Breath Meditation

Patanjalis yoga sutras- The yamas and the niyamas and their relevance to everyday life Part 4

In part 1 a brief introduction to the yamas was given, in parts 2 & 3 we began to look at the individual yamas and how they apply in day to day living .  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 commands or 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 individuals.  My 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.

  1. Brahmacharya- Traditionally translated as non sensuality, chastity. The practice self restraint and refrain from indulging in excess and sexual depravity. Alternatives offered Moderation. Mindful use of our life force.

Brahamacharya relates to purity in thought, word and action. The literal translation is path to Brahman, the absolute reality which in the language of the sutras relates to Purusha, we all have our own interpretation of what this is to us as discussed earlier perhaps universal power, guiding principle, nature etc. In some interpretations Brahamacharya’s meaning has been restricted to mean celibacy or a restraint of the sexual energy. Live as if you are walking with the creator we need to embody the yamas. We need to be loving, authentic, honest, moderate and generous both with ourselves and others.

Rev Jaganath Carrera says that “In practice, brahmacharaya means to expend our energy on activities that are conducive to the attainment of Self realisation

He considers it misleading to limit its meaning to celibacy. It is a fact that if it meant only celibacy then many people would be precluded from the practice of yoga when history shows us that there have been many married yogis/saints with children who became masters in yoga, one prime example would be the famous Lahiri Mahasaya, who was married to Srimati Kashi Moni, together they had 4 children.

Some traditions go so far as to regard sexuality as a hindrance to spiritual life and believe that the two don’t mix. Abstinence is seen as the only route to enlightenment. The spiritual path does place significant demands on time, focus and energy, such endeavours required dedication which is why continence, avoiding non-productive expenditures of energy is often central to many spiritual pursuits. To others however, there is no conflict between sex and spirituality; in fact some schools of thoughts seek to harness the sexual energy to permit them to unite with the one universal truth. As the Taoists and tantrics will attest potent sexual energy can in fact be harnessed and used to assist in raising the kundalini energy through sushumna leading to spiritual liberation. It is seen as an alchemical transmutation of the energy from a base level to a higher level. Stephen Sturgess proposes Brahamcharya be considered as a sublimation of passion through deeper emotions of loving kindness and affection.

In today’s society celibacy/chastity is generally not considered to be the norm and sexual freedom exists for most people in the West. Many experts consider a healthy sense of our sexual nature to be one of the vital keys for a happy and vibrant life whilst repression of sexuality has been on the whole damaging to the collective psyche. For many people feelings of guilt, shame and sin have been ingrained in the human consciousness which is such a shame when one considers that not one of us would have been bestowed the gift of life on earth without the creative act of sexual union. Sexuality is in itself neither good or bad; it only becomes tarred when it is used without discrimination, understanding, care, love and responsibility. We do however live in a “sex sells” society and the beauty of sexual connection has been somewhat distorted and abused to lesser means; consumerism and capitalist pursuits of advertising and marketing. Sex can also be misused in that it can be used as a means of power, subjugation and may become addictive to some as a way of masking insecurities and fears with some people using sex recreationally perhaps as a diversion tactic from their day to day worries. There is a fine line between indulgence and abstinence, repression can be just as harmful as indulgence and no lasting joy can be found in either, hence we seek to find moderation.

A positive way of approaching this Yama would be to consider it as advising moderation, using the powerful life energy wisely. Partaking in mutually consenting sex for a mutually benefit as opposed to for one’s own personal gratification, thereby avoiding exploitation of another. Stephen Sturgess suggests that from a spiritual or moral point of view, a sexual relationship is not dependent on being married or not, but on commitment. He says that commitment, responsibility, care, love and concern for each other must exist for the relationship to be meaningful otherwise it becomes a relationship of possessing an object for ego gratification.

I personally believe that there is so much to learn about ourselves when in relationship. Relationships are our best mirrors and I personally have found some of my greatest lessons and insights through relationship. Intimate connection with another can be an incredible vehicle for our mutual evolution. Sex requires intimacy, trust, honesty and gentleness, all beautiful qualities relating to the virtues previously discussed. Sexual relationships can permit a joining together of two souls through which unity can be discovered and help us to really put into practice all of the yamas.

Bramcharya can be considered not just relate to sexuality but moderation in all things; what we eat, how much we eat, how much we sleep, how much activity we immerse ourselves in etc. It is encouraging us to conserve our energy, to curb our desires so that energy can be directed to our spiritual evolution.

The Bhagavad Gita advises us to follow the middle path, the path of moderation (6.16-18 “It is impossible to practice yoga effectively if you eat or sleep either too much or too little. But if you are moderate in eating, playing, sleeping, staying awake and avoiding extremes in everything you do, you will see that these yoga practices will eliminate all your pain and suffering”.

This is healthy advice and useful to consider in all areas of our life. When we are moderate in all aspects of our life we can find a healthy balance. One in which we are kind and loving to ourselves and others, a life in which we are truthful and authentic. Moderation in all things allows our energy to be conserved for activities that serve our personal and planetary greater good

  1. Aparigraha- Traditionally non acquisitiveness, non covertness, do not covet the possessions and achievements of others, not being greedy. I propose generosity

Mahatma Ghandi said “There is a sufficiency in the world for man’s need but not for mans greed”

Consumerism offers the promise of happiness as a result of acquiring some mass produced product or another; eating a certain chocolate bar, drinking a certain brand of drink, wearing designer clothes, holidaying in the French Riviera… People can get hooked in to the idea that these things will make them better people, more respected, yet this desire to gain more and more creates an insatiable appetite for more and more. Generally few things live up to our perceived expectations or the elation is fleeting in nature and disillusionment sets in, this disappointment regrettably provokes not so much a resignation to accepting things the way they are but to pursue more, in the hope that the next bigger, better, shinier thing will brings us the happiness we are looking for.

Alain de Botton raised this issue in his excellent book Status Anxiety; he discusses the widespread hunger for status and status anxiety asKabbalah

A worry so pernicious as to be capable of ruining extended stretches of our lives, that we are in danger of failing to conform to the deals of success laid down by our society and that we may as a result be stripped of dignity and respect, a worry that we are currently occupying too modest a rung or are about to fall to a lower one. An anxiety provoked by, among other elements, recession, redundancy, promotions, retirement, conversations, newspapers etc”.

He suggests that if our position on the ladder is a matter of such concern, it is because our self conception is so dependent upon what other people think, and with few notable exceptions we rely on outward signs of respect from the world to feel tolerable to ourselves. Regrettably this status is hard to achieve and even harder to maintain. Such anxiety possesses an exceptional capacity to create sorrow and malevolence. The sutras again offer advice on how we can lessen our reliance on these external illusions of happiness and contentment.

Songal Rinpoche in the Tibetan Book of living and Dying writes

We smother our secret fears of impermanence by surrounding ourselves with more and more goods, more and more things, more and more comforts only to find ourselves their slaves. All our time and energy is exhausted simply maintaining them...our myopic focus on this life and this life only is the greatest deception, the source of the modern worlds bleak and destructive materialism”

“The greatest achievement of modern culture is its brilliant selling of samsara and its distractions. Modern society seems to me to be celebration of all the things that lead away from the truth, make the truth hard to live for and discourages people from even believing that it exists and to think that all this exists from a civilisation that claims to adore life but actually starves it of any real meaning, that endlessly speaks of making people happy but in fact blocks their way to the source of real joy… this modern samsara feeds off an anxiety and depression that it fosters and trains us all in and carefully nurtures with a consumer machine that needs to keep us greedy to keep going. Samsara is highly organized, versatile and sophisticated it assaults us from every angle with its propaganda and creates an almost impregnable environment of addiction around us... Obsessed with false hopes, dreams and ambitions which promise happiness but lead only to misery, we are like people crawling through an endless desert dying of thirst. All that this samsara holds out to us to drink is a cup of salt water designed to make us even thirstier”

Pierre Pradevevand in an article for Cygnus magazine writes that

“Our present day market economy has defined wealth essentially in material terms because that was what was needed to get loyal citizens to consume ever more at ever greater speed, so as to increase the financial income of businesses and one of the most misleading concepts of all time the Gross National Product (GNP- which is supposed to measure the wealth of a society).

He goes on to discuss how for 40 years increasing the GNP has been the goal of our politicians despite the fact that all the dysfunctions of the economy; increasing bills, spreading crime, deteriorating health of many, environmental pollution and destruction, wars, car accidents and nature destroying highways as just a few examples were included in the computation of the GNP. Remarkably the more car accidents, the higher the GNP. It seems to me that there is something very wrong with this approach; true wealth is surely defined in different terms than monetarily.

Underlying greed is an unsatisfied state of mind, a craving. When we are greedy it is because we are scared and insecure; we use money, people, status and possessions to disguise these fears. These fears are ego driven and do not relate to the truth within us all. Acting from fear and ignorance of our true nature we identify with ourselves and act with our own self interest predominating our actions, we identify with our body, our possessions, our job, our status, which are all impermanent. We feel a sense of isolation and separateness and want more. The mantra me, my, mine prevails. Patanjali advises the opposite generosity, thus security is not provided by what we have, who we have in our life, what we own, what we do our but by the unity that is felt about life. This is freedom, the awareness that everything that we need in life is within. Happiness is not to be sought in the external but resides within each and every one of us.

Winston Churchill once said “You make a living by what you get. You make a life by what you give”

We can see that all the yamas are interconnected with each other, just as we are interconnected with each other, part of a bigger integral whole.


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