Good Conduct - Yama and Niyama


Good Conduct

The one who has not turned away from wickedness, who has no peace, who is not concentrated, whose mind is restless—he cannot realize the atman, who is known by wisdom.

Krishna Yajur Veda, Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.24. ve, 710

What Is the Meaning of Good Conduct?


Good conduct is right thought, right speech and right action. It is virtuous deeds in harmony with divine law, reflecting the soul’s innate purity. As a staff is used to climb a mountain, so must virtue be used in life. Aum.


Good conduct, sadāchāra, determines our behavior in day-to- day life.

We should be uplifting to our fellow man, not criti­cal or injurious. We should be loving and kind, not hateful or mean. We should express the soul’s beautiful qualities of self­-control, modesty and honesty.

We should be a good example to others and a joy to be around, not a person to be avoided. Good conduct is the sum of spiritual living and comes through keeping good company.

When heart and mind are freed of baseness, when desires have been tempered and excesses avoid­ed, dharma is known and followed, and good conduct natu­rally arises.

The Hindu fosters humility and shuns arrogance, seeks to assist, never to hinder, finds good in others and forgets their faults.

There is no other way to be called a true devotee, but to conduct ourself properly within ourself and among our fellow men.

The Vedas say:

“Let there be no neglect of Truth. Let there be no neglect of dharma. Let there be no neglect of welfare. Let there be no neglect of prosperity. Let there be no neglect of study and teaching. Let there be no neglect of the duties to the Gods and the ancestors.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

What Are Good Conduct’s Four Keys?


Purity, devotion, humility and charity are the four keys to good conduct. Of these, purity is the cardinal virtue. We cultivate purity by thinking, speaking and doing only that which is conceived in compassion for all. Aum.


Purity is the pristine and natural state of the soul. We cultivate purity by refraining from anger and retaliation, by maintain­ing a clean and healthy body, and by guarding our virginity until marriage.

We cultivate purity by seeking good company and by living a disciplined life.

Devotion is love of God, Gods and guru, and dedication to family and friends. We cultivate devotion through being loyal and trustworthy. We cultivate de­votion through worship and selfless service.

Humility is mild­ness, modesty, reverence and unpretentiousness. We cultivate humility by taking the experiences of life in understanding and not in reaction, and by seeing God everywhere.

We cultivate humility through showing patience with circumstances and forbearance with people.

Charity is selfless concern and car­ing for our fellow man. It is generous giving without thought of reward, always sharing and never hoarding.

We cultivate charity through giving to the hungry, the sick, the homeless, the elderly and the unfortunate.

The Vedas explain:

“As to a mountain that’s enflamed, deer and birds do not resort—so, with knowers of God, sins find no shelter” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

In a South Indian Śaivite monastery a satguru is seated in his reception chamber with his puja items nearby. A devotee bows to reverently touch the preceptor’s feet. His selfless act reflects all four key virtues: purity, devotion, humility and charity.

From Whom Is Good Conduct Learned?


The first teacher in matters of good conduct is our con­science. To know what is right and what is wrong we can also turn to God, to our satguru and swamis, to scrip­ture and to our elders, family and trusted friends. Aum.


Divine laws cannot be avoided. They do not rule us from above but are wrought into our very nature. Even death cannot ef­face the karma created by evil deeds. Good conduct alone can resolve woeful karmas. Therefore, it is essential that we learn and adhere to good conduct.

Good people are the best teach­ers of good conduct, and should be sought out and heeded when we need help or advice. Talk with them, the wise ones, and in good judgment be guided accordingly.

Ethical scrip­tures should be read and studied regularly and their wis­dom followed. The loud voice of our soul, ever heard within our conscience, is a worthy guide. When we grasp the subtle mechanism of karma, we wisely follow the good path.

Good conduct, or sadāchāra, for the Hindu is summarized in five obligatory duties, called pañcha nitya karmas:

1. virtuous living, dharma;
2. worship, upāsanā;
3. holy days, utsava;
4. pilgrimage, tīrthayātrā; and
5. sacraments, saṁskāras.

The Vedas offer this guid­ance:

“If you have doubt concerning conduct, follow the exam­ple of high souls who are competent to judge, devout, not led by others, not harsh, but lovers of virtue.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

What Are the Ten Classical Restraints?


Hinduism’s ethical restraints are contained in ten sim­ple precepts called yamas. They define the codes of con­duct by which we harness our instinctive forces and cultivate the innate, pristine qualities of our soul. Aum.


The yamas and niyamas are scriptural injunctions for all as­pects of thought and behavior. They are advice and simple guidelines, not commandments.

The ten yamas, defining the ideals of charyā, are:

1) ahiṁsā, “non-injury,” do not harm oth­ers by thought, word or deed;
2) satya, “truthfulness,” refrain from lying and betraying promises;
3) asteya, “nonstealing,” neither steal nor covet nor enter into debt;
4) brahmacharya, “divine conduct,” control lust by remaining celibate when sin­gle, leading to faithfulness in marriage;
5) kshamā, “patience,” restrain intolerance with people and impatience with circum­stances;
6) dhṛiti, “steadfastness,” overcome non-perseverance, fear, indecision and changeableness;
7) dayā, “compassion,” con­quer callous, cruel and insensitive feelings toward all beings;
8) ārjava, “honesty,” renounce deception and wrongdoing;
9) mitāhāra, “moderate appetite,” neither eat too much, nor consume meat, fish, fowl or eggs;
10) śaucha, “purity,” avoid impurity in body, mind and speech.

The Vedas proclaim:

“To them belongs yon stainless Brahma world in whom there is no crookedness and falsehood, nor trickery.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

A woman sits beside a lotus pond under a full moon. A pair of lovebirds sing and enjoy ripe mangos. She seeks the path of soulful virtue, knowing the first step is self-control, restraint of mind, body and emotions, capsulated in the ten yamas.

What Are the Ten Classical Observances?


Hinduism’s religious tenets are contained in ten terse precepts called niyamas. They summarize the essential practices that we observe and the soulful virtues and qualities we strive daily to perfect. Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.


Good conduct is a combination of avoiding unethical behav­ior and performing virtuous, spiritualizing acts. The accum­ulated wisdom of thousands of years of Hindu culture has evolved ten niyamas, or religious observances.

These precepts defining the ideals of kriyā are:

1) hrī, “remorse,” be mod­est and show shame for misdeeds;
2) santosha, “contentment,” seek joy and serenity in life;
3) dāna, “giving,” tithe and give creatively without thought of reward;
4) āstikya, “faith,” be­lieve firmly in God, Gods, guru and the path to enlightenment;
5) Īśvarapūjana, “worship,” cultivate devotion through daily puja and meditation;
6) siddhānta śravaṇa, “scriptural listen­ing,” study the teachings and listen to the wise of one’s lineage;
7) mati, “cognition,” develop a spiritual will and intellect with a guru’s guidance;
8) vrata, “sacred vows,” fulfill religious vows, rules and observances faithfully;
9) japa, “recitation,” chant holy mantras daily;
10) tapas, “austerity,” perform sadhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice.

The Vedas state:

“They indeed possess that Brahma world who possess austerity and chastity, and in whom the truth is established.” Aum Namaḥ Śivāya.

Kneeling on a marble balcony, a woman offers heartfelt songs to her Lord. She holds hand bells and strums a four-string tambura. Her offering of song is a vital part of religious culture, developed through fulfilling the ten observances called niyamas.

You are in truth the visible Brahman. I will proclaim you as the visible Brahman. I will speak the right. I will speak the truth. May this protect me. May it protect my teacher! May this protect me. May it protect my teacher! Aum, peace, peace, peace!

Krishna Yajur Veda, Taittirīya Upanishad 1.1.1. ve, 757

The one who has not turned away from wickedness, who has no peace, who is not concentrated, whose mind is restless—he cannot realize the atman, who is known by wisdom.

Krishna Yajur Veda, Kaṭha Upaniṣad 2.24. ve, 710

The ten abstinences are nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, kindness, rectitude, forgiveness, endurance, temperance in food and purity.

Śukla Yajur Veda, Triśikhī Brāhmaṇa Upaniṣad 32-33. ym, 19

May He protect us both. May He be pleased with us both. May we work together with vigor; may our study make us illumined. May there be no dislike between us. Aum, peace, peace.

Krishna Yajur Veda, Taittirīya Upanishad 2.1. Invocation. upr, 541

I walk with those who go after God. I live with those who sing His praise. The Lord blesses those who seek Him. With those who unite in Him, I unite in their feet.

Tirumantiram 543. tm

Rescue the mind from qualities, make it pure and fix it in the heart. That consciousness which manifests clearly thereafter must alone be aimed at and striven for.

One who has recoiled from sensual pleasures and devoted himself to undefiled, pure wisdom is sure to achieve ever­lasting moksha, even if he does not consciously seek it.

Let the aspirant for liberation behave in an unselfish and kind way and give aid to all, let him undergo penance, and let him study this Āgama.

Devīkālottara Āgama, Jñāna-achara-vichara 41, 12 & 5. rm, 111, 112; 14

Tapas, japa, serenity, belief in God, charity, vows in Śaiva way and Siddhānta learning, sacrificial offerings, Śiva puja and speech pure—with these ten the one in niyama perfects his way.

Tirumantiram 557. tm

Truth obtains victory, not untruth. Truth is the way that leads to the regions of light. Sages travel therein free from desires and reach the supreme abode of Truth.

He is immeasurable in His light and beyond all thought, and yet He shines smaller than the smallest. Far, far away is He, and yet He is very near, resting in the inmost chamber of the heart.

He cannot be seen by the eye, and words cannot reveal Him. He cannot be reached by the senses, or by austerity or sacred actions.

By the grace of wisdom and purity of mind, He can be seen, indivisible, in the silence of contemplation.

This invisible ātman can be seen by the mind wherein the five senses are resting. All mind is woven with the senses; but a pure mind shines the light of the Self.

Whatever regions the pure in heart may see in his mind, whatever desires he may have in his heart, he attains those regions and wins his desires. Let one who wishes for success reverence the seers of the Spirit.

Atharva Veda, Muṇḍaka Upanishad 3.1.6-10. upm, 80

More precious than life itself is rectitude. Those who practice rectitude possess everything that is worthwhile.

Humility, truthfulness, avoidance of killing and stealing, refraining from slandering others, absence of covetousness and so forth—these are the characteristics of a life of rectitude.

Whatever the work may be, a man should train himself to carry it out with perseverance, devotion and joy. By disciplining himself in this way he will acquire steadiness of mind; that is to say, the mind will become one-pointed. This will allow the ātman increasingly to manifest its power.

What one thinks will take place immediately, and the differentiation that arises from calling this man a friend and that man an enemy will not enter the mind and give room for care and worry.

Natchintanai, “The True Path" nt, 4

Virtue yields Heaven’s honor and Earth’s wealth. What is there then that is more fruitful for a man? Be unremitting in the doing of good deeds; do them with all your might and by every possible means.

Thirukural 31 & 33. ww

Keep the mind free of impurity. That alone is the practice of virtue.

All else is nothing but empty display. Purity of mind and purity of conduct—these two depend upon the purity of a man’s companions.

Thirukural 34 & 455. ww