Thoughts on the Yoga Sutras and the bible
As part of my 200-hour yoga teacher training, I had to read the Sutras and then write about one of them. This what I wrote, in June of 2007. I hope it helps explain more about how (in my opinion) the Sutras seem to echo the Bible. Enjoy.
Book I: No. 33: 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.
The Yoga Sutras made me feel uncomfortable at first. They seemed sacrilegious to me. But this teacher training has broadened my horizons, and I’ve come to realize that the Sutras aren’t some cult-like book of beliefs meant to draw believers away from the Bible. I also have to state that while reading the Sutras, I felt so glad that I had spent a few years studying the Bible intensively (through Disciple Bible study). That knowledge deepened my appreciation for the Sutras, and I was able to see more clearly how the Sutras dovetail with the Bible. For example, one reason I like this Sutra (above) is because it reminds me of Romans 12:15: “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.”
This Sutra from Book One really struck a chord with me. I think it is amazing in its simplicity. I like how [the author] Sri Swami Satchidananda starts his description of it by writing, “Whether you are interested in reaching Samadhi or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra” (54). Even he thinks that this might be the most important Sutra.
I like how it says to cultivate friendliness toward the happy. Too often happy people make us unhappy, simply because they are happy. I guess they don’t “make” us unhappy, but if we are unhappy to begin with, seeing a happy person just accentuates the contrast between their happiness and our unhappiness. Thus, we hate the happy person. I’ve felt this way myself. I’m thankful that now I am more at peace with myself, and I have experienced the joy of being happy with others—sharing in their happiness.
As for those unhappy people, Satchidananda says we should have compassion for them, lend them a helping hand, and be merciful to them. Unlike Jesus Christ, Satchidananda says we should do this in order to retain the peace of our own minds, instead of being motivated by love for others. He writes, “Whether our mercy is going to help that person or not, by our own feeling of mercy, at least we are helped” (55). Then again, maybe this is what Jesus means, because if that feeling of mercy comes from within us, and not from a sense of duty, then it is pure and not self-serving. (When it comes from a sense of duty, it can lead to resentment.)
The next part is to take delight in the virtuous. “Don’t envy him; don’t try to pull him down. Appreciate virtuous qualities in him and try to cultivate them in your own life” (56). It isn’t always easy to do this. Like the happy person who makes us unhappy, the virtuous person might make us feel guilty or inadequate. Satchidananda says we should be happy and joyful instead, to celebrate the virtuous person, and work to imitate him.
The final part of this Sutra is disregard for the wicked. Now this is a hard one. Our instincts are to point out what the wicked person is doing wrong. But Satchidananda writes, “Don’t try to advise such people because wicked people seldom take advice. If you try to advise them you will lose your peace” (56). I love how this advice is so simple, yet so profound. I am old enough to see the truth in it, as I have often lost my own peace by trying to get others to improve or change.
This part of the Sutra also reminds me of a verse from the Gospel of Matthew, 7:3-5:
Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye and pay no attention to the plank in your own eye? How can you say to your brother, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when all the time there is a plank in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.