Yoga’s Act Of Integrity (Yama)- Part 5…

Yoga’s Act Of Integrity (Yama)- Part 5

5. Simplicity — Aparigraha

The fifth act of integrity (yama) is Aparigraha (pronounced “ah-paree-gra-ha”), simplicity.

While Brahmacarya (part four) is concerned with the subjective experience, Aparigraha is about our objective reality; the adjustments we must all make to the world around us.

Yoga’s definition of simplicity is to not allow greed to dominate our thoughts and actions.

It addresses our acquistiveness, and the importance of channeling that energy toward our emotional and spiritual well being.

In our personal lives, simplicity is aligned with honesty.

To be a “simple” person is to be clear, positive, and trustworthy — transparent — without angles and agendas, without deviousness, without guile.

To find simplicity, we must first begin to look clearly at our lives and what complicates them. As we bring honesty (Satya – part two) into the forefront of our values, it becomes easier to see ourselves more clearly and to know when unnecessary stresses are bringing confusion and complication into our lives.

To live a centered life, one that is in line with our values, it may be necessary to find some time in which to allow all of the stimulation to stop, and allow our own thoughts to surface.

When we are able to reach our own choices through meditation and contemplation, and/or by spending time in nature, it is much easier to find our priorities and stick to them.

How much of our lives are determined by what the media impresses upon us? How many of our choices are made because of a need to be politically correct, or to conform, or to gain others’ approval instead of being made from our hearts’ conviction?


How much compromise have we chosen, and how much represents an erosion of our values by all of the stimulation around us? It may be difficult — but it is not impossible — to look at our lives and choices, to figure out what our priorities are and what constitutes, for us, the necessities of life.

To choose Aparigraha is to choose an outer life the is as much in harmony with our inner values as possible. To choose simplicity is to reduce the quantity while increasing the quality.

It is to face the disease of greed as it has insidiously permeated our lives, and to make a daily commitment to its healing.

In our personal lives, we have many opportunities to choose simplicity — not because we “should,” which implies not wanting to, but because we wish to live more compassionately.

Simplicity is not self-denial, nor is it poverty; rather, it is choosing a different sort of richness.

While poverty is usually involuntary, degrading, debilitating, and engenders despair, simplicity is chosen. It is enlivening, liberating, and it engenders empowerment.

Choosing to live simply is to lighten, clean up, and streamline; someone once called it “living aerodynamically.”

Some of the choices people have made in their personal commitment to simplicity include:


  • Choosing products that are ethically produced.
  • Participating in cooperatives — food, clothing, books, tools, repair, childcare.
  • Developing skills that engender self-reliance: learning how to do home and car repairs, gardening, canning, cooking, sewing, and crafts.
  • Participating in and developing extended family and support networks.
  • Choosing products that are durable, functional, beautiful and non-polluting.
  • Shifting diet toward vegetarian or vegan choices.
  • Reducing clutter through sales and giveaways.
  • Reducing overall personal consumption (clothes, jewelry, cosmetics, etc.)
  • Choosing work that contributes to the well-being of self and society.
  • Recycling.
  • Investing in small-scale projects that contribute to personal and social well-being.
  • Helping our children to value simplicity and choose to deter needless consumption.

Forty years ago, when I first began to work with the value of Aparigraha in my own life, I began looking around my environment with new vision.

How much of what was in my life was necessary to the quality of my life and that of the Earth? One of the first things to become clear to me was the superfluousness of a meat-centered diet.

If I could survive quite healthily as a vegetarian — and the choice rested with me — why did I find it necessary to participate in the needless torture and murder of animals?

I had to look into my heart and ask myself if I really believed animals exist only for their utility value to human beings. I could not find any rationale for this position.

When I looked into the eyes of an animal — whether it was the family pet, a cow, a deer, or a baby chick — and saw a sentient consciousness capable of responding, capable of feeling pleasure and pain, I could not convince myself that this being had no intrinsic, existential value, that it had no right to live its life.

I adopted a vegetarian diet and gradually brought the ethic of simplicity into my life in other ways.

It is a continuing process, with lots of loose ends.

I am not the perfect vegetarian or the perfect animal rights consumer or the perfect eco-feminist or the model of simplicity. I’ve made mistakes and taken wrong turns.


I have changed and my growth has gradually deepened my understanding of my own values. It has made the choices I make based upon those values less automatic for me.

Each day if full of tiny choices that, when consciously made, further my understanding and my ability to make the next choice.

It may at first seem that Aparigraha has little to do with our relationships.

But the value of simplicity extends into every aspect of our lives. The clutter and accumulation of an unexamined life often includes energy spent on relationships that have little real value to us.

To choose simplicity may require that we examine our relationships and what they mean to us. Do we spend lots of time on many superficial relationships to the exclusion of a few strong ones?

How do we make priorities in our family relationships, our friends, our business associates?

Have we allowed greed to sneak into how we prioritize those people? Have we chosen and nurtured a strong support network that will get us through troubled times?

At some point we each must realize that we cannot do it all.

Each choice we make is not only a choice toward something; it is also a choice away from something. When we choose to accept every invitation to parties and social gatherings, we may be choosing not to spend quiet time with our families.

When we choose to chauffeur our and others’ children to every school event and extracurricular activity that comes up, we may be choosing not to have any creative time for ourselves, which models self-care to our children.

Aparigraha is about examining our choices and embracing our choices not to. We choose what we want — that which will benefit us and our world in the long run — with a clear vision of what we don’t want.

We decide what we are willing to let go and what we wish to cultivate, and we pare our lives and belongings to the simple, elegant choices that make them rich with meaning.

To choose simplicity is a radical move; it strikes at the very foundation of our economic structure. Our growth-oriented economy has brought us much-needed gains such as improvements in transportation, food production and distribution, scientific research methods, and has raised our standard of living.


However, it comes time to reevaluate what is important to us. The growth economy is dependent upon the idea that more is always better. Thus, we have become enslaved to the rising and elusive standard of living as opposed to the quality of life.

The standard of living is measured in things and income; our quality of life is measured by people’s well-being. In a capitalist economy one begins to push out the other. Our emphasis on economic growth undermines our sense of security.

We are enslaved by the illusion that more things, more income will make us feel secure. And why not? We are often deprived of the security of a community in which we have a valued place on on which we can depend in times of trouble.

A growth economy requires many components that undermine our real security and replace it with the false security of “getting ahead.” It encourages individualism and competition over concern for others and cooperation.

Our economy has reduced the sense of continuity and obligation in our families and engendered more dependence upon our individual resources and our ability to impress others.

Without community, we must win friends, seek relationships; we must influence people. The economy and its large corporations require mobility, so we must continuously re-seek, re-make, re-impress people over and over, never feeling secure in our relationships.

Like our place in society, ideals of competition and individualism ensure that our relationships are always threatened in some way because they tend to depend more on what we do than who we are.

Everyone wants nice things and the freedom that wealth represents in our culture. But we also want to see the end of hunger and poverty. We want to ensure that everyone has a chance to live a life that is rich in significance, and in which the grinding pain of struggling for daily survival is removed.

Research shows that a majority of Americans place a higher priority on human values and relationships than on material values and the standard of living. But until we begin making this priority real, we will never have the courage to stand up and ask the relevant questions of those whose greed runs our lives and contributes to destroying the lives of the twenty million people living in poverty in the United States.

We can begin to live simply and richly. We can begin to change our drive for growth from the material to the emotional and spiritual. We can lend our support to institutions, projects, and products that support our humanness, and to individuals who are engaged in life-affirming, cooperative behavior.

We can build support networks that value people for who they are and that are committed to the security of the community. We can become educated and involved in our communities, particularly in decisions toward peace, unity, cooperation, and security.


We can talk about all these issues with our kids and help them to become aware of their own choices and how these choices ripple outward and have consequences in their lives.

Discussing purchases with our children (and making decisions about them together) can go a long way toward helping them feel secure and feel they are participants in, rather than victims of, the family budget.

Arbitrarily restricting children’s material possessions out of “principle” engenders resentment. But if a child can participate in some of the larger discussions about the money coming in and going out, he or she learns a tremendous amount about living in the world, about cooperation, and about getting one’s own needs met while not neglecting the needs of others.

Above all, children need to know that their worth is intrinsic; it does not depend upon keeping up with the material standards of their country, their school, or their neighborhood.

This isn’t learned simply by not allowing them to have the things other kids have. Rather, it is learned from their parents’ attitudes and values as they are expressed in their words and actions in their own lives.


Today I choose to simplify my life. I now bring my values, words, and actions into harmony.


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