the bentley

In my library, I have a small blue volume of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, with commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda. Along with my pocket copy of the Dhammapada, these two small books are easy to carry with me and refer to when I need a little spiritual boost. I mention this because Patanjali was my teacher today. I was in Camden, Maine for Memorial Day. Camden has always attracted wealthy visitors, some who just vacation there, some who buy second and perhaps third homes there. Before my wife and I got married we lived there for a few years, working jobs that relied on the tourist trade, waiting tables and such. Back then, though, its seemed like just your average small Maine coastal town; booming with tourists (and the love-hate feelings they foster) during the summer, and absolutely dead in the winter. Maybe the wealth was always there, or maybe I was just too poor to notice. But then it seemed liked everyone who got rich during the Clinton years (even Republicans!) started moving to Camden. The village is probably one of the most picturesque in Maine, and perhaps the country and the world. Million-dollar homes line Bayview Street on the village’s southern side. So it’s not uncommon to see Mercedes, Audi, Lexus and other expensive car makes tool up and down the main street. Today, however, I saw my first Bentley and my first thought was, “That car cost twice as much as my house!” Of the seven deadly sins, anger is right up there at the top of my list as the most difficult emotion to deal with, but envy is a very close second. It’s hard to be around so much wealth, so many people who actually smile as they drive past in their Porsche convertibles, and not feel envious. They exude the same smugness I recognize when I see a “Life is Good” bumper sticker on a Lexus SUV. Yes, I think, life is good, if you’re, rich, white, good-looking, and retired. I’m a fairly intelligent, college-educated, hard-working person. I don’t have any major vices. I pay my taxes. I obey the law. I get up every day and work hard to support my family. So does my wife. And yet, we can barely meet all our bills. When I saw the man driving the Bentley, I had to wonder; how much harder has he worked to get a car like that? If I work 60 hours a week, does he work 90? I work in a college bookstore. Has he just cured cancer? What has he done to be blessed with such good fortune? How much harder do I have to work to get to where he is? Thoughts like these can eat away at you from the inside. Envy of those who are better-off than you can become all-consuming sometimes. So what does Patanjali, the founding saint of yoga, who codified the yoga philosophy of his day over four thousand years ago, say about this condition in his Sutras? I pulled out my little blue book, and he instructed me thus: “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind retains its undisturbed calmness.” Swami Satchidananda says, in his commentary, “Whether you are interested in reaching samadhi (awakening) or plan to ignore Yoga entirely, I would advise you to remember at least this one sutra.” It’s illuminating to think that even in Patanjali’s time, there were people who were not happy at seeing others happy. And there I was today, continuing the trend. You’ll notice from even this brief sutra that Patanjali was not concerned with righting the injustice in the world. He’s telling us to disregard the wicked, after all. His primary concern, just like the Buddha some two thousand years later, was the cultivation of the mind. In Mary Oliver’s visionary poem The Journey, she talks about “saving the only life you can save, ” which happens to be your own. Patanjali is giving us the key to unlock any of four situations we will encounter in life. Of the four, cultivating friendliness toward the happy has got to be the most difficult. But it’s really the only choice we have. So next time, when I see someone in a Bentley, instead of thinking that he must have lied, cheated or stole to get that car and having these envious thoughts ruin my day, I’ll just smile and wave. That’ll really freak him out.

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