Yogic Guidelines for Conscious Self Development

By Swami Sitaramananda

“Success in the spiritual path is being able to retrain ourselves not to repeat the same pattern of conditioned behaviour which binds us”

“The ideal is reached when there is no more forgetfulness of Self and one relaxes in the Peaceful Being”

A yoga student asks: “What is success when you are on the spiritual path?”

Answer: Success is when we are able to break through the chain of karma. In other words, success is being able to retrain ourselves not to repeat the same pattern of conditioned behaviour which binds us. The reason why we are not happy comes from the fluctuations of the mind and the constant replaying of its unhealthy patterns.

Swami Vishnudevananda said that we will not be born if we are not attached to something. The mind keeps projecting thoughts and emotions that were gained through past experience and reacts to them, thus keeping us bound in the mirage of its own creation. We experience the roller coaster of our mind and emotions and miss out on the rewarding and fulfilling experience of being our own peaceful, loving, happy, blissful Self.

The yoga masters have given us guidelines for conscious self-development that address the root cause of our suffering by consciously correcting the course of our actions. We train ourselves in two ways: On one side guarding ourselves not to misbehave, thus repeating our patterns leading to suffering; and on the other side, actively cultivating positive attitudes and helpful conduct.

In this way we straighten out our mind, squeezing out the impurities from both sides – the “not to do’s” and the “to do’s”. The mind in its pure state is capable of reflecting our beautiful Self or Atman in all situations, in ourselves and others. By puri – fying the mind, we alleviate our ups and downs, our inner turmoil and conflicts, and we feel free. Otherwise we struggle to remember ourselves and spend our energies in distractions and forgetfulness.

The ideal is reached when there is no more forgetfulness of Self and one relaxes in the Peaceful Being. Patanjali Maharishi compiled the Raja Yoga Sutras and presented to the world a summary of the yogic guidelines for conscious self-development. These can help us to correct our thinking, alleviate our sufferings, become clearer in our perceptions of self and others, and bring us closer to Self realization.

These are universal guidelines that, if followed, will improve our lives in the long term and help remove obstacles stemming from our karmic tendencies, character defects, and bad habits. These guidelines address the fundamental egoistic and desiring nature of ourselves. One might find a character defect more dominant than another, but working with one will bring light to the others as well.

No one can be exempt from working on oneself. In the same manner, we expect everyone to follow the rules of traffic, driving on the proper side of the road and observing traffic signals. We would not think, “I am the special one that doesn’t have to follow rules, only others have to, not me.” Our failure to follow guidelines of conduct comes from our ego-idea that we are unique, and therefore free to do what we want.

This comes from not seeing the big picture of our true identity and inter-relatedness to others. The Self is One. The bottom line is that we are one Universal Spirit in myriad expressions. When we fail to understand and live by the truth of this “Unity in Diversity,” we continue treating our brothers and sisters as separate and inferior – or superior – to us, and from that, many problems in human relationships ensue.

By endeavouring to apply these foundational guidelines in life, we elevate ourselves and become happier as our mind becomes clear, simple and equanimous. The Yamas (restrictions) and Niyamas (observances) are to be consciously practiced in thought, word and deed.

Yamas: Restraints (The Things Not to do)

Ahimsa: Ahimsa deals with the emotion of anger. Anger comes from selfish desires or expectations unfulfilled. Selfish desire comes from our failure to recognize our fulfillment in the True Self, and our looking for happiness in external objects or situations. Ahimsa means restraining oneself from the reactive tendency to be angry when one’s desires are not met, or the tendency to abuse others and enter into conflicts or wars. The antidote to anger is contentment or letting go of expectation, accepting that, “It is not my will, but God’s will”. One can act out of dharma-righteousness in the spirit of selflessness without being violent or selfish.

Satya: Satya means truthfulness. It deals with our fear of not meeting our goals, in the eyes of ourselves or others. Fear comes from attachment. We will not be afraid if we do not have any attachment. In truth, we cannot gain or lose anything externally –name, fame, prestige, position or love – because we are already perfect in ourselves and we cannot be greater or smaller than what we already are. Applying Satya, we refrain from the tendency to exaggerate, to manipulate others, or to tell lies in order to achieve an egoistic goal. Sincerity, honesty and straightforwardness will help to simplify and clear the mind, thus achieving inner peace.

Brahmacharya: Brahmacharya is control or sublimation of the sensual and sexual drive and deals with the emotion of lust. Through practicing brahmacharya, we can restrain the tendency to seek sensual pleasures as the goal of life, and to misuse our sexual energy – which is to be converted into spiritual energy. This guideline advises us to avoid sexual misconduct and to regulate our impulses, question our motives, and help reduce the dramas in human interaction that tend to arise from uncontrolled selfish passion. Applying Brahmacharya in our dealings with others, we will be able to transform our emotional and desirous nature into a fulfilling relationship with the Divine, based on devotion and pure love.

Asteya: Asteya means non-stealing or non-covetousness. It deals with our tendency towards jealousy and envy. Observing this guideline will counteract our tendency to give in to our desires, or think that satisfying material desires is the goal of life. It will help us to be content, knowing that what is supposed to come to us by our own karma and merit will come naturally, without our manipulation or intervention.

Aparigraha: Aparigraha means non-accumulation or nonacceptance of bribes. It deals with our tendency towards greed. Observing this guideline counteracts our tendency to think that the more we attain or possess, the more we will be safe and secure. It further guides us not to forfeit our soul to material life, and to cultivate an attitude of detachment towards material possessions. Leading a simple life allows the spirit to remain light, detached and self-reliant. It also helps us in our dealings with others to be strong and free as others can manipulate our weakness by bribery.

Niyamas: Observances (The Things to Observe or to do)

Saucha: Saucha is purity. This observance will help us to counteract impurities in our bodies, minds, and outer environments, and help us come into deeper contact with our true selves. By purifying the emotions and thoughts, which are like coverings over our eyes, we can begin to see more clearly and gain a more true perspective.

Santosha: Santosha is contentment. This practice will help us counteract the tendency to look externally for happiness and become dissatisfied with our lot in life, rather than counting our blessings. Through practicing Santosha, we begin to realize that God’s grace is always with us.

Tapas: Tapas means austerity. This practice will help us to counteract the belief that comforts of the body and mind are the goals of life. It will help us avoid imprisonment in the sensual, limited life that is governed by the mind and the senses. Tapas will help us to assert our supremacy over the mind and emotions, freeing us and giving power back to the spirit.

Swadhyaya: Swadhyaya is the study of scriptures. Doing this will help us to counteract the idea that only what we can see and what people tell us about ourselves is true. The scriptures, on the contrary, tell us of a reality beyond the normal percep – tions and glorify the true Self; they will inspire us in our search for Truth.

Ishwarapranidhana: Ishwarapranidhana means self-surrender to God or a higher power. Self-surrender counteracts our ten – dency to think that we are the best and the top, that we have all the powers and that we are controlling our lives. With this egoistic bent of mind, we do not have to adjust or accept something that is not to our liking, so we blame and resent instead of trying to see the big picture. Practicing self-surrender will help us work through our karmas by practicing acceptance and knowing that everything happens for a reason.

Swami Sitaramananda is a senior disciple of Swami Vishnudevananda and is the director of the Sivananda Ashram Yoga Farm in California, USA. www.sivanandayogafarm.org