Having finished Yama, the “Don’t”s of Yoga, in the last podcast, we now consider Niyama: the “Dos” of yoga.
- Shaucha: purity, cleanliness
- Santosha: contentment, peacefulness
- Tapas: austerity, practical (i.e., result-producing) spiritual discipline
- Swadhyaya: introspective self-study, spiritual study
- Ishwarapranidhana: offering of one’s life to God
Click here to listen to The Yoga Life 4: Niyama, the “Do”s of Yoga if you do not see the player above. The podcast length is 24:15 minutes.
Below is a brief summary of some of the points covered in this podcast:
Shaucha means purity and cleanliness within the context of attaining unobstructed clarity of consciousness.
“Internal shaucha is the washing away of the stains of the mind,” according to Vyasa. “Shaucha implies purity in seeing and listening…and washing away the stains of the mind, such as desire and anger, by the waters of meditation,” adds Shankara.
Physical cleanliness is important for it eliminates bodily toxins and prevents disease. Inner purification is important for it eliminates mental toxins and prevents inner ills. For the yogi, the most important external aspect of shaucha is purity of diet. This is because the food we eat determines the vibration of our body and our mind. For this reason it is only wisdom to eat a purely vegetarian diet consisting of grains, vegetables, and fruits. All animal products should be avoided as Gandhi advocated and was persecuted over.
Santosha consists of the passive aspect of contentment and peacefulness and the more positive aspect of joy and happiness.
Santosha is a fundamentally cheerful attitude based on a harmonious interior condition and an intellectually spiritual outlook. This is possible only through meditation, and is one of the signs of progress in meditation. This must not be equated with mere intellectual “positive thinking” or a forced external “happiness” which is a camouflage, not a real state.
Santosha is also contentment with simple living, and relates to aparigraha. Vyasa says that “santosha is being satisfied with the resources at hand and so not desiring more.” Shankara says: “As a result of the satisfaction with what is at hand, even though there may be some lack, he has the feeling, ‘It is enough.’” Santosha is freedom from the “bigger and more is better” syndrome that grips most of us.
Santosha is also the absence of negative emotions and the presence of positive emotions. In its highest form santosha is the contentment and peace that comes from resting in our own spirit.
Tapas literally means “to generate heat” in the sense of awakening or stimulating the whole of our being to higher consciousness. It is commonly applied to the practice of spiritual discipline, especially that which involves some form of physical austerity or self-denial.
Tapas is a procedure that causes all the components of the yogi to vibrate at a much higher rate, and to eventually become permanently established in that higher vibration.
Regarding physical tapas Vyasa writes: “Tapas is endurance of the opposites. The opposites are hunger and thirst, heat and cold, standing and sitting, complete silence and merely verbal silence.” Shankara says these opposites may occur naturally or by our own choice through self-denial. And both Vyasa and Shankara say that tapas is always done in the light of the capability of the yogi and is never exaggerated, strenuous, or beyond the yogi’s natural ability.
Basically, tapas is spiritual discipline that produces a perceptible result, particularly in the form of purification. Tapas is the turning from the unreal to the Real, from darkness to the Light, from death to Immortality. But it is never a matter of mere thought or desire, it is always practical action towards that end. Consequently, whenever tapas is spoken of it always implies the practice of yoga and the observances that facilitate yoga practice.
Swadhyaya means “self-study.” This is usually interpreted as the study of the sacred texts which deal with the nature of the true Self (spirit) and its realization. But it also means keeping a careful watch on the ego-based mind so as to be aware of its delusive and destructive tricks. For it is no external “devil” or “Satan” we need fear, but the “enemy within,” the “Dweller at the Threshold” which is our ego-mind complex that has blinded and enslaved us from life to life and has no intention of giving up its domination of us just because we practice a bit of meditation. Therefore we must be wary of its cunning and subtle ways and carefully analyze the debris it casts up into our consciousness in the form of thoughts and emotions. In this way we will see the direction in which it would pull us. We must take our susceptibility to its machinations most seriously. In swadhyaya we look at and analyze the mind in the calmness and intuition born of meditation.
The final foundation, for which all the others are a necessary preparation, is Ishwarapranidhana–the offering of one’s life to God. This is far more on every level than simple religious devotion, and much more than any kind of discipline or self-denial done in the name of spirituality. It is the giving to God of the yogi’s entire life, not just a giving of material offerings or occasional tidbits of devotion to God, however fervent or sincere.
Moreover, as Taimni points out: “The fact that the progressive practice of Ishwarapranidhana can ultimately lead to samadhi shows definitely that it signifies a much deeper process of transformation in the sadhaka than a mere acceptance of whatever experiences and ordeals come to him in the course of his life.…The practice of Ishwarapranidhana therefore begins with the mental assertion ‘Not my will but Thy will be done’ but it does not end there. There is a steady effort to bring about a continuous recession of consciousness from the level of the personality which is the seat of ‘I’ consciousness into the consciousness of the Supreme Whose will is working out in the manifest world.”
Ishwarapranidhana is total giving. The yogi does not eke out droplets of his life, but pours out his entire life in offering unto God. He gives all that he has–even his very self. And this is only sensible, for the entire aim of yoga is the reunion of the individual spirit with the Supreme Spirit, the falling of the drop into the Immortal Sea. Ishwarapranidhana anticipates this divine union and ensures its accomplishment. This is why the first law-giver, Manu, says that the highest sacrifice (medha) is purushamedha–the sacrifice of the individual spirit.
Yoga is a thoroughly theistic endeavor, one which makes God the center of life and its aim, as well. Ishwarapranidhana is merging the individual consciousness with the Cosmic Consciousness of Ishwara.
Listen to The Yoga Life 4: Niyama, the “Dos” of Yoga for this and much more besides.
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