Developing Tolerance through Yoga

By Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh

Today, when yoga has become a multi-billion dollar industry and promises to correct and remedy everything from physical aches and pulls to lifestyle diseases, it is important to realize its varied potentials and depth and look at how one can develop not just physical health but also tolerance and wisdom.

The social human being is actually quite a tolerating chap.
We all tolerate a lot in life, but that does not mean that we are evolving. Tolerance increases and becomes a virtue not if you tolerate more but if it synthesizes itself with other qualities like patience (titiksha), forbearance (sahana shakti), peacefulness, calmness (shanta guna), forgiveness (kshama), knowing, determination, and compassion.

Let me illustrate this with Bhishma’s life story. You are all familiar with Bhishma’s terrible vow in the Mahabharata—he resolved never to marry and finally gave up his rights to the throne of Hastinapura. All those familiar with the story of the Mahabharata know that Bhishma not only tolerated but also fulfilled his duties perfectly. It is expressed in the Gita that we should not be attached to the results or the fruits; the most important point is that the quality of the fruit or action should be perfect and not compromised in any way. Don’t be attached to the fruit, but the tree should finally beget a fruit of the highest possible quality through unremitting perseverance.

We should not only learn to tolerate but also transform that ‘holding on’ to bear us to a higher, realized state. In fact, on his deathbed—the bed of arrows—Bhishma delivers a memorable commentary on various aspects of philosophy, life, and death, which has come to us as the Shanti Parva. So his forbearance did not embitter him but made him evolve into a sthitapragnya (one who has attained steadfast wisdom). You know, we can all bear great pains, and then what do we do the next moment? We crack, and at the first opportunity we become critical, impatient, and abusive.

Can there be a greater example before us than the one of Jesus Christ? Not only did he bear physical pain and humiliation but refused to blame his detractors even when on the cross. “Forgive them, oh Lord, for they know not what they do!” He exclaimed.

The above line is very important if we are to understand the concept of tolerance. Essentially, a person becomes intolerant because “he knows not”! In other words, knowledge (jnana) is very important. Studying for an examination is different from learning for life. Religious consciousness starts where formal education stops. In life, it is not just intellectual development but also development of the intelligence of the heart which marks you out as a refined, sensitive, and sentient being. Emotional intelligence is deathless, broad, and vast. Intellectual intelligence (vitarka and vichara) grows like a coconut tree, which though tall cannot give shade to those who are under it. Emotional intelligence, on the other hand, being broad, accommodates, shelters, and helps many with friendliness and compassion. And that is why in all cultures across geographical boundaries tolerance is said to be the starting point of religious consciousness.

Sage Patanjali, who is said to have lived around 2,000 years ago, compiled the ancient wisdom dealing with the emancipation of the self into 196 Yoga Sutras, literally ‘threads’ of yogic wisdom. In the first chapter, Patanjali states: “Maitri, karuna, mudita, upekshanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah citta prasadanam.” He mentions the qualities one has to inculcate to develop the heart intelligence: Maitri, karuna, mudita, upeksha. These have to be balanced with the vertical growth (intellectual intelligence) brought about by vitarka, vicara, ananda and asmita. Thus, tolerance in yogic terminology is the sum total of friendliness (maitri), compassion (karuna), joy (mudita) and indifference (upeksha) to asmita which acts as a distracting force. Patanjali guides us to discard even that joy of self realisation—atma darshana—and to show indifference to it.

Tolerance is not merely tolerating a bitter foe; one has to gradually cultivate the bhava (feeling) within for the qualities mentioned above to develop sensitive intelligence to progress in the conscious self. So one has to initially cultivate tolerance, but gradually and ultimately strive and evolve to develop qualities of compassion and gladness (contentment) so that tolerance and toleration becomes the natural condition of being.

Toleration can also be understood through the trigunas. Merely tolerating something can be tamasic in nature. For example, many people say they tolerate pains but quickly become bitter and despondent. Then comes rajasic—it is like the mother who tolerates her child but also firmly disciplines for the child’s betterment and improvement. A sattvic nature is to just be and continue to be true to one’s dharma (duty-mindedness). (But first one has to find one’s true dharma and constantly evolve it.) Here, take Gandhiji’s example in 1948 to quell the riots in the small town of Noakhali in Bengal. The army was called in but was ineffective. That is when Mahatma Gandhi stepped into the town. It was an impossible situation. But his mere presence worked. A truce was called immediately and the peace held on even after his death. Thus a saint does not just tolerate, but remains calm from within; toleration thus becomes possible
for others.

Cultivating tolerance through Yogasans
The Asanas and Pranayamas that we learn and practice in yoga have the potential to develop in you qualities like tolerance, forbearance, duty-mindedness, and other virtues. But the fact is that we only concentrate on the objective (or physical) benefits of the asanas. For example, many do asanas to merely lose weight or overcome sluggishness or to get rid of diabetes. But staying in asanas like Sirsasana or Halasana can help you develop forbearance, calmness, and patience. Setubandha Sarvangasana can not only make the brain fresh, but also give you inner quietude. Hence any purifying practice of ours has to encompass the panchakosas.

What are the panchakosas? According to yoga philosophy, we are divided into panchakosas, or five sheaths of the self: anamaya (physical body), pranamaya (energy body), manomaya (psychological sheath), vijnanamaya (sheath of intelligence) and finally anandamaya (bliss body).

Often, our practice is contained within the anamaya kosa. The beauty of yoga and the yogasanas that we practice is that they have given us the means to access the subjective conditions of mind and emotions through any and every part of the body. Something very physical like the stretch of the knee or the opening of the chest or the expansion of the armpits (in say an asana like Adho Mukha Svanasana) has an enormous impact on the subjective mental and emotional conditions. A depressed person, for example, has a collapsed chest, so opening the chest region with back-bending postures not only has a physical impact but transforms the vitality of the mind. That is why the yogasanas have to be done with tremendous integration and awareness in the body, mind, breath, and senses.

In the 25th Yoga Sutra of the third chapter, Patanjali says, “Balesu hasti baladini,” which means that by samyama on strength, the yogi will develop the physical strength and endurance of an elephant. Now as you all know, elephants, in addition to their physical attributes, are also known to have perfect memory and tolerance. Strength is normally taken only in the physical dimension, but the same being (the elephant) also embodies a perfect memory. Hence, we too should learn to penetrate our inner kosas through our yogic practices to acquire the strength in various dimensions.

Zubin Zarthoshtimanesh is a long standing student of Yogacharya
B.K.S. Iyengar and now teaches at his own yoga centre, Iyengar Yogabhyasa, in Matunga, Mumbai.