We’ve come to the final yama (in the five yamas of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali) and the last occurrence of Patanjali’s “via negativa” approach. Aparigraha, commonly referred to as “non-grasping,” is composed of graha (seizing) with two prefixes attached: a (not) and pari (around). In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras, Swami Satchidananda defined aparigraha as “abstention from greed or hoarding—which is a form of stealing—or not receiving gifts.
This teaching by Patanjali is quite instructive for us today, especially if we delve briefly into the historical context of these teachings. As scholar/practitioner Dr. Edwin Bryant notes, “We can’t extract Patanjali from his time. We have to situate him in his landscape.” And what was this landscape at that time? It was one where access to these teachings depended on being a member of the brahmin caste—a caste of priests, intellectuals, acharyas.
Patanjali, the great equalizer, could not tolerate the unfairness of brahmins tilting the scales toward themselves and establishing the entire structure of society based solely on their self-declared birth-status. Brahmins asserted that salvation (escaping the transmigration of the soul) partially depended on giving gifts to them. So, Patanjali developed a darshana, a classical school of Yoga philosophy and practices, that was available to anyone and not dependent upon the brahmins. Within the context of his time, Patanjali was quite a progressive!
So how might we view aparigraha today from a vantage point of Nondual Yoga? Let’s consider an opposite to a yama before it’s prefixed with a negation. What might some antonyms for grasping, holding, seizing be? How about: Letting go, freedom, releasing, loosening, liberating? Feel into those words. Where do you sense them in your body? Do your shoulders relax a bit? Does your chest broaden? Do your hands unclench ever so slightly? How about your breath? It might change, it might not.
The word I settle on is “freedom.” When I feel into the sense of freedom—that my very essence is pure and free—my breath deepens and lengthens. I can imagine one more step. Graha also means “the beginning of any piece of music.” What if we listen into, around, and through the whole of the song of God that we are? I hear a glorious symphony!
How fortunate we are to bring Patanjali’s nearly 1500 year-old ideas into the twenty-first century and to see how can we personally relate to this yama. Swami Satchidananda explains that the mind becomes calm and clear by being free of desires and obligations that often come when one receives a “gift.” Then, he says, “we are no longer bound up with it.” Freedom indeed
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.