II.14 ते ह्लादपरितापफलाः पुण्यापुण्यहेतुत्वात्

te hlāda-paritāpa-phalāḥ puṇyāpuṇya-hetutvāt
te hlāda-paritāpa-phalāḥ puṇya-apuṇya-hetutvāt

“They are fruits of joy or grief, depending on the virtue or non-virtue of the cause.”

Patañjali has said that–through the workings of karma--afflictions can grow in our consciousness. Here, he elaborates: acts that spring from puṇya (virtue) bring joyful (hlāda) fruits. Where there is not puṇya, there is suffering, and–continuing the theme from sūtra II.13–a progression of suffering (paritāpa suggests an ongoing, expanding dimension).

Puṇya, which I have translated as virtue, is an ancient Sanskrit word–it appears in the Rig Veda and there refers to the favorable qualities that come from performing the ritual act, the fire ceremony. It is one of the 108 names of Krishna. Buddhist texts refer to puṇya as “an unlosable treasure.” Its derivation is unclear–but some say it may come from puṣ, “to nurture, support.” This seems like a positive and useful understanding of the word to me. It connects it to dharma. Puṇya–virtue, good action–is the quality that supports the world, helps the world be what it is meant to be.

The elements move upward, downward, in all directions. The motion of virtue is different—deeper. It moves at a steady pace on a road hard to discern, and always forward. –Marcus Aurelius, Meditations (translated by Gregory Hays)

I like the translation of virtue for puṇya  because virtue alludes not just to a moral code, a set of rules, but also carries a sense of essential nature, life force, distinctive excellence. That said, when we talk about virtue in English, we are getting at the idea of “goodness.” What a tricky concept that is! My good may be your bad. Your good may horrify me.

How do I contemplate goodness without getting caught in a syndrome of get it right/get it wrong, of dividing the world into good-and-bad people, myself into good-and-bad parts?

I fell in love with the idea of “goodness” at a young age. Yet I have found that my interpretation of what that meant has put me in peril–literally. I went to a religious school, and I did all I could there to identify with “being good.” That meant doing good, but perhaps even more–it meant having good thoughts–being sweet, loving, cheerful–all good. Being angry, frustrated, dissatisfied–bad. It is hard to move into adulthood with such a childlike code of honor. I became anorexic at the age of 15.

Healing from anorexia has led me to embrace vitality and self-support as important aspects of “doing good,” and I am perhaps suspicious of meekness and sweetness as attributes to aspire to. I have successfully let go of much of my childhood sense of morality, but I continue to struggle with an attachment to being right, and I do have a horror of inflicting harm.

In the magnificent sūtra I.33, Patañjali has laid out four principles of conduct:

maitrī-karuṇā-muditopekṣāṇāṁ sukha-duḥkha-punyāpunya-viṣayāṇāṁ
bhāvanātaś citta-prasādanam

Bring friendliness to happiness, Patañjali says, compassion to pain, take joy in virtue, be present to non-virtue. The practice of these principles, he says, establishes clarity, peacefulness in the consciousness. They make a better field.

There are pairs of opposites expressed in I.33: good/bad; virtue/non-virtue. Yet each is addressed by a resilient, adaptable power of the heart. In my experience, to practice friendliness, compassion, joy, presence is not to deny frustration, anger, discontent. Indeed, the precepts of I.33 have helped me feel out how good mixes with bad, how the opposite of a great truth might also be true, how morally ambiguous this world is–and I myself am.

Anne Lamott begins her new book, Hallelujah Anyway,  with a quote by the Jewish prophet Micah:

What doth God require of thee but to do justice and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?

Through the following chapters, she explores the meaning of Micah’s injunction, but, especially, the meaning of mercy:

Just to hear the words “mercy” or “merciful” can transform the whole day, because as the old saying goes, the soul rejoices in hearing what it already knows. Something lights up in me. We know mercy is always our salvation–as we age, as our grandchildren go down the same dark streets that called to their parents, as the ice caps melt. But I wish it was something else. I wish it was being able to figure things out, at which I am very good, or to assign blame, at which I am better, or to convince people of the rightness of my ideas. … Micah says to do justice–follow the rules, do what you’re supposed to do–but to love mercy, love the warmth within us, that flow of generosity. Love mercy–accept the acceptance; receive the forgiveness, whenever we can, for as long as we can. Then pass it on. –Annie Lamott, Hallelujah Anyway: Rediscovering Mercy, pp. 7, 135

It is not in the rightness of my ideas that I will discover mercy. It is in the ineffable realm suggested by sūtra I.33. The heart knows. The soul rejoices.

—–

“Patañjali thus links our intentions, our actions, our well-being. He once more questions our natural tendency to think that unhappiness comes from others and suggests we be very careful about our real motives in the present, for they condition our future.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on II.14

“Virtue is for most Westerners an old-fashioned word and an equally antiquated and impractical concept. In the spiritual traditions, however, virtue is considered a foremost principle of action. While, in Yoga, the ultimate Reality is thought to lie beyond good and evil, there is a recognized need for the cultivation of virtuous deeds, words and thoughts. … The path to freedom goes through rather than around morality—not the bourgeois morality of anxious individuals but the heartfelt morality of those who profoundly care for the welfare and freedom of others.” –Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, pp. 197-99

Questions:
• Has the practice of yoga helped you appraise the consequences of your actions more clearly? Your motives? What are examples of that?
• What do you consider to be virtuous or non-virtuous action? Have you seen fruits come from such action?
• Has sūtra I.33 affected how you have approached life situations? Has it affected your attitude toward yourself?
• What approach do you take to your own mistakes? Are you able to recognize when you are wrong?

te

3rd person pronoun, 1st case plural

they, these

hlāda-

masculine noun in compound

joy (from hlād, “to be glad”)

paritāpa-

masculine noun in compound

pain, grief, agony (from pari-, “all around, much” + tap, “to be hot, to burn, to suffer”)

phalāḥ

masculine noun, 1st case plural

fruit (from phal, “to bear fruit”)

puṇya-

neuter noun in compound

virtue (possibly from puṣ, “to nurture, to support,” or from , “to make clean”)

apuṇya-

neuter noun in compound

non-virtue (from a-, “not,” + puṇya)

hetutvāt

neuter noun, 5th case singular, “due to”
nature of the cause  (hetu, “cause, + -tva, suffix that makes abstract noun; derives from hi, “to set into motion”)

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