Welcome back to the series on Raja Yoga.
This blog is on the first limb of Raja Yoga, the Yamas.
The first limb, Yama, refers to the restraints / vows / moral disciplines relating to ourselves and our interaction with the world around us. They are moral and prohibitive and provide ethical foundation to our life.
There are five Yamas, namely Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha.
Ahimsa means non-violence / non-harming of all creatures, including ourselves.
- It should be avoided at all levels, physical, mental and verbal.
- It implies that we should not hurt anybody by thought, speech, or deed and we should not kill any living being.
- It advocates the practice of compassion, love, self-respect, patience, and worthiness.
- Practicing Ahimsa is not just for the sake of others, but we are also benefitted. E.g., when we are scold someone in a fit of rage, that anger first of all takes away our mental balance and hurts the other person’s sentiments too.
- Patanjali says, अहिंसाप्रतिष्ठायं तत्सन्निधौ वैरत्याघ ॥३५॥ It means, “For the one who is firmly established in non-violence all hostility ceases in the presence of that one.”
- “Vocal injury is more serious than physical and mental injury is most serious. By physical injury one can destroy only physical forms. By vocal injury one can destroy both physical and mental forms. By mental injury one can destroy even the form of spirit.” -Shri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology
This Yama stresses not only the importance of speaking the truth, but also the approach employed to convey the truth.
- We need to speak the truth, but we should also take care not to hurt others while speaking the truth.
- The purpose behind speaking the truth should be good and the words used and the manner in which we speak are very import. So, the context / situation needs to be considered before speaking.
- There is a beautiful Sanskrit Subhashita that says how we should speak the truth:
सत्यम ब्रूयात प्रियं ब्रूयात न ब्रूयात सत्यम अप्रियम |
प्रियंच नानृतम ब्रूयात एषा धर्मः सनातनः ||
Speak truth in such a way that it should be pleasing to others. Never speak truth, which is unpleasant to others. Never speak untruth, which might be pleasant. If the truth is unpleasant then sometimes it is better not to speak.
- To summarize, it is important that Satya is practiced alongside the first yama of Ahimsa as the need to speak the truth must be balanced with the need to not harm another.
Asteya means non-stealing or absence of the feeling of theft.
- It is about not taking anything that has been freely and willingly given.
- It includes not committing or assisting in theft, exploitation or oppression.
- It is not just about material objects, but one should not steal intellectual property, opportunity, hope or joy from anyone and should not take credit for good things done by others.
- There is an adage, Success has many Fathers, but Failure is an Orphan. People try to take credit or even a mention of their in the case of a successful feat even if they were remotely connected to it, but don’t want to be associated with failed attempts even though they might directly / indirectly caused it.
- Exploitation of nature and destruction of the environment should not be done.
- It also stands against covetousness and envy. If we don’t have longing for things we can’t afford or get through fair means, practising Asteya becomes easier. Being content with what we have is the key.
- In summary, Asteya applies to both tangible and intangible things.
Brahmacharya (Celibacy / Chastity)
Brahmacharya in its literal sense means abstinence from sex or life without any type of contact with the opposite sex.
- It also means that our thoughts should be turned towards God, which helps in controlling sexual / sensual pleasures at mental, physical, or vocal level.
- While in Gruhasthaashrama stage, it is not possible to given up sexual activities completely, but moderation in such things and not obsessing about such thoughts is the key.
- Thus, Brahmacharya helps us become healthier, wiser, and stronger by conserving energy and using it to achieve higher spiritual aims.
Aparigraha is the non-accumulation of worldly objects caused by covetousness and attachment.
- Possessiveness is a natural human tendency. We tend to accumulate things beyond our basic needs thinking that those might become useful to us tomorrow.
- We should be able to distinguish our necessities, comforts, and luxuries.
- Possessiveness leads to the feeling of anxiety and fear of protecting / losing the objects that we have accumulated. Our valuable time and resources are wasted to accumulate and safeguard objects we may or may not use during our lifetime. Hence, we should minimize our needs.
Summary of Yamas
We reviewed the five Yamas in the above sections. These need be practised on a daily basis so that they become inherent part of our life.
As a Jain saint Acharya Tulsi has remarked, “We can escape from speaking lie, work on non-anger, possessiveness can be limited to a justified extent and can follow Brahmacharya by being devoted to one’s own spouse and be contented with our possession.”
Hari Om Tat Sat