Four Attitude Meditations as a Foundation of Yoga
- FOUR ATTITUDE MEDITATIONS AS A FOUNDATION OF YOGA
Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati
The practice of traditional Yoga as a means of realizing the union of the individual and the universal consciousness is widely known to have been summarized by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras in the form of the eight rungs of Yoga.
1. Yama: codes of restraint, abstinences, self-regulations
2. Niyama: observances, practices, self-training
3. Asana: meditation posture (from the root ~as, which means "to sit"
4. Pranayama: expansion of breath and prana, regulation, control
5. Pratyahara: withdrawal of the indriyas (the senses), bringing inward
6. Dharana: concentration
7. Dhyana: meditation
8. Samadhi: meditation in its higher state, deep absorption of meditation, the state of perfected concentration
FOUR ATTITUDE MEDITATIONS:
However, the eight rungs are presented in the later part of chapter 2 of the Yoga Sutras. Much earlier, in chapter 1, Patanjali introduces four attitude meditations that are used to purify and stabilize the mind so that the deeper practices of meditation can be successfully practiced.
Yoga Sutra 1.33: In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.
(maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam)
* maitri = friendliness, pleasantness, lovingness
* karuna = compassion, mercy
* mudita = gladness, goodwill
* upekshanam = acceptance, equanimity, indifference, disregard, neutrality
* sukha = happy, comfortable, joyous
* duhka = pain, misery, suffering, sorrow
* punya = virtuous, meritorious, benevolent
* apunya = non-virtuous, vice, bad, wicked, evil, bad, demerit, non-meritorious,
* vishayanam = regarding those subjects, in relation to those objects
* bhavanatah = by cultivating habits, by constant reflection, developing attitude, cultivating, impressing on oneself
* chitta = mind field, consciousness
* prasadanam = purified, clear, serene, pleasant, pacified, undisturbed, peaceful, calm
EACH ATTITUDE IS A TYPE OF MEDITATION:
Each of these four attitudes (friendliness, compassion, goodwill, and neutrality) is, in a sense, a meditation unto itself. While it is actually a preparation practice, it has become popular to use the word meditation in a very broad way, rather than as the specific state of dhyana (3.2), as normally used by the yogis. Some schools of meditation base their entire approach on one or more of these four attitudes. However, to the seeker of the absolute reality (1.3), these are practiced as valuable steps along the journey, but not the end itself.
Remember how it is that sometimes when you are not having such a good day, you might resist being around other people who are feeling happy or joyful. It is very easy to unintentionally have a negative attitude towards them at such a time, even if they are your friends or family members. This is not to say that your mind is being 100% negative, but it is the tendency, however small, that we want to be mindful of. It is not about setting ourselves up for an over expectation of perfection, but a gradual process of clearing the clouded mind so that meditation can deepen.
If you are mindful about this normal tendency of the mind, then you can consciously cultivate an attitude of friendliness and kindness when you are around these happy people, or when you think about them. This conscious act of being mindful of the negative tendency of mind, and actively promoting the positive and useful has a stabilizing effect and brings inner peace and calm. It is being mindful that the mind often holds both sides of the attraction and aversion, positive and negative. Here, we want to be aware of both, but cultivate the positive and useful.
You might normally think of yourself as being a loving, caring, compassionate person. Yet, notice how easy it is to feel the opposite when someone around you is sick. You have other plans and suddenly some family member gets sick, or there is an extended illness in the family. Surely you care for them, but it is also a habit of the mind to feel somewhat imposed upon. Again, we are not talking about some 100% negativity or psychopathology. These are normal actions of mind that we are systematically trying to balance and make serene.
It is good to observe that inclination of the mind, however small. It just means to be mindful of it, while at the same time consciously cultivating compassion and support for others who are suffering. It does not mean acting, or suppressing the contrary thoughts and emotions. It does mean being aware, and lovingly choosing to act out of love. Again, we want to be mindful of the habits of mind. Unawareness leaves disturbances in the unconscious that will disturb meditation. Awareness allows freedom and peace of mind.
We all want to be useful, to be of service to our families, friends, and other people, whether in our local community or across the world. Often we privately may feel there is more we could do, but that we are just not doing it. Jealousy and other negative emotions can easily creep in when somebody else is sincerely acting in virtuous or benevolent ways. We can unconsciously push against such people, whether we know them, or they are publicly known people.
Better that we cultivate attitudes of happiness and goodwill towards such people. It is not always easy to cultivate such positive attitudes when, inside, we are feeling negative. But something very interesting happens as we become a neutral, non-attached witness to our inner process. That is, humor comes; the mind is seen to be a really funny instrument to watch, in all of its many antics. Then the happiness and goodwill seems to come naturally.
Most of us have some limits of what we find as acceptable behavior. We might sincerely hold the belief that all people are pure at their deepest level. Yet, are there not some individuals you think to be dishonest, cruel, mean, or even wicked, or evil? Are there not some behaviors that you consider so outside of acceptable conduct that it strongly causes you to feel anger and frustration? Even if you really feel strongly about some other person in this way, is it not also true that you, yourself, carry the burden of this? How to be free from that is the question.
To counterbalance the negative feelings toward someone you feel is bad, wicked, or lacking in virtue, the antidote is to cultivate an attitude of neutrality, indifference, acceptance, or equanimity. It can be difficult to cultivate this attitude, since it might make us think we are approving of their bad behavior. We seek the neutrality of inner balance and equanimity, which does not mean approving of the person's actions. In fact, cultivating attitudes of neutrality might go a long way in being able to cause change. It surely helps to stabilize and clear the mind for meditation.
INTENTIONAL MEDITATION ON THESE FOUR ATTITUDES:
During daily meditation time, it can be very useful to spend some time reflecting on these four attitudes. You might do them all, or you might practice with only one of them for an extended period of time. Simply choose one of the four attitudes and allow some person or persons to arise in the mind field. You will notice your reactions, the coloring mentioned earlier (1.5). As your attention rests on that inner impression of that person, allow yourself to cultivate the positive or useful attitude. Gradually, the negativity or coloring weakens or attenuates (2.4). This is part of the preparation for meditation.
TALK TO YOURSELF:
When you notice any of the negative attitudes above, it is very useful to literally remind yourself that this is not useful (2.33). You might literally say to yourself, "Mind, this is not useful. This attitude is going to bring nothing but pain. You need to let go of this." It is also good to remind yourself, "I need to cultivate friendliness with this person" (compassion, goodwill, or neutrality).
WHAT TO DO WITH REALLY "BAD" PEOPLE:
It is common for meditators to question these four attitude meditations in relation to really "bad" people such as certain political or religious leaders, present or historical. How can I feel friendliness, compassion, goodwill, or acceptance towards someone like "him?" I'll not mention any names here, but you can easily think of some of them yourself. It can sound like Yoga is suggesting that we agree with, or validate the behavior of such people, which is not the case. The questions of approving of behavior and dealing with our own internal states are very different issues.
Sometimes I find that shallow understanding is a good tool for deeper understanding. Without using examples of known historical or present public figures, instead ask yourself how useful it would be to continue to hold animosity towards some childhood friend who did something to hurt you. That person is far in your distant past, yet here is the mind continuing to hold on to that coloring of aversion. We each get to decide whether holding on to this kind of mind impression is serving us, or whether we would prefer that the coloring drift away, leaving the mere memory to be neutral. Choice rests with each of us. The uncoloring approach is a part of yoga. (For more info on the uncoloring, see sutras 1.5 and 2.1-2.9, as well as the article on Uncoloring Your Thoughts.)
HOW THESE ATTITUDES ARE MASTERED:
While these four practices are used from the very beginning to stabilize and clear the clouded mind, the practice becomes far more subtle in later stages of meditation. Once there is an ability to perform samyama (3.4-3.6), then each of these four become objects themselves for examination with the razor-sharp focus and absorption of samadhi. This later practice, done with this subtler, finer intensity brings the perfection of that attitude. This process is described in sutra 3.24.