Learning to Practice the Yamas


By Janaki Murray

Aparigraha, non-greediness, is the most challenging yama for Westerners. I find that it infiltrates all areas of my life in some way, bringing up “subterranean mental and emotional stuff.”

Monopoly Greed


I live in a society that has so much and constantly attempts to cultivate desire for more and more — and yet more. There sometimes seems no end to greed. I see my mind grasping for things I don’t need. I already know I won’t be satisfied when I have them. I’ll just move on to the next thing.  It is made even clearer to me when I leave the city and live out in the countryside for periods of time. Life becomes simpler and my desires and accompanying greediness plummet to zero (well, almost). Aparigraha is so much easier there. I am truly affected by location.

When I read Transcendent Morality, I realize I really need to work on this yama.  And I am grateful for the reminder to cultivate the opposite when my mind is grasping and churning. Swamiji and Vidyadevi recommend this practice as described by Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras 2.33: “When your mind is disturbed by improper thoughts, remedy it by cultivating the opposite.”

So how did it go for me? Unsurprisingly, it worked – really well and easier than I expected.

Firstly, I realized I am not as greedy as I thought. I had a long held, irrational belief that went something like: “I have a lot; therefore I must be greedy.” It was important for me to recognize that I am not necessarily exercising greed. I realized that I usually don’t act greedily even given many opportunities. I seldom overeat. I have a modest wardrobe and very little jewelry. I rarely go shopping. I have an ordinary ten year old car. I realized I am having many greedy impulses that I am not acting on. I realize I have been applying myself to this yama for a long time, and I am being too hard on myself. In Just Don’t, the February Teachings article, Swamiji and Rukmini caution us not to be too hard on ourselves while learning to practice the yamas.

Piglet and Pooh Gratitude


I recognize that guilt is the “subterranean mental and emotional stuff” that aparigraha stirs up in me. I feel guilt because I have so much and others do not. It was, and is, easy for me to cultivate the opposite to my feelings of greed and guilt, as advised by Patanjali. I decided their opposites are respectively contentment and gratitude. The effect is instant and complete; calming and quieting my mind and bringing me back to my own Self. As I have grappled with aparigraha, I’ve found much peace in this simple formula. I have gained in capacity to apply this yama in the way the Great Vow intends: with everyone, everywhere, any time and in every situation.

Yet I also have to remember to not be too hard on myself!

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