Aparigraha means non-acceptance of gifts, non-hoarding, being free from greed, being free from rigidity of thoughts and free from clinging to paradigms and opinions. In a positive sense, grasping is replaced with the practice of generosity, gratitude, contentment, and respect. Sthairye is being steady, stable and fully trusting in this practice.
In the US, one of the main family holidays is Thanksgiving. For Native Americans, it marks the arrival of European settlers and the subsequent genocide and forced relocation and is a National Day of Mourning. Thanksgiving is followed by Black Friday, the first day of a shopping frenzy that lasts until Christmas. Ironically, this day coincides with Native American Heritage Day. “Giving Thanks” ought to be about gratitude for bountiful harvests and other gifts we tend to take for granted. However, for many, Thanksgiving has become a day of gluttony, where the slaughter of 46 million turkeys is ignored. Greed is further stimulated by a mass manipulation of consumers, while covering up the remembrance of the rich cultural and spiritual traditions of Native American Nations. The greed of the first colonizers has now evolved into a hypnosis that puts profit over people and ecosystems, while continuing to violate indigenous lands, and is threatening the very life on this planet.
Yama means restraint to harmonize ourselves with other beings. Aparigraha, as the fifth Yama, is deeply intertwined with the preceding four. Greed is the cause of most wars and violence. Greed brings hypocrisy, lies and deceit. Greed leads to stealing habitat and is the cause of the forceful displacement of 100 million people and the sixth mass extinction. Greed also is the source of much sexual misconduct, especially human trafficking, sex slavery and animal husbandry.
As a guiding principle for a global society, the conscious practice of Aparigraha has the potential of provoking a massive paradigm shift and restoring the other Yamas. It stands in harmony with indigenous practices towards sustainability. In Native American traditions, one’s lifestyle is to consider the well-being of the coming seven generations.
Every spiritual tradition has recognized that a simple life is conducive for practices of enlightenment and spiritual realization. Monks and nuns in monasteries and ashrams generally possess only a couple of identical robes. Some use begging bowls for food and alms. Meals are often minimal, vegetarian or vegan. Many shave their heads to minimize ego, and most engage in Karma Yoga.
Asana and meditation practices are about simplicity. All we need is a mat, our bodies, minds, and breath. Every day, we take a break to let go of outer distractions, grasping and greedy tendencies. We allow the necessary spaciousness to emerge that we can reach a state where we are missing nothing. In Sutra II.39, Maharishi Patanjali suggests that the practice of Aparigraha will ultimately reveal why we were born. It is not only the understanding of past, present and future births, but also of our true purpose in life.