4 Locks, 4 Keys

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 1.33 offers us an useful – but not always easy to follow – advise on how to cultivate a calm and clear mind, even in challenging situation. Sounds good right? This Sutra is often referred as ”four locks and four keys” Sutra, as 4 locks and 4 keys comes – you guessed it – with four points, or actions to practise.

There are various translations of the sutra, but roughly speaking it goes like this: ”By cultivating the attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and neutrality toward the nonvirtous, our state of mind retains its undisturbed calmness.”

These four attitudes can be applied to both toward others and just as importantly to ourselves. Here’s a litte bit more how Patanjali advises this happens: 

Lock 1 is Happiness, to which the key is genuine friendliness and kindness towards those who are happy, without any envy or jealousy attached to it. Simple enough.

Lock 2 is Unhappiness that should be responded with compassion and support, a sort of a feeling of welfare for others that comes from a place of caring. This also includes being kind to ourselves at the time of sorrow, rather than succumbing to thoughts along the lines of ”why did I not know better” . ”how did I end up disappointed again” or even ”I am an idiot and only myself to blame for this.” I mean, would you speak to an unhappy friend like this?

Lock 3 refers to Virtues, traits such as patience, courage and benevolence. They are best met with happiness and goodwill. It is not easy to always have positive thoughts, especially when we are having a crap day ourselves. However, feelings of inadequacy or jealousy rarely have brought anything good to anybody so trying to keep things positive and even joyful ultimately serve us better.

Lock 4 is about Nonvirtues, or even wickedness. The key is to confront these with equanimity or neutrality. It is important to note that this does not mean that we have to approve of bad behaviour: Neutrality here is used with the purpose of calming the mind and finding inner peace. From this perspective it is easier to understand why disregarding non-virtous actions (rather than the people who commit them – an awful person is an awful person) is a better option than getting angry and frustrated over something we cannot have any control over.

Personally I find that Sutra 1.33 both makes sense and always gives something to think of, no matter how many times I study it. Depending of the day I find it a gift that keeps on giving, or a through mindf**k. This post is just a brief introductory glimpse. If you want to read more, I find the below sources helpful (and written in a normal language, no philosophy degree required): This YogaInternational article, Swami Jnaneshvara’s excellent website, and this blog post from Urban Yoga Garden. And of course a copy of the actual Sutra’s and explanations, available translated by several indiduals. The copy I use can be found here.

3 thoughts on “4 Locks, 4 Keys”

  1. This is my first real exposure to the yoga sutras, but I really like the message. It reminds me a lot of ancient Stoicisms, which talks about showing compassion and understanding for people who treat you negatively. Thanks for sharing!

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