Yamas and Niyamas | Restraints and Observances



Religion Teaches us how to become better people, how to live as spiritual beings on this earth through living virtuously, following the natural and essential guidelines of dharma.

For Hindus, these guidelines are recorded in the Yamas and Niyamas, ancient scriptural injunctions for all aspects of human thought, attitude and behaviour.

In Indian spiritual life, these Vedic restraints and observances are built into the character of children from a very early age.

For adults who have been subjected to opposite behavioural patterns, these guidelines may seem to be like commandments. However, even they can, with great dedication and effort, remould their character and create the foundation necessary for a sustained spiritual life.

=> Notice: The article Yamas and Niyamas prepared and adapted according to teachings of Satguru Śivāya Subramuniyaswami, the head of Śaiva Siddhāṅta, Hinduism lineage of Śivaism.

Trough following the yamas and niyamas, we cultivate our refined, spiritual being while keeping the instinctive nature in check.

We lift ourself into the consciousness of the higher energies—of love, compassion, intelligence and bliss—and naturally invoke the blessings of the divine devas and Mahādevas.

Yama means “reining in” or “control.”

The yamas include such injunctions as non-injury (ahiṁsā), non-stealing (asteya) and moderation in eating (mitāhāra), which harness the base, instinctive nature.

Niyama, literally “unleashing,” indicates the expression of refined, soul qualities through such disciplines as charity (dāna), contentment (santosha) and incantation (japa).

It is true that bliss comes from meditation, and it is true that higher consciousness is the heritage of all mankind.

However, the 10 restraints and their corresponding practices are necessary to maintain bliss consciousness, as well as all of the good feelings toward oneself and others attainable in any incarnation. These restraints and practices build character. Character is the foundation for spiritual unfoldment.

The platform of character must be built within our lifestyle to maintain the total contentment needed to persevere on the path.

The great Ṛishis saw the frailty of human nature and gave these guidelines, or disciplines, to make it strong. They said, “Strive!” Let’s strive to not hurt others, to be truthful and honour all the rest of the virtues they outlined.

The 10 Yamas are:

1) ahiṁsā, “non-injury,” not harming others by thought, word or deed;

2) satya, “truthfulness,” refraining from lying and betraying promises;

3) asteya, “non-stealing,” neither stealing nor coveting nor entering into debt;

4) brahmacharya, “divine conduct,” controlling lust by remaining celibate when single, leading to faithfulness in marriage;

5) kṣamā, “patience,” restraining intolerance with people and impatience with circumstances;

6) dhṛiti, “steadfastness,” overcoming non-perseverance, fear, indecision, inconstancy and changeableness;

7) dayā, “compassion,” conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings;

8) ārjava, “honesty, straightforwardness,” renouncing deception and wrongdoing;

9) mitāhāra, “moderate appetite,” neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, fowl or eggs;

10) śaucha, “purity,” avoiding impurity in body, mind and speech.

The 10 Niyamas are:

1) Hrī, “remorse,” being modest and showing shame for misdeeds;

2) santosha, “contentment,” seeking joy and serenity in life;

3) dāna, “giving,” tithing and giving generously without thought of reward;

4) āstikya, “faith,” believing firmly in God, Gods, guru and the path to enlightenment;

5) Īśvarapūjana, “worship of the Lord,” the cultivation of devotion through daily worship and meditation;

6) siddhānta śravaṇa, “scriptural listening,” studying the teachings and listening to the wise of one’s lineage;

7) mati, “cognition,” developing a spiritual will and intellect with the guru’s guidance;

8) vrata, “sacred vows,” fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully;

9) japa, “recitation,” chanting mantras daily;

10) tapas, “austerity,” performing sādhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.

In comparing the yamas to the niyamas, we find the restraint of non-injury, ahiṁsā, makes it possible to practice Hrī, remorse. Truthfulness brings on the state of santosha, contentment.

And the third yama, asteya, non-stealing, must be perfected before the third niyama, giving without any thought of reward, is even possible.

Sexual purity brings faith in God, Devas and guru. Kṣamā, patience, is the foundation for Īśvarapūjana, worship, as is dhṛiti, steadfastness, the foundation for Siddhāṅta Śravaṇa.

The yama of dayā, compassion, definitely brings mati, cognition.

Ārjava, honesty—renouncing deception and all wrongdoing—is the foundation for vrata, taking sacred vows and faithfully fulfilling them.

Mitāhāra, moderate appetite, is where yoga begins, and vegetarianism is essential before the practice of japa, recitation of holy mantras, can reap its true benefit in one’s life. Śaucha, purity in body, mind and speech, is the foundation and the protection for all austerities.

The twenty restraints and observances are the first two of the eight limbs of aṣṭāṅga yoga, constituting Hinduism’s fundamental ethical code. Because it is brief, the entire code can be easily memorized and reviewed daily at the family meetings in each home.

The yamas and niyamas are the essential foundation for all spiritual progress:

They are cited in numerous scriptures, including the Śāṇḍilya and Varāha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradīpikā by Gorakshanātha, the Tirumantiram of Rishi Tirumular and the Yoga Sūtras of Sage Patañjali.

All of these ancient Texts list 10 yamas and 10 niyamas, with the exception of Patañjali’s classic work, which lists just five of each.

Patañjali lists the yamas as: ahiṁsā, satya, asteya, brahmacharya and aparigrahaḥ (non- covetousness); and the niyamas as: śaucha, santosha, tapas, svādhyāya (self-refection, scriptural study) and Īśvara-Pranidhāna (worship).

In the Hindu tradition, it is primarily the mother’s job to build character within the children, and thereby to continually improve society. Mothers can study and teach these guidelines to uplift their children as well as themselves.

Each discipline focuses on a different aspect of human nature, its strengths and weaknesses. Taken as a sum total, they encompass the whole of human experience and spirituality:

You may do well in upholding some of these but not so well in others. That is to be expected. Tat defines the sādhana, therefore, to be perfected.

The yamas and niyamas and their function in our life can be likened to a chariot pulled by 10 horses:

The passenger inside the chariot is your soul. The chariot itself represents your physical, astral and mental bodies. The driver of the chariot is your external ego, your personal will. The wheels are your divine energies.

The niyamas, or spiritual practices, represent the spirited horses, named Hrī, santosha, dāna, Āstikya, Īśvarapūjana, Siddhānta Śravaṇa, Mati, Vrata, Japa, and Tapas.

The yamas, or restraints, are the reins, called ahiṁsā, satya, asteya, Brahmacharya, Kṣamā, dhṛiti, dayā, Ārjava, Mitāhāra and Śaucha.

By holding tight to the reins, the charioteer, your will, guides the strong horses so they can run forward swiftly and gallantly as a dynamic unit.

So, as we restrain the lower, instinctive qualities through upholding the yamas, the soul moves forward to its destination in the state of santosha:

Santosha, peace, is the eternal satisfaction of the soul.

At the deepest level, the soul is always in the state of santosha, but outwardly, the propensity of the soul is to be clouded

by lack of restraint of the instinctive nature, lack of restraint of the intellectual nature, lack of restraint of the emotional nature, lack of restraint of the physical body itself.

Therefore, hold tight the reins.

The yamas, or restraints, must be well understood and accomplished before the niyamas can be earnestly undertaken:

While we are worried about truthfulness, non-stealing, patience, compassion and being honest, how can we practice the niyamas—contentment, charity, worship, recitation of mantras?

The answer is, we can’t. The niyamas follow the yamas.

Once the yamas are safely tucked away, and our lifestyle, thinking style, speech style, emotional style reflect these 10 restraints, then we can move on to the niyamas.

Once you feel you have a minimal mastery of the yamas, then go on to the niyamas, the practices, in full vigour. The observances will strengthen the restraints, as the restraints will allow us to fulfil the observances.

You must realize that throughout this process you are a self-effulgent soul, perfect in every way, incomprehensibly beautiful, as a shining one,

but that the lifestyles, thinking styles, etc., at this time in the Kali Yuga are incomprehensibly complex, often demoralizing, and depression can set in at a moment’s notice.

But always keep in mind your here- and-now perfection, already-done perfection. You don’t have to do a thing about it other than learn how to live with it, and manifest it in your daily life. Deal with it. These restraints and observances can adjust the outside view to the beautiful self-effulgent, shining inner you.

It is important to realize that the yamas, restraints, are not out of the reach of the lowliest among us:

No matter where we are in the scale of life, we all started from the beginning, at the bottom, didn’t we?

We improve, life after life, and these guidelines, yamas and niyamas, restraints and practices, are gifs from our Ṛishis, from God Himself through them, to allow us to judge ourself against these pillars of virtue as to how far we have progressed or strayed.

In the early births, we are like children. We do not stray from anything. We run here and there and everywhere, disobey every rule, which when told of we cannot remember. We ignore any admonishment.

As adolescents, we force our will on society, want to change it, because we don’t like the hold it has on us:

Wanting to express themselves in most creative ways, rebellious youths separate themselves from other people, children and the adults. They do make changes, but not always for the best.

As an adult, we see both—the past and the impending future of old age—and, heads down, we are concerned with accumulating enough to see life through to its uncertain end.

When the accumulations have become adequate, we will look back at the undisciplined children, the headstrong, unruly adolescents and the self-possessed, concentrated adults and try to motivate all three groups.

In this religion, the Sanātana Dharma, known today as Hinduism, twenty precepts, the yamas and niyamas, restraints and observances, are the guidelines we use to motivate these three groups.

These are the guidelines they use to motivate themselves, for each group is mystically independent of the others; so it seems.

The 10 Yamas, Restraints for Proper Conduct from the Vedas:
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1. Non-injury, ahiṁsā: Not harming others by thought, word, or deed.

2. Truthfulness, satya: Refraining from lying and betraying promises.

3. Non-stealing, asteya: Neither stealing, nor coveting nor entering into debt.

4. Divine conduct, brahmacharya: Controlling lust by remaining celibate when single, leading to faithfulness in marriage.

5. Patience, Kṣamā: Restraining intolerance with people and impatience with circumstances.

6. Steadfastness, dhṛiti: Overcoming non-perseverance, fear, indecision and changeableness.

7. Compassion, dayā: Conquering callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings.

8. Honesty, straightforwardness, ārjava: Renouncing deception and wrongdoing.

9. Moderate appetite, mitāhāra: Neither eating too much nor consuming meat, fish, fowl or eggs.

10. Purity, śaucha: Avoiding impurity in body, mind and speech.

The 10 Niyamas, Observances For Spiritual Life from the Vedas:
(click the name for a separate article)

1. Remorse, Hrī: being modest and showing shame for misdeeds.

2. Contentment, santosha: Seeking joy and serenity in life.

3. Giving, dāna: tithing and giving generously without thought of reward.

4. Faith, āstikya: believing firmly in God, Gods, guru and the path to enlightenment.

5. Worship of the Lord, Īśvarapūjana: The cultivation of devotion through daily worship and meditation.

6. Scriptural listening, siddhānta śravaṇa: Studying the Teachings and listening to the wise of one’s lineage.

7. Cognition, mati: Developing a spiritual will and intellect with the guru’s guidance.

8. Sacred vows, vrata: Fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully.

9. Recitation, japa: Chanting mantras daily.

10. Austerity, tapas: Performing sādhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.