मैत्र्यादिषु बलानि

maitryādiṣu balāni

Through friendliness, kindness, and compassion, strength comes.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras III.24

When we hear the word strength, we ordinarily first think of physical strength. Strength also conveys some level of stability (Sthira) in being able to withstand varying degrees of pressure, including mental and emotional. Whereas physical strength is certainly helpful, the focus here is on mental, moral, and spiritual strength. Following the instructions of Maharshi Patanjali in YS II.33 (vitarka-bādhane pratipakṣa-bhāvanam), we practice overcoming our lower instincts of greed, jealousy, hate, and fear by replacing them with good deeds and kind words. We may initially be surprised that making such choices gives us more energy, happiness, and inner strength.

Another word related to strength is power, which implies the potential of influencing the energy, dynamics and direction of a particular situation. In the context of the Yoga Sutra, it may mean having extraordinary perception and paranormal powers (Siddhis). By the power of love, we should never underestimate how we can positively influence collective bodies.

It is certain that, as a global community, we have gone through one of the strangest and most challenging years of our lifetimes. Many of us have been confronted with the fragility of life, loss of loved ones, questions about basic survival, and doing our best to strengthen our immune system, while still possibly getting sick with Covid-19. There have been many issues with mental health due to loneliness.

Covid-19 has been an extraordinary opportunity for us to realize the global interconnectedness and interdependence of all of life and to make systemic changes motivated by compassion. However, violence and public unrest have continued all over the world, driven by greed, fear, anger, conspiracy theories, as well as demands for social justice. The politics around vaccines and the continued dehumanization and disenfranchisement of the most vulnerable are creating many unnecessary obstacles.

On the other hand, we are inspired by individual acts of heroism, particularly from the Sikh community in India, where people are risking their own lives where the system is failing. Sevadars are turning Gurdwaras into oxygen Langars, transporting the sick, and cremating Covid bodies. Steeped in a tradition of Seva, they view the strangers they are helping as their relatives. They are following the instructions of a long line of Gurus, which gives them the strength to serve around the clock in the face of unimaginable suffering and desperation.

Sutra III.24 is an extension of YS I.33 (maitrī-karuṇā-mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ sukha-dukha-puya-apuya-viayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam). It reveals that when we cultivate happiness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, it prevents us from wasting energy in confusion, conniving, and vengeance. Instead, we obtain peace of mind, and with our energy focussed, our inner strength grows, particularly in the face of adverse circumstances. In Vibhuti Pada, Maharshi Patanjali builds on the practices of Sadhana Pada and speaks of Samyama, which means an integration of Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. By mastering Samyama on friendliness and compassion, one becomes a true embodiment of universal love and kindness There is no more wavering and, as Swami Nirmalananda so beautifully says in A Garland of Forest Flowers, one becomes a lighthouse to humanity.

TEACHING TIPS

  1. Focus on Standing Asanas, singing, and breathing for a stronger sense of embodiment and building stability from within. Explore how strength, flexibility, and a sense of connectedness have a strong influence on generating positive thoughts and emotions, which makes us more flexible in adapting to new life circumstances.
  2. Focus on Twists for detoxing body and mind.
  3. Focus on Backward-bending in combination with chanting and listening to Mantras for building, love, compassion, heart-opening, and confidence to step into the future.
  4. Focus on Inversions for paradigm reversals and a shake-up of a conditioned worldview.
  5. Teach longer meditation sessions, discuss the difference between aloneness and loneliness, and how meditation makes us feel at ease with aloneness and makes loneliness disappear.
  6. Present research on how AsanasKriyas, Pranayama, diet, and lifestyle can strengthen the immune system.
  7. Explore how the practices of Ashtanga Yoga address different aspects of strength.
    • Sutra III.24 is in Vibhuti Pada. Vibhuti is ash as a residue of Homa, a sacred fire. Symbolically, the ash is the residue of Tapas, intense practices laid out in Sadhana Pada, the second chapter. In this case the result is gaining moral strength by practicing Yamas and Niyamas. Physical, mental and neural strength are obtained through Asana and Pranayama. Pratyahara and Dharana bring some order into a mind that races with preoccupations and worries and makes us aware of a sense of inner intactness that is unchanging, always there and a source of strength no matter what the circumstances. Gracefully, we ripen into spiritual strength through Dhyana and Samadhi.
  8. Elaborate on the beginning prayer of the Kena Upanishad:
    • “May my limbs grow strong, so also my breath, my speech, eyes, ears, and all my organs.” It is a prayer for strength and then goes on to say that we must be strong in order to progress on the spiritual path and to have the ability to face Absolute Truth (Brahman).
  9. Compare different systems that describe the stages of Enlightenment, such as Chakra theory and the Bhumikas, and contemplate the progression from self-centeredness to universal compassion to the dissolution of otherness.