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The Three Greatest Pitfalls and the Four Greatest Delusions in the Practice of Pranayama

Initiation into the practice of Pranayama is not limited to the introduction of an advanced technique of mind-body dissassociation. True Yoga practice may revolve around the superstructure of spiritual perception built by daily efforts in Pranayama, but the foundation of Yoga rests entirely upon the firm basis of adherance to the moral and spiritual injunctions of yama and niyama. Yama means control and refers to those thoughts and actions from which a Yogi should abstain. Niyama comprises the Yogic observances or those virtues that must be practiced if success in Pranayama is desired. According to Raja Yoga outlined by Patanjali in his famous Yoga Sutras, the ethical injunctions form the first two branches in the eight-limbed path of spiritual elevation and salvation. So while moral actions bring one harmony with oneself and one’s surroundings , they further give Yogis a foundation upon which to build a spiritual life. The Yogi’s spiritual practices like Pranayama, based upon the sound principles of ethical behavior, bring the Yogi to a state of consciousness whereby he may unite with the real happiness of Sat-Chit-Ananda. While many religions offer rules or commandments as part of a follower’s daily living, they often stop there, not giving any deeper instruction in the art of higher spiritual living whose purpose is to unite (Yoga) the sense-bound consciousness of the religious individual with unlimited Bliss-consciousness. Just as the limbs of a body are all connected to each other by virtue of the body, so too are the injunctions of yama and niyama connected to the higher branches of Ashtanga Yoga by virtue of their shared end of moksha or spiritual liberation. These injunctions work together to combat the three pitfalls of greed for money, alcohol, and sex, and four delusions of time, space, the vibration of duality, and its resulting material creation.

While yama and niyama comprise limbs one and two, Patanjali relates that none of these injunctions can be fully mastered and realized until the student attains the highest rung, samadhi or superconscious experience (II:35-45 in the Yoga Sutras). The implications of this are equally profound. Indeed, perfect enlightenment yields perfection in moral conduct. Further, it will be clear that if a Yogi falls in any way short of satisfying the injunctions of yama and niyama, it is certain that such a Yogi has not reached perfection in Raja Yoga no matter what his or her other accomplishments. The enlightened Yogi, however, in his mastery of proper action, passes beyond the effects of karma that accrue from actions, good or bad. In the Bhagavad Gita it is written that “One who is united to cosmic wisdom goes beyond the effects of both virtue and vice, even here in this life." This moksha or liberation brings that perfect Ananda or Bliss which naturally prompts one to perfect actions.

According to Yogis then, ethics is not a discipline to be quickly mastered, taken for granted, and forgotten as the student progresses in spiritual consciousness. It is only when the Yogi unites with cosmic wisdom that virtue and vice and the necessary preoccupation with them is transcended. Yama and niyama, though together they total ten injunctions, are different from the Ten Commandments of the Hebrew Bible in that they are not considered to be revealed through prophecy. Neither are they fathered, as Kant’s deontological system of laws, by reason, though to Yogis they may be very reasonable. As yama and niyama are the roots of Patanjali’s school of Raja Yoga, giving the student a firm hold in the soil of the day-to-day mechanics of earthly ethical interactions, so too do yama and niyama have their roots in the very philosophy of the science of Raja Yoga itself. For this reason Patanjali does not bother entering upon any discussion justifying yama and niyama. The ethical injunctions of Yoga were developed so the Yogi would not accrue more bad karma which might force future births, and further so that the Yogi would not waste nervous energy unnecessarily on restless or adharmic actions which would perforce hinder efforts in meditation.

As yama and niyama are not only simply moral injunctions to be followed, they are regarded by Yogis as based on principles (such as the law of karma) equally scientific as asanas are in the realm of physical culture and Pranayama is concerning mental control. This can be best understood by an analysis of the eighth limb of Raja Yoga, samadhi. The literal meaning of samadhi is “to direct together,” dhi representing a single point. Thus samadhi is a directing of the Yogis energies and consciousness through mind and body control. Yama and niyama, if analyzed in this light, may be seen as the backdrop attitude that aim at calming and balancing the often restless energies that most human beings find extremely challenging to harness and transmute towards spiritual ends. Once yama and niyama have been effectually put into practice and constantly maintained, the Yogi is able to sit quietly for hours in the practice of Pranayama and meditation, free of the restless urges toward motion, wandering thoughts, or a guilty conscience from non-Yogic behavior.

An individual who attempts to practice Pranayama intensely but at the same time disregards the spiritual injunctions set forth by Patanjali runs the risk of building a spiritual high-rise on shaky ground. In Vedic India, a guru would deny students initiation into techniques of Pranayama until they showed their loyalty to the guru through strict adherence to the principles of Karma Yoga (service to the guru), yama, and niyama. Equating the frequent entry into the state of samadhi with the attainment of Sat-Chit-Ananda, it becomes clear that the very goal of life, lasting bliss, is interwoven with that vital attention Yogis must give to yama and niyama.

Having introduced yama and niyama in their proper context, we move on to an analysis of their respective components and ramifications. Patanjali lists the five yamas and five niyamas in the second chapter of the sutras entitled “Sadhana-Pada.” Sadhana means “path to realization,” and it is this material that is covered in this section of the book. Placing yama and niyama as two of the eight limbs of Raja Yoga, Patanjali writes, “Yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are the eight limbs of yoga” (II:29). While most students of Yoga would place yama and niyama under the category of ethical observances, truly some of the ten injunctions do not neatly fit into this category. Furthermore, while most practitioners of Yoga would classify asana as a physical discipline and Pranayama and meditation as psychical or metaphysical processes, these too do not limit themselves to such neat divisions but in fact may spill over into the categories of moral and ethical codes. It is clear that while all the yamas and niyamas may have their ethical ramifications, their practice is not limited to simply constituting moral behavior any more than the practice of asana, Pranayama, and meditation are limited to being physical and mental disciplines. The Yogi who learns calmness through asana and meditation will find ethical behavior to be as natural as unethical behavior is for the restless and violent individual. According to Yoga philosophy, it is the consciousness of individuals which will inform their choices of actions, thoughts, and even food. The five klesas (afflictions) which influence the unenlightened toward wrong activity are overcome through Yoga. According to Patanjali, the five klesas are ignorance, egotism, attachment, aversion, and the clinging to life (II:3). A Yogi’s consciousness is gradually purified and refined by the performance of yama, niyama, asana, and Pranayama. With this refinement in consciousness comes a spiritual refinement of habits, actions, and tastes.

It should be further noted that Patanjali does not refer to these eight parts as rungs or stages but as angas, or limbs. Limbs do not imply steps, one logically following the other, as other descriptions might. While it must be admitted that a student cannot simply learn Yoga and practice samadhi all the time without having mastered asana and Pranayama, by referring to the parts of Raja Yoga as limbs Patanjali gives yama, niyama and the rest of the angas some independence. This is clear since an individual could conceivably practice asana and nothing else. One might focus on one or two of the yamas and leave niyama alone. So while a sequential relationship is very much implied, meaning best results come from the harmonious practice of all the eight limbs of Yoga, to a certain point Patanjali realizes the possibility of practicing the angas without attention necessarily given to the order in which they are delivered. Again, we find proof that yama and niyama are not merely two rungs to climb on the way to asana, to be mastered and forgotten, but are in fact as important as any other limb on sadhana-pada. It would be inconceivable to imagine the possibility of an individual reaching superconsciousness while at the same time constantly breaking the moral and ethical injunctions of yama and niyama. If that were indeed possible, then Patanjali would not have even bothered to incorporated yama and niyama into the path of Raja Yoga and certainly would not have called them limbs.

Having an understanding of the association of yama and niyama to the parts of Raja Yoga, let us go further back and secure an idea of the intended results of Astanga Yoga and how they and the comprehensive path as a whole relate to ethics. Sutra twenty-eight of the second chapter reads, “From the practice of the component exercises of Yoga, on the destruction of impurity, arises spiritual illumination which develops into awareness of Reality". It is clear that not only samadhi but all the limbs of Yoga lend toward a gradual dwindling (ksaya) of impurities in the practitioner’s body and mind such that the light of knowledge (jnana-diptir) manifests, developing the knowledge (khyateh) of discrimination (viveka). Viveka-khyateh, or right vision, the destruction of impure illusory knowledge, as Shankara the Monist puts it, gradually increases as one’s perceptions are refined. Avidya, ignorance or relative (and hence false) knowledge may be considered the root cause of all immoral actions. Yogis would agree with Socrates in that if an individual could see rightly, it would be less likely for the individual to act wrongly. We must conclude from these remarks that the practice of Raja Yoga in its entirety, not only the isolated practice of yama and niyama, reaches to a goal which is at once concerned with a transcending of the world of matter and an harmonious and ethical living in it.

Swami Satya Prakash Saraswati calls yama and niyama the “backbone of Patanjali’s ethics". As Bliss for Yogis is the personification of Virtue, Satya Prakash argues that one’s love for Truth and Bliss and desire to unite with them are meaningless unless one follows an ethical code. Yama and niyama are not simply the introductory phase on the path to Bliss but form the very foundation of the Yoga. However, while yama and niyama may be considered necessary components to the attainment of samadhi and kaivalya (literally ‘isolation;’ complete emancipation) according to Patanjali, before we begin our discussion on the Yogic injunctions it must be noted again that as the limbs themselves are to a high degree independent of one another, there are individuals who may be termed Yogis, though not Raja Yogis, that use Yoga for ends other than kaivalya. With this important distinction in mind, it is admitted that when one’s goal is no less than union with Bliss, it is impossible to disregard the ethical code of yama and niyama. An individual may acquire power through money, political enterprise, and/or crime as well as through Yoga. Such Yogis on the lower path, however, are no more Raja Yogis than the power hungry ruler. True spirituality implies and relies on true moral character.

Yama means control or literally “restraint.” The five yamas are non-harming (ahimsa), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), continence (brahmacharya), and non-acquisitiveness (aparigraha). The proscriptive rules of yama are prohibitive and refer to thoughts and actions from which the Yogi should abstain. According to Shankara, one is not qualified to practice Yoga merely out of desire to practice; Shankara points out that “following the restraints [yama] and observances [niyama] is the basic qualification to practice yoga". Most Yogis agree that of all the yamas, ahimsa is the most important. Vyasa’s commentary on the yamas follows this line of reasoning: "The other restraints and observances are rooted in this [ahimsa], and they are practised only to bring this to its culmination, only for perfecting this. They are taught only as a means to bring this out in its purity. For so it is said: Whatever many vows the man of Brahman would undertake, only in so far as he thereby refrains from doing harm impelled by delusion, does he bring out harmlessness in its purity." Since the other restraints and observances are rooted in ahimsa, it becomes evident that is not simply a mode of conduct but a manner of speech and discipline of thought. Here Yogis part from the deontology of Kant and seem almost consequentialist. As Vyasa explains, “But that uttered to the harm of beings, even if it what is called truth, when the ultimate aim is merely to injure beings, would not be truth. It would be a sin." “What is called truth” for Yogis is therefore merely facts, not truth at all. Shankara agrees that though such so-called truth “may have the force of fact, [it] does not amount to truthfulness."

It can be inferred from the above that the desires which cause one to steal, break vows of continence, and be attached to possessions are in fact manifestations of violence. If ahimsa is the root of yama and niyama, it is therefore also the root of Patanjali’s ethical code in its entirety. This statement and its implications for the modern world cannot be underestimated. For example, we commonly believe that a person is not harming anyone else if he or she has many possessions and innocently enjoys them, even if attached to them. However, the interdependence of the yamas and niyamas and their inherently specific types of manifestations of violence reveal that whether it is the act of hording possessions, being attached to possessions, or simply the vibration of acquisitiveness that one gives off which is violent, any violation of any of the ethical injunctions of Patanjali’s Raja Yoga constitutes violence. Non-violence is therefore the sum and substance of the divine moral code according to Yoga and as such is both a positive and a negative injunction. As Paramahansa Yogananda explains, “No Hindu religious or social ideal is merely negative. Ahimsa, ‘non-injury,’ called ‘virtue entire’ (sakalo dharma) in the Mahabharata, is a positive injunction by reason of its conception that one who is not helping others in some way is injuring them." Only for the Yogi who has reached the actionless state of samadhi is there a resting point. For all others there can be at no time a moment where the individual is neither harming nor helping other beings.

In order to emphasize the importance and inviolable nature of yama, Patanjali further emphasizes the restraints in verse thirty-one of chapter two: “These are legitimate in all spheres, irrespective of birth, place, time and circumstance and constitute the great vow." We cannot deny the probability that Patanjali is in fact broadening the applicability of yama to include all individuals, not just Yogis and the varied conditions of their births, regardless of their caste, location in the world, the time in which they were born, or the particular circumstances of their lives. Yama, for Patanjali, is Maha-vratam, the “Great Vow.” All commentaries on Patanjali’s sutras agree that under no circumstances should these vows be violated or abrogated in any way at any time by anyone as they are a universally rooted ethical code. Even if one could not aspire to the practice of asana and Pranayama, yama and niyama can be seen as a priceless gift for all those who would religiously bind themselves to the rules of conduct according to Raja Yoga.

Before each yama is looked at more closely, a brief listing of the niyamas is in order. The five niyamas (observances) are purity (sauca), contentment (santosha), austerity (tapas), self-study (svadhyaya), and devotion to the Lord (isvara-pranidhana). Purity includes both of the body, achieved through proper hygiene, proper diet, and, as Shankara adds, through “seeing and listening," and of the mind through the removal of greed, anger, and attachment by “meditation (bhavana) on their opposites." Contentment implies a complete satisfaction, even if what the Yogi has is not sufficient. Tapas is an endurance of life’s dualities with even-mindedness (titiksha). Self-study can be either the study of texts that deal with liberation (moksha), or the repetition of the holy syllable Aum (pranava). Isvara-pranidhana, devotion and surrender to the Lord of Yoga, is credited by Patanjali in I:23 as a means of attaining (or, as some commentators feel, perfecting) samadhi.

Ahimsa, the first and greatest of the yamas, lies at the foundation of Yoga ethics. Compared with the sixth of the Ten Commandments, that one should not murder, we find many differences. To start, their manner of delivery is very different. Ahimsa is a vow one willingly takes in order to live a higher life; it is a decision guided by intelligence and spiritual wisdom. On the other hand, Moses says to the Israelites in a manner of speaking, “God says this, so you do as He commands!” There is no real conscious choice but rather God treats the Children of Israel as just that, children. As children often do under a collective commandment instead of under a personally meaningful vow, the Israelites revolt and rebel. Even if we are to agree that the Israelites willingly and freely accepted God’s commandments as an extension of their liberation from Egypt by the hand of God, the Israelites could neither pick and choose between which commandment to follow and which to reject nor later reject the commandments entirely without being expelled from the Israelite cult. These were, after all, commandments given to a slave nation that could hardly follow these spoken words of God let alone higher spiritual vows which they would have been under no obligation to swear by.

If both ahimsa and the sixth commandment are taken at face value, they both prohibit violent murder, but only ahimsa prohibits thoughts of violence. Both allow killing if it is one’s duty, as Krishna advises Arjuna in the Bhagavad Gita to fight, but only ahimsa prohibits those under its vow to kill with anger, hatred, or feelings of revenge. Both refer to our interactions with other human beings including ourselves, but ahimsa includes all life. The sixth of the Ten Commandments cares not how you speak to your house plants, but one vow of one word, ahimsa, covers that as well. Ahimsa comprises a morality of the highest order for its goal is no lower than union with Bliss though spiritual enlightenment. Ahimsa aims at a lasting bliss beyond worldly illusions and a code for living in the world while the scope of the Ten commandments is limited only to the earthly community and an achievement of harmonious living.

Some commentators on ahimsa propose that killing under any circumstances would violate ahimsa, although they do admit that each situation in life is unique and requires a different approach. This however is nonsensical for several reasons. Life feeds on life. What would the Yogi eat that is not in some way taking life from a plant, if not from an animal? Furthermore, as it is sometimes wrong to tell a fact though it might be the truth, as Shankara points out, so too can it be wrong to not kill though the letter of the law is upheld. This interpretation would in a sense limit yama and niyama into becoming a strict Kantian deontology which does not embody both an absolute morality and a view of the ramifications of actions at the same time. Ahimsa does not mean “non-killing” as Swami Vivekananda’s translation rather mundanely expresses it. In truth, it is far easier to absolutely never tell an untruth or to never kill than to flow organically in one’s life with the spirit of ahimsa which demands that the Yogi makes conscious choices guided by spiritual wisdom. This would limit the scope of ahimsa that it begin to resemble the sixth of the Ten Commandments. If Patanjali meant for the Yogi to simply never kill, he would have said that. Following the vow of ahimsa is far more difficult and far more rewarding. Ahimsa teaches the Yogi to see the unity of all things, to find that it is the same Life flowing through all living beings. As with any habit, the practice of ahimsa becomes easier over time as its ideal is lived by the Yogi.

The result of perfection in ahimsa makes a great statement concerning the importance of the presence of true Yogis in the world. Sutra thirty-five reads, “With establishment of harmlessness, in his presence enmity is abandoned." First, it should be noted that the Yogi’s pacifying effect includes all living beings, not just other humans. So, as Vivekananda writes, “The tiger and the lamb will play together before that Yogi." Would Vivekananda concede that it is simply because the Yogi has not killed anyone that such a miracle could occur? The Yogi extinguishes all violent tendencies within and the outer environment responds accordingly. Secondly, Patanjali is not saying that the peace the Yogi exudes extends only several yards then abruptly halts. The vibrations of enlightened Yogis, though they may not prevent violence and wars world over, do spread all over the planet, even throughout the universe, and have a calming effect which is combined with the positive vibrations of other Yogis and meditators. As Paramahansa Yogananda exclaims, “Even saints who engage in no outward work bestow, through their thoughts and holy vibrations, more precious benefits on the world than can be given by the most strenuous humanitarian activities of unenlightened men."

Ahimsa can neither be classified as a consequentialist nor a deontological injunction, both occidental in their scope, as neither attitude was conceived in the context of the individual reaching for spiritual liberation. Yama and niyama have an eye not for what may be absolutely right or wrong in all circumstances, nor for an end towards which the means are ordered, but for a mode of behavior in harmony with wisdom. In my mind this perspective is very similar to Plato’s idea of the Good and Aristotle’s concept of the Mean. Yogis, like Aristotle, take into account the possibility for infinite variety from moment to moment. It must be noted that even Yogis who have not reached perfection in ahimsa do have positive benefits on their environment and the people that they come in contact with. As one Yogi’s peace never wars with another Yogi’s peace, the combined effect of all meditators on the planet should be reckoned as a mighty force which counteracts much violence which might have occurred had there been no Yogis at all present in the world. On this note, Feuerstein writes, “It is tempting to ask whether this undesigned harmonizing influence is not as positive a contribution to human civilization as any scientific discovery, and with the additional advantage of no negative side-effects whatsoever." I would go even farther and ask how else, other than through our world peace, or lack of it, are we as a race to measure the advancement of our civilization?

The second yama is to always speak the truth. There is a story about the Yogi who for twenty years never spoke an untruth. One day he had a hankering for milk, but where was such a luxury item to be found? He roused himself and asked his disciple to go to the barrel and fill his cup with some milk. The disciple new very well that the barrel contained only water. Fearing to disappoint his guru, the disciple reluctantly got up, went over to the barrel, and began to fill his guru’s cup. The disciple was astonished to find that milk poured from the barrel. After giving his master the cup of milk, he went over to the barrel a second time to fill his own cup, unhappily finding that the barrel loyally delivered only its contents, water. “With establishment of truth, events confirm his words," reads sutra thirty-six. While the above story may have its didactic elements, Patanjali would not have us undermine the power of truth or the power of words in general to do good or harm. Truth, Sat, is God to Yogis. Again, however, the Yogi is challenged with the task of differentiating between small ‘t’ truth, which might be the same as mere facts, and capital ‘T’ Truth which is a state of harmony. Similarly, there should be no room in the life of a Yogi for what are commonly called “white lies,” as it has already been pointed out that there is no such thing as a harmless untruth. With every untruth dharma is violated, and as “worlds are built on truth” (Yogananda) human beings who have been given the power of speech must live and speak according to Truth in their ethical responsibility to themselves and others. While this may sound at first reading as deontological, since it has been shown that the Yogi must make the distinction at any given moment between Truth and fact, if in fact a discrepancy exists, satya is deontological only in regard to speaking Truth, not in the absolute avoidance of telling lies. So again there is no Kantian rule to fall back on. A lie may conceivably be in keeping with Truth while a fact, a truth, may be an un-Truth.

The third yama is non-stealing. In the West, children are taught from an early age that if you want something you have to go out and work for it. Children are further taught that their happiness is dependent on what they have and the amount of money in the bank. Some people want to be rich at whatever the cost to their health, physical and moral, whether they need to “beg, steal, or borrow.” Patanjali teaches otherwise. While Yoga is definitely a “pro-active” system wherein there is no room for the lazy, Patanjali writes in sutra thirty-seven that “By being established in non-stealing, the Yogi obtains all wealth." Some commentators feel that the Yogi will know through this power the whereabouts of all gems and jewels in his vicinity. This is ridiculous and completely untrue. It may be that a Yogi may know where wealth is being kept, but through such clairvoyance the Yogi knows where all refuse is kept as well. The power spoken of here is of a different order, however. Vivekananda describes it quite well: “The more you fly from nature, the more it follows you; and if you do not care for it at all, it becomes your slave." Through desirelessness, the Yogi may magnetically attract to himself the wealth of money, knowledge, true friends, etc. Desire is a disturbance in the mind, a form of violence. When this anxiety is quieted, the Yogi finds that the mind itself grows in such magnetic power that without bodily action the fruits of action are placed at the Yogi’s feet. Any other interpretation would reduce the divine powers of Yoga to magical feats. Without writing a whole essay on Yogic powers alone, suffice it to say that the powers of Yogis come from just that, union. Through union with Truth, the Yogi manifests truth. Through union with non-stealing, the Yogi manifests abundance. Magical powers are of a different, and spiritually lower, order altogether. It is thus easy to see how this yama is connected to the two previous yamas, ahimsa and satya, and it is also clear that the ethical ramifications for a world whose citizens applied asteya would be wonderful.

As mentioned earlier, one of the purposes of the yamas and niyamas is the conservation of energy so that the Yogi is able to harness the power of concentration in order to deeply interiorize the consciousness. The vow of continence is directly part of that process. “By being established in continence,” reads sutra thirty-eight, “the Yogi gains energy." This energy brings physical vigor and health as well as mental equanimity and poise. The Yogi’s magnetic power, which influences others who are subconsciously aware of the Yogi’s spiritual strength, rises as his sexual energy is sublimated and is directed, through chastity in thought and deed, up the spine to the brain. Some stories of Yogis are told in India, like the story of the ascetic who wanted milk, that depict the chaste as having the power of elephants or similarly powerful animals. It must here be noted that the goal of Raja Yoga is to be a spiritual giant that becomes like the elephant-god Ganesha, the receptacle of all wisdom, knowledge, and power regardless of whether the Yogi inhabits a strong or frail body. On an a more ethical level, brahmacharya must be understood in the context of the four stages of life, vanashram dharma, according to the Vedas. Patanjali is surely not recommending that the human race die out since all must be continent at all times. Rather, the time allotted a man for procreation, from the ages of twenty-five to forty, has been set as garhasthyashrama, or domestic life. A Yogi that opts to remain celibate, as swamis do, and not contribute to the earth’s population, is surely not a danger to a world that has never feared for extinction from want of sex. Rather, the wars among unenlightened unnecessarily rob the planet of its precious life--animal, human, and terrestrial.

Sutra thirty-nine reads, “When steadied in greedlessness he obtains knowledge of [his/her] births." Until such knowledge is received by a human being through what Vivekananda calls “non-receiving," the individual cannot know who he or she is, where he or she came from, or to where he or she is going. However, when the Yogi is free from attachment to possessions and greediness in all of its ugly forms, the Yogi comes into possession of the knowledge of past lives, the nature of the present life, and the probabilities concerning future rebirths, if any. Feuerstein explains very clearly how greedlessness may be linked with such knowledge: “Greedlessness, which is the renunciation of the desire for possessions, is the correlative of the gradual suspension of the ego identity in favor of the transcendental Self." It is difficult to conceive of the amount of violence that has ensued in our world’s history in the name of owning things, whether it be money or lands or relics or information. This is a vicious cycle, for the more an individual craves possessions the more he or she is bound by ego consciousness which in turn produces an even stronger craving for things of the world. Vivekananda goes even further to interpret this yama as an injunction against receiving gifts from others. Receiving presents makes the Yogi obliged to others and creates impurities in the mind of the Yogi who perforce receives the evil of the giver.

Each niyama, like the yamas, also bestows upon the Yogi that masters it a specific power and/or understanding which is related to the vice overcome through the particular niyama. Purity is of two kinds, physical and mental, and so two verses are dedicated to it. “From physical purity (arises) disgust for one’s own body and disinclination to come in physical contact with others." Many scholars replace “physical contact” with simply “intercourse,” others replace “disgust” with “distance.” The aversion to physical contact beyond the most involved (as in intercourse) is more inclusive and more realistic. It also explains the general habit of Yogis to live in isolated parts of the world. This is not hypochondria, for in fact all concern for the body vanishes as well. Still, aversion was one of the klesas to be overcome. Is there a contradiction? Where is the spiritual progress considering that a Yogi may simply replace one klesa, attraction toward the bodies of others, for another? One can only conclude that while an impure mind will be plagued by attraction and aversion to certain sensual stimuli, purity of mind will naturally lend itself to an avoidance of impurity both physical and mental. Patanjali simply wishes to remind students of Yoga (and others) that the body is impure by its very nature; it is full of both life and death. The body is transitory and it can give no lasting happiness. Further, for the Yogi who has achieved purity there will arise no desire to come into physical contact with other bodies. Vivekananda writes that “thirst after the body is the great bane of human life." Again we find that a spiritual injunction with its corresponding result has vast ethical consequences. If all had such an understanding there would be no rape, no rampant transmittal of sexual diseases, no unwanted children, no overpopulation, etc. Sex would be performed for the sole purpose for which it was intended, controlled procreation. People would love one another for the soul inhabiting the body, not for the body itself.

Purity of mind, according to Patanjali, brings cheerfulness, one-pointedness, control of the senses, and the fitness for the vision of the Self. It is agreed that while purity of mind brings cheerfulness, it is cheerfulness which brings one-pointedness, and so forth. The beneficial effects that arise through perfection in this niyama are related to other limbs of Raja Yoga. Control of the senses is akin to the fifth limb pratyahara, a withdrawal of the mind from the senses which results from Pranayama practice. One-pointedness itself is dharana, concentration, which can be practice only after pratyahara is achieved. Finally, a vision of the Self can be said to be the goal of concentration and meditation, this being samadhi. Once the mind has attained this purity the path of Yoga is made far easier.

From contentment, a form of mental purity, the Yogi attains a superlative happiness. This seems obvious if we consider that most of our unhappiness results from cravings and unnatural desires. Continuing, “From destruction of impurity by tapas, perfection of body and sense." This niyama (tapas, austerities), and its fruits are rather involved. Shankara states that through such perfection, accomplished by a removal of the taints (malas), the power to become as minute as an atom (anima) is achieved. However, this is one of the aiswaryas which the Yogi is said to acquire with the attainment of the highest of samadhis, nirvikalpa samadhi. As Tapas usually involves such extreme austerities as prolonged fasting, silence, and even superphysical methods of Pranayama which are generally not intended for even regular practitioners of Pranayama, the burning away of the physical dross referred to by Patanjali in this niyama is of a supernormal category. On a more human level, tapas is meant to help the Yogi to disassociate himself or herself from the physical body. Such perfections of the organs of sense naturally include powers of clairvoyance and clairaudience. Further, such a attitude toward the body naturally propels the Yogi to seek the Bliss of Sat-Chit-Ananda rather than transitory earthly pleasures. A more ethically rooted individual is therefore the result.

Through self-study (svadhyaya), Patanjali informs us that the Yogi has visions of the chosen deity which is worshiped. As human beings may be called by names, so too do the gods (devas), siddhas (perfected beings), seers (rishis) each have their name or mantra through the repetition of which they may be communed with. While this is very different then actual union with Isvara, commented upon in the next sutra, such communion allows these higher beings to aid the Yogi on the path. Such assistance can be very valuable. “From devotion to the Lord (isvara), perfection in samadhi” reads sutra forty-five. Vyasa relates that this samadhi informs the Yogi of what he desires. When does anyone need to be told what they desire? It is clear that such knowledge of all the desires of the Yogi in all lives, past and present, are then to be satisfied in superconscious vision, or samadhi. It is in this spiritual way that Yogis remove all desires, even those which have long been forgotten but nevertheless keep the Yogi chained to the wheel of birth and rebirth. Some commentators are confused as to whether Patanjali means that through such devotion alone samadhi is attained, making isvara-pranidhana a path unto itself, therefore equating it to a sort of Bhakti Yoga, whether it is simply a branch of a more complete path, or whether it is the only way to reach perfection in samadhi. In the context of Raja Yoga it is clear that this niyama is but a part of the whole, and as the other yamas and niyamas bring their extraordinary benefits not through the practice of them alone but through the balanced harmonious practice of all the limbs of Raja Yoga, so too does isvara-pranidhana rely on and compliment the other branches of Astanga Yoga. Even as a path unto itself, it is absurd to think of a Yogi who willingly causes harm to others, aims for no purity, and cannot sit still but all the while he is devoted to the Lord. Such devotion is meaningless and emotional at best. The value of devotion in the realm of meditation is that it is a formidable tool which the Yogi finds will aid in the quieting of the scattering power of the mind (vikshepa). So by no means is it the only path, or a path fully unto itself, but a vital part of a greater whole.

I would now like to take this opportunity to address some misconceptions concerning the lifestyle that Yogis are generally presumed to adopt. Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga, the Yoga of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is not, strictly speaking, an ascetic tradition. Nowhere does Patanjali say or even suggest that a Yogi is one who chooses to live in a certain location where there are a certain number of people per square mile. Nowhere does Patanjali comment upon the vocation of a Yogi. Nowhere does Patanjali recommend that Yogis live at a certain altitude above (or below) sea level. Patanjali does not remark on the food the Yogi chooses to eat, the age for one to start Yoga practice, the race most suited to Yoga, nor the clothes a Yogi should wear. Patanjali stresses the same thing that all texts on Yoga stress--practice. To quote the Hathayoga Pradipika: "Perfection [in Yoga] is not achieved by wearing the apparel [of a yogin], or by talking about it. Practice alone is the means to success. This is the truth, without doubt." (I:66)

Beside tapas, an injunction which is very broad and differs widely in its practice from guru to guru, Patanjali does not comment greatly upon the outer aspects of the Yogi’s life. Even celibacy, as previously noted, must be read in the context of vanashram dharma, not as an absolute. Yoga does not set forth any absolute rules since they are valueless in a world of relativity. Quite simply, there are greater questions that Patanjali wishes to address in the limited space he allows himself. In fact, I have found that most of the material concerning the Yogic lifestyle is more a product of Indian tradition and culture rather than a product of strict Yoga science. For example, though it is traditional in India to sit on the floor, one could just as easily and successfully meditate siting on a chair. This practice began most likely due to India’s hot climate, making it more comfortable to sit lower where the air was cooler, or at higher altitudes. In short, there is no mention in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras of the animal skin and kusa grass.

The damaging misconceptions concerning the Yogi’s attitude toward non-Yogis is in large part due to these highly superficial generalizations such as what Yogis value and how Yogis appear. Was not Mother Teresa a Bhakti Yogini and Karma Yogini? Was not Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. a Karma Yogi? Even more so may we not judge the Raja Yogi(ni) who may play any role at any time that may be chosen for him or her. Raja Yoga is based on an ethical code, on a highly sophisticated system of morality which has a direct and positive effect on the Yogi who applies it and upon the Yogi’s environment. Who were the greatest lovers of humanity and even the world but the Yogis, those who saw the same Spirit equally in the outcast as in the saint.

While most of the yamas and niyamas can be easily understood in the context of ethics, some, like perhaps isvara-pranidhana, may not so easily translate into a moral code. Often Yogis are branded as completely introverted individuals who have no concern nor care for suffering humanity. I hope that it has been successfully shown that such an accusation is wholly unfounded and that likely the reverse is true. It has always been the case that those who care most for others make the greatest effort at changing themselves. Yogis therefore run the risk of being misunderstood and viewed as self-absorbed. The Self (sva) Yogis are absorbed in, however, is the Lord of the universe (isvara), that Self permeating all life everywhere. Therefore, only the Raja Yogi can love all equally with the same impersonal love.

As the yamas have been shown to be positive injunctions as well as negative, so too the niyamas have their negative counterparts which correspond to their prescriptive nature. Using isvara-pranidhana as an example, Yoga ethics claims that if one is not devoted to the Self (isvara) as Lord of Yoga Bliss, one is perforce devoted to the little self (sva) or the ego as lord of the body. The first leads to ahimsa, non-violence, the second bears the fruit of violence toward one’s self, one’s associates, one’s environment, and ultimately toward the world and all living things which reside in it. Indeed, it is the unenlightened individual, the one that has no time nor interest for Yogic ethics, that is greedy, self-serving, self-centered, dissatisfied, impure in body, thought and deed, possessive, a slave to the senses, ignorant of the higher life, and forgetful of the interior Joy. In a word, violent. Yogis who realize their true essence automatically feel compassion for suffering humanity and embrace the “desire” to alleviate the pain of others. I would like to end with a quote from the Yogashikha-Upanishad:
Verily, there is no merit higher than Yoga, no good higher than Yoga, no subtlety higher than Yoga; there is nothing that is higher than Yoga. (1.67)