Our “Philosophy Corner” is created to deepen the understanding of Art, Science and Philosophy of Yoga by reflecting on what’s written in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali“. Around 400 CE Patanjali collected materials about yoga from older traditions and together with his commentary they form the Pātañjalayogaśāstra.
The core of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is an eight-limbed path that act as guidelines on how to live a meaningful and purposeful life. These eight steps aid in our moral and ethical conduct and self-discipline, direct attention toward our health, and help us to recognize the spiritual aspects of our nature.
Yama : Universal morality
Niyama : Personal observances
Asanas : Body postures
Pranayama : Breathing exercises, and control of prana
Pratyahara : Control of the senses
Dharana : Concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness
Dhyana : Devotion, Meditation on the Divine
Samadhi : Union with the Divine
Periodically we will be posting different articles about yoga starting with The Yamas (Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha) – outer actions or observances, the ethical guidelines of how to live life, and the attitude we have towards things and people outside ourselves. Yamas’ five “wise characteristics” tell us that our fundamental nature is compassionate, generous, honest, and peaceful.
Asteya or non-stealing is the third yama (fundamental moral observance) described in The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. “When abstention from stealing is firmly established, precious jewels come to the Yogi” (Sutra II.37). And as BKS Iyengar in “Light on Yoga” eloquently said: “The desire to posses and enjoy what another has, drives a person to do evil deeds. (It) includes not only taking what belongs to another without permission, but also using something for a different purpose to that intended, or beyond the time permitted by its owner.” We should not take or desire what doesn’t belong to us including others possessions, ideas, spouses/partners, money, time, trust, dignity, attention etc. Without the desire to steal, we will attract what should be most precious to us, the virtue. The freedom from craving what is not ours enables us to deflect great temptations. It seems that we always want and desire something we don’t have. We often focus on what other people have, we are jealous of others and compare ourselves to others. Is the grass always greener on the other side of the fence? We should remind ourselves to bring our awareness back to the richness of what we already have. As we feel the appreciation and peacefulness, the perspective shifts and new opportunities will come. So, next time you feel particularly challenged in your yoga class (or at work), remind yourself about good things in your practice (work), such as coming to the class (work), trying your best, staying with your breath (work tasks) even in difficult poses (meetings), respecting your body and mind, etc. So, now think and consider: What does asteya mean to you and how can you apply it to your daily life?
~ Bea Dworecki ~
The second commandment or restrain in the Yamas is called Satya, the truth. It is the highest rule of conduct or morality. Mahatma Gandhi said “Truth is God and God is Truth”. The fire of truth cleanses the yogi as it burns up the dross (worthlessness) in him.
If the mind thinks thoughts of truth and the tongue speaks words of truth, then one’s life is based on truth. We normally equate truthfulness with speech and if we always speak the truth, we don’t have to remember the lie. Although the truth is not restricted only to the speech, we have to observe and be aware of four different sins of speech: (1) abuse (verbal), (2) obscenity (foul language), (3) dealing in falsehoods, calumny or telling tales (lies), and (4) ridiculing what others hold to be sacred (mocking). In reality, living a life in accordance with Satya is not easy and sometimes it seems just impossible. Let us consider a simple little “white lie”… is it harmless or harmful? Is the “white lie” for the sake of you or the other person? Whichever way looking at it…it is still a lie. We can only find the truth within our hearts and within each individual person.
When the mind bears malice towards NONE, it is filled with charity and clarity towards all. He who learns to control his tongue, will attain self-control in great measures.
~ Robert Schaye
Most religions and spiritual paths have commandments, precepts or restraints which are more or less universal as part of their philosophy. They guide seekers on their path, while causing minimum pain and suffering for themselves and others. In Yoga those restraints are called Yamas and Niyamas. Yamas are self-restraints in relation to society, while Niyamas are for the individual advancement. Yamas restrains are ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth) asteya (abstention from stealing), brachmacharya (continence, self-restrain) and apiragraha (absence of greed for possession beyond one’s needs). The five Niyamas precepts observe Saucha (cleanliness), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (religious zeal), Svadhyaya (self-study) and Isvara–pranidhanani (surrender of the self to the supreme Self or God).
The first Yama principal is ahimsa or non-violence. It is said, that if a yogi adheres to the principles of ahimsa, people and animals abandon their hostility around them. As Swami Veda Bharati from Sutra II.35 explained “When all living beings cease hostility in one’s presence, come to the sadhaka as a child to one’s own mother, and that condition becomes stable, natural, effortless, permanent, then one knows that ahimsa has been mastered.” The question is how to stay non-violent when it seems that the very nature of our mind, perhaps out of fear to lose or to protect our possessions, is to be violent? First, attempt should be made to understand the root of violence and how it manifests in us. Sage Vyasa explains that violence is threefold, committed (by oneself), caused to be committed through others and consented to. He further explains that it is caused by greed, anger or delusions. Personally, I differentiate violence into direct and indirect acts. For instance, killing an animal would be a direct act while eating an animal, not giving a thought of suffering it had to experience before getting on the dinner table, is an example of indirect violence. In addition, there are levels of violence ranging from mild to severe, and as Nilakantha has said that all acts entail some form of violence and should therefore be renounced. “All beings delight in pleasure; All become agitated facing pains; Distressed by producing fear in them, One in whom knowledge is awakened Should no longer perform acts.” MB.Shanti-parvan.245.25
Conversely if nonviolence is only practiced externally, it would reach another extreme. Like the story of a monk who was walking on eggshells, watching each of his steps carefully not to kill any little creature in the grass because the tiny bug’s life is considered no less precious than ours. This practice could be normal for a monk who acts from the state of expanded awareness. For us it is more practical to start paying more attention to our thoughts. As YS guides us, when negative thought is spotted, to change it either into a positive one, called pratipaksabhavana or better yet to go deep into the cause of negativity or paksabhavana. Whenever violent beginning is recognized through introspection, it becomes less potent to create a harmful actions around us. Sutra II.34 says that through introspection comes end to pain and ignorance.
Still it seems impossible to catch those thoughts, whether positive or negative in the world which spins faster and faster every day. For this reason I feel that our time on the yoga mat is a great teacher; it is an invaluable opportunity to come back to ourselves and to slow down the usual stream of thoughts. This makes it possible to examine the contents of the mind and then apply the principle of ahimsa. Along with cessation of the negative thoughts, we naturally become more peaceful and happy.
~ Javinta Armoska