Today, we’re discussing the last of the four Parikarma. If you have missed out on the earlier Parikarma articles, do go give them a read through this brief introduction to Parikarma which has links to each of the other articles. If you have never heard the word and have no idea about it, the earlier articles will help get a clearer idea of what we’re discussing in this article.
What is Upéksha?
Just like the other concepts we have discussed in Parikarma, this word is also used in many Indian languages and is a familiar term for many who speak Indian languages. The meaning of the word also remains mostly unchanged from the Sanskrit usage.
- Contempt or disdain
Honestly, when I look at these meanings, I think, this cannot be it, right? It seems like such a negative word, one that is asking us to ignore, disregard, and neglect something or someone!
Before we look at the Yogic interpretation and understand what it says, let us look at one more word used in this context, and that is Apunya. Another word that is very commonly used in many Indian languages without much change in the original meaning of the word. It is used as a noun as well as an adjective.
Again, these are very strong, negative words that we would not expect to see in Yoga scripture. Take a minute and think about the emotions these words bring to your mind – indifference, neglect, vicious, impure – and then let us look at what Yoga has to say about these terms and concepts and see if we can make some sense of it all.
Upéksha in Yoga
Parikarma tells us how we should behave with different kinds of people we come across in life. It also tells us how to treat different facets of our own selves. Of the four concepts within Parkarma, Upéksha is the one that bothered me for the longest time. I couldn’t understand it and couldn’t find someone who would explain it enough for it to make sense in my mind. I struggled with this concept for a long time but I think I’m beginning to understand the depth of what it means, bit by bit.
Ahimsa and Dharma are the two foundational concepts in Yoga, concepts that form the basis for understanding and contextualising all other concepts we discuss. This is where my understanding of Upéksha was stuck for a long time because, to me, it felt like it went against these base principles. I’m beginning to understand it is probably the biggest test of adhering to these principles instead!
Upéksha, like we saw before, means indifference; that is the meaning we will consider for this discussion. We will, however, add a layer to this meaning because English often does not do justice to the layers of meaning hidden in Sanskrit words, especially as used in the Yoga Sūtra by Sage Patanjali. My understanding of this concept adds benevolence to the indifference in Upéksha.
Apunya we will translate here as someone or something that leads us astray through viciousness and impurity, takes us away from our spiritual journey and the chosen path. It could be a person (friend, family, stranger), a situation, an experience, a thing (alcohol, food, money, etc.).
Still confused? Do not worry, so was I when I read these definitions the first time. Benevolence, indifference, and viciousness were not words I could logically link together to make sense. But stay with me and I’ll try my best to make this make sense to you too and share my understanding.
Upéksha, benevolent indifference, towards Apunya means that we practise indifference towards everyone and everything that leads us away from our chosen spiritual path but we do that without feeling contempt, anger, disdain towards that person or situation. We refrain from holding grudges against people, from being disdainful towards certain situations and things that we may have had a bad experience with at some point.
Let us try to understand this better with an example. Say I have decided to refrain from alcohol for a certain period of time for certain reasons. I am meeting some friends and I let them know that I will not be drinking so that we choose a place that suits us all. Once we’re there, one friend starts making fun of me not drinking, that I am being a spoilt sport and that I should have at least one drink to celebrate with everyone. But my mind is made up and I politely refuse while encouraging them to go for it.
In this situation, I could feel disdain towards alcohol and refuse to meet them at a place that serves alcohol and insist that nobody drinks with me or around me. I could get angry with the friend who is trying to coax me to drink. I may even hold the behaviour in contempt against that friend till much later. These would be our normal reactions to such situations.
Yoga says instead that I practise Upéksha, which is what I do when I politely refuse without telling them to refrain. I do not look down upon alcohol or my friend for being who they are or doing what they do; that is their nature. I do not hold the behaviour against my friend; if they approach me for help at any point, I will not hesitate to offer assistance if I believe I can help without harming myself. I will not develop a hatred of alcohol just because I have decided to not consume it.
That is what benevolent indifference means – indifference towards people, situations, things that can lead me astray without holding or feeling any negative emotions against them. I stick to Ahimsa by not being rude or offensive, by not putting something in my body that I do not wish to, and by not subjecting my body and mind to negative emotions and their effects. I practise what I believe is my Dharma by sticking to my path and not letting anything or anyone lead me away from it while letting others follow what they believe is their Dharma.
I hope the explanation and example made this concept a little easier to understand because it is a concept that can help us navigate tricky, unpleasant situations and people with grace and without letting go of our own beliefs, principles, and values. We will be able to remain true to ourselves in the face of everything that life sends our way and maintain our internal balance and peace in the face of temptation and difficulty.
With this, we finish the series of Parikarma and how these concepts can apply to everyday life. I hope these articles help you make Yoga a part of your everyday life or encourage you to look deeper into the philosophy behind the popular practices.