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Moral Development.

Morals are codes of conduct - thought, speech, and action - that we believe to be right, good, and truthful. We cannot expect to become a healthy and whole human being without a sense of morality.

In The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali we are given some wise counsel concerning developing our morality - the 5 Yamas and the 5 Niyamas. Yama means abstinence, which means "not doing" - abstaining from. Niyama means observance, which means "doing".


YAMA - Abstinence.

Sutra 2.30


Ahimsa = non-violence; Satya = truthfulness; Asteya = non-stealing; Brahmacharya = continence; Aparigraha = non-greed; yamah = abstinence.

Yama consists of:

  1. Non-violence.
  2. Truthfulness.
  3. Non-stealing.
  4. Continence.
  5. Non-greed.

Now we come to yama, the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga. We should remember here that each of the eight limbs is equal to the others and necessary.

Ahimsa is not causing pain. Some authors translate it as non-killing, but it is not that. Himsa means to cause pain; ahimsa, not to cause pain. Killing is different from causing pain. Causing pain can be even more harmful than killing. Even by your words, even by your thoughts, you can cause pain.

Satyam is truthfulness, not lying. Asteyam means non-stealing. These things seem so elementary but are, at the same time, "elephantary." They shouldn't be discarded as being mild. They are not easy to perfect.

Brahmacharya is continence or conscious self mastery over the sex function.

And the last part of yama is aparigraha, which can be translated in two ways. One is non-hoarding of things, not being greedy, not accumulating beyond our capacity to use things in the proper way. The other translation of aparigraha is not accepting gifts.

These five principles make up yama, the abstentions.


Sutra 2.31


Jati = class; desa = place; kala = time; samaya = circumstance; anavachchhinnah = not limited by; sarvabhaumah = universal; mahavratam = great vows.

These Great Vows are universal, not limited by class, place, time or circumstance.

Patanjali calls these the maha vratam, or great vows, because they can never be broken by any excuse: not time, place, purpose, social or caste rule, not by winter, summer, morning or evening, or by this country or that nationality. These points are for whole-time, dedicated Yogis; and so, for them, Patanjali allows no excuses. For people who aren't that one-pointed toward the Yogic goal, these vows can be modified according to their position in life.


NIYAMA - Observances.

Sutra 2.32


Saucha = purity; samtosha = contentment; tapah = accepting pain and not causing pain; svadhyaya = study of spiritual books; Isvarapranidhanani = worship of God or self-surrender; niyamah = observances.

Niyama consists of purity, contentment, accepting but not causing pain, study of spiritual books and worship of God [self-surrender].

The next limb, niyama, concerns observances. The five points of yama, together with the five points of niyama, remind us of the Ten Commandments of the Christian and Jewish faiths, as well as of the ten virtues of Buddhism. In fact, there is no religion without these moral or ethical codes. All spiritual life should be based on these things.

They are the foundation stones without which we can never build anything lasting.


Sutra 2.33


Vitarka = negative thoughts; badhane = when disturbed by; pratipaksha = opposite thoughts; bhavanam = should be thought of.

When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of. This is pratipaksha bhavana.

Here, Patanjali gives us a very nice clue on how to control the mind and obstruct those thoughts we don't want. The best way, he says, is to invite opposite thoughts. If the thought of hatred is in the mind, we can try to bring in the thought of love. If we can't do that, we can at least go to the people we love and, in their presence, forget the hatred. So, although the hatred comes to the surface, we can keep it from coming out or staying long by changing the environment.

Sometimes we see this work betwen married partners. When sparks fly between them, if their little one crawls up to them, what will happen? Those of us who have had this experience will immediately know. The sparks instantly cool down. Either the mother or father picks up the child and hugs him. That's because they both love the baby. In the form of the child, love comes in, and the anger or hatred is immediately banished.

We can create a positive atmosphere by looking at a holy picture, by reading an inspiring book, by meeting with a special person, or simply by leaving the disturbing environment. This is a very practical point. It is very difficult to control negative thoughts while staying in a negative environment unless we have extraordinary strength.

The easiest way is to change the environment. For example: if you begin to fight with your mate, even before your anger comes out, run to your baby's room and look at your sleeping child. You will forget all the anger and avoid many a divorce. At least for that reason, have a youngster at home! Or go into your shrine room, sit in front of the altar, and read a nice book. Or travel to the country, look at the open sea - anything, as long as you change the environment. In that way, we create the opposite thought.

Another way to control negative thoughts even before the thought overpowers us is to think of its after-effect. Stop and consider. "What will happen if I allow this thought to continue? I'll lose my friends. If that other person is strong, she may not even be affected at all. She might just laugh at me and go away. But even before the other person is affected by my anger, I will be affected. I'll shake up my nerves. My blood will boil."


Sutra 2.34


Vitarka = negative thoughts; himsadayah = violence, etc.; krita = done; karita = caused to be done; anumoditah = approved; lobha = greed; krodha = anger; moha = infatuation; purvakah = preceded by; mridu = mild; madhya = medium; adhimatrah = intense; duhkha = pain; ajnana = ignorance; ananta = infinite; phalah = fruit; iti = thus; pratipaksha = opposite thoughts; bhavanam = should be thought of.

When negative thoughts or acts such as violence, etc. are caused to be done or even approved of, whether incited by greed, anger or infatuation, whether indulged in with mild, medium or extreme intensity, they are based on ignorance and bring certain pain. Reflecting thus is also pratipaksha bhavanam.

Here, Patanjali gives a further explanation of pratipaksha bhavanam. Suppose we bring pain to someone or cause harm to be brought to another. The reactions will come and ultimately result in ignorance and misery. We need not even cause the pain directly for the reaction to occur. We can effect this just by approving of another's painbearing actions due to our own avariciousness, anger or ignorance.




The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali Commentary by Swami Satchidananda.Integral Yoga Institute.

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