Monday, April 27, 2009

Sensing Brahmacharya

I hope you are enjoying these short articles about Yoga philosophy as much as I am enjoying writing them.  It is helpful for me to review these philosophical points, looking at my own life and behavior, and seeing my own spiritual progress.

Brahmacharya has gotten a bad rap.  Traditionally, brahmacharya has been associated with chastity and celibacy.  EGAD!  But at the heart of brahmacharya is the idea of contolling our desires or non-lusting.  It doesn't mean that to be a good yogi or yogini you have to let go of sex.  It means being responsible with your sexuality, and forming relationships which foster spiritual growth.  Our behavior should move us, and our partner, toward Truth.

In Teaching Yoga, Donna Farhi says,

The fourth yama, sexual propriety (brahmacharya), tells us to use our sexual energy in a way that makes us feel more intimate not only with our partner but also with all of life.  When we are connected to our Divinity, how can we use another for our own selfish desires or hurt another through our inabiity to contain our desires?

By practicing brahmacharya, one retains continence of the body, speech and mind.  Additionally one sees Divinity in all beings, and in the Universe as a whole.  This allows one to move about peacefully in the world, but not have his or her heart in it, thus seeing the world as it really is.

In Light on Yoga, B.K.S. Iyengar says,

When one is established in brahmacharya, one develops a fund of vitality and energy, a courageous mind and a powerful intellect so that one can fight any type of injustice.  The brahmachari will use the forces he generates wisely: he will utilise the physical ones for doing the work of the Lord, the mental for the spread of culture and the intellectual for the growth of spiritual life.  Brahmacharya is the battery that sparks the torch of wisdom.

Your assignment is to review the history of sensual lusting in your life, and be aware of your current sensual lusting, and think about how has affected, and will affect, your body, mind and spirit.  Journal about your personal investigation.


Monday, April 20, 2009

A Take on Asteya

This week we look at the yama asteya, or non-stealing.

Asteya means more than simply not taking something that doesn't belong to you.  It means not desiring, or coveting, that which is not yours, while realizing that whatever is rightfully yours will come your way.  Your happiness is not dependent upon what you possess, material or otherwise.  Swami Kriyananda in Raja Yoga says,

Covetousness is like a rope that ties the balloon of consciousness to the ground, preventing it from soaring into the free skies of spiritual bliss.

Asteya is not limited to material objects.  Remember, we practice the yamas in thought, word and deed.  For example, we can steal someone's spotlight when we interrupt him or her.  If we talk "down" to someone, or speak unkindly, we might make someone feel small, only to make ourselves feel taller.  We can do these things in our mind when we think negatively of others, or if we are secretly jealous, envious or hateful.  When we think these things, our actions can follow our thoughts.  Even if we do manage to keep these thoughts to ourself, we steal our own peace.

Here is your assignment for this week.  Think about all the ways you steal, by not practicing asteya.  We all do it.  I'm not trying to insult you; I don't think of myself as a thief, either.  But what about the pen from work you put in your purse?  What about the extra napkins or ketchup packets from the restaurant you put in the glove compartment of your car?  What about the time we steal from others when we are late?  You might try journaling about these ways and note how you feel when you don't practice asteya.

Have a wonderful week.  Next week we will talk about bramacharya, or non-lusting.


Monday, April 13, 2009

What's the Big Deal About Satya?

Hello Friends,

Satya, the second yama, means nonlying or truthfulness and extends to the responsibility of keeping your promises.  We all know the importance of being truthful.  One of the benefits of following the yamas is peace of mind.  Have you ever tried to lie and maintain peace of mind?  It would be nearly impossible!  You can't keep peace of mind when you are trying to remember what lie you told and to whom you told it!

The yama satya is based on the idea that honest communication and keeping promises provides the basis for any healthy relationship, community or government, and that deliberate deception, exaggerations and untruths harm others.

I believe, most importantly, satya applies to your relationship with yourself.  Everything, satya included, starts with you, moving from our inside world to the outside world.  When you are honest with yourself, you remove delusion and the filters through which you see your own behavior and your world.  Sometimes it isn't easy to be honest with ourselves.  We have had years of practicing habits, patterns of perception, and beliefs which work together to color our understanding of ourselves at any given moment. These are our filters.  By practicing satya, we, over time, eliminate our filters and increase actions which arise from the truth in our relationships with ourselves and others.  We act from a place of truth, not from a place of the fears and assumptions we learned through using our filters.  Then we can think, speak and act from truth and in accordance with our highest goals and beliefs.  When we consistently practice satya, we have no reason to fear our behavior and we have no regrets.  In his book "Raja Yoga," Swami Kriyananda says it all.

An attitude of truthfulness means to try always to see things as they are, to accept the possibility that one may be mistaken in his most cherished opinions, to entertain no likes and dislikes that might prejudice his perception of reality as it is.

We practice satya in the same way we practice ahimsa, with truthfulness in thought, truthfulness in word, or speech, and truthfulness in deed, our actions.

Most of us would agree that it is not always desirable to speak the truth on all occasions.  It could harm someone unnecessarily.  We have to balance satya with ahimsa.  Sometimes, when speaking the truth, we have to consider what we say, how we say it, and realize how what we say can affect others.  At times, when the truth would have negative consequences, it is best to say nothing at all!

This week's assignment is to think before you speak and ask yourself the question, "Is this really the truth?"  Then ask again before speaking.

Next week we will talk about asteya (nonstealing).

Monday, April 06, 2009


Hello and welcome to the Awareness Village Blog. I thought I would do a series on some of the points of yoga philosophy, starting with the elements of the 8-limbed path, or Ashtanga.

The sage Patanjali codified yoga practice in approximately 200 BCE in India, as the Yoga Sutras, a collection of aphorisms which, among other things, detail the eight different limbs of the complete yoga practice. The description of the limbs is collectively known as Ashtanga, meaning eight limbs in Sanskrit. (This definition of Ashtanga is not to be confused with the style of yoga practice known as Ashtanga Yoga, developed by Sri K. Pattabhi Jois and followed by his school and students.) Most people in our society are familiar with the limb called "asana." Asana is the physical aspect of yoga, also known as yoga postures. One theory says that asana was created to keep the body comfortable while the yogis sat in meditation. Asana allowed them to comfortably sit for longer periods of time.

The first limb is yama, which is comprised of the five moral restraints, ethical standards which forge a sense of integrity in the practitioner. The yamas are ahimsa (nonharming/nonviolence), satya (nonlying), asteya (nonstealing), bramacharya (nonlusting), and aparigraha (nonhoarding).

In today's blog, we will talk about the first one, ahimsa. Ahimsa is the rule of conduct that means to do no harm, injury or violence to any living being, and, obviously, no killing.

Many people choose to be vegetarian to practice ahimsa, since eating meat and other animal products harms animals.

But there is more than physical harm, violence, or killing, to the interpretation of ahimsa. Being rude, hateful or cruel harms others. So does gossiping and speaking harshly. Not keeping a confidence can be against ahimsa. Failing to relieve another's pain is a violation of ahimsa.

When you think about ahimsa, and the other yamas, think about how living beings can be harmed by way of thought, word and/or deed. If there is any thought in your mind of "oh, I shouldn't have said that" or if you "cringe" because you did something you feel uncertain about, you probably violated ahimsa. If you say anything you wouldn't want to get back to someone, you probably violated ahimsa. But,what if you have judgmental thoughts about someone? Just because thoughts may not be spoken, it doesn't mean they aren't harmful. Those thoughts may affect how you deal with someone or may affect what you say about someone to other people.

It is also necessary to practice ahimsa with yourself. For example, taking good care of your health, or positive self-talk, is practicing ahimsa with yourself. Be kind to yourself!

When we practice ahimsa, we are not at odds with anyone or any being. It is said that if you consistently practice ahimsa, none of the animals of the forest will fear you and you will have no fear of harm from the animals of the forest.

Your assignment this week (if you choose to accept it) is to think of all the ways ahimsa can be violated. What are the ways living beings can be harmed?

Next week we will talk about satya (nonlying).