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The Role of the Yamas in Yogic Ethics(part1)

The Role of the Yamas in Yogic Ethics(part1)

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Yama and Niyama are ten important principles that provide guidance for our moral and ethical behaviour. Yama is referred to as the five moral restraints, while Niyama is referred to as the five observances or practices. These principles work as the foundation of yoga practice and help individuals to live more fulfilling and meaningful life.

In today’s blog, we will discuss three principles: Ahiṃsā (ahinsa) – non-violence; Satya – truthfulness; and Asteya – non-stealing. In the next blog, we will talk about two more principles, which are Brahmacharya – continence and control of the senses, and Aparigraha – non-hoarding.

The first limb of yoga, Yama, consists of five moral restraints that provide guidance for living a life of honesty, non-violence, self-control, not stealing, and non-hoarding.
According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yama is extremely important in the eight limbs of yoga and works as a basis for personal and spiritual development.

Our book “Decoding Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras: A Beginner’s Guide to the Ultimate Truth” by Kaushal Kumar and Jay Singhania highlights Yama in the following way:

In the following sutras, the Maharishi explains the characteristics of each of the eight limbs of yoga, in their order.

अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः ॥३०॥
ahiṃsāsatyāsteyabrahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ

अहिंसा-सत्य-अस्तेय-ब्रह्मचर्य-अपरिग्रहा यमाः

ahiṃsā-satya-asteya-brahmacarya-aparigrahā yamāḥ

Ahimsa (ahinsa)- non-violence;
Satya – truthfulness;
Asteya – non-stealing;
Brahmacharya (brahmacharya)- continence, control of the senses;
Aparigraha – non-hoarding;
Yamah – control, morality, ethics

‘Yama’ means ‘to control’. Here it could also mean ‘morality’ or ‘ethics’. To have complete control over one’s own self, senses and mind is yama. Maharishi Patanjali has given five parts to Yama. When one inculcates these five elements in their life, then it gives them character and moral upliftment. The words that are part of yama are not positive but made of negative words. For e.g, there is no action or activity for non-violence, but not doing violence is non-violence. An explanation for each of the yamas is as follows:

Ahinsa (non-violence):

Not causing any distress to any life form, either using words or through actions, is ahinsa or non-violence. Not only causing pain to any life form but also thinking about causing pain is violence. Hence, complete renunciation of causing suffering or thinking about causing suffering is non-violence. That is why this is called a negative good characteristic. Interpreters regard non-violence as the foundation of the other yamas. This is the source of all the negative good characteristics.

Ahinsa, or non-violence, can be practised in our daily lives by cultivating compassion, kindness, and respect towards all living beings. Here are some ways to practice ahinsa in our daily lives:
The first step towards practising ahinsa is to become aware of the impact of our actions on ourselves and others. We should avoid any activity that may harm any other living being, including humans, animals, and plants.

We should practice compassion and kindness, which are natural expressions of ahinsa. We should show empathy towards people around us, which can help us develop these qualities in our daily lives.
We should avoid negative speech because our words can be powerful weapons that can harm others. We should stay away from using words like gossip, criticism, and harsh language, which can be a part of negative speech.

Choosing plant-based food is one of the most effective ways to practice non-violence. This helps us avoid animal products and reduce harm to animals and the environment.
Practising ahinsa is a lifelong process that requires patience, dedication, and mindfulness.

2. Satya (truthfulness):

Saying things as they are seen, heard and understood in a simple manner is truthful speech. Acting justly is truthful conduct. The ability to make considered decisions and come to a sensible conclusion is truthful thinking. Words that create ambiguity or suspicions are undoubtedly not the truth. Words that leave the listener in a state of illusion, not allowing him to hear the truth are ‘lies’.

Sage Vyasa says that if the truth causes another living being to suffer or causes any harm, then it is not the truth but appears like the truth. Instead of it being virtuous, it is sinful because any action, law or deed that obstructs non-violence cannot be virtuous. This sinful action disguised as a virtuous action will only attract hell. That is why after thinking deeply, one should only speak the truth for the welfare of all living things.

3. Asteya (non-stealing):

This is also a negative good characteristic. ‘Steya’ means ‘to steal’ or ‘to take without permission’. Picking up and keeping other people’s belongings is stealing. On the other hand, ‘asteya’ means ‘to not steal’. Even making an effort to illegally acquire anything, personal or public, through treachery is stealing. To conduct oneself in an opposite manner is non-stealing or asteya.

Asteya, as outlined in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, emphasizes the importance of refraining from stealing or taking what is not ours, either directly or indirectly, without permission.
The term “stey” refers to the act of taking or possessing something that belongs to someone else without their consent. This includes taking or possessing another person’s property or goods without their permission, or using someone else’s ideas or work without providing appropriate credit. Conversely, “Asteya” means to abstain from stealing or taking anything that is not ours without permission.

The principle of asteya extends beyond simply taking material possessions without permission. It also encompasses attempting to obtain something illegally, whether in a personal or public capacity, through deceit, dishonesty, or any other means that are not ethical or honest. This may involve lying, cheating, or using force to obtain something that is not rightfully ours.

Practising asteya entails acting in the opposite manner of stealing, being truthful, and showing respect for the possessions and intellectual property of others. It also means being content with what we possess and refraining from seeking more at the expense of others. By practising asteya, we cultivate attitudes of honesty, integrity, and regard for the rights of others, which can assist us in leading more gratifying and harmonious lives.


Vigyan Yoga is a unique style
of the science of Yoga which imparts techniques to maintain a practical and healthy balance between one’s worldly
and spiritual lives. It teaches how to avoid the extremities of life and live in moderation.

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