Yama and Niyama are Ethico-Religious Principles
1. It is a prevalent misconception in yoga that yama and niyama are moral and ethical practices suggested by Patanjali.
Patanjali is not suggesting “nots” [restraints, such as non-harming]…. If both you and I could stipulate moral, legal, and ethical practices, why would we need Patanjali? Therefore, Patanjali is not suggesting that moral and ethical principles are the first step in yoga.
The fact of the matter is, if we want to be good human beings, each and every one of us should practice moral and ethical principles. If we don’t practice those, we are nothing but two-footed animals. The moral and ethical practices keep us human — whether or not we practice yoga….
2. Then, why does Patanjali mention yama and niyama, the restraints and observances? The five yamas and five niyamas are normative principles that anyone can suggest….
In the conventions of the Indian philosophical system — darshana (viewpoints) — there are set [topics] on which an expounder must delineate.
Patanjali has offered the basic principles of sadhana (practice). The whole of ashtanga yoga is termed dharma niti (moral duty; code of conduct) — achar dharma niti pranali (ethico-religious principles and practices). The ethico-religious practices include all eight aspects of ashtanga yoga, not just yama and niyama. Asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi are also included.
3. All of the normative philosophers have suggested that yama and niyama are moral and ethical principles that must be practiced, but do we really practice them? Can we really practice them?
[However,] we don’t need Patanjali to say that we must practice moral and ethical principles. Even if we are engaged in the practicalities… of life, and not practicing yoga, we still must practice the moral and ethical principles. That is the signature condition of a good human being….
4. What is an ethico-religious system? In [Indian thought] we have philosophy — tattva jnana (knowledge of principles of prakrti), and dharma.
Even the other [five orthodox] philosophical systems [darshanas]— Samkhya (founded by) Kapila, Nyaya (founded by) Gautama, Vaisheshika (founded by) Kanada, and Mimamsa (founded by) Jaimini — mention… achar dharma niti pranali (ethico-religious principles and practices).
Dharma may be [translated] as religion in English, but that is not a proper translation because it is misleading.
5. All of the limbs [anga], from yama to samadhi, are ethico-religious principles that are integral aspects of yoga…. Moral and ethical principles are not only to be practiced in social situations. When you are doing yoga in isolation, there are yamas and niyamas in all the aspects of yoga.
Usually we bother with what is correct in asana and pranayama. But how do the yamas and niyamas manifest in asana and pranayama, dhyana (meditation), and japa (mantra)?
Guruji made it a point to explain… yama and niyama. — ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigrahah yamah in Trikonasana. Saucha santosha tapah svadhyaya Ishvara pranidhana niyama in Tadasana.
We [fail to grasp] that yama and niyama [exist] in [ashtanga yoga from] asana and pranayama… up to samadhi, [even if] they manifest differently.
[How does] morality in the workplace differ from morality within the family? Business [codes of] ethics [don’t apply] to home life….
Similarly, yama and niyama manifest differently in asana, pranayama, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi….
What is Dharma? +12.00
1. Philosophy in the Indian system divulges reality. A human being should seek that reality.
What is dharma? Dharma is that which helps one realize what philosophy divulges, what tattva jnana (knowledge of principles of prakrti) divulges…. All the practices of yoga, on any plane — body, mind, breath, senses, organs, emotions, psyche, consciousness, intellect — [aim at] drk (revelation) tattva (principles of prakrti) and the realization of the truth. Dharma helps one realize those realities only divulged in philosophy.
That’s why dharma and tattva jnana (knowledge of principles of prakrti) are two of the major considerations in the Indian philosophical system.
2. What is tattva jnana (knowledge of principles of prakrti)? What are the realities? Absolute realities? Relative realities? Ultimate realities? Dharma [helps] realize them within oneself. That is the purpose of dharma.
The ethico-religious system is inclusive — from ahimsa to asamprajnata samadhi, [including all of the stages of ashtanga yoga].
All are included in achar dharma niti pranali (ethico-religious principles and practices). Achar is conduct. In niti dharma, niti is an ethical code of conduct.
3. What is dharma? Dharma is not religion. [Religion] is a body of faith. You have to have faith in what a religion postulates. Religion is a locus [place] where people invest their faith…. Religion is sustained by its followers….
What about dharma? The etymological meaning, derived from the single letter root dhru (being firm or fixed), is to sustain. Dharma sustains us. We sustain religion. How does dharma do this? Guruji often cited that dharma sustains the person who has fallen, is falling, or is about to fall. Thus it is not proper to translate dharma as religion.
[Others say that] dharma is a cult and religion is not a cult. But dharma is not a cult. [This is because] non-living things are included in dharma. Animals and non-living things don’t have religion. However, they do have dharma because dharma is a wider concept.
4. There is a svabhava (being in the Self; natural state) dharma.
Even inert matter has a guna dharma. There is dharma in the element of earth, the element of water, the element of air, the element of fire, and the element of space. It is their intrinsic characteristic — the earth-ness [i.e., solidity] of earth can never be separated from the element of earth, etc. That is svabhava dharma.
All living creatures have a svabhava (own nature) dharma — insects, worms, birds, animals, etc. If they give up their svabhava dharma, they will cease to exist…. If a cobra gives up its snake-ness, it will perish. If a sparrow gives up its timidity, it will perish. If a sparrow maintains its timidity, it will flourish. The timidity of the sparrow maintains it.
Both inert matter and creatures have dharma, but not religion. Let us not confuse the two.
5. What is dharma for mankind? Dharma is duty-mindedness. You must be aware of duty if you want to be a better human being. You must have a duty-consciousness, and a duty-conscience, [else] you will fall. Each of us has a svabhava dharma, or personalized characteristics, that we live and thrive by.
6. We must adhere to our niyata [fixed] dharma — certain duties [irrespective] of time and space. A good [person] will not compromise that…. It cannot be left aside in any situation, or any scenario. It is what is right for you at any time.
7. Vihita [prescribed] dharma is attending to what is good for me. Hita means good. [But,] sometimes what is right for me is relative — because I am here, this is the right thing for me to do…. This is my duty here and now. Had I not been here, it would have not been my duty…. Man has been given the intelligence to ascertain, “What is my right duty now?”
8. You should know what your absolute bounden duty is [niyata dharma ] in ashtanga yoga…. What is my duty relative to my condition [vihita dharma]? “If I have this condition, then it is my duty to do this. Had my condition differed, I would have identified a different duty.”
We must have this flexibility according to dharma — both what is right, and what is good. We must blend right and good. Merely going for good won’t ultimately be good. Merely going for right won’t ultimately be right. Niyata [fixed good; bounden duty] dharma and vihita [right based of relative facts] dharma must be woven together, as in a cloth fabric, [determined by] both absolute and relative conditions.
Parameters of Yama and Niyama (Summary) +28.00
1. Yama and niyama are not just ethical principles. They are [included] in the entirety of ashtanga yoga. That’s why ashtanga yoga is called an ethico-religious practice. We should reform our ideas about yama and niyama.
2. [Shouldn’t you live] within a moral and ethical framework even when not practicing yoga? If it goes without saying, then why should Patanjali say that? Although all of the other religious [schools] and normative ethical scientists advocated that yama and niyama are moral and ethical principles, Patanjali didn’t want to do that. Reconsider what yama and niyama are.
3. If yama and niyama have to be observed both personally and socially, in asana and in higher practices, what are the parameters of ethics and morality? One parameter [applies to] asana, another to dhyana, meditation.
Only the uneducated construe yama and niyama to be the first step, then asana, then pranayama [and so on]. The entirety of ashtanga yoga is, loosely interpreted in our modern language, an ethico-religious set of principles, although I don’t necessarily approve [of that interpretation].
In the classical language of Sanskrit it is achar dharma niti pranali (ethico-religious principles and practices). Achar is your conduct. How do you conduct yourself when practicing asana, practicing pranayama, practicing dharana, dhyana, and samadhi? How does your conduct differ when on the street, in your home, or when isolated in your own bedroom? Don’t you observe morality and ethics within yourself even when you are isolated?
How Do Karma and Dharma Differ? +32.00
1. Dharma is conduct. Does conduct totally differ from your action? Karma is your action. Conduct provides a cultural framework for your karma. Karma is what you do. Dharma tells you what you should do, what is right [niyata dharma], and what is ultimately good for you (vihita dharma). Whatever you do should be ultimately, if not immediately, good.
2. Guna karma, like guna dharma, is also constituted of your intrinsic [gunas] — sattva, rajas, and tamas…. Your dharma will depend on your disposition, the caliber of your consciousness, and your conscience. A lower caliber of conscience may believe something is right, but when reappraised at a higher caliber of conscience cannot be deemed right…. Karma and dharma are woven together.
3. Dharma is all-pervasive because it sustains us. Karma is incessant. According to the Bhagavad Gita, not a moment passes in akarma, non doing.
Some kind of act is going on even when you are fast asleep. Even if it is not your action, something is acting within you. Your heart, lungs, and autonomic nervous system are functioning. Are you not accountable for their [functioning]…? You can’t say, “I am only responsible for me,” and not what is mine. [In the same way,] parents are responsible for their children….
Karma doesn’t leave you even upon the [verge of] death. The busiest moment of your life is your last breath. At that moment, the balance sheet of your lifetime of karmas is drawn up to decide where you are headed. What will be your eschatological transmigration [upon death]…? Where will that vehicle go…? Even coma and death don’t stop your activity…. Karma doesn’t leave you, if even for a moment.
4. How could we carry out our karma without being sustained by [dharma]? Dharma and karma are [mutually] related, like the warp and weft of woven cloth. Dharma consciousness determines what is right, and what is ultimately good for us. Our karma will be reformed if this consideration is there. Petty things, like selfishness, will not creep in and spoil the karma…. Dharma will not allow that. Therefore, karma and dharma are mutually related and interwoven…. If not properly woven, our lives will not be proper.
5. Achar is conduct. Conduct means what you do. They are related to each other.
 The five yamas and five niyamas are normative principles: Normative (derived from norms) ethics (rules) is the study of the standards for morality of actions. A deontological (obligatory) approach calls for complying with universally-accepted moral duties and rules because they are inherently right. Morals are guided by subjective interpretations of right and wrong that may also be religion-based. Ethical codes differ from religious and legal codes.
 The whole of ashtanga yoga is termed dharma niti (moral duty; code of conduct) — achar dharma niti pranali (ethico-religious principles and practices): Prashant will further define this in the next section entitled “What is Dharma?” Achar is your conduct. Niti is ethicality. Pranali is a channel, or course. For example, pranalika is a channel that distributes prana in the body.
 Even the other [five orthodox] systems [darshanas]— Samkhya (founded by) Kapila…: Although each of these men is credited with founding a specific school, none claimed to originate the teachings. Thus Patanjali is the compiler of the Yoga Sutras.
Uttara Mimamsa, or Vedanta — which consists of the study of the Upanishads — is said to spring from Purva Mimamsa. Its three major schools were founded by Sankara, Ramanuja, and Madhava.
 PYS II.30 | ahimsa satya asteya brahmacharya aparigrahah yamah | Non violence, truth, non stealing, continence, non possessiveness are the self- restraints.
PYS II.32 | saucha santosha tapah svadhyaya Ishvara pranidhanani niyamah | Cleanliness, contentment, self discipline, self study, self surrender to God are the observances.
See B.K.S. Iyengar & The Dalai Lama: Paths to Happiness +30:40 — 43:30: Guruji B.K.S. Iyengar explained how the ethical precepts of yama and the disciplines of niyama could be expressed in Utthita Hasta Padasana and Utthita Trikonasana.
 The etymological meaning, from the single letter root dhru (being firm or fixed), is to sustain: It connotes a sense of stability (sthairya) that is also found in the very definition of asana. dharma: √dhr (to hold) = attributes, conditions, and processes; characteristics; conditions VB II.17; merit, virtue Misra II.18; duty.
 Dharma sustains the person who has fallen, is falling, or is about to fall: Dharma is said to uphold the fallen…. Upholds places a greater emphasis on support whereas sustain emphasizes duration.
 [Others say that] dharma is a cult and religion is not a cult. But dharma is not a cult: After stating that dharma is not a religion, Prashant now refutes this second supposition. He first has presented an unattributed view, one that he actually disagrees with. He then refuted it with his own view.
 svabhava (being in the Self; natural state) dharma: Svabhava is also a vernacular term that indicates a person’s nature. See also svadharma in Bhagavad Gita III.35: Better is sva-dharma (“one’s own duty”), though devoid of merit, than para-dharma (“duty of another”) well performed. Better is death in sva-dharma; para-dharma is fraught with fear.
 According to the Bhagavad Gita, not a moment passes in akarma, non doing: Bhagavad Gita III.5 Indeed none can exist even for an instant, without performing action; for everyone is made to act, even against his will, by the gunas born of prakrti.