Happiness, contentment, inner peace and just simply to have a joy for life all seem like things that are impossible to achieve in our modern world. Trying to find the path to inner peace is something that human beings have been doing since we have been human, perhaps even before we were human as all life strives to be at peace. Yoga, one of the oldest surviving studies of life, spirituality, the universe and the inner workings of the human being, provides us with a path to inner piece, an eight fold path to be precise.
Yoga tells us that to quiet the constant disturbances of our mind and bring peace within us we must follow this eight fold path. The first two parts of this path provides us with a set of moral codes (yama) and internal ethics (niyama) that, if we follow them, will greatly improve our lives. More importantly, following just these two paths will also allow us to bring much positive energy into the world and to bring light into the lives of others and light to ourselves.
One of the Yamas is aparigraha, which has been translated as “non-hoarding”, “non-possessiveness” and “non-attachment”. This word is incredibly rich in its meaning. One could spend many hours discussing what this one word means. Understanding just aparigraha will greatly enrich your life and radically change the way you see the world. Impossible you say? Well, read on…
One aspect of aparigraha is found in the idea of not to holding on to material possessions. Does this mean we should give everything away, walk the streets begging in rags? Well, some may translate it this way, but most believe that one has to apply the concept of the three Gunas to all of the Yamas and Niyamas. A simple definition of the three Gunas are as follows:
The ideal state is satva, a balance between the two. A person who has no concern for material possessions, who gives up everything to the point where they do not have a place to live, the clothes they need to keep warm, would be considered too passive in regards to material possessions, or tamasic in regards to material possessions. On the other hand, if a person hoards material possessions, cannot let anything go, accumulates far more wealth than they need, they are being too active, or rajasic, in regards to material possessions. A balance between the two is possessing just what you need and nothing more, which would be a sattvic state. Thus, aparigraha is taking only what is necessary for you to live.
With that said, why is this so important? I mean, what’s so bad about hoarding? Why can’t we just accumulate as much money, material possessions and other items as we can possibly get our hands onto? Well, money and material possessions are two of the many things in this world that can be lost or destroyed. If our life revolves around objects that can be lost or destroyed, we find that we are either upset over the loss of these items or are constantly worried that we may lose these items.
Buy a new car and the first thought that comes to your mind when you park it is “Will someone scratch my new car while it is parked here?” If your car is in an accident you are sad over its loss. If you have money in the bank you worry about losing the money, if you had money and lost it you constantly think about its loss, and so it goes. Unfortunately, we live in a world of physical objects that are not permanent and these things are constantly lost to us, or can be easily lost to us. If these objects are the focus of our life, than the constant loss of these objects, or the threat of their loss, fill our life with stress and sadness. This is why aparigraha tells us not to be too focused on these objects.
What is Really Necessary
What does “taking only what is necessary for you to live” really mean? This means that we must have the basic objects to live a comfortable, safe and healthy life and that the purpose of material things we have in our life is to allow us to live this way. Instead of thinking of possessions as status symbols or something that represents our success, they should be thougth of as simply tools that allow us to accomplish our goals in life.
For example, you can think of the furniture in your house as simply being something that allows you to perform certain functions. A couch and chair is to provide a place to sit, a table a place to eat, a desk to work, etc. In this view of furniture, is there any difference between a comfortable second hand couch you buy at the thrift store or a brand new one you buy at the furniture store? Can a brand new dresser hold your clothes any better than a used one? The difference between used and new is simply your belief that new is better, a belief created by advertising that is trying to get you to buy someone’s new products.
When someone buys new furniture, it represents a large expenditure of money and it becomes a symbol of a person’s financial success. A chair and a couch is no longer just something to sit in, it is something that you have associated with your image of yourself. Just think about it for a moment.
When you walk into a person’s house and you see everything is new and expensive, what is your first thought about that person? That they are wealthy and successful? On the other hand, what do you think of a person when you walk into their house and you see slightly worn used furniture? That they are poor and unsuccessful? I once knew of a man who was very wealthy and went to a Porsche dealership dressed in a pair of old blue jeans, worn shirt and shoes and asked to test drive a car. The manager refused to allow him to test drive the car based on his appearance. Does it make sense that we judge people on external things like their car, clothes, house and furniture? Or is it more important to see what is inside a person? When we follow the principle of Aparigraha it makes it easier for us to see the beauty inside a person instead of simply judging them by external material objects.
Possessions like furniture can have a large impact on our lives. I have moved quite a lot in my life. When I move into a new place the first thing I do is go to second hand stores and purchase used furniture, the minimum things I need. When I move, I simply donate all of the furniture back to a second hand store. Usually, the entire cost of the furniture is much less than it would have cost me to move a household of furniture to my new living quarters. If I want to travel abroad for awhile, I can put my essential possessions in a few boxes and easily store them. My furniture is nothing more than tools to allow me to sit, eat and work in my house. I use them while I need them, and when I no longer need them, I pass them onto someone else. This attitude gives me tremendous freedom of movement.
What happens when you own a beautiful set of new furniture? Movement becomes expensive and difficult. When you move, you do not want to leave behind the beautiful furniture you have bought, the furniture that shows your success and status. Your life starts to be controlled by the furniture. If you are living in New York you do not move to California because it would require either selling the furniture or spending a great deal of money to move it. If you get divorced, the furniture can become the center of many arguments as to who gets what. If you are single and move in with someone, whose furniture is kept?
I knew someone who had several large pieces of very expensive furniture that forced her to keep renting apartments that were much larger than she actually needed just so she could fit the furniture into the apartment. These larger apartments created a financial strain and this financial strain in turn created a great deal of stress in her life. Finally, she just gave away all of her furniture and was able to move into a small, furnished shared apartment that allowed her to save a great deal of money. Once she gave the furniture away she felt as if she had been freed and she regained control of her life.
We often do not realize how much our material possessions can control us. How many people find that the number of hours they work and the jobs they chose are based on how much money they must spend every month to cover their debts and loans? We purchase large houses, new cars, big TVs, and countless other items on credit and than soon find our entire lives revolve around earning enough money to pay for these things. Hoarding, gathering up too many things, can result in our lives being controlled by these objects.
Of course, sometimes we do need expensive material possessions for our work. A CEO of a company needs to dress in a certain manner and is expected to own and dress in expensive clothes. Where I live, the taxi services all use Lincoln Town Cars. But once again, even these items are nothing more than tools. The expensive suit is used to express the person’s position in the company, the Lincoln Town car is the standard of the industry.
What Should We Focus On?
Earlier, we mentioned that becoming focused on material objects creates great stress because the objects can be lost. Instead of focusing on things that can be lost we should focus our energy and our life on the things that cannot be lost. What cannot be lost, you ask? If your actions are from good intentions, if you act from love, if you always try to put good energy into the world, this is something that cannot be lost. The work you put into improving yourself, quieting your mind, learning how to behave in a moral and ethical manner, and learning how to act in accordance with your true inner self is something that can never be lost. Even the poorest person in the most difficult circumstance can still give a kind word, can show compassion, and can help others. These are the things that can never be taken from us, and they are the things we should focus on. Thus, aparigraha also implies that we should focus on what cannot be lost - our spiritual journey, our finding our inner true self, and on what we give to others and the world.
In conclusion, we can see that while it is important that we have certain material objects in our life so that we can live comfortably, hoarding objects and becoming obsessed over material possessions can result in these possessions controlling our life. Viewing material objects as tools that allows us to accomplish our goals in life can free us from being controlled by these objects. Our focus should not be outward to material objects, but instead, our focus should be inward on a spiritual journey that allows us to purify ourselves and also to be able to create positive change in the universe.