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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: How a Yogi Deals with People

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:33-By cultivating attitudes of friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and “upeksha” (acceptance, equanimity, indifference, disregard, neutrality) towards the wicked, the mind stuff retains its calmness.


Defining the Sutra

This Sutra explains how to deal with people.

Happy People:  Be Friendly towards them

Unhappy: Be compassionate

Virtuous: Lets look at the word for “virtuous” . This definition comes from wikipedia but it was the same everywhere I checked.

Punya (Sanskrit: पुण्य) is a difficult word to translate; there is no equivalent English word to convey its exact intended meaning. It is generally taken to mean – ‘Saintly’, Virtue, ‘holy’, ‘sacred’, ‘pure’, ‘good’, ‘meritorious’, ‘virtuous’, ‘righteous’, ‘just’, ‘auspicious’, ‘lucky’, ‘favorable’, ‘agreeable’, ‘pleasing’, ‘lovely’, ‘beautiful’, ‘sweet’, ‘fragrant’, ‘solemn’ or ‘festive’, according to the context it is used.

These people are to be treated with “mudita” good will or delight.

Wicked: The word for wicked is “apunya” . So take the above definition of “punya”. The “a” basically means ‘not”. So people who are the opposite of “punya” treat them with “upeksha”. The definition below is from Wikipedia and  all other sources said the same

Upeksha in Sanskrit or Upekkha in Pali means equanimity, non-attachment, non-discrimination, even-mindedness or letting go. -Wikipedia

Equanimity is upeksha in Sanskrit and upekkha in Pali. The Brahmaviharas are four elements of true love. They are called Immeasurable, because if you practice them, they will grow every day until they embrace the whole world. You will become happier and those around you will become happier, also-Thich Nhat Hanh

For more on Upeksha, go here

Bad behavior should be met with equanimity. The Yogi does not get caught up in negative behavior. They treat the person well, love them anyway, and stay out of the negative person’s mess. This does not mean that the yogi sits with their eyes closed ignoring the insanity around them. An example of a Yogi that changed the world, using the principles of yoga, is Gandhi. Below is an article, from the Bihar School of Yoga, about Gandhi and how he used the principals of yoga to enact change in  actions that were “apunya” or wicked.

All great saints and sages have been karma yogis for they truly perform perfect actions without the slightest hint of egoism. They work for the sake of the work and often help others to raise themselves above the mire of social conditions or spiritual poverty. Perhaps one of the most well known examples in this century is Mahatma Gandhi.

Throughout his life, Gandhi performed incredible amounts of work, for he was very little influenced by personal likes and dislikes, whims and fancies. He cleaned his mind of the dross that clutters the mind of most people. Because of this, he was able to view the problems of India and the work that was his duty with pristine clarity. He was able to see only the facts of a situation, without the superimposition of his imagination. His mind was like a magnifying glass – able to see all the details of a situation with heightened clarity. Most people have a mind that is like a misted magnifying glass – only able to see a distorted picture of things because of inner problems.

Most decisions in the world are influenced by personal friendships and enmities. Gandhi was able to overcome this one-sidedness, and it is through this that he obtained his strength. He had no real personal friends in the usual sense of the word, for all people were his friends, even his so-called enemies. None of his actions were done as a favour. He acted because something needed to be done; the situation demanded it to be so. He did that which benefited people in general, that which was for the overall good of the people of India. Some people say that he was stubborn, but actually he did things because he knew his own mind, could understand the mind of other people and the world situation in a clear light and not in a distorted light. He was a politician who had a strong mind, yet he showed deep and sincere compassion for all. By vocation he was a politician; by aspiration he was a great karma yogi.

Mahatma Gandhi achieved what he did by cleaning out his mind, by continuous effort, and by karma yoga. Because of this, he did tremendous amounts of work, both efficiently and without leaving things half done. He never seemed to tire of his work, unlike most other people who do an hour’s work and then lose interest or become fatigued. Why was this? The answer of course lies with the mind. Gandhi, through relentless practice of karma yoga, backed up by other forms of yoga including bhakti and kriya yoga, was able to clean his mind. A mind that is calm can do the most intense work for long periods of time without fatigue. It doesn’t become diverted by external distractions or inner disturbances. It remains focused on the work in hand. Most people waste their energy on useless petty egotistical arguments, or heated discussions about nothing. Their mental energy and in turn their physical energy, is dissipated in all directions. Little or no power goes towards the work that is to be done. If it did, then large amounts of work would be done; each and every person would be transformed into a Gandhi.

The combination of concentrated power and detachment becomes almost irresistible. It moves mountains, as the saying goes. Gandhi clearly illustrated this, and we emphasise once more that detachment doesn’t mean disdain for the things of the world. Gandhi, though he was surely detached, nevertheless felt and expressed overwhelming compassion. Detachment is the attitude of mind where no matter what happens, there is no negative repercussion and resulting mental disturbance in the mind. One does the best that one can do with one’s ability, but at the same time one doesn’t allow external events to unbalance or ‘throw’ the mind. This attitude can be slowly developed and applied as it was so successfully done by Mahatma Gandhi.

Gandhi saw that every action he did was part of the divine process of the universe in accordance with the will of the cosmic consciousness. He was only an instrument, a mere witness of his actions.

There are many other people, both famous and unknown, who have shown that karma yoga is not just an unrealistic ideal, but that it is possible. Saints like Swami Vivekananda and Swami Sivananda expressed total egoless-ness in their interaction with the world – perfect expression, perfect response to given circumstances. What these people have done, you also can achieve. The path and the possibility are open to everyone. Each person can develop a powerful one-pointed mind. Each person can awaken intuitive faculties. Each person can become a karma yogi. All that is required is the urge to attain perfection, together with relentless and continuous practice.


 Modern Day Applications

This is one of my favorite verses in the Sutras. It can be applied immediately and its affects can be seen right away. In Ashtanga, we often joke about 7th series, or family time/every day life, as being the hardest series. Being around others brings out all of our stuff. When we are alone or in a spiritual setting, it is easy to behave agreeably. Who are we when things don’t go our way?  Seventh series, every day life, is when we see if our yoga is working. Being able to do handstand or put your foot behind your head won’t help you when you find your husband in bed with another woman. This is when we see whether we are practicing yoga or gymnastics. Whether we are working out or working in.

We learn how to relate to other humans through our relationship with our own practice. Whenever strong emotions like anger, hatred, frustration, sadness come up in our practice, we should not ignore them. How we relate to our practice is how we relate to humans.

It is important to chose a yoga practice that forces you to come face to face with your demons. It is called a yoga “practice” because it is the act of practicing your ability to abide in yourself and remain equanimous.  It is where you go to learn techniques to practice yoga. Yoga, according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is “the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind”. The practice then provides scenarios to see if you can abide in yourself (Yoga Sutra 1:3). When you go to gymnastics practice, you practice gymnastics. When you go to yoga, you practice yoga. Many people see yoga as the practice of poses. The poses are just the tools that keep the body healthy and bring up the samskaras ( habits) that keep us bound. They are not the ends unto themselves.


Why It Is Important

Interacting with humans, is the best way to see whether you have control over the “cessations of the fluctuations of the mind” which, according to the Sutras, is the purpose of yoga.

Be on the look out for These Reactions To Patanjalis 4 Types of People:


Happy People: Jealously, anger or hatred towards people who are happy, successful or doing well.

Unhappy: An inability to sympathize with those who are going through pain.

Virtuous: Taking advantage of those who choose a life of service or have big hearts. Seeking to bring them down, find dirt on or see the worst in them. Anger, jealousy or hatred towards them.

Wicked: Retaliation. Revenge. Tit for tat.

You may feel that you are outside of these reactions but it can be subtle. Here are some examples.

Have you ever felt anger towards a yoga “celebrity”? Maybe you felt that their success was not warranted or that they didn’t deserve it? Have you felt that someone who was doing “advanced” poses was just showing off? Have you felt disdain towards yoga teachers who found success through forms of yoga that are not your own? If so,  you maybe have trouble being friendly and happy for those who are happy.



Have you ever felt disdain for those students grunting in pain or sobbing during backbends and hip openers? If so, you may have trouble with practicing compassion.

Do you feel that everyone is bad or out to get you? Do you feel that people who see the good in others are silly and gullible? Do you feel that spirituality is a sham or that those who said they attained it or probably just lying? Do you feel uncomfortable around people who are happy?Do you gravitate towards people who always have drama in their lives? Have you ever tried to take students from other yoga teachers? Have you spoken ill of of other happy yoga teachers to students or studio owners? If so, you may have trouble with good will towards the virtuous.

Do you feel that people who do bad should have bad done back to them? Do you feel that people who do bad things, don’t deserve to be happy? Do you treat wicked people badly? Do you have trouble loving those who do wicked things in the world? If so, you may have trouble with equanimity towards the wicked.




Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail