There’s a rather, ironical story. St. Therese of Lisieux, she was a rather sentimental saint in France in the last century, and she wrote in her diary that there was a nun in the convent who had got a very bitter tongue and nobody liked her. St. Therese didn’t like her either, but she thought ‘This is wrong’. So she thought ‘Well, I’m going to make a special attempt now to be particularly nice and helpful and kind to her’. So she did that and she reports that after three months or so, that nun said to her, ‘You know, I think you’re the only friend that I’ve got in the whole convent. You’re so nice and you’re so kind to me. You must like me a lot.’ Well now, a pupil of a yoga teacher read this and said to the yoga teacher ‘There’s a woman in our office who’s just like that. Nobody likes her. She’s got a bitter tongue and she’s awful, she behaves so spitefully sometimes. But I’m going to try this, you see’. So the teacher said ‘Well, it’s much better if you try to purify your own feelings, your own instruments first, before you try to do this sort of good’. She said ‘No, it must be alright. I’ll try. I’m going to try’. So she tried, and after three months she reported to the teacher.
She said ‘Well, it worked. I’ve made a special attempt to be particularly nice and kind and friendly to her and, you know, she said to me: ‘I think you’re the only, only friend I’ve got in the office. So, you must like me a lot. You’re so kind and you’re so helpful to me’. So the teacher said, ‘And what about your own feelings?
’ The pupil said, ‘Well, you know, in an office, of course, it’s a bit limited. You only see parts of people, certain aspects of people. But, through this I’ve got to know her really well’. And she said, ‘When we began, I didn’t like her at all, but now, I simply hate her!’
The teacher said: ‘Until you purify your own mind, before you try and do this sort of good, it won’t be very effective’. Boxing gloves, they can be boxing gloves of the tongue. Mother Theresa of Calcutta makes this point.
She says, ‘A wound with a sword, even if it’s deep, if it’s washed and then it’s bandaged and it’s protected, it will heal in time. But the wounds left by a venomous tongue, only the Grace of God can heal because the victim’s always opening them up’. ‘Oh yes, he said that, and that!’ Well, I use that as an example.
Now mudita – being able, not to interfere, but to be glad at the success of other people and not always trying to be putting a spoke in the wheel, or trying to run them down, or feeling jealous of them. They say this is much more difficult than it is to be kind to people, because when you’re kind to people you’re in a position of superiority. ‘I’m going to help you; so, I’m in a higher position’. Spiritually, that’s, not necessarily a great virtue. Of course it’s good but, just the same, it’s the satisfaction of scattering, ‘How much good I’m doing, I don’t know’. ‘Is it good to feed the villains?’ ‘I’m as good as gold when I’m starving, absolutely starving’. ‘Just asking for a crust of bread, sir, that’s all I’m asking for. I’ll share it. There are others here. They’re worse off than I am. There’s one that can’t walk, can’t walk to beg. I’ll share it.’
I’m as good as gold and you give me some food. But the moment I’m well fed ‘Ah hah’. Then I’m starting to kick people around and push them out of the way and grab their rations. Have you done good? Well, we don’t know. It isn’t automatically good. But to purge ourselves, to free ourselves from feelings of resentment and spite, and a desire to put a spoke in the wheel and to run things and people down – if we can prevent that, this is regarded as the main virtue that’s needed in society. Well, I just mention this. It’s often a surprise to Western people, who don’t always agree with it. But it might be worth considering our own experience.
I’ve done social service for about twelve years and at the end of it, the good you’ve done is of people who’ve come back after twelve, or fifteen or twenty years and said: ‘I left school at fourteen or fifteen and so on. But it gave me a lift, an impulse at that place and I went on. I went back to study, which I’d never been interested in, and I’ve got on and…’ One of them, he took a first class honours at London University. Well that, you can say, has done some good, because it’s given him choice. But, in general, you can improve the condition of people and it’ll fall back again when you stop. Unless something can be awakened in them, it won’t be of lasting benefit. So the yoga morality believes that the most important thing is to help people to awaken this divine element in them. It’s not to make things more comfortable, necessarily, for the personality, although it’s a good thing to do to relieve the immediate wants.
maitri = friendliness, pleasantness, lovingness
karuna = compassion, mercy mudita = gladness, goodwill
upekshanam = acceptance, equanimity, indifference, disregard, neutrality
sukha = happy, comfortable, joyous punya = virtuous, meritorious, benevolent
bhavanatah = by cultivating habits, by constant reflection, developing attitude, cultivating,
impressing on oneself
prasadanam = purified, clear, serene, pleasant, pacified, undisturbed, peaceful, calm.
© Trevor Leggett
Titles in this series are:
Part 3: Truths can be found
Part 4: Purify your own mind
Part 5: He sees, who sees the Lord