यमनियमासिप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यािसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि ॥ २.२९॥
Ashtanga Yoga, the Eight-Fold Path, is described by Lord Patanjali:
Yama – Restraint
Niyama – Observance
Asana – Seat
Pranayama – Breath Control
Pratyahara – Sense Withdrawal
Dharana – Concentration
Dhyana – Meditation
Samadhi – Yogic Ecstasy
~ Translation by Sharon Gannon
The non-violent path has rarely been the path of the majority. It has even sometimes been the hardest to walk, as it takes more courage to meet violence with kindness and compassion, than to meet violence with violence.
We can choose among many paths in life and each of us is looking for one that feels right, that will help alleviate suffering and maybe create a little enlightenment. The path of nonviolence happens to be the ethical foundation of Yoga. In the Sutras, Patanjali gives us an eight-limbed plan for those of us who still need more direction in order to untangle themselves from the duḥkha, suffering that binds us.
The first step of this plan is called Yama and there are five ethical restrictions. Yama also means twin, addressing the relationship of self with others. The practice is one of refraining from harming the other in order to harmonize ourselves with all beings.
अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः ॥ २.३० ॥
ahiṃsā-satyāsteya-brahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ || 2.30 ||
The yamas (forms of restraint) are nonviolence , truthfulness, abstention from stealing, continence and renunciation of [unnecessary] possessions.
I. AHIMSA — walking the path of non-violence.
अहिंसाप्रतिष्ठायां तत्सन्निधौ वैरत्यागः ॥ २.३५ ॥
ahiṃsāpratiṣṭhāyāṃ tatsannidhau vairatyāgaḥ || 2.35 ||
In the presence of one who is established in nonviolence, enmity is abandoned.
Even natural enemies such as cat and mouse or mongoose and snake give up their enmity in the presence of the yogi who has fully renounced all thoughts of violence, due to being influenced by the yogi's state of mind.
The Jivamukti Method has shown the Yoga world that the five yamas were not limited to only not harming ourselves and were not limited either to only how to behave toward other human beings, but toward every single being on this planet. It is about a compassionate lifestyle extending to all animals and the environment. Liberation and everlasting happiness are achieved by kindness, by being considerate of others first. We live to benefit others and all will benefit.
It is important to keep in mind the word itself and reflect on how we cause harm physically, vocally, and mentally. Sometimes Ahiṃsā is translated as “loving kindness”, highlighting the positive rather than the negative; something to do, rather than refrain from. Ahiṃsā is both a strong and noble wish deep inside our heart not to cause harm to any other being and the practice of acting that comes along. Over time the wish deepens and our capacity to express it expands.
And when we stop harming others, others will cease to harm us.
II. SATYA — The power of simple truth.
सत्यप्रतिष्ठायां क्रियाफलाश्रयत्वम् ॥ २.३६ ॥
satyapratiṣṭhāyāṃ kriyāphalāśrayatvam || 2.36 ||
When one is established in truthfulness, one ensures the fruition of actions.
Truthfulness, satya, is cultivated by willpower — the determination never to tell a lie. This power of simple truth can sway the mind of the listener to act in accordance with the yogi’s words.
When in doubt about what we are going to say, we ask ourselves: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary?
The yogic mind is the mind of an investigator who is questioning the status quo and untying knots of cultural memes and wrong beliefs. It is our responsibility to make sure that the information is examined and validated to be true, so our beliefs and opinions are formed and shared based on trust insources. We become mindful and avoid any gossiping, complaining, exaggerations and unnecessary small talks.
Truthfulness is practiced to spotlessly refine and make ahiṁsā immaculate. We purify our speech so it becomes undertaken for the benefit of all beings.
III. ASHTEYA — The practice of non-stealing
asteyapratiṣṭhāyāṃ sarvaratnopasthānam || 2.37 ||
When the Yogi is established in asteya, non–stealing, all prosperity is realized.
When one stops stealing from others, prosperity (material, mental, and spiritual) appears.
– Sharon Gannon
Established in nonstealing, a glow of detachment and indifference radiates from the face of the yogi. People are inspired by this to feel that this person is trustworthy and has absolute integrity.
Patanjali presents the practice of non-stealing as a way to be able to see the preciousness in everything. It appears when we stop taking things that do not belong to us away from others. One of the most straightforward ways of including asteya into our daily lives would be through a vegan lifestyle.
‘Through the practice of yoga, you come to feel confident and develop a feeling of wholeness and completeness; you are not likely to feel deprived or "less than." People steal because they feel deprived. They try to make up for their deficits by depriving others. Our culture teaches us that if we have the money to pay for it, we can have it. We can own land or animals if we pay for them. We used to be able to own humans, if we paid for them, until we came to understand that human slavery is wrong. Now we are on the brink of realizing that enslaving animals is wrong.’
_Sharon Gannon’s words in ‘ Yoga and Vegetarianism’
IV. BRAHMACHARYA — directing the sexual energy
brahmacaryapratiṣṭhāyāṃ vīryalābhaḥ || 2.38 ||
When the Yogi is established in brahmacarya, continence, spiritual strength and vigor is attained.
The fourth yama means ‘to respect the creative power of sex and not abuse it by manipulating others sexually’.
To practice brahmacharya is to understand the potential of sexual energy which is the essence of all physical and psychological forces. When sexual energy is directed wisely, it becomes a mean to transcend separation or otherness. When sexual energy is used to exploit, manipulate, or humiliate another, however, it propels us into deeper separation and ignorance, avidya.
Patanjali tells us clearly that health and vitality will come to one who is established in brahmacharya—to one who treats sexuality with reverence.
V. APARIGRAHA — the non-accumulation of things.
aparigrahasthairye janmakathaṃtāsambodhaḥ || 2.39 ||
When the Yogi is established in aparigraha, non-possessiveness, knowledge of the past, present, and future and the ‘how’ and ‘why’ of life is realized.
Aparigraha is the non-accumulation of things. Things take your energy; you must take care of them. This takes your energy and time away from spiritual practices. If it is collecting dust let go of it, get rid of it. Direct all that extra energy towards sadhana.
Aparigraha means non-acceptance of gifts, non-hoarding, being free from greed, being free from rigidity of thoughts and free from clinging to paradigms and opinions. In a positive sense, grasping is replaced with the practice of generosity, gratitude, contentment, and respect.
Greed is the cause of most wars and violence. Greed brings hypocrisy, lies and deceit. Greed leads to stealing habitat and is the cause of the forceful displacement of 100 million people and the sixth mass extinction. Greed also is the source of much sexual misconduct, especially human trafficking, sex slavery and animal husbandry.
Every day, we take a break to let go of outer distractions, grasping and greedy tendencies. We allow the necessary spaciousness to emerge so that we can reach a state where we are missing nothing. Patanjali suggests in this sutra that the practice of aparigraha will ultimately reveal why we were born. It is not only the understanding of past, present and future births, but also of our true purpose in life.
Words by Eva Lucie Daniela, inspired by Patanjali’s Sutras and Jivamukti Yoga teachings.