Living life with Ethics
When we live our lives following ethical behavior as much as we can the mind is more relaxed and free. If we have lied or taken something without asking some part of the mind is held in the concern to not be discovered for what we have done. If we act and speak truthfully for example then we are more at ease with ourselves. Then we not only become better people, more able to help others, we also are an example to others to live a meaningful life.
The Yamas are the external codes that relate to our interactions with others in society. They are:
Ahimsa – non harming
Satya – truthfulness
Asteya – non stealing
Brahmacharya – sexual moderation for lay people and for Sannyasins/Monks/Nuns Celibacy
Aparigraha – non grasping
These ethics relate on the level of thought, motivation, action and speech.
Ahimsa is non harming on all of these levels. Even when we think of harming another sentient being then we are creating negative energy within ourselves. If it is a time that we feel anger then it is actually ourselves that we are harming more than the other. When this is regarding talking about a person whom I may not be so pleased with at the time I ask myself would I feel OK saying what I am intending to say about them if they were present listening? What we share with our friends when we are dealing with difficulties should be something that we could also say to the person. Then there are no feelings of guilt or remorse over what we have said and it encourages us to communicate with kindness and compassion. When we have difficulties in life it is most often our reaction towards the situation than needs remedy, not the person or situation.
As mentioned above when will are truthful to ourselves and other then the mind is at ease. The mind can be cleared more readily of impressions as we are not concerned about having to keep up a facade or false reality that we have created.
Non stealing is explained simply in Buddhist philosophy as taking something that was not given to us. Next time you are in a situation where you question whether you are stealing ask yourself that question, was it given to you?
Brahmacharya in a traditional translation means celibacy or continence. From a yogic viewpoint celibacy allows one to channel their sexual energy for higher purposes such as yoga and meditation practice. The parallel precept in Buddhism for lay people is no sexual misconduct that includes non consensual sexual activity, infidelity or having relations with someone who has taken vows of celibacy.
Aparigraha means non grasping. This is simply not taking more than we need. When we take more than we need we can question ourselves, what is the motivation behind this? Is it self cherishing, attachment to material objects, possessiveness, fear? This Yama encourages us to simplify our life, letting go of the tendency to hoard possessions. In Buddhism it is encouraged before death to give away all of our belongings so that we can move on to our next realm or rebirth with an easeful mind. Seeing as our time of death is uncertain we can take a bit of this concept into our everyday life and notice the benefits of simplicity.
With the arising of Right View, Right Thought comes to be.
With the arising of Right Thought, Right Speech results,
With the arising of Right Speech, Right Action occurs,
With the arising of Right Action, Right Livelihood occurs.
With the arising of Right Livelihood, Right Effort appears.
When Right Effort arises, Right Mindfulness comes to be…
Ajarn Tong Sirimangalo, 2012, pg 55
The Niyamas are the internal codes, what we do when no one is looking. They are:
Sauca – cleanliness
Santosha – contentment
Tapas – austerity
Swadhyaya – self study
Ishwarapranidhana – surrender to a higher consciousness
We can imagine that if our surroundings are a mess and unclean the mind is not at ease. Also it is an unfit environment to practice sadhana (spiritual practice). By having a clean environment we are also practicing self-care.
Santosha can be a difficult Niyama to practice. It is being contented with what we have and situations in life. Being OK when we are unable to change things that we would like to. In my life I try my best to practice it. There are some situations in life where we do need to make changes. For example, if we are in an abusive relationship or a dangerous situation then we must use our common sense. At other times it may be that we just have desires and cravings. Then we can change our mindset of the situation to be OK with it.
Tapas is doing something hard for some benefit, in Yoga, this relates to spiritual benefit. An everyday life example could be giving up coffee if we drink too much of it. Giving it up can be hard, this is our tapas. When we have cut back or given up coffee we will feel the health benefits and this is our reward.
Swadhyaya means self study. This can either be contemplation, analytical meditation, reading spiritual books or listening to inspiring lectures. In this way we are furthering our spiritual evolution by keeping ourselves inspired and challenging our conceived beliefs.
Ishwarapranidhana means to surrender to higher consciousness. Everyone has a different belief of what a higher consciousness may be. To some, it may be universal energy, Mother Earth, God, Buddha etc. The main concept here is that we are creating humility to see that there is something greater than ourselves. This can allow us to gradually chip away at our egotism and self-cherishing.
In Buddhism the 5 basic precepts are very similar to the Yoga Yamas:
To refrain from taking life, killing any living creature
To refrain from taking what is not freely given
To refrain from misuse of the senses or sexual misconduct. Overindulgence in sex or committing sexual offences
To refrain from wrong speech. Lying or gossiping
To refrain from intoxicants that cloud the mind. Drugs or alcohol
When we adhere to personal ethics we become nicer and more trustworthy people. If a person has a tendency to harm or kill living creatures there will be a sense of fear around them. If the concept of the Yamas and Niyamas are new to you a good way to integrate them into your life is by taking one per week or per month. Perhaps you can write it somewhere that you can see it every morning and then at the end of the day reflect on whether you have been able to adhere to it. If you have slipped up send yourself some compassion and with a sense of remorse make a resolve to do better the next day. Even if we have been practicing morality for a long time this is still a nice practice to add to your sadhana.
The One Way Path to Nibbaana, Venerable Ajarn Tong Sirimangalo, 2012