Yama and Niyama

Why Should a Person Practice an Ethical Code Before They Learn Meditation?

Meditation strengthens the mind, which makes sense because it’s focused concentration on a word, phrase, or sensation. But even when you leave your meditation cushion, the effect continues. The mind becomes trained to focus. If you’re an unethical person, that will also become amplified and more focused. We see this in the television show Billions. The villain, Bobby Axelrod, also takes time to meditate. Yes, he’s a fictional character, but in real life this also happens. In India you’ll hear stories of “evil magicians” or meditators intent on causing others harm. Meditation is a tool that can be used for good or bad just like anything else.

If you strive to be a better person, to experience more love in your life both toward yourself and others, practicing an ethical code is a must. In yoga, we call this code Yama and Niyama. In many yoga books, Yama is sometimes defined as “abstinences,” meaning things that you shouldn’t do. Niyama is sometimes translated as “observances,” referring to things that you should do. These are rough translations that don’t quite capture the essence of yama and niyama.

Another way to view Yama is a discipline that will help you to find harmony with your external environment. Niyama, on the other hand, are those practices that will help you to attain internal harmony.

Let’s look briefly at the various parts of Yama and Niyama. We’ll go into these more deeply at another time. Yama has five parts. They are as follows:

  1. “Ahimsa” means to refrain from harming others with your thoughts, words, or actions.
    However, it also recognizes sometimes force is necessary like in the case of self-defense.
  2. “Satya” is the right use of words in the spirit of welfare. It generally means to tell the truth,
    but if the exact truth will create harm to someone, then we have to choose our words carefully.
  3. “Asteya” means not stealing, including in your mind. Asteya also means not depriving others
    of what they are due.
  4. “Brahmacarya” literally means to “remain attached to Brahma (the Supreme
    Consciousness). The idea of this practice is to treat every living and non-living entity as an
    expression of God.
  5. “Aparigraha” is non-accumulation of physical objects that are superfluous to our needs.

Niyama also has five principles. Briefly, they are as follows:

  1. “Shaoca” means cleanliness and purity of your environment and your mind.
  2. “Santosha” is contentment of mind. Work hard, do the best you can, and then remain
    content with what you have.
  3. “Tapah” signifies sacrificing in order to help others. Take on some of the burdens of others
    and you will not only help society but your own inner self will be purified.
  4. “Svadhyaya” is the study and true understanding of spiritual literature.
  5. “Iishvara Pranidhana” literally means to take shelter in the controller of the universe. It is
    practiced through daily meditation.

These are practices that we all work on every day but the more we practice them, the easier
they become. And they will ensure we don’t end up like Bobby Axelrod.

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