger and hatred. Each time you give in to it, it becomes easier to have that be your default setting. Anger weakens us, throws up walls, disturbs our peace of mind and bodily balance. It feels gross, pretty much.
I feel better already just thinking about this Sutra. When I practice later, I think I’ll meditate on it as well. I could read Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras a hundred times and find a new depth every time; I’m sure this is true with all great spiritual works.
I guess what I’ll do is continue to work for understanding and meet the world with an open heart. I can’t really imagine doing it any other way. I’m grateful for Patanjali’s blueprint.