7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 1

Purify the MindSutras 33 through 35 of Book One of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Sutra 1:33. The mind becomes clarified by cultivating attitudes of friendliness [maitri], compassion [karuna], gladness [mudita] and indifference [upekshanam] respectively towards happiness [sukha], misery [dukha], virtue [punya] and vice [apunya].

Maitri is friendliness; friendship; love. Karuna is mercy; compassion; kindness. Mudita is complacency; joy; happiness, and implies optimism and cheerfulness. Upeksha[nam] is indifference; equanimity resulting from disinterestedness.

One of the most unfortunate aspects of Western New Thought or New Age philosophy is the idea that the mind is improved by an inturned “me” kind of cultivation of what the individual wants to see in his mind. But Patanjali tells us that what is needed is a range of positive reactions to others. Further, a positive attitude is to be maintained toward situations as well as people. Of course, these same attitudes should be cultivated toward ourselves.

Both Vyasa and Shankara insist that indifference must be cultivated toward those they call “habitually unvirtuous”–not an ignoring of them as people, but not being affected by their negativity. That does not mean we should accept their wrongdoing as all right, but that we should not allow ourselves to have any emotional reaction to their deeds and habitual character. This also implies that we should not be pestering them and meddling in their lives, trying to “save” or reform them. We should be ready to help them in any way we can, especially by kindness and good will, but basically we must go our way and let them go their way. Sitting around fuming over the foolishness and evil of others will only create an affinity between us and them and eventually make us like them. As Jesus said: “Follow me; and let the dead bury their dead” (Matthew 8:22). This includes letting the world-involved stew and bubble about the world. As the Sanatkumars said at the beginning of this creation cycle: What have we to do with all this–we who are intent on knowing the Self?”

(Also known as the Four Kumaras, the Sanatkumars were those advanced souls–Sanaka, Sanandana, Sanatkumara and Sanatsujata–who at the beginning of this creation cycle refused to engage in worldly life despite the command of Brahma. They were then taught by Lord Shiva, in the form of Dakshinamurti, the mysteries of Brahmajnana and attained liberation.)

Sutra 1:34. Or by the expiration and retention of breath.

This is one of the sutras that is so simple we are almost sure to miss its meaning–the way Gandalf mistakes “Say ‘Friend’ and Enter” for “Speak, Friend, and Enter.”

The first step is to remember that these Sutras begin with a definition of Yoga that involves the chitta and the waves of the chitta. Just as the breeze disturbs the surface of water, in the same way the chitta is disturbed by various things, the simplest of which is breath–and that is why pranayama occupies such an important place in yoga practice. Specifically, the chitta is ruffled by inhalation. Slow inhalation produces the least effect and rapid inhalation produces the most, but there is no form of inhalation that does not produce any effect on the chitta. One the other hand, exhalation does not make waves in the chitta, nor does the suspension of breath–either holding it in or holding it out. Patanjali tells us this to give a complete picture. At this point he is not advocating any particular practice, just giving us information which will help us later on in understanding the nature and effects of pranayama.

Nevertheless, Jnaneshvara Bharati’s comment is certainly relevant: “The mind is also calmed by regulating the breath, particularly attending to exhalation and the natural stilling of breath that comes from such practice.”

Sutra 1:35. Coming into activity of (higher) senses also becomes helpful in establishing steadiness of the mind.

Translators are divided in their understanding of this sutra. Some consider it to mean that concentrating on any type of sense impression–usually in the form of the memory of such impression, such as visualization–will steady the mind. Other think it means that the arising of the subtle inner senses–especially in meditation–is an aid to steadying the mind. That is why Jnaneshwar says: “The inner concentration on the process of sensory experiencing, done in a way that leads towards higher subtle sense perception: this also leads to stability and tranquility of the mind.”

Vyasa and Shankara consider this second view to be the meaning of the sutra. Vyasa says that the yogi must experience inward realities before he can possess full faith in the words of scriptures and teachers: “Therefore some one definite thing has to be directly experienced in confirmation” at least. Shankara says: “For the yogi who is practicing yoga which is to give face-to-face experience, the perception is the first direct awareness, and it give him confidence, creating enthusiasm for the practice of yoga. It is like the appearance of smoke when wood is being rubbed together to create fire. Such a perception fills him with joy because the confidence it creates, and brings his mind to steadiness.”

Next: 7 Ways to Purify the Mind, Part 2

Previously: The Simple Yoga Method of Removing Mental Pain and Depression

 

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