अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः I
The five relationship guidelines (yamāḥ) are kindness, honesty, integrity, moderation and fairness.
PRACTICAL LIVING In the last sūtra Patañjali listed the eight limbs of Yoga: relationship guidelines, lifestyle guidelines, body posture, breathing practices, awareness of the senses, concentration, meditation and complete absorption. From now until the end of chapter two, we will explore these life suggestions in detail. The eight limbs are suggestions for walking a path of transformation, leading to awareness and inner peace. In this sūtra, Patañjali lists the five relationship guidelines (yamas). Later we will explore each of these in more depth, so here we will only get our feet wet. The five relationship guidelines are:
i. ahiṁsā (kindness) – what comes to mind when you read this? Are you kind to those around you, the person making coffee for you in the morning and yourself? Or maybe your thoughts went to not harming your own self through action, speech or thought? The concept of non-violence, or kindness, can be interpreted and worked on in different levels (like all of the concepts in the sūtras). Who do you see yourself causing harm? Is it yourself? Is it someone else? How do you do it? It can be physical, verbal, passive aggressive communication, the silent treatment, sarcasm, shaming…There are numerous ways of being harmful. Patañjali lists kindness as the first thing to work on. Choose one behavior you can change this week and commit to it (remember the word “atha” from sūtra I.1 meaning commitment?). Write down who you are committing to be kind to this week, and how you will do it. Mine is: write a note to my husband daily for the next 7 days telling him how exceptional he is). What’s yours?
ii. satya (honesty) – just like kindness, honesty has the obvious “don’t lie” interpretation, but there are several layers to this one as well. How often do you speak your truth? If you don’t, why is that? Are you afraid people won’t like you? Think about how you dress, how you walk, what you say, what you believe in…Is that a reflection of your own truth or someone else’s? If you speak your truth, do you do it kindly? As we will start understanding, all of these concepts are inter-connected.
iii. asteya (integrity) – from the gross understanding of not taking that which belongs to someone else, to subtler concepts of allowing everyone in a group to talk, this concept can also offer a lot of contemplative work. Are you an attention seeker who always takes everyone’s attention? Are you the kind of person who only talks about themselves and never asks others how they’re doing? Though this all sounds pretty heavy, please try and take this self-reflection work lightly. We are not here to criticize ourselves, but simply to gain awareness and do some house cleaning 🙂
iv. brahmacarya (moderation) – the word means ‘behaving like a disciple of God’. This is a well discussed term. Here, for practical reasons, we will refer to brahmacarya as moderation. This has to do with the sixth limb, control of the senses, which we will later discuss. Moderation is a key concept in the Yoga path from the amount of food we consume, to sex to watching TV to shopping. Channeling our energy towards our highest goal is what this is about. We are animals that have desires. Patañjali asks us to be aware of what those are, and consciously act in moderation.
v. aparigrahāḥ (fairness) – this relates to taking just the right amount. Like Goldilocks who chose the porridge that was just right for her. So we reflect and see whether we may be asking for or accepting too much? There is no objective amount that is right or wrong. Deep inside, we all know what is just right. Children and dogs know when they’re being unfair. Children will often run away or put their heads down and dogs will place their tales between their legs. On a relationship level, can we give without always getting something back? Can you try doing one thing this week without seeking any praise, appreciation or response back? Try it!
IN THE YOGA WORLD The fourth yama, brahmacarya, is a disputed one in the Yoga world. Many interpreters translate this concept as celibacy or sexual restraint. Some traditions will suggest celibacy for periods of time based on the understanding that a lot of energy is spent doing and thinking about sexual intercourse. Other philosophies use sexual activity as a tool for spiritual awakening. Like I have mentioned in previous sūtras, there are numerous lineages with various tool bags, each attracting different people. Find the interpretation that best suits you today and practice that.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON My Hawaiian moon-chanting sister, Anya is one of those rare people whom you meet in life and the connection is immediate to the heart. There were no walls to my heart, she instantly walked in and a beautiful friendship began. Her passion for life is awing. This passion is clearly manifested in her sacred relationship with food. She’s a chef, a food lover and a vessel for showing people how to create a spiritual connection with food. Beware, her book, soon to be released, is going to capture your hearts! Mother, wife, friend, daughter, writer, speaker, world traveler, spiritual seeker. Those are some of the roles she plays in life. And she plays them with kindness, honesty, integrity and fairness. Anya, beautiful Goddess, I thank life for bringing us together one fine week overlooking the ocean! “Gracias a la vida!” as my mother would say. Love you woman!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we look at how specific situations may not fit perfectly into the yamas!