Aparigraha is the yogic injunction for non-possessing. All oriental religions promulgate it as one of self-restraint to be cultivated by persons from all walks of life whether they are laymen or ascetic. It is a moral precept that controls the greediness to possess things that are in excess of basic requirements.
From the yogic point of view, Non-Possessing is one of the five basic restraints that should be cultivated for the advancement in the path of yoga. Besides, all oriental religions prescribe No-Possessing as a prime trait of a spiritual aspirant.
This article discusses the different views on Non-Possessing in detail.
The Sanskrit word Aparigraha (अपरिग्रह) is the negation of Parigraha (परिग्रह). Parigraha is taking possession or holding things on all sides; Aparigraha is not taking possession of things.
It also means non-accepting of gifts of any kind or non-greediness or non-holding through senses or non-covetousness. It is the abstention from the inordinate desire towards the material objects.
If one takes possession of things in excess of his bare necessities, he has to safeguard them for future use. This makes attachment to the material objects. In this sense, Aparigraha is non-attachment too. It is giving up the notion of mine-ness in everything. It is dispassion and desirelessness. Besides, it is the absence of greed and jealousy. It is what renunciation is all about.
One should exercise Non-Possessing with reference to the functions of sense organs: Seeing, Hearing, Speaking, Smelling, and Touching. One should not have any attachment in seeing a particular object of vision or hearing music or in any object of sound. Besides one should abstain from the objects that give pleasure by foregoing the intention of possessing.
It may be defined as “the control of one’s tendency to greedily possess things in excess of one’s own requirements and in such a way which is not righteous.” It has two aspects. The possession of things should not be in a greedy way. Its procurement should be in a righteous manner; it should not go against moral ethics. One should observe both the rules, it is deemed that the rule of Aparigraha is broken.
It is often defined as the non-acceptance of gifts. Receiving inappropriate gifts from others is against this virtue.
The Jaina Text Pursharthasiddhiupaya (verse 111) defines Parigraha as ‘attachment caused by moha karma (activities of desire)’.
Asteya Vs Aparigraha
The words Asteya and Aparigraha are similar in meaning. A thin difference exists between them. To avoid any confusion, you should have the right understanding of their meaning.
Asteya is the virtue of non-stealing. It is the appropriation of things that belong to others by force or by without permission; whereas Aparigraha is inappropriate acceptance of things that belong to others even with their permission.
Asteya results in Himsa to others because one uses others’ possession without consent. It means when you break the virtue of Asteya, you break the virtue of Ahimsa also. But it is not necessarily the case with Aparigraha. Hence Asteya is more essential virtue than Aparigraha.
The similarity between them is, in both cases, there is an intention of possessing things. Abstention from materialism is the common aspect of the two precepts.
Aparigraha Yama in Yoga
Non-Possessing in Yoga Sutra of Patanjali
Verse 2.39 of Yoga Sutra of Patanjali says ‘aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathaṁtā saṁbodhaḥ’ which means ‘on mastery over Aparigraha, the knowledge of past and future existence ensues’.
The following is the quote from Swami Vivekananda on the commentary of the above verse;
“When the Yogi does not receive presents from others he does not become beholden to others, but becomes independent and free, and his mind becomes pure, because with every gift he receives all the evils of the giver, and they come and lay coating after coating on his mind, until it is hidden under all sorts of coverings of evil. If he does not receive, the mind becomes pure, and the first thing it gets is the memory of past life. Then alone the Yogi becomes perfectly fixed in his ideal because he sees that he has been coming and going so many times, and he becomes determined that this time he will be free, that he will no more come and go, and be the slave of Nature.”Swami Vivekananda
Gift and Non-Possessing
Besides, any gift received adds it up to Karmic Balance. The higher the Karmic Balance more will be the number of births he requires to set off.
If one has the tendency to possess things in excess of his requirements, he starts to compare what he has with others. It makes him jealous or proud. In either case, he will be subject to a negative chain of modifications in his Chitta which is detrimental to yoga.
Any material thing in excess of requirement makes the yogi attached to it. Any attachment is an obstacle to yoga.
Non-Possessing Controls Thought Waves
A yogi should practice Aparigraha failing which he could not succeed in his yoga. Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali verse 1.12 states that a yogi can control thought waves by practice and dispassion.
Dispassion and Non-Possessing
Verse 1.15 defines dispassion as ‘if the mind loses the desire even for the material objects seen or objects described in scriptures and tradition, it attains utter desirelessness which is called dispassion. In other words, if someone loses even the desire for spiritual progress, he attained success in desirelessness and it is called dispassion or non-attachment.’
Verse 1.16 says ‘if one could show indifference towards the subtle aspects or qualities of the objects by the knowledge of Self, he has supreme non-attachment.’
Aparigraha in Hinduism
yogī yuñjīta satatam ātmānaḿ rahasi sthitaḥ ekākī yata-cittātmā nirāśīr aparigrahaḥ - Bhagavad Gita Verse 6.10
Meaning: A yogi should always keep his body, mind, and Atman (Self) in relationship with the supreme; he should live in a secluded place and control his mind by keeping it free from desires and possession.
The verse states that controlling of Chitta is possible by practicing desirelessness and non-attachment or dispassion. We have already seen the importance of dispassion as expressed by Patanjali in controlling thought waves.
According to Hinduism, the six-fold enemies in the path of Moksha or liberation (Shad-Ribu) are Kama (lust), Krodha (anger), Lobha (greed), Moha (attachment), Madha (pride), and Matsarya (jealousy). By observing Brahmacharya, one can overcome the enemies of lust and anger (lust is the root cause of anger); whereas by observing Aparigraha, one can overcome the rest of the enemies.
Aparigraha in Jainism
Five Great Vows in Jainism
Like Aparigraha is one of the five Yamas of Yoga philosophy and Hinduism, it is one of the five great vows (Maha Virat) of Jainism. The five-fold Maha Virat of Jaina philosophy is the same as the five Yamas of Yoga philosophy. In Jainism, both householders and monks should observe the five vows, but with a little variation.
Ahimsa is the most important virtue in Jainism; whereas Aparigraha is the second most essential virtue that one should observe.
Right belief, Right Knowledge, and Right conduct are the three gems in Jainism that constitute the path of Liberation. Right conduct constitutes the abstinence from injuring, falsehood, theft, unchastity, and worldly attachment. These are great vows.
They are of two types: partial abstention and complete abstention. Partial abstention is for householders and complete abstention is for ascetics. With complete abstention one becomes the pure Jiva and with partial abstention one becomes a disciple.
Purusharthasiddhiupaya on Non-Attachment
Purusharthasiddhiupaya classifies Parigraha (attachment) into two kinds: internal and external. Internal attachment is of fourteen kinds and external attachment is of two kinds.
The internal attachment includes the wrong belief, sexual inclination, the six defects, four passions, laughter, etc. The external attachment is of two types: one with respect to living and non-living objects. All this includes Ahimsa. The Acharyas of Jainism consider the renunciation of attachment as a sort of Ahimsa.
The internal attachments are again classified into two degrees. Wrong belief and four passions are of the first degree and the rest which obstruct the partial conduct are of the second degree. The first-degree attachments should be got rid of completely. The second-degree attachments should be suppressed with self-exertion through humility, contentment, and meditation
Likewise, the external attachment should also be completely avoided. If one could not renounce cattle, dog, cat, servants, buildings, wealth, and other external attachments completely, she/he should limit them to the barest minimum.
Aparigraha in Buddhism
The five-fold code of conduct (Pancha Sila or Pancha Dhamma) to be observed in Buddhism is called the primary precepts. The list of virtues is the same as the list of great vows in Jainism except for the fifth virtue Aparigraha. Abstention from intoxication is the fifth virtue in Buddhism in place of Aparigraha in Jainism.
However, in Mahayana Buddhism, there is another set of moral guidelines called Bodhisattva vows or precepts which includes renunciation as a precept.
An article by Ankur Barua, Hong Kong, 2009 concludes that deviation from Aparigraha was the main reason for the disappearance of Buddism in India. Accumulation of abundance of wealth in Buddhist monasteries which is against the teachings of Buddha was the main reason behind the downfall of Buddhism in India. Disputes over wealth and leadership were other reasons.
Non-possessing in Literature
Thirukkural is classical Tamil literature that belongs to the first century BCE which is extant now. It was written by Thiruvalluvar. It contains 133 chapters and 1330 verses. Chapter 35 is dedicated to renunciation.
From which, from which one detaches forever
By that, by that, he suffers never
If you aspire to renounce, do it when you have everything
By doing so, you attain many things.
To get mastery over the sense-organs
Renounce all of their objective inclinations
The complete detachment is the renunciation ordinate
Even a single attachment drives to ignorance inordinate
Why other burdens? The body itself is a burden for him
Who wants to escape the cycle of birth from
Why other burdens? The body itself is a burden for him
Who wants to escape the cycle of birth from
He who destroys the ego: I and mine
Reaches the realms above the worlds divine
Miseries hold him with a firm grasp
Who holds the attachment with a fastening clasp
Attain complete detachment as the goal being set
Lest fall prey to ignorance the enveloping net
Detachment destroys the cycle of birth
Or else, instability is the underlying filth
Cling to Him who clings to nothing
Hold that cling for unclinging everything
Om Tat Sat!
- Ganganatha Jha, The Yoga Dharsana – the translation of Vyasa Bhasya of Yoga-sutra of Patanjali, Rajaram Tukaram Tatya, 1907.
- Swami Vivekananda, Patanjali Yoga Sutras, https://www.pdfdrive.com/the-yoga-sutras-of-patanjali-by-swami-vivekananda-e17534288.html.
- Dayanand Bhargava, Jaina Ethics, Motilal Banarsidass, 1968.
- Suredernath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1922