Most important Yama

Nonviolent expressions of the Dharma, vegetarian debate
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Most important Yama

Post by Nicholas » Fri Aug 30, 2019 1:49 pm

Excerpt from Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Edwin Bryant translator & editor:
II.30 ahiṁsā-satyāsteya-brahmacaryāparigrahā yamāḥ

ahiṁsā, nonviolence; satya, truthfulness; asteya, refraining from stealing;
brahmacarya, celibacy; aparigrahāḥ, refrainment from acquisition or coveting;
yamāḥ, the abstentions

The yamas are nonviolence, truthfulness, refrainment from stealing,
celibacy, and renunciation of [unnecessary] possessions.

From the five yamas listed here, ahiṁsā, nonviolence, the principal motto of Gandhi’s
noncooperation approach, is the yama singled out by the commentators and Patañjali for
special attention. In traditional methods of scriptural interpretation, introductory (and
concluding) statements carry more weight than other statements. Ahiṁsā is the most
important yama, say the commentators, and therefore leads the list. (It seems important to
note that the yamas themselves lead the list of the eight limbs, suggesting that one’s yogic
accomplishment remains limited until the yamas are internalized and put into practice.)

Vyāsa accordingly takes ahiṁsā as the root of the other yamas. He defines it as not
injuring any living creature anywhere at any time. Just as the footprints of an elephant
cover the footprints of all other creatures, says Vijñānabhikṣu, so does ahiṁsā cover all the
other yamas. According to Vyāsa, the goal of the other yamas is to achieve ahiṁsā and
enhance it, and he quotes an unidentified verse stating that one continues to undertake
more and more vows and austerities for the sole purpose of purifying ahiṁsā.

Although ahiṁsā has been defined by Vyāsa as not harming any creature anywhere at any
time, one must continue to perform one’s dharma, duty, cautions Vijñānabhikṣu, even
though it is impossible to avoid harming tiny living entities such as bacteria or insects when
one engages in activities such as bathing or cleaning. Nonetheless, one must strive as far as
possible to avoid harming even an insect. Certainly, one can be very clear about the fact
that eating meat, nourishing one’s body at the expense of the flesh of other living beings, is
completely taboo for aspiring yogīs. One should avoid harming even trees, says
Hariharānanda. Manu, who composed the primary dharmaśāstra, law book, in classical
India, states, “To protect living creatures one should inspect the ground constantly as one
walks, by night or day, because of the risk of grievous bodily harm” (VI.69)...

A sāttvic person is empathetic and compassionate toward other embodied beings and
would never countenance inflicting violence upon them, what to speak of eating their flesh.
Moreover, being insightful, such a person understands the kārmic consequence of violent
actions, as will be indicated in II.34: Any involvement in violent acts of any kind requires
that the perpetrator be subjected to the same violence at some future time as kārmic
consequence. Moreover, inflicting violence is a quality of tamas, and thus eating meat
increases the tāmasic potential of the citta, further enhancing ignorance. A vegetarian diet is
nonnegotiable for yogīs.

Nonviolence, Hariharānanda continues, also encompasses giving up the spirit of malice
and hatred, since these produce the tendencies to injure others. This includes avoiding
violence in the form of harsh words, or causing fear in others. Ahiṁsā must be followed in
thought, deed, and word, says Śaṅkara. The degree of violence is determined by intent—
acts of violence performed without malice and hatred by a normal person, he notes, such as
self-defense or cutting the grass, are not the same as murdering one’s parents in cold blood.
But yogīs avoid even retaliating in self-defense against an attacker, he says, and will shoo
off a snake rather than kill it, and thus attempt to inflict as little aggression as possible on
their environments.
May all seek, find and follow the Path of selflessness.

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Re: Most important Yama

Post by Nicholas » Sat Aug 31, 2019 4:29 pm

Probably an older text is the Laws of Manu. From chapter five:
[45] Whoever does violence to harmless creatures out of a wish for his own happiness
does not increase his happiness anywhere, neither when he is alive nor when he is dead.
[46] But if someone does not desire to inflict on creatures with the breath of life the
sufferings of being tied up and slaughtered, but wishes to do what is best for everyone,
he experiences pleasure without end. [47] A man who does no violence to anything
obtains, effortlessly, what he thinks about, what he does, and what he takes delight in.
[48] You can never get meat without violence to creatures with the breath of life, and
the killing of creatures with the breath of life does not get you to heaven; therefore you
should not eat meat. [49] Anyone who looks carefully at the source of meat, and at the
tying up and slaughter of embodied creatures, should turn back from eating any meat.

[50] A man who does not behave like the flesh-eating ghouls and does not eat meat
becomes dear to people and is not tortured by diseases. [51] The one who gives
permission, the one who butchers, the one who slaughters, and the one who buys and
sells, the one who prepares it, the one who serves it, and the eater – they are killers.
May all seek, find and follow the Path of selflessness.

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