Aparigraha is one of the moral rules described in the ancient philosophical text, ‘The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali’. In this ancient text, they are called “Yamas” and help regulate your relations with society, gain self-awareness, transform negative energy into positive, and cultivate a deep sense of inner peace.
In this article, I will share with you the essence of aparigraha, different ways to practice it and will explain why it is so important to practice it for your spiritual evolution (especially if you practice yoga asanas).
8 Limbs Of Yoga
Each of the eight limbs of yoga is not easy in their own way. The first two of them, perhaps, are the most important, because they teach psycho-hygienic rules of life. If there is not enough desire, discipline and willpower to make them your way of life, moving on to the next stages is simply meaningless.
The first limb: YAMA
Yama is a set of ethical norms that teach us to communicate with others in the right way. To be brief, it means one thing: treat people the way you want them to treat you.
Second limb: NIYAMA
Third limb: ASANA
Asana means ‘posture’ or ‘pose’. So by saying ‘asanas’ we mean body poses.
Fourth limb: PRANAYAMA
Fifth limb: PRATYAHARA
‘Pratyahara’ means ‘gaining mastery over external influences’.
The purpose of this limb is to achieve a state of the distraction of the senses from the surrounding reality and the circulation of the gaze and consciousness inside of you.
Sixth limb: DHARANA
Dharana means ‘concentration’ or ‘single focus’. By concentrating and abstracting, we get distracted from external ‘noise’. This is how we can calm down our minds, which distracts us from knowing more than we are able to understand.
Seventh limb: DHYANA
Dhyana means ‘contemplation, reflection’ and ‘profound, abstract meditation’. This is the stage of the full development of the properties of meditation and concentration.
Eighth limb: SAMADHI
Samadhi is the highest stage of meditation, in which a person experiences oneness with the universe. In samadhi, the mind becomes still. You become totally aware of the present moment.
In western modern society, we usually associate yoga just with asana practice. We call people ‘yoga instructors’ although all they teach is asanas during their classes. It would be more appropriate to call western yoga instructors ‘asana instructors’ because physical exercises – asanas – are only one of the 8 limbs of yoga. Asanas are the third step of yoga. And before starting the practice of asanas (and other limbs of Ashtanga yoga), it is recommended to establish yourself in compliance with moral and disciplinary regulations (Yama and Niyama), including aparigraha.
This recommendation has an important reason behind it. You see, in the process of performing yoga asanas, we increase the amount of energy. And if we have not learned how to control it, if we do not understand what’s the right way to invest this energy in, then we risk building negative karma.
What Is Yama?
Yama is the second limb of yoga. The 5 Yamas represent a series of “right living” or ethical rules. It means “reining in” or “control”. These are restraints for Proper Conduct as given in the Holy Veda. The 5 Yamas are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals.
The 5 Yamas are:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity or sexual restraint
Now let’s dive deeper into the essence of aparigraha and why it is so important to follow this principle.
What Is Aparigraha?
Aparigraha is the virtue of non-possessiveness, non-grasping or non-greediness. ‘Aparigrah’ is the opposite of ‘parigrah’, and refers to keeping the desire for possessions to what is necessary or important, depending on one’s life stage and context. The precept of aparigraha is self-restraint from the type of greed and avarice where one’s own material gain or happiness comes by hurting, killing or destroying other human beings, life forms or nature.
What’s your real Worth?
We live in an era of hyper-consumption. And we never have enough. It’s not enough to have 2-3 pairs of shoes. We are no longer satisfied with a simple phone model, we need the latest one. We like to surround ourselves with cute (and seemingly necessary) trinkets. Many of us have closets full of clothes that we haven’t worn for several years. And many modern families today own more than one car, apartment, house, or even yacht!
We are not satisfied with public transportation or bicycles – we need cars! We are not satisfied with the suburban house – in addition, we need a vacation house! We can’t wear the same outfit for different special occasions, we feel embarrassed if someone sees us in the same outfit twice. Some of us even are not satisfied with driving and in addition to cars will start buying helicopters and jets. Do we really need all this? Or are we just trying to fill the emptiness inside? Or maybe we are trying to hide our insecurities behind the stuff we surround ourselves with?
People can’t see our souls, our hearts, our ‘shadows’ but they can see the stuff we own so we can make them think that we worth something. But what’s our real worth? Money, gold, success, cars, jets, homes… have nothing to do with who we really are.
We were taught that. We have to make money to fulfill our desires. But is it really necessary? How does the fulfillment of our desires affect us, our beloved ones, our planet, our collective consciousness? Is that new car you’re dreaming about a necessity or simply a way to feel better about yourself, to hide your insecurities, to make people notice you? Does your child need that video game or he’s just trying to escape from this reality? Were those leather shoes you’re dreaming about a product of someone’s death? Do you really want to invest your money in animal cruelty and/or sponsoring someone’s death? These are the questions that need to be answered before you decide to spend your money.
Don’t Be That Monkey!
We all need to realize and accept the fact that our material possessions control us. To understand how this works, I will give an example.
Indian farmers use a special technique of catching the monkeys that were destroying their crops. Because they practiced compassion, shooting or killing the monkeys was not an option. They had to find a way to capture the monkey, and then return it to the jungle.
After observing the monkeys, one farmer found a way. He cut a small hole in a coconut, just big enough so that the monkey could slide its hand through. He put a banana inside the coconut, then tied it to the side of a tree. The monkey came up, smelled the banana, and stuck its hand into the coconut to grab the banana. When it tried to pull its hand out, because his hand was clenched in a fist holding the banana, it did not fit out of the small hole. And because the monkey refused to let go of the banana, the farmer was able to capture it. If the monkey just let go, it would be free.
Interestingly, just like the monkey with the banana, we have a tendency to hold on to things — things that don’t necessarily serve us. And it’s not just our material possessions but also our old habits, behaviors, relationships, the results of asana practice, pleasures, etc.
Unfortunately, attachment is a very natural part of modern people’s life. But sometimes those things that we’re attached to are the very things that hold us back, even causing pain in our lives.
This is What Happens When You Don’t Practice Aparigraha
Everything that belongs to us is supported by our energy. And this applies to anything, even the smallest thing that we own. Yes, you read it right – we basically give our energy to every little thing we own – books, statuettes, decorative items, shoes, clothes, cars, etc. Thus, when we don’t follow aparigraha principle we lose our vital energy.
If you’ve ever done decluttering in your house you probably understand what it’s about. Usually, after decluttering people start feeling happier, more inspired and energized.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali points out that following the Aparigraha principle allows us to gain knowledge of past incarnations and the next rebirths.
How To Practice Aparigraha?
Now that you realize how important it is to follow the Aparigraha principle you may wonder: “How can I practice Aparigraha living in modern society?”. Here are some ways you can do it!
#1 Get rid of unnecessary things
Start with decluttering! Get rid of everything you don’t use anymore. Give away the stuff that can be useful for someone, donate the clothes that don’t fit you or you just don’t like anymore, donate books to the libraries, etc. Make sure you give away the stuff that can be still used by someone in need and throw away the rest.
#2 Inner yoga practice
Yes, yoga is not just asanas but also a deep inner work aimed at self-discovery and self-transformation. Internal yoga practices will help clear the mind of ignorance, misconceptions, misunderstandings, incorrect knowledge (Avidya). Avidya is a state in which we take “the non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure, evil for good and non-self as self”. It is not just ignorance, but ignorance of its true nature. It is Avidya that prevents us from achieving ultimate success in spiritual practice.
Therefore, it’s essential to make time for meditations and introspective work.
#3 Cultivate awareness
When inappropriate thoughts disturb the mind, you should focus on what is opposite to them. For example, a sudden desire to act rudely or encourage or accept rude actions should be restrained by awareness of harmful consequences. Very often such actions are reflections of our anger, greed, or biased judgment. Regardless of our motives, awareness of such consequences can prevent such actions.
#4 Always keep in mind the importance of Aparigraha
You should always remember the impermanence of all things. Nothing in this world belongs to us. Treat everything material that you have as tools that are given to us by Higher Powers to achieve the higher goals and complete our spiritual mission. At the same time, make sure you are not falling into extremes and fanaticism: a car, a house, a computer, a phone — all this can be used for the benefit of the development of this world. It is important not to be tied to these benefits of civilization but to use them as practical tools for accomplishing your higher goals. And if you lose something material make sure you’re easily letting it go.
#5 Trust the Universe
‘Trusting the Universe‘ means understanding and accepting the fact that we already have everything we need and we will have everything we really need. Be grateful for what you have even if you have very little.
The Bottom Line
Aparigraha is an essential yoga practice that should become a part of your life principle if you consider yourself following a yoga path. The practice of non-possessiveness will help you to examine your assumptions and will guide you back to healthy relationships with others.