We are studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali in teacher training right now. As much as I have enjoyed studying poses, anatomy, adjustments, and the rest, the Sutras are the kind of juicy stuff that gets me going. In great part, I think, because I have never felt considered the physical practices apart from the spiritual teachings.
Patanjali reminds me a little bit of the famous Buddhist patriarch Bodhidharma. Both are almost larger than life figures. And both might have been credited with writings and discoveries that they, themselves, didn't actually make. In fact, so much of their actual lives remains a mystery, which probably only has added to the great esteem with which people have held them with in the centuries since their passing.
I was struck yesterday upon reading more closely the following:
“In daily life we see people around who are happier than we are, people who are less happy. Some may be doing praiseworthy things and others causing problems. Whatever may be our usual attitude toward such people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others who are happier than ourselves, compassionate toward those who are unhappy, joyful with those doing praiseworthy things, and remain undisturbed by the errors of others, our minds will be very tranquil.”
- Yoga Sutra 1.33, Translation by TKV Desikachar
This passage zeros in on the relational quality of yoga. And just as is the case with Buddhist teachings on our relationships with others, there is a strong emphasis on equanimity here - the kind most of us struggle to locate in our everyday lives.
Given my own predisposition to serving in the world, and to doing what I can to help right injustices, what I find so wonderful about a teaching like this is that it's a reminder that the most powerful place one can come from is built on a foundation of joy and equanimity.
In Buddhism, a similar teaching is found in the four divine abodes, where lovingkindness, compassion, sympathetic joy, and equanimity are the foundations from which all that is good in life springs forth.
For me, the biggest challenge is to remain "undisturbed" by the errors of others, especially when those errors are greatly destructive, oppressive, and highly productive of misery. And yet, "undisturbed" doesn't mean untouched, or unfeeling. It's really a quality of not being flipped over by, troubled by, or excessively excited by something, all of which make it very difficult to have clear perceptions and to do intelligent, beneficial action.
*painting by Joseph Mallord William Turner (1775-1851)