Patanjalis yoga sutras- The yamas and the niyamas and their relevance to everyday life Part 3

In part 1 a brief introduction to the yamas was given, in part 2 we will began to look at the individual yamas and how they apply in day to day living beginning with Ahimsa.  As I proposed in part 1 article I would like to suggest that the yamas be considered as how to be kind to others, principles we can choose to adopt to guide our actions toward the benefit of all things rather than a set of rules to adhere to.  Alternatives are therefore offered on the traditional translations as options to work toward as opposed to away from which in psychological circles is considered to be much more motivational and empowering to individualsMy intention is to get us thinking about open up our thinking in ways that support us in being our best selves and raise the energy of this beautiful planet we call home.

2. Satya- Traditional translation non falsehood, truthfulness. Proposed alternative Authenticity

“It does not take many words to speak the truth” Chief Joseph, Nez Perce First Nation

Satya encourages us to be truly congruent in our thoughts, words and actions. The words we use correlate with our thoughts and deeds. We aim to be accurate in word and thought and abstain from exaggerating, distorting the truth, manipulating others or blatantly lying.  Our words whether written or vocalised should be clear and informative, used for the benefit of all with gentleness so as to also adhere to ahimsa.

When our thoughts, words and deeds are true we live in an integrated way creating harmony in our world. Being true to ourselves and acting with integrity is such a powerful place to be. Our ultimate nature is truth, thus living in truthfulness means to be unified with all we are.

Satya needs to be considered with respect to ahimsa. The phrase being cruel to be kind is one often said and an interesting one to look at in relation to truthfulness, whilst we may be truthful in our words if we are harming another by those words is it virtuous action? Again this probably comes down to intent. If at the root of our action is the welfare of the person concerned, then it could be considered to be right action. We are all faced with situations in our daily lives when words can be hurtful but the intent brings benefit in the bigger picture. However if our words are ultimately delivered only to make some part of ourselves feel better, venting our frustrations and taking them out on someone else or perhaps delivered in retaliation for perceived grievances then such words could be considered to be a violation of satya and ahimsa.

Expanding on this, authenticity also means owning all of our emotions whether we consider them to be good or bad. Emotions are our indicators to our inner well being.  If we are angry, it is authentic to be angry and it is in fact a deception if we cover up such feelings. Our emotions act as sign posts and helps us to understand ourselves and life better, why are we angry? What value isn’t being fulfilled or is being violated? What do we need? The stiff upper lip, mustn’t grumble approaches are not useful, they are masks that we wear to disguise what’s really going on for us and are not helpful to those we are communicating with. Energy becomes stuck and problems escalate. It is more beneficial to be honest and with kindness state what’s going on e.g. “Could you hang the towel up after you’ve used it, I get really annoyed when I see it lying on the floor, and it makes the house look untidy”. This may seem a silly example but most communication breakdowns are usually over trifling little things that may not really be that important but they trigger something inside of us, they push our buttons. We can treat these encounters then as opportunities to learn. Denial of these emotions can be considered to be unkind or even violent as the energy is suppressed and creates blocks in the body which may erupt at a later date or even in time manifest as dis-ease in the body or in the mind. If we can learn to be fully present with the emotions, we can honour them, be authentic (satya) whilst still adhering to ahimsa (love).

Jagananth Carrera suggests that we first need to discriminate whether our words are doing harm or causing temporary discomfort. Discomfort indicating the struggle of the individual to adjust whilst harming is the destruction or inhibition of the proper functioning. He further states that we may not experience the consequences of our actions until much later. If we do not know the nature of the tree, we need to wait until it bears fruit, thus in order to cultivate satya, it is necessary to perfect the skills of patience, to observe the ultimate outcome, clarity, to make the correct assessment of the outcome and the ability to learn from experience and integrate the learning’s. Yoga practice helps with this process.

Honesty is the first step to self development. With honesty comes integrity which creates trust, credibility and respect. If we lie, we deceive others, they consequently lose their faith in us, we may doubt ourselves and an inward destructive spiral of insecurity, fear etc is created. If we understand that we do not fall from any cause outside of ourselves, that we fall only from our own misdeeds and our own weaknesses and untruths the clear benefits of speaking and living our truth becomes apparent. In all endeavours that we undertake, we succeed only by being true to ourselves.

Shakespeare in Hamlet wrote “To thine own self be true, for it must follow as dost the night the day, that canst not then be false to any man”

Ghandi believed that God is truth and that if a person lives their life with absolute integrity and honesty this truth brings them closer to God; we could look upon this as bringing them closer to the Self. In his autobiography, The Story of my Experiments with Truth, he writes

"When I despair, I remember that all through history the way of truth and love has always won. There have been tyrants and murderers and for a time they seem invincible, but in the end, they always fall”

I propose that we seek to ask ourselves if our words and actions allow harmony to prevail without harming anyone, words and actions that respect ahimsa and reflect the intent of all virtues. Ultimately the question is, are our words coming from a place of love or a place of fear or insecurity? Actions rooted in love, always bring us closer to the truth.

  1. Asteya- Traditionally translated as none stealing. “Do not steal”. I propose cultivating honesty

Asteya means not depriving others of what belongs to them. It is a universal given that we should not take other peoples possessions, money, property, most people would never do this but we must also consider more subtle things like attention, affection, ideas, time or goodwill. People might cheat a little, taking pens, pencils, paper, envelopes from work, adding extras to expenses, turning up late for work or leaving early on more than the occasional basis, accepting the credit for something they didn’t do perhaps to advance their career or status, it could also be the blatant plagiarising of another’s work.

Stealing of this nature is often preceded by a sense of unfairness and lack that exists through looking to externals to bring happiness. Social conditioning leads many people expend a great deal of time and energy looking to acquire what others have. We live in a culture where glossy magazines, fly on the wall documentaries, films etc all show us a “life through a lens” idealised vision of what life could be like. Whilst this perception may not be the truth, some people can become, jealous, disillusioned, and unhappy and depressed believing it unfair that some people have “everything” whilst they consider themselves to be decent hardworking people, yet have nothing to show for it. They may choose to feel cheated and attempt to address the perceived injustice.

The main reason people steal is through a perceived injustice, insecurity, greed, poverty consciousness and desperation. Greed and desire are based in ignorance, the belief that something in our future will bring fulfillment. Violating asteya also violates both the principle of truthfulness (as a result of the lies and deceptions created to conceal the theft) and harmlessness (because stealing violates another person’s rights and creates unrest for the person who has been robbed). It also relates to aparigraha as stealing violates the principle of sharing and generosity as hoarding is an aspect of stealing.

Stephen Sturgess in the Yoga Book presents a case of a homeless person stealing a loaf of bread because they are hungry and have no money; he proposes that the person should be accountable for the violation in and of its self, yet society should also take the necessary steps to treat the underlying cause. What a truly beautiful world it would be if we could all take responsibility for our part in addressing underlying issues of poverty and desperation.

Mark Forstater offers the example of sexual relations in relation to asteya an area he feels is fraught with people stealing affection and love from others with no intention of returning it (see also Brahmacharya)

Ecologically we, as a species, steal from the land, raping and pillaging the earth with over farming, destructive deep ploughing techniques, excessive use of chemicals and pesticides all of which inhibit the natural balance of the land, the quality of our soils and consequently our own health and the health of our planet. These actions are not harmless they are not truthful and they are not honest.

Aldo Leopold in his book a Sand Country Almanac wrote “We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect”

I think this is a beautiful statement.

There is a Cree prophecy which on a similar theme says “when all the trees have been cut down, when all the animals have been hunted, when all the waters are polluted, when all the air is unsafe to breathe, only then will you discover that you cannot eat money”.

Fortunately there seems to be a huge rising in awareness and lots of people are taking steps to right the wrongs done to the earth; more organic and fairly traded and eco friendly products are readily available in response to the increasing conscious consumer demand. Sustainable forestry and regulations regarding pollution, air and water quality are being passed with increasing frequency. Local councils are introducing more options for recycling; currently I am able to recycle textiles, paper and card, foil, plastics, batteries, tetrapak containers, glass, garden waste through my regular refuse collection and can recycle coat hangers, metal, shoes and clothing locally which is very encouraging.

There are many areas in our day to day life where we may inadvertently be behaving with less honesty and integrity than we think. Take a few minutes to honestly look at the suggestions given; are there areas that you could step up further? Maybe you have some of your own ideas too and I’d love to hear some of these in the comments section below.

A yogi, having relinquished the ego driven desires feels no envy, is fully accepting of their place in nature and is able to give freely and unconditionally. When we recognise ourselves as nature and we become one with nature we see and experience the world as the abundant place it truly is and would not dream of taking anything that is not freely given. Asteya, honesty, is our natural state of being.



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