Yamas, Niyamas - Remolding Our Character

Trilogy Commentary, LWS Lesson 8


"Yamas and niyamas are ancient scriptural injunctions for all aspects of human thought, attitude and behavior."

Our behavior is based on attitudes which are based on thoughts. Character can be remolded with great dedication and effort and it is the foundation for spiritual unfoldment. Hinduism is comprehensive and provides practices for those at the beginning to the end of the path. A much deeper experience and benefit can be attained when the guru comes naturally into one's life and gives guidance.

Master Course Trilogy, Living with Siva, Lessons 8, 57.

Yoga's Forgotten Foundation, Introduction.

Unedited Transcript:

Good morning everyone. Looking this morning at a recent lesson, Living with Siva, Lesson 8, Yamas and Niyamas.

"Religion teaches us how to become better people, how to live as spiritual beings on this Earth. This happens through living virtuously, following the natural and essential guidelines of dharma. For Hindus, these guidelines are recorded in the yamas and niyamas, ancient scriptural injunctions for all aspects of human thought, attitude and behavior..."

Very interesting point there: "...thought, attitude and behavior." Normally, when we think about being virtuous we think about behavior, what we do. And of course, that is more visible aspect of it but Gurudeva is indicating here that our behavior is based on the attitudes which are based on our thoughts. So, in Hinduism it's not enough just to behave as we should, virtuously, but we need to think that way as well and have attitudes that reflect the right belief. So, it's a combination of how we think the attitudes we have based on our beliefs and our behavior that we need to encompass.

"...In Indian spiritual life, these Vedic restraints and observances are built into the character of children from a very early age..."

Thought it was interesting article we did in Hinduism Today few issues ago on the, interviewing the young adults in India and their concepts about Hinduism. I found it interesting in a number of ways and one of the ways was a summary by the author. And to her own surprise she concluded that because of the way she was raised and what she was exposed to she was more Hindu than she realized. Just kind of rubbed off, you know, growing up. So it's an interesting point here. "...these Vedic restraints and observances are built into the character of children from a very early age..." So, definitely true.

"For adults who have been subjected to opposite behavioral patterns, these guidelines may seem to be like commandments. However, even they can, with great dedication and effort, remold their character and create the foundation necessary for a sustained spiritual life..."

That's a very important point in Gurudeva's teachings, remold the character. Sometimes individuals are very reluctant to remold. Say something like: "Oh, I'm an angry person. That's who I am. What can I do about it? That's just the way I am, I mean I was born that way, I can't possibly change it." But, Gurudeva's pointing out character can be remolded with great dedication and effort, but it can be done. So, we aren't limited to being the person we currently are. We could become a better person through dedication and effort.

"Through following the yamas and niyamas, we cultivate our refined, spiritual being while keeping the instinctive nature in check. We lift ourself into the consciousness of the higher chakras--of love, compassion, intelligence and bliss--and naturally invoke the blessings of the divine devas and mahadevas."

And Gurudeva defines yama: "Yama means 'reining in' or 'control.' Yamas include such injunctions as non-injury, non-stealing, moderation in eating which harnesses the base, instinctive nature..."

So in my keynote on this I think the graphic I chose was the dog on the leash to harness. You know the dog was pulling on the leash and the person is holding the leash. Dog wants to do something that the person doesn't want the dog to do. So, it's like a leash on our instinctive nature. So, we need to keep the leash on and harness the instinctive nature.

"...Niyama literally 'unleashing,' indicates the expression of refined, soul qualities through such disciplines as charity, contentment and incantation."

Next paragraph is very important.

"It is true that bliss comes from meditation, and it is true that higher consciousness is the heritage of all mankind. However, the ten restraints and their corresponding practices are necessary to maintain bliss consciousness, as well as all of the good feelings toward oneself and others attainable in any incarnation. These restraints and practices build character. Character is the foundation for spiritual unfoldment."

One of the beauties of Gurudeva's teachings is the breadth of the teaching which reflects the breadth of Hinduism. I remember visiting a swami, South India once. He was talking about his gurus teachings and was explaining that his guru was answering the question: "Why is Hinduism so complicated, so complex, why can't it be simpler?" And the answer his guru gave was: "Because it provides a path for every individual." It's a bit like having all the disciplines of mathematics put together. Starting, you learn how to add and subtract and you learn how to multiply and divide and so on. You go all the way up to advanced mathematics. You put them all together it's complex, right? But, you don't learn them all together. You learn one thing at a time in a natural sequence. And therefore, it's not overwhelming.

So Hinduism has a path for those at the beginning of the path; it has practices for those at the end of the path. And they're all there. So that can be explained as, I mean described as being complex. They're too complex. But it's not complex it's just comprehensive. Which is mathematics is comprehensive. You only have to draw on that which you need at the present time. You don't have to think about the whole thing. So, likewise with Hinduism and with Gurudeva's teachings we just draw on what we need at this, this time and the rest we don't have to have in our mind.

So, "...Character is the foundation for spiritual unfoldment" is what we need to have in place. Any structure is only as strong as its foundation. And, of course, there's always room for improvement which is the point Gurudeva made before. Remolding the character. There's always the opportunity to improve even further.

"The fact is, the higher we go, the lower we can fall. The top chakras spin fast; the lowest one available to us spins even faster. The platform of character must be built within our lifestyle to maintain the total contentment needed to persevere on the path. These great rishis saw the frailty of human nature and gave these guidelines, or disciplines, to make it strong. They said, 'Strive!' Let's strive to not hurt others, to be truthful and honor all the rest of the virtues they outlined."

And Gurudeva lists the ten yamas. We won't go through them.

One of the beauties of Gurudeva's teachings in Living with Siva is the detailed explanation of each yama and niyama. Never seen that anywhere else in such great depth. You know, he goes into each one in really great detail and explains it beautifully. And then, the other point he makes which is the one I'm, you know, lead into is the relationship between the yamas and the niyamas. How they inter-relate.

"We must remember that the yamas are restraints, ten clues as to what forces to restrain and how to restrain them. Some people are better than others at accomplishing this, depending on their prarabdha karmas, but the effort in trying is the important thing. The practices, niyamas, on the other hand, are progressive, according to the perfection of the restraints."

Comparing the yamas to the niyamas we find the restraint of non-injury makes it possible to practice remorse. So he's comparing the top one of each one, the first yama to the first niyama.

"Truthfulness, second yama, brings on the state of santosha, contentment, second niyama. And the third yama, non-stealing, must be perfected before the third niyama, giving without any thought of reward is even possible. Purity brings faith in God, Gods and guru. Kshama, patience is the foundation for Ishvarapujana, worship, as is dhriti, steadfastness, the foundation for siddhanta shravana. The yama of compassion definitely brings cognition. Honesty, renouncing deception and all wrongdoing is the foundation for vrata, taking sacred vows and faithfully fulfilling them. Moderate appetite is where yoga begins, and vegetarianism is essential before the practice of japa can reap it's true benefit in one's life. Purity in body, mind and speech is the foundation and the protection for all austerities."

Then the last point. Groups the niyamas into the first five and the second five.

"The first five practices, the niyamas are tools to keep working with yourself, to keep trying within the five major areas they outline. And he lists them. Remorse, contentment, giving, faith and worship of the Lord. If one wants to progress further he does not have to take on a guru to study scriptures or develop a spiritual will or intellect. That would come naturally, nor to take simple vratas, to chant Aum as japa and to perform certain sadhanas and tenants. These are all available. But a guru naturally comes into one's life when the last five yamas--steadfastness, compassion, honesty, a moderate appetite, and purity--give rise to the last five niyamas..."

Scriptural study, cognition, vows, japa and austerity.

"...We can see that the last five practices are taken on two levels: guru involvement, and community and personal involvement."

So that's an interesting point that to go into these last five niyamas, when you do it under a guru's guidance it's a much deeper experience than otherwise.

Thank you very much. Have a wonderful day.

Aum Namah Sivaya.

Photo of  Gurudeva
The experienced meditator seeks out the unwholesome areas within himself, endeavoring to expose and rid himself of each knot of karma.
—Gurudeva