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by Swami Rama

[Editor's Note Jan 10, 2021: Article corrected by adding the word "not" in the sentence below which reads "Brahmacharya should not be interpreted as repression of all sensual urges."]

[This is an excerpt from Lectures on Yoga, Practical Lessons on Yoga by Swami Rama, Himalayan Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the USA, 1976, pages 17 – 19. This book was later published with the title The Royal Path, Practical Lessons on Yoga.]

The Yamas are five restraints which regulate one’s relationship with other beings. They are Ahimsa or non-violence, Satya or truthfulness, Asteya or non-stealing, Brahmacharya or abstinence from sensual indulgence and Aparigraha or non-possessiveness.

Ahimsa literally means non-hurting or non-violence. One normally thinks of violence only in terms of physical violence and most people in civilized societies refrain from gross acts physical violence. Ahimsa, however, refers to non-violence in thought and word as well as in deed. Violence in speech or in actions is almost always preceded by violent thoughts. Violent thoughts have serious repercussions on the mind and on the body and should be avoided if only for this reason. On the positive side, careful cultivation of Ahimsa leads to a spontaneous, all-encompassing love towards all creation. One begins to see the unity in all creation and thus progresses towards the goal of Self-Realization.

Satya or truthfulness is an essential part of all codes of morality in all societies. One should be truthful to oneself and to others in thought, word and deed. As most people know, one lie inevitably leads to another. Soon deception becomes second nature an leads to a fearful and scheming mind. It is said that if one makes truth the central focus of his life, all his utterances will come true, for such a one is incapable of untruth.

Asteya or non-stealing includes refraining from misappropriation, the acceptance of bribes and the like. The desire for what another owns can be very strong. The mind, when possessed by this desire, is capable of little else. Such an attitude of mind is based on underlying feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, a sense of having been cheated and a desire for retribution. One is haunted be the thought that “someone else has what I need to feel complete and fulfilled.” But stealing an external object does not get rid of the basic sense of inadequacy. So one surreptitiously takes again and again, but the underlying feelings remain. Cultivating Asteya counteracts such attitudes. It helps to develop a sense of completeness and sufficiency, and leads to freedom from the bondage of such cravings.

Brahmacharya literally means to walk in Brahman or the Supreme. One who cultivates this Yama is, therefore, aware of Brahman alone. Such a state is possible only if the mind is free from all sensual desires. Of all sensual desires, the sexual urge is the most powerful and the most destructive. Brahmacharya is, therefore, often translated as abstinence from sex or celibacy. In reality it refers to continence, applying either to celibacy or married life. Sexual excesses lead to dissipation of vital energy which could, instead, be used to attain deeper states of consciousness. Brahmacharya should not be interpreted as repression of all sensual urges. Such repression only leads to frustration and an abnormal state of mind. Brahmacharya means control of and freedom of all sensual cravings. The bliss that accompanies Self-Realization is far greater than any transient sensual pleasure. One whose goal is Self-Realization would, therefore, overcome the obstacles of sensual cravings without any kind of suppression.

Aparigraha or non-possessiveness has been misunderstood to mean denying oneself all material possessions. But as is the case with each of these restraints, this practice is essentially an inward attitude rather than an outward appearance. It involves not being addicted to, or dependent on one’s possessions, rather than the outward denial of them. A beggar can be more attached to his begging bowl than a king is all his treasures. The danger lies not in having material possessions, but in becoming attached to them or in craving more.



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