One of the Yama or forms of self-control or restraint from the eight limbs of Raja Yoga, codified by Master Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. The eight limbs or ashtanga of classical yoga are:
yama or restraints – what to give up
niyama or commitments – what to take up
asana or physical yoga poses
pranayama or breath manipulation
pratyahara or withdrawal of the senses
dharana – single pointed focus
dhyana – fixation
Samadhi – meditation
It’s easy to see when someone is living this beautiful idea of non-attachment or not grasping, either to themselves, others or to outer objects. Such a person is constantly happy for a start. In fact, they might even be glowing! Their physical demeanor is relaxed. Their shoulders are even and not hunched, their face is youthful, even in old age. Their eyes are bright. They carry their body evenly without twists and warps. This is so because the two side channels that carry our misperceptions of subjects and objects (Ida and Pingala) are a direct reflection of the state of our mind. So when the mind warps, and begins attaching to “things” it manifests in the physical body as all the kinks, twists, asymmetries and imbalances we experience.
Aparigraha extends to the possessive form of ill will – being happy when others don’t get what they want. The wrong views of ignorant liking – being willing to hurt others to get what we want, or ignorant disliking – hurting others in order to avoid pain are other forms of aparigraha - in this case, grasping to incorrect views. Maintaining correct worldview is really at the heart of all the yama and niyama because if we truly understood how karma and emptiness are shaping our reality we would be very careful not to keep creating samsaric cycles that keep us and others suffering.
Can you imagine the freedom of mind that would come when you don’t have any desire to possess or control people, or grasp to the things you think will make you happy? And then, as it turns out they seldom do, or they break or wear out, or they leave you. How liberating would that feel? Unfortunately the reality here in the desire realm is just that - desire. Craving. Attachment. Ill will. We are here in these bodies of flesh and suffering, trapped in this broken realm because we practiced these undesirable qualities very well in the past, and probably in the present too. So how do we realize the true fruit of Aparigraha? If we can figure that out, the ticket out of samsara is very, very close. It all boils down to misunderstanding or misperceiving our reality. It’s easy to pay lip service to this idea, and a lot harder to truly live it. Many Holy Angels have illustrated why we suffer, usually in a short list of steps. Lord Maitreya gifted us with a lovely six step presentation from His work entitled The Higher Line:
As soon as we are born we already have the seeds or bakchaks – the potential from our past lives - to see ourselves, everyone and everything as self-existent.
Due to these seeds we begin to see ourselves and our world as actually self- existent, as though it were out there rather than as a projection from our minds.
Because of this 180 degree misperception, we begin to see qualities of ourselves and our world - some things appearing attractive, some unattractive – all appearing to come from their own side.
Based on this misperception we begin to feel ignorant liking and ignorant disliking towards these objects – ignorant because we are convinced that their likability or dislikability is emanating from them.
Due to these emotions of liking and disliking ignorantly we do, say, and think negative things – trying in vain to keep what we like and push away what we don’t like by attempting to manipulate the objects of our like/dislike. This is collecting karma – planting the seeds to continue to see it that way.
This karma causes us to continue to spin around in the cycle of suffering life. Again and again and again……
Subtle Body Benefits
Understanding how and why we are grasping to ourselves and our world (wisdom) immediately begins to re-direct the prana from the two side channels of misperception into the central channel or Sushumna. This has profound long term effects on our body/mind complex, and finally results in that crucial 10-20 minutes of perfect Samadhi when we commune or make contact with ultimate reality. From that moment onward we understand, on the most subtle levels, Lord Maitreya’s six steps.
The karmic result of all this is, well, Buddhahood actually!!
As the emotions of liking and disliking arise and compel you to act ignorantly, train yourself to break the chains of thought right there on the spot. This heightened awareness is very similar to using recollection in meditation to get back onto the object. A perfected state of balance. You can train the mind and stop it as it begins to turn or twist things around. If circumstances permit and you know how, quickly get into headstand or any inverted pose to further reverse the winds of misperception. A twist to the right to stretch the left side channel which harbours thoughts of ignorant liking or a twist to the left to reverse ignorant disliking can quickly squash these budding karmas. You may be chuckling about this, but remember the outer affects the inner, and the reverse is also true. So, a savvy yogi uses both to make quick changes to their reality.
Proceed with confidence and joy that you have now found the key to stop suffering. Quickly teach it to someone else.
Tips from Deep Retreat
Every day wear some article of clothing or jewelry that you wouldn’t normally put on. Keep it on from morning till night. As you adorn yourself with this out-of-the-ordinary accoutrement make a fierce resolution that it is to remind you throughout the day as you begin to misperceive subjects and objects, and begin ignorantly liking and disliking them.
Another method that works well is to ask ourselves at any given moment “Am I happy? How content am I right now?” The degree to which we are unhappy or discontented is the degree to which we are misperceiving our reality.
Analyze and understand that all of these perceptions are coming from you, based on your past actions or karmas. Now you know how to destroy the vines of grasping and what is grasped.
Anytime you notice that you actually feel very happy or blissful, send those feelings immediately away to people you know who really need them, depressed or chronically discontented people, despondent people. The practice of giving away what you want or what is valuable to you is the secret to having it for yourself – the foundation of the laws of karma. His Holiness the Dalai Lama calls it “enlightened self-interest.” This is the key to happiness.
Practicing aparigraha very well can result in immutable ecstasy that just doesn’t stop! So please be careful. It might become infectious.