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Yama - the first limb of ashtanga yoga

Yama is one of the eight limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. It is also the name of the God of death in Hindu Mythology. This article is not about the God of death, but it is about the first limb of Ashtanga Yoga.

Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are the eight limbs of Yoga. The Yoga of these eight limbs is called Ashtanga Yoga which is one of the various versions of Raja Yoga discipline.

Meaning and Definition

Yama is the set of activities which one should abstain from. Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad defines Yama as "dehendriyeṣu vairāgyaṃ Yama" which means the detachment of the body from the sense organs is Yama. 

Tejo Bindu Upanishad defines Yama as "the mastery over senses and continuous focusing upon the knowledge that Sarvam Brahma - All is Brahman." 

The same definition is found in Aparokshanubuti of Sri Adi Sankara.

It is the practice of given virtues for the attainment of the yogic goal. It is the code of self-discipline. It is the adherence of the abstinence for the self-regulation.

Kinds of Yama

Yoga Sutra gives five-fold Yama; whereas Mandalabrahmana Upanishad gives four-fold Yama; Trisikhibrahmana Upanishad, Shandilya Upanishad, Darshana Upanishad, and Varaha Upanishad give ten kinds.

Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 

Patanjali who was the pioneer of Raja Yoga gives five kinds of Yama. They are called Pancha Yamas. Sutra 2.30 says "ahimsa Satya asteya brahmacharya aparigraha yama". It means Non-injury, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Celibacy, and Non-receiving are called Yama. Sutra 2.31 says "They become supreme vow when they are not limited by place, time, and situation".
  • Ahimsa or Non-injury. If Non-injury is established, all enmities cease in his presence. The same message is conveyed in Thirukkural verse 260 which says "He who is not engaged in killing and eating meat, is respectfully saluted by all beings." 
  • Sathya or Truthfulness. If truthfulness is established, he attains the power of getting the fruits of action without action for him and others.
  • Asteya or Non-stealing. By non-stealing, he gets all wealth.
  • Brahmacharya or Continence. By celibacy, he attains all powers.
  • Aparigraha or Non-receiving. By non-receiving of gifts, he gets the memory of past life.

Trishikhibrahmana Upanisad

A ten-fold Yama is given in Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad.
  • Ahimsa or Non-killing
  • Sathya or Truthfulness
  • Asteya or Non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya or Celibacy
  • Daya or Compassion
  • Arjava or Morality
  • Shama or Forbearance
  • Drutir or Will power
  • Mithahara or Temperance in food
  • Sousa or Cleanliness

Mandalabrahmana Upanishad

Mandalabrahmana Upanishad gives a four-fold Yama.
  • Sitosna-Ahara-Nidra-Vijaya or Mastery over cold, heat, food, and sleep
  • Sarvata Shanthi or Permanent quietude
  • Nis-Salatvam or undisturbed mind
  • Vishayendirya Nigraha or Control of senses over the inputs (objects)

Shandilya Upanishad

Like Trishikhibrahmana Upanishad, Shandilya Upanishad prescribes a ten-fold Yama. The same list is repeated, but it goes a step further to explain each one of them.

Ahimsa or Non-Killing is the constant abstinence from causing pain or grief to other beings by the acts of mind, speech, and body.

Sathya or Truthfulness is the honest engagement of body, speech, and mind in the activities that benefit others.

Asteya or Non-stealing is the three-fold abstinence of body, speech, and mind from stealing things that belong to others.

Brahmacharya or Celibacy is the abstinence of body, speech, and mind from the activities that make bodily union in any form at any place.

Daya or Compassion is showing love for all beings in all places by the activities of body, speech, and mind.

Arjava or Morality is showing the same attitude towards the things prescribed by scriptures and the things prohibited, by means of the activities of body, speech, and mind.

Shama or Forbearance is accepting exalting commendations and nasty condemnations alike.

Drutir or Will power is steadiness of the mind even in extreme cases of losing wealth or closed ones and gaining new wealth or closed ones.

Mithahara or Temperance of food is taking pure and healthy food leaving off the quarter of it.

Sausa or Cleanliness is internal as well as external cleanliness. External cleanliness comes with water and earth. Internal cleanliness is gained through Atma Vidya.

Darshana Upanishad

Darshana Upanishad also repeats the same list as enumerated in Shandilya Upanishad and Trisikhibrahmana Upanishad, but a different explanation to the ten-fold Yama.

Varaha Upanishad

The same ten-fold Yama is given in Varaha Upanishad. But it does not give a detailed explanation.


The five-fold Yama of Patanjali is most familiar. Of the five Yamas mentioned in Yoga Sutra, other scriptures take only the four of them leaving the fifth one: Aparigraha. In some of the yoga Upanishads like Amirta Nada Upanishad, Dhyana Bindu Upanishad, and Yoga Chudamani Upanishad, Yama and Niyama are completely excluded and only six limbs of Raja Yoga are explained.



Dhyana Bindu Upanishad

Dhyana Bindu Upanishad is the 39th of 108 Upanishads. It contains 106 verses and is attached to Krishna Yajur Veda whereas a smaller version of 26 verses was found attached to Atharva Veda. This Upanishad and Yoga Tattva Upanishad contains some common verses.

The mountainous sins accumulated over many births can be destroyed by Dhyana Yoga (Meditation). Nobody is found to have destroyed the sins by any other means except Meditation. Meditation is the only way to annihilate the sins.

Pranava (Om) is the Supreme Bijakshara (seed letter) with Nada (sound) and Bindu (dot). When the Nada dissolves, the soundless residuum (Brahman) remains. In other words, Pranava (Om) is eternal and Brahman is transcending the Pranava. One who knows the transcending Brahman knows everything without a doubt.

A hundred thousandth part of awn of a grain of paddy is the Jiva-Chaitanya (Consciousness of Atman). A hundred thousandth part of Jiva-Chaitanya is Eswara-Chaitanya (Consciousness of Brahman).  A fifty-tho…

Yoga Tattva Upanishad

Yoga Tattva Upanishad is the Upanishad of yoga philosophy. It is the forty-first Upanishad among the 108 Upanishads and forms part of Krishna Yajur Veda. It contains 142 verses.

I (says the author of the Upanishad) hereby present the philosophy of yoga (yoga tattva) for the benefit of yogis. By hearing and learning this yoga, the yogi will get released himself from all the sins.

The great yogi by name Vishnu, the Supreme Being who is known for his spiritual austerities, stands as the beacon of light in the path of yoga tattva. The Pitamaha (Pitamaha means grandfather. It here refers to Lord Brahman, the deity) approached Lord Jagannath (the other name for Lord Vishnu. Jagannath means the Lord of the universe) paid him respects and asked him to explain the philosophy of Astanga Yoga (yoga of eight limbs or stages).

“Let me explain the philosophy,” said Lord Hrisikesha (the other name of Lord Vishnu. It means the Lord of senses). All people are ensnared in the trap of worldly pains and pl…

Brahma Vidya Upanishad

Brahma Vidya Upanishad is the 40th among the 108 Upanishads. It contains 110 verses and found attached in Krishna Yajur Veda. Yet another version of this Upanishad containing 14 verses is found attached in Atharva Veda.
Brahma Vidya is the knowledge of Brahman. Hence this Upanishad deals with the knowledge of Brahman.
I declare the secret of Brahma Vidya, in the name Vishnu who commands over the marvelous deeds. The supreme science of Brahman is the monosyllable Om, as declared by the expounders of Vedanta.
I declare the body, seat, and durations of Om.  It includes the three Gods (Brahma, Vishnu, and Maheswara), the three worlds (Bhur, Bhuvar, and Suvar), the three Vedas (Rig, Yajur, and Sama), the three Fires (Garha-patya, Dakshina, and Ahavaniya), the three Matras (A, U, and M), and the Ardha Matra.
The body of Pranava The body of the first Matra “A” is Rig Veda, Garha-patya (Fire), Prithvi (Earth), and Lord Brahman, the deity. (In Sanskrit, the word Brahman has two connotations. One is…