The parakarmas, discussed in Sutra I.33, are four attitudes that, if we practice them, will help us in our relationships with other people. Swami Satchidananda says that if you’re going to remember just one of the yoga sutras, it should be this one, for the power it has to help us keep a serene mind.
The sutra reads as follows:
By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness. (page 54)
Nischala Devi translates it just a little differently, with a little less judgment on the “wicked”:
To preserve openness of heart and calmness of mind, nurture these attitudes: kindness to those who are happy, compassion for those who are less fortunate, honor for those who embody noble qualities, and equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values. (page 77)
Yesterday we discussed the first two parakarmas (friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy). The last two are a little trickier.
- Delight in the virtuous / honor for the noble
This attitude can be summed up as “celebrating the good in others”. I have a friend who goes to Nicaragua every year to volunteer in an orphanage for disabled children. I know a woman who overcame great personal hardship to raise her son, her daughter who has a serious heart condition, and her youngest child, a small boy who also has a serious health problems whom she adopted from China. I know a perfectly ordinary guy with a job and a kid who feels so passionately about cancer research that he organizes a huge fundraiser every year as a volunteer, putting in hours of his time and energy to help others. Everybody knows someone like this, and we all wonder how on earth such people exist: come on, can they really be that nice? But we’re just looking at the whole picture, without the benefit of the context of the little moments that brought that person here. In each individual moment, that person was just trying to make the best choice she could, the same way that we all do. The sum of those choices may be a larger-than-life story that doesn’t seem real, but at the center is a regular, fallible person doing their best. Don’t envy that person (because you don’t know what he had to go through to become who he is), and don’t gossip or try to pull that person down. Instead, admire him, or use her as an example for your own conduct. Such people deserve our respect for all the love and goodwill and service they put into the world, and they deserve to be celebrated – we need more of them!
- Disregard toward the wicked / equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values
Devi’s translation is a little more politically correct than Satchidananda’s, but it comes to the same thing: don’t let it upset you. (Don’t let the bastards get you down!) There will always be people who seem wicked or wrong, people who have values different from our own. Some people are just like that; maybe you or I used to be like that too. Maybe it’s something as simple as someone driving like a jerk on the highway – we don’t know what made that person act that way, so all we can do is hope he’ll do better tomorrow. Or maybe it’s someone you must interact with (a distant relative, a coworker) whose views are just totally different from yours: these are the most difficult people, because what do you say? Nothing you can do will convince this person to change his mind. If you want to preserve your own serenity, the best course of action is just to let it go: don’t get angry, don’t argue, and don’t let it upset you. Be as polite as possible, and when the situation has passed, put that person out of your mind. Don’t spend the next two days arguing about it in your head – that’s not going to change the other person, but it does change you. Why choose to get upset and keep rehashing angry words? Let it go.
N & J described this attitude as “remaining impartial to the faults and imperfections of others”. I like this rephrasing a lot because it reminds us to keep this attitude not just with nasty Uncle Larry or with Susan in marketing, but also with the people closest to us. I’m not perfect and I’m never going to be, but it’s easy to forget that my friends and loved ones aren’t perfect either. I may have high expectations for them – and we often expect the best from the people we love, don’t we? – but they have faults and imperfections too, and they make mistakes. If we can remain impartial when those mistakes happen, we’ll be able to be kinder to the person in that moment, and we’ll be better able to preserve our own calmness of mind without getting angry or disappointed.