Out of such chaos, of such contradiction / We learn that we are neither devils nor divines…
– MAYA ANGELOU –
There’s some skill involved in cultivating a decisive attitude towards ourselves and our actions in the world. Knowing when we have enough and learning when to stop takes a discerning mind, especially if we’re on a path of pleasure. When we’re on a path that proves rewarding, even if the reward comes at a great cost, it requires discipline and discernment to examine the cause and effect of our actions. Temperance is a virtue and the best advice may be a lesson in self-restraint.
Greed is a character trait formed through repetition unlike our emotions which are instinctual. Habits rule our world, equal in thought and action, and when left unchecked something that started out as a necessity may shift into a possessiveness as the habit persists. Our past impressions and conditioning may inform our impulse for greed, consuming like the Hungry Ghosts who wallow in attachment and addiction.
I’ve experienced many moments of greed. A more recent example occured when I was asked to examine how much I worked in respect to how much I needed to survive. At the time, I was teaching upwards of 20 yoga classes per week and saying yes to as many subbing opportunities as I could. I didn’t have a day off and kept telling myself that what I was doing was necessary to learn and build on my skills as a yoga teacher. When I examined my lifestyle I felt the grips of grasping as I inquired into why I worked so much. The pivotal moment in my observation occurred when a cold-shot of fear plunged through my lower belly and I heard a little voice say: what will you do with all of your time if you’re not working?! In manufacturing a routine where I could do what I enjoyed and earn money to supplement my lifestyle, I had stunted my inner growth by not questioning my habit of simply saying yes to more work. My habit formed from an unconscious and unexamined inner fear. It was easier for me to stick to my comfort zone of always working. My fear was linked to questions of my identity and how I would fill my time. The uncertainty and letting go of this habit created a fear that needed to be questioned and challenged.
It’s important for us to reassess our life choices and question if they are continuing to serve us. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a sacred text for yogis, offers a code of ethics to live by known as the yamas and niyamas. The Yamas are observances to practice with the world around you and the Niyamas are observances on how to maintain a pure body and mind. Together, these two limbs set the foundation for the student who wishes to pursue yoga as a means to enlightenment and attain a higher consciousness. In working with the Yamas and Niyamas, the student begins to observe the self and work toward self discipline in cultivating positive and productive lifestyle choices that serve the community as a whole.
Aparigraha and the Yamas of Yoga
A man who found a magic cup learned that if he wept into the cup, his tears turned into pearls. But even though he had always been poor, he was a happy man and rarely shed a tear. So he found ways to make himself sad so that his tears could make him rich. As the pearls piled up, so did his greed grow.
– Khaled Hosseini
Aparigraha is one of the five Yamas. The Sanskrit word aparigraha contains the word ‘parigraha’ which means to amass, crave, seize, or receive material goods from others. Parigraha would translate to the idea of hoarding, greed, and possessiveness. Adding ‘a’ at the beginning of a Sanskrit word negates the word and means the opposite, so aparigraha is the idea of taking only that which is necessary and no more. It’s a practice of receiving gifts with discernment and letting go of the excess.
Greed is not only expressed in terms of lust through material objects. For example, if you’re late to meet a friend for dinner, you’ve hoarded some of your friend’s precious time. Respect for others and their time, managing your time, and honouring your commitments is a practice of aparigraha.
When observing/practicing aparigraha, we have the opportunity to reflect on what we are lusting after, what we are holding onto and how these attachments may be hindering ourselves or harming others. Examining our attachments gives us the chance to go deeper into what our underlying fears may be. When I examined my attachment to work, I realized how my need to work all the time came from a deep-seated fear of not knowing to fill my time.
The Five Yamas of Yoga
Ahimsa – nonviolence in thought, word, or deed
This is a practice of non-harming towards self and others through any physical, mental, or emotional violence that we create. To work with ahimsa, one may practice accepting things for what they are and work with the concept of compassion to approach things with an open heart and concern for others and the environment.
Satya – truthfulness
This is a practice of living and speaking truth at all times. Gossip, assumptions, and lies are the opposite of living with satya. One may speak from a place of honesty and act with integrity when honouring satya.
Asteya – freedom from avarice
This is a practice of abstinence from stealing and taking what doesn’t belong to you or what is not freely given. Generosity and rejecting oppression, social injustice, and exploitation are ways to honor asteya.
Brahmacharya – control of sensual pleasure
This is a practice of continence in controlling our physical impulses for pleasure through attachment and addiction. When we break the bond of attachment we develop more courage and confidence in ourselves. To live a life of balance is to free the self of addiction through pleasure-seeking activities. Brahmacharya sometimes translates to the idea of celibacy but this practice can be one of moderation to conserve our energy.
Aparigraha – freedom from covetousness and possession beyond one’s needs
This is a practice of letting go of what no longer serves and any excess. Taking only what is necessary and observing how our habits inform our lives would honour aparigraha.
More on how to work with the Yamas, here.
Observer of Obstacles
Mantras are to be recited together. Mantras are an instrument to please the celestial deities.
– Dada Bhagwan
Ganesha (aka Ganapati), the elephant-headed god, is known as the Lord of Obstacles in Hindu mythology. Ganesha is the one who removes obstacles from the path and also places them the obstacles in our path that we need to deal with. Ganesha is also worshipped as the god of new beginnings and prayed to before taking on anything new projects or goals.
Working with Ganesha allows us to contemplate where we are on our path and what we continue to encounter. Through mantra, we can call upon the archetype of Ganesha to help us gain clarity on what we may not be seeing or learning from our obstacles.
Making Space for Inquiry and Forgiveness
All of your unfulfilled desires are from your greed for gain of fulfillments.
Let go of them all and they will be sent as gifts.
When we ask the hard questions and allow space for the answers to come to us instead of pushing for a desired result, we may see things we missed in our motives. The world is cycling through an era of personal gain. The little black mirror has us locked in a very small reality where greed may get the better of generosity. When we inquire into how our actions affect others we might be able to slay that monster of greed and work towards the betterment of humankind on a global scale. It can be disquieting to sit with the greed expressed in the Americas and the devastation that results in those exploited countries that gave birth to the wealth in the west. And yet there’s always space for forgiveness and acceptance of the past.
In order to shift our narrative we must own our actions and acknowledge the insatiable greed that’s unleashed in the world. Through our practice of inquiry, forgiveness, and living by a code of ethics (niyamasa), we can own our actions. We can break our unconscious patterns and hopefully inspire others to do the same.
Change starts with us.