The Foundation: “the Do's & the Don'ts”
Yama-niyama [“the Don’ts & the Do’s”, the first two steps of Patanjali's Eight Path of Yoga (see below)] are the foundation on which the yogi begins to build his spiritual life. They harmonize body and mind with the divine laws of nature, or creation, producing an inner and outer well-being, happiness, and strength that attract the devotee to deeper spiritual practices and make him receptive to the blessings of his guru-given sadhana (spiritual path). ...
All religions agree to these two phases or foundations of religious practice. To meditate a great deal without at the same time practising yama-niyama is to build a large superstructure on a loose foundation. (os)
You must be kind, sincere, loving, forgiving and serviceful to all, forsaking any violent habit that disrupts your peace. (os)
The misuse of reason, and the identification of the soul with the transitory body, or with environmental or hereditary or world influences, are responsible for man's despairs and miseries. (jt)
A man is not yet a master if he is still engaged in the ordinary life-battles—those of sensory temptations, desires, habits; identification with the physiology and limitations of the body; restlessness of mental doubts and complexes; and soul ignorance. His perceptions are limited, and include consciousness of bodily weight and other physiological conditions; of internal sensations, arising from activities of the inner organs and of the breath within the body; of sensations of touch, smell, taste, hearing, and sight; of hunger, thirst, pain, passion, attachment, sleepiness, fatigue, wakefulness; and of his mental powers of reasoning, feeling, and willing. The consciousness of this ordinary man is subject to fears about death, poverty, disease, and innumerable other ills. He is bound by attachments to name, social standing, family, race, and possessions. (bg)
That is the purpose of our existence: that we strive to become good, to become perfect, and to use our free will to choose good instead of evil. God has given to us all the power we need to do so. (jt)
Forget the past, for it is gone from your domain! Forget the future, for it is beyond your reach! Control the present! Live supremely well now! It will whitewash the dark past, and compel the future to be bright! This is the way of the wise. (bg)
1. Yama — Moral Conduct
Yama [Sanskrit: “restraint”, "self-control"], moral conduct [the avoidance of immoral actions; “the Don’ts”]:
noninjury to others,
continence [self-restraint], and
…the "thou shalt nots"—abstaining from injury to others, falsehood, stealing, incontinence, and covetousness. Understood in the full sense of their meaning, these proscripts embrace the whole of moral conduct. By their observance, the yogi avoids the primary or fundamental difficulties that could block his progress toward Self-realization. Breaking the rules of moral conduct creates not only present misery, but long-lasting karmic effects that bind the devotee to suffering and mortal limitation. (bg)
— Noninjury to Others
Noninjury (ahimsa) is extolled in the Hindu scriptures. One of the Ten Commandments in the Bible is: "Thou shalt not kill." (Exodus 20:13) The prohibition refers to the wanton destruction of any of God's creatures: human beings, animals, plants. But the universal economy is so arranged that man cannot live without "killing" vegetables for food. Eskimos cannot live without eating seal meat. When it is an urgent matter of survival, a man is justified in saving his own more valuable life by lolling fish and animals, which are lesser manifestations of Divinity. Each day millions of bacteria perish in man's body. No one can drink any liquid or breathe the air without destroying many microscopic forms of life (and sometimes such organisms respond in kind).
In the Mahabharata, ahimsa is referred to as "virtue entire" (sakalo dharma). If righteousness be thus the criteria, neglect of action to uphold God's eternal laws of righteousness may be the cause of more harm than any nonmalicious injury resulting from an act of obstructing evil. Method and motive are often decisive elements on the balance scale of Divine Justice.
During a visit to the ashram of Mahatma Gandhi in 1936, I asked the prophet of nonviolence for his definition of ahimsa. He replied: "The avoidance of harm to any living creature in thought or deed." A man of nonviolence neither willfully gives nor wishes harm to any. He is a paradigm of the golden rule: "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you." ("Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" (Matthew 7:12).) (bg)
Truth (satya) is the foundation stone of the universe. "The worlds are built on truth," says the Mahabharata. Men and civilizations stand or fall according to their attitude toward truth.
An honest person is spontaneously admired by all right-thinking men. The Hindu scriptures, however, point out that a devotee whose ideal is truth should always exercise judgment and common sense before speaking. It is not enough merely to tell the truth; one's words should also be sweet, healing, and beneficial to others. Hurtful statements, however accurate, are usually better left unsaid. Many a heart has been broken and many a life wrecked by truths spoken by others inopportunely. A sage carefully watches his speech, lest he wound those who are not yet ready to hear and profit by his veracious observations. ...
By honoring the principle of truth in his thoughts, speech, and actions, a devotee puts himself in tune with creation and with the Creator. To a greater or lesser extent, all persons who meet such a saint are uplifted by his harmonious vibrations. The true man of God is freed from the painful dualities and contradictions of relativity and is fit, at last, to enter the final refuge of Absolute Truth. (bg)
2. Niyama — Positive Duties
Niyama ["positive duties"; religious observances; “the Do’s”]:
purity of body and mind,
contentment in all circumstances,
self-study (contemplation), and
devotion to God and guru.
It represents the devotee's power to adhere to the spiritual prescriptions of niyama, the "thou shalts". (bg)
— Contentment in all Circumstances [Santosha]
That man of action is free from karma who receives with contentment whatever befalls him, who is poised above the dualities, who is devoid of jealousy or envy or enmity, and who looks equally on gain and loss.
—The Bhagavad Gita IV:22
That man of action is free from karma who receives with contentment whatever befalls him, who is poised above the dualities, who is devoid of jealousy or envy or enmity, and who looks equally on gain and loss. ...
By "contentment" a yogi displays his faith in the Lord's power to direct all happenings to a Final Good. Free of selfish desires, happy and fulfilled within himself, he automatically relinquishes the excess material baggage of unnecessary "necessities" and egotistical strivings in favor of God-ordained dutiful actions imposed upon him by his body and his obligations to family, society, and the world.
To attain spiritual freedom, the aspirant must also learn to free his mind from extreme sensitivity to cold or heat, pain or pleasure. In Indian hermitages, the true guru teaches the students not to be affected by externals, that the mind may become an altar for the changelessness of Spirit.
He is full with contentment who absorbs all desires within, as the brimful ocean remains unmoved (unchanged) by waters entering into it—not he who lusts after desires. —The Bhagavad Gita II:70
As rivers flowing into the sea keep it ever full but do not disturb its changeless vastness, so the streams of desires, transmuted and absorbed within the changeless oceanic Self, have no ripple effect in the muni, but keep him overflowing with energy, contentment, and a peace that never oscillates.
The ordinary man has no peace. His shallow mental reservoir is constantly roiled by the inrush of sensory stimulation. Restlessly he bores holes of desires in the dam of consciousness, draining away his inner powers and contentment.
Self-discipline (tapas) includes celibacy, restraint of appetite, and various methods of training the body to withstand cold, heat, and other discomforts without the usual mental agitation. If practiced with discrimination and right resolve, these mortifications help the devotee attune his body and mind to spiritual vibrations.
Self-discipline is different from self-torture. The aim of tapas is not served by startling exhibitions, such as "fakirs" on beds of sharp nails. The profound purpose of tapas is to change in man his "bad taste" in preferring transient sense pleasures to the everlasting bliss of the soul. Some form of self-discipline is necessary to transmute material desires into spiritual aspirations. By tapas and meditation the devotee gives himself a standard of comparison between the two kinds of pleasures: physical and mental on the one hand, and spiritual on the other. ...
When man savors even once the superior joys of the inner heaven he realizes his past misjudgment. He now finds himself overwhelmed with happiness. Human beings can never be satisfied even by experiencing every possible sense delight, which they mistakenly pursue in the hope of finding their lost soul-bliss.
Austerity, self-denial, renunciation, penance: all are means, not ends. The real goal is to regain through them the infinite realm of Spirit. As a poor man is glad to discard his rags when he becomes rich, so the successful God-seeker, entering the world of bliss, jubilantly casts away all shabby material attachments. (bg)
Right study of the scriptures (svadhyaya) leads to emancipation. A true devotee does not suffer with mental indigestion as does one who gorges himself on scriptural lore without understanding its meaning and without assimilating it into his life. Theoretical study is helpful when it inspires a devotee to practice the holy teachings. Wisdom thoughts are faithful guides and protectors when they become one's constant companions.
In all ages there has been conflict between theoretical knowers of scriptures—the professional priests—and men of true spiritual insight. Pedants who lack inner realization but who boast of their erudition are often jealous of and persecute the men of God who live truth. Thus Jesus met opposition from the hierarchy of the Pharisees, and many saints in India have been illtreated by learned pundits, as was the divine Sri Chaitanya.
Redemption does not come from what one knows intellectually, but from what one becomes as a result of that knowledge. There must be a rational connection between one's learning and oneself, so that a truth becomes such an integral part of the being that it cannot be dislodged by contrary temptations or doubts. This is intuitional learning, or realization. (bg)
Your Greates Enemies
Your greatest enemies are your bad habits. They will follow you from one incarnation to another until you overcome them. In order to free yourself from fate, you must cure yourself of bad habits. How? Good company is one of the best medicines. If you have a tendency to drink, mix with people who do not. If you are suffering from ill health, be with people who have positive minds, who don't think about sickness. If you have the consciousness of failure, associate with those who have the consciousness of success. Then you will begin to change.
Each of your habits creates a specific "groove," or pathway, in the brain. These patterns make you behave in a certain way, often against your wish. Your life follows those grooves that you yourself have created in the brain. In that sense you are not a free person; you are more or less a victim of the habits you have formed. Depending on how set those patterns are, to that degree you are a puppet. But you can neutralize the dictates of those bad habits. How? By creating brain patterns of opposite good habits. And you can completely erase the grooves of bad habits by meditation. There is no other way. However, you can't cultivate good habits without good company and good environment. And you can't free yourself from bad habits without good company and meditation. (dr)
Patanjali's Eightfold Path of Yoga
Patanjali, India's foremost ancient exponent of Raja Yoga, outlined eight steps to be followed for ascension into the kingdom of God within.
[Emancipation is attained by strict adherence to prescribed scriptural rules of conduct and by progressing through the various stages of yoga, as follows:]
1. Yama, moral conduct:
abstaining from injury to others, falsehood, stealing, incontinence, and covetousness.
purity of body and mind, contentment in all circumstances, self-study (contemplation), and devotion to God. These first two steps yield self-control and mental calmness.
disciplining the body so that it can assume and maintain the correct posture for meditation without fatigue or physical and mental restlessness.
techniques of life-force control that calm the heart and breath and remove sensory distractions from the mind.
the power of complete mental interiorization and stillness resulting from withdrawal of the mind from the senses.
the power to use the interiorized mind to become one-pointedly concentrated upon God in one of His aspects through which He reveals Himself to the inward perception of the devotee.
meditation deepened by the intensity of concentration (dharana) that gives the conception of the vastness of God, His attributes as manifested in His endless expansion of Cosmic Consciousness.
union with God: the full realization of the soul's oneness with Spirit. (bg)
(aoy) — Autobiography of a Yogi by Paramahansa Yogananda
(bg) — God Talks with Arjuna: The Bhagavad Gita by Paramahansa Yogananda
(dr) — The Divine Romance by Paramahansa Yogananda
(jt) — Journey to Self-Realization by Paramahansa Yogananda
(me) — Man's Eternal Quest by Paramahansa Yogananda
(os) — Other Sources... Talks, Booklets
(sc) — The Second Coming of Christ by Paramahansa Yogananda
(sm) — Self-Realization Magazines