MORALS, the word has a very Christian connotation for me, as does the word SIN. Educated in Christian Missionary schools in various little towns of India by stern Catholic nuns imported from Ireland and other European countries, I had to attend what was called a Moral Science class, which even had a Moral Science Book. I don’t remember any of the lessons I learnt here but do remember scoring over 90% marks in the subject throughout school. From what I remember of the dear sisters, brothers, fathers and the Mother Superiors was that though all of them were sincere and many of them had a sense of humour most of them seemed as if running away from some great tragedy, occurred back home and a zealousness to save us, they seemed just like Jesus carrying a personal cross. As students we would make up stories, a tragic love affair, a dead child or lover, which had driven them into the arms of Christ, very poignant it all was. Even what seemed mundane qualified as a SIN, wearing skirts above the knee, talking loudly in the corridors, giggling; swear words, bindi, earrings or bangles and any digression would be paid for in HELL and earned in bad points in class. CHARITY was another of these words that we learnt, encouraged as a virtue we were rewarded with good points for all such acts, donating old clothes, contributing to hours packing medicines for the leper colonies, crocheting little doilies and needle point embroidery on hankies, tea coasters, napkins etc all for sale at the annual fete, the proceeds of which would go towards charity.
Contrast with stories at home, those of a God who stole butter from the neighbours, had no qualms about hiding clothes of the girls bathing in the river, played pranks on the citizenry in general and was reluctantly punished by his loving exasperated mother. The same boy though, saved the village from various calamities and was the darling of everyone and went on to expound the Bhagavad Geeta! Stories from Panchatantra about owls and crows outwitting each other, animal stories that defined wisdom, bravery, compassion and yet at the same time condoned political connivance for self serving purposes…. More stories from the Mahabharat, Bhagavatam and Ramayan told tales of a brother who staked and lost, in a game of dice, his kingdom, brothers and wife , a mother who asked her sons to share a wife, a husband who asked his wife to pass a test through fire and then abandoned her whilst pregnant in the forest to fend for herself, gods who seduced and were seduced…but these very same characters fought for the downtrodden, upheld the truth and showed bravery and acts of kindness in extreme situations. Stories of Bhakta Prahlad, Markandeya, Ayyappa, Meera, Chaitanya Mahaprabhu filled one with awe and inspired emotions of sharing and caring, bravery, devotion and love for the Divine.
Coming to the tenets of Yam and Niyam or as it is popularly spelt Yama and Niyama (got to do this if I want the internet search engines to pick it up ha ha) I realized that as a child I was taught these as an example by my family, truthfulness, non violence, honesty in ones dealings, non hoarding, cleanliness, contentment and surrender to the Divine were practiced diligently by the elders in the family. Though how much of this was truly imbibed by me as a child and now realized as an adult in practice is a debatable point! More in detail about this as we take the tenets one by one over the next few blogs.
Of course when I met my Satguru, Yogiraj Siddhanath this entire perception of good and bad, right and wrong learnt in school and at home was demolished and the mind expanded into a new level of understanding. Yogiraj explained how all these qualities could be fully realized and practiced only in Reality and not in Relativity in which we lived and acted. Coloured by our upbringing, social conditioning, the external world we live in we can accomplish it only within that limitation.
In one of his poems, Yogiraj extols:
“Paap punya vivcharon ko bhasm karo
Aur satya ki khoj mein nikal pado.
Aham-hasti va maipan mitate chalo
Jag prem param-pad paate chalo.”
When translated it means, burn to ashes all thoughts of sin and virtue and journey out in search of Truth, dissolve ego and i-ness and achieve world love and ultimate salvation. Sorry it loses in translation and the closest I could come to the opposite of sin was virtue, apparently the English language does not have an antonym for sin. In short, in a flash he burnt to ashes all my preconceived notions!
Since Yogiraj does not expound intellectual exploration, he teaches a practical method for this alchemical transformation, whereby his disciples can transform their negative passions to positive emotion, positive emotions to first human then spiritual love and compassion and finally the compassion and love to awareness of their own divine nature thus achieving ultimate salvation. This meditation is called the Siddhanath Samadhi Yoga, it transforms the practitioner from man the brute to man the man to man the God. To my feminist readers, man here also means woman, its just a figure of speech so lets not get our pants into a twist over this, please.
Well, before I start with my understanding of the first two tenets of yog sadhana of Patanjali, I want to clarify that this is not an attempt to interpret Patanjali. I am only trying to see what I understand from it and of course everyone is welcome to his or her interpretation or to disagree.
According to the Patanjali sutras there were 5 Yamas-
- Satya (truthfulness),
- Ahimsa (non-violence),
- Asteya (honesty),
- Brahmacharya (sexual control) and
- Aparigraha (non-hoarding)
The 5 Niyamas-
- Shaucha (cleanliness),
- Santosha (contentment),
- Tapa (austerities),
- Swadhyaya (self-study) and
- Ishwar Pranidhan (surrender to divine will).
Later yoga schools and Gurus added many more to these tenets sometimes taking the count up to 10 each but I will stick to the original Patanjali.
We will cover the 5 Yamas also called the restraints or social code in the next blog. Below is the article published in 2005, wonder why I thought fit only to mention aparigraha, tapa and swadhyaya……
Break free with yoga
The Tribune, May 13, 2006, Chandigarh, India
|The first two tenets of yoga Yama, meaning restraints, and Niyama, meaning observances, are the most ignored by hatha yoga. Many beginners and even some adepts consider them as a pack of moral bullshit.
However, these two limbs of yoga take on more importance as the yogi progresses on the path towards higher realisation to raja yoga, and the sincere disciple, by virtue of the practice, feels an inner urge to follow them. Aparigraha, means non-hoarding or non-collecting. The practising sadhak is constantly offloading baggage, be it physical, emotional, or mental. As the chakras, are balanced and activated through the practice of asana, pranayama and other specific exercises taught by a master, the practitioner realises the limitations that come with an attitude of amassing material goodies for a rainy day! This restraint does not only extend to gathering frivolous material objects but transcends to include debilitating passions and emotions that diminish the sadhak. Carefully collected memories of being wronged or being happy, emotions that have been nurtured to depress, or contrarily elevate, mental callisthenics, that allow a person to conduct oneself always for personal profit, are all dropped with equanimity by the practising yogi. By doing this, the yogi makes life simple and spontaneous and connects to an inner fountain of unrestrained joy.
Tapa is an important observance for a yogi relentlessly on the path of yoga. Tapa means ‘to blaze’; the practice given by a realised master burns the impurities in the seekers psyche. As the intensity and duration of the practice increase the person sloughs off negative emotions and mindset, the physical body cures of all disease and the mind is filled with clarity.
Svadhyaya means self-study. Once again, due to the practice, the witness consciousness in the practising sadhak is awakened. Also known as, the sakshi bhav, this consciousness allows the practitioner to watch one’s action from the outside. A talent to observe oneself and ones life as it unfolds develops. The practitioner also learns to observe the thread that connects the past, the present, and the future in an unbroken chain of action and reaction.
This may extend to more than just this life to many past lives. This self-study helps one to know the exact circumstances that have brought one to this specific condition in life. The yogi faces one’s own drawbacks and talents with equipoise and having come to terms with them is ready to move on.