जातिदेशकालसमयानवच्छिन्नाः सार्वभौमा महाव्रतम् I
jāti-deśa-kāla-samaya-anavacchinnāḥ sārva-bhaumāḥ mahā-vratam
The great vow (mahā-vratam) is the ability to follow the five yamas irrespective (anavacchinnāḥ) of our birth situation (jāti), location (deśa), moment (kāla) or circumstance (samaya) that we find ourselves in.
PRACTICAL LIVING Last week we described the first of the eight limbs of yoga – the yamas. Patañjali suggested that we practice being: (i) kind; (ii) honest; (iii) virtuous; (iv) moderate; and (v) fair. In this sūtra he says that those who are able to practice the five yamas listed above regardless of who they are, the location they find themselves in, the time it is or the circumstances they are in, they are keeping the great vow (mahā-vratam). In the practical world, however, most of us will not be able to keep those vows 100% of the time. Having said that, the aim is to practice them as often as we can. Let’s look at them separately and explore some specific examples:
(i) birth situation (jāti) – What family were you born in? What were the challenges in your household? What profession do you follow? Jāti refers to your life situation. If a person has an abusive parent, for example, being kind or honest with that parent is not necessarily the best thing for that child. If someone becomes a professional rugby player or a boxer, harming someone else will become part of their profession. A detective, for example, will need to lie in order to do their job sometimes. An eskimo has no choice but to kill animals and eat them in order to survive.
(ii) location (deśa) – Do you behave differently depending on where you are? Do you tend to be more honest at work than when you visit your parents? Are you kind to some groups of people but not others? Are there places that bring the beauty out of you? For me, whenever I go on retreats and I am surrounded by like-minded individuals, I see kindness, honesty, fairness and moderation come out. I just need to go on more retreats and then practice bringing that back to the world with me 🙂
(iii) time/moment (kāla) – Does the time of the day affect how you treat yourself or others? Are you kinder in the evening? Ladies, how is your treatment of others affected by the time of the month? Many traditions believe that all human beings go through cycles that change how we perceive ourselves and others. I am happy to see that I am much kinder as an adult than I was as a child.
(iv) circumstance (samaya) – What affects our behavior? Some people are affected by social class. Others by looks. Some change depending on the intellectual setting they find themselves in. For example, in terms of moderation, I often hear people say how the holiday season is one of over-indulgence. People overeat candy for Halloween, overeat turkey for Thanksgiving and keep on overeating until the famous New Year’s resolutions. What circumstances make you change your behavior in terms of kindness, honesty, fairness or moderation?
Once again, Patañjali is giving us more tools for self-reflection. The more aware we become about our behaviors, the more we are able to practice the yamas regardless of our life situation, location, time and circumstances.
IN THE YOGA WORLD Some interpreters of the Yoga Sūtras say that the true and highest yogi will keep their great vow by being fully committed to it in every level and at all times. However, human beings have many layers. We can only work on those layers of ourselves that we are aware of. So for most of us, let us keep up our practices (whatever you do that helps you be more mindful) so that we can work layer by layer, practicing kindness with ourselves and others, being honest with ourselves and others, being as balanced as we can, and being fair in every situation we find ourselves in. In the Bhagavad Gita, another very important Indian text, the main character Arjuna, is told by Krishna, God, that he needs to fight and kill others in battle. Destruction or death is part of life just like construction and birth. This sūtra tells us that life is relativistic. It is presenting the grey in between the black and white thinking of ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ we tend to fall into. Lets make a vow to be the best human being we can be at all times!
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON I was recently profoundly touched by beautiful Bianca. Our relationship growing up was tricky. But as we have both worked on the yamas throughout the years, we have reconnected to see the light within each other. I feel love and admiration for her. She knows how to turn dirt into glitter. She has shown me the wisdom and compassion of a true yogi. Her talents make the world a more joyful place. I look forward to the unfolding of a loving friendship with her. Brigada Bi por me mostrar compaixao pura! Beijos com muito carinho!
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 will look at the niyamas – lifestyle guidelines!
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I’m not a boxer, nor soldier or meat dependent Eskimo. But, I am mindful that shooting dried garbanzo beans with slingshot at the squirrel in my small yard may reap karma on me in some way. How far will we go, me and this squirrel.
A month later still at war with small city backyard creatures (killing the native plants I just put in), mindful of ahimsa the whole time, I realize I am not going for sainthood. And I am no worse than people who eat farm animals and fish, knowing the unspeakable life those sentient beings have. But I did regretfully kill two bees with the slingshot and won’t do that again, but will let them live til their cycle is done before caulking up the little shed. I think the squirrel enjoys this hide & seek game with me, staring at me from the tree next door as I shoot 20 beans until one hits; and I enjoy the target practice, as long as I don’t take it to the next level and use steel pellets. Again, thank you for giving the Sutras life on the net. They are certainly educating my behavior and I am learning where anger takes me.