Life Lessons: Aparigraha (non-grasping)

meditation treeI am as far as one can get from being an urban yoga practitioner. My husband and I choose to live a life of voluntary simplicity in a semi remote location. We waste not and want not.  As we chose to drop out of the consumer driven society and are unimpressed with the unrelenting advertising that assails and assaults us when traveling to the city, we are uncomfortable when evidence of misguided yoga connected marketing success shows up on our shore.

City yogins come to where we live to attend yoga retreats. Most appear to be either very well off or deeply in debt, given the luxury vehicles they drive and their other costly possessions.  They chat about how hard they work or have worked and how they reward themselves by traveling the world to attend yoga retreats in far flung places. The new top of the line yoga gear they carry into the retreat and the three new expensive yoga outfits they will wear on a single weekend, as well as, lavish jewelry, shoes and handbags characterizes them as yuppies living extravagant lifestyles, and doesn’t impress local yogins. It can trigger judgmental thoughts and a desire to run in the opposite direction.  And those two inclinations (judging and a desire to disassociate) are what I struggle to overcome.

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Most spiritual traditions encourage simple living, and yoga is no exception. In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali laid out the yamas (moral restraints) and niyamas (observances), a set of 10 principles that are crucial to one’s progress along the yogic path.

One of the yamas is aparigraha, often translated as “greedlessness.” But it means more than just taking only what you need, explains David Frawley, founder and director of the American Institute of Vedic Studies and author of Yoga and the Sacred Fire.

Aparigraha also means “not having a lot of unnecessary things around yourself and not hankering after what other people have,” Frawley says. In other words, aparigraha also means keeping only what you need and wanting only what you need. — Yoga Lifestyle: When Less is More

We local yogins have been cultivating aparigraha and the yoga mindset for many years. We live simple lives and only buy what we need when we can’t it get free, or second hand, or we can’t make it ourselves.  Far from being uneducated and under privileged people,  years of census data reveals we over educated expatriated exurbanites, who rejected living an affluent lifestyle by walking away from lucrative professional positions, relocating and living the simple life. Consequently, the challenge we face is not to judge and convict urban yogins we meet in retreat of excessive consumption, but to simply love them as they are and that’s not always easy to do.

For example,  I made my mala (strand of prayer beads used in meditation) in a pottery class in college when I  began a yoga practice and began to attend Buddhist teachings. I still use it and I also use a mala I made from glass beds my grandmother once wore as a necklace.

When an urban yogini wearing large very valuable diamonds in her ears and nose and around her neck, revealed she had a case of 144 malas made by a low income person on another continent for a cost of pennies each in US currency to gift her friends with, I felt very uncomfortable and refused to accept her gift.

I have  a small collection of Buddha, Tara, Chenrezig, Manjushri, etc. statues. I received most as gifts during my college and university years and have purchased only two new. None is large or ostentatious. When I see any in second hand shops I  buy them inexpensively and gift them to like-minded friends.

When an urban yogi passed around breathtaking pictures of his elaborate garden featuring a huge  Buddha and revealed it had been carved for him on commission for several thousand US dollars, I felt a lump rise in my throat. I did not compliment him on his photography skills, on the statue or on his lovely garden.

Except when it comes to undies and footwear, I only buy new clothing on rare occasions. When I buy new I do buy quality so it lasts longer.  However,  I’m fortunate in that I have very little difficulty finding hardly worn expensive clothing, including my yoga wear for less than 1/4 of the original cost in consignment stores or charity shops. In fact, I’m decked out in the worn once or twice outfits that urban yoginis sell or donate yet don’t I feel particularly grateful towards them.

When several returning urban yoginis revealed they “sacrificed”  so they could “reward” themselves with expensive yoga clothing for retreats, I was hard pressed not to observe that their daily wear was also top of the line clothing, and sarcastically ask what exactly had they sacrificed.

On one hand, I don’t want fancy shawls, blankets, cushions and bolsters. On the other, I don’t benefit from feeling that purchasing secondhand stuff makes me superior to those who purchase trendy new yoga gear frequently.  My meditation benches were made by my husband from scrap lumber.  My yoga mat is an eco-friendly natural rubber one I’ve had for years. My yoga props are all natural fiber items I bought in charity shops and secondhand stores.  They are all I need when it comes to supporting my desire to achieve my yoga goals.

Winners compare their achievements with their goals, while losers compare their achievements with those of other people. – Nido Qubein

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When judging the rich and feeling the desire to disassociate from them arises,  I tell myself becoming a major consumer of yoga goods and gear is not in alignment with what yoga is all about.  I know it’s contrary to cultivating aparigraha (non-grasping), but who am I really concerned about?

Why do we judge others? Isn’t it really the easy way out? We much rather judge others than look at our own issues. It’s the perfect cover. It makes us feel superior, like as if we were better than them and that temporarily makes us feel good.  Least do we realize, we are only dwelling deeper into the abyss of negativity with this action. –  How to Be Non-Judgmental of Yourself and Others

No sooner than I think I have overcome judging and desire to disassociate from the affluent offline than I enter the online world where find I’m triggered again. My guest post policy clearly states: “Please note that this is not a commercial blog and no submissions made on behalf of a commercial client will be considered for publication.” Yet lately I have been turning down a steady stream of  guest post requests from content marketers, who are aiming to promote yoga related brands via this blog. My response will be to purchase a No-Ads upgrade for it very soon.

yoga collageWithout doubt, I am contemptuous of advertising tactics and marketing trickery brands use ranging from the soft sell “you are entitled” andyou deserve it” lifestyle marketing messages, to the green-washing ads that conflict with aparigraha and the yoga mindset.

I despise yoga bleaching. 

yoga bleaching: 1. a form of marketing in which yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle is used to make an otherwise unrelated product appear to be in line with yogic principles. 2. the act of using yoga or an image of yogic lifestyle to sell an unrelated product. 3. a form of spin or marketing intended to deceive consumers into believing that a product is related to yogic practice or theory when in fact it is not.

These twisted messages aimed at middle-aged people and particularly at aging yuppies are everywhere offline, so why should I be surprised to find them online too? My overall  impression is there has been a sudden increase in such online advertising. Is that impression reality based? Does it matter if it is?

One of the drawbacks of the internet is the way it exponentially increases the opportunity to compare yourself to others. … Have you ever noticed how it can seem like everyone in the blogosphere is so brilliant, leading an epic life, in touch with their true self, bold beyond belief, a fountain of unconditional love, and making loads of money to boot! — A Simple 6-Part Prescription for Greater Happiness

When I see online yoga teachers promoting top of the line yoga wear and showcasing brand name goods on their sites, my quick-to-judge monkey-mind chatters suspiciously suggesting they may lack aparigraha (non grasping) yoga mindset. Clearly, who yoga students choose to get their instruction from is their spiritual business, not mine.  Judging and desiring to dissociate arises from listening to the ego-driven monkey mind and addressing that issue is my spiritual business.

Judge and criticize people more and you tend to judge and criticize yourself more (often almost automatically). Be more kind to other people and help them and you tend to be more kind and helpful to yourself.  So focus your mind on helping people and being kind. — How to Stop Comparing Yourself to Others

meditation treeLife lessons: Yoga is seeing union, consciousness, oneness, love in everything we are, in everyone we meet and in everything we do.

Practicing frugality gives rise to its own rewards. Taken to extremes frugality can become an addiction that gives rise to judging others and desiring to dissociate from them.

Distancing from any participants in yoga retreats would result in failing to connect with them and love them exactly as they are.

The antidotes to judging and wanting to disassociate are self-forgiveness and loving kindness.

35 thoughts on “Life Lessons: Aparigraha (non-grasping)

  1. Pingback: What’s your take on advertising on blogs? | one cool site

  2. “When I see online yoga teachers promoting top of the line yoga wear and showcasing brand name goods on their sites, my quick-to-judge monkey-mind chatters suspiciously. . .”

    I really got a good laugh from that. :D

    I’m impressed by the self-reflective tone your post has to it. Although I’m not religious, I always have Christ’s admonition about not judging not far from the front of my mind. (Don’t get me wrong–I can be very judgmental. But that’s related to issues that involve truly evil ideas and actions.) The case of the guy who is proud of the beautiful Buddha garden he made I think is a good one relating to Christ asking, “Who are you to judge someone else, when you do the very same things yourself?” ‘Tis true. We all have things we are proud of and want recognition for. If it doesn’t involve lying, cheating, stealing, malice, and the like; for whatever it’s worth, I think the compassionate thing to do is to give the other person a pat on the back.

    • Christianity is a very new religion. In fact the admonition against judging can be found in several different spiritual traditions that all predate Christianity by centuries. Overall it’s very difficult to find anything Christian that has not been hijacked from earlier spiritual traditions. IMO the fact these admonitions and underlying precepts are common to many spiritual traditions demonstrates that insight and wisdom that underlies them. I am very well versed in comparative religions but this is not a religious blog and I have no intention of allowing it to become one. However, here’s some food for thought.

      The following universals expressed in Pali the closest living language to Sanskrit are the essence of teachings of both Buddha and of Jesus. They are also found in several other traditions as well. I think they do constitute common ground for all people who are aware of their spiritual nature.

      dana = authentic generosity (charitable giving of the self and sharing of possessions, donation)
      metta = selfless love and good will toward all beings (loving kindness)
      karuna = compassion (respect, acceptance, forgiveness)
      mudita = altruistic joy filled with peace and contentment (appreciative joy at the success and good fortune of others)
      sila = self discipline -abstaining from physical and vocal actions that cause harm to oneself and others
      uppekka = equanimity (an inclusive state of open mind free of attachment, aversion, bigotry, craving, ignorance and intolerance)

      • I know about Adolf Bastian’s concept of “elementary ideas,” having become familiar with it while studying Joseph Campbell’s course “Transformations of Myth Through Time.” I responded to your post from within my life experiences and the culture in which I have lived. Just last night, I was watching a lecture by Sam Harris where he mentioned the Tibetan monks and how they said their greatest challenge during their — sometimes decades-long — subjection to torture made it difficult but not impossible for them to have compassion for their torturers. I was thinking of that when I mentioned the word “compassion.”

        I had no intention of derailing your discussion by introducing religion into it in a derailing way—and I don’t think I did that. I responded in my own words with what I know and am familiar with. Believe me, I know from personal experience just how disruptive and conversation-destroying people who are on a mission from God can be.

        • Hi Donald,
          I apologize if I sounded edgy to you. That was most certainly not intended. Yes you did use your own words and yes I do value them. Thanks so much for your assurance in the last paragraph of your comment as well. I do appreciate it.

        • I’ve sounded edgy a few times myself. ;)

          A lovely site and vibrant community you have here.

        • Thanks for the compliment on the site. I love my readers but I’m behind when it comes responding to their comments. I work full time, I do contracted work, I answer support forum questions. When I have the time to I blog but my first blog priority is my blogging tips blog one http://onecoolsitebloggingtips.com and this personal blog is my lowest priority.

  3. Pingback: The Heart of March: Empathy | Always Well Within

  4. Hi TT. I’ve dropped by to wish you Happy Holidays! Hope you get a bit of a break!

    This is lovely. I hope that when the kids education is over we may also be able to do as you have done. I think I’ve said that before.

    I really wish as a species we would stop being so into consumerism and just be frugal with our use of the planet’s resources. :(

    • Hi Robyn,
      Thanks so much for the visit. My holiday was great. I see that your book is now available in print edition too. That’s so exciting. Hope your book sales go well.

  5. I think the more content one is with one’s own choices in life, the less one feels a need to judge others. Judging always arises out of feelings of insecurity.

  6. Hi TT,
    I read your post while at the airport lounge waiting to board a plane last Saturday. I thought:”This is off the planet, because I am of similar opinion as you”. I tend to be cautious when the “spiritual/new age/including yoga” stuff gets trendy. I dislike that route. I prefer the more natural and simplistic approach, one in true connection with our energies.

    Blessings to you and your lifestyle.
    Tree Spirit

  7. What awesome writing! I’m also very interested in voluntary simplicity and applaud you and your husband for actually living it. So far I’ve done little more than lip service. And thanks for highlighting the concept of yoga bleaching. What a nefarious practice!

  8. As another thought:

    I remember seeing travel tours where one would spend time out in rural China where minority groups/tribes lived. My response when I read this travel learning opportunity: I guess. I would be happier to be a served a good meal and pay it. I didn’t need to live /experience village life, etc.

    I’m probably sounding yuppie/judgement: but my parents raised 5 children in a 1 bedroom apartment in Southern Ontario before they bought their first house. We didn’t have a car for the first 14 yrs. of my life. Could village rural sojourn for one night enlighten me? Maybe. It’ll just remind me of what my parents lived through in China in the 1930’s -1940’s.

    I’m certain now, people do judge /think I am a yuppie (goodness, 4 bikes, but no car. My defense: it’s my transportation and a lot cheaper/less polluting than car.) …without knowing what the person has lived/experienced for a significant time period, the journey they have walked….

    I’m one of the yuppies who saw their parents’ stress due to poverty and raising many children. The advantage of course later on in life, is being totally comfortable with living what you truly need to be healthy, warm, dry (with a roof), safe and loved. Because one has lived that benchmark already. And everything else is just extra trimmings.

  9. An excellent and complex reflection. I think there is a fine line between judgment and seeing things as they are. Sometimes, it’s hard to know where we stand in the balance!

  10. Thanks for this insight on local more rural yoga practitioners vs. urban yuppie visitors.
    This is very true for any activity that one shared with others..in same region, world-wide:

    “Practicing frugality gives rise to its own rewards. Taken to extremes frugality can become an addiction that gives rise to judging others and desiring to dissociate from them.

    Distancing from any participants in yoga retreats would result in failing to connect with them and love them exactly as they are.”

    In the cycling world, like the yoga world, there is great diversity in how people undertake cycling regularily. There are strong anti-helmet cyclists vs. helmet adherents (like myself), non-spandex vs. spandex cyclists, yaddyadddadaa… And on top of that, non-yoga people who judge yoga enthusiasts. Let’s not get into cyclists vs. non-cyclists/drivers. :)

    In the area of health and fitness: http://cyclewriteblog.wordpress.com/2012/09/04/a-fitness-match-made-in-heaven-your-personality-and-your-favourite-sport/

    And yes, as one derives good health and humblenss with assurance and compassion…it helps keep things in balance.

  11. Wow! This is quite a rant from you, although in a somewhat different style to mine.

    You know I share your ideas on minimal expenditure and consumerism (ie lack of). I have enough, more than enough in fact, therefore I have no need to buy unnecessary goods of whatever type. Purchasing values? try and buy local, ethically, and quality (so that it doesn’t need replacing etc).

    Expensive jewellery? I do have some gold that was bought when I was working in a career type job. The only diamonds are on my grandmother’s engagement ring. Never bought any of my own nor do I want them.

    I still have designer clothes. Some I bought, most I made. I’ve always had the split challenge of wanting a good ie interesting and well-paid career, and wanting the simple life. We all need to find the right balance in life.

    I love your two quotes about judgement and about comparing our achievements. Reminds me of my favourite Rousseau quote:

    “the savage lives within himself; the sociable man, always outside of himself, knows how to live only in the opinion of others; and it is, so to speak, from their judgement alone that he draws the sentiment of his own existence.”

    Nearly 300 years later and still a valid quotation.

    I’ve never done yoga because I could never get my knees legs and ankles into even a half-lotus let alone a full one. But I will recommend transcendental meditation to anyone and everyone who comes remotely near me. My partner did a different type of med before he started his martial arts routines. Different sides of the same coin, because they are all looking at the road to an inner spiritualism (for want of a better description).

    It would be nice to be less judgemental. I’ll hold up my hand and say I will totally fail on that though. As soon as someone tries to tell me what to do, that they know best, or even, as with your examples, what I should be buying with tacky slogans and aspirations, then I make a judgement. Not a kind one either.

    For me, I try and live within my own values and to my principles. It may not be mainstream, and compromises always have to be made. I know I would struggle to have to re-enter the grasping career environment (not much chance of that as too old anyway, huh), there is something extremely satisfying about living a simple life. But to be fair to those on that ladder, I couldn’t have dropped out without earning the money first.

    • Hi there,
      I didn’t think of what I wrote as being a rant. I thought of it as being a confession.

      Both observation and critical thinking skills are vital. Without them there would be no discernment ie. the ability to see things exactly as they are. Without discernment there is no ability to make informed choices.

      We humans are continually judging and most judging we do esquires no emotional investment. There is no emotional or physical benefit to me from choosing to feel dissatisfied with the fact others aren’t making the same choices. But there is direct emotional and physical benefit to me from accepting what is and continuing to live by my values.

      “God grant me the serenity
      to accept the things I cannot change;
      the courage to change the things I can;
      and the wisdom to know the difference.

      Living one day at a time;
      Enjoying one moment at a time;
      Accepting hardships as the pathway to peace ..” Reinhold Niebuhr.

  12. My choices in trying to live a simple life still provide me with many opportunities for judgment and attachment. Reducing my consumption of new “stuff”, purchasing second-hand “stuff”, and even releasing attachment to “stuff” in general doesn’t change my habit of judging myself and others instead of simply observing and discerning. Still, I intend to change my judgmental thoughts, and me. This is part of my practice. Thank you for an honest, thoughtful, and well-written post.

    • Hi there,
      Thanks for your patience re: waiting for a reply from me. But most of all thanks for bearing witness to my struggle. I have sat with this many times and finally had the courage to share where I am at. I’m refocusing my efforts on letting go of comparisons and judging because I know they are ego-driven.

      • I do not wait for replies and comments (I’ve gotten really good at letting that go), but I am pleased when I discover them. I am so interested in what other people think, their opinions, their questions, and even their struggles. I always appreciate your posts, not because your words connect with my own thoughts and feelings (though they do), but because I feel as though your words move me beyond myself – you offer me information, expertise, emotions, and insights that influence the ever-changing me in beautiful ways. I am better for having read them, I think.

  13. I’m just starting on a journey of yoga, a simplicity and healing. Thank you so much for this blog – it has brought me back to centre. I appreciate your insights on being judgemental as I struggle, daily, with this.

    • It’s so good to meet you. I believe we all struggle with comparing ourselves to others and what we have and do, to what they have and do. It’s natural to do so in societies based on competitiveness. Without doubt comparison and competitiveness lead to being judgmental. The challenge new adult Yoga practitioners face is adopting a new value system, while living in a society that has a value system that’s at odds with it. Keep the faith and best wishes with your practice.

  14. I totally agree with all you say, great post! I remember my yoga teacher during teacher training telling students that those living with few possessions might be still attached to them, that in fact your relationship to what you have is more important than how much you have. He said it’s okay to own things if we’re not attached to them. However, I’m still at the stage where I find it easier not even to own stuff. It’s a bit like not having chocolate in the house. Just in case I have a weak moment…. ;)

    • Hi there,
      That Yoga instructor nailed it! It’s our sense of entitlement, attachment to possessions and our insatiable desire to accumulate even more that’s our downfall. My partner and I are focused on owning less overall. Yet we do experience possession creep and frequently wonder how it happens – as if we weren’t responsible. ;) Most of all, we are attached to where we live ie. in the home we built for ourselves, which BTW is not a a palace, despite the fact that it is our castle.

  15. It’s a fine line between buying too much and not having what I need when I need it. My husband and I tend to buy quality when we shop; when something is brand new, everyone is envious because we spent money on it. A few years later, not so much because it’s no longer the newest and greatest.

    For example – my iPad 2. When I bought it (and I do use it with 3G because I’m often in places with no free Internet hook-up), everyone was wow. How nice. Several years later, it has two cracks in the glass (the dog pulled it off the kitchen table), one corner is taped up, but it still works just fine. No one envies it because it’s not the latest and greatest. I don’t care. It meets my needs still.

    We buy our cars new and have learned the hard way to get rid of them when between 90,000 to 100,000 miles or else the repairs get to be too much. I won’t buy used cars as there are often too many problems. For us, a luxury car is a Honda CRV (it hauls a lot and is comfortable for road trips).

    Anyhow, enough ranting. I enjoyed your post. Frugal is not the same as cheapskate, but society doesn’t see it that way.

    Nancy

    • Hi Nancy,
      I don’t think the line is always that fine. I think one can actually do a good job of living their values and it sounds to me like you are doing that.

      When we buy new we purchase on the basis of quality and durability because false economy means spending more in the long run as you have clearly pointed out.

      Frugal is not the same as cheapskate, but society doesn’t see it that way.

      Our Western societies are built on dog-eat-dog capitalist ladder climbing economic principles that were created and are upheld by patriarchies. The economic models we adhere to are never ending growth models. There’s little doubt in my mind that the three-legged stool economic model (economy, society, environment) is flawed and needs replacement. Setting economic concerns as a priority above the environment when the environment is the grounds for all is irrational and adopting this never-ending growth model has had catastrophic consequences.

      We admire and respect and honor those who have accumulated wealth at the expense of others even having the basic necessities. We cultivate a sense of entitlement to wealth and all it can buy and the yuppies have bought into that hook, line and sinker.

      Almost every war has been fought on the basis of acquiring or protecting resources owned by corporations in foreign lands that do not belong to the invaders no matter what banner the said war has been fought under. Adding insult to injury, the invaders and defenders have always claimed “god is on their side”.

      But, like you, I’m not inclined to rant because it compromises my health.

      On a positive note, the weather is lovely and the long weekend is approaching. I hope that you, your partner and your pooches enjoy it as much as we intend to.

      • I really enjoyed your response – it’s nearly its own blog post! Thanks so much for clarifying my own thoughts back to me (part of what I love about blogging). I nearly didn’t leave the comment as it didn’t seem to quite fit to your post, but you understood what I was saying.

        My husband and I are seeing this with a lot of society, the sense of entitlement, the spending just to have, and the constant worrying about who has what. WHO CARES! You buy it because you need it or it serves a purpose. Does it really matter what everyone else has?

        I see this behavior a lot when I’m at the botanical gardens. Everyone is checking out everyone else’s camera gear. I’m using a Canon Rebel and get a fair amount of noses turning up at me. You’ve seen my photos – it does just fine. My husband uses a much more upper end camera, but he makes a living with it. He’s not just a hobbyist taking pictures on Saturdays.

        Anyhow, gotta go.

        The weather is slowly improving here also – we finally had a few warm days ourselves. I hope you had a good Easter weekend. We went out to Colonial Williamsburg on Friday, just to get out of the house. We had a nice lunch and checked out a gallery that my husband will be in next year.

  16. In my today’s paper was an article on the latest yoga ‘craze” in my town – yoga “raves”: all night yoga parties complete with DJ’s spinning playlists, laser lights, and day-glo body paint on the participants. Yoga alternates with interval training. I’m not sure that there is any spiritual seeking left there, but I am trying to not judge. Very challenging seeing spiritual paths be co-opted as the new way to have a buff body. The world offers so many opportunities to practice ‘being with what is”.

    • Hi there,
      I’m also aware of what you posted and it makes me feel extremely uncomfortable to see this happening. That kind of behavior is in direct opposition to the the Yoga Sutra, Yogic path and Yogic mindset. Without doubt, it’s very difficult not to state that boldly and expose the misbehavior of the fakers. When being with with what is amounts to witnessing a travesty ie; a false, absurd, or distorted representation it’s hard not to speak up.

      I’m sorry the delay in answering your comment. Please don’t think I do not value it or the others because I do. I desperately needed a break from blogging and social networking and I took a breather. Now I’m tackling end of the year tax related stuff – belch!

      • And it is hard to discern what will be “right action” – speaking up, or letting those on this path of yoga rave and yoga materialism reap that which they sow, whatever that may be.

        As for the comments- keeping your body, heart, soul and spirit healthy is definitely “right action”.

  17. I share your values completely and have the same reserve about well-healed city folk coming out in their expensive cars and attire for a few “well-earned” moments of simplicity. There is a smugness about it which just irritates me. It shouldn’t but it does.

    • @countingducks
      Hi there,
      Retreats happen all year round but most are in winter months so as we moved towards spring I became self-reflective. It seemed that the sight of others as I described above was becoming more and more annoying to me so I had to sit with that for a long time and on many occasions before I wrote.

      March is year end and tax month and it’s all about lining things up, numbers and balances and that’s mostly what I’ve been up to for two months now. That influence is in the self analysis I shared above.

      I have values I desire others to share and when they don’t I’m disturbed by that. I’m aiming to be able to connect with the person regardless of what they are wearing. I don’t struggle when it comes to judging and comparing myself to the poor. Therein lies the life lesson.

      I took time off to visit with friends during spring break and I really needed that break. Thanks so much for waiting for my response.

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