Monday, May 18, 2009

Yama, Yama, Yama

Recently, I explored the ancient yogic concepts of ahimsa (non~harming) and aparigraha (non~grasping). Today I’d like to explore the remaining three ethical guidelines, or yamas, central to yogic philosophy.

Satya means truthfulness. On the most obvious level, this refers to not speaking lies--certainly its easiest expression. Being truthful with ourselves is infinitely more challenging. Such honesty requires assessing, with a frank and uncompromising eye, our thoughts and feelings, strengths and flaws, and the true motivations for our behavior. Satya also requires making our words true by keeping commitments to ourselves and others. The practice of satya, in other words, carries us toward a life of integrity.

But let us burrow more deeply into satya through exploring its etymological roots. “Sat” is Sanskrit for ultimate or eternal truth. Add the activating suffix “-ya”, and satya prods us toward living in active and conscious harmony with the ultimate truth that underlies life.

Of course, we may differ in our conception of that truth. For me, satya brings awareness that the vast energy that sets the stars to swirling radiates, too, within the individual moments of my own life. Satya encourages me to live with awareness of this truth.

Asteya translates as non-stealing. However, asteya means more than not pocketing an item belonging to another. Asteya refers also to not taking more than our share or more than we need. We steal when we use limited resources cavalierly, and when we buy cheap goods whose low price reflects underpaid workers or disregard for the environment. Yet we also steal when we diminish another. This includes harsh words or actions that rob someone of confidence or crimp their spirit. 

But don’t we also violate the precept of asteya when we don’t live up to our own potential? I think so. By staying small, we steal possibilities that might have been, for ourselves and others, had we not stanched our positive flow.

Asteya teaches about interconnection. It reminds me to give of myself freely and to receive with gratitude that which willingly comes my way.

Brahmacharya is a tricky concept for westerners, as it often refers to the practice of celibacy. However, by once more looking to the Sanskrit roots, this yama becomes relevant to us all. “Brahma” is another name for God, while “char” means to walk. Add that activating suffix “-ya”, and Brahmacharya translates literally as “walking with God”.

How exactly do we walk with God? Through the wise and loving use, moment by moment, of the precious life force given us. Brahmacharya urges us toward practices that enhance our perception of Spirit and our ability to live in accordance with it. Behaviors that numb us to a direct experience of life or extend harm into the world around us then begin to fall away.

Brahmacharya teaches about the conscious use of self. It inspires me to choose wisely.

When most westerners think of yoga, images come to mind of folks coiled into amazingly intricate postures.  However, the Sanskrit meaning of the word yoga is union. The true aim of the various schools of yoga is to bring practitioners toward union with God.

The yamas are one facet of the vast storehouse of centuries-old yogic wisdom. Whatever our spiritual tradition, our practice can be enhanced by bringing the yamas to life. For as we stop feeding the negativity that keeps us spiritually emaciated, we free ourselves to open more fully to a vibrant experience of the Divine.

I wish you all a lovely week. And if you find yourself taking your challenges a bit too seriously, try repeating the title of these two essays in one mouthful. It's darn hard to say, "Yama, yama, yama, yama, yama!" without smiling!

Go on~~try it~~you'll see!

Namaste!

Loanne Marie


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Leia Marie