Compassion in Action

Compassion—Yoga Sutra 1.33:

Maitri karuna muditopekshanam sukha duhkha punyapunya vishayanam bhavanatash chitta prasadanam

Translation: By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains it's undisturbed calmness.

Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.

As I was compiling what would become the foundations of The Kaivalya Yoga Method, I had to sit and carefully consider the pillars of my teaching technique. What do I bring to every class? What groundwork have I laid to prepare myself to show up to every class as an open conduit for the teachings of yoga? These were tough questions, but finally, I distilled the method to my madness down to five key points.

These tenets lay the foundation for what and how I teach The Kaivalya Yoga Method teacher training. My goal is to use these foundational principles to inspire and fortify students with the body of knowledge that we cover in the training. Along the way, they may also feel the powerful effects of these tenets and choose to embody them as well.

The first tenet is Compassion, and stems from Yoga Sutra 1.33 (featured and translated above). Compassion is the ability to relate to others on a level that you begin to connect with the humanness inside them. Sometimes, in the daily grind, it can be easy to forget that we are in this circle of life together, and that each of us has our own challenges and struggles. It’s imperative that we never forget this point as we show up to teach students.

The student in front of us may be going through a divorce. They may have lost a loved one recently. They may have an injury they haven’t mentioned. They may be the person who left your class early last week for some unknown reason. All of these unknown factors make it critical that we are able to gaze up on our students as a body of equals, all there to share an uplifted experience. To do this, we can use Patanjali’s recipe to help lock our mind in an uplifted state, which is not only the best place to pursue our practice, but also the best stance from which to teach.

The key to the entire recipe is based on our perceptions. How we interact with a person depends entirely on how we perceive them. So, if we determine a person to be happy, we’re asked to be happy for them. If a person is sad, we cultivate compassion. If a person is seen to be lucky (virtuous), then we can be delighted for them. And, finally, if a person reveals themselves to be wicked, we act with indifference.

Once we determine how we see someone, then our practice becomes how we treat them, based on these four recommendations. What doesn’t happen is an inquisition or a judgement regarding the reason behind the persons actions or affect. This may feel counterintuitive to many, as we’re so used to basing our own reactions on our swift judgements rather than forgoing the inquiry for compassion.

You see, if we disagree with the source of someone’s happiness, then we may try to argue or quash their happiness, which diminishes our relationship and takes away their elation. Bummer for both sides. When we engage in retribution or revenge against the wicked, we actually add fuel to their fire, whereas if we focus on the opposite of their actions, we could actually turn the flame into something positive.

One good example would be to work for causes that support sobriety if you’ve been enraged by a drunk driver. There are many opportunities to be creative about how to live this well-intentioned recipe from Patanjali, but let me leave you with one important point.

Compassion drives this whole train. If we have compassion inside our hearts, then following this sutra will be a cinch...more than that, these will become our natural, inspired reactions, rather than forced dictates that feel like trying to fit a square peg in a round hole. The original meaning of the word compassion is “to suffer with.” If we can connect with the suffering or the pain inside our own heart and the hearts of those we relate to, then we not only understand their behavior, we understand the human being behind them, and the actions matter less than our relationship to these people.

I heard a Buddhist saying once: “in order to truly love, we must carry a little pain inside of our hearts.” Another favorite quote is from Hazrat Inayat Khan, “God breaks the heart again and again, until it remains open.”

Both of these sayings remind us that an open heart is the only way to live and be absorbed in the full participation of life. It’s good stuff. Through compassion, we walk in to teach our yoga classes and no matter the type of being we have before us (happy, sad, lucky or angry), we have the ability to connect with them. It is through this connection that we may be able to transform their day... or their life. More importantly, through this connection, they will be able to transform ours.

Tagged under: inspirational
Alanna kaivalya

Alanna Kaivalya is an artistic and inspiring teacher of yoga. Born with a hearing impairment, Alanna learned through the power of vibration at a young age, and was then naturally drawn to the harmonic practice of yoga. Listed as Yoga Journal’s top 21 Yoga Teachers Under 40 (March, 2008), and now with mor...READ MORE