Thursday, July 3, 2014

Aparigraha - harmony between your needs and wants

अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंता संबोधः ॥३९॥
aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathaṁtā saṁbodhaḥ

Absence of greed provides knowledge concerning the reason of our earthly existence.

Aparigraha is the fifth yama, and perhaps the most important one in our increasingly materialist and complex world. In its essence, it emphases the absence of a greed for ownership. Key to the concept of aparigraha is that any possession, or more specifically the desire to possess, leads to attachment and fear of loss, thereby causing suffering.

There is an important difference in owning utilities desirable for a secure and healthy life, and possessiveness. Every life has basic needs such as shelter, clothes, food, health, and it must aim to secure those. However, anything beyond what is actively used is associated with a desire for, and pleasure in owning for the sake of owning, for exclusiveness. Alternatively, it can reflect insecurities and a fear of loss. The desire of ownership and exclusiveness is never fulfilled, and the fear of loosing is only increased by wealth accumulation.

All possessiveness leads to attachment and suffering. This is because owning things always results to some extent in these things owning us, consuming our thoughts, time, and effort. On the most materialistic level, there is this tendency in most of us to collect and own what we consider beautiful, desirable. Unrealized dreams are often lived by 'Ersatzbefriedigung' - proxy experience, something that advertisement is most knowledgeable of fueling in us. For example, our desire to experience nature is converted into the ownership of expensive 4WDs, outdoor gear, and other gadgets that possibly distract from the very tranquility of it. Similarly, the idea of domestic happiness is projected into house ownership. In reality, the high price associated with paying off mortgages and long commutes to work can adversely impact families and the quality of individual lives and relationships.

Possessiveness can extend beyond material things to a desire to own people, exert power over them, an expectation of unconditional loyalty.  Greed can also be extended to non-material things, such as social standing. We are mostly living in a work environment that expects people to think in terms of a career ladder that needs to be climbed. We are encouraged to think strategically of where we want to stand professionally and socially in 1 year, 3 years, 10 years. While regular reflection on where we stand in our life and what should be improved to better address the needs of ourselves and those around us is a good thing, obsession with social and professional standing will invariably shift our focus from being to becoming, from presence to the uncertainty of future and cause associated stress.

Greedlessness is non-attachment to material things and concepts. This includes our body. Our society is obsessed with bodily perfection, the dream of eternal youth. Many practitioners of yoga are drawn to the physical exercises, the asanas, to achieve a perfect body. While a healthy body is a great tool, from a holistic yoga perspective it is not more than that - a tool. Obsession with our physical bodies also results in suffering, in fear of death or abinivesha.

The beauty of aparigraha is the instant peace of mind, freedom and happiness it can bring when we stop chasing things, giving up what we don't presently need. Life just becomes simplified, there is more presence in what we do, more space in how we life, more courage in how we dream. By practicing aparigraha, we become instantly rewarded with more of what we need in any stage of life and we will find more time to enjoy it.

Aparigrapha is harmony between present needs and wants