The most common meaning for APARIGRAHA is “non-possessiveness”. Other popular interpretations are “non-grasping” and “non-greediness”, or “greedlessness”. These definitions are generally thought of in relation to material things; however, aparigraha is much deeper than that.
Aparigraha – the fifth and final yama – can be seen as the culmination of the first four yamas: Ahimsa (non-harmfulness), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (honesty) and Brahmacharya (not being ruled by the senses). It is the final letting go of attachments which learning to not harm, be truthful, to not steal, and to not be ruled by our senses, has been preparing us for.
In our modern Western society, a large collection of material things is seen as a sign of success. People who own a large house, a big expensive car, fine furniture and furnishings are generally admired as successful. They are emulated: “ordinary” people want to have those things too – whether they like them just as objects or so they, too, can be seen as successful. One problem with this is the huge debt burden that many people live with – people living way beyond their means.
Remember that yoga – and in this context, the yamas – is/are ALL about peace of mind. Living with debt is not conducive to happiness or peace of mind.
A well-known story in yoga is of an Indian man who says “I have forty-seven mango trees; that is sufficient for my family” (in Sw. Vimalratna, p. 91). The moral of this story: have what you need, and no more. Greed does not lead to happiness.
Greed is related to “grasping”, another interpretation of aparigraha, and grasping seems like a desperate act. “Grasping” implies taking whatever you can despite the methods and the consequences. This certainly would not lead to peace of mind.
Several internet sites have useful interpretations of aparigraha. One is “Take what is truly necessary and no more, limiting one’s desires and belongings” (beYogi.com). Wikipedia interprets aparigraha as “keeping the desire for possessions to what is necessary or important, depending on one’s life stage and context”. This echoes the story of the man with the forty-seven mango trees.
Another closely related interpretation of aparigraha is ”non-hoarding”, which is relevant to most people in our society.
I’m pretty sure that most people in our society – like me – have cupboards full of things they don’t use and don’t need: boxes of old photos they don’t look at, clothes that no longer fit, and a multitude of things “just in case”. One site says that aparigraha is “The art of what is needed”, saying that “There’s nothing wrong with satisfying a desire, provided it doesn’t supercede a need”.
Aparigraha relates to much more than material things. Frequently people want, and try to possess other people. Husbands believe they possess their wives; wives believe they possess their husbands, and with the possessing comes control, instead of freedom and joy.
As well as things and people, we hold onto opinions, beliefs, fears and resentments. Aparigraha means to let those go too. Helen Avery suggests that “to begin to practise aparigraha we have to let go of some of the physical, emotional and mental baggage we’ve amassed throughout our journey” (wanderlust.com).
We need to let go of our attachments – attachments to things, to people, to events, to moments, to who we think we are.
“When we embrace aparigraha, we become like the fledgeling bird. We were born not to stay clinging to a branch. We were born to soar!” (Avery).
Remember that aparigraha is the culmination of the yamas. When we strive for non-harmfulness, truthfulness, honesty and control of our senses, we have the opportunity for real freedom. When we let go of who we think we are and let go of all the dross in our lives that we’ve been hoarding, the yogis say that it is like our soul has “cast off its moorings and is sailing for distant places”. Sri Nisargadatta Maharaj also says we are then ready for the next stage of Patanjali’s eight-limbed path of yoga – the niyamas (which we will get to next week).
As a final word, I would like to offer this beautiful poem by William Blake, which relates to the freedom that aparigraha offers:
“He who binds to himself a joy
Does the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise”
Sw. Vimalratna, Yoga with Attitude, Yoga Association of Victoria, 2006
Jennifer Minchin: https://beyogi.com/aparigraha-letting-go/
Helen Avery: https://wanderlust.com/journal/aparigraha-learning-to-let-go/
Paul Dallaghan: http://www.centeredyoga.com/blog/aparigraha/