Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya

Brahmacharya means to follow Brahman. To seek supreme reality, self, and god. In this aspect, Brahmacharya is inherently Hindu. It also represents fidelity when married, simple living, and celibacy when unmarried. Brahmacharya is also taken more seriously by many ascetics, including being complete celibate and emphasizing chastity for obtaining moksha.

However, Brahmacharya is a concept that exists in Jainism, Buddhism, and Hinduism for monastic life that includes complete celibacy and no marriage.

Brahman is the universal spirit of Hinduism, the “divinity” that is at the core of each being, but also represents absolute reality and the universal-self.

Charya is a word that means following conduct, following, engaging, and is usually translated as virtuous.

Together, these words form the concept of following dharma towards moksha, or liberation. This concepts form the 4th Yama in the Hindu tradition and one of Mahavira’s eight teachings. It is a concept that follows alongside dharma, providing guidelines to act upon.

Okay, so let’s adapt this concept to modern life. If you are acting in a divine way, you aren’t doing anything that doesn’t feel great to you, this can include whatever you want it to include. You avoid pain and suffering. Other people’s judgement of the lifestyle that you choose is irrelevant to your own happiness, so forget about what people think about how you live. You can do whatever you want or need to do to make yourself happy, as long as it doesn’t intrude upon the divinity of other people. Understanding that each being is divine and contains this magic spark of life and that they are free to express that in whatever that being chooses to is important to being able to express your divinity.

Obviously this can apply to a wide variety of things. Suburbs made of concrete and tar do not respect the divinity of the land they are on. The trees around the developments have to be implemented and instead of cultivating and terraforming in congruence with the growth of the land, it is chopped away and replaced and completely controlled. We are not respecting the divine nature of the self-sustaining natural ecosystem by replacing it with our structures and squares that aren’t made in conjunction with prosperity for the land that it is on.

It also applies to relationships. How often do you feel great after a one night stand? What kind of bonds do you want with the romances in your life? How is it that we always remember our freaking roommates?!? How can you possibly be happy living with another person? I think a lot of relationship things come down to compatibility. Can the two people stand each other while they change over time? Do they explore together, or drive around in circles separately? What do they want out of life? What are their values, or what do they consider important? All of these things have to be compatible, not necessarily the same. When you find someone who has values, habits, beliefs, etc. that are compatible with your own, you can feel a sense of overwhelming calm, as if it was meant to be. Sometimes you can forget what it was like before you knew that person. I think this is all a side-effect of the human condition, of our own divinity, if you will.

But anyways, what does that mean, compatibility? Hell if I know, but I think it means that you don’t over-react to each other, that you live in somewhat similar circumstances. Tolerance is key, but honestly, it sucks. Shared passions I think make the greatest compatibility.

Find someone else that is compatible really comes down to the search. How you go about looking for love. Friends can become great lovers. So can expedited friendships that immediately turn into relationships. No need to rush things, everyone is already thinking about sex way too much in this country. People tend to find each other when they are following their passions. A lot of times, this is at work. I think that understanding that the other being is divine is key to the core respect of the relationship, or at least understanding that they are the same as you in so many ways. Even if you don’t use the word divine, instead maybe “hypercomplex”, “ultrasmart”, “understanding”, etc. I think divine is a great word to describe human capacity and potential. It is the only word that really encapsulates the tremendous power of it all, of human existence.

After all, we are closer to the size of mountains than the size of atoms. We are not insignificant cosmically, especially the complex molecules of our bodies regulatory systems. Whether you believe in divinity, or nothing, I believe we are talking about the same thing.

You see, to believe there is nothing is to deny the sense and all prior experience. To believe in something is order with the way of the cosmos. So if we make the assumption that the cosmos is, then the next question, inevitably, is what is the source of the cosmos. The only possible answer to this, is the cosmos itself. So the universe is its own source. To believe that a god created this source is to lack accounting for the source of god. So Hindus believe that Brahmacharya is to act in accordance with the universal laws of dharma, or the universe. Celibacy is definitely not necessary to truly be immersed in Brahmacharya.

 

Aparigraha – the 5th Yama and 1st Limb of Yoga

aparigraha

Aparigraha | non-desire

Aparigraha is the concept of non-greed, or non-possessiveness from Jainism and the Raja/Ashtanga yoga traditions. This means limiting possessions to what is necessary or important to live. The five yamas are shared with Jainism in their sacred vows and Sadhus traditionally have very few, if any possessions.

The word literally means non-grasping and greedlessness. ‘A’ creates a contradiction or antonym in sanskrit, so parigraha means reaching out to take for one’s self. The idea behind the concept is to take no more than what is necessary. This includes refusing gifts.

Aparigraha creates detachment from material and worldly things. Strict Jains will completely renounce all property and social relations. But these extreme examples might be considered out of natural balance. Human contact and relations are healthy and necessary parts of life.

Renouncing material possessions is impossible in a consumer based society. So we have to work outside of the ideal, in the realities we face as a modern world. But understanding that excess can easily create suffering is an important concept. Acceptance of what you have been given is the most important lesson here.

The key is the amount of energy one expends on the taking, or accumulating possessions. Great examples of this are shoe collections, expensive super cars, and 13,000 square foot houses. The excess literally creates inconvenience, not to mention the attachment to a material and fleeting object. One can understand that these things likely do not contribute to happiness, but can easily take away from contentment; the addiction to needing more is an easy trap to fall into. Detachment from material possessions creates freedom. If you have seen ‘Fight Club’, you can understand how material possessions can slowly begin to take over your life. Take what you need, but understand that the idea of ‘more’ can be toxic.

Social interaction are also important to detach from, another main concept of aparigraha. It allows you to appreciate the intricacies of the interactions and to see the true nature of the relationship. The idea is to live in harmony with the people you are interacting with. Not attaching to particular conversations can be necessary in complex relationships. Being able to separate from others to see the truth in situations is extremely important to friendships, marriages, parenting, etc.

I will conclude that like all other things, aparigraha requires balance and should not be taken on with a full head of steam to lose all possessions and completely detach from the world forever. Instead, work the idea of having less into your life, maybe getting rid of a third car, or not being worried about the size of your television (although, big TVs are pretty awesome!). So take this concept, like all others, in moderation, especially at first.

It can be easier to detach from the world, rather than be accepting of it. This is the final piece of the puzzle, to be accepting of what you truly do need! This will vary from individual to individual, so comparing yourself to others is quite irrelevant for positivity of the concept to have an effect on you.

 

Asteya | Non-stealing | अस्तेय

Asteya

Asteya is a Sanskrit word; it means non-stealing, non-coveting, and not entering into debt. Asteya is a yama, meaning it is a traditional Yama, as well as a part of the 8 limbs of the Ashtanga philosophical tradition.

But Asteya means more than non-stealing money, possessions, or ideas; it is about the flow of energy in your life. Putting more in that you get out. Giving rather than taking. Being of service, rather than taking advantage to further your self.

I think that the idea of selflessness is important to this concept, the idea that the world does not revolve around you. You are a part of something larger than yourself merely by the fact that you exist. So having awareness of your effects on the environment and outside world is probably the most important aspect of Asteya. Once you have awareness of your environment, you can start to understand how you interact with it.

So intrinsically, Asteya requires awareness and as the awareness elevates, so does the need for giving back to the world around you. Joy is said to be greatest when help others, so living your life in service to the health and prosperity of others is really what Asteya is trying to get at. Stop thinking of your self and start thinking about everything that is intertwined with your self; the sun, the cycles of the moon, the plants and animals that are living around you, etc. These things have far more of an effect on us than I think we truly realize, so living in harmony with the world will lead to harmony inside of you.

I think that the general concept of Asteya has been completely lost; it is not so different from Dharma in that you allow for life to occur while you enjoy it, rather than trying to determine outcomes. Knowing how the energy in your world is flowing is intrinsic to understand what you are giving back and taking from the world.

The easiest example to understand is food, especially animal products. Humans can only eat as much meat as there are animals in the world. Therefore, in order for the system to be sustainable, you must give back more than you take, or at least have the equation be balanced. Ideally, you give extra so that there is abundance.

Our world is full of takers, people taking and using more than they need. It isn’t our fault; we want to live life the easiest and most convenient way possible, as any animal should, but we are slowly learning that convenience is actually not fulfilling. It is empty. This is how taking things that you didn’t earn is; they are empty, full of lacking. But the lacking is inside of you; it is the lacking of integrity that makes you feel empty.

Try to give back more than you take. This is something our ancestors have really sucked at. We have been taking from the planet since the birth of our race; we just continue to get more efficient at it. One day, we will either understand that the Earth exists for us to nourish and feed as much as it exists to feed and nourish us. It’s a relationship, a two-way street.

Not taking more than you need is difficult. It’s like asking someone who has had one cookie in a jar to stop eating them. But understanding the importance of that first cookie is what is truly important; it is important to appreciate every aspect of the first cookie so that you don’t have to look for more. You understood how awesome the cookie was when you first ate it.

This is especially prevalent in the United States, where we do things simply because we can. Consumerism is teaching us that life is not about the amount that you consume, but it’s about the way that you interact with the things that you consume. Appreciation is probably the most important aspect of this.

The final piece to the puzzle is knowing that you don’t need more. You could probably survive for two weeks without food. Try fasting for a day; it will really help you to appreciate how much you eat!

There are Buddhist monks that don’t eat unless they are given food. This is the ultimate form of Asteya; only taking what the universe offers to you. I don’t know if such extreme measures are needed to understand the concept (they are possibly necessary to completely appreciate it), but it helps to understand that you should be content with where you are in the universe. It’s no better or worse than anywhere else, all of that judgement only exists in your thoughts. Allowing yourself to receive what the universe provides is a practice and a balance; don’t expect the universe to put grains of rice into your mouth from the sky!

Try to integrate this concept of giving as much as you take into your life; driving is huge for this, we expend such massive amounts of energy for no reason! Try to drive less, remember you are taking from inside of the Earth so you can travel its surface.

Satya | सत्य

satya

Satya is the Hindu concept of absolute truth and ultimate reality. In the Matrix, the real world covered in clouds and barren from war would be considered the reality, or Satya of that plane of existence. Satya is a deep underlying concept that spans across the Indian religions and has influenced the cultural practices of the East tremendously.

Satya is a complex sanskrit word, derived from the root word “sat” which is equivalent to the english verb “to be”. This is the most fundamental western verb (based in latin) and at least in French, it is used more than 50% of the time. Sat literally means ideal, pure, and true and refers to Brahman, the universal spirit of the Hindu religion. Satya has several translation because of its complexity:

  • unchangable
  • undistortable
  • beyond distinctions of the space-time continuum
  • pervades the universe in all of its consistency
  • absolute truth
  • reality

Oftentimes, Satya will be compounded with another sanskrit word to mean ultimate, ultra, highest, purest, truest, or highest. Satyaloka means the highest heaven. Satya is a gateway to acknowledgement of the illusion of Moksha, and the enlightened one, or Bodhi, becomes aware of the true nature of Satya. Satya also has a connotation of benevolence, giving it another meaning of love and goodness. As an example, the body is not considered Satya, because it changes with time. Patanjali said that “when one is established in speaking truth, the fruits of karma become available to them”. Samadhi is the gateway to Satya, and is the realization of what is truly immutable in this world through oneness with the divine.

Satya is love and absolute truth compounded to form the reality that we live in. It is the immutable, absolute, and unchanging. The Jain idea of an eternal universe becomes very useful for understanding how the Hindus view Satya; the universe has truths that transcend the space-time continuum. Many people consider god and the universe to be interchangeable words, but almost every religion in the world recognizes god as love. So these concepts come together in the archetype of Satya, one that doesn’t exist as prominently in the western world.

From here, there is one more point to clarify about truth; is it subjective or objective. I believe that there is objective truth, but that humans can only experience it subjectively because of our consciousness. This means that for us humans, objective truth is not a part of reality, because everything is relative to our own consciousness. It is very hard to know that something will be true in 5,000 years, but this is the essential quality of Satya; it is unchanging.

I would love to hear about what you think of truth, I’m working on a short story now on the topic of truth, check back tomorrow and it will hopefully be finished! (I’m about halfway done now :))

Ahimsa | अहिंसा

Ahimsa is the Yogic concept of non-violence, or non-harm to other beings. Himsa means to strike, injure, or harm and adding an ‘a’ before a word in Sanskrit makes the meaning opposite; in this case meaning non-injuring, non-harm. This is especially important in the yoga practice that occurs in the studio, but plays an equally important role in getting you to and from the yoga studio and all around in your life. Ahimsa is one of the Yamas, or principles for living that Patanjali expounded in writing the Yoga Sutras. I believe it is one of the most useful and important concepts in yoga and philosophy in general. Words, deeds, even thoughts have the ability to create harm; and by renouncing violence you allow life to flourish around you.

All beings have a divine spark within them, trees, plants, flowers, animals, and humans. God, or divinity (however you want to define it, “the universe” is also useful here) is intrinsic in all things, so harming another being is really harming the shared divinity within yourself and the other being. By hurting others, you hurt yourself because of the connection we all shared. Separateness is an illusion, as any astrophysicist, molecular biologist, or mathematician will tell you, electrons are constantly colliding and interweaving in everyday objects that appear to be still. Everything is vibrating and melting, but the human eye does not perceive these realities; instead we construct a conscious image that is useful for things like eating, hunting, and surviving. By truly allowing other beings to grow and flourish you are allowing yourself to prosper simultaneously.

But the concept is even more useful on the yoga mat. Instead of working against the body, work with it to relax and sooth the tension and stress within muscles. Mostly this becomes apparent in the breath, in how relaxed and focused you are on the sensations of the muscles. Injury is probably the easiest way to completely halt the journey of yoga; avoiding it is the key to progress and cultivation of joy within a yoga practice. Make your yoga sweet, not forced, and gentle instead of moving through physical strain, even in the intensity of a pose like Warrior 3. You can amp up your breath to match a difficult pose, but don’t force your body to do things. Mindfulness and care of your body will keep you on the yoga mat working to relieve the stresses of the body even with very intense asana practices rather than being injured and not being able to work on the physical asanas and prana-yama.

As I mentioned earlier, it is also an extraordinarily useful concept off the yoga mat. Mahatma Gandhi was a huge proponent of Ahimsa; you could offer that Martin Luther King Jr. was too, though he was likely unfamiliar with the Indian concept. Violence is cyclical, meaning that is progresses in a downward spiral and the only way to allow for it to cycle is to put energy into it. If everyone in the world could find a way to be non-violent with one another, than world peace wouldn’t even be discussed. It would be a given.

I lived in Paris when I was 20. I also drank a good amount in this time, because I was a rebel, liked being a rebel, and loved to party. So one Saturday night, while in the center of the city (I lived in the 13th, a solid 45 minute or hour walk from the center of the city) my friends and I decided to take one of the night buses home. We were at a club before, drinking and dancing on tables so we were all tired and still quite drunk. All 5 of us got on the public bus and right when I got on, I knew it would be a shit-show.

There were a few younger guys in the back smoking what was obviously hash and cigarettes. They were being pretty rough, so my ground and I sat in front of them, by the door. But these kids were drunk so eventually someone smacked me in the back of the head, for no reason. I turned around and looked to see what happened, I was a rugby player back then so I was a bit more inclined to violence than I am now. I saw a guy just a bit older than me, staring back drunkenly. His friend started to apologize and I said thanks and just turned around. But I was pretty heated; it took every ounce of energy not to yell, or get up, or get my friends to start something. I took the headshot and sat quietly.

When I was 14, I got my black-belt, so I had committed myself to only using violence in self-defense and this did not fall under that category. This is the biggest reason I didn’t react. But as the older kids continued to push each other around in the back of this public bus, the police pulled the bus over; the driver had called in because of his passengers breaking the law. Five squad cars pull up with their lights blaring and we all exit the van. I see the kid that hit me and the others that were causing the trouble get to put the side and the rest of us were allowed to walk from there; we were at the Bastille which was 15 minutes from my foyer, or apartment building. As I began to walk home, I saw the one that was behind me resisting an officer that was questioning him. Then the officer searched him, found more drugs and a switch blade. A big one.

I probably would have been stabbed if I had given that dude just a comment. If I had defended myself, I am sure that someone would have been hurt badly. Sometimes it is really better to end the cycle of violence immediately, as soon as you come into contact with it. Absorb it for everyone else, process it yourself and you just made the world a better place. The story reminds me of the commitment to pacifism. If everyone could sit still and process their own emotions including fear and anger, the world would be peaceful. But it requires commitment from each individual, everyone has to be disciplined to serve the same vision.

Ahimsa is powerful. It shifts the ego lens inward rather than externally making you more aware of your projections of insecurity and fear. Use it in the yoga room and your practice will flourish. Add some love and knowledge to the mix and you will be flying in no time. Then take it outside the studio and live by it; violence in society is never a good thing. Help to make the world a better place.

The 8 Limbs of Yoga (Part 1: Yamas)

Yamas

Ashtanga yoga is more than exercise or meditation. It is a lifestyle, a way to live that allows for the body and mind to be free from pain and suffering and to be at peace. REAL yoga happens outside of the yoga room; Asana is only one part of real yoga, albeit a very important one. The true yoga begins off the mat, when you start interacting with your world, from strangers on a subway to your family and children at home. The 8 limbs of yoga is a guide to happiness, tranquility, peace, and ultimately freedom to transcend consciousness and realize god (enlightenment).

The first limb of yoga is no doubt the most foundational, the Yamas (ethical disciplines). These are universal principles, or rules for interacting with the world that lead away from stealing, violence, chaos, greed, and untruth. Essentially they are equivalent to the 10 commandments of Moses or the beatitudes of Jesus, but with the spin that these external rules will create room for detachment and constitute the first steps and foundation for yoga to expand within one’s consciousness. Yamas are like scaffolding that you are building your temple around, and keeps the temple sacred, clean, and free from outside destruction. In the same way the Yamas will keep your mind free from distraction and lead you to closer to enlightenment.

There are 5 parts of the Yamas, each of which is essential to success, though these concepts should be interpreted and applied to your own individual life. No two people will ever live the same life, therefore each individual must adapt the Yamas to their lifestyle. They are Ahisma (non-violence), Satya (truth), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (continence), and Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Ahisma, (‘a’ means not and ‘hisma’ means violence) or non-violence, is probably the most important of the Yamas and is truly very difficult to achieve. Violence is not only physical and can occur within the mind creating distance from creatures and people we are meant to love. Ahisma is far more than just pacifism, non-violence, non-killing, or eating only vegetables; it means finding love and appreciation for all beings. This almost always means eating vegetarian, unless you grow your own animals and treat them with respect and love. Many people interpret Ahisma as vegetarianism, which is important for yoga, but it is also about appreciation for all beings (even the smallest ones!). Then love and true gratitude can flow like water for all the life that surrounds you. Freedom from fear and anger are also intrinsic to this Yama, known as Abhaya (‘a’ means not and ‘bhaya’ means fear) and Akrodha (‘a’ means not and ‘krodha’ means anger). A yogi truly has no fear because of the pure love and focus he brings to his own life and he realizes his own divine connection to all beings as well as his own gift of the body, which allows the yogi to treat all beings with respect, love, and peace.

Satya means truth. The divine exists only in truth, so it is necessary for a yogi to become truthful in all things, to make room for the divine in their life. One of the biggest aspects of Satya is speech, though it is not limited to this. Ridiculing others, telling untrue stories, lying and abusing others are what we really want to avoid here. By rooting out falsehoods, yogis can live truthfully and without fear being at peace with the people around them. This will also contribute to a person’s charisma; when the speech is controlled and truthful, words become far more powerful. When the yogi ceases lying, falsehoods, and malice of speech, self-control is greatly increased and truth begins to drip from the yogi’s actions and life, giving him what he needs to survive and thrive.

Asteya (not stealing) is the desire to own something that another has. This is at the root of all yoga, detachment from the material world and possessions. We need to realize that you really don’t own anything; it is just bullshit you have told yourself to make your life easier. You borrow from this planet, from the people around you and really everything that you have ever received is a gift. Yogi’s do not gather or take possessions of others at all, and even his own possessions are minimal to allows for no distractions from his path. Jealousy, greed, and cravings are abandoned on the journey to the divine and once the yogi relinquishes possessions, the yogi will be given treasures and gifts that will sustain him. Each small gift will be a treasure beyond measure for it was given to the yogi directly from the source of life.

Brahmacharya (‘Brahma’ means the god of creation and ‘charin’ means constantly moving) is by definition living a life of restrain, celibacy, or oneness with god. Iyengar mentions in his book that the loss of semen leads to loss of life and talks a lot about living a celibate life, but I truly do not believe this is necessary at all for realizing the divine. I do believe it is necessary to temper desire, and to avoid meaningless sexual encounters, but most religions will agree that god is love and a yogi’s pursuit is to realize that god. Therefore, it is more about self-control, care, appreciation and love for the gift of sexuality and respect and commitment to the sacred gift it can bring to two people. Masturbation is also good for healthy prostate functioning,  (20 or so times a month will reduce the risk of prostate cancer) so I don’t think celibacy in any way is a necessity for union with the divine, though abuse of any sexuality will certainly lead away. This also applies to cleaning the spaces that you use, keeping the place where you practice yoga sacred, and performing your duties and jobs to the best of your ability.

Aparigraha (‘parigraha’ means hoarding, collecting) is avoiding collection or things that one does not truly need. These objects are really distractions for the yoga from the truth they are seeking and lead away from the divine. So even too much of one thing can be viewed as stealing from others. The yogi lives a life of minimalistic material possessions; the yogi does not value them because they are only borrowed and never truly his to begin with. The yogi should make his life as simple as possible so as to focus his time on the connection with the divine, then everything that he needs will come to him at the proper time. A true yogi is satisfied no matter what happens to him, for he appreciates the gift of his own life and trusts in god to provide him with whatever he may need for his journey back to god.

The Yamas are the first limb of yoga and can really help the yoga to live in harmony. It brings stillness, beauty, love, and peace to the yogi and happiness will thrive as a result. These are the foundations of living your yoga, living a life that is at peace with god, and ultimately finding fulfillment in life. This is the first of the 8 limbs of yoga, stay tuned for the Niyamas, the second limb of Ashtanga yoga.