Practice and the Cultivation of Friendliness – Yoga Sutras

Practice and the Cultivation of Friendliness
I.33 Maitri karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.
In the past I have experienced some very challenging situations taking me through stages of depression, anger, and fear, leaving me searching for something that could bring me peace.  This sutra explains beautifully what took me years to figure out on my own.  I had always thought of myself as an optimistic “glass-half-full” kind of person, but the way I perceived events still divided everything into categories: good or bad, happy or sad, satisfaction or disappointment.  It was very easy for me to be friendly, compassionate, and full of joy when things were going my way, but as soon as something happened that my ego didn’t like, I was back to being angry, annoyed, or bitter.  As the stress of this constant emotional roller coaster grew, I knew I needed to make some changes.  Simple things, like smiling when I was on the verge of getting upset, started to blur the lines of the duality of good versus bad. As my perception started to change, so did my disposition. The fluctuations of my mind gradually settled down and I found peace in the stillness between emotions.  I still struggle to approach everything with a friendly and compassionate demeanor. I definitely still lose my temper on occasion, and sometimes I can’t help but cry, but the severity and frequency of these incidents has dramatically decreased.  Every day of sadhana is a step closer to a serene and benevolent disposition.
Which leads to the next sutra I will talk about….
II.35 ahimsapratistahayam tatsannidhau vairatyagah When non-violence in speech, thought and action is established, one’s aggressive nature is relinquished and others abandon hostility in one’s presence.
While following the path of cultivating friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice (I.33), I saw more than just a change in my disposition.  When I started to show compassion instead of anger I found I faced fewer conflicts and elicited more neutral, “favorable”, responses from others as well.  I realized that I was diminishing the karmic connections to all of the people I interacted with.  For example, there is one individual I used to work with whom I had never been able to get along with.  Every encounter with him ended in yelling.  I even got to the point that I would be consumed by anger just seeing his name on my caller ID.  After adopting the practices described in Sutra I.33 and eliminating violence in my speech, thoughts, and actions, there was a noticeable decrease in conflict between us. Not only was I calm in his presence, he was calm in mine.  Suddenly we were capable of having productive conversations. He recently left the company, an event that I would have previously expected would bring me great happiness, but I found that I felt nothing.  I had really become indifferent as the karmic attachments between us had completely dissolved.
I.14 sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkara asevitah drdhabhumih Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations.
As I previously said, I still struggle to maintain that friendly and compassionate demeanor at all times, but I have been able to gradually increase the amount of time I can keep that mind(less)-set. This practice, along with the practice of all eight limbs of yoga, is addressed in this sutra.
This sutra presents two major obstacles we face in building the firm foundation for stilling fluctuations of the mind. The first obstacle is our attraction to ‘instant gratification,’ expecting results with minimal effort in as short of time as possible. An illustration of this that I have personal experience with is fad dieting.  There are literally thousands of ‘fad diets’ out there advertising ridiculous claims like ‘lose 5 pounds in 2 days!’, and hundreds of products claiming to shrink your waist a dress size just by putting their special lotion on twice a day.  We all know that you can lose weight by eating healthy, nutritious foods in controlled quantities and exercising regularly, but are still driven to try all of these other means by the allure of instant results. There isn’t a ‘quick fix’ for settling the mind’s fluctuation.  The sadhaka’s practice which leads to samadhi will be long, but the benefits along the path will far outweigh any ‘instant gratification’ found by taking short cuts.  Remember, the path to emancipation is not a short one.
The second obstacle we face is our tendency to multi-task, taking on as many things as we can in an attempt to be more productive. Ironically, on the journey towards enlightenment this proves to be counterproductive. This sutra tells us that our attention should not be divided; our focus solely on the path to emancipation.
I.21 tivrasamveganam asannah The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice.
In the previous sutra I talked about I said that the path to emancipation is not a short one. This sutra, however, tells us that samadhi will come quickly through extremely hard work and dedication in practice.  I see the difference between these two sutras like the different paths available while hiking up a mountain.  One path up the mountain follows the ‘switchbacks’, taking the incline in small increments.  The path is long and the hiker must still remain alert, but the intensity is moderate. Given the time and dedication anyone can make it up the steepest mountain following this path.  The other path leads straight up the mountain.  The grade is steep and at times may even require climbing vertically up the face of cliffs.  Though the path is shorter, the hiker must be strong, supremely vigorous, and enthusiastic to reach the top.  Likewise, the sadhaka who has intense enthusiasm, devotion, and is pure of heart can reach samadhi quickly.

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