Yama can be taken to have different meanings, in different contexts.
It may mean "to rein, curb, or bridle, discipline or restrain" In
the present context, it is used to mean "self-control, forbearance,
or any great rule or duty". Yama can also be interpreted as
"attitude" or "behavior". Certainly a particular attitude can be
expressed as discipline, which then influences our behavior.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutra mentions five different Yama i.e. behavior
patterns or relationships, between the individual and the outside
The word 'ahimsa' literally means not to injure or show cruelty to
any creature or any person, in any way whatsoever. Ahimsa is,
however, more than just lack of violence, as adapted in yoga. It
means kindness, friendliness, and thoughtful consideration of other
people and things. It has to do with our duties and responsibilities
too. It could even mean that we must fight if our life is in danger.
Ahimsa implies that in every situation, we should adopt a
Satya means "to speak the truth". However, it is not desirable to
speak the truth on all occasions, for it could harm someone
unnecessarily. We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and
in what way it could affect others. If speaking the truth has
negative consequences for another person, then it is better to say
nothing. Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to
behave with ahimsa. The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says:
"Speak the truth which is pleasant. Do not speak unpleasant truths.
Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear. That is the
eternal law, the dharma." Please note that this yama does not mean
speaking a lie. Keeping quiet and saying lies are two different
Asteya is the third Yama in yoga. Though the word per se means "to
steal", this behavioral pattern means exactly the opposite i.e. to
take nothing that does not belong to you. It also means that if you
are in a situation where someone entrusts you with something or
confides in you, you should not take advantage of him or her. You
are to refrain from taking that which is not yours by right of
consciousness and karma.
Brahmacharya is a movement toward the essential truth. It is used
mostly in the sense of abstinence, particularly in relation to
sexual activity. Brahmacharya suggests that we should form
relationships that foster our understanding of the highest truths.
If sensual pleasures are part of those relationships, we must take
care that we keep our direction and do not get lost. We need to
avoid relationships that make us deviate from finding the eternal
truth. On the path of serious, constant search for truth, there are
certain ways of controlling the perceptual senses and sexual
desires. Brahmacharya does not necessarily imply celibacy. Rather,
it means responsible behavior with respect to our goal of moving
toward the truth.
Aparigraha (Neutralizing the desire to acquire and hoard
The last yama in yoga is known as aparigraha, a word that means
something like "hands off" or "not seizing opportunity." Aparigraha
means to take only what is necessary and not to take advantage of a
situation or act greedily. We should only take what we have earned.
If we take more, we are exploiting someone else. In addition,
unearned rewards can bring with them obligations that might cause
problems later on.
The Yoga Sutra describes what happens when the five behaviors
outlined above become a part of a person's daily life. For instance,
if we become kind and considerate, our presence will create pleasant
and friendly feelings in people around us. If we remain true to the
idea of satya, everything we say will be truthful and we will become
reliable. The Yoga Sutra also states that a person who is firmly
anchored in asteya will receive all the jewels of this world. Such a
person may not be interested in material wealth, but he or she will
have access to the finest things in life.
The more we recognize and search for the meaning of the essential
truth, the less we will be distracted by other things. Certainly, it
requires great strength to take this path. The Yoga Sutra teaches
that the more faith we have, the more energy we have. At the same
time, we also have more strength to pursue our goals. So the more we
seek the truth in the sense of brahmacharya, the more vitality we
will have to do so.
Parigraha is the increasing orientation toward material things. If
we reduce parigraha and develop aparigraha, we are orienting
ourselves more inwardly. The less time we spend on our material
possessions, the more we have to spend on investigating all that we
call yoga. We will learn to enjoy what we have rather than
constantly seeking things we don't have and never getting satisfied
in life. It is a scientific fact that the more money and material
possessions we have, the more stressful we become.