Hindu Yamas: Ancient Resolutions for a New Year

USA, January 3, 2010 (by Suhag Shukla): Working out more, getting organized, losing those last ten pounds … these are amongst the top ten promises that millions around the world, including me, have made this weekend and likely break before the end of the month. Hoping to arrive on something less short-lived, something not so self-centered, something greater than me, I’m hoping this year to better illumine my path with age-old Hindu wisdom. They were inculcated in me long ago, but those echoes of the past suddenly seem more relevant. May the spiritual guidance of sages, swamis and gurus inspire my interactions with all those whose paths cross mine, not only to the end of this year, but through lifetimes. For all you yogis out there — my list of resolutions may just be the same as yours — they are, of course, the five eternal yamas:

Ahimsa — Non-harming. I’m a peace-loving vegetarian. I eat local, at least in the summers, and I recycle. It’s a start, though I could probably lighten my footprint on Mother Earth even more. But what about being non-harming in my thoughts and words? Can I recognize and respect the Divine in that road-raged driver? Or how about the rude cashier? Ahimsa asks us to be non-harmful in all that floats through our minds and that comes out of our mouths (or out of our keyboards). To this end, I welcome the path of all-around non-hurting.

Satya — Truthfulness. As a stand-alone value, the truth can hurt — really hurt. So how can one communicate truthfully but also with courtesy and compassion? One of my favorite swamis from Chinmaya Mission Trinidad shared during a talk, “God gave you two ears and one mouth, so listen more and speak less.” Following Swamiji’s advice will hopefully enable me to foster more genuine and loving relationships.

Asteya — Asteya literally is non-stealing, but that’s rather simplistic and perhaps too easy for most of us who are law-abiding members of civil society. So in my quest to dig deeper, I need to apply more expansively, what it means to not take that which is not given. To this end, the first thing that comes to my mind is letting go of expectations. These expectations unknowingly, and quickly, transform to a sense of entitlement — even of something as abstract as compliments. Here on, my motto has to be, “Do more. Expect less.”

Brahmacharya — Brahmacharya as one of the traditional Hindu stages of life is a phase in which a youth (~ages 14-20) dedicates his or her full efforts to gaining both secular and spiritual knowledge. While traditionally this age is a prescription for study, discipline and strict celibacy, brahmacharya in a broader context means self-control or self-restraint in our dealings with the many distractions of our daily lives, be they physical, emotional or mental. Learning the art of not letting thoughts control my ability to be present through mindfulness and meditation has to be a top priority.

Aparigraha — Abstention from greed, or in more modern terms, letting go of the need for “stuff” — this is so relevant to our age. I have to admit that I actually have my credit card number memorized because of online shopping. I know you can relate to that. I choose to follow the wise words of Mahatma Gandhi, a fellow Hindu and Gujarati who said, “I live simply so that others may simply live.”

Wishing you an inspired New Year.

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