The Supporting Lineup
I hope it’s clear by now that of all the 5 yamas (10 according to Yajnavalkya) that Ahimsa is the imperative anchor for all our behavior and observations related to our environment. Or as the 14th century Kashmiri mystic Lal Ded writes (translated by Ranjit Hoskote)…
“Don’t torture this body with thirst and hunger,Thanks to Yogic Studies for posting this
give it a hand when it stumbles and falls.
To hell with all your vows and prayers:
just help others through life, there’s no truer worship.”
With that in mind let’s look to what Patanjali says in the Sadhana padah about the remaining 4 and their benefits:
- satya: truthfulness
- pratishtayam: when established in
- kriya: actions
- phala : results
- ashrayatvam: foundation
“When established in Truthfulness, there will be a direct correlation between our actions (kriya) and their results (phala)”
Or as Sir says -we do a lot of activities every day BUT the results are not always what we intended. For example, we do our yoga practice so that the mind is clear and prepared for higher contemplation. However when not established in truthfulness our alterior motives still weigh heavy on the mind preventing the desired clarity. So the actions (here-abhyasa) are not producing the results we expect (a steady and clear mind). Therefore we should endeavor to be truthful with ourselves and those around us but ALWAYS anchor the truth in the primary tenet of non-harm. Speaking the truth without first considering how it could affect someone already in pain can breed further rajas and tamas.
- asteya: non-stealing
- pratishtayam: when established in
- sarva: all
- ratna: jewels
- upasthanam: are available
“When established in non-stealing all the riches will come to the self.”
The imagery here always queues up the story of Aladdin when I read this. Aladdin, an impoverished and homeless youth is paid by the sinister wizard, Jafar, to enter the cave of wonders on a mission to fetch an old lamp (which of course we as the viewers know holds the biggest prize-the genie). The only caveat is that Aladdin cannot touch ANYTHING ELSE in the cave. When Aladdin enters the cave it is filled with riches beyond his wildest imagination. Naturally Aladdin is mesmerized. His pet monkey (a fitting metaphor for the chitta here) is far too tempted and in the process takes what he has been told to not even touch. From there an entire cycle of choas and confusion commences as the cave crumbles around him and he has to escape. After the intial struggle (remember-cliff notes) Aladdin reveals the genie in the lamp who offers him 3 wishes. These wishes end up only putting him in a further bind as he dons a stolen identity and tries his best to gain happiness by becoming someone he is not. The story continues of course with Aladdin finally realizing that all the riches in the world are all illusory forms of happiness. The only happiness is to be found within, to recognize he is the real wealth. Of course then Aladdin gets everything his heart desires. A full circle moment from the external cave of wonders to the infinite cave within… but let’s not get carried away with the story 😉
The message here is simple, yoga teaches us that all we need to truly see is already within. When we finally are established in the path of non-stealing from the world around us only then can we see the metaphorical jewels within. Dahara Vidya (1 of 32 vidyas/streams of knowledge in the Upanishads) teaches that Brahman (the eternal one, here like the Purusha) can be found in the cave of the heart (see the Chandogya Upanishad). Brahman is imperceptible to the eye but as grand as the entire universe. Only when we clear the veil from our eyes can we see how vast we are. A fitting story then.
Therefore, Asteya goes beyond physical objects. Of course most of us aren’t stealing in the gross sense but we do take in a very different way. We may take on the characteristics of another, thinking that being someone else will bring us happiness (Aladdin did this when he became Al). We may take on the ideas of another (a sort of intellectual copyright) when we can’t come to terms with our own beliefs or feel overwhelmed with the effort. In taking what is conditional, what isn’t ours…in trying to wear stolen words, labels, personas that what will never fit , we keep the veil held between our intellect and the brightest jewel of all- our true nature (Purusha, Atman, Brahman).
- brahmacarya: proper conduct
- pratishtayam: When established in
- virya: strength
- labhah: achieve
“When established in proper conduct and not excesses, the result is strength and vitality.”
Often touted as “celibacy” brahmacarya means at the root to withold proper conduct within our relationships. This is relationships with our commited partners (as Yajnavalkya encourages) and between ourselves and all of nature. Moderation is helpful to not weight down the mind. Patanjali was no puritan, the intention here is for the yogi to keep their minds clear. When we are not over exerting our energy in any direction we are honoring our life force. The result then is a stable body/mind complex and more vitality.
We can see the correlation here to Yajnavalkya’s additional yama of mitahara. In Vyasa’s commentary on the yoga sutras mitahara is an essential aspect of tapas in both kriya yoga and ashtanga yoga. In the Yoga yajnavalkya it is categorized as an ethical observance. Either way the meaning is the same: moderation of what we take in from the outside world, even if it is freely given. For example, if we are eating easily digestible, nourishing food in moderation then we are not accumulating residual toxins in the digestive tract which has a direct result on the mind. Ayurveda would recommend leaving space in the stomach when eating (not filling up) so that the body can easily break down what is eaten and distribute nutrients well. Another example: If we are moderate in our consumption of social media /scrolling then we are not constantly flooding our system with dopamine from the use of a device thereby reducing the body’s natural production of the “happy chemical” from every day events. Dopamine flooding may lead to a reliance on outside sources for pleasure and ultimately depression (tamas) as repeated exposure creates adaptation and less dopamine per scroll. So, excess isn’t inherently evil, but it is not ideal for the sadhaka on the path to self connection. The initial discomfort of not feeding our mild or moderate addictions eventually gives way to more peace of mind. (Side note: If the addiction is severe psychological evaluation and assistance may be needed first before a new pattern of moderation can be established)
- aparigraha: non-accumulation
- sthairye: stability (like pratishtayam)
- janma: birth
- kathanta: the whole story, the how and why
- sambodhah: clear knowing
“When established in non-accumulation, one will know the whole story (past, present, future)”
As prakriti these body/mind complexes we see as ourselves are in constant cycle of change. The recipe keeps adjusting, changing, recalibrating based on our thoughts, actions, words, environment. In karma theory at the time of death our accumulated karma (good or bad) that has not been “burned off” through the fire of tapas in yogabhyasa attaches to the prana as it leaves the body- keeping us bound to nature. At this point we are born again in some form and keep going birth after birth with an ever changing “karmic bundle” ( a term Sir uses often) shifting and changing. Remembering the conversation in an earlier reading around prayatna may help. Most of our life is spent doing things to get what we want (pravritti prayatna) or doing things to get rid of what we don’t (nivritti prayatna). These actions have results which may fall into the category of punya (good) or apunya (bad) karma. Punya karma brings us to higher lokas (heavens), Apunya karma keeps us in the lower realms. Even good karma is burned though if we stay bound to prakriti (and yes the heavens are still considered prakriti- just more sattvic but nonetheless bound) and the cycle continues. Yogic effort or jivana prayatna is neither pravritti or nivritti- it is effort to maintain life and clear away the unhelpful baggage. The aim of yogic effort we know is ultimate peace which can only happen when we stop accumulating that which keeps us stuck. Why then would we want to grab more?
“Inside of us, there’s a continual autumn. Our leaves fall and are blown out over the water.”~ Rumi
Through the practice of non-accumulation we are supporting the yogic endeavor to make this autumn the last. To finally shed our misconceptions and mistaken identities and reside peacefully in the eternal self. And so our relationship to what we stop holding onto in our external environment is a support for what we stop gripping internally as well. In the end we don’t want to take it with us. So through mastery of aparigraha we have a clear understanding of where we’ve been (past-what we shed), where we are (present- where we are residing without attaching to more) and our future (because we aren’t accumulating more stuff to shed).
All of these 4 yama supported by the first (ahimsa) help us to temper the effects of the gunas on our mind and make it brighter and more prepared for yoga practice, daily living and the ultimate aim.
Even as householders in the land of “go, go, go” we can therefore proceed with a blueprint of how to relate to the ever-changing world around us and minimize distractions to “coming home.”
See you tomorrow 🙂