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Thursday, June 20, 2002

Some Further Words on the Yamas

Back from one retreat, I am preparing to leave for another one, this time in Toronto. So it seems appropriate to transition to the Niyamas by first looking into some of the other Yamas that are mentioned in various Yoga texts.

But, even before that, I want to thank Fortune, yet again, for a wonderful essay on Aparigraha on the June 3rd Karuna Notes page. If you missed it, please check it out through the archives.

So, you may be wondering, what are these other yamas? First is Daya, which can be translated as "compassion," and thus as a synonym for Karuna! It is defined as "that physical, mental, and verbal behavior toward all beings that one has toward oneself." This is the "Golden Rule." In Buddhist teachings, karuna is literally the actions one takes to alleviate the sufferings of all beings, with the Bodhisattvas understanding that there really is no separation between "self" and "other." If there is even the slightest idea that "I" am aiding "someone else," it is no longer true Karuna or Daya.

Arjava is translated most often as "rectitude," "uprightness," or "integrity." According to the Darshana-Upanishad, this is "uniformity in behavior toward one's relatives, friends and enemies in all circumstances." Reb Anderson has written a wonderful book on the Bodhisattva Precepts called Being Upright. I particularly am drawn to the idea of integrity, even if -- even when -- I fall short of it myself. Someone once described Thich Nhat Hanh as a being who is absolutely "coherent" in his words, and actions and it is this sense of utter integrity that drew me to him as my teacher. I have given this some thought in regards to how we practice asana. A "posture" includes the integration of attitude and action -- it is aligned, relaxed and resilient. A "pose," "posing," or "posturing" is something else. It's the difference between standing in Tadasana and standing like some adolescent on the street corner. It may be long on attitude, but there is generally little integrity, which requires confidence gained through awareness.

Kshama is "forbearance." As such it is equivalent to the third of the Paramitas, Kshanti. This consists of refraining from anger in action, thought and words when provoked by enemies. Thich Nhat Hanh translates this as "inclusiveness," in that rather than thinking of it as bearing up under stress, it is a mind that is spacious enough to remain open and include everything.

Dhriti is "steadiness" or "firmness," and is most often seen as "mental stability," (cetah-sthapanam). I often point out in asana class that though asana is defined as that posture which is stable and easeful, there are plenty of asanas that can challenge us to remain physically steady and completely comfortable. It is then that the practice of real yoga can begin. Can we remain stable and at ease in our mind as we topple out of the Tree posture? Instability is seen as identifying with that which we are not -- "the I concept," the five skandhas etc.

And finally, Mitahara is "moderate eating." Ayurvedic texts tell us that this is two anjali's worth of food. That is to say, what can be held easily in two hands. It is further said that one third of the stomach should contain food, one third liquid (warm water) and one third should remain empty so that all 5 elements are present at the end of a meal. If we remember that besides food, we are nourished by sensory experience, by thoughts and perceptions, and consciousness, we can see that it behooves us to pay attention to what and how much we are taking in from the media around us, as well as the environment.

In our next Karuna Notes, we will look at Shauca which comes from shuc, "to shine/be bright, clean." Patanjali sees this as the first of the Niyamas, but the Darshana-Upanishad lists it as the tenth Yama. I look forward to seeing what Fortune will share regarding this important Yogic observance.

May all beings be happy, and free from suffering.

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 4:05 PM

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