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Yamas & Niyamas: Patanjali Yoga Sutras

Sage Patanjali

Yamas & Niyamas are the first two limbs of the 8 limbs discussed by Sage Patanjali. Yamas(restraints) & Niyamas(observances) are the moral rules that set a person firmly on the spiritual path, these steady the boat for further journey into deep waters.

Vedas & Upanishads which were written earlier also discuss various Yamas & niyamas. We will discuss Yamas & Niyamas mentioned by Patanjali in detail, then we will further list the Yamas & Niyamas listed everywhere else.

Yamas (Restraints)

Yamas are the restraints one must observe in action. They are: 

  1. Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा) (Nonviolence)

    Ahimsa means "Not to harm", "non injury"; in essence Non-Violence; Non-violence in Thought, Action or Speech. Non-violence is not pacifism, but a practice of righteous restraint. Let us discuss Non-violence with instances:
    • War: In war how should one observe Non-Violence? especially when wrong idea of it can lead to loss of One's own Life. In war it would be practice of Non-Violence to fight enemies without any hatred or anger but for the defense of greater Good. What if one knows he is fighting for the wrong cause in a war, how can a mere soldier practice Dharma? There are instances of Soldiers changing sides to fight for the "cause", than the "side". Fighting though violent, it sometimes is a necessity for the greater good, to fight for the virtues without hatred, anger, bias in mind is Non-violence.
    • Food: Life kills life all the time, Frog eats crickets, snake eats frogs, eagle eats snakes; The food chain goes on, We humans too can not help but kill, vegetarians kill plants, Non-vegetarians kill animals. We don't have a choice yet of non killing, we have to live too, but we can avoid killing higher life forms which have higher consciousness, which have highly developed nervous system, which enables them to feel life more vibrantly than plants and also feel extreme pains when threatened with life.
    • Mosquitoes: To kill or Not to kill mosquitoes is one of the biggest questions in an Indian Yogi's mindsmile India presenting a nice weather for mosquitoes to thrive. One can use curtains, close windows and doors in the evenings to avoid mosquitoes entering the house, if the resilient mosquitoes enter house even after all the careful avoidance of violence, suppose it is alright to kill them, given that they can cause danger to life and health.
    • Pacifism, Cowardice: People often confuse Pacifism as Non-Violence. Non-Violence is in accordance with Dharma, Pacifism isn't, in fact it is against Dharma not to fight when you are supposed to fight.
  2. Satya (सत्य) (Truthfulness)

    Being truthful all the time. Truthful in Speech, Action & Thought. Satya doesn't necessarily imply speaking truth, rather speaking that which is righteous. That which upholds the order in the world. If a terrorist comes out to us with a gun and asks us for the address of the auditorium where 1000s of people have gathered, it is in accordance with "Satya" to "Lie" to him than to give him the correct address, which would be "truthful" in literal sense, but not in the sense of righteousness. 

    Being open hearted, acting in the interest of everyone's Good is a way of truthfulness
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय) (Non-stealing)

    To not have the intention to steal, To not misappropriate that which belongs to someone else, Non covetousness. It is a restriction on the offense we would do. The opposite action recommended to control this tendency is to give through charity. Perform "Daana" to the suitable, it will ease the tendency to steal for one's own selfish sake.
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) (Chastity)

    Brahmacharya literally means to walk the path towards Brahman, it is often used to mean celibacy or chastity, simply for the reason, one who is fully intent on Brahman is expected to have right sexual conduct as well along with right food habits, right sleep etc.

    Brahmacharya means celibacy for students who are still unmarried. Brahmacharya means right sexual conduct for married people, to whom sex is a part of life. To the old who have tasted the pleasures of life, again restraint is recommended than still mentally lust over sense objects. After have given enough to world, an aged person is recommended to give a chance to the quest of ultimate reality.

    In Mahabharata, Krishna married at least 8 wives, had at least 30 children, yet he is considered a Brahmachari, for he did everything with the higher consciousness, he wasn't drawn into actions by force of habit or mental conditioning or human tendencies. He wilfully engaged in the world, with full restraint & complete control over his mind & actions.

    Enjoying the world isn't forbidden but the attachment to the world which restricts one's perspective, in fact it is recommended to enjoy the world, but in right spirit.
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः) (Non-avarice)

    Aparigraha has the word Graha, which means to hold on to, or be possessed by.. Aparigraha in essence means not to hold on to. Some call it not expecting gifts, most accurate translation would be to not expect, to not hold on to the objects for happiness.

    "To let go" could be appropriate as well, to Let go of ideas, to let go of the power the objects we hold dear to have on us, to let go of attachment to things which are pleasant but are causing misery, to let go of the relations that are not taking us spiritually upwards.

Upanishads list more Yamas (restraints), they are:

  1. Ahimsa (अहिंसा): Nonviolence
  2. Satya (सत्य): truthfulness
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): not stealing
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, sexual restraint
  5. Kshama (क्षमा): forgiveness
  6. Dhriti (धृति): fortitude
  7. Dayaa (दया): compassion
  8. Aarjava (आर्जव): non-hypocrisy, sincerity
  9. Mitaahaara (मितहार): measured diet
  10. Shaucha (शौच): purity, cleanliness

Niyamas (Observances)

  1. Shauca (शौच) (Purity/ Cleanliness):

    Cleanliness in Action, Thought & Speech. Cleanliness of body is given importance as well. Cleanliness is born of discipline,  the outer discipline is born of inner discipline, which is born of control over the mind. Cleanliness brings discipline & order to mind, which is essential for a higher spiritual journey within.
  2. Santosha (संतोष) (contentment):

    Satisfaction with the life as it is. Contentment brings basic calmness needed for one to sit quietly and ponder upon life, without contentment one is drawn into the world as if by hypnotization, if there is no contentment there is no possibility to allocate enough mind time necessary for the deep quest.
  3. Tapas (तपस) (Penance):

    Discipline, persistent effort, sitting with one pointed mind for longer periods, devoid of movement in the mind, strengthening the mental state within, which further makes mind sit firmly, so that meditation can grow deeply.
  4. Svaadhyaaya (स्वाध्याय) (self-study):

    Both aspects of it. Studying the self & Study by the self. 
    • Studying the self: involves looking within, analyzing what is happening within, what is the origin of a particular thought, how fear & desire control our thinking pattern, how discipline & habits shape our mind & re-enforcing practices which strengthen us and discarding the habits which weaken us.
    • Studying by self: studying the scriptures by the self, studying and restudying, understanding & implementing the techniques. Involves continued efforts in understanding the wisdom.

  5. Ishvarapranidhana (ईश्वर प्रणिधान) (Contemplation on Ishvara):

    Contemplating on the Ishvara, both aspects of it. A Yogi meditating deeply on AUM in meditation, growing deeper in meditation focusing on the sound of AUM a regular meditator hears. Contemplating on "Ishvara" with qualities, contemplating on his attributes, engaging oneself in devotional services & so on.

Niyamas Discussed in the Upanishads are:

  1. Tapas: perseverance.
  2. Santoṣa: contentment
  3. Aastika: faith in Real Self (jnana yoga, raja yoga), belief in God (bhakti yoga), conviction in Vedas/Upanishads (orthodox school)
  4. Daana: Charity
  5. Ishvarapuujana: worship of the Ishvara, Contemplation on higher reality
  6. Siddhaanta vakya Shravaṇa: listening to the sentences from scriptures
  7. Hrī: Modesty, humility
  8. Mati: reconcile conflicting ideas
  9. Japa: mantra repetition
  10. Huta: Spiritual, Religious Rites

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