Aparigraha, or non-greed, is the fifth Yama in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga Path. Patanjali laid out what is known as the Eight-Limbed Path in the Yoga Sutras to specify eight distinct steps to follow in order to reach enlightenment, or as he described it, Samadhi.
The Yamas are ethical restraints and they are the first step on the Eight-Limbed Path. There are five separate Yamas.
We’ve previously explored the first Yama (Ahimsa or non-violence), the second Yama (Satya or truthfulness), the third Yama (Asteya or non-stealing), and the fourth Yama (Brahmacharya of celibacy), so let’s dive deeper into the fifth and final Yama: Aparigraha.
Aparigraha translates as non-possessiveness or non-greed and is an essential tenet of Patanjali’s yogic path.
What Are the Yamas?
The Yamas are the first limb of the path to enlightenment that Patanjali compiled in the Yoga Sutras.
The Eight-Limbed Path consists of:
- Yamas: Ethical Restraints
- Niyamas: Ethical Observances
- Asana: Seat of Meditation
- Pranayama: Extension of Life-Force Energy
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of Senses
- Dharana: Single-Pointed Concentration
- Dhyana: Meditation
- Samadhi: Enlightenment
As the first limb, the Yamas are the ethical restraints that a yogi must adhere to. These are essentially the “don’ts” on the yogic path.
There are five Yamas:
- Ahimsa: Non-Violence
- Satya: Non-Falsehood
- Asteya: Non-Stealing
- Brahmacharya: Celibacy
- Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness
Let’s explore the fifth Yama, Aparigraha, in greater detail.
What Is Aparigraha?
Aparigraha is the principle of non-greed. It roughly translates as “freedom from all greed and desire,” which sounds like a pretty tall order – and it is!
But Patanjali insisted that this basic tenet is essential to progress on the yogic path because, during this Classical Yoga era, in order to truly become a yogi, one had to abandon their earthly life and transcend to a life of spirituality.
This meant giving up all worldly possessions and even all worldly desires. And the same rings true today as well.
In order to truly walk the spiritual path of a yogi, we need to understand our own attachments to the material world. We need to examine our incessant desires to get the latest iPhone or upgrade our apartment or car.
To practice Aparigraha, we need to learn how to be in this world but not of it – how to meet our basic needs but not attach to any material greed. This can be challenging, to say the least – but it is doable.
How Do You Practice Aparigraha?
To practice Aparigraha, we need to genuinely distinguish our needs from our desires. Food is a necessity to live, a new iPhone is not. As social creatures, we need love to thrive. However, we do not need to cheat on our partners with multiple people to have love.
There is a clear distinction between needs and wants, and deep down, we always know the difference. To truly practice Aparigraha, we need to recognize these differences and act accordingly.
If we are too bogged down thinking about the next best thing, then we are never fully present in what is happening or even fully grateful for what we already have.
We tend to fall into a pattern of “if this, then that . . .” If I got a new car, then I’d be happy. If I could just go to Hawaii, then I’d be happy. If I got a promotion, then I’d be happy.
To practice Aparigraha, we need to genuinely distinguish our needs from our desires.
In this cycle, there is always an “if.” But if we can’t find happiness where we already are, then we are constantly in a state of lacking. We always feel as if we don’t have enough.
And when we continuously want and desire of more things, then we will never find peace and contentment.
The practice of Aparigraha is about finding gratitude for what you already have and feeling as if that is enough. Things could always be better, but then again, things could always be worse.
If we choose to feel that we have enough, then we actually do have enough.
The Takeaway on Aparigraha
Aparigraha is the fifth and final principle on this hierarchical path to enlightenment, preceded by non-violence, truthfulness, non-stealing, and celibacy.
This principle is all about giving up worldly desires in pursuit of more spiritual ones. Through this principle, Patanjali is trying to tell us that we don’t need more physical wealth – we need more spiritual wealth.
We need to replace our desires for worldly possessions for a burning spiritual desire to reach enlightenment.
Truly practicing Aparigraha allows us to be free and spiritual on the yogic path. And this opens the door to so many other opportunities along our journey toward enlightenment.