Question: The last time I visited the LA Iyengar Institute, I bought a T-shirt with a sutra printed on it. I have been asked by my students to explain the sutra.
A sutra is a short writing that is packed with information, ideas, suggestions, wisdom and is a guiding light to self- realization. The sutras are written in the ancient, sacred, language of Sanskrit. Many people have translated and written commentaries on the Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali.
The sutra written on my tee-shirt is Sutra 1:33. Below are two translations of this sutra.
The first was written by BKS Iyengar: “Through cultivation of friendliness, compassion, joy, and indifference to pleasure and pain, virtue and vice respectively, the consciousness becomes favourably disposed, serene and benevolent.”
From a Buddhist perspective, Geshe M. Roach and Christine McNally write: “And if you wish to stop these obstacles, there is one, and only one, crucial practice for doing so. You must use kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity. Learn to keep your feelings in balance, whether something feels good or whether it hurts; whether something is enjoyable or distasteful.”
When I thought about how this sutra applied to my own life, I immediately thought of situations I’ve encountered as a parent. As a mother, I can often take things too personally. An off-hand comment from my daughter can bring up old feelings of unworthiness or invisibility from the past. An hour later, when my daughter sings, “Bye, see you later!” I cannot always return the friendliness because I am caught in the grip of an old emotion. This sutra instructs me to return friendliness with friendliness and no buts!
Just the other day, after pondering this sutra, I met a homeless man who used to be my gardener. We had a falling out and I fired him. I ran into him at my bank and he was so happy to see me. I was able to return that friendliness without thoughts of the past. I felt liberated from myself.
The Sutras have been in the existence for 2,500 years. Although their language may be unfamiliar to us, they are rich depositories of wisdom we can glean for use in our own lives.
Take a moment to reread the translations of Sutra 1:33 and ponder: How does this relate to my life? How do I deal with the ups and downs of life? What would it mean to have “equanimity towards all things whether good or bad?”
We can also explore and experience this sutra on the mat. Can you be friendly and compassionate with yourself? Can you get out of the way and no longer be an obstacle to yourself?