The oldest existing how-to manual for yoga practitioners that we know of, was written long ago – hundreds of years B.C. – so, it’s often startling how helpful and relevant those ancient words still are today. This text is called The Yoga Sutras, sutra meaning “thread,” or “sentence,” as it was a custom at that time and place to learn by memorizing and chanting knowledge, line by line.
This manuscript explains that the purpose of practicing yoga is to attain happiness in this lifetime by getting command of our minds. (Yoga for “fitness” or “stress” is a more modern, Western idea). Then, the Yoga Sutra goes on to spell out specifically how we can cultivate happiness in our lives and lose the bad habits that get in the way.
Book 1, Sutra 33 is a powerful and often-quoted passage in the Yoga Sutras that speaks very specifically to how we habitually think about other people. Yes, think about other people – this is about gaining control of our minds! After all, thoughts, sooner or later, produce actions, which produce consequences, so yes, being responsible for our thoughts is a gateway to a happier life. In fact, most of the time when you drop a negative thought and replace it with a kinder intention, you will notice that you immediately feel better. What we wish on others inhabits our very cells.
This teaching has four parts, and I’m saying this in my own words:
1. Attempt to always think well of people you love, who put a smile on your face, who are friendly to you, who love you unconditionally.
2. Whenever you see or think of people who have it worse than you – who are sick, living in a war zone, stuck in self-defeating patterns, etc, open your heart and feel compassion
3. Instead of feeling threatened or competitive, be happy for people who are more successful or recognized than you. (Hmm – a little harder!)
4. And here’s the last key, a real doozy! Attempt to always wish people well who are morally corrupt, who do harm in the world, who excite righteous criticism in you. The personal quality we’re looking to cultivate here is Equanimity – extending well wishes impartially without a lot of emotional judgement or "getting up on your high horse."
To clarify, this 4th key doesn’t mean we never stand up to wrongdoing, but it does mean that we wish EVERYONE well, human to human, at all times, no exceptions.
The personal benefit from these mental habits occurs when we deliberately practice them until they become automatic. Staying aware moment by moment, carving new grooves into our brains.
Just another technique for getting out of your own way so obstacles to inner peacefulness dissolve, and we can live, fuller, more meaningful lives. It’s not easy, in fact, if you lived inside my brain you would notice how many times I start to think something mean or petty and have to switch gears. It’s a mental workout of sorts, like pushups, or heavy housework. But new practices take root when we make them habitual.
And this Sutra works.