Yoga Ethics – Yama & Niyama – why so important?

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In the following Shrii Shrii A’nandamu’rti clarifies why Yama and Niyama (cardinal human moral principles) are so crucial in the life of a spiritual aspirant. Underlining their great importance, we find that in the eight branches of Yoga  –  known as “Ashtaunga Yoga” – the first TWO branches are Yama and Niyama. The are literally the foundation on which everything else in spiritual life is built.

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The first stage of sádhaná (spiritual pracatice) is yama and niyama (strict moral observances), the foundation of spiritual life, the light which dispels the darkness of static ignorance.

By perfecting the ten principles of yama and niyama, spiritual aspirants gain the spiritual vigour required to wage the constant war against the dullness of staticity. Theirs is a valiant and relentless fight against the obstacles created by avidyámáyá [the cosmic crudifying force] which try to detract them from the path of the attainment of Brahma, their supreme goal, their final desideratum, their polestar, the only ideal of their lives.

In the social sphere they struggle not to reform society for the sake of reformation, but to combat the defects and inconsistencies in all walks of life which are detrimental to spiritual life and a stumbling block on the path of attaining the Supreme goal. In short, they seek to build a balanced, harmonious spiritual society. Their endeavour to remove the thorns scattered along the path of progress is ceaseless.

Subháśita Saḿgraha Part 5

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The reading continues:

“Usually those people whose sole aim is to bring about social, intellectual and economic reforms collapse in exhaustion after achieving a certain amount of success and either give up or get confused. But this does not happen to sádhakas [spiritual aspirants] because their main focus is not the struggle, but how to reach the goal. Thus they wage a ceaseless struggle against all kinds of defects and distortions with their two most important weapons: yama and niyama. All sádhakas are soldiers whose rations are knowledge, whose drink is action and whose salt is devotion.”

Subháśita Saḿgraha Part 5


Yoga Ethics – Yama & Niyama – explained

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(i) Ahim’sa’: Not to inflict pain or hurt on anybody by thought, word or action, is Ahim’sa’.

(ii) Satya: The benevolent use of mind and words is Satya.

(iii) Asteya: To renounce the desire to acquire or retain the wealth of others is Asteya. Asteya means ” non-stealing.”

(iv) Brahmacarya: To keep the mind always absorbed in Brahma is Brahmacarya.

(v) Aparigraha: To renounce everything excepting the necessities for the maintenance of the body is known as Aparigraha.


(i) Shaoca is of two kinds — purity of the body and of the mind. The methods for mental purity are kindliness towards all creatures, charity, working for the welfare of others and being dutiful.

(ii) Santos’a: a state of proper ease. Being contented with the earnings of normal labour, without any undue pressure on the body and mind. To remain contented, one has to make a special type of mental effort to keep aloof from external allurements.

(iii) Tapah: To undergo physical hardship to attain the objective is known as Tapah. Upava’sa (fasting), serving the guru (preceptor), serving father and mother, and the four types of yajina (actions), namely, pitr yajina, nr yajina, bhu’ta yajina and adhya’tma yajina (service to ancestors, to humanity, to lower beings and to Consciousness), are the other limbs of tapah. For students, study is the main tapah.

(iv) Sva’dhya’ya: The study, with proper understanding, of scriptures and philosophical books is sva’dhya’ya. The philosophical books and scriptures of Ananda Marga are A’nanda Su’tram and Subha’s’ita Sam’graha (all parts), respectively. Sva’dhya’ya is also done by attending dharmacakra (group meditation) regularly and having satsaunga (spiritual company), but this kind of sva’dhya’ya is intended only for those who are not capable of studying in the above manner.

(v) Iishvara pran’idha’na: This is to have firm faith in Iishvara (the Cosmic Controller) in pleasure and pain, prosperity and adversity, and to think of oneself as the instrument, and not the wielder of the instrument, in all the affairs of life.

Half Bath – Vya’pak Shaoca – “thorough cleanliness”


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Vyápaka shaoca (“thorough cleanliness”) or “half bath” is done prior to meditation, yoga postures (a’sanas), eating and sleeping. Use cold water, or in very cold weather, luke warm water can be used.

  1. If needed empty bowels and bladder; clean the urinary organ with water. Wash hands with soap.
  2. Wash hands up to elbows (no soap needed)
  3. Blow nose to clear any mucous; ensure nasal passage is clear
  4. Hold water in mouth then splash water in the eyes at least 12 times; spit out water
  5. Flush nostrils with water ( na’sa’pa’na’) but only if your stomach is empty: cup water in right hand and pour it into the nose to flow into the mouth; spit out; repeat at least 3 times
  6. Wash ears and neck: wet hands, place at back of neck and behind ears
  7. Clean from the knees down to the feet with running water or with wet hands