yama : the great transcendental vow
The 1st limb of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga is Yama.
यमनियमाअसन प्राणायाम प्रत्याहार धारणा ध्यान समाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि
yama niyama-āsana prāṇāyāma pratyāhāra dhāraṇā dhyāna samādhayo-‘ṣṭāvaṅgāni
– pys II.29
restraints (yama), observances (niyama), postures (āsana), expansion of life energy (prāṇāyāma), sense withdrawal (pratyāhāra), concentration (dhāraṇā), contemplation (dhyāna), and meditation (samādha) are the eight limbs [of yoga] (aṣtav aṅgāni)
Restraints, observances, postures, expansion of life energy, sense withdrawal, concentration, contemplation, and meditation are the eight limbs of yoga.
Yama in Sanskrit can be defined as “to rein” and it is often translated as “restraint”.
According to the yoga sūtras, the restraints of yama can manifest for the practitioner an atmosphere of peace & freedom from hostility, fruition in endeavors, true wealth, vigor and vitality, as well as clarity into the meaning and purpose of one’s life.
This first limb is considered the prerequisite to understanding and advancing to and through the other limbs, or stages, of Aṣṭāṅga Yoga.
Yama is also said to be the transcendental vow of all yoga.
अहिंसासत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहाः यमाः
ahiṁsā-satya-asteya brahmacarya-aparigrahāḥ yamāḥ
– pys II.30
non-violence (ahiṁsā), truthfulness (satya), non-stealing (asteya), ideal comportement (brahmacarya), and non-possessiveness (aparigrahāḥ) are the [practice of] restraints (yamāḥ)
Non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, ideal comportement, and non-possessiveness are the restraints.
Yama has 5 branches:
1) ahimsa non-violence
2) satya truthfulness
3) asteya non-stealing
4) brahmacarya ideal comportement
5) aparigraha non-possessiveness
– pys II.31
[these constitute] the great vow (mahāvratam) [of yoga] that is universal (sārvabhaumā) and unconditioned (anavacchinnāḥ) by the circumstances (samaya) of caste/class (jāti), place (deśa), and time (kāla)
These constitute the great vow of yoga that is universal and unconditioned by the circumstances of class, place, and time.
These 5 branches of yama constitute the universal mahā vratam or “great vow” of yoga that is unconditioned by jāti (birth/caste/class), deśa (place/country), and kāla (time). So for a yogi/yogini, it doesn’t matter where you’re from, where you’re going, nor when you plan on getting there: the practice of the restraints transcends time, place, and circumstance without exception.
Let’s look at each branch of yama as described in the yoga sūtras :
अहिंसाप्रतिष्ठायं तत्सन्निधौ वैरत्याघः
ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyaṁ tat-sannidhau vairatyāghaḥ
– pys II.35
hostility (vaira) is abandoned in the presence (pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tat sannidhau) of non-violence (ahimsa)
Hostility is abandoned in the presence of non-violence.
– pys II.36
actions (kriyā) [come to] fruition (phala) when rooted (pratiṣṭhāyāṁ) in truthfulness (satya)
Actions come to fruition when rooted in truthfulness.
– pys II.37
all (sarva) that is truly precious (ratna) arises from the ground (pratiṣṭhāyāṁ) of non-stealing (asteya)
All that is truly precious arises from the ground of non-stealing.
ब्रह्मचर्य प्रतिष्ठायां वीर्यलाभः
brahmacarya pratiṣṭhāyāṁ vīrya-lābhaḥ
– pys II.38
vigour (vīrya) is acquired from maintaining (pratiṣṭhāyāṁ) the ideal comportment (brahmacarya)
Vigor is acquired from maintaining the ideal comportment.
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathaṁtā saṁbodhaḥ
– pys II.39
perfect knowledge (sambodhaḥ) into the meaning of a birth/lifetime (janma) comes from being steadfast (sthairye) in non-possessiveness (aparigraha)
Perfect knowledge into the meaning of a birth/lifetime comes from being steadfast in non-possessiveness.
To summarize the practice of yama according to the yoga sūtras:
1) Hostility is abandoned in the presence of non-violence. (pys II.35)
2) Actions come to fruition when rooted in truthfulness. (pys II.36)
3) All that is truly precious arises from the ground of non-stealing. (pys II.37)
4) Vigor is acquired from maintaining the ideal comportment. (pys II.38)
5) Perfect knowledge into the meaning of a birth/lifetime comes from being steadfast in non-possessiveness. (pys II.39)
Translations for the yoga sūtras of Patañjali by Sandi Higgins, synthesized with thanks from the following sources:
Books : The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali A New Edition, Translation, and Commentary by Edwin F. Bryant (2009)
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by Swami Prabhavananda (1991)
Light On The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali by B.K.S Iyengar (1993)
The Science of Yoga: The Yoga-sutra-s of Patañjali in Sanskrit with Transliteration in Roman, Translation and Commentary in English by I.K. Taimni (2007)
SHANTI WITH SANDI © 2021