Done Not Doing

The first limb of yoga hands us a list of 5 things we ought not to be doing. They’re all pretty logical:   please don’t harm; don’t steal; don’t lie; don’t overindulge; and don’t hoard.

Hidden in the meanings of each is the fact that we must first not do these things to ourselves. Not in thought, word or deed. Do not think harmful thoughts toward yourself or another. Do not speak harmful words about, or to, yourself, or about, or to, another. And, certainly don’t commit any harmful acts to yourself or another. And so on.

If you can manage all of that on the first Yama alone – Ahimsa, non-harming – you probably don’t have to invest too much more energy. If we’re devoted to not harming, then it would follow that we’re not likely to commit the other four acts.

But there’s so much more richness to uncover.

As we move beyond the Yamas, we step fully into our second limb – Niyama. These are the 5 tenets we do practice. Purity, Contentment, Discipline, Self-study and Surrender to a higher power.

Without first cleansing the mind with the five yamas, we would only be theorizing about the  five niyamas. How can we cultivate contentment, for instance, if we are still attached to our stuff? How can bring discipline into our lives without first moderating all our appetites? Everything fits neatly together.

All lasting traditions have guidelines to live a functional, kind, life. They are all essentially the same; most begin with abstaining from harming other living beings. It’s not really a lot to ask.

“Before you speak let your words pass through three gates;
At the first gate, ask yourself, “Is it true?”
At the second ask, “Is it necessary?”
At the third gate ask, “Is it kind?”
-Sufi saying