yama and niyama: the ethical foundation

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yama and niyama: the ethical foundation

Monday, 18 September 2023 | swami charanshrit

yama and niyama: the    ethical foundation

They provide moral compass to Ashtanga Yoga on which the entire system rests

Maharishi Patanjali in his treatise Patanjali Yoga Sutra, wrote, Tado drashtuhu swarupe avastham, (Sutra 3), implying that the seer then rests or remains in his/her own nature. This exalted state can be achieved by a disciplined mind. It would be worthwhile to perceive and comprehend Sutra 4; Ashtanga Yoga, often referred to as the Eight-Limbed Path, is a comprehensive system of yoga practice that encompasses various facets of life, ranging from physical postures (asanas) to meditation and spiritual realization. At its core, Ashtanga Yoga is built upon a solid foundation of ethical and moral principles known as Yama and Niyama. These principles provide practitioners with a framework for leading a balanced, harmonious, and spiritually fulfilling life.

Yama: The Five Moral Restraints

Yama, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga, consists of five moral restraints or ethical guidelines that help individuals navigate their interactions with the external world. These principles are:

1.Ahimsa (Non-Violence): Ahimsa teaches us to cultivate a deep sense of non-violence, not only in our actions but also in our thoughts and words. It promotes compassion and empathy towards all living beings.

2.Satya (Truthfulness): Satya encourages us to be truthful in our words and actions. It involves not only speaking the truth but also being honest with ourselves and avoiding deception.

3.Asteya (Non-Stealing): Asteya teaches us to refrain from stealing or coveting what belongs to others, both materially and emotionally. It promotes contentment and gratitude for what we have.

4.Brahmacharya (Moderation and Self-Control): Brahmacharya emphasizes moderation and self-control in our physical and emotional desires. It encourages us to channel our energy towards spiritual growth rather than indulging in excessive sensual pleasures.

5.Aparigraha (Non-Possessiveness): Aparigraha teaches us to let go of attachments and possessiveness. By reducing our attachment to material possessions, we free ourselves from unnecessary burdens and distractions.

Niyama: The Five Observances

Niyama, the second limb of Ashtanga Yoga, consists of five observances or personal disciplines that guide our inner transformation. These principles are:

1. Saucha (Purity): Saucha emphasizes cleanliness and purity, both externally and internally. It involves maintaining a clean physical environment, as well as purifying the mind and heart through practices such as meditation.

2. Santosha (Contentment): Santosha encourages contentment and acceptance of the present moment. It teaches us to find joy and satisfaction in what we have rather than constantly seeking external sources of happiness.

3. Tapas (Austerity): Tapas involves cultivating self-discipline and inner strength. It includes practices like fasting, self-reflection, and intense self-study to remove impurities and distractions from the mind.

4. Svadhyaya (Self-Study): Svadhyaya encourages the study of sacred texts, self-reflection, and introspection. It guides us on a journey of self-discovery and self-realization.

5.Ishvara Pranidhana (Surrender to a Higher Power): Ishvara Pranidhana teaches us to surrender our ego and will to a higher power or divine consciousness.

The Importance of Yama and Niyama: In Ashtanga Yoga, the principles of Yama and Niyama are the moral and ethical cornerstones upon which the entire system is built. They provide a roadmap for individuals seeking to live a life of integrity, compassion, and inner fulfillment. By incorporating these principles into their daily lives, practitioners of Ashtang Yoga can enhance their physical health and mental well-being.

(The writer is a spiritual teacher. The views expressed are personal)

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