Part Two: Continuing with the Yamas

Since being reintroduced to the eightfold path, I find that I have been practicing some of its elements without realizing it. This is the second of six columns devoted to exploring their value in today’s world.

• Satya (“You shall not lie”). Mahatma Gandhi said, “Truth is God and God is Truth.” Lies take away bits and pieces of the self and leave you hollow and disconnected. They propel you into living a life of fantasy and take you away from authentic living which is fundamental to our ability to be happy.

There are a variety of reasons people lie. When I told lies, they arose from a fear that who I really am did not measure up to some standard that I thought existed “out there” somewhere. This does not change or diminish the damage that lies do to the teller of them. When I lied, I could feel my self disintegrating around the edges. Since I have stopped telling lies, I’ve discovered strength and integrity in my being that I was unaware of before. This convinced me that satya is a valuable yama that has everything to do with the healthy self.

• Asteya (“You shall not steal”). Stealing is similar to lying in how it disintegrates the authentic self. We try to differentiate between petty and grand theft, just as we believe there is a difference between white lies and the real humdingers. But stealing a dollar is as harmful to our souls as stealing the Mona Lisa would be.

Stealing is part of certain aspects of our culture. Most of us have, at one time or another, been guilty of employee pilferage (paper clips, pens, file folders). And most of us have snatched a grape in the grocery store. But these thefts (petty or grand) nibble away at our integrity. Asteya helps us own that which is most valuable to us: our selves.

• Brahmacharya is difficult to translate into Western terms. It literally means “under the tutelage of Brahma.” Brahmacharya refers to celibacy, religious study and self-restraint. It resembles expected behavior of monks and nuns in Christian monasteries. Yet, in Indian society, many people who practice brahmacharya are married with children, because without knowledge of human love one can’t know divine love. One way to translate brahmacharya for Western sensibilities may be to see it as cultivating control of all our perception so that we are not unbalanced by our own experience, our hormones, our desires, our fears. This means that we take a step back from the situations we find ourselves in and look at them objectively.

According to B.K.S. Iyengar, “Brahmacharya is the battery that sparks the torch of wisdom.” It is the path to becoming one with God in Hindu tradition. Without it, I doubt some of the other eight limbs would be possible.

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