The Urban Yoga Den

…where it's all yoga.

Haiku for George Zimmerman April 12, 2012


And justice for all:

May peace – and not resentment –

Guide our hearts and minds.

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In the very first pages of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – one of the ancient texts that guides yoga practice and teaching – we learn that yoga’s primary purpose is to cultivate a peaceful mind.

The text then offers us four books (or chapters) of recommended practices to attain and sustain this peace.  One practice is known as the Four Locks & Four Keys – described in Sutra 1.33 – which invites us to cultivate an attitude of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight toward the virtuous and disregard for the non-virtuous in order to retain our own calm.  In his commentary on this recommendation, Swami Satchidananda encouraged, “Whether you are interested in samadhi (loosely translated as “enlightenment”) or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one Sutra.  In my own experience, this Sutra became my guiding light to keep my mind serene always.”

Mine, too.

And even more so after I studied an interpretation of Sutra 1.33 by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D., of the Himalayan Institute.  About 10 years ago, I clipped his Yoga International Magazine article shedding an uplifting, shining light on the aphorism’s most difficult plea (for me, at least) to cultivate disregard for the non-virtuous.  Because I feel if I am disregarding someone, then I am committing harm; and therefore, I become non-virtuous and perpetuate the cycle of violence.

I was so deeply moved by Dr. Tigunait’s interpretation that I have kept the article and often refer to it when wrestling with the unfortunate reality of our violent world.  Here are some excerpts; I hope someone finds this useful if questioning any act of violence, harm or disregard.

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None of us has the power to force others to rid themselves of darkness.  The only power we have is to demonstrate how delightful it is to live in the light.

According to yoga, one who cultivates transparency of mind, clarity of thought, and firmness of will becomes light and cheerful.

[Regarding] indifference toward the non-virtuous:

We each have our own definition of “virtue,” and if someone is “non-virtuous” according to our definition, the judgmental part of our personality immediately comes forward and we label those people “bad.”  This colors our thought, speech, and action toward them.  We try to maintain a distance, either by withdrawing ourselves or by pushing them away from us.  Or we try to force them to change.  Any of these actions sets the stage for violence.

Again, the only way to change this pattern is to change our own attitudes.  Those whom we consider reprehensible or wicked are living according to their own level of understanding, and trying to correct them by criticizing their way of life and values is counterproductive.  According to yoga, if it is possible to model the higher values of love, compassion, selflessness, and non-possessiveness for the “non-virtuous,” then that should be done.  Often a glimpse of the higher virtues is enough to cause someone to reevaluate his or her behavior and to find a way to begin the process of self-transformation.

If we have not acquired the skill of leading someone who we believe to be non-virtuous gently in the direction of self-transformation , the only other option is to cultivate an attitude of indifference – not for the doer but for the deed.  Cultivating indifference for people we believe to be non-virtuous damages our sensitivity to others and destroys our capacity for forgiveness, kindness, and selfless love.  But by cultivating indifference toward the deeds themselves, we remain free of animosity for those whose action are non-virtuous.  We allow them their rightful place, and by refusing to associate the person with the deed, we avoid becoming smug and punitive.

Practicing these four principles will purify the mind and heart.  And once we have developed friendship for those who are happy, compassion for those who are unhappy, cheerfulness toward those who are virtuous, and indifference to the actions of those who are not, we will no longer pose a threat to others, and they will be neither defensive nor self-protective in our presence.  Pure love, compassion, selflessness, and self-acceptance radiate from us when we have purified our hearts.  …  Love, compassion, cheerfulness, selflessness, and self-acceptance will begin to radiate from the individual level and affect the community, the society, and finally the world.

…there will be nothing to fight about.

–  From Yoga International Magazine; adapted from “Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace” by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, Ph.D.

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So how does Sutra 1.33 help me digest the story of Trayvon Martin and George Zimmerman?  First, it reminds me that in order to be of service in any way in this world – whether that’s sharing an opinion or joining a social justice action – I must maintain my own inner peace.  Second, if I think and act from a place of peace, then I do not judge, I do not attach personal resentments, I do not confuse unrelated history with this unique story – instead, I am able to be fair-minded.  When I am fair-minded, I can see the pain, misfortune and unhappiness of all involved.  I can have compassion.  I can keep my peace.  I can be of service.  I can be fair-minded.  I can have compassion.  I can keep my peace.  I can be of service.  I can…

And instead of perpetuating the cycle of violence, I am cultivating a cycle of peace.

OM Shanti Shanti Shanti.  Peace.  Please.