“The most important human endeavor is the striving for morality in our actions. Our inner balance and even our very existence depend on it. Only morality in our actions can give beauty and dignity to life.” ~ Albert Einstein
There was a yoga wiseman, thousands of years ago, who is credited with passing along the yogic doctrine through his words, actions and writings. His name was Patanjali and his influence on the study and practice of yoga has reached beyond hundreds of decades, international borders, religious beliefs, and cultural boundaries. His teachings stress the union of spirituality with daily living. Through his Yoga Sutras, or guidelines, Patanjali spelled out how we can cohabitate on this earth with all living creatures, in a harmonic state. At the core of Patanjali’s teaching is a path of behavior called the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The first of these eight limbs is Yamas, or Universal Morality.
Imagine that everyone, for just one day, practiced compassion. Suppose that everyone spoke the truth and directed their energy toward spirituality? What might our world be like if there was no stealing? No theft of material goods, freedom, time or life? And what if we took a step back from the desire to acquire? Could we simply be content with the necessities without greed or exploitation? These five principles are the basis for the Yamas.
1. Ahimsa means to not harm any creature, human or otherwise, in any way. When I was a little girl one of the most exciting signs of summer was the arrival of Fireflies. We called them Lightening Bugs and we would chase them across the back yard, trap them in our hands and drop them into a jar. We may or may not have punctured holes in the jar’s metal lid, but the demise of the captured bugs was cemented at the moment two grubby, little hands slapped shut around them. Their chances of survival were slim. The Lightening Bugs that didn’t suffocate would likely lose their lighted tails to our creativity. We would pull off the illuminated segment and smash it across our wrists as a bracelet, or into the sidewalk to view the streak of yellow until it faded and died. Today the idea of dismembering a firefly is sickening to me. I understand the meaning of Ahimsa, and while I will still slap a mosquito in retaliation for its sting, I practice awareness to my actions when it comes to living things.
2. Satya is truthfulness. Recently, our grandson was visiting us here on the Island. He’s 8 years old and a voracious reader. One evening he noticed a copy of the Coastal Breeze on the coffee table. He asked me if I had an article in the paper and I said, “Yes, do you want to read it?” Being polite, he said, “Sure!” and started reading aloud the first paragraph. It wasn’t long before he hesitated and asked if he could go back to reading the comic book stuffed into his bookbag. Truthfulness is tricky, but Porter handled it well. An article written about overcoming distractions is probably not spellbinding literature for an eight-year-old. Patanjali says that while speaking the truth is important, it is equally meaningful to consider what we say and how we say it. If the truth is hurtful, or will have negative consequences for another, then we are better off to say nothing.
3. Asteya is non-stealing. I have an aunt who is habitually late. Not 15 minutes late, but instead hours late. On occasion, she’s been a day late. Her name is Ginger. Ginger showed up mid-way through the reception on my wedding day, completely missing the ceremony. For our son’s graduation, she pulled into the driveway long after the other guests had gone, and the last of the food had been stored away. Ginger doesn’t swipe flatware from a restaurant or candy bars from Walmart. Ginger steals time and attention.
4. Brachmacharya is tricky to pronounce and somewhat tenuous to explain. Brachmacharya means to focus our senses and direct our energies toward our highest self; to be the best we can be and foster relationships that steer us along that path. In its purest sense, Brachmacharya means celibacy before marriage and fidelity after we have taken the vows. In today’s world, attention to this behavior would eliminate the necessity for the #MeToo movement all together, because sexual harassment, assault and deviance would not exist.
5. Aparigraha is disentangling ourselves from our attachment to stuff. We take what we have earned, and what is necessary for living but nothing more. We can all easily practice Aparigraha, by simply doing a little spring cleaning. Remove from your closets the garments you don’t wear. Purge cupboards and drawers. Re-evaluate the contents of your garage. Freedom is found through the practice of Aparigraha. We move through life in a more fluid fashion without the encumbrance of attachment.
I see Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga as a blossoming tree of guidance. This first limb, the Yamas are the roots of the tree. Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brachmacharya and Aparigraha are tentacles of discipline. If we practice living our lives with truthfulness, compassion, non-attachment, and self-control at our very roots, it’s possible to create Universal Morality. It all begins with one seed of desire.
Next edition will feature the second of Patanjali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga known as the Niyamas. Stay tuned.
Laurie Kasperbauer, RYT 200, enjoys the spiritual and physical benefits of yoga practice and instructs both group and private classes. Laurie is also an active Florida realtor specializing in properties in Naples and Marco Island. She can be reached at Harborview Realty, 291 S. Collier Blvd., Marco Island, or by calling 712-210-3853.