How often do you see a professional team of people misbehave on the job? You’re on a flight from San Fran-cisco to Singapore. Do the flight attendants bicker in the aisle? Of course not. People at this level of business have control of their minds and emotions. If they didn’t, they would soon be replaced. When they are on the job, at least, they follow a code of conduct spelled out in detail by the corporation. It’s not un-like the moral code of any religion, outlining sound ethics for respect and harmony among humans. Those seeking to be successful in life strive to ful-fill a moral code whether “on the job” or off. Does Hinduism and its scriptures on yoga have such a code? Yes: twenty ethical guidelines called yamas and niyamas, “restraints and observances.” These “do’s” and “don’ts” are found in the 6,000 to 8,000-year-old Vedas, mankind’s oldest body of scripture, and in other holy texts expounding the path of yoga.
The yamas and niyamas are a common-sense code recorded in the final section of the Vedas, called Upani-shads, namely the Shandilya and the Varuha. They are also found in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Gorakshanatha, the Tiru-mantiram of Tirumular and in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The yamas and niyamas have been preserved through the centuries as the foundation, the first and second stage, of the eight-staged practice of yoga. Yet, they are fundamental to all beings, expect-ed aims of everyone in society, and assumed to be fully intact for anyone seeking life’s highest aim in the pursuit called yoga. Sage Patanjali (ca 200bce), raja yoga’s foremost propounder, told us, “These yamas are not limited by class, country, time (past, present or future) or situation. Hence they are called the universal great vows.” Yogic scholar Swami Brahm-ananda Saraswati revealed the inner science of yama and niyama. They are the means, he said, to control the vitarkas, the cruel mental waves or thoughts, that when acted upon result in injury to others, untruthfulness, hoarding, discontent, indo-lence or selfishness. He stated, “For each vitarka you have, you can create its opposite through yama and niyama, and make your life successful.”
The following paragraphs, with accompanying illustrations by A. Manivel of Chennai, elucidate the yamas and niyamas. Presented first are the ten yamas, the do not’s, which harness the instinctive nature, with its governing impulses of fear, anger, jealousy, selfishness, greed and lust. Second are illustrated the ten niyamas, the do’s, the religious observances that cultivate and bring forth the refined soul qualities, lifting awareness into the consciousness of the higher chakras of love, compassion, self-lessness, intelligence and bliss. Together the yamas and niyamas provide the foundation to support our yoga practice so that at-tainments in higher consciousness can be sustained.
The Ten Yamas - Restraints or Proper Conduct in Hinduism
Yama # 1
Practice noninjury, not harm-ing others by thought, word or deed, even in your dreams. Live a kindly life, revering all beings as expressions of the One Divine energy. Let go of fear and insecurity, the sources of abuse. Knowing that harm caused to others unfailingly returns to oneself, live peacefully with God’s creation. Never be a source of dread, pain or injury. Follow a vegetarian diet.
Image:- Noninjury, Ahimsa
Yama # 2
Adhere to truthfulness, refraining from lying and betraying promises. Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. Know-ing that deception creates distance, don’t keep secrets from family or loved ones. Be fair, accurate and frank in discussions, a stranger to deceit. Admit your failings. Do not engage in slander, gossip or backbiting. Do not bear false witness against another.
Image:- Truthfulness, Satya
Yama # 3
Uphold the virtue of nonsteal-ing, neither thieving, covet-ing nor failing to repay debt. Control your desires and live within your means. Do not use borrowed resources for unintended purposes or keep them past due. Do not gamble or defraud others. Do not renege on promises. Do not use others’ names, words, resources or rights without permission and acknowledgement.
Image:- Nonstealing, Asteya
Yama # 4
Practice divine conduct, controlling lust by remain-ing celibate when single and faithful in marriage. Before marriage, use vital energies in study, and after marriage in creating family success. Don’t waste the sacred force by promiscuity in thought, word or deed. Be restrained with the opposite sex. Seek holy company. Dress and speak modestly. Shun pornography, sexual humor and violence.
Image:- Divine Conduct, Brahmacharya
Yama # 5
Exercise patience, restrain-ing intolerance with people and impatience with cir-cumstances. Be agreeable. Let others behave accord-ing to their nature, without adjusting to you. Don’t argue, dominate conversations or interrupt others. Don’t be in a hurry. Be patient with chil-dren and the elderly. Mini-mize stress by keeping wor-ries at bay. Remain poised in good times and bad.
Image:- Patience, Kshama
Yama # 6
Foster steadfastness, over-coming nonperseverance, fear, indecision and change-ableness. Achieve your goals with a prayer, purpose, plan, persistence and push. Be firm in your decisions. Avoid sloth and procrastination. Develop willpower, cour-age and industriousness. Overcome obstacles. Never carp or complain. Do not let opposition or fear of failure result in changing strategies.
Image:- Steadfastness, Dhriti
Yama # 7
Practice compassion, con-quering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings. See God everywhere. Be kind to people, animals, plants and the Earth itself. Forgive those who apolo-gize and show true remorse. Foster sympathy for others’ needs and suffering. Honor and assist those who are weak, impoverished, aged or in pain. Oppose family abuse and other cruelties.
Image:- Compassion, Daya
Yama # 8
Maintain honesty, renounc-ing deception and wrongdo-ing. Act honorably even in hard times. Obey the laws of your nation and locale. Pay your taxes. Be straight-forward in business. Do an honest day’s work. Do not bribe or accept bribes. Do not cheat, deceive or circum-vent to achieve an end. Be frank with yourself. Face and accept your faults with-out blaming them on others.
Image:- Honesty, Arjava
Yama # 9
Be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy fresh, wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation. Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a dis-turbed atmosphere or when upset. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare. Be moderate in appetite, neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, shellfish, fowl or eggs. Enjoy fresh, wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Avoid junk food. Drink in moderation. Eat at regular times, only when hungry, at a moderate pace, never between meals, in a dis-turbed atmosphere or when upset. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.
Image:- Moderate Appetite, Mitahara
Yama # 10
Uphold the ethic of purity, avoiding impurity in mind, body and speech. Maintain a clean, healthy body. Keep a pure, uncluttered home and workplace. Act virtu-ously. Keep good company, never mixing with adulter-ers, thieves or other impure people. Keep away from pornography and violence. Never use harsh, angered or indecent language. Worship devoutly. Meditate daily.
Image:- Purity, Saucha