By Bal Ram Singh, PhD
In Chapter 10 of Bhagvadgita (Vibhuti Yoga), Krishna refers to himself as yama:
अनन्तश्चास्मि नागानां वरुणो यादसामहम् ।
पितॄणामर्यमा चास्मि यमः संयमतामहम् ॥
anantaś cāsmi nāgānāṁ
varuṇo yādasām aham
pitṝṇām aryamā cāsmi
yamaḥ saṁyamatām aham
Of the celestial Naga snakes I am Ananta; of the aquatic deities I am Varuna. Of departed ancestors I am Aryama (Chief), and among the dispensers of justice or regulators of the behavior, I am Yama, lord of death.
Of these Yama, who is also the Dharmaraja, is the key, as Yama is the ultimate arbiter, and decides what stays and what goes, in accordance with the dharma, which applies equally to all. The word samayamata (संयमता) clearly indicates that the yamata or the yamaness is equally applied under all conditions and to all the people or even beings.
The lesson from this clarity is that Yama under which Satya, Ahimsa, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha established does not make exceptions. So, when it comes to Satya, truth but only truth must be adhered to. Similarly, Ahimsa means non-violations of dharma under all the conditions.
Actually, religion is not a proper translation of Indian tradition that is called as Dharma, as in case of Hindu Dharma. Dharma’s translation as religion is quite contrary to the original as well as even pragmatic meaning of the word dharma.
There are many definitions of dharma. According to sage Kanad, who provided the idea of the atom around 700 BC, dharma is that which governs the birth or begin to rise and ultimate accomplishment (death) of everything.
Yato’sbhyudayanihsreyasasiddhih sa dharmah (Vaiseshika 1.2)
This is not just a secular definition of dharma but a scientific one. It refers to all those forces involved in governing appearance and disappearance of material and non-material things in this universe. When the meaning of dharma is appropriately understood, one has no choice but to turn to the nature to experiment and acquire the true meaning of dharma.
The understanding and practice of dharma is a subscriptive as opposed to a prescriptive system, and it applies to every aspect of life and living. So, there is a dharma of a son, a daughter, a father, a mother, etc., as much as the dharma of a tree, air, water, etc. People are generally free to subscribe to their own dharma, as they understand it from the experience of their family, community, natural environment, and of course, education.
With the passage of time, the basic meanings of many of the traditions get misunderstood or the traditions themselves become limited to rituals, which has caused much of social stagnation and at times problems for the society. Nevertheless, India’s fundamental principles moored in dharma remain eternal, the basic foundations of its traditions strong, and essence of its practices fairly universal. Thus, reducing Dharma to the concept of religion, a concept developed in the Western world and Middle East over two thousand years ago, does not serve the society well today. Religion is limited to organization of society around spiritual life, and becomes very rigid, and most of the time unquestionable.
In contrast, dharma is multitudinal which allows questioning, even opposing the values proposed, testing them by individuals rather than organized groups, and requires objectivity by suggesting freedom from kama (desire), krodha (anger), lobha (greed), moha (infatuation), mada (pride), and matsara (envy). These features allow the basic scientific approach of systematic analysis, non-falsifiability, and objectivity.
Yoga practice therefore needs to be understood at the physical, ethereal, astral/emotional, mental, and spiritual levels of one’s existence to fully realized its impact and utility. For yoga to be employed for health using scientific approach it needs to be examined in a scientific manner.
The scientific manner in darshanas, which are wrongly described as philosophies, refers to a demonstrable truth without ever violating any dharma components. Asteya, the third element of Yama, usually meaning as ‘non-stealing, holds a critical position of practice for Yama not to be riled up. Asteya is not just stealing things physically, but mentally, intellectually, consciously, and even spiritually.
Asteya is when Steya, which means “Taking what is not given (adattādāna), knowing that an object belongs to another, forming the intention to steal it, taking the object and leaving the original place,” is absent. It is not just stealing objects, but even to hide one’s identity, or misrepresenting oneself, that will be deemed to be the prohibited steya or stealing. There are so many slip ins of this sorts, and thus the violations of yama, that can be detrimental to our existence.
Prof. Balram Singh is a Professor and the President of the Institute of Advanced Sciences, Dartmouth, Massachusetts, researching on Ayurveda, Yoga, Vedic education, and Vedic social and political traditions. He is also adjunct faculty at Jawaharlal Nehru University (JNU), New Delhi.