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How We Treat Others – What the Yoga Sutras Say

The way that we treat our fellow earthlings seems to be a no-brainer among vegans, but is more often than not a pursuit that is riddled with landmines on the path towards complete kindness. We are kind to animals by not eating them, but are we kind to all animals? How do we behave towards our family, friends, acquaintances, and strangers? How do we behave towards ourselves? Are we embodying our ideals in our thoughts and words as well as our deeds?

Go Love

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali contain a wonderful piece on the way in which we deal with others. It states the following in Sutra I-33: In relationships, the mind becomes purified by cultivating feelings of friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion for those who are suffering, goodwill towards those who are virtuous, and indifference or neutrality towards those we perceive as wicked or evil.

Another translation of the same Sutra says: In daily life, we see people around who are happier than we are, people who are less happy. Some may be doing praiseworthy things and others causing problems. Whatever may be our usual attitude towards such people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others who are happier than ourselves, compassionate toward those who are unhappy, joyful with those doing praiseworthy things, and remain undisturbed by the errors of others, our mind will be very tranquil.

This Sutra is one of my favorites and one that I have found so valuable in my own daily life. It contains four very simple instructions for dealing with the four types of people that we will encounter throughout our lives. When we react instead with jealousy or judgment towards others, we are the ones who ultimately suffer. If we approach others with internal judgment or resentment, those will assuredly come through in our words and in our actions towards them in some way, which does no service to either party.

When we react, be it mentally or verbally, any way other than what is advised of us above, then our minds will not be at peace. Our mental space remains disturbed by what another has or does, which is not within our control. We cannot force our will onto others. We gain no benefit from wishing them ill or living in resentment for the things that we do not have. We also gain no benefit from gloating about our own happiness or virtuousness. Remember that this includes our thoughts. Our thoughts are always with us, and they truly drive our actions. We must work hard to rid ourselves of thoughts and behaviors that are of no use to us.

So, start practicing (this is yoga, after all)! Begin with those who are easiest and progress as you get more experienced to people who you find more challenging. If you need to fake it in the beginning, fake away! Ultimately, these efforts will become habits and will become a place in which you can root true friendliness, compassion, goodwill, and indifference, as the situation warrants.

Nicole Nicole Sopko is a Chicago-based yoga teacher who has been living a vegan lifestyle for the past 15 years and views that transition as her first yoga practice. She is also a dedicated student of Sri Dharma Mittra, who encourages students to recognize the light in all beings. A believer in the power of yoga as a lifestyle, Nicole feels that a playful yoga practice enables a person to approach the more mundane aspects of life with a lighter heart and a more accepting attitude. Her yogic journey has played a big role in her life and she feels lucky to have the opportunity to share that journey with others.

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