sutra 1.33 & the four keys

Yoga Sutras

Book 1: Sadhana Pada, Verse 33

Maria Cutrona

1.33 Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhka Punyapunya Visayanam Bhavantas Citta Prasadanam.

“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.” — Sri Swami Satchidananda

This is a pivotal verse in Book One of Master Patanjali’s sutras. He devotes the first verses to describing how the mind tricks us into a state of constant craving and aversion, like a 24/7 ping-pong between what you like and what you don’t like. In fact, we define ourselves by what we like and what we don’t like. Master Patanjali suggests this is our great mistake, that we are missing something finer, deeper, more pure. We are beyond our likes and dislikes, but it is extremely hard to change this habit of mind.

Swami Satchidananda suggests that if you are to learn one verse, verse 1.33 is the one to know. We understand restlessness, we understand dislike. What we don’t realize is if we give into these states we just experience more unease in the mind.

In verse I.33, Patanjali provides us with the four antidotes to feelings of judgement toward others. They are maîtri (love), karuna (compassion), mudita (joy), and upeksanam (equanimity). In Buddhism, these attitudes as The Four Immeasurables or Four Infinite Thoughts. They are referred to as infinite because ultimately the wish for our own happiness has to include the wish for everyone’s happiness.

Master Patanjali then presents the four ways in which the mind gets stuck in judgement. Known as the Four Locks, they are sukha (happy), dukha (unhappy), punya (virtuous), and apunya (wicked).

If we are to have a clear and undisturbed mind, we must apply these four “keys” to the four “locks.” It is a practice, a daily checking in with how you are feeling and a practice of shifting that feeling if necessary. We shouldn’t be thrown off balance by how we feel. Instead, check in with how the mind feels when you center your mind on “infinite love,” “infinite compassion,” “infinite joy,” or “infinite equanimity.” There is a opening, an expansiveness. You step out of the reactive mind and drop into a calm, expansive mind.

We are in challenging times. Can we go through the ups and downs of life with more peace? A yogi uses the template of life to constantly apply these practices. When one notices agitation, take pause. Allow the sense of the immeasurableness of love, compassion, joy, or equanimity to enter into your feeling body. 

The focus in chapter two is meditation, or steadiness of mind. In order to have steadiness of mind we need to enhance lucidity. In order to cultivate lucidity we have to interrupt the habits of mislabeling our reality and experience. Change the habit and steady the mind. Practice ensures that at all times, no matter the circumstances, we have the four keys in our pocket.

pratyahara

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II.55 tataḥ parama vaśyatā indriyāṇāḿ

tataḥ: then, from that

parama: the highest

vaśyatā: subdued, controlled, governed

indriyāṇāḿ: of the senses

Pratyahara results in the absolute control of the sense organs.  (Source: Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, B.K.S. Iyengar)

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Pratyahara is the fifth limb of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of practice. It is the process of withdrawing the senses (indriyas) from objects of distraction, desire, or aversion, both outside of and within the mind. This prepares us for equanimous concentration (dharana) and meditation (dhyana). Like tributaries moving toward a greater body of water, the busy, individual trajectories of the eyes, ears, nose, mouth, and skin are redirected for the purpose of reflection and insight. 

— Melanie Jane Parker

yoga sutra 1.4

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Drawing for Spiral Jetty, Great Salt Lake, Utah, Robert Smithson, 1970

1.4 वृत्तिसारूप्यमितरत्र ।।४।।

vṛtti-sārūpyam-itaratra

At other times (itaratra), it takes the form (sarupyam) of the mental activities (vritti). or: Conformity to the operations elsewhere.

It is natural for our minds to identify with our thoughts and with the objects around us. This is the basis of avidya, or ignorance of our real Self — confounding all the changeable things around us with our own true nature. This true nature (atman, purusha, soul, the seer) is said to be eternal and unchanging, and is pure awareness.

This sutra tells us that when we lose touch with our own being, chitta (the mind, or thinking faculty) manifests itself in place of the seer. We then become bound by time and space.

When the mind is not resting in its own true being, it takes the shape of the vrittis. We think the thoughts we have are who we really are. This avidya, the source of all suffering, clouds our perception. When we ‘clean’ our minds our thoughts and actions are not colored and dictated by our misperceptions.

With practice, we can avoid behaving in ways we don’t intend, and can stop ourselves from saying things we regret. Practice allows us to make a habit of being true to ourselves. This intention becomes a habit of awareness. Though we will fluctuate back and forth, identifying ourselves with our mental activities, we can catch ourselves and let go.

Vyaas Houston of the American Sanskrit Institute has said:

“If I don’t remain the seer, continually aware of the field; if nirodhah is not occurring, there is conformity to the vritti. I never lose my original identity — I just think I do.

One or the other is taking place. Either yoga is taking place or there is identity with vritti.”

— Jenny Meyer + Barbara Verrochi

 

yoga sutra 1.3

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Still Life Apples and Pears by Gustave Courbet, 1871

1.3 तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम् ।

TADĀ DRAṢṬUḤ SVA-RŪPE ‘VASTHĀNAM

tadā — then
draṣṭuḥ — of the seer (draṣṭṛ — the seer)
sva — one’s own (as in ‘swami’ — boss, owner)
rūpe — in being, (rūpa — form, body)
avasthānam — established, abiding, standing
from ‘ava’ — a prefix meaning away, down, off
and ‘sthāna’ — standing, from root ‘sthā,’ to stand’

When the vṛttis, or turnings of the mind, become quiet, when we are no longer bound by the patterns of our mind (Sūtra 1.2), we can fully connect with our inherent stability.

The seer (draṣṭṛ, pure consciousness) is unchanging and not subject to the vṛttis.

In the Bhagavad Gītā, the seer is called the Ātman, and is described by Kṛṣṇa in this way:

Neither is this (the embodied self) born nor does it die at any time,
Nor, having been, will it again come not to be.
Birthless, eternal, perpetual, primeval,
It is not slain when the body is slain. bg 2.20

Weapons do not pierce this (the Embodied Self),
Fire does not burn this,
Water does not wet this,
Nor does the wind cause it to wither. BG 2.23

It is said that this is unmanifest,
Unthinkable, and unchanging.
Therefore, having understood in this way,
You should not mourn. BG 2.25
—translation Winthrop Sargeant

yoga sutra 1.2

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Northeaster, 1895, Winslow Homer

1.2 योगश्चित्तवृत्तिनिरोधः

YOGAŚCITTAVṚTTINIRODHAḤ

YOGAḤ-CITTA-VṚTTI-NIRODHAḤ

Yoga means stopping mental activity.

Patanjali defines yoga as nirodha, or a quieting of the vrittis (fluctuations) of the citta (mind, intelligence, and ego). ‘Nirodhah’ literally means ‘stopping,’ so ‘stilling’ is a good way to understand this sutra. The word ‘nirodhah’ is cognate to ‘erode.’ ‘The root is rudh — to obstruct.  And it seems the vrttis (the whirlings of the mind) are gradually worn away like that — eroded as we become established in our own being.

yoga sutra 1.1

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Violet Leaf on Orange Background (Palmette), 1947, Henri Matisse 

1.1 अथ योगानुशासनम्

atha yogānuśāsanam

here upon, the lesson on yoga.

This is the first sutra of 196 sutras on the teachings of yoga by Patanjali. “Atha” translates as now. Now, at this moment, the teaching begins. And now, at this moment, we can begin our practice. No other time is better than now. Pema Chodron succinctly describes beginning our spiritual practice in How to Meditate.

You start where you are. You might feel that you are the single most stressed-out person on Planet Earth; you might be hopelessly in love; you might have six children and a full-time job; you might be going through a depression or a dark night of the soul. Wherever you are, you can begin there.