3.24 – By samyama on those qualities beginning with friendliness (i.e. compassion, happiness, and even-mindedness) one is filled with the spiritual strength of those virtues.
मैत्र्यदिषु बलानि ॥२३॥
maitri dishu balani
- maitri – friendliness; amity; good will
- adishu – leading with; beginning with
- balani – strength; force; invigoration
3.25 – By samyama on the strength of an elephant or other embodiments of power, one acquires those strengths.
बलेषु हस्तिबलादीनी ॥२४॥
baleshu hasti bala adini
- baleshu – on strengths
- hasti – elephant
- bala – strength; force; power
- adini – and others; etc; and so on
Commentary on Sutras 3.24 and 3.25:
This is a beautiful set of sutras where Patanjali reveals the secret to embodying our sadhana (spiritual practice).
A large part of yoga is about clearing away obstructions. Another equally important aspect involves cultivating virtuous qualities. In Sutra 3.24, Patanjali refers to the attitudes listed in Sutra 1.33: friendliness, compassion, happiness, and even-mindedness. And many others could be used in the same way (see the yamas and niyamas for some other examples—Sutras 2.30 and 2.32).
Many scriptures give us a list of virtues we should develop, but most fail to provide practical instruction. We want to change but are given no method to bring that transformation about. As a result, we struggle against our deeply-conditioned minds.
Our habits and conditionings create resistance to change. They’re why techniques such as positive thinking rarely work on their own. Our minds are a turbulent ocean of self-limiting thoughts, and we expect to alter it by dropping in a few constructive ones.
The accumulative practice of yoga is so effective because it brings the mind into a place of stillness. When the waves in our consciousness have subsided, we can toss in a single positive thought and immediately notice the rippling effects.
As discussed in earlier sutras, when consciousness is still, it throws back a crystal clear reflection of whatever we place before it. So here, through the practice of samyama, we’re intentionally focusing on virtuous qualities so our consciousness becomes permeated with them.
If we meditate on happiness, we take on a happiness consciousness. Happiness vibrates throughout our entire field of consciousness, through every layer of the body and mind. If we meditate on compassion, we vibrate with that quality, and so on. That is what it means to be filled with the strength of the virtues. We walk through the world, radiating those qualities.
In this way, our practice spills over into our daily lives. We positively influence the people around us, and our actions become more constructive and beneficial.
Yoga is not a path of escapism. It’s not a way to bypass all our problems. True spiritual practice involves both inner and outer work. It’s about focusing our attention and energies within to realize our source and then embodying our realization. Samyama on the virtues helps us accomplish both.
In the next sutra, Patanjali gives us a method for actualizing strength and power. There is one power that creates and sustains the universe, but many avenues through which we can access it. One way is to concentrate on the strength of an elephant. We could also use a gorilla, a lion, or Lou Ferrigno. The point is to give the mind something tangible to focus on.
In the same way, we could enhance our meditation on the virtues by envisioning someone who embodies those qualities. That makes our practice less abstract and more palpable.
Some yoga traditions, especially tantra, work with the image of deities for this purpose. For example, if we wish to cultivate compassion, we can meditate on the Goddess Tara. If we want to develop the power to overcome obstacles, we can meditate on Lord Ganesha. For spiritual energy and transformation, the Goddess Kali. In the same way, Catholics pray to Mother Mary or saints who embodied particular virtues throughout their lives.
Whether our focus is on the qualities exhibited by an animal, spiritual teacher, or deity, we should never forget that there’s only one source of all power, and that source is at the core of our being.