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


Understanding the voice of liberation through virtue offered in Hinduism

Hinduism is a cult that is ultimately rather unknown to the majority of Westerners. Everyone has a more or less caricatured representation of this religion out of ignorance or condescension. Let’s see how Hinduism advocates demanding values that can serve as inspiration in your own life. Let us look at the concept of yama. It means ‘training’ or ‘control’. Spiritual development is about self-control, just as horsemanship is about controlling the horse. The jockey represents reason, discernment and wisdom, while the horse refers to the body, passions, illusions and straying from the correct path.

In order to progress spiritually, you need to dominate 10 yamas. By doing so, you will preserve your energy, which you can then redirect towards the study of religious texts, prayer, meditation or selfless service.

Note that all these yamas are presented in the book: Śāṇḍilya Upanishad, one of the founding texts of Hinduism

Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): non-violence

Incidentally, Jainism has influenced Hinduism, which is why Jain concepts are found in Hinduism. Non-violence is an important pillar of Hinduism. It is a reflection of 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 benevolence can 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. So to feel hatred would be to ignore this principle. Since we are all one, hatred must be rejected as a manifestation of ignorance of this principle. People who behave in an unworthy manner do so out of ignorance, their actions sully them but their essence remains the same, they possess the atma (“soul”).

It is agreed that this spiritual requirement is very difficult to observe absolutely.

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

There can be no search for truth without a sincere and honest approach. One attracts bees with sugar, not salt or anything else. Spirituality has the ambition to bring us to enlightenment, which is the highest degree of knowledge. One cannot claim elevation by using dishonourable means. This is why Satya is one of the Yama of Hinduism. Human nature may be naturally tempted by lying, dissimulation, duplicity. Indeed, lying can enable us to acquire material benefits in the short term. For example, if you want to sell a property, you may be tempted to lie about its true nature or at least hide its defects. All this is to make a profit. Lying necessarily leads to harming others. The material profit you gain is at the expense of your integrity and prestige. What you gain materially, you lose morally (Hindus would say “Karmically”). All spirituality is about growing our invisible, intangible and permanent dimension. Of course, spirituality is not against material prosperity and wealth, as long as it is not at the expense of our nobility. Jesus also said it in his own way: “Render to Caesar what is Caesar’s”. There is the kingdom of man and there is the kingdom of God. Those who are kings in this world may be beggars in the next, and vice versa. Also, we should not worry about not achieving material things as long as we have retained our integrity and nobility. What matters most is the afterlife, the soul. Unlike Christianity, Hinduism adheres to the idea of 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 or not the purest souls for their efforts on earth.

To summarise: Honesty is an essential pillar of any quest for truth or progress. When one refrains from lying one makes it possible to distinguish between truth and falsehood.

Asteya (अस्तेय): Do not steal

The prohibitions presented so far are no doubt familiar to you since they recall the biblical decalogue (thou shalt not kill etc.). This third point is no exception to the rule, since it concerns the prohibition of theft. Theft is contrary to any society based on work. Theft cannot be directed against members of the same group, as this would be tantamount to calling into question the integrity of the city. Non-stealing, beyond its sociological dimension, has a deeply spiritual character. To steal is to refuse to make an effort to appropriate something. It is to want to take shortcuts. This mentality is deleterious at the spiritual level. There are no shortcuts when it comes to inner transformation: you become what you have sacrificed for. Non-stealing teaches the value of things, starting with work. Spirituality is the consent to an inner effort to improve one’s well-being and happiness. Stealing is a violent act, it is the despoiling of the work of others. It is a kind of enslavement of others, it is the taking of what one does not deserve, it is usurpation, it is basically a bad action. Hinduism advocates good deeds (literally, good karma).

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

Inner progress requires a lot of effort, it is a constant struggle. If you have bad sexual habits, you will lack the energy to do this work. Sex is the most energy-consuming activity simply because its primary purpose is to give life. By secreting your seed, you are giving away your treasure, a genetic copy of yourself. It takes a lot of energy to produce this precious liquid. Therefore, the basis of all spiritual resolution is the control of one’s energy. Without energy, there is no effort, no progress. Beyond the energy dimension, there is the commitment dimension. When one commits oneself to the spiritual path, one must give oneself body and soul. This is also true for marital commitment.

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

The spiritual life reflects an awareness of being more than matter. Attachment to objects is symptomatically the opposite. Generosity is a sign of the importance given to that which is not tangible. Giving something is not only a material flow, it is also the manifestation that the other person is important and that our relationship with him or her is worth more than the object we offer. This idea can be linked to the offerings that were made in all the ancient religious traditions. Whether it was a liquid (libation), food or simply fire, the offering had an important solemn character. One offered the best one had because one wanted to please God or the gods. Non-sacrifice proceeds in the same way, one offers something, one loses materially to gain spiritually or morally. Sacrifice is a good metaphor: what one loses somewhere, one gets back somewhere else.

Kṣamā (क्षमा): Patience and forgiveness

Hegel said that nothing great in the world has been achieved without passion, I would add without patience. Patience is what makes it possible to create cumulative effects to our efforts. It is what makes certain things possible. Would a farmer without patience be satisfied? No, because he would like to accelerate the growth of the plants, but he has no control over this, he can only act on certain conditions that allow the plants to grow (watering, nutrients etc.). Patience is a reflection of trust, that something is at work that is beyond our control. Patience is quite similar to belief or faith. Someone who lacks patience would somehow doubt the existence or justice of God. To know how to be patient is to take it upon oneself, to put oil in human relations. The world would indeed be hellish if people lacked patience, we would not be able to understand each other, we would be obsessed with ourselves. Forgiveness is also part of this phenomenon. It is the reflection of a pure soul. Only people dominated by anger and hatred are unable to feel the urge to forgive. Forgiveness is a sign of a high quality of heart.

Dhrti (धृति): fortitude, perseverance in achieving a goal

The world belongs to the persevering. There is nothing great that has not been achieved with a dose of persistence. The same is true of spiritual progress, which is a path fraught with obstacles. When we undertake an inner transformation, we encounter many obstacles. These are there to help us progress. An aeroplane gains height because of the air that gets in its way. We must therefore accept difficulty as an invitation to be a better person. Any major achievement takes time, so patience and persistent effort are more than necessary for success. Since the quest for spiritual wisdom is a never-ending project, therefore, fortitude must be made a constant ally.

Dayā (दया): Compassion

Compassion is feeling what the other person is feeling. It is the ability to put oneself in the shoes of the other. Religion is about growing our heart qualities. Compassion is one of the manifestations of the nobility of the heart and is therefore an indication of our spiritual progress. If someone with a closed heart has stopped growing his heart, he will no longer be able to feel compassion. Compassion is important as a mark of our progress.
To relate to people, one can use one’s intelligence and reason, however, there is no substitute for a loving and compassionate heart in this task.

Ārjava (आर्जव): Non-hypocrisy, sincerity

This is a point that is close to non-lying nevertheless it is slightly different. Lying is something that is manifested towards others whereas hypocrisy is the nature of a personality. A hypocrite maintains an unease with himself, he lies to himself. Sincerity is to clearly assume what you feel and think, it is an essential quality to improve yourself. If one does not point the finger at what is wrong, one cannot correct it.

Mitāhāra (मिताहार): A measured diet

Excessive consumption of food or drink creates a numbness of the mind and in the process, a lack of discernment. To reach heights in the realm of spirituality, no dimension of the being should be neglected. The body, the mind, the heart all have an impact on the soul. In order for the body not to be a burden on the soul, one must maintain a certain frugality. When you overfill your belly, you leave no room for the qualities of the heart to develop. It is also through frugality that one can develop generosity. If one is unable to hold back, one cannot save. Without saving, there is no surplus, without surplus, there is no possibility of being generous.


To summarise:

The yamas are the 10 pillars of the Hindu tradition. They serve as a framework for a disciplined life in search of wisdom. Although it is difficult to apply them all, you could take inspiration from these concepts. For example, you could create habits for each of the pillars, but focus on one after another and see if it improves your life.


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