Patanjali - Overcoming Obstacles with Concentration and Friendliness


Bodhinatha discusses Patanjali's description of the eight obstacles to progress in Raja Yoga. He discusses two of Patanjali's solutions. One is concentration that comes from an intense interest in the subject of meditation. Another is the spirit of "maitri" or friendliness. Bodhinatha discusses how to apply this in real life.

Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, Chapter 1, Verses 30, 33.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning.

This morning I've chose a few verses from Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, some easy ones. They can be pretty obscure particularly when you can't see them. Only I can see them.

"Chapter 1, Verse 30.

"Sickness, apathy, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensual indulgence, false perspective, non-attainment of the stages of yoga and instability in holding them are all distractions to the mind and are the obstacles.

"Pain, depression, trembling limbs and irregular inhalation and exhalation accompany these distractions."

Sounds pretty bleak, right? It sounds like we are in for a difficult time.

The point is there are certain distractions or obstacles that come up in our trying to be consistent in the practice of meditation. So he's listing them. Different individuals would tend to have different ones show up out from the list. Some individuals tend to be a bit too emotional so they start out with great enthusiasm and run out of inspiration after a few months. So, that's an obstacle. We always want to restrain that tendency, for example. And nothing wrong with getting excited or emotional but we don't want to base our decision to do something of a major on emotion. We want to wait till the emotion has passed and base it upon a sound decision as to why we're embarking on this and what we're trying to get over.

So, fortunately, Patanjali gives us eight ways to overcome the distractions; isn't that generous of him? Not just one. But he gives eight. Again different ones would appeal to different natures. I just listed the first two. Thought that would be enough to look at.

First one is so simple.

"These distractions can be eliminated by the practice of concentrating on a single subject."

What does that mean in terms of a practical statement regarding it? As we know, subjects that we have a greater interest in are easier to concentrate on than subjects we have no interest in or subjects that dislike. And therefore, if we're having trouble with our yoga practice we would chose a subject that we enjoyed.

Remember the statement: "Energy, awareness and willpower are one and the same thing." Remember that one? Well, that's an example of this principle that the more interest we have in a subject the easier it is to stay focused on it. And as faster time goes, right? Time is a relative phenomena. Doing something we really like, time speeds up. And if we're doing something we don't like time slows down. Have you noticed? What we really don't like to do if it takes half an hour it seems like an hour and a half. If we really like to do it, instead of half an hour it seems like five minutes. Our sense of time is totally related to how much interest we have in the subject.

So, if to take this approach we'd want to chose a single subject that we found inspiring and in other words if the mind is kind of wandering, we're having trouble focusing, one way to get out of it is to chose something we like and do that for fifteen minutes and then come back to our meditation.

Second of the eight methods:

"The mind can be calm by projecting friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity toward all that is experienced whether joyful or sorrowful, meritorious or non-meritorious. Meritorious means someone is doing what they should be doing and non-meritorious means they are doing something they shouldn't be doing. That what he means by non-meritorious.

So this friendliness is, Sanskrit is "maitri." Compassion is "karuna." Gladness is "mudina" and equanimity is "upeksanam. upeksanam."

Said backwards: If we don't project friendliness, compassion, gladness and equanimity in all conditions, things get, we get disturbed by the conditions. One way or another we get overly abated or we get overly discouraged by the conditions. Related external conditions throw us out of center. Somebody's doing something that really gets on our nerves. That's when we need equanimity. Nothing should disturb us. That's the goal and we know when something really, really disturbs us that's in another person, that quality has to be in us otherwise we wouldn't get so disturbed about it. Just get slightly disturbed.

Well we can't let other people disturb us. Particularly if they're doing something we don't think they should be doing. Non-meritorious. That's a classic situation.

Well one of the analogies I use for this is the sun in the sky. You've heard that one before that the sun in the sky doesn't sit up there and say: Should I shine on that person or not? If they're really not a meritorious person they don't deserve to be shined on. Should I be friendly to this person or not? You know, they really haven't been very friendly to me. Should I show compassion for what they're going through when they haven't been at all compassionate to what I've been going through.

Oh, the sun doesn't think that way. You know it's just up there and it shines on everyone. Well those, that's a quality that a monk needs. It's the distinction between having friends and being friendly. And the people have friends as you should. There's some people who you're much closer to than other people and that's the way it should be. Family people have friends. You're not equally friendly toward all. But that's not a quality that a monk is supposed to have. A monk isn't supposed to have any friends. He's not supposed to like one person more than another. He's supposed to be like the sun in the sky. He's friendly toward everyone but he's not friends with anyone.

So to do that of course you have to see the soul in everyone. That's what we were talking about last time. The seed is there. The seed of divinity is with everyone. So how can you be friendly, compassionate, glad, and have equanimity toward individuals? Because you see the soul in each of them.

What does it mean to see the soul in someone? Well, on a practical level it means we wish them well. So it can be hard to wish someone well who's harming someone. But that's what monks should be perfect and the family people we don't ask. If you've got a little bit retaliation there in your veins. He was nasty to me; I should want to get back. But of course you don't.

But really, if we see the soul in someone and we wish them well, and if they're doing things they shouldn't, well like, we take worse case scenarios, people who are killing people. We still wish them well. We want them to improve. They need to be like the ideal justice system. The ideal justice system doesn't just throw people in jail and forget about them. No, it's trying for an improvement in behavior. It's trying for remorse. It's trying for a commitment to improve. And ending up in jail is a time for self-reflection there. Help that process take place.

So you want everyone to improve and the Hindu point of view of course is reincarnation. There's plenty of time to improve. So we want everyone to improve and seeing everyone improve is the ideal. That's why we can one way of seeing the soul in everyone in a practical way. So we're wishing everyone well, we want to see them improve, improve their behavior and become a more spiritual person, etcetera.

So, I gave the ideal for the monk which is you're, you're friendly but you don't make friends. You're like the sun in the sky; you shine on everyone without distinguishing. So, in family life you can't do that because there's people that will take advantage of that. Like work, relatives in the neighborhood, you know, if you're too nice they'll say: Oh boy. Maybe he'll buy my swamp land in Florida. Take advantage of you.

So, you have to be realistic in how friendly you can get toward someone, how compassionate you can be. If you know they're going to give you a bad time because of it and take advantage of you. But it doesn't mean you can't it, said another way [...??]. Said another way: You have this quality on the inside but you may not, it may be prudent not to show it. You should feel on the inside, this is what you should feel. Friendliness, compassion and gladness. And they shouldn't disturb you. Toward everyone. But, because in family life some people will take advantage of, you can't necessarily express it as a monk would. Monk doesn't have money to buy swamp land.

Harder to take advantage of a monk. What's he going to do.

Okay. Have a wonderful day.

Photo of  Gurudeva
Contentment is there, inside you, and needs to be brought out. It is a spiritual power. Santosha is being peaceful in any situation.
—Gurudeva