Yama and Niyama are Pantanali’s first two of the eight limbs of yoga. Each has five parts and following these ten guidelines is considered part of a firm base for progressing along the yogic path.
In thinking about Yama and Niyama, I am reminded of the Buddhist precepts and the Ten Commandments of Christianity.
- You shall have no other gods before me.
- You shall not make for yourselves an idol.
- You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.
- Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.
- Honor your father and your mother.
- You shall not murder.
- You shall not commit adultery.
- You shall not steal.
- You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.
- You shall not covet.
Buddhist precepts (per Cheri Huber – American Zen teacher Soto Zen)
- Not to lead a harmful life nor encourage others to do so.
- Not to take what is not given.
- Not to commit or participate in unchaste conduct.
- Not to tell lies nor practice believing the fantasies of authority.
- Not to use intoxicating drinks or narcotics nor assist others to do so.
- Not to publish other people’s faults.
- Not to extol oneself and slander others.
- Not to be avaricious in bestowal of the teachings.
- Not to be angry.
- Not to speak ill of this religion or any other.
- Ahimsa – not to do harm to others in thought, word and actions.
- Satya – action of mind and the use of speech in the spirit of welfare (truth with compassion).
- Asteya – not to take possession of things which belong to others (or to covet things).
- Brahmacarya – and it means to remain attached to Brahma (the Cosmic Consciousness) by treating all beings and things as an expression of the Cosmic Consciousness.
- Aparigraha – not to hoard wealth which is superfluous to our actual needs.
- Shaoca – cleanliness of one’s external world such as the body, clothing and environment, as well as the internal world of the mind.
- Santosa – to maintain a state of mental ease.
- Tapah – to undergo hardship in the spirit of service helping others without expecting anything in return.
- Svadhyaya – having and working to achieve a clear understanding of a spiritual subject.
- Iishvara Pranidhana – to make the Cosmic Consciousness the goal of your life – through a process of meditation.
There is certainly overlap between these concepts. When discussing the subject of meditation with my Zen teacher, I was told that meditation was the key to all understanding. Meditating on the meaning of each of the points of Yama and Niyama and understanding how they are carried out in the lives of enlightened beings will lead to a clear idea of their meaning. Meditating on actions and thoughts of yours in comparison to Yama and Niyama will deepen the understanding and move you toward actions and thoughts that are in harmony with Yama and Niyama. One who is living from center, living in Buddha nature, attached to Brahma, living in Cosmic Consciousness will naturally live in harmony with all these things with no effort and no intellectual knowledge.
Continue attention and awareness practice and use meditation and mindfulness to let no activity of your external or internal life happen unconsciously. Bringing conscious, compassionate awareness to every moment will naturally cause questions about various actions and thoughts. Bringing conscious, compassionate awareness to the yamas, niyamas, commandments, and precepts will cause you to internalize these results of the meditations of fully realized beings and cause you to look for these realizations. Having these realizations will automatically point you toward effortless following of these various guidelines.
Vegetarianism can remind you each time you select or prepare food about ahimsa. Brahmacarya, Santosa, Svadhyaya, and Iishvara Pranidhana can be constantly brought into the forefront of your life through meditation, mindfulness practices, asanas as well as other study and practice opportunities. Satya seems to happen more and more based on developing compassion through specific meditations as well as bringing mindfulness to my speech. Asteya seems to be a natural result of developing contentment with the present moment and complete acceptance of your current self and life circumstance. Aparigraha is partly the result of the same things that support Asteya. Thoreau’s advice is to “simplify, simplify, simplify.” Tapah involves seeking opportunities of service. Shaoca involves physical cleanliness but also selecting out things that are harmful to the mind.
This information is just a starting point for understanding and discussion and internalization of these ideas. Yama and Niyama can be extremely powerful in your practice and can bring you serenity in your approach to all that comes your way.