Guidance For a Balanced Mind – From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was written about 2,500 years ago as a guide for people practicing Yoga as a path to enlightenment, and it has become the major guide for the serious student of Yoga as a spiritual practice.

In sutra 1.33, Patanjali provided advice for practicing Yogis for how develop a balanced mind throughout the challenges that life brings.

This sutra, translated in to English, reads as (my translation):

“The mind becomes settled, and confusion about life dissipates, when we

  • rejoice in the happiness of others, 
  • find compassion for the troubles of others, 
  • are glad when others live an excellent life, they find their path or dharma, they grow and develop as people, and they contribute to society and make a difference through a life well lived, and they
  • choose not to pay attention to, or become involved, in the vices, failings or shortcoming of others, instead focusing on ones own path and developing one’s own character and capabilities.”
One of the challenges of reading classic Yoga texts is that the original sutras are written in very terse form in Sanskrit. The work of understanding them correctly is intended to be undertaken by the Yogi by contemplating the Sutras – both individually and taken together to determine their correct meaning – and where available by receiving guidance from a Guru about the deeper meanings of the sutras. 
For example, the third part of this sutra is often translated as “be glad towards the virtue of others” but the word “virtue” is a poor translation of the Sanskrit word “punnya” which essentially means a meritous life, in a Buddhist sense of a life that honours and respects others and makes a contribution to society and humanity and living a life based on an understanding of the spiritual principles and truths taught in Yoga and Buddhism. It does not necessarily mean “virtue” in the same sense in which it is used in western society.

To understand a sutra from a classic text – like 1.33 from the Yoga Sutras – properly in its original meaning and intent requires a careful analysis of what the Sanskrit words really mean, their context, and the different layers of texture and emphasis. It requires reading a Sanskrit-English dictionary to understand the words used, reading several texts to see how the words are used in context, reading the current text to see how the word is used in this text, and reflection on what it means. Reading the standard translations at face value will lead to a lot of confusion about the wisdom that Patanjali was trying to pass on to those seeking enlightenment through the path of Yoga.

And in a sense, there is no absolute correct answer to the meaning of the Yoga Sutras. Our understanding of this classic text should be a dynamic, evolving understanding of Yoga for every student of the Yoga philosophy.

Looking at the same sutra translated by various people on different webpages can be quite insightful, to see how different people might understand the same sutra. The best websites to start with are the ones that also clarify what they mean by the translation of the sanskrit words, such as for example this one. This lets us start to read between the lines to start to form our own sense of the original and correct meaning.

One Response to Guidance For a Balanced Mind – From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  1. Ali Starbright
    May 31, 2010 | 1:38 PM

    Wow Lachalan – we do have a lot in common 🙂 I also love the old enlightening scriptures… they've stood the test of time. This particular part you're looking at is fantastic. It makes the important point that enlightenment is not all about being aloof or detached – it's also very involved in a positive, human way. I choose to follow this philosophy in my life, as I feel that the "good side" of people is a manifestation of their original state of being, while our "bad sides" are confused reactions of the mind muddied by illusion.

Guidance For a Balanced Mind – From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was written about 2,500 years ago as a guide for people practicing Yoga as a path to enlightenment, and it has become the major guide for the serious student of Yoga as a spiritual practice.

In sutra 1.33, Patanjali provided advice for practicing Yogis for how develop a balanced mind throughout the challenges that life brings.

This sutra, translated in to English, reads as (my translation):

“The mind becomes settled, and confusion about life dissipates, when we

  • rejoice in the happiness of others, 
  • find compassion for the troubles of others, 
  • are glad when others live an excellent life, they find their path or dharma, they grow and develop as people, and they contribute to society and make a difference through a life well lived, and they
  • choose not to pay attention to, or become involved, in the vices, failings or shortcoming of others, instead focusing on ones own path and developing one’s own character and capabilities.”
One of the challenges of reading classic Yoga texts is that the original sutras are written in very terse form in Sanskrit. The work of understanding them correctly is intended to be undertaken by the Yogi by contemplating the Sutras – both individually and taken together to determine their correct meaning – and where available by receiving guidance from a Guru about the deeper meanings of the sutras. 
For example, the third part of this sutra is often translated as “be glad towards the virtue of others” but the word “virtue” is a poor translation of the Sanskrit word “punnya” which essentially means a meritous life, in a Buddhist sense of a life that honours and respects others and makes a contribution to society and humanity and living a life based on an understanding of the spiritual principles and truths taught in Yoga and Buddhism. It does not necessarily mean “virtue” in the same sense in which it is used in western society.

To understand a sutra from a classic text – like 1.33 from the Yoga Sutras – properly in its original meaning and intent requires a careful analysis of what the Sanskrit words really mean, their context, and the different layers of texture and emphasis. It requires reading a Sanskrit-English dictionary to understand the words used, reading several texts to see how the words are used in context, reading the current text to see how the word is used in this text, and reflection on what it means. Reading the standard translations at face value will lead to a lot of confusion about the wisdom that Patanjali was trying to pass on to those seeking enlightenment through the path of Yoga.

And in a sense, there is no absolute correct answer to the meaning of the Yoga Sutras. Our understanding of this classic text should be a dynamic, evolving understanding of Yoga for every student of the Yoga philosophy.

Looking at the same sutra translated by various people on different webpages can be quite insightful, to see how different people might understand the same sutra. The best websites to start with are the ones that also clarify what they mean by the translation of the sanskrit words, such as for example this one. This lets us start to read between the lines to start to form our own sense of the original and correct meaning.

One Response to Guidance For a Balanced Mind – From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
  1. Ali Starbright
    May 31, 2010 | 1:38 PM

    Wow Lachalan – we do have a lot in common 🙂 I also love the old enlightening scriptures… they've stood the test of time. This particular part you're looking at is fantastic. It makes the important point that enlightenment is not all about being aloof or detached – it's also very involved in a positive, human way. I choose to follow this philosophy in my life, as I feel that the "good side" of people is a manifestation of their original state of being, while our "bad sides" are confused reactions of the mind muddied by illusion.