Retaining what we’ve learned about the yamas, we now train our attention on the niyamas which occur in sutra 2.32. When prefixed to a noun “ni” can be a negation. It also means “down, back, in, into, within.” Thus, niyama is traditionally rendered “observances” stemming from the negation of restraint.
For niyama, we learn that the Sanskrit translates to “any rule, necessity, obligation, agreement, contract, promise, vow” —all of which are near synonyms for “observance.”
As we have seen in classical Yoga, a monk, renunciate or an ascetic intends to transcend the body and mind into a separate purusha or higher self. For a householder practitioner of non-dual Yoga, the intention is to fully embrace everything as a portal to the True Self.
So now, let’s turn to the first niyama and take a look at how we might view saucha (purity) from a nondual Yoga perspective.
Patañjali’s early commentators appealed to Ayurvedic principles with respect to saucha: abjuring from meat and alcohol and cleansing the body with water and clay, but also with other substances which were considered pure at the time, such as cow dung and cow urine.
The sage Vyasa stressed the importance of both internal and external saucha: asana and pranayama for internal, and physical bathing for external. Internal saucha includes purity of thought. Georg Feuerstein, referencing Yoga-Bhashya, spoke of both internal and external purity resulting in a mind so pure it reflects the “light of the transcendental self without distortion.”
Swami Satchidananda knew that in the West, we tend to be far too body conscious. While not neglecting the cleanliness and care of the physical, we could devote less time adoring it. He clarified, “Spend more time on deeper things than the body, and eventually go into spiritual matters, realizing we are the true Self and not the body at all.”
Often, definitions of saucha seem to condemn the flesh as disgusting or dirty. As Swami Satchidananda explains in his commentary on the Yoga Sutras: “This niyama should be understood in the light of a particular stage of discrimination on the part of a spiritual aspirant, where, for the sake of the higher goal, one develops a natural disinterest in the body and in intercourse with other bodies. However, it should be remembered that this ‘disgust’ is not the same as aversion and that, as all the sages and scriptures have said, it is only in the human birth that a soul can attain spiritual realization. With realization, comes the perception that the body is the temple of the Divine Consciousness and is, in fact, nothing but that same Divine Consciousness.”
Saucha also a reminds us that, well, life is messy! I do love a clean house as much as anyone. And that squeaky-clean fresh-washed hair feeling? Mmm. I’m hoping to find an acceptable alternative definition of saucha that resounds with non-duality, and not in a world-denying-all-prakriti-is-just-an-illusion-and-only-Brahman-is-real-sort-of-way. If everything is a portal, then couldn’t we dive into dirt and eventually come up shining? And there it is. Saucha derives from a strengthened form of suchi, which means shining, glowing, gleaming, radiant, bright. In some places it refers to the sun, the moon, Venus, a ray of light. Feel into being a ray of light, being the shining of the sun, the gleaming of the moon, the radiance of Venus. Perhaps make it a mantra: I am Radiance. Even saucha sings this song!
About the Author:
Rev. Dale Ann Gray, PhD is a Yoga, pranayama and meditation, and Level 2 iRest teacher. She leads workshops, offering private classes and teaching in studios, churches, and online. She is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds a Ph.D. in Theology.