The yamas are known as restraints. The yamas are the first limb of the eight limbs of astanga yoga which is also known as raja yoga "because of its magnificent and majestic way of practice"(i) according to Sri Swami Rama.
Eight Limbs of Astanga Yoga/Raja Yoga:
- yamas - the five restraints
- ahimsa â€“ non-harming
- satya â€“ truthfulness
- asteya â€“ non-stealing
- brahmacharya â€“ moderation of the senses
- aparigraha â€“ non-possessiveness
- niyamas - the five observances
- asanas - the postures
- pranayama - the breath and the control and expansion of energy
- pratyahara - the withdrawal of the senses
- dharana - concentration
- dhyana - meditation
- samadhi - self-realization
As I deepen my practice of yoga I naturally begin with the yamas and the first is Ahimsa. This restraint, means non-harming or harmlessness, the not causing of pain to any living creature in thought, word or deed.
The second yama is satya a Sanskrit word that loosely translates as "Truth" in English. This is the yama I would like to discuss.
Ahimsa is considered to be the main yama with the other four there in support of this accomplishment. Sri Swami Rama supports this by saying, "...truthfulness is essential, but ahimsa, being and expression of love, is practiced first."(ii) Prabhavananda and Isherwood in their comments on Patanjali's sutras expand, "Our words and our thoughts must be truthful, always in conformity with the facts. Sri Ramakrishna used to say that true spirituality consists in "making the heart and the lips the same." But we must be careful not to hurt others by saying what is cruel, even if it happens to be true. On such occasions we have to remain silent."(iii) This clearly does bring us to the concept that truth supports and is part of love. So I can see clearly how satya - truth, is a pillar that under girds ahimsa - non-harming - an expression of love.
Further, Sri Swami Rama goes on to say, "In all the disciplines of all traditions, truthfulness is considered to be the highest of all courts, but how does one practice it? One should be truthful to oneself first."(iv) This implies a level of self-awareness such that I know my truth. So I come to the idea that truth is part of love and truth requires self-awareness.
What is truth? What is my truth? What is your truth? It seems to me that there is an aspect of relativism to truth. At least this has been my experience - layers of truth or more specifically simultaneous layers of truth. That is to say, as I become more self-aware I have come to realize that what I thought was true was only true at a conscious level. What operates less then consciously is also true even if I am not aware of it. I can only share with the world the truth of me that I am aware of. It is only as I develop deeper awareness that I can share more of me, more of my truth, with the world. As Anne Wilson Schaef says, "Some of us do not know the difference between putting ourselves down, thus refusing to accept our gifts and talents, and accepting who we are. Indeed, we often bounce between being worthless and being totally arrogant. Interestingly, feeling "like a piece of shit" and feeling that we are unique and wonderful are intimately related. In both illusions, we refuse to see ourselves as we really are. Seeing our shortcomings allows us to accept them. Accepting our strengths allows us to soar. Honesty about self is the key."(v)
The journey to truth is a journey inward. It begins with our superficial truth that we share with the world in our roles and social facades, and continues to the truth of whom we are that we hide from others and share only with ourselves, like the Secret Single Behaviour (SSB) discussed on the TV show Sex and The City. Beyond this we get into a deeper truth of who we are in our "shadow" side as Swiss psychiatrist Carl Jung referred to the things about ourselves that we are unconsciously in denial about or that we unconsciously do not wish to acknowledge. So it would seem that our shadow is in fact part of us.
The truth is we are all of the shadow that we wish to hide and all of the light we often suppress and we are so simultaneously. The truth is we are all that we are aware of consciously and all that we are unaware of - all of us that lies less than consciously, and we are so simultaneously. The truth is we are dynamic human-doings that wrap up the gift of our essence, which is an unchangeable core of human being. I think this being is samadhi, the union of our "individual soul with cosmic Soul."(vi)
The truth is, denial, or unconsciousness does not make the truth of our essence any less true. If this statement is true of my essence, then it is also true of every person's essence regardless of the layers and coverings that we put in place to hide ourselves from self and others. When I look at my self and others this way I am overwhelmed with a sense of love - when I allow my self to trust what I know is true, that the essence of every person is divine. Even if I cannot see this divinity I can imagine it and in doing so, I inch closer to my own union with the cosmic Soul.
Yoga, "traces its path of revelation and control from the gross (the physical body), to the more subtle (the senses), to the subtlemost manifestations of the mind, and then to the center of consciousness - the individual soul."(vii) Truth is tied to awareness, to my consciousness level. If something is beneath the water line of consciousness, i.e. less than conscious is it not still true, even if I am not aware of it? As I become more conscious, more aware, I am also becoming more truthful with myself first and subsequently with everyone with whom I am in relationship.
For example my less than conscious belief that I do not deserve love is true for me because I make it true through a series of choices that reinforce and prove this belief is true. At a conscious level I know this is of course an illusion. In my soul I am still hooked in to this limiting belief and continue to protect it. My soul self does not yet know the universal truth - I, like everyone, am a divine being having a human experience. Isn't that the ultimate Satya - Universal truth and reality? Is this not the desired end result of a journey toward enlightenment - to attain as Sri Swami Rama says, Samadhi the union of the individual soul with the cosmic Soul. (viii)
Of the eight steps, of astanga/raja yoga, according to Sri Swami Rama, "The first four - yama, niyama, asana and pranayama - comprise the path of hatha yoga, which is auxiliary and preliminary to the other four steps of raja yoga."(ix) He further refers to the first two steps, the yamas and the niyamas as the "ten commitments"(x) of raja yoga. I like the term. First and most obviously because of the delightful play on words relative to the Ten Commandments and secondly and more significantly because commitment implies a conscious choice.
This concept of conscious choice is foundational to my coaching as well. Choice implies accountability for my actions. Further, if I consciously choose to commit to something I have made an agreement. Broken agreements carry an automatic and heavy price; loss of trust in relationships, loss of self-confidence, self-respect, self-esteem, diffusion of energy, and creation of confusion. I find that when I and my coaching clients work with becoming more aware, more conscious of what it is we are agreeing to we keep many more of our agreements and so reap the automatic rewards for keeping agreements. These are gaining trust in relationships, building self-confidence, self-respect, and self-esteem, focusing energy and creating clarity.
The challenge in developing awareness of agreements is often the degree of willingness to be honest or truthful with one's self about what constitutes an agreement.
Truth is what confirms willingness beneath a desire to do something. If I want to accomplish something, anything and so have a great desire, but am unwilling to do what is necessary to achieve the result, the result will not be achieved. The truth of desire can be plainly seen in my willingness. Willingness then is a direct measure of truth.
When I am feeling confused, or my confidence is low, or my energy is unclean I tend to look first at what agreements I may have been making less than consciously and as a result of my lack of awareness have not been keeping. Sri Swami Rama seems to support this concept when he says, "By not being truthful, one creates a dual personality, which weakens human potential and robs inner strength. When the student learns not to lie, he realizes that one lie inevitably leads to another, and soon deception becomes second nature and leads to a fearful and scheming mind. It is a fact that when a student makes truth the central focus on his life, all his utterances are effective and come true. Such a student never lies. Practicing truthfulness is a way of storing inner strength, and once one builds a strong reservoir of strength within, he can attain the higher steps of realization. Those who are the students of truth realize that truth is the lord of their life. Such students are fearless and do not suffer on account of complexes."(xi)
So, satya - truth underpins ahimsa - non-harming, an expression of love. Willingness is a direct measure of truth. I think willingness to be truthful is the definition of honesty and implies a conscious choice. One of the choices I can make is to be truthful within the bounds of love, within ahimsa - non-harming. Applying conscious choice and truth to my yoga practice and to my agreements within the context of love I generate self-esteem and self-confidence. Willingness, truth and love are the key pillars that support any personal development work, be it a coaching process or a yoga practice.