Yoga Sutra 1.33 from Patanjali says:
maitri karuna muditopeksanam sukha duhkha punyapunya visayanam bhavanatas citta prasadanam
“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”
In his commentary on Patanjali’s ancient yogic scriptures, Swami Satchidananda says, “Remember, our goal is to keep the serenity of our minds.” Whether interested in yoga or not, he says, this tool will help anyone maintain peacefulness through anything. Keeping this sutra handing or at the forefront of our mind will help us get through so many of life’s challenges.
In this sutra, Patanjali says that there are only four kinds of locks in the world. The four locks are: sukha (happy people), dukha (unhappy people), punya (the virtuous), and apunya (the not-so-virtuous). At any given moment, any person – including ourselves – can fit into one of these four categories.
Patanjali gives 4 keys to open these locks. He says that if we always keep these 4 keys with us, when we come across any of these four locks, we will have the proper key to open it. The four keys are: maitri (friendliness or loving-kindness), karuna (compassion), mudita (delight), and upeksha (disregard or equanimity). Patanjali reminds us that there is a Yogic way of approaching all people, no matter what behaviors and attitudes they may be exhibiting at the moment.
When you see a happy person, use the “friendliness” key. This means being able to share in another person’s happiness or good fortune, instead of being jealous or trying to take away their joy through a bitter attitude or negative verbal comments. Through jealousy, you will not disturb the happy person but instead, you disturb your own serenity. So we should always have the friendliness key when we see happy people.
When you see an unhappy person, use the “compassion” key. When someone is upset, try to help them or comfort them if you can. If they need space, then leave them alone after letting them know you will be there for them when they are ready. Don’t take pleasure in seeing someone else suffer, but instead remember a time when you may have walked in their shoes and have compassion for them. By doing that, you will retain the peace of your own mind. “Through compassion you find that all human beings are just like you.” – HH The Dalai Lama
When you see a virtuous person, use the “delight” key. If you see a virtuous person, feel delighted. Do not envy the person, but rather appreciate the virtuous qualities and try to cultivate them in your own life. As we rejoice in and appreciate their qualities, we are inspired by knowing such greatness is possible. Observing noble qualities in others is a virtue of the heart.
When you see a wicked (no-so-virtuous) person, use the “disregard” key. We need to develop equanimity towards those whose actions oppose our values. It would be wonderful if all people always acted with honor and consciousness, but unfortunately this is not always the way. We ourselves, may have acted, spoken, or thought unkindly or hurt another person. So become indifferent to the person who is wicked at the moment. It is important to note here, however, that this sutra is not necessarily asking us to turn our back on harmful behavior. If we see someone harming another, we must speak up. Yet can we do so while maintaining a calmness of mind? This is often the most obviously challenging key to find. But it is there and when we are able to use it, such great changes can arise!
“In daily life we see people around who are happier than we are, people who are less happy. Some may be doing praiseworthy things and others causing problems. Whatever may be our usual attitude toward such people and their actions, if we can be pleased with others who are happier than ourselves, compassionate toward those who are unhappy, joyful with those doing praiseworthy things, and remain undisturbed by the errors of others, our mind will be very tranquil.” ~ TKV Desikachar
Sources: The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda, The Secret Power of Yoga by Nischala Joy Devi, and The Heart Of Yoga by TKV Desikachar