Yamas & Niyamas Practice Group

April 12, 2023

Dear friends,

It was wonderful getting together a couple of weeks ago with so many of you! Thanks for joining us on this journey.

Here is a link to an hour-long Youtube video presented by Shri Rabindra Sahu of Ahymsin in which he speaks about the Yamas and Niyamas. Rabindra suggests that the Yamas point to living in such a way that we are not a burden to anyone, including nature. And the Niyamas serve as a guide so that our way of living and our habit patterns are not a burden for ourselves. 

At our April meeting we began our study of asteya, or non-stealing. Below are excerpts from some of the readings:

From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Sutra 37: To one established in non-stealing, all wealth comes.

If we want to become the world’s richest people, this is a very simple way. There’s no need to get into the stock market or even to go to work. Just practice non-stealing. All of us are thieves. Knowingly and unknowingly, we steal things from nature. With every minute, with each breath, we pick nature’s pocket. Whose air do we breathe? It is nature’s. But that doesn’t mean we should stop breathing and die. Instead, we should receive each breath with reverence and use it to serve others; then we are not stealing. If we accept it and don’t give anything in return, we are thieves. We steal because of greed. We want to do little and get a lot. Many people go to the office and just sit around, use the phone to make their own appointments all day, take free supplies from the supply room, and accept their paycheck at the end of the week. Aren’t they stealing that money? Do we not also steal other people’s ideas?

If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us. If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us. If nature knows we aren’t greedy, she gains confidence in us, knowing we will never hold her for ourselves.

The richest person is the one with a cool mind, free of tension and anxiety. Changing all these world situations is not in our hands. We are not going to stop all these things. But what is in our hands is the ability to find joy and peace right here and now. If we live in the present, even though the whole world might blow up in a minute, it won’t bother us. We can be happy in situations of tension. If we have decided to be happy, nobody can make us unhappy. Anything might happen. An earthquake might decimate the entire world, but we need not bother about the future. Nor should we worry about the past. It has already gone. To be happy this minute is in our hands.

We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing?

But a carefree life is possible only with a well-controlled mind, one that is free of anxiety, one without personal desires or possessions.

From Yoga Philosophy of Patañjali by Swami Hariharānanda Āranya

Sutra 37: When non-stealing is established all jewels present themselves.

On the establishment of non-stealing, e.e. non-covetousness, such look of indifference radiates from the devotee’s face that any being looking at him regards him as greatly trustworthy and donors consider themselves fortunate in being able to make a present to him of their best things. Thus, as the Yogin roams from place to place jewels (best of things) from different quarters reach him. Fascinated by the powers of the Yogin and considering him as a source of great consolation, the best among the conscious beings appear before him personally, while inanimate precious things are brought to him by donors. Jewel implies the best of every class (animate or inanimate).

From The Yoga Sūtras of Panañjali by Edwin Bryant

Sutra 37: When one is established in refrainment from stealing, all jewels manifest.

Established in nonstealing, a glow or detachment and indifference radiates from the face of the yogi. People are inspired by this to feel that this person is trustworthy and has absolute integrity; they thus feel honored to bestow their most valued things on such a yogi, confident that they will be put to the best possible selfless use. Hariharānanda takes ratna, jewel, to mean the best of every class of things. Thus, the pure-hearted yogi attracts the best of human beings and is offered the best of material things by those he or she inspires. R. S. Bhattacharya takes the jewels to refer to noble-hearted people as well as useful things. Thus, noble-hearted people approach the yogi who is firmly fixed in honesty with a view of acquiring divine wisdom; likewise, useful things are offered to the yogi in service.

From The Yoga Sūtras of PanañjaliTranslation and Commentary by Baba Hari Dass

Sutra 37: On being firmly established in non-stealing, all kinds of wealth present themselves.

Not taking anything that doesn’t belong to you or that isn’t given to you is asteya. Non-stealing also includes all kinds of indirect and subtle forms of misappropriation, including taking credit for something you didn’t do or keeping a lost object without turning it into the authorities.

One cannot practice non-stealing without observing non-violence and truthfulness. Again, the practice is to examine one’s actions and motives, thoughts and words to see how stealing occurs in gross and subtle ways. Stealing in any form reinforces the undesirable tendencies of the mind that obstruct our spiritual development.

The desire for more and more leads to all forms of stealing. Taking anything that doesn’t belong to us is considered stealing. 

Through the practice of non-stealing, the desire to have more begins to subside and a person finds contentment with what they already possess. When a yogi develops a pure state of mind, he or she becomes desireless and unattached, and dwells in peace. Spiritually minded people get attracted to such a yogi like moths are attracted to a candle flame.

The phrase, “All kinds of wealth present themselves,” means that people who get attracted to such a yogi offer all kinds of jewels and wealth to show their respect and to express their love and devotion. Everything is available to that yogi, but the yogi remains unattached to everything.

How and why does this happen? The answer is that the yogi has become completely trustworthy. They are the perfect guardians of wealth and power because they don’t want anything for themselves. Others recognize this and donate their money in full confidence that the yogi will remain indifferent and unaffected by it, and they will use it for the good of the world. The irony is that wealth comes freely to one who doesn’t want it but is so hard to achieve for those who covet it.

From Lectures on Yoga by Swami Rama

Asteya, or non-stealing, includes refraining from misappropriation, accepting bribes and the like. The desire for what another owns can be very strong, for the mind, when possessed by it, is capable of little else. Such an attitude of mind is based on underlying feelings of inadequacy and jealousy, a sense of having been cheated and a desire for retribution. One is haunted by the thought that “someone else has what I need in order to feel complete and fulfilled.” But stealing an external object does not get rid of the basic sense of inadequacy, so one surreptitiously takes, again and again. Still, the underlying feelings remain. Cultivating asteya counteracts such attitudes. It helps to develop a sense of completeness and self-sufficiency and leads to freedom from the bondage of such cravings.

From Sadhana, the Path to Enlightenment by Swami Rama

Asteya, the third commitment, means “nonstealing.” Stealing is another habit that weakens you and cripples your personality. The legal definition of theft is: To take what belongs to someone else without that person’s permission. When you steal you are depriving someone of what is rightfully his. Self-awareness is always with us, but real awareness means to become aware that others also exist. As you respect your own existence, you have to respect the existence of others. All human beings have the same rights and you have no right to deprive anyone else of those rights.

Even if you are successful in stealing, you are hurting yourself. It is a bad habit to steal because it weakens your will power and conscience, and dissipates and distracts the mind. If you are truly honest you will never be attracted to another person’s possessions or wealth. Only a weak person can steal. To overcome this weakness you have to try to strengthen your willpower throughout your whole life.

If you have many things and someone steals all those things, even if you have nothing, still you are richer than the person who has stolen from you.

When you do something good, it comes from conscience. When you feel bad about yourself, you condemn yourself or you are weak, it is your mind that is responsible. Suppose you have a habit of doing something your conscience doesn’t approve of such as stealing. You can learn to control that. Sit down and have a dialogue with your mind: Okay mind, if you want to steal, go ahead, but I am not going to move my body; I am not going with you. Then mind is helpless. You are not telling the mind to do anything and you are not going against your mind; you are simply controlling your body and not allowing your legs to take you to the place where you can steal the desired object This is how to train your mind. If you repeat this every time mind wants to steal something, after some time you will find that mind will no longer be tempted, and your bad habit will be gone. When your mind realizes you are not going to do everything it dictates, then it will gradually come under your control. One who is conscientious will never steal. One who practices yoga knows it is harmful to steal because it weakens the willpower and distracts the mind.

From The Practice of the Yoga Sutra, Sadhana Pada, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD

For Patanjali the practice of non-stealing is a requirement of a yogic life. We begin by refraining from taking what is not ours. We refine the practice by not coveting things that are not ours. As our practice becomes even more refined, we become aware of the subtle dimensions of stealing. We realize that a materialistic approach to life, and excessive consumerism, have caused us to plunder resources that belong to future generations.

This realization takes our practice of non-stealing to a new height. Not only are we no longer wasteful, we invest time, energy, and resources in protecting and preserving the future of humankind and the planet. In the subtle realm of divine providence, nature appoints us as custodian of her bounty. As a result, nature’s wealth is drawn to us. Celestial bodies shower their blessings on the earth. Rain brings a good harvest; bees produce sweet and nutritious honey; soil exudes fertility; wild fires remain contained; human minds become clear and kind; and we find joy in living in a symbiotic relationship with every aspect of nature. For a self-aware yogi, nature’s bounty is a shining gem. When we are established in the principle of non-stealing, these gems are drawn to us and we ourselves are gems.

From The Yamas & Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, by Deborah Adele

Nonstealing implies more than not taking what isn’t ours. It is an inherent understanding that from the moment we are born, we are in debt to this gift called life. The ancient Vedic scriptures speak of taking nothing without giving something back. Imagine what would happen if each time we took something, we gave something back. I don’t think the Vedic writings were talking about trash. They were speaking to an inherent sense of reciprocity.

Small children, as they reach a certain age, begin to want what the other one has. It doesn’t matter what it is, they want it. Looking at the state of the world, it seems many adults are still caught in the toddler stage of wanting what the other one has. The tenet of Asteya, or nonstealing, asks us to shift our focus from the other to ourselves. It asks us to get excited about the possibilities for our own life. When we attend to our own growth and learning in the area of our interests, we are engaged in the joy and challenge of building ourselves. From the fullness of our own talent and skill, we automatically serve the world rather than steal from it.

The Sanskrit word adikara means the right to know or the right to have. This word challenges us to the reality that if we want something, then we better grow the competency required to have it. We can dream and wish all we want, but we only get what we have the competence to have and keep. Anything else is stealing.

Think about people who win big bucks in the lottery and within a year are back to being broke. Or think of the CEOs who run companies into the ground because they don’t have the skill to manage a huge corporation. In both of these cases, these people are stealing; they are trying to have something beyond their competency. Our outcomes in life are consistent with our abilities, not necessarily our wishes or goals.

Asteya asks us to focus on our desires and then build the competency to have them. It leaves us with the question, “Are you available to what you want?”

Ideas to consider around asteya:

• Notice when and how you steal from others through time, attention, “one-upmanship,” power, confidence, and not being able to celebrate others’ successes. Notice what is happening in you that prompts this stealing.

• Notice where you are stealing from the earth and stealing from the future. Where are you taking without returning something of at least equal value?

• Live as a visitor to this world, rather than an owner. Notice how much is available to you to use and enjoy without needing to own them (parks, libraries, concerts, sunsets, etc.).

• Think about your dreams and goals and make a list of things to do/study/try that would increase your knowledge and competency and bring you closer to your goal, thus building your adikara.

• Cultivate an attitude of stewardship in place of ownership – “I have been given this space to care for.”

• Actively “pay it forward” for things you can repay – kindness, lessons, love.

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments. We look forward to when we are next together on Monday, May 22.


April 12, 2023

Dear friends,

It was wonderful to see so many of you at our second meeting. We shared some of our observations about ahimsa (or non-harming) through action, speech and thought.  According to Swami Rama in Lectures on Yoga, page 24, “Careful cultivation of ahimsa leads to a spontaneous, all-encompassing love. One begins to see the unity in all creation and thus progresses towards the goal of self realization.” This first Yama is at the heart of the other nine Yamas and Niyamas. 

We also shared readings about the second Yama — satya, or truth. Below are excerpts from some of the readings:

From The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda

Sutra 36: To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.

With establishment in honesty, the state of fearlessness comes. We need not be afraid of anybody and can always lead an open life. When there are no lies, the entire life becomes an open book. But this comes only with an absolutely honest mind. When the mind becomes clear and serene, the true Self reflects without disfigurement, and we realize the Truth in its own original nature.

A vow of absolute honesty means we can no longer tell white lies either. If by being honest we will cause trouble, difficulty or harm to anyone, we should keep quiet. Instead of lying and saying things like “I don’t know,” we can be frank: “I know, but I don’t want to tell.”

From Sadhana, the Path to Enlightenment by Swami Rama

It will be difficult for you to practice truth if you do not know how to express and communicate love. You should speak only truth that is inseparably mingled with love. Truth that is harsh or hurtful is not needed. Suppose I see a blind man coming and I say, “Hey, you blind man. Cover over here.” That is apriya (hurtful or unloving). I am not lying, but that truth is crude and hurtful. Truth that hurts is not satya. Speak the truth, but that truth should be pleasant, not the bitter truth. Don’t speak what is not to be spoken or try to become a great teacher of truth by hurting people.

To practice truth means to speak what you know to be fact, to act in a way that you understand to be correct and to train your mind to follow a train of thought that is helpful for you. Satya means to be truthful to yourself and to others in thought, speech and action.

Don’t be dishonest. If you frequently lie, it becomes an unconscious habit that affects your personality and creates obstacles to your growth. Sometimes you lie because you are afraid of what will happen if you tell the truth. One lie leads to another, and soon deception becomes second nature, leading to a fearful and scheming mind. To avoid this, always stick to the facts. Be straight and gentle when you speak and then your speech will be effective. If you do not lie and your actions are truthful, you will stand as an example to others.

From The Yamas & Niyamas, Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice, by Deborah Adele

Truth has the power to right wrongs and end sorrows. It is fierce in its demands and magnanimous in its offerings. It invites us to places we rarely frequent and where we seldom know what the outcome will be. We may think that truth means simply not fibbing to our mom when she asks if we ate the forbidden cookie. But truth demands integrity in life and to our own self that is more than not telling a simple lie.

When we are real rather than nice, when we choose self-expression our self-indulgence, when we choose growth over the need to belong, and when we choose fluidity over rigidity, we begin to understand the deeper dynamics of truthfulness, and we begin to taste the freedom and goodness of this jewel.

Carl Jung writes, “A lie would make no sense unless the truth was felt to be dangerous.” Why do we lie? Are we afraid to hurt someone’s feelings or afraid if we told the truth we would not be liked or admired anymore? What is so dangerous in the moment about the truth that you are choosing to lie?

Questions to consider around satya:

• What is the difference between “nice” and “real”? From whom or what do you seek approval? Does this affect whether you act from your “niceness” or your “realness”?

• When do you tend to be inconsistent with your thoughts/feelings, words, and actions?

• How do you feel after you have lied? How do you feel after you have told the truth, even when it was difficult?

There was a request to include in this newsletter a link to a silent retreat this summer offered by The Meditation Center in Minneapolis: https://themeditationcenter.org/class/7-day-silence-meditation-retreat-at-dunrovin-august-11-18-2023/2023-08-11/

Please let us know if you have any questions or comments throughout the rest of this month. We look forward to when we are next together on Monday, April 24.


March 7, 2023

Dear friends,

Thank you for joining us at our first Yamas and Niyamas practice group session last week. We are excited to be on this path with you!

First of all, please know that we welcome your suggestions! We are new to hosting meetings that are both virtual and in-person. We hope to create an environment where all feel free to share. We would appreciate any feedback about your experience either as an in-person or as a virtual participant.

This month we will be practicing ahimsa, which is nonviolence, or not causing pain. Causing pain can be even more harmful than killing. Swami Rama suggests first applying ahimsa to yourself by not hurting yourself in thought, speech or action. Next you can initiate the practice of ahimsa at home. The family is a training center for learning how to love others. If you fail to love your family, you will also fail in other relationships. 

Until our next session (Wednesday, March 29th), simply observe yourself. When are you being violent with yourself? With others? With the planet?

We would also like to share a few resources that might enrich your practice. 

Prayer for Harmony: 

Om saha nāv avatu, saha nau bhunaktu, saha vīryaṁ karavāvahai, tejasvi nāv adhītam astu, mā vidviṣāvahai. Om śāntiḥ śāntiḥ śāntiḥ.

Om. May It (Brahman) protect us both together. May It (Brahman) enjoy/ feed us both together. May we create spiritual power together. May what we have studied together be possessed of brilliance. May we not hate one another. Om, Peace, Peace, Peace. 

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Translation and Commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda
Sadhana, the Path to Enlightenment by Swami Rama (available at our center)

Below is a tentative schedule for the rest of our meetings:  
Wednesday, March 29
Monday, April 24
Monday, May 22
Monday, June 26
Monday, July 24
Monday, August 21
Monday, September 25
Monday, October 23
Monday, November 27
Monday, December 18

Please email us with any questions or suggestions.