4. The ethical principles of righteous life in classical and modern Yoga
As it is known, classical Yoga unites ethics, philosophic metaphysics and psycho-technical practice. The philosophic base of Yoga was the ideas of sankhya system – one of the influential Indian doctrines of orthodox, i.e. Vedic, direction. In their papers (“Yoga-Sutra” and “Yoga-Bhashya”), the authoritative ancient theoreticians of Yoga – Patandjali and Vyasa – developed the philosophic items of sankhya-doctrine to support and explain the practical purposes of Yoga spiritual practice. In Patandjali’s treatise, the main points of Yoga system are shortly given in its theoretic and applied aspects. Vyasa’s paper is the full philosophic commentary of Patandjali’s metaphysical and practical theses.
The important element of classical Yoga (it is often called Sankhya-Yoga) is ethics. In the original texts, as well as in the Yoga tradition in general, the researcher faces it not only as the abstract theoretical speculations about moral themes but as the effective, practically oriented system of moral canons and principles which the whole Yoga practice and its ideology of spiritual liberation are based on. Understanding these canons and principles as well as following them are considered in Yoga to be the integral aspect of the perfection and spiritual transformation of personal consciousness.
To get the general knowledge about the Yoga ethic codex, first of all, it’s necessary to understand its attitude to the following traditional ethic questions and problems: Good and Evil; moral duty; egoism; violence; happiness and suffering.
It is obvious that Good and Evil, which even in the religious-theological doctrines suppose the great part of the ethic component, are not the absolute and unambiguous terms. Depending on their world-view priorities, various doctrines answered such a simple, and at the same time very difficult, question differently: what is Good and what is Evil for a human?
Classical Yoga considers this question from the viewpoint of the human’s main spiritual aim. It is the spirit’s liberation from the material being and its (spirit’s) achieving the absolute isolation from karma, sansara and the associated with them avidyi and sufferings. This is the return of personal human consciousness to its transcendent Source – Cosmic Super-consciousness or World Spirit.
Everything that favours it is Good. Everything that impedes it is Evil. So, Vyasa believes that the river of human consciousness can flow only in two directions: towards either Good or Evil. If it flows along the riverbed of distinction and the realization of spiritual liberation, it is the way to Good. If it flows along the riverbed of non-distinction to sansara, it is the way to Evil. Pay attention that for the masters of Yoga wisdom, the way to Good is connected with the development of impartiality, and the way to Evil with consciousness inclination to sensory objects and wish to enjoy them.
Such understanding Good and Evil results in the awareness of the main human moral or spiritual duty. It includes the aspiration and achieving the spiritual liberation from constant transformations in the lower worlds (sansara) and dependence on material being. Thus, the liberation is the highest aim and duty of not only humans but also all the other creatures except God-Ishvara who is absolutely independent on material Nature.
While solving the problem of Good and Evil, Patandjali emphasizes first of all the personal responsibility of every living being for one’s individual spirit. To help other creatures on the way of liberation is the task of God or at least of perfect guru-yogis who achieved (or almost achieved) their own liberation. In Buddha Yoga (Mahayana’s Buddhism), the moral duty was understood in some different way. The spiritual ascetic was to aspire for not only the personal liberation but to make constant efforts for the liberation of other living beings.
In Yoga, the problem of egoism plays an extremely important role in solving moral questions. What is egoism from the viewpoint of Sankhya-Yoga metaphysics? This is the illusory identity of the World Spirit-Super-consciousness (Purushi) and personal consciousness (individual buddhi) as the instrument of this World Spirit. In other words, egoism is the illusion of one’s own isolation and independence. It is illusion because 1) personal consciousness is only the instrument (mirror) for Universal Super-consciousness; 2) personal consciousnesses of living beings are interconnected as the elements of single cosmic Buddhi-Makhata.
As long as a human considers oneself to be an autonomous being and join oneself with one of the non-constant elements of microcosm (‘I am my body’, ‘I am my feeling soul’, ‘I am my intellect’), one is in the dark and unable to move along the way of spiritual Yoga to one’s liberation. But when one is aware of oneself as being the Absolute Spirit (Super-consciousness) reflected in the mirror of one’s personal consciousness (ego) and creating thereby the illusion of personal isolated existence, one makes the first step to liberation from all illusions and dependences along the road of practical Yoga.
Thus, the main weapon against egoism, as Yoga philosophy states, is spiritual knowledge due to which yogis understand the difference between Universal Super-consciousness (Spirit and personal consciousness of a living being (ego). The person seeing such a difference, as Patandjali explains, ceases to think of one’s own existence. Why does it happen? The person understands that the Absolute Spirit (Super-consciousness) only has the true cosmic being. And the person is only its part reflected in the illusory psychic mirror of personal consciousness which exists for the transcendent aims of a cosmic Viewer – Absolute Spirit.
In ethics of practical Yoga, the main moral principle is ahimsa – abstention from violence. The other moral principles, which the 1st and 2nd auxiliary steps of Yoga (yama and niyama) are devoted to, are based on ahimsa and follow from it. Vyasa gives a deep and comprehensive definition of ahimsa. Non-violence is non-harm to all living beings by any way at all times. All the rest of self-control and religious directions are designed for perfecting the non-violence ability. They are used as the additional means to give non-violence a perfect form.
Classical Yoga gives a wide classification of non-violence kinds among which there are twenty-seven basic ones. The base of this classification comprises three triads of non-violence kinds. The 1st triad deals with action, initiative and assessment: violence done; violence induced to be done; violence appraised. The 2nd triad deals with the reasons of violence: violence owing to greediness; violence owing to anger; violence owing to ignorance. The 3rd triad deals with the degree: weak violence; middle violence; strong violence.
Violence intentions are the false fillers of consciousness (affects) and serious obstacles for liberation. How can they be overcome? It can be the development of contrasting intentions which exclude the false fillers from consciousness. As an illustration, Vyasa gives the examples of thoughts-images directed against violence. One of them is as such:” Being roasted on the red-hot coals of sansara, I resort the protection due to Yoga practice presenting security to all living beings”.
The important aspect of Yoga ethics is the philosophic understanding of happiness and suffering. “Yoga-sutra’ states: everything in the world is suffering for a wise person. The reasons of suffering are connected with the fact that everything in nature is subjected to constant changes, anxiety, influences of previous impressions and contradictory developing guns of material nature. However, being ignorant a person doesn’t understand it. Ignorance makes one take suffering for happiness, look for constancy in non-constancy and the eternal in the temporal.
While getting enjoyment, an ignorant person calls it happiness. Being unable to satisfy one’s passionate wish, one says about suffering. But even aspiring to enjoyment, i.e. falsely understandable happiness, and even having got it, a person faces soon the same result – pain, disappointment, loss and dissatisfaction. That is, one is inevitably caught up by various kinds of sufferings.
Well, what is happiness then? Happiness is achieving satisfaction, as Patandjali supposes. Vyasa agrees: whatever happiness can be in the sensory world and whatever the highest beatitude is in the world of gods, both are not comparable with one-sixteenth part of beatitude acquired while eliminating wishes.
Then, Vyasa quotes the words of Djaigishavya, an ancient yogi of wisdom, and gives the hierarchy of happiness kinds. The lowest of them is happiness of possessing sensory objects. The higher one is happiness of satisfaction. But the highest one is happiness of absolute liberation. Thus, in classical Yoga, the highest good, highest moral duty and highest happiness are connected with a person’s spiritual liberation.
Thus, we have considered the original ethical axioms of Sankhya-Yoga in their abstract philosophic sense. Now we have to understand how they are integrated into the system of practical Yoga. The first thing that attracts attention is eight auxiliary means of classical Yoga. In fact, they make the basis of practical Yoga like the alphabet makes the basis of writing speech. The first and second means (yama and niyama) are predominately intended to fix and develop the pupil’s ethical principles.
It is significant that these steps precede not only learning psycho-technique (sanyama) but also physical and psycho-physical preparation (asana, pranayuama, pratyahara) which comprise sis following steps or auxiliary means of Yoga.
The term ‘yama’ is usually translated as ‘self-control’. ‘Yoga-Sutra’ points to fivemain aspects of self-control – non-violence, truthfulness, honesty, abstention and rejection of gifts.
The first yama – ahimsa – literally means non-violence. Being considered in a simple way, it is equal to the commandment ‘don’t kill’. Non-violence is non-harm to all living beings in any way at all times. However, in each of us, no matter whether one does Yoga or not, a button can be pressed in a critical situation which makes us capable to kill.
One of the main Buddhism commandments being a form of ahimsa is: ‘don’t kill any living being’. However, if you are cured of malaria, you have to take quinine and kill the agents of the disease which are in your blood. If you are in a Jain sect (when its members walk on the grass, they ring a bell in order to scare away the small animals), do you break your vow of non-violence when you take penicillin against pneumonia?
If life makes it necessary for a person to kill, if one believes that killing is right and legal, will it mean breaking the ahimsa rule? Does ahimsa literally mean ‘no physical killing’?
When you think about that, it is obvious that the ahimsa principle must mean something more. What is there in human nature that cannot be killed? If non-violence (ahimsa) means something, it is the intellect setting, not the set of actions. It is namely the mental setting that defines karma.
Is every person inclined to kill? There is Awareness of Superior consciousness in oneself. And who is the killer of Super-consciousness awareness? The breaking emotions are. Those who practice ahimsa try not to accept violence in relation to awareness of Super Consciousness and not to kill it by wrong emotional life.
The second yama is satya, truthfulness. Truthfulness is the matching of speech and intellect to reality. Words shouldn’t be false, mistaking or deprived of true contents. Using words should have the aim of being good for all living beings and non-harm to them. The moral rule close to satya – always to say the truth – is not very deep.
Comparably not long ago, the Western world got aware of a very strange phenomenon. It was called unconscious. Because of its existence, only one-tenth of our mental activity is acceptable to us; the rest ten are hidden like the nine-tenths of an iceberg. Who can claim to know the contents of the hidden part of intellect? How can you be sure of your truthfulness?
If satya means ‘not to lie’, do you follow it when you refuse to save someone from pain by pious fraud? It is obvious that the simple interpretation of truth has nothing to do with satya. What is at issue is the inner spiritual truth which is so difficult to achieve – truthfulness relative to one’s “I’; awareness of one’s drawbacks; inner insight and seeing what is inside; going deep into oneself without fear. The ability to face the truth about your “I’ – that’s what satya is.
The third yama, asteiya, literally means ‘not to steal’, in other words, to be honest. Honesty is non-stealing, absence of greediness, non-appropriation of someone’s things; living within one’s means earned by one’s work. In a common sense, to steal means to take what isn’t earned by you.
However, asteiya is deeper. In one’s personal existence, every person is the moving tooth of the life wheel. Every person realizes some potential. Being a part of the wheel we call life, every person realizes dharma or duties relative to life. Esoterically, he who steals, who breaks the prohibition of stealing, steals time from Spirit, from Super Consciousness, the sense of which is in devoting oneself to awakening Super being in oneself.
Any theft in our life is the theft of time. From birth to death, at any moment of one’s life which we waste for fighting against ourselves we steal time from Spirit – the time of dharma which is given to us. That is the true essence of the asteiya rule. Wasting time doesn’t mean being a killer, it means committing a spiritual suicide! Asteiya calls upon to be honest – first of all, relative to oneself.
The fourth yama is brahmacharya or abstention which means the conscious control over the activity of sexual organs and hidden instinctive bodily needs and desires. Possibly, among all the yamas which can be read about in popular Hinduism books, this principle isn’t often understood correctly, though it deals with the most powerful essence of reality. It is a mistake to think that brahmacharya is exclusively celibacy, something building an impregnable wall around sexual forces. Everyone, who deeply studies Buddhism and Tantrism, knows about other traditions in Indian philosophy which, unlike the Veda monkhood tradition, do not reduce the term of brahmacharya to simple celibate.
In Upanishadas, it is clearly shown that the sexual potential in every person is the divine power. They say that vulva is the altar, and the hair around it is the fire on the altar. The body is a temple, and the sexual act is that of divine service.