The Four Dispositions

The Four Dispositions

Swami Brahmananda Saraswati was a man who spent much of his life in seclusion. He left home at age 9 to find a guru and spent much of his life in remote forests of India. He only emerged in the later years of his life to take the role of Shankaracharya, the exponent of Shankara’s teachings in N. India. The seat had been vacant nearly 150 years.

Not only did he revive the tradition in the area but several modern teachers of high impact were his students. Millions of people around the world have taken up eastern philosophy and meditation as a result. Even NASA broadcast a Beatles song out into deep space that refers to him (Across the Universe). They were celebrating NASA and the songs anniversaries. That broadcast later turned out to be the same day one of his students, Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, passed.

A few of the Swami’s talks were wire recorded but others were transcribed in Hindi as they were spoken. Some of those talks were translated by Cynthia Ann Humes. That work was used in publications by Shriver and Mason.

In one such talk, he spoke of how the gross body is just a frame. It’s the subtle body (mind and intellect) that is the “controller.” So we want to take care of the mind to improve both senses and actions.

He then refers to Yoga Sutra 1v33:
The mind becomes purified by cultivating friendliness toward the happy, compassion toward the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and equanimity toward the unvirtuous.
(I also explore this verse here.)

These are the “four dispositions”: friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity.

“With your friends, hold the attitude of friendliness; with those younger or smaller than you or with those who are suffering, hold the attitude of compassion; with those who are more contented or who are wiser than you, or those who are better than you in some respect, look on them with the attitude of joy in their good fortune; and with those who oppose or hate you, maintain a feeling of equanimity; you should not generate the attitude of enmity or hatred in your mind. In this fashion, by maintaining one of only these four mental dispositions, the feelings of envy, hatred, jealousy, and so on will never arise in your mind, and you will naturally continue to purify your mind.”*

Keep in mind “Hold the attitude” does not mean make a mood and pretend to be friendly. This shifts our emotions from their natural expression into concepts and expectations of the mind and disconnects us from how we actually feel.

What it means is we favour one of those feelings as available. If we start to grumble about something but also notice a background contentment or happiness, we favour the second instead. Of course, this is easier said than done. We can have long habits of focusing on problems, dismissing our experience, or suppressing how we feel.

But this can be a good test of our progress. Is friendliness or equanimity prominent? Or is there still lots of reactivity? Once awakening is established, there is a stable inner ground of peace and happiness. Then our more powerful attention makes it more important to follow this guideline and favour one of the four dispositions. This becomes much easier in time.

This also relates to the first teaching: “Only he who is happy can make another happy.” “One can only share what one possesses.” “The individual soul can be genuinely happy only with connection with the Self.”* The last is because bliss is the lively surface of self-aware consciousness. When we are Self, we are also bliss

And further, another teaching: “Consider both friends and enemies with equanimity. Both are conduits of your own good or bad karma. [respectively]” “When the result of good karma arises, then all people appear as friends and they give us happiness. When the result of bad karma arises, all people appear as enemies and give us sorrow. Happiness and sorrow are both our own property; you generate either one according to your wishes.” He talks about how we may see the person who is delivering our karma as the source of the issue but they are not. They are simply the conduit to return our “property” to us.

And from another recording, “Whenever anybody is contemptuous then this action [of your indifference] will become a distress for him. If you have given indifference and not even given heed to his direction, then he is unsuccessful in the fantasy [accusations]. He is defeated right there.”**

“After fully comprehending this fact, we should free ourselves from attachment and aversion.”*

“Whether they are good or bad consequences for us, when they arise, we should welcome them…” This way, the consequences are resolved. If we instead fight what arises, we get in the way of resolution and that karma either continues to appear or comes back again later for resolution.

Of course, this to the best of our ability. If we feel grief, sadness or other emotional challenges, we should allow those to arise but avoid investing in them.

It is through these points that we shift from struggle and strife into the four dispositions: friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity. They become our normal daily experience.

* from The Sweet Teachings of the Blessed Shankaracharya Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, by LB Shriver, teaching #34, 1, and 13.
** from Raj Varma Recalls, quotations from Swami Brahmananda Saraswati, section Birth Then is Dependent on Karma.

Average rating 5 / 5. Vote count: 2

No votes so far! Be the first to rate this post.


  1. Jim

    Thank you, David, very well said.

    Yeah, despite one’s best intentions, without the full-time connection to and experience of bliss (Samadhi), we cannot be grounded enough or buffered enough or experienced enough to maintain the four dispositions. As you say, nothing personal, it just is that way.

    At the same time, what a great fulfillment to realize the day to day simplicity and wonder of the four dispositions and to be able to live the words of the wise, naturally (instead of the historically recent but now obsolete practice of struggling and wanting, without ever reaching a dynamic state of fulfillment, and/or faking it).

    1. Thanks, Jim.

      Yeah, looking back, it’s amazing what I used to consider normal. The quality of life changes have been remarkable. And yet from an outward appearance it doesn’t seem that different.

      In a way, it used to just be the point value. Now the point is the smallest aspect and it’s so much more yummy. 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pin It on Pinterest