Keys to Happiness According to the Yoga Sutras

keys to happiness

In the last few weeks, we’ve explored the first chapter of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, which is about contemplation. As we’ve seen, the purpose of yoga is to still the mind, and there are specific obstacles we need to recognize. Patanjali tells us that meditation (concentration or contemplation) is the key to staying on the path to enlightenment. Next, in sutra 1.33, he describes the keys to happiness.

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. (from Inside the Yoga Sutras, by Reverend Jaganath Carrera)

Swami Satchidinanda calls these attitudes, the “four locks and four keys.” The locks are happiness, unhappiness, virtue, and non-virtue. The corresponding keys are friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity. As Reverend Carrera explains, these keys are not directions about what to do. They are attitudes of the mind that serve us best if we want to be at peace.

Implementing the Keys to Happiness

At first glance, it may seem easy to be friendly towards happy people. Compassion for those who are not happy can be a challenge if we spend a lot of time with them. We’re also understandably happy or uplifted when people exhibit virtue and more standoffish or detached toward those who are not.

Friendliness and happiness go together quite naturally, which is not to say we should be unfriendly toward someone who is unhappy. If someone is unhappy, though, he or she may be more in need of compassion than friendliness. Friendliness may feel empty and disingenuous to someone who is troubled or sad. Once an unhappy person understands that we feel compassion for them, it’s easier for them to accept friendship as well.

Virtue is something we can appreciate and delight in. It’s not much of a challenge when someone exhibits a great deal of virtue, but sometimes we need to take a closer look to find virtue in others. If we’re adept at cultivating peace, we can find virtue in everyone and everything. We just need to look for it.

Notice that Patanjali does not suggest we take the opposite stance with non-virtue. Rather than reviling or detesting non-virtuous behavior, he advises a more neutral stance. Equanimity rather than aggression is more apt to cultivate peace.

This is not to say we should be indifferent to behavior that harms others, just that we need to keep our emotions in check. We can speak up and speak out against violence, injustice and other non-virtuous behavior without hatred or counterproductive behavior that only fuels the flames.

Tools for Keeping Hold of the Keys to Happiness

In the next few verses, Patanjali offers tools for maintaining a calm mind through breathing and meditation techniques. We tend to undervalue these in favor of the physical practice, but the whole purpose of the physical practice of yoga is to prepare us for meditation and mastery of the breath. No doubt you’ve experienced the benefits of pranayama (breathwork) and meditation.

Are you maintaining a calm mind? If not, it may be time to return to the breath or to sit in meditation.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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