How to Deal with People: What the Yoga Sutras Say About Relationships

how to deal with people

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are full of wisdom. The goal of Patanjali’s yoga is Self-realization, but we canuse the wisdom of the sutras in everyday life. While we’d love to be enlightened beings all the time, we’re human. One way the sutras help us is by teaching us how to deal with people.

In sutra 1.33, Patanjali gives us basic guidelines that help us deal with four types of relationships.

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and equanimity toward the non-virtuous, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness. (from Inside the Yoga Sutras by Reverend Jaganath Carrera)

Swami Satchidinanda calls these attitudes, the “four locks and four keys.” The locks are happiness, unhappiness, virtue, and non-virtue. More specifically, they are happy people, unhappy people, virtuous people, and non-virtuous people. Each of these types present a challenge for many of us.

The keys to the challenges of each type of relationship are friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity. As Reverend Carrera explains, these keys are not directions about what to do. They are attitudes of the mind that serve us well if we want to be at peace.

How to Deal with People Like a Yogi

At first, it may seem easy to deal with happy or virtuous people. But that’s not always the case. Does someone else’s happiness ever irritate you? Or maybe virtuous people annoy you, because they seem to be—or think they are—better than you.

Patanjali tells us to be happy for others when they are happy, regardless of our own circumstances. He also suggests we can learn from (delight in) other people’s virtuous behavior.

Compassion for those who are unhappy is often difficult, especially if they are people we’re close to or spend a lot of time with. While friendliness and happiness go together naturally, that doesn’t mean we should be unfriendly toward someone who is not happy.

Friendliness may feel empty and disingenuous to someone who is troubled or sad, though. Someone who is struggling to find joy may find it easier to accept friendship once they feel our compassion for them.

We can appreciate and delight in virtue in many cases, but sometimes we need to take a closer look to find virtue in others. If we cultivate peace and look closely enough, we can usually find some virtue in everyone.

Notice Patanjali does not suggest we take the opposite stance with non-virtue. Equanimity is more apt to cultivate peace than reviling or detesting non-virtuous behavior. Often, there’s not much we can do about someone else’s bad behavior, but we can try to keep it from affecting us.

This is not to say we should be indifferent to behavior that harms others, just that we need to check our emotions. We can speak up and speak out against violence, injustice and other non-virtuous behavior without hatred or counterproductive behavior. Aggression usually does no more than fuel flames.

Tools for Keeping Hold of the Keys to Happiness

The goal with all these tips on how to deal with people is “undisturbed calmness.” In fact, calmness is the goal of almost everything we practice as yogis.

In the next few verses, Patanjali offers tools for maintaining a calm mind through breathing and meditation techniques. While we tend to emphasize the physical practice of yoga, keep in mind the purpose of the practice is to prepare the body for mastery of the breath and the stillness of meditation.

Are you maintaining a calm mind? If not, it may be time to return to the breath or to sit in meditation. Or maybe look at your relationships and see if you are relating to people in a way that disturbs your mind.

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