Attitudes for Achieving
A restful heart is essential to peace of mind. Merely to affirm restfulness, however, is like affirming fullness in a milk pail riddled with holes. We must take practical steps to achieve restfulness.
The yoga teachings list ten attitudes for achieving peace of mind. Five of them are proscriptive; the other five, prescriptive: the "don'ts," or yamas as they are called in Sanskrit, and the "do's," or niyamas, of the spiritual path. The importance of these attitudes is that they prevent our energy from "leaking" out. This they accomplish first by plugging the holes in the pail, and next by helping us to accumulate the "milk" of inner peace.
The fact that these attitudes number ten invites comparison with the Ten Commandments of Moses. There is, however, a difference. For the yamas and niyamas are not commandments so much as recommendations. Their emphasis is not on what you will suffer if you break them, but on what your benefits will be from following them. They are directions of development. One can continue to perfect them indefinitely, until one attains spiritual perfection.
The first rule of yama (control) was popularized by Mahatma Gandhi. It is ahimsa (non-violence). The reason for this negative emphasis (it could have been translated as "benevolence") is that once a person succeeds in banishing from his heart the impulse to strike out at others, or to hurt them in any way (including seeking personal benefit at their expense), benevolence stands self-revealed as a natural quality of the heart.
The desire to hurt another living being in any way or even to harm our environment, which too, in varying degrees, is alive and conscious alienates us from our soul-reality, and affirms the delusion of ego.
The important thing in all the attitudes of yama and niyama is not so much what we do outwardly, as our inner attitudes of the heart. It is not possible to live harmlessly, for example, in this world of relativities. Some harm is done, inevitably, by merely living. Every outing in the car inadvertently causes the death of numerous insects. Nature herself decrees the survival of life by the death of other life. It is a tiger's nature to kill: Can its method of survival, then, be considered sinful? Murder is a sin for human beings for the primary reason that it degrades us, at our level of evolution, to kill other human beings.
Of course, there are times, such as in a defensive war, where killing is necessary. In every case, the essential rule of ahimsa, and that which removes it from relativity's uncertainties, is that the spiritual seeker maintain at all times a non-violent attitude.
By wishing harm to no living creature, even if it becomes necessary to kill it, we find welling up within ourselves a consciousness of relaxed acceptance of others and of life, no matter how we ourselves are treated. When we perfect the quality of non-violence, hostility ceases in our presence.
There is in this quality a subtle as well as a gross application. For fact and truth are not always synonymous. A statement may be factual without bearing any relationship to higher truths. A person in the hospital, for example, may look quite as ill as he feels, but if you tell him, "You look terrible!" your statement might actually worsen his condition. If, on the other hand, visualizing him in good health, you declare with deep conviction, "You look great!" your words may invigorate or even heal him.
Here is a guideline to practicing truthfulness. Bear in mind that the truth is always beneficial, but that a statement of fact may be either beneficial or harmful. If there is a chance that a statement will do harm, it must not be considered a truth in the highest sense. If you cannot speak sincerely without the risk of inflicting harm, the best alternative is to remain silent.
Perfection in truthfulness develops mental power to such an extent that one's mere word becomes binding on objective events. One has merely to declare a thing so for it actually to become so.
"Avarice" is not really the mot juste, implying as it does a desire for worldly gain (money, usually, or something of monetary value). The yama of non-avarice implies something much deeper.
What the spiritual seeker must renounce is the desire for anything that he does not acquire by merit. The implication is that if he does merit it, he needn't fear that he won't attract it. Even if he must work hard to attract it, he should remain relaxed as to the outcome, leaving the results wholly in God's hands. "What comes of itself, let it come" is his motto. This is a prescription for peace of mind even during intense activity.
Things are not often achieved effortlessly. The attitude of non-avarice, then, is not to stop striving, but even in the process of striving to renounce attachment to the results.
The quality of non-avarice, developed to perfection, generates a subtle magnetism that enables a person to attract things to himself effortlessly. He is never anxious, then, that his needs, whatever they may be, won't be supplied. They will be, infallibly.
A natural corollary to the yama of non-avarice is non-acceptance, which when brought to perfection, bestows the power to remember one's past incarnations. To accomplish this, we must withdraw our consciousness and energy from the body and enter a state of super consciousness. It is only when the soul is not identified with its present body that it remembers its previous identities.
Non-acceptance, then, pairs naturally with non-avarice. Non-avarice signifies non-attachment to what is not our own; non-acceptance signifies non-attachment to what we would normally consider to be our own. The point is that nothing, truly, belongs to us. Everything our bodies, our actions, our very thoughts is the Lord's.
The last yama is brahma-charyaself-control, or, more literally, "flowing with Brahma (the Supreme Spirit)." Usually, this teaching is applied to the practice of sexual abstinence. It has also, however, a broader application. For brahmacharya means control of every natural appetite, of which sexual desire is the strongest but not the only one.
The ideal behind this teaching is to live identified with the Spirit, realizing ourselves as the soul living through the body, and no longer as the ego centered in body-consciousness. We should live in such a way as to master our appetites, and not allow ourselves to be mastered by them. The important thing is to achieve self-control, first by moderation, directing our efforts only gradually toward perfect self-control.
The power that comes through perfect control of all our natural appetites is an accession of boundless energy. For our energy and, indeed, all that we can express of creativity and enthusiasm flow the more strongly, the more we can tap the wellsprings of life within ourselves.
The niyamas, or "do's," are cleanliness, contentment, austerity, introspection (self-study, or self-awareness), and devotion to the Supreme Lord. Interestingly, there is a complementary relationship between the five niyamas and their opposite yamas. Contentment, for example, is complemented by non-avarice. Introspection (self-study) has a natural correlation to non-acceptance. Austerity ties in with brahmacharya; cleanliness, with ahimsa; and devotion to the Supreme Lord with truthfulness.
Cleanliness applies to purity of the heart far more than to bodily cleanliness, though of course it includes the latter. It pairs naturally with ahimsa (non-violence), for only by renouncing the desire to do violence in any way to others do we develop that sweet innocence which is the surest sign of a heart inwardly pure and at peace. From cleanliness arises a disinterest in one's own body, and a loss of the need for contact with others. The need for human contact arises from a consciousness of separateness from others. Mental acceptance of separateness is, in its own way, an act of violence, for it offends against the realization of life's underlying unity. With perfection in non-violence we achieve that absolute inner purity which is recommended by the niyama of cleanliness.
Contentment is not smugness, but an attitude that one should hold courageously in the face of the greatest vicissitudes. The positive aspect of non-avarice, and the way to perfect oneself in this quality, is to live with an attitude of contentment regardless of any circumstance.
Austerity is not the performance of outward penances, but an attitude of dis-involvement with outwardness. Austerity is the natural corollary to brahmacharya (self-control), for it means an attitude of taking energy that was formerly directed outwardly, and rechanneling it with ever increasing fervor into the spiritual search.
Introspection (self-study, or self-awareness) would seem to be directed more obviously inward, but it implies much more than self-analysis. For self-analysis keeps the mind tied to the ego, whereas what is meant, primarily, is to hold the mind up for guidance by the silent whispers of intuition.
Non-acceptance, its counterpart, means not accepting the thought that we own anything. It has as its positive aspect the contemplation of what we are, rather than what we are not. Since all the yama-niyamas refer more to mental qualities than to outer practices, swadhyaya has a deeper meaning than intellectual self-analysis. It is a reference, rather, to ever deeper self-awarenessa process that transcends mental introspection and requires us to see ourselves and everything around us in relation to the higher, divine Self. "Dwell always," it tells us, "in the consciousness of the Self within."
Devotion to the Supreme Lord, finally, is a reference to devotion that is directed inward, not scattered outwardly in religious ceremonies and rituals. It pairs with truthfulness for perfect truthfulness means facing unconditionally that there is only one reality in existence: God. Outside of Him (or Her), we have no existence. To give up the temptation to put off that moment when we must face the ultimate truth about ourselves this fundamental and utter self-honesty permits of only one conclusion, summed up in the final niyama: "Devotion to the Supreme Lord."
The yama-niyamas are essential for anyone who would find peace of mind. Be restful in your heart, even as you work to perfect yourself in right spiritual attitudes. Only by inner restfulness during outer activity will you achieve that supreme restfulness which lies beyond all activity.
Donald Walters is an author, lecturer, and composer, and is respected as a teacher of meditation and higher consciousness. Walters is author of more than sixty books on a variety of topics, from leadership, to education. A few of these titles include "The Path," "Affirmations for Self-Healing," and "Education for Life." His most recent book, "Super Consciousness, A Guide to Meditation," which this article was adapted from, was published by Warner. Super Consciousness will be re-released in the coming months from Crystal Clarity Publishers.