Cultivating Attitudes: An Excerpt from The Yoga Sutras

Sutra, in sanskrit, means discourse.  In lieu of my own writing today, I will share an excerpt of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, (translation and commentary provided by Sri Swami Satchidananda), that I have been meditating on this week.

Sutra 1:33 – Maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhka punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam, (excuse the lack of appropriate accents).

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.

In his translation, Sri Swami Satchidananda says this about the “wicked,” my focus for today:

“We come across wicked people sometimes.  We can’t deny that.  So what should be our attitutde?  Indifference.  ‘Well, some people are like that.  Probably I was like that yesterday.  Am I not a better person now?  They will probably be alright tomorrow.’  Don’t try to advise such people because wicked people seldom take advice.  If you try to advise them, you will lose your peace.  

I still remember a small story from the Panca Tantra which I was told as a small child.  One rainy day, a monkey was sitting on a tree branch getting completely drenched.  Right opposite on another branch of the same tree there was a small sparrow sitting in its hanging nest.  Normally a sparrow builds its nest on the edge of a branch so it can hang down and swing around gently in the breeze.  It has a nice cabin inside with an upper chamber, a reception room, a bedroom down below and even a delivery room if it is going to give birth to little ones.  Oh yes, you should see and admire a sparrow’s nest sometime.

It was warm and cozy inside its nest and the sparrow peeped out and, seeing the poor monkey, said, ‘Oh, my dear friend, I am so small; I don’t even have hands like you, only a small beak.  But with only that I built a nice house, expecting this rainy day.  Even if the rain continues for days, I will be warm inside.  I heard Darwin saying that you are the forefather of human beings, so why don’t you use your brain?  Build a nice, small hut somewhere to protect yourself during the rain.’

You should have seen the face of that monkey.  It was terrible! ‘Oh, you little devil!  How dare you try to advise me?  Because you are warm and cozy in your nest you are teasing me.  Wait, you will see where you are!’  The monkey proceeded to tear the nest to pieces, and the poor bird had to fly out and get drenched like the monkey.

This is a story I was told when I was quite young and I still remember it.  Sometimes we come across such monkeys, and if you advise them they take it as an insult.  They think you are proud of your position.  If you sense even a little of that tendency in somebody, stay away.  He or she will have to learn by experience.  By giving advice to such people, you will only lose your peace of mind.

Is there any other category you can think of?  Patanjali groups all individuals in these four ways:  the happy, the unhappy, the virtuous and the wicked.  So have these four attitudes; friendliness, compassion, gladness, and indifference.  These four keys should always be with you in your pocket.  If you use the right key with the right person you will retain your peace.  Nothing in the world can upset you then.  Remember, our goal is to keep a serene mind.  From the very beginning of Patanjali’s Sutras we are reminded of that….

Sometimes, we are the sparrow.  Sometimes, we are the monkey.  I find it is always better to be the sparrow.