This chapter is devoted to two of the minor Upanishads, which form the very root of Hindu philosophy. In Hindu scriptures, the teachings may not be prescribed as commands, nor are there punitive threats extended to those who would defy. Even so there are many virtuous teachings in all these scriptures. Without the spiritual teachings, what other role does a religion have to play? The core of these teachings is presented as “A code of conduct” in the form of yamas and niyamas in the Shandilya (100 BCE to 300 CE) and Varaha (13th and 16th CE) Upanishads.
The yamas are the don’ts, which harness and control the impulsive, lower sensual nature, with its governing impulses of fear, anger, jealousy, selfishness, greed, and lust. The niyamas are the do’s—the religious observances that cultivate and bring forth the refined soul qualities, lifting awareness into higher realms of compassion, selflessness, wisdom, and bliss.
The yamas are those activities, which we perform from our lower animal nature, and which may cause hurt and harm to others. Generally these activities are also not sanctioned by the secular laws of our society, and may invite punishment by the court. The niyamas are the higher actions, also named as “spiritual” or “virtuous” deeds. There is generally no law in the secular court, to force a person to perform these actions, and no punishment is meted to anyone if the same is not performed. Even so there is widespread acceptance and appreciation of such actions in society anywhere. This vindicated the superiority and ascendancy of the religious teachings over the secular code.
- Ahimsa (nonviolence): Practice non-injury in thought, word, and speech; and live peacefully with all.
- Satya (truth): Always be truthful. Satya has been placed as second to the yama of ahimsa or non-violence. If telling the truth would be harmful to another being, the truth may be withheld or modified. The truth also needs to be spoken in gentle and soft tones.
- Asteya (nonstealing): Uphold the virtue of non-stealing and non-coveting another’s property.
- Brahmacharya (practice divine conduct): Control lust by remaining celibate when single and faithful in marriage.
- Aparigrah (control greed): One may acquire reasonable and good things in life, but control of desires is essential so that one may not hanker needlessly after worldly possessions beyond limits.
- Exercise patience and restraint: Be agreeable. Don’t argue, dominate conversations, or interrupt others.
- Foster steadfastness, overcoming non-perseverance: Achieve your goals with a prayer, plan, persistence, and push.
- Practice compassion: Conquer callous, cruel, and insensitive feelings toward all beings. Be kind to people, animals, plants, and the Earth.
- Maintain honesty: Renounce deception and wrongdoing. Act honorably. Obey the laws of your nation and locale. Pay your taxes.
- Neither eat too much nor consume meat, fish, shellfish, fowl, or eggs. Enjoy fresh wholesome vegetarian foods that vitalize the body. Follow a simple diet, avoiding rich or fancy fare.
- Shaucha (purity): Uphold the ethics of purity, avoiding impurity in mind, body, and speech. Maintain a clean, healthy body.
- Santosh (contentment): Nurture contentment, seeking joy and serenity in life. Live in constant gratitude for your health, your friends, and your belongings.
- Tapa (sacrifice): Be prepared to make sacrifices, and learn to be calm and patient under most difficult circumstances.
- Svadhya (study of the scriptures): Learn the Holy Scriptures regularly.
- Ishwarapranidhan and puja (devotional worship): Cultivate devotion through daily worship and meditation.
- Prayashchitta (atonement): Atone for misdeeds through penance,
- Dashamamsha (offering to God’s cause): Be generous to a fault, giving liberally without thought of reward.
- Sadhana (meditation): Cultivate an unshakable faith. Believe firmly in God, gods, guru, and your path to enlightenment.
- Develop a spiritual will and intellect with your sat guru’s guidance.
- Vrata (sacred vow): Embrace religious vows, rules, and observances. Honor vows as spiritual contracts with your soul.
- Japa (chant your holy mantra daily): Recite the sacred sound, word, or phrase given by your guru.
These yamas and niyamas constitute Hinduism’s fundamental ethical codes. Good character and conduct is the foundation of spiritual life in Hinduism.
Minor Upanishads are scriptures that have been compiled after the Buddhist era. In effect, these scriptures and other teachings of the learned saints and sages have continually been added to the previous scriptures, maintaining a successful flow of spiritual traditions. These and other such teachings are never antagonistic to their predecessors; they have merely added some clarifications, supplemented few modifications, and made suitable subtle changes, as necessary. One example from above list of “yamas” will explain: “Always be truthful. Satya (truth) has been placed as second to the yama of ahimsa (non-violence). If telling the truth would be harmful to another being, the truth may be withheld or modified. The truth also needs to be spoken in gentle and soft tones.”