We have been discussing a few simple concepts given in Yogic scripture that can be easily applied to everyday life and that can change the way we live our lives. This is the last of the first set of concepts we will be discussing. If you have missed out on reading the earlier ones, you can check this article. It gives an introduction to what these concepts are all about and there are links for the individual articles as well further down in the post.
What is Aparigraha?
Let us first look at some dictionary meanings of this Sanskrit word for a bit of context before we go on to interpret it in Yogic terms.
- Aparigraha – renunciation, poverty, not having a wife – Sanskrit Dictionary
- Parigraha is the word from which it is derived. Parigraha means possession of a wife, of property, of any worldly possessions
- Aparigraha – rejection, destitution, deprivation, abandonment of infatuation – Wisdom Library
Sounds pretty bleak and impractical, right? If we do knowingly become poor and do away with all possessions, how can we continue living and being a part of society without being a burden on those who continue to work and earn a living? Wouldn’t it be unfair to expect society to care for us when we are entirely capable of doing that ourselves but voluntarily choose not to?
As I have mentioned many times before, English translations are often a poor substitute for the actual Sanskrit terminology and it, therefore, leaves a lot of gaps in understanding. So, please do not take the definitions we looked at earlier very literally; they just point us in the right direction.
Aparigraha in Yoga
Is Yoga really asking us to follow this concept? When Yogic texts discuss this concept, it is based off of the definitions we mentioned earlier. However, the interpretation of this word is not entirely accurate and we have to dig deeper to understand the context. So, let us dig in!
Aparigraha is a concept mentioned as the last of the 5 kinds of Yama, the first step of Classical Ashtānga Yoga given by Sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sūtra.
Rather than the definitions given earlier, I like to interpret this word to mean ‘decluttering’. This is a word I have slowly begun to love for its depth of meaning and how beautifully it can be interpreted and applied to daily life. Aparigraha and Santōsha have constantly given me the gift of pure joy and happiness in my life for years, and that is what inspires me to share my understanding and experience with you.
We all accumulate a lot during our lifetimes – money, clothes, shoes, experiences, relationships, memories, beliefs, thoughts, ideas, and so much more than makes up our life and shapes us into the people we are. We respond to people and situations based on what we have learnt through our own and others’ shared experiences.
What happens over time, though, is that we not only accumulate our learnings from people and experiences but we also hold on to emotions associated with them. We start reacting rather than responding to people and situations because of these emotions. Pain, pleasure, guilt, hatred, fear, laughter and many more emotions get associated with people, places, things, situations unconsciously in our mind and start influencing our decisions and interactions. Over time, they also influence our beliefs, prejudices, and thoughts.
This is dangerous because we are then reacting to something in the past without completely understanding or being aware of the present. This could lead to misunderstandings, miscommunication, arguments, even violence and abuse if we do not realise and address it early on. It could leave us feeling hurt, angry, raw, and bitter, as if the whole world is against us.
Aparigraha guides us to notice this. We then use the other concepts to work with the situation:
- Acceptance helps us come to terms with the fact that we are hoarding emotions from the past
- Vairāgya can assist us in slowly starting the process of letting go of all these emotions that weigh us down
- Santōsha leads us to accepting ourselves with all these emotions as we work towards letting them go and processing through all of them bit by bit
- Forgiveness paves the way for cutting ourselves some slack for all the baggage we have been carrying and to be gentle with ourselves as we deal with the myriad emotions
Finally comes Aparigraha which, combined with Vairāgya, can make the process of sorting through the emotions, separating them from the lessons learnt and the memories accumulated easier on us. It helps us make logical decisions based on what is actually useful to us and what is not, and slowly doing away with everything that is excess. It guides us to separate what we need from what we want and to keep only that which is necessary.
Let us try to understand this from the perspective of clothes and shoes. If you are someone who loves buying clothes or shoes, you will soon start running out of space for them. If you have a lot of them stored away in cupboards, a lot of clothes and shoes tend to be forgotten for months and even years. But they are still taking up space and not letting you bring newness into your wardrobe. To do that, you need to empty out and give away these older clothes and shoes and make space.
If you like backpacking, think of the very first time you went on a backpacking trip. Think about how heavy and stuffed your bags were and how much stuff you carried. Over time, you have learnt to pack less, travel lighter, and take only that which you need. You have learnt to declutter your travel bag and separate the necessities from the rest.
That is exactly what Aparigraha helps us do! This is what the definitions mean by renunciation and non-possession. Be it our material possessions, or our memories and emotions, it helps us sort through them, find the bits that teach us something and are necessary for life, and slowly let go of the rest.
This process is respectful of us, our experiences, and our emotions, allowing us to process through everything before we let go. It does not ask us to suppress or avoid anything but guides us to accept their existence and to gently allow them to leave. This process could take days, weeks, or even years, and that is alright. We all have our own journeys to make.
The more baggage we shed, the faster we can move forward without having to lug ourselves all along the way. We can travel through life with greater awareness, move through changes and challenges with confidence, and experience emotions to their fullest without letting them weigh us down. We can maintain our inner balance while experiencing all that the world has to offer.
Please do share your experiences with these concepts and how they have impacted your life. If you have questions about applying them, do not hesitate to reach out to me so we can talk and share!