Yama and Niyama

Yama and Niyama

(… continued from ‘Mind must be purified’)

Now, it is quite easy to find a passage here, for instance. Swami Mangalnath who was a fellow disciple of Shri Dadaji. He seems to be saying something quite different. He says, ‘First, before practising Shivoham, a deep meditation on, “I am Shiva “, there must be practice of yama and niyama, the restraints and observances’. We think, “Well, what are those?”  Well, the first one is non-violence. You think, “Oh yes, yes.” Then not stealing, and now we feel we have a fairly good idea of what sort of things they are. So, clearly, it is a moral code, and a moral code has got to be carried right through, there are 10 of them, before meditation is practised. Yama and niyama. Very well-known words. They come in Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’.  Shankara, for instance, in the early part of the commentary, to some of the Upanishads, like the Prajna, he lists them, though not in the same order.  

But it is not so easy for us to remember exactly what they are. There are many Christians who say, “Well, the Sermon on the Mount is enough.” If they ask, “Well, yes, but what does the Sermon on the Mount say?” “Well, it says love thy neighbour as thyself. This is the great new truth that Christ brought.”  Somebody said, “Well, that is not so much in the Sermon on the Mount. That is more an Old Testament text from Leviticus, which the Jewish lawyers held was one of the great commandments of the law.” “Oh, oh, well. Well, something about the peacemakers, they shall not be judged or something. It is very, very exalting, very, very high.”

It is the same with yama and niyama. We feel, “Oh yes, non-murder, non-violence and not stealing.” Then go on. “Yes, well, telling the truth and then there is non-violence, of course. Then there is contentment, you see, and then telling the truth and the non-violence.” It becomes quite difficult, but if we examine in fact, what Swami Mangalnath said, the list of 10, and we shall see:  Non-injury, truth, not stealing, Brahmacharya, which means a life of continence, but, also, especially study. A Brahmachari was a student above all. Not holding possessions, purity. Purity, contentment. Now, these three: tapas, study, repetition of Om and devotion to God. These forms of meditation, meditation and repetition of Om, are in niyama.

It is not a question of starting off with two and saying, “Oh, well, the rest of them will be like that”, but it is a question of knowing all the 10, and Swami Mangalnath is saying, ‘Shivoham, I am Shiva’. Meditation on the unity of Self and God should not be repeated without this previous discipline of devotion to God and austerity, and study the scriptures and the repetition of Om and the not-stealing and the truth.

Then, after purity, knowledge, the attainment of knowledge. There is a tendency again to think that this is liberation. But Shankara says, “No, beyond this there are these two. Renunciation and firmness, devotion to knowledge.” [One] could say, “Well, where does he say this?”  For instance, in the commentary at the beginning to Chapter 2, Verse 69, ‘When he has realised the Self, when he has realised the Self, Knowledge, his duty is sannyasa, renunciation of action’. ‘The Lord’, says Shankara, ‘will show that such a man’s duty, one who has realised the Self, consists in devotion to knowledge. His duty, having realised knowledge, his duty is to take his stand on that knowledge.’  ‘This’, Shankara says, ‘is a natural succession from Knowledge to Nishtha, to taking one’s stand on Knowledge’.

Now, Shri Dada says on this that the interference with knowledge can arise from memories and past impressions of being limited to the body, identified with the body. They are checked by renunciation, either external or internal renunciation, being able to see something very precious disappear, without any feeling of regret or bitterness, and firmness in knowledge, remaining steady in the knowledge, not forgetting it and passing away into trivialities.  Shri Dada says, ‘When a man has lived for the pleasure of the Lord, then he begins to cultivate detachment from the body. The feeling, “I am not the body” is the primary condition of the yoga and the complete relinquishment of body consciousness marks the attainment of samadhi’.

He says it elsewhere (Page 241): ‘The sense of self-preservation is a dominating instinct of human personality, but the body is not the Self. The real Self is Atman, and when the body becomes a cloud, hiding the self-effulgent sun of Atman, then its preservation will keep one ever ignorant and in suffering. Samsara is an illusion, which includes in it your body and even your personality’.  Well, the Gita itself says, in Chapter 12, that this is very difficult. The path of devotion to the Lord is a relatively easy one. The path of firmness in knowledge is more difficult because it involves a complete detachment from the body and, therefore, it is more difficult.

What happens in these stages ? One of the Gita verses says that after knowledge, this man is sporting in the Self. Does it mean that he has no effect on the world at all? The Gita says he sees the Lord, not only in himself but in all the other beings. Then it says, ‘He sees who sees the Lord standing equally in all the beings, the undying and the dying, and he who sees thus kills not the Self’.

Shankara explains that killing the Self means to lose sight of the Self, to ignore it or to veil it, with considerations of personality or of the body. He does not kill the Self in himself or in the other people. This is contrasted with the so-called golden rule: ‘Do unto others as you would they do to you’. But this is in a negative form. ‘Do not kill the Self in others’.

© Trevor Leggett

(Continued in ‘Killing the Self’)

Titles in this series are:

Part 1 : Shankara’s Path

Part 2 : Restrain the senses first

Part 3 : Mind must be purified

Part 4 : Yama and Niyama

Part 5 : Killing the Self


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