Yamas and Niyamas meaning, according to The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?
Traditional yoga system is based on respecting certain ethical and moral rules, which are known as Yamas and Niyamas. There are ten of them, five of each, representing “lesson I” for the yogis, but a very important lesson that we must always return to with sincerity and dedication, as it hides in a mysterious way some fundamental keys that allow us a real transformation of our inner universe.
Any human being who truly reached perfection in Yamas and Niyamas is a perfect being and the yoga system as a whole gives us a spiritual path to perfection, with great practice efficiency.
- AHIMSA (non-violence, non-harming, non-injury);
- SATYA (truthfulness, non-falsehood, honesty);
- ASTEYA (non-stealing);
- BRAHMACHARYA (celibacy, non-cheating on one’s partner, continence);
- APARIGRAHA (non-possessiveness, non-greed).
- SAUCHA (cleanliness, purity);
- SANTOSA (contentment);
- TAPAS (austerity, ascesis);
- SVADHYAYA (study of self);
- ISHVARAPRANIDHANA (contemplation of the Ishvara(Divine), devotion).
1. AHIMSA (non-violence)
The word AHIMSA is composed of particle “a” – which means “non” and the noun “himsa” – which means “killing” or “violence”. It’s more than an imperative not to kill because it has a broader meaning involving love.
This love includes all creatures because we are all children of the same Father – God.
Constant practice of non-violence (ahimsa) results in uprooting feelings of hostility towards any being. Around the one who has a strong non-violence root, all beings give up hatred, dislike or enmity. This is the first rule from yamas and niyamas.
2. SATYA (truth)
Satya or truth is the most important rule of conduct. Mahatma Gandhi said: “Truth is God and God is Truth.” Just as the fire burns impurities and refines gold, so does the fire of truth refine the yogi and burns impurities in him. Truth was particularly respected and even worshiped in yogic tradition. Vedas state: “Truth is the one who governs earth, water, the whole cosmos.”
Mahabharata even said that: “If the merit obtained making a thousand ASHVAMEDHA ritual sacrifices would be weighed against the merit of truth (SATYA), the truth would still hang heavier.” The great sage Manu says: “All human activities are carried out thanks to the word and there is no other communication of thoughts than words, so the man who dishonors the word – which is the source and basis for all activities – by being dishonest or unfair in his language, it can be said that he is simultaneously a thief of all things which he distorts.”
The practice of SATYA entails VAK-SIDDHI. VAK-SIDDHI = extraordinary yogic power, obtained through practice of SATYA, thanks to which everything the yogi says or thinks becomes true, real and is accomplished (as the individual’s energy increases, entering beneficial in resonance with the energy of the collective subconscious).
3. ASTEYA (non-stealing)
ASTEYA comes from A = not and STEYA = steal or in other words “not stealing”. The desire to possess and to enjoy the good of others leads people to profound negative deeds. From this desire comes the urge to steal and envy. This includes not only taking something that belongs to someone else without permission but also to use something with other purpose than the initial one or more than the holder allows. Thus, this includes alienation, infraction of faith and misuse.
One who obeys the commandment “Thou shall not steal”, understood in its general meaning, becomes the owner of all riches.
4. BRAHMACHARYA (continence)
In yogic concept, BRAHMACHARYA means continence, restraint, reservation in a certain direction, and even abstinence, spiritual focus, transmutation and sublimation of sexual potential, both by men and by women. Essentially, full control of sexual potential is desired, without removing the possibility of exercising sexual function.
One who practices continence (brahmacharya) constantly strengthens all his inner faculties. Continence even allows the reveal of the Supreme Self; body, psyche, and senses of the one who practices tenaciously become capable of amazing achievements.
Regarding the practice of continence, the famous treatise “YOGA DATSHANA” mentions in the second chapter, sutra 37: “Those who practice continence acquire great power.”
5. APARIGRAHA (non-accumulation or modesty)
Sanskrit word GRAHA = grip (grasp) and PARI = all around; “A” means negation. It was translated “not heap” or “not gather”. It is, therefore, another deep aspect of the rule about “not stealing” or lack of greed.
Not stealing means not taking what doesn’t belong to you; not gathering means not collecting what is not needed. The rule is enunciated so that it includes the idea of not accepting favors, not to attach to the items you possess, not to accumulate material goods.
1. SAUCHA (purity)
In his commentary on Patanjali’s sutras, sage Vyasa states: “Of these five (niyamas), purification is done with soil or water or with something similar, by fasting or other requirements related to purified food.”
In conclusion, SAUCHA represents the activity of purification at all levels of the being with special emphasis on mental purity. In Yoga Sutras chapter II, sutra 41, Patanjali states: “By practicing mental purity one acquires happiness, focus of the mind, mind control, vision of the Self.”
2. SANTOSA (contentment)
In Yoga Sutras chapter II, Patanjali states: “From contentment springs the supreme happiness.”
It is not simply a passive acceptance of the circumstances in which you find yourself, but rather an active approval of the beings that surround you, an active approval of the circumstances, to make full use of them, even if they appear unfavorable at first.
3. TAPAS (austerity)
TAPAS is derived from the root word TAP = “to burn”, “to burst into flames”, “to shine”, “to suffer pain” or “to be consumed by fire.” Thus it represents an ardent effort at all levels, in any circumstance, in order to achieve a clear purpose in life. TAPAS involves purification, self-discipline and austerity.
The whole science of building a character or personality can be seen as a practice of TAPAS. TAPAS is a conscious effort to burn all desires that hinder us on the road to our purpose, it is the effort to achieve the ultimate fusion with the Divine.
4. SVADHYAYA (study of self)
SVA means “Self” and ADHYAYA means “study” or “education”. Education means shaping and blooming of the best aspects that exist in a being. Thus, SVADHYAYA means “education of self”.
SVADHYAYA involves spiritual reading of sacred texts, in an elevation state of consciousness.
5. ISHVARAPRANIDHANA (devotion)
ISHVARA means “God” and PRANIDHANA means “continuous devotion” or “self-giving”. ISHVARAPRANIDHANA represents consecration of actions, feelings, thoughts and aspirations to God. One whose mind and heart are filled with love of God won’t be troubled by pride or desire for power, removing any selfish thought from his mind.
By uniting the mind with the heart in the Divine, ISHVARAPRANIDHANA brings energy, mental strength, and spiritual enlightenment. Through adoration, the mind is devoid of desires and becomes full of thoughts for God.
ISHVARAPRANIDHANA is a practice that should be done every moment. An initial form consists in uttering prayers at the beginning of each day or during special moments and before each meal.
The highest stage in achieving ISHVARAPRANIDHANA has the effect of unlimited knowledge of everything that exists, but this knowledge is not received from the outside (the last from Yamas and Niyamas list).
Note – because these principles were written thousands of years ago, the yamas and the niyamas can be difficult ideas to embrace in a contemporary society.