Yoga Sutra 1.33

Translation and Commentary

May 6, 2013    BY Pandit Rajmani Tigunait


Infusing the mind with friendliness, compassion, cheerfulness, and uninvolved observation in relation to those living a happy, miserable, virtuous, and non-virtuous life respectively, results in reclaiming a pristine state of mind.
Yoga Sutra 1.33 Recitation
Audio Recitation by D.C. Rao, PhD

maitrī is derived from mitra, a word that explains the very spirit of friendship; it can be loosely translated as friend.

  • mitra = mi + tra
  • mi violence, destruction, disintegration
  • tra power of protection, nurturance, the guiding and protective force

Thus, mitra refers to the essence of friendship or the spirit that holds friendship in place; the spiritual virtue that prevents the mind from meeting its own destruction and thus ensures that we continue walking toward our destination with all safety and protection; more clearly, one who prevents you from meeting your destruction is your friend, mitra. maitrī is the spirit that compels your friend to be there for you; friendliness.

karuṇā = karu + na

  • karu action; endeavor; ability to do
  • na to move forward; to lead; leading capacity; the process of reaching a destination

Together, karuṇā refers to an action or virtue that enables you to move forward; the virtue that compels you to help others move forward; the virtue that compels you to pull others out of their misery; the virtue that compels you to extend yourself to those who are stuck; compassion.

muditā the virtue of cheerfulness; a joyful condition of mind; rapture.

upekṣā = upa + īkṣā

  • upa near; around
  • īkṣā to see; observe

Together, upekṣā means to see near, or around; by implication it means to avoid looking into someone’s eyes; overlooking; not involving; not taking part in an issue, however, being sensitive to the context in which the issue may have evolved; seeing without judging; uninvolved observation.

sukha = su + kha

  • su good, auspicious
  • kha space

Together, sukha means a space filled with goodness and auspiciousness; a mind filled with positive thoughts; happiness.

duḥkha = dus + kha

  • dus bad, unpleasant, unwanted, undesirable
  • kha space

Together, duḥkha means the space filled with unwanted, inauspicious thoughts and feelings; a sorrowful condition of mind; lack of happiness.

puṇya is derived from the verb pu (pun), which means to purify, to cleanse; thus puṇyā means virtues that purify the way of the soul; subtle essence of virtues; that which comes out of virtues; the force that compels us to walk on the path of purity.

apuṇya is that which lacks puṇya, virtues and purity; the conditions contrary to virtue; the forces or the conditions that compel us to walk on the path of impurity; degrading factors.

viṣaya object; in this context it means in relation to.

bhāvanātaḥ by thinking, contemplating, pondering, and embracing; by infusing with; by absorbing.

cittaprasādanam = citta + prasādana
citta mind
prasādana transparency, clarity
Together, cittaprasādanam means transparency of mind; pristine state of mind.

Clearing Pollutants from the Mind

The mind becomes serene and clear when we cultivate four specific virtues in relation to the people around us.

By nature the mind, antah-karana (the inner instrument), is serene and crystal clear. Using this inner instrument, consciousness discovers its grandeur and infinite glory. With the help of the mind, consciousness breathes life into the body and sense organs, thereby experiencing the beauty and joy contained in the infinite variety of objects in the external world. In short, this inner instrument is the means through which we come to know ourselves and the whole world, both within and without.

In spiritual literature such as the Vedas and the Upanishads, the mind is described as the brightest—and fastest—among all lights. It illuminates all that is to be seen and breathes life into all that is living. But when impurities seep into it, the mind becomes oblivious of its own brilliance and serenity. It no longer has the ability to stand still until the objects in its path are fully illuminated. Propelled by impurities, it runs ceaselessly and purposelessly from one object to another, exhausting itself in the process.

Unless you remove the impurities, none of the techniques designed to make your mind calm and one-pointed work very well. What are these impurities? Where do they come from, and how do they seep into the mind? That is the subject of this sutra.

Unless you remove the impurities, none of the techniques designed to make your mind calm and one-pointed work very well.

The mind’s most potent pollutant is violence, the impulse to obliterate those who pose a threat to us. Violence stems from the fear of losing that which we hold dear, and nothing is dearer than life itself. Lacking sufficient knowledge about the purpose and meaning of life, we accumulate worldly possessions, thinking that the more we have, the safer we will be. This false idea of where security lies leads us to believe that the fewer objects others possess, the weaker they are, and the less threat they pose.

Our desire to feel secure thus splits into two channels—the desire to possess more ourselves and the desire to see others possessing less. These twin desires recognize no boundaries—the more we succeed in fulfilling them, the more they deepen and grow. When the forces of the cosmos thwart these twin desires, we become fearful and focus our energy on discovering the cause. When we identify a cause, we then treat it as our enemy.

Failing to realize that it is our boundless desires themselves that are our greatest enemy, we manufacture enemies in the external world. Anyone who has what we want and anyone who prevents us from achieving our desires is perceived as an enemy. Thus we people the world with a long chain of enemies. When we cannot lay our hands on these enemies we brood, and our thoughts are tainted by animosity.

According to the great sage Patanjali, this feeling of animosity is vyadhi, a mental disease powerful enough to disturb the natural balance of mind. If this disease is not cured in a timely manner, the mind becomes dull and gloomy. It loses the capacity to think clearly and falls prey to doubt and confusion.

The only cure for vyadhi is to cultivate friendliness toward those who seem to be happy and successful. Here “friendliness” means more than simply extending the hand of friendship to successful people—it means eliminating the underlying element of animosity that forces us to manufacture enemies in the external world. It involves transforming the insecure part of ourselves by eliminating violence and ill will (mi), and yoking our mind with the true power of protection—the positive thinking (tra) that lies at the core of friendliness (maitri). It is the cultivation of maitri that prevents our mind from inviting its own destruction and ensures that we continue walking toward our destination safely and well-protected. Once we have embraced this great virtue, the mind has no reason to worry. It automatically regains its serene, pristine state and can command itself to become one-pointed and inward at will.

Cultivating karuna, compassion, also clears the mind and restores serenity. Cruelty, which is the opposite of compassion, is one of the most injurious of the subhuman tendencies. It dulls the mind to the point where we become insensitive even to our own thoughts and feelings. This insensitivity shrivels the heart and narrows the mind. We no longer see the difference between a material object and a living being. We treat ourselves and others mindlessly, filling our inner world with pain and sorrow and inflicting our inner pain on those around us. Those who are cruel are made miserable by their own unfulfilled desires and go after those who are weaker than they are because they do not know how to capture and manage the real enemy—desire itself. Acts of cruelty toward others are an expression of our own inner misery. Unless we replace the cruelty born of anger and thwarted desire with compassion, we will remain caught in our own inner turmoil.

Learn to see those who seem to be less than virtuous in their own context, without judging them.

Friendliness toward happier and more successful people has a direct bearing on serenity of mind, whereas compassion has a more indirect effect. Compassion helps to infuse the world outside us with peace—a necessary condition for reclaiming a calm, tranquil mind. If you don’t act with compassion, you will go on creating trouble in the external world, and eventually this trouble will come back to you. In other words, unless you actively cultivate the virtue of compassion, your mind will be disturbed.

Our desires are not confined to material success—we want to be rich spiritually as well. Spiritual prosperity has to do with inner purity, but this virtue is difficult to measure by external signs. Every culture develops its own unique yardstick for measuring purity and holiness. Our inability to comprehend the inner virtues that enhance our understanding of the spiritual realm causes us to compare ourselves with those who are known for their spiritual growth. And just as we envy those who are more successful than we are in worldly matters, we also pollute our minds by focusing our animosity on spiritual people. According to Patanjali, we cleanse our minds of this impurity by cultivating cheerfulness toward those who seem to be closer to their spiritual goal than we are to ours.

Then there are those who, according to cultural yardsticks for measuring virtue and vice, are less than virtuous. We call them “sinners,” the fallen ones. We human beings are in the habit of spending more time and energy in condemning “sinners” than in creating an atmosphere that diminishes our attraction to non-virtuous acts. According to Patanjali, if you cannot practice friendliness, compassion, and cheerfulness toward people you consider to be non-virtuous, then, for the sake of your own mind, at least look at such people without judging them.

This requires more than remaining indifferent toward “sinners” or leaving them alone. Remember, there is a subtle force that compels you to compare and contrast yourself with virtuous as well as non-virtuous people, and that force will not let you simply ignore the presence of those whom you find to be misfits. Your own desire to be hailed as a spiritual soul will conjure up negative thoughts related to them and disturb your inner repose. You can’t escape this phenomenon, so learn to see those who seem to be less than virtuous in their own context, without judging them. Don’t ignore them. Don’t regard them with indifference (upeksha is often mistranslated as “indifference”) for this will only increase your insensitivity. Upeksha, uninvolved observation, will help you feel that at least in all good conscience you tried your best to understand those who are labeled sinners. Complying with the voice of your conscience is a powerful aid in calming the mind.

Pandit Rajmani Tigunait
Spiritual head of the Himalayan Institute, Pandit Tigunait is the successor of Swami Rama of the Himalayas. Lecturing and teaching worldwide for more than a quarter of a century, he is the author of fourteen books, including his recently-released The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, and his autobiography Touched by Fire: The Ongoing Journey of a Spiritual Seeker. Pandit Tigunait holds two doctorates: one in Sanskrit from the University of Allahabad in India, and another in Oriental Studies from the... Read more>>