Yama ( यमः )

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The meaning of the term Yama (Sanskrit: यम:) is restraint. They are the “don’t dos“ of a person with virtuous life. If every person observes the Yama and Niyama, a better social life can be expected. These Yamas help the mind in progressing to the other limbs of Yoga by reducing and removing the hindrance on the path.

Scriptural Occurrences

Yama as in Yoga science is mentioned in Rigveda (Rigveda, Mandala 5, Sukta 61, verse 2) for the first time.

कव वो ऽशवाः कव्र्भीशवः कथं शेक कथा यय |

पर्ष्ठे सदो नसोर यमः ||

Meaning: Where are your horses? Where are the reins? How have you come? How you had the power? The rein was on the nose and seat was on the back.

Patanjal Yoga Sutras (2.29) enlists Yama as one of the limbs of Ashtanga Yoga as below.

यमनियमासनप्राणायामप्रत्याहारधारणाध्यानसमाधयोऽष्टावङ्गानि ।। २.२९ ।।

yamaniyamAsanaprANAyAmapratyAhAradhAraNAdhyAnasamAdhayo.aShTAva~NgAni || 2.29 ||

Meaning : The 8 limbs of yoga are Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayam, Pratyahar, Dharna, Dhyana, Samadhi.

Further Patanjali mentions the 5 Yamas in Sutra 2.30

अहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहा यमाः ।। २.३० ।।

ahiMsAsatyAsteyabrahmacharyAparigrahA yamAH || 2.30 ||

Meaning : The five Yama as per Patanjali are Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya and Aparigraha. As per other texts the number may vary.

  The 10 Yamas as per Shandilya Upanishad are as below.

"... तत्राहिंसासत्यास्तेयब्रह्मचर्यदयाजप क्षमाधृतिमिताहारशौचानि चेति यमादश..."

".....tatrAhiMsAsatyAsteyabrahmacharyadayAjapa kShamAdhRRitimitAhArashauchAni cheti yamAdasha..."

Meaning : Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Daya, Japa, Kshama, Dhriti, Mitahara and Aarjava are the 10 Yamas.

Shandilya Upanishad Verse 1. (https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_upanishhat/shandilya.html)

Bhagvad Gita mentions Yamas is below verses from Chapter 17. (The Bhagavad Gita or The Song Divine. Gita Press, Gorakhpur).

देवद्विजगुरुप्राज्ञपूजनं शौचमार्जवम् |

ब्रह्मचर्यमहिंसा च शारीरं तप उच्यते || १७.१४||

devadvijaguruprAj~napUjanaM shauchamArjavam |

brahmacharyamahiMsA cha shArIraM tapa uchyate || 17.14||

Meaning : "Worship Of gods, the Brahmanas, one's guru, elders and wise-men, purity, straightforwardness, continence and non-violence these are called penance of the body. (14) "

अनुद्वेगकरं वाक्यं सत्यं प्रियहितं च यत् |

स्वाध्यायाभ्यसनं चैव वाङ्मयं तप उच्यते || १७.१५||

anudvegakaraM vAkyaM satyaM priyahitaM cha yat |

svAdhyAyAbhyasanaM chaiva vA~NmayaM tapa uchyate || 17.15||

Meaning : "Words which cause no annoyance to others and are truthful, agreeable and beneficial, as well as the study of the Vedas and other Shastras and the practice of the chanting of Divine Name this is known as penance of speech. (15) "

Some texts interpret Yama differently hence they consider some Niyama as Yama and vice versa.

Why Yamas are required?

Yamas are the don’t dos for any person.

a. Below are instructions by Swami Sivananda in regards to Yama.

“4. Dietetic Discipline: Take Sattvic food, Suddha Ahara. Give up chillies, tamarind, garlic, onion, sour articles, oil, mustard, asafoetida. Observe moderation in diet (Mitahara). Do not overload the stomach. Give up those things which the mind likes best for a fortnight in a year. Eat simple food. Milk and fruits help concentration. Take food as medicine to keep the life going. Eating for enjoyment is sin. Give up salt and sugar for a month. You must be able to live on rice, Dhal and bread without any chutni. Do not ask for extra salt for Dhal and sugar for tea, coffee or milk.”

“14. Speak the truth at all cost. Speak a little. Speak sweetly”

“16. Never hurt anybody: Never hurt anybody (Ahimsa Paramo Dharmah). Control anger by love. Kshama (forgiveness and Daya (compassion).”

(Audio in voice of Swami Sivananda -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfiOYaVksvE) Courtesy : "Divine Life Society of South Africa" Channel.

b. Below are details by Sri Aurobindo in regards to Yama.

“The first are rules of moral self-control in conduct such as truth-speaking, abstinence from injury or killing, from theft etc.; but in reality these must be regarded as merely certain main indications of the general need of moral self-control and purity. Yama is, more largely, any self-discipline by which the rajasic egoism and its passions and desires in the human being are conquered and quieted into perfect cessation. The object is to create a moral calm, a void of the passions, and so prepare for the death of egoism in the rajasic human being. “

Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga”, Chapter 28 - Rajayoga, page 539

c. Osho also discourses about Yama in his talks.

Discourse given on 5th July 1975 as Osho Ashram, Pune. Osho, Patanjali Yoga Sutra - Part 3, page 85-86, 1994 edition.

" ‘यम’ का अर्थ अंग्रेजी में होता है सेल्फ—रेस्ट्रेट। अंग्रेजी में शब्द थोड़ा अलग हो जाता है। असल में थोड़ा अलग नहीं, ‘यम’ का सारा अर्थ ही खो जाता है। क्योंकि सेल्फ—रेस्ट्रेंट निषेध जैसा, दमन जैसा मालूम पड़ता है। और ये दो शब्द दमन और निषेध, फ्रायड के बाद बड़े भद्दे शब्द हो गए हैं, कुरूप हो गए हैं। यम दमन नहीं है। उन दिनों जब पतंजलि ने ‘यम’ शब्द का प्रयोग किया, तो उसका बिलकुल अलग ही अर्थ था। शब्द बदलते रहते हैं। अब भारत में भी संयम शब्द, जो कि ‘यम’ से आता है, उसका अर्थ नियंत्रण, दमन हो गया है। अब मूल अर्थ खो गया है।"

References

  1. Rigveda (Rigveda, Mandala 5, Sukta 61, verse 2)
  2. Shandilya Upanishad Verse 1. (https://sanskritdocuments.org/doc_upanishhat/shandilya.html)
  3. Patanjal Yoga Sutras (2.29)
  4. (The Bhagavad Gita or The Song Divine. Gita Press, Gorakhpur).
  5. (Audio in voice of Swami Sivananda -  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dfiOYaVksvE) Courtesy : "Divine Life Society of South Africa" Channel.
  6. Sri Aurobindo, The Synthesis of Yoga”, Chapter 28 - Rajayoga, page 539
  7. Osho Ashram, Pune. Osho, Patanjali Yoga Sutra - Part 3, page 85-86, 1994 edition.