One of the greatest adepts, teachers, writers, and humanitarians of the 20th century, Swami Rama (1925-1996) is the founder of the Himalayan Institute. Born in Northern India, he was raised from early childhood by the Himalayan sage, Bengali Baba. Under the guidance of his master, he traveled from monastery to monastery and studied with a variety of Himalayan saints and sages, including his grandmaster who was living in a remote region of Tibet. In addition to this intense spiritual training, Swami Rama received higher education in both India and Europe. From 1949 to 1952, he held the prestigious position of Shankaracharya of Karvirpitham in South India. Thereafter, he returned to his master to receive further training at his cave monastery, and finally in 1969, came to the United States where he founded the Himalayan Institute. His best known work, Living With the Himalayan Masters, reveals the many facets of this singular adept and demonstrates his embodiment of the living tradition of the East.
This is an excerpt from Inspired Thoughts of Swami Rama, The International Institute of Yoga Science and Philosophy of the U.S.A., 1983.
In order to attain the highest state of consciousness, or samadhi, Patanjali describes eight rungs on the yoga ladder. The first two rungs are ten commitments – not commandments, but commitments. You do not have to be commanded to follow them by some teacher, yogi, sage, or scripture. You should be committed to them because you know what you are doing. So first, learn to know what you are doing; then start following. A blind follower will not arrive anywhere. On this path you come in touch with two sets of commitments: yamas and niyamas. One set helps your communication with others, the other improves your internal being.
Be truthful, be kind, be nice, be gentle – in my childhood I learned those lofty ideals by heart. But I did not know how to practice them, for they are merely words that we use to console ourselves and others. So my master said, “You should learn ‘no’ – that is, do not lie, do not do that which is not to be done, do not think that which is not helpful.”
So first your teacher introduces you to the real teacher within you, which is called your conscience. Then you start counseling within: “I should not do this because it is not helpful. This is creating an obstacle for me.” The teacher inspires you, gives you strength – that strength which is already within you. The teacher introduces you to your own conscience and says, “My child, look within and be guided by this.”
I can assure you, however, that the day you start counseling within, you will make mistakes. But so what? Life is not meant to be lived by “don’t.” You have to make mistakes, and you have to learn from your mistakes. But they should not be repeated. Otherwise, confession has no meaning: “I confess. Please forgive me, my Lord” – and again I repeat my mistake and again I confess. This is not repentance. Great are they who learn from their own mistakes and don’t repeat them. Not repeating is real repentance.
The yamas, the first rung of Raja yoga, are: ahimsa – a means “no”; himsa means “killing, hurting, harming, or injuring; ”satya – not lying, not doing things against one’s own conscience; asteya – non-stealing, not having any thought coloured by greed, which makes one selfish and egotistical; brahmacharya – celibacy of mind, action, and speech for monks and having control over sexual appetites for the householder; aparigraha – not expecting gifts and favors from others, as well as keeping the mind free from wanting to possess things that belong to others.
The niyamas are: saucha – cleanliness of both body and mind; santosha – being content with the fruits you receive from doing your duties; tapas – not allowing the senses to contact the objects of the world and thus create obstacles on the path of spirituality (senses dissipate the mind, and when the mind is dissipated you cannot attend to work properly); svadhyaya – study of the sayings of the great sages, study of the scriptures as taught by Self-realized and competent teachers, and study of one’s own internal states, actions, and speech; Ishvara-pranidhana – being aware of the Reality, witnessing the center of consciousness within, surrendering the individual soul before the universal soul, or expanding the individual consciousness into cosmic consciousness.
These ten commitments of yoga science prepare you to communicate with people outside and to be composed and tranquil within. Then you can start doing your work, start treading the path within – from gross, to subtle, to the subtlemost center of your being.
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