The first of Patanjali’s eight limbs, Yama, has five aspects that form the basis for spiritual discipline, and it harmonizes relationships between people by governing social interactions.
1. Ahimsa – non-harming
2. Satya – truthfulness
3. Asteya – non-stealing
4. Brahmacharaya – chastity
5. Aparigraha – greedlessness
Yama deals with what we do and say in the world. These moral rules keep us from getting hooked into daily drama. So, if we are not harming (Ahimsa), not lying (Satya), not stealing (Asteya), not over-indulging in sensual pleasures (Brahmacharaya), and not coveting what we don’t have (Aparigraha), then what we choose to do and say can be free of selfish motives. Also we are not wasting our precious energy on harming, lying and so on.
Because we are in a time-bound state of existence, we don’t have the time to tell both truth and lies. Even though it might seem like that’s just how it is, I really don’t think we have time for it if we want to make the world a better place. To enable positive change we have to learn how to make the right choices, rather than reacting and acting without understanding how we are affecting things. Chance is only fifty-fifty, but if we can really learn to choose responses favoring truth, we are going to evolve spiritually.
This idea, that my energy is limited, has been hard to practically take into account as I choose my daily activities, both mental and physical. I can have good intentions about implementing a new and healthy habit, but unless I cut something I’m currently doing out, I can’t seem to get it done. There are only twenty-four hours in any given day, and all the time is necessarily accounted for with either good or bad habits. So when I want to make a change, it’s not as easy as it looks in my mind.
Yama offers helpful concepts towards channeling energy into life-affirming, compassionate activity by drawing it away from common human mistakes. The challenge is to control our basic instinct to survive by any means necessary and without concern for others. We can survive by harming, lying, stealing, promiscuity, and greed, but what is this kind of surviving? Our meat and genes survive, but not our humanity, not what is best in us, not our hearts. The energy that can be freed through greater awareness of our morality as outlined by the first limb of yoga, Yama, will deepen one’s yoga practice, and understanding of life.