“Knowledge (Jnana) doesn’t come about from practice of yoga techniques independently. Perfection in knowledge is actually only for people who start by training of virtue (dharma). Yet, without yoga as a way, knowledge doesn’t come about. The practice of yogic methods isn’t the way by itself, yet it’s just from that practice of yoga the perfection in knowledge comes about. And so it’s said by the teachers:’Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth'” Thus wrote Shankara.

‘Yoga is for the purpose of knowledge of truth’

All things remaining something else-that is, all things are supported by another. This is because a base is required for anything to exist. Being Himself the Ultimate Support of all things, God alone is liberated of the requirement. Yoga, then, also requires assistance. Since Trevor Leggett says in his introduction to Shankara’s commentary on the Yoga Sutras:”This is yoga presented for the man of earth, who must first clear, and then stable, his thoughts against the fury of illusory passions, and free his lifetime from entanglements.” Patanjali very carefully and completely summarizes the elements of the service required by the aspirant, providing invaluable information about the best way best to guarantee success in yoga.

The first Yoga Sutra states:”Today the exposition of yoga,” indicating that there must be something leading up to yoga in the shape of necessary developments of consciousness and character. These requirements may be thought of as the Pillars of Yoga, and are known as Yama and Niyama.

Yama and Niyama are often called”the Ten Commandments of Yoga” Every One of those Five Don’ts (Yama) and Five Do’s (Niyama) is a supportive, liberating Pillar of Yoga. Yama means self-restraint in the sense of self-mastery, or abstention, and is made up of five elements. Niyama means observances, of which there are five. Here’s the complete list of those ten Pillars as given in Yoga Sutras 2:30,32:

  • Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness
  • Satya: truthfulness, honesty
  • Asteya: non-stealing, honesty, non-misappropriativeness
  • Brahmacharya: sexual continence in thought, word and deed as well as control of all the senses
  • Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness
  • Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
  • Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
  • Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
  • Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
  • Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God

All these deal with the inherent powers of their human being-or rather with the abstinence and observance which will develop and discharge those powers to be applied toward our spiritual devotion, to our self-realization and liberation.

These ten restraints (yama) and observances (niyama) aren’t optional for the aspiring yogi-or for its most advanced yogi, either. Shankara states quite forcefully that”after yama and niyama is the basic qualification to practice yoga.” Mere desire and aspiration to the objective of yoga isn’t enough, so he proceeds:”The qualification isn’t only that one needs to practice yoga, for the sacred text states:’But he who hasn’t first turned away from his wickedness, who isn’t tranquil and subdued, or his mind isn’t at rest, he could never acquire the Self by understanding.‘ (Katha Upanishad 1.2.24) And at the Atharva text:’It’s in those people who have tapas [strong discipline] and brahmacharya [chastity] that fact is established.’ (Prashna Upanishad 1:15)And in the Gita:’Company in their vow of brahmacharya.’ (Bhagavad Gita 6:14) So yama and niyama are methods of yoga” in themselves and aren’t mere adjuncts or aids which could be optional.

But at exactly the exact same time, the practice of yoga helps the aspiring yogi to follow the essential methods of yama and niyama, so he shouldn’t be discouraged from taking up yoga at the moment, believing that he should wait until he’s”prepared” or has”cleaned up his act” to practice yoga. No. He must determinedly embark on yama, niyama, and yoga concurrently. Success is going to be his.

Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness

Shankara expands on this, saying that ahimsa is”in no capability and in no way to provide injury to any being.” This could include injury by thought or word in addition to the apparent injury perpetrated by deed, for Shankara further says:”Ahimsa is to be practiced in every capacity-body, speech, and mind.”

Even a very simple grasp of the law of karma, the law of sowing and reaping (Galatians 6:7), enables us to realize the horrible consequences of murder for the murderer. As Vyasa explains:”The killer deprives the victim of spirit, hurts him with a blow of a weapon, and then tears him away from life. Because he’s deprived another of soul, the supports of his own life, animate or inanimate, become weakened. Because he has caused pain, he experiences pain …. Because he’s torn another from life, he goes to live at a life in which every moment he wishes to die, since the retribution as pain must work itself right out, while he is panting for passing.”

Ahimsa is interpreted in many ways-which is to be expected since Sanskrit is a language that abounds in many possible meanings for a single word. But fundamentally ahimsa is not causing any harm whatsoever to any being whatsoever, including subhuman species. (Ahimsa is not usually considered in relation to plant and mineral life, but surely wanton destruction of these life could be an infringement of ahimsa, partially because it would finally have a detrimental effect on animal life as well.) To accomplish this ideal it is self-evident that violence, harm, or killing are unthinkable for the yogi. And as Vyasa immediately points out, all of the other abstinences and observances-yama and niyama-are really rooted in ahimsa, for they involve preventing damage both to ourselves and to others through negative action or the neglect of positive action.

“The other niyamas and yamas are suspended in this, and they are practiced only to bring this to its culmination, only for optimizing this [i.e., ahimsa]. They are taught only as means to bring this out in its purity. For so it is said:’Whatever many promises the guy of Brahman [God] would tackle, only in so far as he consequently refrains from doing harm impelled by delusion, does he bring out ahimsa in its purity.'” And Shankara explains that Vyasa is referring to delusion that is”rooted in violence and causing violence.”

Ahimsa includes strict abstinence from any form of harm in act, speech, or thought. And this includes any kind of angry or malicious damage or misuse of physical objects.

Ahimsa is a state of mind from which non-injury will naturally proceed. “Ahimsa really denotes an attitude and style of behaviour towards all living creatures based on the recognition of the inherent unity of life,” the contemporary commentator Taimni declares. Shankara remarks that when ahimsa and others are observed”the cause of one’s doing harm becomes inoperative.” The ego itself becomes”benign” by being placed into a state of non-function. And meditation dissolves it utterly. But until that inside state is established, we must work backwards from external to inner, and abstain from all acts of injury.

In actuality, we cannot live a moment in this world without injuring innumerable beings. Our simple act of breathing kills many tiny organisms, and so does each step we take. To maintain its health the body wars against harmful germs, bacteria, and viruses. So in the best sense the state of ahimsa can only be perfectly observed mentally. Still, we are obligated to do as little injury as possible in our external life. In his autobiography Paramhansa Yogananda relates that his guru, Swami Yukteswar Giri, stated that ahimsa is absence of the desire to injure.

Although it has a number of ramifications, the aspiring yogi must realize that the observance of ahimsa must include strict abstinence from the eating of animal flesh in any form or degree.

Though the subject is inexplicably missing from each commentary on the Yoga Sutras I have read, the practice of non-injury in relation to the yogi himself is critical. In other words, the yogi must do nothing in thought, word, or deed that harms his body, mind, or soul. This necessitates a great many abstensions, especially abstaining from meat (which includes eggs and fish ), alcohol, nicotine, and some other thoughts – or mood-altering substances, including caffeine. On the other side, it requires the taking up of whatever benefits the body, mind, and spirit, for their omission is also a form of self-injury, as is the non-observance of any of the yama or niyamas. It is no simple thing to be a yogi.

Satya: truthfulness, honesty

“Satya is reported to be speech and thought in conformity with what was seen or inferred or heard on authority. The address spoken to communicate one’s own experience to others ought to be not deceitful, nor erroneous, nor uninformative. It is that uttered for helping all beings. But that uttered to the damage of beings, even if it is what is called truth, once the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth [satya]. It would be a wrong.”

Shankara says that truthfulness means stating what we have truly come to know is the truth-mostly through our own experience or through contact with sources whose reliability we’ve experienced for ourselves. Who but the most intuitive could be sure they don’t talk any erroneous thing? Yet such is demanded of the yogi, and for that he must strive.

Untruthfulness in any form puts us out of harmony with the basic law of Truth and creates a kind of psychological and emotional strain which prevents us from harmonizing and tranquillizing our thoughts. Truthfulness needs to be practiced by the sadhaka because it is absolutely necessary for the unfoldment of intuition. There is nothing that clouds the intuition and practically stops its functioning as much as untruthfulness in all its forms,” says Taimni regarding the most personal and practical feature of satya.

Bending the truth, either in leaving out part of the fact or in”stacking the deck” to create a false impression, can’t be engaged in by the yogi.

The Bible talks of turning truth into a lie. (Romans 1:25) This is done by not telling all of the truth or by introducing it in such a way that the hearer will come to a wrong conclusion-or embrace a wrong conclusion-about what we are presenting. Regarding numbers it is said that”figures don’t lie-but liars figure.” The same is true here. Equally heinous is the intentional mixing of lies and truth. Some liars tell a good deal of truth-but not all of the facts. This is particularly true in the manipulative endeavors of advertising, politics, and religion.

There are many non-verbal types of lying as well, and some people’s entire life is a lie. Therefore we must make certain that our activities reflect the truth. How many people claim to believe in God and spiritual principles, but do not live accordingly? How a lot of individuals continually vow and express loyalty and are betrayers? (Matthew 15:8)”And why call ye me, Lord, Lord, and do not what I say?” (Luke 6:46)] Therefore Saint John wrote:”My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tonguebut in deed and in truth.” (I John 3:18) We must not just speak the truth, we have to live it.

Honesty in all our talking and dealings with other people is a vital part of truthfulness. This includes paying our debts, including taxes. It is inexpressibly crucial that the yogi make his livelihood exclusively by honest and truthful ways. Selling useless or absurd things, convincing people that they need them (or perhaps selling them without convincing them), is a serious breach of truthfulness.

Trying to compromise the truth, even a bit, making the excuse that”everybody does it” is not legitimate. For”everybody” is bound to the wheel of birth and death because they do it-and that is not what we need for ourselves. The law of cause and effect, or karma, will react upon us to our own pain.

It is interesting that Vyasa believes that truthful speech is informative. He means that truthful speech is rewarding, relevant, and practical. To babble mindlessly and grind out verbal journalism can be a form of untruth, even if true in the sense of not being objectively false. Nor is foolish speech to anyone’s gain. Sometimes also people lie by”snowing” us with a barrage of words intended to divert us from our inquiries. And nearly all people who went to school remember the old game of padding out whatever we composed, giving a great deal of form but little content in hope of tricking our teachers into thinking that we understood the topic and were saying something worthwhile. This is one of the most lucrative businesses, especially in the marketing world.

Speaking truth to the hurt of others is not really truth, because satya is an extension of ahimsa. For example, someone may be nasty, but to say:”You are ugly” is not a virtue. “What is based on injuring others, even though free from the three defects of speech (i.e., not deceitful, nor inaccurate, nor uninformative), doesn’t amount to reality” (Shankara). Our intention shouldn’t be to hurt in any way, but we have to bear in mind that there are some people who hate the truth in any form and will accuse us of hurting them by our honesty. We would have to become dishonest or liars to placate them. So”hurting” or offending them is a consequence of truthfulness that we’ll need to live with. The most important thing is that truth”is that uttered for helping all beings.” For non-injury isn’t a passive quality, but the favorable character of recovery and healing.

Silence is also a form of untruth, particularly in managing the aforementioned truth-haters. For truth is only harmful when”the ultimate goal is merely to injure beings.” But if some people put themselves in the means of truth, then they need to take responsibility for their responses to it.

Sadly, it often is. So we must be sure that we do not deceive under the guise of diplomacy or tactfulness.

Self-deception, a favorite with nearly all of us to a degree, must be eliminated if we would be genuinely truthful.

“Therefore let one take good care that his speech is for the welfare of all.” (Shankara)