Great societies of the past and present have put their emphasis on cherishing moral and ethical values, may it be in ancient Egypt, Greece, Rome or modern Europe. It is only once you respect those basic principles that you can successfully start your journey to realise your true self.
When you start an intense journey inwards without setting a stable foundation, imbalances may emerge sooner or later. It is thus very important to move slow, step by step and to let the change happen on its own. As a wonderful example, take the time to observe the opening of a lotus flower – a symbol of peace and serenity. Its movements are so subtle and the change can only be seen after a long time of patient watching. It takes up to 3 hours for a lotus flower to open and close every day.
What preconditions are necessary for setting a stable foundation?
It is recommended that 10 conditions mentioned below are observed and practised previous to starting any kind of deep transformational spiritual practice. For those who only wish to increase conscious living, it is enough to be aware of them and to practice them whenever possible or when you remember.
Five Yamas or External Conditions
Yamas represent the way you behave and relate to the outside world. It is important to consider all levels of their practice – actions, words and thoughts.
1. Ahimsa or non-violence – neither in actions, speech or thought.
Before you get into a discussion on killing mosquitoes, let's think about you and your actions towards yourself. Take time and be honest – how violent is your mind and how many times have you have hurt your own body when you have judged, complained or talked negatively about yourself? It is actually at this level, that non-violence starts to be practised.
Personal Experience of Ahimsa:
Whilst living in India, I learned to be compassionate and loving towards all kinds of creatures sharing my living space. One day, I consciously took the time to observe a long line of ants passing through my entire flat from the entrance to the kitchen. Observing them made me laugh and I made a silly joke that it was a secret police force checking on why we cancelled the party and stayed in the flat. By the time the joke was over, the ants were gone. Not reacting and just observing for quite some time, I realised the ants did not disturb anyone in the house as they were just following their path. When we let others live in peace, they leave us in peace as well.
2. Satya or truthfulness.
One of the greatest forms of suffering emerges when you are unable to truthfully confess of being unhappy with the situation or yourself. Instead, you prefer to pretend that everything is OK. It is very important to learn to happily accept reality as it is. When you lie to yourself you start to create a reality and behave in a way, which is completely disconnected from who you truly are. As a result, you become even more unhappy.
Personal Experience of Satya:
As an example observe drug addicts. I knew many people who every day drunk a bottle of beer or smoked something, yet they were very sure they were not addicted. They themselves believed they had a complete control over their habits and if needed they could stop today. Yet this day never came. Many completely failed in their life, some realised the lies they told daily to themselves and made a change. It is the same with other things in your life, like for example taking time for yourself, eating healthy food, going to bed early. Every day you lie to yourself that it is not too bad and you could change it, yet do you? Despite being certain you like the way you live, deep inside you might feel unhappy. Have a check.
3. Asteya or not desiring what others have.
Observe, how many times a day you start comparing yourself with others? What is the consequence of this behaviour? Indeed, when you compare yourself with others, you forget about your true self. Moreover, you start to judge, create emotions of anger, hatred, jealousy or even guilt. Thus, in such moments when those feelings emerge, it is important to stop comparing and to connect back to yourself and to the here and now, realising that actually, you are perfect as you are.
Personal Experience for Asteya:
Whilst visiting and living in many Ashrams across the world, I had a chance to observe many devotees of spiritual Gurus. Many times people completely lost the footing beneath their feet due to their adoration of their masters. Often the masters were being worshipped as gods. When a master was present people were unable to think, their minds were confused, they were running after the master, begging him to save them or asking questions about their future. It is important to keep in mind, that no matter how great the characteristics are of the person you adore, they will only be obtainable to you when you are able to immerse in your true self, which then results in strength, peace of mind and mastery.
4. Brahmacharya or being able to let go of attachments, addictions and to maintain balanced.
This does not mean that you have to leave everything and hide all alone in a cave. Brahmacharya teaches you to control the elements and needs in your bodies. When you develop continence, less vital energy is being lost and you can create more in life. Yet any kind of suppression or repression of natural urges may result in greater frustration as well as abnormal states of mind. It is thus all about the balance and proper control to use your force for the right things at the right time.
Personal Experience of Brahmacharya:
One night, whilst living in the Indian jungle, I woke up with the loud sound of falling trees around me. The whole forest around me was on fire. Yet, there was nothing I could do but to observe it until eventually it had all burned down and the fire stopped. After the next rainfall, new plants started to grow and everything sprung back into life. Similarly, when you are unable to control your senses and your vital life energy, the fire in your body turns wild burning and damaging your body until you learn from it and start to grow again. Yet when the fire is treated properly, it becomes a source of creation of wonderful new things without burning down the ground first.
5. Aparigraga or non-possessiveness is encouraging you not to be greedy for the things you do not need.
It teaches you to have only as many things as you truly need. By having the understanding that all of our possessions have been loaned to you and do not belong to you, will liberate you, making your minds free and still. Moreover, learning to be free from identifying with things as yours, you become more relaxed and finally more successful in your life as you stop worrying about the results of your achievements.
Personal Experience of Aparigraha:
For a while, I had a chance to live with very famous and rich people. They had so many possessions that for each of them they had to employ people to manage them. Their life finally evolved around ensuring everything they possessed was impeccable, travelling from one house to the other, end even employing people to check the employees and their work. They were living in constant fear about their possessions, rather than enjoying their life fully. Having too much or more than you can manage yourself results in more responsibilities and less freedom. When you use only as much as you actually need then you have more freedom and can enjoy life much more.
Five Niyamas or Internal Conditions
Niyamas teach you how to create a positive environment within yourself – influencing your body, mind and spirit.
1. Saucha or purity of body, mind and spirit.
In particular, the purity of your thoughts needs to be addressed here. Your mind becomes pure when you are able to be aware of your thoughts at all the times, discriminating between positive and negative thoughts, yet not getting involved with any of them. Neither attachment to positive thoughts nor aversion to negative thoughts but equanimity at all times.
Personal Experience of Saucha:
During one of my 10 days of silence, I started to observe how my thoughts passing by, started to become more and more negative. Although by the end of the silence the negativity I observed in my thoughts diminished, my first sentence I spoke out loud was negative. After an unbiased observation of my sentences, sending love to myself and my thoughts, knowing my true nature was pure and what I expressed were only my thought patterns, slowly a change happened. The negativity in my thoughts and my life became much much less. My mind learned a new thought pattern, which was positivity.
2. Samtosha or satisfaction and contentment no matter what happens in our life.
To be able to develop this characteristic, the best practice is selfless action. Doing at least one thing a day without any expectations of rewards will change you as a person completely. Being more content generally results in an effortless and simple life, you are able to flow in joy with whatever comes your way.
Personal Experience of Samtosha:
For many years I felt a need to create great things to be seen, noticed and appreciated. Yet, no matter how successful my actions, I continued to be unhappy. Then, as I finally decided to let go of my expectations with regards to money and compliments and just did my best to make others happy, a change happened. Although, I did not have any expectations I got much more than ever before. This positive experience made me completely change my way of thinking and functioning. I am now a much happier person.
3. Tapas or practising techniques for improved control of our senses.
Although ancient yogis engaged in huge austerities, fasting for many weeks and practising intense techniques, this is not what this condition is about. It encourages you to engage in a healthy practice, revitalising your body, mind and spirit according to your own capacities. Leading a simple life, connecting with nature, respecting all human beings, balancing your sexual indulgence, having regulated eating habits, engaging in selfless actions and being present at all the times, no matter what you do, are some of the examples.
Personal Experience of Tapas:
After years of intense practice one day I decided to undertake a scientific test to see what happened in my body during meditation practice. To my surprise, the result showed that some of the techniques due to their intensity put too much pressure on my heart. This experience taught me that it is important not to push ourselves into anything but to only practice what feels good and comfortable at that certain point. There are many practices and models, yet the best practice is to observe nature as well as some wise older people and their ways of life. This is the way we may learn and benefit from the most.
4. Svadhyaya or taking time to study stories of great sages that inspire you and help you to make progress.
There is so much wisdom that can be found in those old scripts. However, it is important that you do not blindly follow the scriptures or masters who might save you. Following others just because something worked out for them is an illusion that only brings you away from yourself. Also, it is not enough to read and understand what the scriptures say. What really matters is to experience their content on your own.
Personal Experience of Svadhyaya:
There were times when I felt down and without motivation. It was in those moments that a book of a spiritual master miraculously emerged in front of me. It truly helped to read some positive inspiring words or experiences of someone who went through similar situations. Reading stories filled me with relief as I realised that there was nothing wrong with having a bad day and that being happy was indeed my choice. Just by connecting to the words of someone with a positive attitude, I felt inspired to make a change and move out of my 'down' mood.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana or surrender to the ultimate truth.
It teaches you that no matter what you do, when you do it with full sincerity, faithfulness and dedication you will remain balanced and at peace. Anything you do with expectations or just for the sake of doing it is a loss of time and your energy.
Personal Experience of Ishvara Pranidhana:
Although for most of you it is hard to believe, it is only when you let go of your expectations and let the universe guide you that you are able to fully connect and experience life. In those moments the wall that your mind and your past patterns created between you and the divine grace, breaks down and everything becomes possible. This happened to me during my journey to the source of the river Ganges. Just 500 meters before reaching the source, me and my guide were caught in a snowstorm. It was impossible to continue, so my guide decided that we will have to return back. At first, I felt sadness, but then I let go and surrendered to whatever had to happen. As I turned to the river, gratefully thanking it for inviting me up to where I had reached, the storm stopped, the sun came out and an incredibly beautiful landscape opened up. The way to the source became possible.
Practical Techniques to Become Aware of Yamas & Niyamas
- Take time daily to contemplate about your thoughts, behaviours, actions and just observe what you did, how you reacted and what you have been thinking.
- As you observe yourself start developing compassion towards yourself, your mind and your actions. Do not feel upset or judgemental because you had a negative thought or behaved angrily towards your friend. Even if feelings of sadness, judgement, guilt or anger emerge, just observe them and be patient.
- Give yourself, your thinking and behavioural patterns time, observe how day after day you are getting more and more positive, compassionate towards yourself and the way you treat yourself until one day you will be living life in accordance with Yamas and Niyamas effortlessly.