Raja Yoga

What Is Raja Yoga

The Impediments

Sat Ripu - The Six Enemies

Moral Practice

Yama and Niyama

Yama and Niyama
Translator: Shani Evenstain
All religions and philosophies have a common denominator, as they all offer some kind of discipline or rules one has to follow. Yoga also offers a discipline, various guiding rules, which one has to adapt as a spiritual practice [sadhana] in order to progress and finally be freed.
Yama and Niama are the two first steps in the eightfold path of Patanjali. They include ten precepts of ’dos and don’ts’ and are considered the foundation to a spiritual progress. These precepts resemble the Jewish Ten Commandment and the eightfold Buddhist path in many ways.
We should strive to better ourselves in all ten precepts of Yama and Niyama; however, putting all our efforts into even one of them and succeeding, can lead us to the highest spiritual freedom, due to that work alone.

Yama – the first step

1 – Ahimsa – Non-violence, Non-injury, Harmlessness

All great doctrines in Buddhism promote non-violence. It is the same in the case of the Japanese Zen-Buddhism, which also stresses the importance of non-violence. But first, we should understand what non-violence means, and consider not only its physical manifestations, but also its mental ones. A physical manifestation may be making sure we do not hurt or kill any living creature, including ourselves. However, we should leave no room for mental violence as well, meaning we mustn’t harm anyone even in our thoughts. Applying non-violence, then, is actually a constant effort that involves the body, the speech and the mind.
It takes a lot of determination to constantly remind ourselves that we mustn’t harm others, but that is the only way to purify our nature. If we scratch a rock day by day, we would realize that there is a mark on that rock after a few days. The same applies to our attitudes and behaviors; behaviors not of the purest nature can be altered, but a daily effort is required. To truly walk the non-violence path, we must get to a point where we can recognize violence even when the smallest negative thought rises in our mind. We should be so cautious, that we would recognize the aggression awakening when violence takes the form of thoughts in the depth of our heart. The best reaction would be to simply stop it – a difficult, but not an impossible thing to do. Only when we do not partake in violence, even in the slightest way, we can be considered walkers of the non-violence path.
One must also consider that some acts of killing are not violent. For example, when thousand of bacteria die with every breath we take, it is not considered an act of violence. We do not do it intentionally, as it is not the nature of our consciousness to be aware of it; rather, it is part of Nature’s course, the way the universe was created. Sometimes we unintentionally kill small animals, like ants and insects, when we simply walk. We do not mean to kill them and most of the times, we are not even aware it is happening, as our consciousness is not naturally focused on that. For that reason, that would not be considered an act of violence.
There are cases in which violence is needed for self-defense, as if we do not defend ourselves, we will be hurt. Such cases are not considered acts of violence as well. We were created with two hands and a common sense. Not defending ourselves when someone is about to hurt us would simply be unwise or even foolish. In certain cases reality forces us to react. When we fight in a battlefield to defend our country, we kill humans that we do not know, and that are the enemies of our homeland. In such cases, it is our duty to defend it, as Krishna teaches Arjuna in the Bhagavad-Gita.
2 – Satya – Truthfulness, Honesty
Walking the path of truthfulness also incorporates the body, speech and mind. By analyzing those, we can measure how truthful we are. We must even examine our imagination, desires, thoughts and wishes. If we succeed in being truthful and can eradicate anything that is not true in us, even in thoughts, then we are on the right track. We must try walking this path daily, whatever happens in our lives. Even if we succeed only partially, fail nine out of ten times, then that one time we succeed is a worthy achievement. We must carefully watch every action that involves sight, hearing, speech and touch in order to walk the path of truthfulness.
3 – Asteya – Non-possessiveness
Our attachments are things we cling on to. The fear of death is one example, but we hold on to many other things. We are all aware of the thoughts that keep rising in our minds, ’I want this, I want that...’ We all know we came to this world empty handed, and that we will leave the same way, but we keep accumulating things. It is this accumulation that creates attachments that bind the soul and draw us to low levels of consciousness, thus preventing us from rising to higher ones. We desire things we know will not happen in reality, but we keep craving them. So how can we limit our desires and their recurrence? How can we stop being so possessive?
To fight Asteya, one must apply self-discipline, in order to limit his desires in accordance to his true needs. Controlling our desires and cravings will eventually minimize our needs and limit their recurrence. It is important to understand that Asteya does not mean we should abuse ourselves, nor live in asceticism. Walking this path simply means having what we really need. It means training ourselves to remember that we do not really need many of the things we want, and teaching ourselves not to hold on to unnecessary things.
4 – Brahmacharya - Celibacy, spotless Chastity
’Brahma’ is God and ’Achar’ is the actions of our nature. The best and most positive thing that exists in all philosophies and religions is God. The highest level of being can be achieved when we feel that what hurts us hurts others as well. One has to examine the ’bad’, because when it is eliminated, ’good’ remains; just like when one shakes a tree, the rotten fruits fall down and the good, edible ones, remain. ’Acharya’, our nature’s actions, exists in body, speech and mind – in every single thing we do, especially in our thoughts. If a negative thought appears, immediately replace it with a positive one. The process of Brahmacharya, then, is a total cleansing of our personality and of our nature from everything bad or negative. Self-refinement is achieved by replacing ’bad’ with ’good’. When doing so, it is also important to recognize whether our drive to do so is a selfish act, or not.
’Brahma’ means the Divine and ’Achar’ also means ’going after, following’. Certain habits and behaviors are cultural related and derive from our environment and way of life we lead. But whatever these habits are, we instinctively know that anything that may hurt us may hurt others just as well, or if something is good for us it may as well be good for others. Brahmacharya, then, also means following the universal.
The symbolic figure of Lord Ganesh, the elephant, is frequently depicted riding a mouse, which is symbolic of our consciousness. The mouse reproduces rapidly, and thus represents sex. Our instincts, which constantly wonder through the eyes in a state of waking, force our consciousness in the direction of sex. In order to spiritually advance, one has to control that force completely. Such control requires a great deal of self-discipline, and walking this path is called Brahmacharya. Over-eating also falls under this category, as controlling it requires a powerful self-discipline.
This state can only be achieved with the aid of practice. As long as the words remain on the page alone, they are meaningless; only when we start implementing these notions in our daily lives through practice, will we achieve progress.
5 – Aprigraha - Abstention from Greed
Jealousy and desire are part of human nature. We mustn’t, however, feel superior or inferior to one another. Each of us is unique and there is therefore no need for comparisons. We also shouldn’t feel that if others have certain possessions, we must have those as well. The power of jealousy is a deadly one, as it always tempts us to desire what others have, thus pushing us away from truth.
Sexuality is also part of this nature; so seductive that it is mentioned in the Ten Commandments – "Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife." There are many examples to be found in our daily lives; for instance, a man who has a wife, but keeps dreaming of having many.
This mental desire, which is part of all of us, has to be neutralized. Only when we neutralize it at the moment it arises, we truly walk the path of Aprigraha. Since Greed is part of our nature, integrated in all of us from the moment of birth, we must always strive to refine this nature and improve ourselves.

Niyama – the second step

 1 – Sauca – Physical and Mental Purity

Sauca is the cleansing of the body, the speech and the mind. It is not only an external cleansing of the body, but cleansing of all our human aspects. We must carefully observe ourselves and purifyour inner self, on its thoughts, imagination, actions and behaviors. We must pay close attention to the words we use – are they the right words at the right time. Such observation is called Sauca, and it means been cautious concerning all the above aspects. Sauca can have an even stronger impact when we combine this purification process with awareness of Ahimsa [non-violence] and Satya [truthfulness].Both are directly related to Sauca, and when combined the purification becomes even more inclusive.
2 – Samtosa – Contentment
We have discussed earlier the need to restrict our desires to a minimum. When we try to direct out energy so that we would not wish for anything that is beyond our true needs, it is an act of true revolution. It may seem an act of oppression, but we must realize that eventually it will be of great help to us, one step closer on our way toward happiness. It is done by increasing the faith in our own selves, and this faith is actually Samtosa. We actually learn to better recognize the ’self’, and to recognize that we are more content. Every aspect that may seem oppressive, that we recognize we have to force ourselves to perform again and again, is finally performed by the help of Samtosa. That is how we become content. We may try 100 times and fail 90 of them; but in10 cases we will succeed. Gradually, we will gain the confidence that we are "in charge". In order to carry out the commandments we have to take control of ourselves, a control that may only be achieved step by step.
This is one attitude to consider. The second one helps ’the commander’ accept the situations he encounters. When someone has achieved the state of contentment, it can be easily recognized in his reactions to what happens. Usually, the reaction would be a positive one.
Samtosa, then, is the expression of contentment even during events that are unpleasant. For example, I have to go on a trip with you, and I know it is going to be problematic, but I compromise – an act the Ego is not involved in. The Ego is always busy observing why I am not happy, why I have so many problems. Let’s say I don’t wish to sit and talk to you. Why does my Ego have a problem with you? This state of observance is meaningful. It is easy to say, "I don’t want", "I don’t like", but quite difficult to accept the true reasons for the problems. The attempt to search within and explore ourselves with honesty is a great progress. It is an inner exercise we must constantly do. Most of the times, when our consciousness drives us in this direction, we ignore it and direct it elsewhere. In such cases we are being ignorant. But trying to fulfill Samtosa, means we are putting ignorance aside, trying to listen to our conscience and taking responsibility for ourselves.
3 – Tapas – Austerity and Practice
Tapas is the effort invested in the repeated endeavors during practice. We know that we may fail some, but we keep trying, never losing hope. The repeated effort to rise from the place we are in is called Svadhyaya. The power invested in this effort is called Tapas.
The effort we invest while trying to act positively is also called Tapas. Each time a difficulty appears, we deal with it. Our Ego suffers, since our senses use their freedom and distract us; they direct us specifically toward the objects that we find difficult to handle. By casting rules on our senses we restrict their freedom, an act that cannot be ignored. The process of restricting the freedom of the senses creates a difficulty, which then causes suffering, and it is this process that is known as Tap.
4 – Svadhyaya – Self-Study
In the different scriptures we find various guide lines. If we follow these instructions with our inner self, we are on the path of Svadhyaya. Svadhyaya, then, is the repeated efforts to stick to the guide-lines and fulfill them in the routine of our lives.
5 – Iswara Pranidhana – Surrender to God 
When we find no solution, no help in a given situation, our last resort is surrender to God. When despite our efforts, we are raged by our inability to solve a problem, the consciousness, which is a powerful force, distracts us and drives us to a state of no hope. In this state, the best thing on can do is to direct the consciousness toward God, using any model possible – a great master, a prophet, Holy Scriptures that can be re-read, or any other device that may bring about this result. Stick to it. Think of it. Succeeding in thinking of this model or ideal repeatedly, is considered a true state of Iswara Pranidhana.
Final reflections
When in a state of true awareness, we are conscious of what happens in both our thoughts and senses. We are aware of everything, and observe our reactions inside. This state of wakefulness, which is being imprinted within us, is not a physical experience [like smelling the scent of a rose]. Our inner consciousness reminds us to purify ourselves; it helps us distinguish between good and evil; and it is also there to help us analyze everything that is being recollected through the senses, watching how ignorantly the consciousness reacts towards those recollections.
Yama and Niyama are not something one can practice in a half an hour session of exercises in the morning and evening. It is constantly part of how we conduct ourselves in the world, and therefore requires our constant attention and efforts.