In all spiritual traditions, ethics are central and provide a foundation for practice. The first limb of Pantanjali’s yoga system is called Yama-Sanskrit for discipline. The practice includes five moral attitudes toward life. These practices are common in many faith traditions.
There is considerable overlap between yoga and Buddhism. Yoga emerged out of ancient Hindu texts, such as the Bhagavad Gita, The Vedas, and the Upanishads. The sage Pantajali, complied the wisdom culled from these sacred scriptures into the four books referred to as The Yoga Sutras.
The first limb, yama is comprised of self-restraints, which include non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, conservation of inappropriate sexual behavior, and non-hoarding.
Ahimasa (non-violence). To refrain from causing pain to any living being, including oneself. Every action, word, or thought containing anger, greed, lust, or attachment is a form of violence. With perfection of ahimsa, one’s nonviolent nature and peace radiate to others.
Asteya (non-stealing). To avoid any kind of misappropriation of material or non-material things, such as acceptance of undeserved praise. When non-stealing is perfected, one is freed from the illusion of ownership: me/mine, you/yours.
Satya (truthfulness). To develop honesty, avoid deceiving others and oneself. Cultivation truthfulness requires avoiding exaggeration, rationalization, pretense, and all other variants of deceit.
Brahmacharya (continence): to conserve and redirect the sexual energy. “To walk on God’s path”. Celibacy is an attitude of mind—purity of thought, word, and deed.
Aparigraha (non-hoarding). To avoid the accumulation of unnecessary possessions. Its purpose is to become free not from possessions themselves, but from attachment to them so that one is unaffected by their gain or loss.
These five disciplines are essential for the well-being of individuals and of our culture, no matter what country or faith. By following them as best you can, you will be structuring life in such a way as to minimize guilt, and increase love toward all beings. The emotions of greed, desire, and attachment will come and go in life, but if we develop right effort in confronting them, we will need to look deeply at our inner being. To develop awareness and ultimately control of these emotions takes time and effort. By studying our desires and motivations, and our actions toward others and ourselves we begin to see the ways we harm others and ourselves. For instance, in yoga psychotherapy we look at how greed may be affecting our life. Once we have awareness, then we can change. The yoga practices from the other limbs (asana, meditation, breathing, and the niyamas) all provide guidance for making change possible, and permanent.
The other limbs of yoga, meditation and asana-postures, teach discipline over mind and body. This discipline is not harsh in the way many people have experienced life, instead, in our practice we bring a gentleness and compassion to ourselves. As we listen to our body with deeper appreciation and awareness, we begin to extend this to other people. Non-harming is extended to animals as well as humans. That is why many yoga practitioners are vegetarian. All five disciplines ultimately come down to respecting yourself, and respecting all beings.
As long as you pursue pleasure, you are attached to the sources of pleasure;
and as long as you are attached to the sources of pleasure,
you cannot escape pain and sorrow. The soul shines in the hearts of all living beings.
When you see the soul in others, you forget your own desires and fears,
and lose yourself in the service of others.
The soul shines equally in people on the farthest island, and in people close at hand.