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How can the 10 yamas of Hinduism help you improve your life?

Understanding the path to liberation through virtue as proposed in Hinduism

Hinduism is a spiritual tradition that is often misunderstood by the majority of Westerners. Each person forms more or less a caricatured representation of it out of ignorance or condescension. Let’s see how Hinduism advocates demanding values that can serve as inspiration in your own life. Let’s focus on the concept of yama. This means “training” or “control.” Spiritual perfection involves self-control, just as riding a horse involves controlling the horse. The jockey represents reason, discernment, and wisdom, while the horse refers to the body, passions, illusions, and wandering from the correct path.

To progress spiritually, one must master 10 yamas. By doing so, you will preserve your energy, which you can then redirect towards studying religious texts, prayer, meditation, or selfless service.

It is worth noting that all of these yamas are presented in the book: Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, one of the founding texts of Hinduism.

Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Non-violence

By the way, Jainism has influenced Hinduism, which is why Jain concepts are found in Hinduism. Non-violence is an important pillar of Hindu belief. It reflects a high level of consciousness. Violence takes three forms: thought, speech, and action. The idea is to eliminate violence at all levels so that love and kindness radiate. According to Dharma (the knowledge of wisdom), we are all part of the same whole. The divine is embodied in everyone, even the most ignoble people. Thus, harboring hatred would be to ignore this principle. Since we are all part of the same whole, we must reject hatred, which is a manifestation of ignorance of this principle. People who behave unworthily do so out of ignorance; their actions may tarnish them, but their essence remains the same, they possess the atma (“soul”).

We agree, this spiritual requirement is very difficult to observe in an absolute manner.

Satya (सत्य): Honesty, sincerity (not lying)

There can be no search for truth without sincere and honest inquiry. Bees are attracted to perfume, not salt. Spirituality aims to lead us to enlightenment, which is the highest degree of knowledge. We cannot aspire to elevation using dishonorable means. This is why Satya is one of Hinduism’s Yamas. Human nature may be naturally tempted by lying, concealment, and duplicity. Indeed, lying may allow us to gain material benefits in the short term. Thus, if you wish to sell something, you may be tempted to lie about its true nature or at least conceal its defects. All of this to profit from it. Lying inevitably harms others. The material profit you gain comes at the expense of your integrity and prestige. What you gain materially, you lose morally (Hindus would say “karmically”). All spirituality aims to grow our invisible, intangible, and permanent dimension. Of course, spirituality is not against material prosperity and wealth, as long as these are not acquired at the expense of our nobility. Jesus also said it in his own way: “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s.” There is the kingdom of men and there is the kingdom of God. Those who are kings in this world may perhaps be beggars in the afterlife, and vice versa. Also, there is no need to worry about not realizing material projects as long as we have preserved our integrity and nobility. What matters most is the afterlife, the soul. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism adheres to the idea of the transmigration of souls, i.e., reincarnation. In itself, this is not a big difference in the sense that in both cases there is a form of divine justice that will reward the purest souls for their efforts on earth.

To summarize: Honesty is an essential pillar of any quest for truth or progress. When we refrain from lying, we make possible the distinction between truth and falsehood.

Asteya (अस्तेय): Non-stealing

The prohibitions presented so far are probably familiar to you as they recall the biblical Ten Commandments (thou shalt not kill etc.). This third point is no exception to the rule since it is the prohibition of theft. Theft is contrary to any society based on work. Theft cannot be directed against members of the same group because this would question the integrity of the community. Non-theft, beyond its sociological dimension, has a deeply spiritual character. Stealing is refusing to make an effort to appropriate something. It’s wanting to take shortcuts. This mentality is spiritually deleterious. There are no shortcuts when it comes to inner transformation: you become what you sacrifice yourself for. Non-theft teaches the value of things, starting with work. Spirituality is consenting to an inner effort to improve one’s well-being and happiness. Stealing is a violent act, it is the spoliation of the work of others. It is a form of enslavement of others, it is the appropriation of what one does not deserve, it is usurpation, it is fundamentally a bad action. Hinduism advocates good action (literally, good karma).

Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): Chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual control

Inner progress requires a lot of effort, it is a struggle at all times. If you have bad sexual habits, you will lack the energy needed to do this work. Sexuality is the activity that takes the most energy simply because its primary purpose is to give life. By secreting your seed, you give your treasure, a genetic copy of yourself. It costs a lot of energy to produce this precious liquid. This is why the basis of any spiritual resolution is the control of one’s energy. Without energy, no effort, no progress. Beyond the energetic dimension, there is the dimension of commitment. When we engage in the spiritual path, we must give ourselves body and soul. This is also true for marital commitment.

Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): Non-greed, non-possessiveness

Spiritual life reflects an awareness of being more than matter. However, attachment to objects is symptomatically the opposite. Generosity is a sign of the importance given to the intangible. Giving something is not just a material flow, it is also a manifestation that the other person is important and that our relationship with them is worth more than the object we offer. This idea is to be linked to the offerings made in all ancient religious traditions. Whether it is a liquid (libation), food, incense, or simply fire, the offering had an important solemn character. We offered what we had best because we wanted to please the divine. Non-greed proceeds in the same way, we offer something, we materially lose to gain spiritually or morally. Sacrifice is a good metaphor: what we lose somewhere, we recover elsewhere.

Kṣamā (क्षमा): Patience and forgiveness

Hegel said that nothing great in the world has been accomplished without passion, I would also add “without patience.” Patience is what allows us to create cumulative effects from our efforts. It is what makes the achievement of certain things possible. An impatient farmer would he be satisfied? No, because he would want to accelerate the growth of plants, but he has no control over that, he can only act on certain conditions that allow plants to grow (watering, nutrients, etc.). Patience reflects a trust, that something is at work that is beyond our control. Patience is quite close to belief or faith. Someone lacking patience would doubt in some way the existence or justice of God. Knowing how to be patient is to take on oneself, it is to put oil in human relationships. The world would indeed be hellish if people lacked patience, we could not understand each other, we would be obsessed with ourselves. Forgiveness also participates in this phenomenon. It is a reflection of a pure soul. Only people dominated by anger and hatred are incapable of feeling the desire to forgive. Forgiveness is the sign of a high quality heart.

Dhrti (धृति): fortitude, perseverance in order to achieve a goal

The world belongs to the perseverant. There is nothing great that has been achieved without perseverance. The same goes for spiritual progress, which is a path strewn with obstacles. When undertaking inner transformation, we encounter many obstacles. These are there to make us progress. An airplane gains altitude thanks to the air that gets in its way. We must therefore accept difficulty as an invitation to be a better person. Any significant achievement takes time, which is why it is more than necessary to combine patience and constant effort to succeed. Since the quest for spiritual wisdom is an endless project, fortitude must therefore be made an ally of all times.

Dayā (दया): Compassion

Compassion is about feeling what the other feels. It is the ability to put oneself in the other’s place. Religion aims to grow our heart qualities. Compassion being one of the manifestations of the nobility of the heart, it is therefore an indicator of our spiritual progress. Someone with a closed heart would have ceased to grow it, they would no longer be able to feel compassion. Compassion is important because it is a sign of our progress. To connect with people, one can appeal to one’s intelligence and reason, but nothing replaces a loving and compassionate heart in this task.

Ārjava (आर्जव): Non-hypocrisy, sincerity

This is a point that is similar to non-lying, however, it is slightly different. Lying is something that manifests towards others while hypocrisy is the nature of a personality. A hypocrite maintains discomfort with himself, he lies to himself. Sincerity is about clearly assuming what one feels and thinks, it is an essential quality for improvement. If we do not point the finger at what is wrong, we cannot correct it.

Mitāhāra (मिताहार): A measured diet

Excessive consumption of food or drink creates a numbness of the mind and, consequently, a lack of discernment. To reach heights in spirituality, no dimension of being should be neglected. The body, mind, and heart all have an impact on the soul. So that the body is not a burden to the soul, a certain frugality must be maintained. When we fill our bellies too much, we leave no room for the qualities of the heart to develop. It is also through frugality that we can develop our generosity. If we are unable to restrain ourselves, we cannot save. Without savings, there is no surplus, without surplus, there is no possibility of being generous.

To summarize:

The yamas are the 10 pillars of the Hindu tradition. They serve as a framework for a disciplined life turned towards the quest for wisdom. Even though it is difficult to apply them all perfectly, you could take inspiration from these concepts. You could, for example, create habits for each of these pillars but focus on them one after the other and see if it improves your life.


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