Right Conduct: the First Step

Spiritual life is not a light matter. Always regard yourself as a beginner just commencing your sadhana. Never underestimate the importance of yama, niyama and sattwic virtues. They are everything. Self-realization and dharma, righteousness, are inseparable. Man evolves through the practice of dharma according to the situation in life, and eventually attains self-realization, the ultimate goal.

Sadachara or right conduct is the foundation of yoga. Yoga is rooted in virtue. Ethical discipline is very necessary for success in yoga. One should be well established in sadachara right from the beginning of one’s spiritual life. Sadachara is the practice of yama and niyama. Right conduct is superior to all branches of knowledge and the root of all prosperity. It is conduct that begets virtue, and it is virtue that prolongs life.

A person of right conduct has ideals, principles and mottoes. He strictly follows them, removes his weaknesses and defects, develops good conduct and becomes a sattwic individual. He is very careful in behaving with his elders, parents, teachers, acharyas, sisters, brothers, friends, relatives and strangers. He attempts to know what is right and wrong, by approaching the wise and the saintly and studying the scriptures very carefully, and then treads the path of dharma.

Do unto others – the essence of right conduct

An aspirant went to Veda Vyasa and said: “O Maharshi, I am in a dilemma. I cannot properly comprehend the right significance of the term dharma. Some say it is right conduct. Others say that which leads to moksha and happiness is dharma. Anything, any action that brings you down is adharma. I am bewildered. Kindly give me a very easy definition of dharma to enable me to follow dharma in all my actions.”

Maharshi Vyasa replied: “O aspirant! Hear me. I shall suggest an easy method. Always remember the following sayings with great care when you perform any action. ‘Do as you would be done by. Do unto others as you wish others do unto you.’ This is the whole of dharma. Attend to this carefully. You will be saved from all troubles. If you follow these wise maxims, you can never give any pain to others. Practise this in your daily life. Even if you fail one hundred times, it does not matter. Persevere. You will succeed in the attainment of the goal.”

This is a very good maxim. The whole gist is here. If one practises this very carefully, he will not commit any wrong act.

Pursue duty, not pleasure

The first step in right conduct is to reflect upon ourselves, our surroundings and our actions. Before we act we must stop to think. When a man earnestly attends to what he recognizes as his duties, he will progress and in consequence thereof his comfort and prosperity will increase. His pleasures will be more refined; his happiness, enjoyments and recreations will be better and nobler.

Happiness is like a shadow; if pursued it will flee from us, but if a man does not trouble himself about it and strictly attends to his duties, pleasures of the best and noblest kind will crop out everywhere on his path. If he does not anxiously pursue it, happiness will follow him. Apply yourself diligently to daily duties. Consult the scriptures and saints whenever you are in doubt. Build up your character. This will give you success in life. Practise daily to remove old evil habits. Establish virtuous healthy habits daily.

Yama and niyama

Yama and niyama are the two moral backbones of yoga, which the aspirant must practise in his daily life. These correspond roughly to the ten commandments of Jesus or to the noble eight-fold path of Lord Buddha. Practise of yama-niyama will eradicate all impurities of mind.

All aspirants commit mistakes in jumping to samadhi and dhyana as soon as they leave their house without caring a bit for yama and niyama. The mind remains in the same condition although they have practised meditation for fifteen years. They continue to carry the same jealousy, hatred, idea of superiority, pride and egoism. However, when one has ethical perfection, meditation and samadhi come by themselves.

Yama: The practice of yama is the very foundation of yoga, without which the superstructure of yoga cannot be built. Yama is the practice of ahimsa (abstinence from injury and killing), satyam (truthfulness), asteya (abstinence from theft or falsehood), brahmacharya (continence) and aparigraha (abstinence from avariciousness or greed). Patanjali Maharshi mentions the above five chief items for practice in yama. In every religion you will find these ideals. Great emphasis is laid in every chapter of the Bhagavad Gita on the practice of yama.

Ahimsa, for example, is not to hurt the feelings of others in thought, word and deed; not to speak harsh words to anyone; not to show anger towards anybody; not to abuse others or speak ill of others. If you abuse anyone, if you hurt the feelings of others, really you are abusing yourself and hurting the feelings of God. You must always speak sweet, loving words. You must not speak any word that is calculated to hurt the feelings of others. You should weigh your words well before they are spoken. You must speak a few words only. This is austerity of speech or vak tapas that will conserve energy and give you peace of mind and inner strength.

Do not cause pain or suffering to any living being from greed, selfishness, irritability or annoyance. Give up anger or ill-will. Give up the spirit of fighting, heated debates. Do not argue or contradict. Do not try to convince persons who are unreasonable and undeveloped. Avoid too much mixing with people. Avoid the company of those whom your mind dislikes. If you quarrel with somebody or if you have a heated debate with anybody, you cannot meditate for three or four days. Your balance of mind will be upset and much energy will be wasted in useless channels. The blood will become hot and the nerves will be shattered.

Himsa, injury, is a deadly enemy of bhakti and jnana. It separates and divides. It stands in the way of realizing unity or oneness of Self. That act or exertion which does not do good to others or for which one has to feel ashamed should never be done. The person of right conduct always cares for the welfare of all beings. He lives in harmony with the neighbours and all people, never hurting the feelings of others.

From ahimsa comes satya, truthfulness. You must practise austerity of speech if you really want to attain quick progress in sadhana. You must speak truth at any cost. Note carefully how the rishis had given instructions to their students when they had finished their course of study: “Speak the truth. Do your duty. Do not neglect the study of the Vedas. Do not swerve from truth. Do not swerve from duty. Do not neglect your welfare. Do not neglect your prosperity. Do not neglect the duties towards God and forefathers. May the mother be your God (Matri devo bhava). May the father be your God (Pitri devo bhava). May the preceptor be your God (Acharya devo bhava). May the guest be your God (Atithi devo bhava). Do such actions as are blameless. Those that are good actions, they should be performed by you, and none else. Those brahmins that are superior, should be comforted by you with seats, etc. Give with faith. Do not give without faith. Give with joy, with modesty, with fear, with kindness.”

Do not indulge in sundry talks and miscellaneous thoughts just to ease the mind. These are common obstacles for the spiritual aspirant. Become silent. If you can give up idle talks and gossiping, and if you do not meddle in the affairs of others, you will immediately free yourself from all sorts of obstacles. Still the mind. Select your words carefully. Turn your thoughts constantly to the spiritual path. Think and talk only of that which will transform you into a divine being.

Niyama: Niyama is the observance of the five canons: shaucha (purity), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (self-study) and Ishwara pranidhana (dedication to the highest principle).

Shaucha, for example, is external and internal purity. Washing the hands, taking a bath, etc. are intended for external purity. Filling the mind with pure, divine thoughts is internal purity. Patanjali has said that the mind becomes pure by cultivating habits of friendliness, joy and compassion, and indifference towards happiness, misery, virtue and vice. The dirt of envy leaves one who shows friendliness towards all who are enjoying pleasure and joy towards those who are virtuously inclined. When the mind shows compassion towards those who are suffering from pain and the wish to remove the miseries of others as if they were one’s own, the dirt of the desire to do evil to others is removed. Whoever shows indifference and does not side against the viciously inclined, the dirt of impatience is removed from his mind.

By this removal of the characteristics of the qualities of disturbing energy, rajas, and inertia, tamas, the characteristic of essential purity, sattwa, manifests itself. The mind becomes possessed of a very high manifestation of essential purity. When the mind becomes pure it attains the state of steadiness and becomes one-pointed.

Aim to perfect one yama or niyama

One should be well established in sadachara if one wants to attain perfection in yoga. Aim to perfect at least one yama and niyama. When one is established in it perfectly, then samadhi or nishtha will come by itself. Remember this point clearly. Constantly reflect upon it. Know what true spirituality is. Fully realize the importance of becoming a changed person morally and ethically, before you can claim to be an aspirant.

Carefully avoid the dangers of self-deception by means of constant vigilance and introspection. When your entire nature is changed, purified and prepared, grace will flow by itself in the firmament of your pure heart. Bliss will spontaneously flow and fill you when you have emptied yourself of all egoism, harshness, pride and passion. Perfection and immortality will be yours. Where there is kindness, humility, purity and love, there spirituality springs up, saintliness shines, divinity descends and perfection manifests itself.

Shake off all weakness. Stand up. Evolve quickly on the spiritual path. Wake up. Open your eyes. Learn to discriminate. Do not trust your senses. They are your enemies. Stick to yama and niyama with leech-like tenacity. Life is short. Time is fleeting. Keep up the ideal character always before your eyes. This is your very being. Evolve. Expand. Grow. Realize.