The final and fifth yama is aparigraha, or non-greed. In this blog, we’ll examine several aspects of gluttony, including materialism, and the ways in which we exhibit greed in our thoughts and communication.
Greed is a gross and enduring problem of humankind. Endless stories through the ages have chronicled the devastating consequences of financial greed propagated by individuals or nations.
The damage inflicted by this kind of gluttony affects our planet as well as humans. Some damage is reversible, but a lot of it is not, and it’s a grave problem for current and future generations.
Some aspects of greed are obvious, such as gaining money at the cost of others. But others are subtler, including chronic over-consumption of food, alcohol, drugs, or belongings. Many of us collect material things; hoarding is another form of greed. Interestingly, the sutras teach us that is it not our ownership of things that signifies greed, but rather their control over us.
A good way to suss out whether you own an object or it possesses you is to ask yourself, “If I lose or forego this, will I lose my peace?” If the answer is yes, consider small but meaningful changes that lessen your desire. You might ask yourself, “Do I really need this, or do I just want it?”
An experience that reframed my own attachment to things happened after my grandmother passed and I had the responsibility of cleaning out her home. It was a difficult solo job, as I have no siblings and my parents were deceased. There were many beautiful objects there, some of which I still own and cherish. There were also many items that I donated to charities or gave away, but by the end of the cleanup, I had discarded an astonishing 125 bags full of garbage.
Although I was exhausted after cleaning each day, I went home each night and cleaned my home. Perhaps it was a way to deal with my grief, but it was also an attempt to minimize my own tendency to collect things I did not need. I believe that experience cured me from any tendencies I might have towards hoarding.
To be clear: this sutra in no way discourages appreciation of beautiful things. We can enjoy owning things we love. But can we be happy without them? And how identified are we with them? These are revealing questions to ask oneself.
Mental greed can be expressed by our desire to control others. Perhaps we’d like others to act or think a certain way. Perhaps we think we know the right way or the only way. This is a form of self-indulgence because it represents grasping towards an ideal that’s potentially limited and colored by our own impressions.
The sutras teach that before we achieve awareness, we view life through a clouded lens or a lake filled with silt. When awareness rises, the silt settles to the bottom, and the lake (our mind) has the potential to become crystal clear. We are then able to see reality through a less distorted lens, and better understand the causes and effects of our current situation.
That gives us the capacity to see not only our true nature, but our place in life. This clarity is akin to seeing through pristine and still waters right to bottom of the lake. Each pebble, representing distinct aspects of our lives, is then revealed.
Sometimes, even if we think we know how a situation should play out for others, the challenge is to allow things to unfold as they may. It can be difficult and humbling. The practice of non-greed involves watching with compassion and practicing respect for the other.
Another form of this type of gluttony can manifest in the habit of finishing other people’s sentences or putting words in other people’s mouths. We are robbing them of their own expression. The next time you have a conversation at work or home or anywhere(!), notice if you tend to do this. A great remedy to curtail this habit can be to simply take a breath before you speak.
Greed for Knowledge
Some people have the tendency to hoard information and knowledge. Again, there is nothing wrong with this, but what may be called for instead is to dive deeper into knowledge already gained.
This is an area in which I struggle. I’m sincerely self-conscious when a mentee comments on my trainings and wonders how I’ve managed the capacity for study I’ve enjoyed thus far. While I’ve always followed my bliss and am grateful for any professional credentials gained along the way, it’s honestly the sheer joy of learning that fuels me.
It’s a delicious journey to grow and develop more refined skills. I also understand that the desire to learn new things (which can tip into greed for more knowledge) can contribute to imbalance, particularly as I am busy with a private practice, coaching, teaching, mentoring, etc.
One of my lessons in this lifetime is to know when to put the brakes on learning so I can utilize my hard-won skills and be of service in ways that give me joy and purpose. I am a life-long learner. Putting that desire on the back burner can be a healthy way for me to resist that type of greed in myself.
Non-violence, Truth, Non-stealing, Moderation, and Non-Greed
As we complete the examination of the five yamas from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I feel immense gratitude for the wisdom and guidance they provide. Having these tools helps us ride the waves of change and the turbulent times in which we live. As with any collection of practices, some will call to you more than others.
I encourage you to notice how each topic presents an area for growth in your life. One way to work with the yamas is to choose one a week and cycle through them over five weeks. As you witness the practices of of non-violence, truth, non-stealing, moderation, and non-greed, you can discover which ones seem easier for you than others… and which ones offer room for growth. It may be a pleasant surprise to see how mindfulness improves your life and your relationships.
If you choose to dive deeper into sutra studies, there are many excellent translations. Two of my favorites are The Yoga Sutras of Patangali, by Edwin Bryant, and The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Sri Swami Satchidanda.