In yoga there’s a lot of stress on morals and ethics. Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras points to the yamas (self-restraints) and niyamas (observances). They are:

Yamas:

1) Ahimsa: non-violence, non-injury, harmlessness;

2) Satya: truthfulness, honesty;

3) Asteya: non-stealing, honesty;

4) Brahmacharya: sexual continence in word, thought, and deed.

5) Aparigraha: non-possessiveness, non-greed, non-selfishness, non-acquisitiveness.

Niyamas:

1) Shaucha: purity, cleanliness;

2) Santosha: contentment, peacefulness;

3) Tapas: austerity, spiritual disciplines;

4) Swadhyaya: study and recitation of scriptures, self-study;

5) Ishwarapranidhana: complete surrender to God.

Unlike conventional religions, morality in yoga is not tied to the concept of being rewarded with a place in heaven by a distant, transcendent God. Nor, like in Protestantism, is morality enforced as a badge of honour. At the far end of the spectrum, for the atheist morality is simply a code of conduct designed to control the masses – a type of social engineering. So what’s the function of morality in yoga?

The observance of morals from a yogic perspective is quite different. At first, it’s a conscious choice that has to be practiced. We choose to behave in this or that way. Choice always presupposes the application of willpower. But in yoga, morality ultimately becomes an automatic behavior that springs naturally from the attainment of Self-awareness. Put differently, the practice of morals, in the beginning, is just an imitation of the natural flow of moral action that occurs once we attain or near Self-realization. Nevertheless, the practice of morals is essential in order to create the right mental climate of calmness and stability that supports the unfolding of our consciousness.

What yogins have discovered is that practicing discipline and restraint yields deep peace of mind.

Ultimately, though, perfection in moral behaviour as listed in the yamas and niyamas is a sign that Self-realization is near because Self-awareness means seeing everything as our own Self. By this, I mean a literal experiencing of everything and everyone as our own Self, not an intellectual position. So just as we know that our ten fingers belong to us, we know that every object is also us. (Naturally, a person doesn’t harm themselves unless there’s a mental imbalance. We don’t cut off our own fingers.)

In the same way, once we attain a higher state of awareness, we realize (re-cognize) that the universe is literally in us, and we naturally behave in a way that is harmonious with our surroundings. Conversely, the more we see ourselves as a separate individual, the easier it is to perform actions that are injurious to others. This is, of course, the “original sin”: to see ourselves as separate from others, to see ourselves as a finite being.

Accordingly, the willful practice of morality is an imitation of what will flow naturally in the end. Ethical behaviour positions the mind to move from a sense of individuality to the experience of universal being. It’s a vital aspect of practicing that we are in everything and that everything is in us. In this way, the final purpose of ethics and morality is to cultivate strength of awareness.

As always, though, the observance of morals is there to support our meditation practice, which is where the real transformation of consciousness occurs. Even if we exhaust ourselves practicing morals, we won’t move an inch toward true Self-awareness unless we meditate. In fact, we might experience harm, because the self-control and austerity required to perfect certain limbs of morality cannot operate in a vacuum. They have to be supported by the peace and bliss of meditation. Otherwise, it’ll lead to repression which might manifest as a mental imbalance, which in turn can cause depression or disease. This is particularly true when trying to control one’s sexual energy (sexual abuse within the Catholic church comes to mind).

Ethics and morality are integral to deep meditation, so we must make a conscious effort to observe them. The beauty is that if we meditate daily with an open and tender heart, all the virtues and morals will begin to flow naturally as our sense of being expands beyond the confines of our ordinary desires.

Om Shanti
Andres Pelenur

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