The Sanskrit Brahmacharya blends two words, Brahma meaning God and Charya meaning to follow. This practice involves seeing everything in this universe as the manifestation of the Brahma, the Primal Source of Being. Some scholars limit this transmutation of desires in Brahmacharya to controlling sexual desires and the practice of celibacy. Although the idea of celibacy and restraint is often associated with Bramacharya, it is not actually the deepest interpretation.
Though, for certain spiritual purposes celibacy may be beneficial, in the deeper understanding of Brahmacarya one sees all desires of the body and mind as manifestations of the desire for the one true Divine Self. all desires are dedicated to Brahma, the primordial Self of all beings. This practice is based on a the fundamental knowledge that all existence is composed of one eternal unending self aware consciousness and that each and every object of this universe from a blade of grass to your body is in its essence composed of this primordial consciousness. All beings long for and return to this state of wholeness where lasting happiness and true fulfillment abide.
But living in this temporal world of forms and colors we become forgetful of this source of being. Our restless yearning for our eternal source gets attached to different forms and experiences in the world that we hope will make us happy. We believe that if only we acquire this or that object or person we desire, then we will be happy. But of course all things change in this world and that which acquiring today brings us happiness, tomorrow becomes the source of our suffering when circumstances change. When we desire something, be it an object, power, a person, wealth or sexual pleasure, the desire for form is an externalization of our deeper yearning for the lasting happiness that comes when we return to our primordial source of being.
We forget that it is the eternal Brahma for which we long. And we fail to recognize that all forms are composed of the one eternal being, consciousness, love Divine. We fail to see that what attracts us in that for which yearn is the true nature of all that is, the infinite primordial Being. Brahmacharya is a practice of remembrance of what we really long for in all of our desires. When we are connected to truth and we practice this remembrance all things change. Suddenly the ordinary world becomes Devine. Brahma, the eternal beloved is everywhere is all things, all people we know, in every act, in all life, in everything that surrounds us. Then we truly live in grace.
So this practice involves transmuting your worldly desires into longing for God. As a practice it entails remembrance the deep divine nature of all that is and thus transmuting desires for worldly things to desires for the Divine. This curbing of the desire mind brings us in touch with our deeper need that drives all desires. The deed for lasting happiness and wholeness of being that we mistakenly believe can be satisfied with temporary worldly fixes.
This deep practice does not involve shrinking from the world or not enjoying life. If you want to share a pizza and a movie with some friends and have a fun evening, do so. But remember the deeper longing that is manifesting the in casual desire. Remember the infinite One Self in the action you are doing, in the pizza, in your friends, in the movie, in everything. As is pointed out by Krishna in a famous passage in the Bhagavad Gita, the one doing the action is Brahma, the one receiving the action is Brahma, the act itself is Brahma and the offering or object is also Brahma. This is Brahmacharya, to truly follow or see Brahma, the primordial essence of being. In this practice the transmuted energy held in our desires propels us towards the infinite truth. Om Madhu, Om Madhu, Om Madhu.
Asteya is the yogic practice of avoiding taking what does not belong to you and is not freely offered to you. It includes greedy desires expressed in our thoughts, words, and our deeds. There are many reasons we may covet what we do not have and be jealous, feeling someone else has more than we do. Maybe they have success, money, popularity, health, power, a good job, a partner we wish we had, or even spiritual experiences we want to have. Whatever it is we feel another has and we wish was ours instead of theirs, it comes from a since of lack within ourselves, a feeling that we are not enough as we are.
The desire to take from others is inherently rooted in our own sense of inadequacy and discontent with ourselves and what life has given us. We feel dis-empowered and unable to manifest what we feel we need in life. From this since of personal dis-empowerment comes the need to somehow acquire what ever it is we feel we need from outside of ourselves. We begin to resent people who have things we do not have and to begin to feel justified in taking them. This can lead to actual theft, not only of property but of ideas, relationships and even identity. If not actual theft, it leads to jealousy and avarice. And this leads to more unhappiness and discontent with ourselves and with our lives in general.
So goes the downward spiral of low self worth, discontent, dis-empowerment, resentment, anger, jealousy, greed. This leads to more since of lack and finally bitterness, resentment and despair. It is not the yogic way, nor is it how to have a since of well-being. Even the rich may wish for what they do not have and live in miserable discontent as a result. Those who are successful thieves may be glory in their success for a time, but as they continue to take from others they begin to feel very afraid of others taking from them. They build walls of distrust with all and barrier themselves behind their own growing fears and ruthless attitudes. They do not walk a path towards happiness or psychological health.
So the yogis of ancient times warned against following this self-destructive path, encouraging us to be honest, do no harm and not covet what others have. This is the way to belief in ourselves, contentment and enjoyment of our lives, however simple they may be. It is the path to self-empowerment, realization that we can make our own lives beautiful on our own. By developing positive attitudes, generosity of heart and mind, and seeing what is good about our own lives rather than living in the shadow of thoughts that lead to feeling we are somehow less than someone else who has something we don’t, we move toward well being and wholeness. This is part of Dharma, the way towards the one eternal Self.
This week we will explore Satya, the practice of truthfulness and the second tenant of the Yamas. This is the practice of not deceiving oneself or others. Being truthful with others and with ones self is extremely important on the spiritual path, as the goal of yoga is to know the ultimate truth.
Satya is not simply literal truth. It is compassionate truthfulness - truth given with a sense of benevolence. This benevolent truthfulness imbues truth with the quality of Ahimsa, or the intent of not doing harm. This is truth used to heal and to bring people towards their own deep love within, not to hurt them or scar them.
For example if the father of someone you know has passed away and you need to tell the daughter, you would not want to email the information to her, or just say it casually while in passing. Though that would be truthful, it would probably also be hurtful. So instead to follow Satya would be to share the information with kindness and consideration for her feelings, taking time to sit with her and gently tell her in a supportive atmosphere. Satya requires kindness in your words and in your deeds as well as honesty.
Now the razors edge of the practice of Satya is distinguishing between what is compassionate truthfulness and the little white lies we tell ourselves and others that are self serving and deceitful. I once knew some orange robed swamis in India I was spending time with. I thought, now these guys are yogis. They have dedicated their lives to yogic practices and service to humanity. But then I noticed one day they were putting out a newsletter and in it they wrote about an event that occurred in which they completely distorted the description of the event and basically lied. When I commented on this and said it was against Satya, they said it was for peoples own good. They were so dedicated to their mission that they perceived the lie as a practice of Satya, bending the truth for what they felt was people’s own good.
I found this experience very disturbing because from my view they were actually lying to people and not giving people accurate information so they could make up their own minds. I felt they were justifying lying for self-serving purposes, but they saw it differently. You see the same in political campaigns and on some news stations where the truth is intentionally distorted in order to influence people towards a particular viewpoint or action. To me this is not what is meant by benevolent truthfulness.
To practice truthfulness with compassion does not mean to lie to people to serve a purpose you believe in. It means to practice being truthful with deep love for the person you are speaking to.
It also means being deeply honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses without tearing yourself down and diminishing your own being. To know yourself, both what you are good at and your faults and failings is an important part of self-honesty. But it is also important to recognize the beauty and love that is essential to your deeper nature, to acknowledge your divine essential core. This is real self-honesty.
Loving yourself and all beings unconditionally is the result of deep and perceptive self-honesty. We are all flawed and in our deepest core we are all divine. This world is a place of pain but it is also a place of great beauty and joy. The edict “Know thy Self” is the true essence of the practice of Satya.
This week we are discussing Ahimsa, the principle of non-injury or non-violence. It literally means to not harm and is the first and most basic of five actions to avoid outlined in the Yama’s.
The Yamas and the Niyamas are considered by some to be moral or ethical codes. Though they may serve as such, in reality they are practical guidelines for behaviors that lead to psychological health and spiritual realization. Without some adherence to these behavioral guidelines it is extremely difficult to awaken the Divinity within. The fertile psychological ground needed for spiritual awakening is cultivated through integrating these ways of being into your life.
To follow Ahimsa is to cultivate awareness of the impact of your behavior upon others and to make every effort possible to do the least harm to other people, animals, plants, and the planet. It means to live with a reverence for all life and to be as intentional as you are able in your actions towards others. Naturally we all do harm at times, unintentionally, to one extent or another. But to practice Ahimsa is to do your very best to act with loving kindness and compassion towards all beings and avoid doing harm whenever possible.
The practice of Ahimsa has become well known throughout the East and the West. It was used as a cornerstone of Gandhi’s work to free India from British rule and later picked up by Martin Luther King in the civil rights efforts of the 1960’s in the United States. It was used in South Africa and continues to have strong influence in movements for non-violent communication and non-violent conflict resolution. Its potential for interpersonal and even international application is profound. Imagine a world where everyone did their best to be kind and compassionate to each other. Where people resolved their conflicts with loving kindness and compassion, really listening to each other.
The realization of this vision starts with each of us, here and now. We each have the power to make the commitment to observe, to witness our own actions and to set the intention in all of our actions to do no harm. We have the ability to take the time to notice others, their needs, and to do service to all living beings in our thoughts, in our words and in our deeds.
By setting the intention to live in loving kindness and with care for all, we become the harbingers of a new dawn, a new reality in which all might prosper and be able to realize their full potential. When we practice doing no harm, we automatically move towards compassion. The intention of doing no harm is the first step and the foundation for living love in life.
Maetreyii Ma: a teacher of yogic wisdom & practices