Five Gifts and Four Friends

It is traditional at this season to exchange gifts and honour our relationships with family and friends. In the Yoga Sutra Patanjali offers some means to develop peaceful relationships and a peaceful mind. These are the five restraints (yama, YS 2:30) and four mental attitudes (bhavanatah, YS 1:33).

The yamas (restraints) are often seen as a kind of moralising and so are sometimes overlooked in contemporary Yoga practice. I would like to suggest that yama is the practice of love and that to take up and refine this is the greatest gift that we can offer the world. Cultivating heart-qualities that bring forth respect and trust is a practical way to give and receive peace and love. These yamas are the Five Gifts.

Lord Buddha spoke of these gifts in the Anguttara Nikaya.

“There are these five gifts, known from early times, known for long, known by tradition, ancient and unrejected; not rejected before, they are not rejected now and will not be rejected in future; they are unrepudiated by intelligent recluses and Brahmins”.

Buddha lists the “great gifts” but importantly comments that by abstaining from acts contrary to the five precepts that “….by giving to immeasurable beings freedom from fear, hostility and oppression, he himself will enjoy freedom from fear, hostility and oppression”.

Krishnamacharya says that yama is important to cultivate peace and societal fortitude and further, “…one develops a relationship of affection and compassion not just for other people but equally for all living beings”. If we give these gifts to others we will receive them back in equal measure, a gift that is never diminished or exhausted.

The Four Friends are four mental attitudes to cultivate. They are friendliness, compassion, appreciation and equanimity. Patanjli indicates that these attitudes are shown towards four groups of people. Problems can arise if we apply a particular attitude to the wrong group. It is suggested that we are friendly towards contented people, compassionate towards those that are suffering, appreciative of others good deeds, and we avoid those that commit unwholesome deeds while maintaining a benevolent and equanimous mind.

So this season let us embrace the noble teachings of the Five Gifts and Four Friends and give and receive these wonderful presents to create a beautiful environment of peace and tranquillity.

Seasonal blessings with hope for a New Year of peace.

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