Ethical Precepts of YogaYou can think of the yamas as universal moral ethical principles. They present guidelines as to how to treat others and how to interact in the world. Their English translations are non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, celibacy or containment of vital energies, and non-hoarding or non-clinging. Yoga teaches that these principles are to be followed regardless of time, place, caste, class, or creed. On a more individual level, we have the niyamas. These have more to do with our internal practices and how we relate to ourselves. They are (in English and Sanskrit):
- Saucha: cleanliness, purity of body
- Santosa: contentment
- Tapas: burning effort
- Svadhyaya: education of the self through studying the sacred texts
- Ishvara pranidhana: surrender to the divine or to things spiritual
Ishvara Pranidhana - To SurrenderPatanjali’s Yoga Sutras refers specifically to Ishvara pranidhana in sutra I.23. For this, I appreciate Kofi Busia’s translation of the ancient text:
Īśvarapraṇidhānādvā “Or, one can devote one’s self completely to things spiritual.”Depending upon your world view, Ishvara pranidhana may mean surrendering to God, surrendering to the divine, or simply dedicating oneself to, as Kofi puts it, things spiritual. Yoga teaches that this type of surrender is essential on the path. It is not about hard work alone. Furthermore, you might also think of Ishvara pranidhana as giving it up to the universe, surrendering to the cosmos, or accepting that you don’t have complete control. Ishvara pranidhana requires humility because by surrendering we accept that there are forces greater than us. I once heard Ishvara pranidhana described in this way by senior yoga teacher Prashant Iyengar: you can take a direct flight from Mumbai to London. Or, you can take a rikshaw from Mumbai to London. Though you can take a rikshaw it is not a reasonable alternative. Surrendering to the higher powers is like the direct flight; relying on effort and practice alone is like taking a rikshaw from Mumbai to London. It can be done in theory, but is it really a reasonable alternative?!