Yamas & Niyamas: Raja Yoga
IN AUSTIN, TEXAS AND OTHER
Yamas & Niyamas
A young man died and was met by an angel.
This Angel explained that the man must choose whether he will go to Heaven
or to Hell. "But before you choose, I will show you both." The
angel led the man down a great hall at the end of which was two great
doors. "Which would you like to see first?" The man took a deep
breath and asked to see Hell first, thinking to get it out of the way.
The Angel opened the doors to Hell and led the man through. A great banquet
hall stretched away from them, fading into the distance. On it were all
manner of wonderful foods and drinks. Sitting on either side of this banquet
were the residents of Hell. Everyone had a board tied to each arm extending
from shoulder down to their wrists so that they could not bend their arms
at the elbows, and thus could not feed themselves. As far as the young
man could see were bodies: People dying from hunger and thirst, and corpses
interspersed with skeletons. He backed out of the room in horror pursued
by the screams and moans of suffering and shut the door behind him.
After some time the young man regained his
composure and asked to see Heaven. The Angel opened the doors to Heaven
and led the man through. A great banquet hall stretched away from them,
fading into the distance. On it were all manner of wonderful foods and
drinks. Sitting on either side of this banquet were the residents of Heaven.
Everyone had a board tied to each arm extending from shoulder down to
their wrists so that they could not bend their arms at the elbows and
thus could not feed themselves. BUT some of them were dancing, while others
sang, and everyone was talking and laughing as they fed each other at
The Five Yamas (Abstinences)
These five moral disciplines are essential
to the spiritual development of the student of yoga. In many ways they
are universal, appearing in most of the ancient religions of the world.
This often misunderstood precept was the favorite of Mahatma Gandhi
who once said "Ahimsa is not merely a negative state of harmlessness
but it is a positive state of love, of doing good even to the evil-doer.
But it does not mean meek submission to the will of the evil-doer: it
means the putting of one's whole soul against his will."
The serious student of Yoga should always seek the truth in any situation
and MUST ALWAYS speak it.
Asteya is not limited to the legal definition of stealing. Asteya means
non-stealing in it's broadest possible sense, including non-covetousness.
By living a chaste life the Yogi is able to transmute his sexual energy
into spiritual energy. In it's most severe application Brahmacharya
includes not only refraining from sexual intercourse, but not thinking
sex, not looking with desire, or even conversing in private. Many Yogis
do not adopt such a strict interpretation. In fact, most Yogis and Sages
in India's past were married men with families. What is necessary is
to free oneself from sexual desire and lust. In fact there is an entire
school of Yoga called TANTRIC YOGA devoted to the practice and refinement
of Sex as an act of love and worship eventually leading to Samadhi.
Receiving gifts is prone to destroy the independence of the mind and
make one slavish. This Yama also means that nothing should be hoarded
or collected beyond that which is required immediately. It bears much
resemblance to Jesus Christ's parable about the lilies of the field.
Hoarding demonstrates a lack of faith.
Most traditional schools of Yoga require
a student to master these five abstinence, along with that of the Niyamas
before they are allowed to proceed along the "Eight-Fold Path".
In the West however, this is not practical, as most Westerners would never
advance past the first two steps to experience the real benefits of Hatha
Yoga. This is why we often start students out with the powerful practice
of Asanas (poses) initially, to give them a glimpse of the potential hidden
within the practices of Yoga.
For most Westerners this introduction to
the physical exercises is sufficient and the benefits of a healthy body
are reward enough. For those who sense the deeper beauty and power to
be found in the devotion of their life to Yoga, rather than just practicing
the physical exercises, the Yamas and Niyamas hold the key to opening
the doors to the inner mysteries of their own Soul.
The Five Niyamas (Observances)
SAUCHA (PURITY). Purity
of body externally is promoted by good habits like bathing, brushing
teeth, etc. Physical-Internal purity is realized through the practice
of Asans (Postures that tone the body and remove toxins and impurities
as well and eliminating tension and stress), Pranayama (Breathing exercises
that cleanse and aerate the lungs, oxygenate the blood and purify the
nerves), and good eating habits. More important is Mental-Internal purity.
This is achieved by ridding the body of disturbing emotions like hatred,
passion, delusion, anger, lust, pride and greed through the practice
of Bhakti (adoration). Still more important is the cleansing of the
intellect of impure thoughts which can be burned off in the fire of
Svadhyaya (the study of the Self).
This Niyama must be cultivated. There will always be differences among
Men. This is fine in and of itself. But when it becomes a distraction
to you the mind cannot concentrate or become one-pointed and thus it
is robbed of it's peace. There is contentment and peace when the flame
of the spirit does not waver in the wind of desire.
TAPAS (AUSTERITY). A conscious
effort to achieve ultimate union with the Divine and to burn up all
desires which stand in the way of this goal. Burning effort under all
circumstances to achieve a specific goal. There are three types of tapas
relating to body, speech and mind. Non-violence is one example of the
first category. Speaking truth and using words that do not offend are
two of the tapas of speech. Developing a mental attitude whereby one
remains tranquil and balanced in joy and sorrow and retains self control
are tapas of the mind. Through tapas the yogi gains courage and wisdom,
integrity, straightforwardness and simplicity.
SVADHYAYA (STUDY). "Ignorance
has no beginning, but it has an end. There is a beginning, but no end
to knowledge." Svadhyaya is the study of the great religious books
of the world, of all faiths, that the student may come to understand
his own faith better.
ISHVARA PRANIDHANA (WORSHIP
OF GOD). During the course of seeking enlightenment one must encounter
the "dark night of the soul". This is a period when you come
to question all that you thought you knew and you find yourself powerless
and lost amid your desires and fears. Only now, at the darkest hour
can true worship be discovered. In bhakti the mind, the intellect, and
the will are surrendered to the Lord and the seeker prays: "I do
not know what is good for me. Thy will be done." When the feeling
of 'I' and 'mine' disappears, the individual soul has reached full growth.
There once lived a man of great knowledge.
His reputation as a scholar spread throughout the land and still he longed
for recognition. And so it came to pass that this scholar sought out a
Zen Master in a nearby monastery asking to be shown the true nature of
the universe. But part of him wanted and expected the Zen Master to acknowledge
his wisdom. The scholar was granted an interview and seated at a low wooden
table. The Zen Master entered the room in silence, placed a tea cup before
the scholar and proceeded to fill it with tea. The cup filled up and began
spilling over the table, and still the Zen Master continued pouring. The
scholar cried out in alarm "My cup is overflowing!" The Zen
Master answered "Precisely!" and so ended the interview.
I used the story of the Tea Cup to demonstrate
that knowledge without humility is in fact a handicap to learning. Complete
beginners start with an open mind and listen to every word because it
is all new to them. They know they are ignorant and so they do not fear
to ask questions. The experienced student has heard most of it before,
and not listening, misses the little that he did not already know, and
so the beginner passes him by. A full cup can receive no tea. Therefore,
when breathing empty your lungs, when learning empty your mind; when loving
empty your heart; and when worshiping empty your soul.