Patanjali’s Sutras : Yamas revisited – The art of living right.

photography of a woman in black swimsuit standing on the seashore
Photo by Min An on

If doing yoga has taught me anything it’s that you can’t just do something once and claim that it’s over. Practice and perseverance are the only paths to mastery. I was under the impression that the philosophy of yoga would be different. Once it was read and learned then it became immutable, like a rock or a bastion that could be referred to, a lighthouse in the sea of unknowing.

I was wrong. I find myself a year later with more questions than answers.

In re-reading my earlier interpretations, I have discovered that my grasp of even the most fundamental elements was veiled in some pretence. I had wrapped up my interpretation in some kind of robe to make myself feel esoteric and I’d actually not really dealt with the task at hand.

Yamas means restraint. Restraint from actions and words, restraint of thoughts. The Upanishads , Sutras and Mahabarata use the word “Yamas” as one’s moral and ethical duty to self restraint. The Yamas are a commitment to yourself and to the universe in which you exist to be the best person you can be.

The sage Patanjali lists five yamas in his Yoga Sutras and they are:

  • Ahimsa (अहिंसा) – non-violence
  • Satya (सत्य) – truthefulness
  • Asteya (अस्तेय) – not stealing
  • Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य) – chastity or moderation
  • Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः) – non-possessiveness.

These duties to yourself and the world around you are the first step on the path to Moksha (मोक्ष) or emancipation, liberation. Liberation from what you may ask. Liberation from the cycles of death and rebirth, liberation from ignorance, self-realisation and self-knowledge.

At this point I have to sit back and ask myself… so why the hell did I start yoga in the first place? Self knowledge and self-realisation were part of the reason for getting onto the mat. Like the Oracle at Delphi says KNOW THYSELF, that is what I need because in a world gone mad I do not know who or what I am. Yoga gives me a platform for this discovery.

What if I find that I am violent? What if I discover that I wear a mask and cannot reveal my true self? By nature humans are part evil and our minds are programmed for self preservation, no matter what the cost. Does this mean that by the adoption of this code that I will forget who I am or will i become something that I am not? Or could I be something that transcends what my fleshy monkey mind desires to be something greater? Like a magpie we desire that which isn’t ours. Material wealth, physical prowess and talents of others can easily become an obsession.

Is liberation what I desire? Is the desire for liberation intrinsically un-yogic?

Please if you are reading this… comment. I would love to know your thoughts.

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