Non-possessiveness, non-hoarding, not desiring more than we need

When first starting to consider aparigraha, there are a few important elements which must be considered. What does it mean to possess something? What does it mean to need something? What are some of the objects, ideas, and beliefs that you possess? Does it seem that you need these possessions?

When we hold our breath, we actively prohibit the experience of a new breath. When we are holding so much that our hands are full, we prohibit the capacity to hold even one more item. When we set forth holding pre-determined ideas and beliefs, we inhibit our capacity to discover new ideas and experiences.

Therefore, we must carefully consider which objects and ideas we choose to hold on to. For most of us, our homes and minds are full of various objects and ideas which we did not consciously choose to possess. Perhaps we inherited these from our families, perhaps we received them as gifts – there are countless possibilities. Aparigraha encourages us to consider our possessions with attention and awareness.

aparigrahasthairye janmakathamtasambodhah
One who is not greedy is secure. He has time to think deeply.
His understanding of himself is complete. ~ Yoga Sutra II.39
“The more we have, the more we need to take care of it. The time and energy spent on acquiring more things, protecting them and worrying about them cannot be spent on the most basic questions of life. What is the limit to what we should possess? For what purpose, for whom and for how long? Death comes before we have had time to even begin considering these questions.”
Translation and commentary by TKV Desikachar

In this translation of Yoga Sutra II.39, Mr. Desikachar points out that the more stuff we have, the more time we end up fussing over it and feeling anxious about its well-being. This is true for actual tangible stuff, as well as for ideas of identity and belief that we hold on to. In any given day, in any given lifetime, we have a limited amount of energy and effort to offer. Staying focused in aparigraha helps us to also stay focused on the matters which are truly the most meaningful to us.

So, we must prioritize how our time and energy is spent. If you notice yourself spending too much time working on or worrying about your car (or home or some other object) – take some time to consider the situation. Perhaps it is not as important as you think it is at first. Perhaps there is a way that you could simplify, with fewer possessions which require less maintenance. When my partner and I recently moved to a house with a much bigger garden than we had even had before, I thought that I would enjoy all the gardening. But in the summer our garden required so much effort that I didn’t have time to take care of the garden and work on the other things that were more important to me. So I decided to slowly begin converting our garden to plants which will not waste as much water, or require as much of my time.

All beings have certain needs in order simply to remain alive. Beyond that, we may have additional needs in order to remain healthy. We probably have still more needs in order to be radiant and operate at our maximum level of contribution. Ideally, the objects and beliefs that we possess are helping us with all three of these goals. Most importantly, it is desirable that the objects and beliefs that we currently possess are not hindering us from these important goals.

When we think of the word “possessive,” we think of someone grasping desperately, someone shortsighted and who refuses to share what they have. Aparigraha directs us to avoid this desperate state. Often the desire to own can serve as a distraction from our real needs – be they emotional or material. As children we had no control over how money was spent and what goods came into or left our lives, and we can probably all remember the great sense of power and awe when we were able to buy something for ourselves. I remember making all sorts of ridiculous purchases, completely unconsidered, in large part simply to be a person capable of making and manifesting decisions. Now, as adults, it is worthwhile to look around our lives and consider which of our possessions we have consciously chosen to include in our lives. Every object has a function, and how often do we use these objects? Owning a pair of skis that only get used in the winter might make sense, but does it also make sense to own a pair of shoes that haven’t been worn in the last 2 or 3 years?

This principle is also worthwhile when directed toward the ideas and beliefs that we possess, although these are usually harder to recognize. If only we could turn on the light to the shoe closet in our minds, and see all the beliefs we are holding there! Yogic philosophy presents the idea of samskara, the sum total of all of one’s past experience. Each of us has our own unique expression of samskara. One translation I’ve read likens this to a pair of sunglasses, with a unique tint, through which we perceive our experiences and the world around us. Through awareness and self-study, we hope to become increasingly aware of the beliefs, fears, expectations, memories, preferences, and tendencies which create our samskara. These are intangible objects to which we hold, often with great ferocity, even if we have not consciously chosen to possess them.

What do we gain from the ideas that we hold about ourselves, our families, our community, and the world around us? What options do we eliminate by holding on to these ideas?

When we are busy holding on to our perceived accomplishments and failures, we become attached to these as part of our identity. The act of holding onto identity formed in the past blocks us from forming new identity in the present and future. In areas that we consider ourselves to have some expertise (work, hobbies, even familiar emotional states), we can come to believe that we are knowledgeable and accomplished, rather than continuing to foster a sense of curiosity and seeking new experiences. In asana practice, for example, we may hold on to ideas of familiar postures. Sometimes we regard familiar asanas as poses we are “good” at. Others are poses we consider “hard” or poses we “don’t like.” Holding these impressions blocks us from experiencing the poses with freshness and presence. It is important to recognize that none of these qualities are inherently present in the postures themselves. If we want new experiences, we must release our anticipation for repetition of past experiences.

Our own breath is a constant guide for us, continually releasing to make room for a new breath. At some point, we simply must let go of the old to make room for the new. Each time we exhale consciously, each time we intentionally release into savasana (final relaxation), each time we bring our awareness back to the breath – we are learning to be comfortable with letting go. Ideally then, we are also learning to let go of what we no longer need, in order to make space for the growth that matters the most to each of us.

Namaste’ Thank you for Mr. Desikachar’s and Kofi Busia’s translations of Yoga Sutra II.39, as well as Christopher Isherwood’s chapters on samskara. Also, thanks to many wonderful articles found on the internet for inspiration on the topic of aparigraha.

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Updated January 10, 2005   amey@yogawithamey.com