Cultivating a Graceful Disposition

Several years ago, I had a regular yoga column in a local periodical. I also wrote several articles for our Iyengar Yoga National Association magazine, Yoga Samachar. Over the next few months, I plan to publish some of these articles via this blog.

Today’s subject is Sutra I:33, a beautiful teaching that guides us on how to interact with others in order to keep ourselves in a peaceful state. As always, I welcome your comments, so please feel free to add your perspective on Patanjali’s timeless teaching.


Cultivating a Graceful Disposition

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras offer perennial wisdom about the perspectives we can adopt regarding others. Cultivating positive states of mind helps us overcome obstacles to experiencing inner peace and harmony. BKS Iyengar translates Sutra I:33 this way:

Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favorably disposed, serene and benevolent.

Alistair Shearer’s poetic translation says

“The mind becomes clear and serene when the qualities of the heart are cultivated: friendliness towards the joyful,
compassion towards the suffering,
happiness towards the pure,
and impartiality towards the impure.”

In Sanskrit, these four qualities are known as maitri, karuna, mudita and upeksa. Together they bring cittaprasdanam, translated as “graceful diffusion of consciousness” or “favorable disposition.” Citta is consciousness, or state of mind and prasadanam means infused with grace. When we practice these healing qualities, the mind is kept in a state of well-being and life is better for us and for those around us.

Maitri is friendliness towards those who are happy. How easy it is to become jealous of those who seem to have it all – a good marriage, a secure job, a lovely home or beautiful yoga postures. We may find ourselves wondering why we don’t also have these things, or find something to criticize about this person who appears to be prospering and enjoying life. Patanjali says that such attitudes disturb our minds and are based on false views. The marriage, the job and the home are all subject to change. Life has unexpected ups and downs. So when we see those who are happy, we should be friendly and good spirited towards them, hoping that their happiness endures and helps them to come to a state of peace.

Karuna is compassion towards those who are in pain. Compassion is different from pity, in which we feel sorry for the person who is suffering, perhaps thinking that she brought this misery upon herself. Yogic wisdom suggests that we remember all the times we have been troubled, and to extend empathy and sincere well wishes to those in pain. Compassion is the heartfelt wish that those who are suffering may be relieved, and the motivation to provide whatever help is in our power to give.

Mudita is rejoicing in the virtue and success of others. This may challenge us deeply, as we see others achieve goals that we may be unable to reach. It is good to practice being glad when others have material wealth and security, but this sutra especially advises us to rejoice in virtuous action. Sometimes when people do what is right, we feel uncomfortable or criticized. We might consider this person to be self-righteous or impractical in his adherence to a seemingly rigid standard of ethical conduct. We can instead make space in our hearts to truly celebrate the good and noble qualities we see in each other. Taking delight in the praiseworthy actions of others brings peace of mind.

Finally, Upeksa is impartiality towards those who indulge in wrongdoing. While sometimes translated as indifference, the sense of this sutra is that we are to refrain from judging others. Instead we can remember our own misdeeds, and maintain a sense of equanimity towards the person engaged in misconduct. Even if we believe someone’s actions to be negative, we should remain impartial and free of judgment, wishing only happiness for this person.

The sage Patanjali has outlined how we can relate to people in various circumstances in a way that benefits both others and ourselves. Everyone enjoys being around people who are friendly, compassionate, joyful and non-judgmental. Through maiti, karuna, mudita and upeksa, we can continue the personal quest to develop a calm and tranquil mind. Over time, we may experience cittaprasadanam, the graceful disposition of consciousness.

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9 Responses to Cultivating a Graceful Disposition

  1. Ken koles says:

    Thank you Karen. That was lovely. Blessings. OOOMMM

  2. Julie Tamarkin says:

    Thank you, Karen, for sharing this ray of light on a cold winter weekend!

  3. Thank you Julie! You are a ray of sunshine!

  4. Thanks, dear Ken! I appreciate your kind words.

  5. Elinore Evans says:

    Thank you for sharing! Surprisingly similar to the Four Immeasurables in Buddhism and the Four Abodes of Brahma, the latter of which I just learned about when researching the meaning of the ninteenth verse of praise to Tara. Without equanimity the other three seem out of reach. We certainly have wonderful opportunities to practice in the face of all the media based memes designed to hook us.

  6. Beautifully and clearly written, Karen. It also resonates with what Pema Chodron writes about Maitri too, and your writing gives me a wider view. Looking forward to seeing you at the Lawrence, KS workshop next weekend.

  7. Jan Nelson says:

    Karen, I am always so grateful for your insights into the teachings of the sutras. This is a very well timed and articulate discussion. Thank you for sharing your studies with us.

  8. It is nice to hear from you, Caryn, and I will be happy to see you in Lawrence this weekend!

  9. David Ernie Sabastion Thiel says:

    Sadly I left the class this Sunday. But I carry you and all my classmates with me as I go forward. Thank you for being here.

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