Have you ever noticed that for some people, “everything is coming up roses”? In other words, they live a charmed life. These people always have everything they need. Prosperity drops into their laps without effort. They have more than enough time and money, friends, and good health. They live their lives and let blessings rain down on them. Sometimes there’s no explanation for their good fortune.
Reviewing Yoga’s Law of Karma: Action
Yoga is, above all, a practical means for being happy. You can cast off any ideas you might have about the yogi sitting blissfully in his meditation cave. Most yogis are normal people who live in a normal world. They have families, jobs, and other responsibilities. The difference between a yogi and non-yogi is their understanding of the source of happiness.
Yogis and other Eastern thinkers consider karma the cause in deciding who gets what in life. It’s as simple as actions and their results. Reincarnation comes into play to explain why, perhaps, good things happen to bad people—or vice versa. Some people have financial wealth even though they haven’t worked a day in their lives. Others hold multiple jobs and still live at poverty level. We like to complain, “It’s just not fair!” But yogis know: it’s all fair. We reap what we sow. If we can’t see the relationship between our past actions and current situation, it might just be that our vision needs an upgrade.
Karma, our actions, isn’t just about the past. We can make much better use of karma’s mysterious laws by focusing on the present. Today, our thoughts, words, and deeds shape our future situations.
Yoga’s Basic Rules for Living
All religions and philosophical systems have rules for living. I grew up with The Ten Commandments. These are perfectly good rules to live by, as are those set by other religious groups. Most of them are common-sense and help us get along with one another. Rules provide order to society.
The rules established by ancient yogis have a higher purpose than good behavior. They are intended to help us on the path to enlightenment. Yoga’s rules come from various traditional texts, dating back to the earliest, called the Vedas. You might prefer to think of them as guidelines along the path instead of rules or laws. Yoga doesn’t emphasize the principle of sin. The masters don’t say, “If you do this or don’t do that, you are sinning and will go to hell.” Yogis simply believe in the power of actions. Every action has its result, its reaction.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtras includes a set of rules called the yamas and niyamas.
Yamas list the actions that we should avoid if we want to live happily and at peace. Avoiding these actions help us conserve our spiritual energy.
Niyamas include actions or virtues that we should nurture and increase. These actions help us increase our spiritual energy and spiritual bank balance.
Many yogic texts refer to the yamas and niyamas, but what I like about the Yoga Sūtras is that it also tells us what will happen when we become experts in following the rules. Those effects are all positive, and they lead to a charmed life.
The Five Yamas
For the sake of brevity, this post will focus on yamas and their effects. The Sanskrit word yama means “self-control.” It comes from the root yam, to restrain. When you refer to yamas, you may use any synonym for self-control or restraint. One of my favorites is non-indulgence because it implies the middle path.
Here is a list of the five yamas—rules for living a charmed life. It’s important to note that these rules don’t just apply to our actions. Thoughts and words are subtle actions. Mental action is most important because thoughts manifest into words and actions.
- Non-injury (ahiṁsā): The rule of non-violence tells us to avoid causing harm to any creature. It also implies that we shouldn’t wish harm to anyone.
- Non-lying (satya): This rule stresses the importance of integrity in speech and actions. It also means “To thine own Self be true.”
- Non-stealing (asteya): This rule applies to the action of not taking things that don’t belong to us as well as not coveting others’ property. Avoidance of greed, envy, and jealousy are included in this practice.
- Celibacy (Brahmacharya): Non-indulgence in sexual conduct is prescribed to help the aspirant stay focused on the spiritual path.
- Non-possession (aparigraha): This rule emphasizes non-attachment and freedom from desires. It also applies to greed and encourages the seeker to own and use only what is needed.
The Ultimate Effects Inherent in the Yamas
The most important benefit of living our lives based on the yamas is the purification of the mind. The pure mind sees the Divine within. It experiences peace in all situations. The pure mind is our best friend, both on our spiritual journey and in daily life.
As noted earlier, Patañjali describes the effects of perfection in yama. Here’s a brief explanation:
- Non-injury: By becoming perfect in this quality, “all living creatures will cease to feel enmity in your presence.”
- Non-lying: When firmly established, “you will receive the fruits of good deeds for yourself and others—without having to perform the deed itself.”
- Non-Stealing: By its perfection, you will no longer experience lack. This doesn’t ensure that you’ll win the lottery. But it does mean that your needs will be met. You’ll be content with whatever comes to you.
- Celibacy: The effect of Brahmacharya is powerful spiritual energy. This energy can be used to help others in their spiritual quest. The rare Guru who is able to give shaktipat initiation is an example of one who has perfected this yama. Shaktipat initiation is a boon to yogis on their spiritual journey.
- Non-Attachment: Patañjali tells us that perfection of this yama results in the knowledge of our past, present, and future existences. This clairvoyance then can help us on the spiritual path if we use it correctly. By knowing the past, we can avoid repeating mistakes today. Right actions today improve our future karma.
Practicing the Yamas
Applying the yamas to our lives is a lifelong practice. Ideally, your parents taught you rules like these from the time you were old enough to walk and talk. Early training makes it easier, but lack of it is no excuse. We are responsible for our actions, and we will reap their rewards, good or bad.
My mother’s wise words come to mind: “There’s always room for improvement.” As spiritual aspirants, our practice never ends. Upon reaching the pinnacle of enlightenment, scriptures enjoin us to practice as an example to others.
Do you want a charmed life? Pick a yama right now, and get started earning your good karma. Don’t wait until tomorrow or someday. Share with others in the comments section how you intend to put a yama into practice for the coming week.
Chityānanda has been a disciple of Svāmī Gurupremānanda Sarasvatī since 1975. She teaches meditation and yoga as a spiritual path in Santa Cruz, California.