Niyama in Patanjali Yoga Sutra
Niyama means rules. Niyama is the cultivating virtuous habits and practice of self-training to improve the quality of the mind and make it stronger. The niyamas are tools for preparing ourselves for higher possibilities. These niyamas purify body, mind, and senses.
These observances are essential for individuals to achieve self-realization. With the practice of these niyamas, one will have a healthy body, pure mind, and regulated indriyas (senses).
Maharshi Patanjali in Yoga sutra says, “Shoucha santosha tapaha swadhyaya ishwarapranidhanani niyamaha” (Sutra II.32), which means “cleanliness, happiness, penance, self-study and surrendering to God are the five niyamas”.
(Also Read: Patanjali Yoga Sutra: Eight Steps of Yoga )
1. Shoucha – Cleanliness
Shoucha in Sanskrit means purity, cleanliness. In the context of yoga, it refers to physical and mental purity. Patanjali says, when body and mind get purified, it leads to purification of the essence (sattva), mastery over senses, a pleasantness, goodness and gladness of feeling, a sense of focus with intentness and finally self-realization.
Sattva is one of the three gunas or qualities which causes joy and happiness. It has the power to reveal things or enlighten us. A yogi’s mind has a predominance of sattva guna. Therefore, he will be in a state of peace, calmness, focused and non-violent mindset. The mind of a yogi is neither restless (which is dominated by rajas), nor confused (which is dominated by tamas). A pure mind would enable one to experience God. Also when the mind has a predominance of Sattva guna, we can eliminate samskaras or past experiences, which are stored in the subconscious mind.
The past baggage will make the senses to move towards physical and materialistic pleasures. When the mind becomes free and light, it naturally moves towards the divine.
It is also essential to have a clean and pure body inside and outside. Because of the various biological functions, naturally, the body gets unclean. External appearance can be purified by taking a regular bath, wearing clean clothes etc. The internal body has to be purified by drinking enough water, proper diet etc. Water should run through the body, both inside and outside. According to Sage Patanjali, physical cleanliness helps in reducing lustfulness.
Also, it is very important to keep the surrounding environment clean. It is our prime responsibility to keep the surrounding clean and neat. When the surrounding kept clean, the mind becomes calm and peaceful.
2. Santosha – Contentment
Patanjali says, “from an attitude of contentment, supreme happiness, joy, and satisfaction are derived. It is an attitude. We can either be content with whatever we have or become unhappy about what we don’t have. When you focus your mind on what you don’t have, nothing in this world will make you happy. There is no limit to the wants. The senses will keep asking for more. When you become the slave of the senses, there is no room for joy and happiness. However, it does not mean that one should not have any desire. Otherwise, this human race cannot move forward. But one should have an awareness about need and greed.
Greed and self-doubt are the biggest obstacles to happiness. Greed is born out of extreme selfishness. Greed is wanting to possess more than one deserves or needs. A greedy person can never be satisfied with anything. A mind with self-doubt will start comparing with others. comparison is a sure shot route for unhappiness.
The true test comes to a spiritual person in challenging situations. When everything is going well, it is easy to be happy. A true yogi will be happy even in adverse situations. Because for him, there is no difference between pain-pleasure, comfort-suffering etc. When we are in this state, the mind becomes peaceful and meditation happens naturally.
Santosha is not like sitting idle somewhere in a secluded place doing nothing. It is accepting life as it is with full gratitude. One should be content with bare necessities of life. A happy mind and body will bring joy and ultimate bliss.
(Also Read: Who is Sage Patanjali)
3. Tapas (Penance, persistence, austerity)
Tapas is derived from the word ‘tap’ which means ‘to burn’ in Sanskrit. Tapas can be called as austerity, self-discipline, endurance or focussing on one goal. It is a process of burning away past memories or karmas. Some call these memories as impurities or toxins. It can be defined as a single-minded dedication to the pursuit of a goal. The ultimate goal for a spiritual yogi is liberation. In this context, Patanjali says one needs to impose intense austerity measures to reach the ultimate goal.
It is a process of self-discipline with body, mind, and senses. It is achieving mastery over body-mind complex to hold the infinite consciousness. The restraints willingly imposed upon the body and the mind, will destroy all the impurities and strengthens the mind. Various Hindu scriptures suggest three types of austerities; austerities of the body, mind, and speech. It is very important for a spiritual sadhak to gain mastery over body, mind, and speech. When one gets control over all the three aspects, one can make a progress in the spiritual journey. It is not an easy process as it may sound. It requires consistent effort, perseverance and intensity to go behind the goal.
We have been living in this materialistic world from many births. So naturally, the mind is filled with desire, lust, anger etc. In order to have self-realization, one needs to clean this system. One needs immense will-power to get rid of these impurities. Therefore, one needs to discipline the body and mind, to change the existing pattern. It is like putting the breaks on the behavioral pattern and steering into a new dimension.
Maintaining physical purity, restraining sensual pleasures, committed to non-violence, subjecting the body to occasional strain, fasting, learning to remain unaffected by hardships etc are some of the physical austerities. Mental austerities include being gentle, clear thoughts, integrity, contentment, control over senses, remain unaffected by emotions etc. Austerities of speech are pleasant talk, truthfulness, chanting scriptures etc.
4. Swadhyaya (Self-study)
Swadhyaya can be translated into two ways. One is studying one’s own self and the other is the study of the scriptures. Therefore, we can safely say that scriptures are the tools or the path towards self-realization.
It is very important to assess the situation of the self. Swadhyaya or self-study helps us to assess where we are at a given point in time. Frequently we need to remind ourselves by asking questions like: who am I? What is the purpose of my life? What is life? Am I just this body? When we follow all the yamas and niyamas and dwell on these questions, naturally universe will help to answer all the questions. When we go deep within ourselves, we understand the life. There is no need to go to external means to find the answers. However, scriptures may show us the path.
Knowing the self is equal to know the divine. Everything in this universe is part of the divine. Therefore, when we observe with awareness, without the interference of the ego, everything should become crystal clear.
Patanjali in yoga sutra says, “swadhyayat ishtadevata samprayogaha”, which means, by self-study, the desired deity’s presence is felt. Here ishta devata or deity is the connecting force through which the individual spirit or nature is aligned with the higher self. Therefore, when we have a deeper relationship with the ishta devata, that ishta devata will take us in the path of wisdom.
5. Ishvara Pranidhana – Practice of surrendering to God
Patanjali in yoga sutra says, “Samadhi siddhih ishvarapranidhana”, which means “the state of samadhi(acme of spiritual illumination) is attained by devotion to God or surrendering to God”. After practicing and perfecting all the yamas and niyamas, one will have great progress in the spiritual path. But still, it is difficult to have god realization. The spiritual goal cannot be reached with one’s own strength. The ultimate devotion to God can help us attain the goal.
Ishvara means ultimate reality or higher self. Isvara pranidhana means contemplation of Insvara, which means occupying one’s mind completely into a higher self. Here, we can take Ishvara literally as God or as a concept.
It may sound easy surrendering to God, but a lot of sadhana is required to achieve this state. Surrendering is an attitude of letting go or accepting as it is. Surrendering does not mean giving up. It is coming out from the bondage of karma, which is the game of ego. It is like not identifying oneself with the drama of life. By surrendering, we can empty the mind with all the false beliefs and ownership rights.