Dear Yoga Friend,
In this month of February when we celebrate Valentines Day commemorating the miracle of romantic love, it's a good time to remind ourselves of our inherent ability to extend love and kindness towards all beings. This is a different kind of love than romantic love, but nonetheless it is a miracle that we can even extend ourselves in this way. The Yoga Sutras of Pantanjali points the way in this important verse:
maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam
Chapter 1, Sutra 33
Swami Jnaneshvara (SwamiJ) translates this as:
In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
In his commentary, SwamiJ reminds us that it is sometimes difficult to be friendly toward the happy, especially during times when we ourselves are unhappy.
It is sometimes difficult to have compassion for the suffering. We sometimes tend to wish it would all just go away.
It is sometimes difficult to extend goodwill toward the virtuous -- the "goodie-two-shoes" of the world. We sometimes wish we could do as much good as they are doing, but we can't.
And we know, it especially difficult to remain neutral toward the wicked. Their terrible acts do really disturb our own minds.
The yoga practice is to gently nudge our mind in the opposite direction from its habitual tendencies.
According to Swami J, the yoga concept here is that in order to arrive at deeper levels of awareness of our True Nature, we need tools to help get our mind there. Using the techniques above to deal with these four categories of people we encounter in our lives, will help prepare our mind for deeper levels of meditation.
In the Buddha's teachings, there is a related practice called metta or loving-kindness meditation. It involves one sending loving and kind thoughts towards ourselves first, then outwards to those near and far.
My Own Experiments
So, my personal meditation practice this past month involved me sending loving and kind thoughts toward the various categories of people, as well as to myself. It proved to be interesting.
During the first week, I began by wishing happiness for myself, saying quietly to myself, "May I be happy," several times a day. Then, I tried to think of people who were happy so that I could send loving-kind thoughts their way. I must say that proved difficult! So many people I encountered and knew around me seemed to be unhappy that as I write this now I cannot even remember if I encountered anyone! Perhaps I could have remembered people around the world who live in far less affluent countries than ours. Come to think of it, I remember many years ago meeting a young man in the Dominican Republic who lived in a rickety shack made of metal who said to me, "we don't have a lot, but we are happy." True, sometimes the less we have, the happier we are. In fact, according to one finding, there are more happy people in Panama and Costa Rica than in the United States.
In the second week, I tried practicing compassion for those who are suffering by sending loving-kind thoughts to those who were appeared to be suffering -- including myself. It actually was easier to identify people who were suffering! I found myself frequently saying, "May 'so-and-so' be happy" to as many people I could identify around me who seemed to be suffering. And I recall having a particularly difficult week myself, so I frequently paused to say to myself, "May I have compassion for my own suffering." While I don't recall this act having any immediate effects on me, I am glad that I could at least acknowledge my own suffering. And I did enjoy identifying friends in my life who were going through difficulties and extending toward them wishes that they could be happy and not suffer so much.
In the third week, I tried to identify the virtuous around me. Interestingly enough, the first person that came to my mind was my partner, Ed. I do think of him as someone who truly tries to live to help other people out. And I identified a few other people in my life who seem to be further along particular paths than myself. I practiced sending good thoughts there way. I actually found it comforting to do so. The sentiment of my feelings toward them was "thank you for leading me in this particular way towards where I wish to be some day."
In the fourth week, I tried my best to be indifferent towards the wicked around me. "Aaayyaaa," as the Chinese expression goes! Living in this densely populated city, one becomes witness to so many acts of "not-very-nice" behavior on a daily basis. It is sometimes very difficult to keep one's mind steady as we New Yorkers go through our daily routines. For those of you who travel into Manhattan from the outer boroughs I am sure that you witness and experience lots of disturbances on the subway rides in. One of my own pet peeves is when someone begins to sing or play their music loud on the subway. During such occurrences I default to sitting up straight, closing my eyes, and practicing following my breath. It is the only thing that helps my mind to achieve steadiness again and helps me to remain neutral in the midst of such acts.
Witness, too, the current U.S. political climate. So much wickedness is being spewed back and forth! And the advertisers and various media are making a lot of money off of it! Wickedness seems to sell. Double "aaaayyaaaa!"
But taking this one step deeper, I also bear witness to my own wicked tendencies and my own wicked thoughts. During such moments, I try to remain neutral and remind myself that I am not alone. My own wicked tendencies and thoughts may be different than those of others, but I have no doubt that the vast majority of people have wicked tendencies and thoughts lurking within. My own practice has been to try to remain neutral in the face of what I see inside of me that I don't particularly like.
It is only when our minds can remain neutral in the face of evil and wickedness that it can derive best actions to take that will neutralize the wickedness and evil acts that are being committed. But if we get caught up in our own anger, the danger is that we will take wrong action and make things worse.
I think this sutra highlights one of those "off-the-yoga-mat" practices that in some ways is more difficult than any asanas -- except for perhaps seated meditation -- one will encounter "on-the-yoga-mat." Still I think it is a worthwhile practice to consider engaging in, and something once can still do even if one does not practice "on-the-mat" yoga.
From my own meditation practice, I extend metta (loving-kindness) to you by offering these wishes in your direction for your benefit:
May you be friendly toward the happy, ...
May you have compassion for your own suffering, ...
May you have compassion for the suffering of others, ...
May you extend goodwill toward the virtuous, those who are further along the path than you, ...
May you remain neutral toward the wicked, ...
May you remain neutral toward your own wickedness, ...
May you have the capacity to send love and kindness in these ways to all the people you meet as you walk your Path, ...
... for the benefit of all Beings everywhere.
With metta and aloha,
Paul Keoni Chun
Dear Yoga Friend,