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The Five Observances, or Niyamas

The aim of the observances is to counteract such laws (dharma) of our nature as lead us towards attachments, while developing those which lead us to detachment and thus are the cause of liberation.

To avoid any form of suffering which might result from our actions, wise yogis practice the "observances", which are five in number.

"The observances are purity, contentment, austerity, self-development and the constant thought of Divinity.''(1) (Yoga Darshana 2, 32.)

1. Purity, or Saucha

Purity is of two kinds, outward and inward. To cleanse one's body, to eat pure food and to observe all rules of right living, and even to act selflessly is outward purity.

In mantra yoga, the "method of re-integration through hermetic formulae", purity is given great importance. Outward purity therein is of three kinds: of body, of place, of direction.

Bodily purity is obtained through bathing. There are seven actions considered as bathing.

(a) The rune bath (mantra snana) is done by taking a ritual bath accompanied with hermetic utterances such as "Apavitra pavitro va . . ."(2)

(b) Solid (earthly) bath (bhauma snana) consists in rubbing the body with a cloth.

(c) Fiery bath (agneya snana) consists in covering the body with ashes.

(d) Air bath (vayavya snana) is symbolically done by touching the dust raised by the hoofs of a cow.

(e) Celestial bath (divya snana) consists in taking bath in the rain while looking at the sun.

(f) Watery bath (varunya snana) is done by immersing the body in a tank or a river.

(g) Mental bath (manasa snana) is done by immersing the mind in Divine contemplation.

Purity of place is obtained by plastering ground and wall with a mixture of earth and cow dung, or by mere sitting under one of the sacred trees, Banian, Pippal, Ashoka, Bilva, Anvala, etc.

Purity of direction consists in sitting facing East or North during the day and only North during the Night.

Inward purity is gained through the possession of the heavenly treasures (daivi sampatti) which are: control over the senses, absence of fear, contentment of mind, charity, ritual sacrifices, reading of the "Scripture of Eternal Wisdom" (the Veda)—and of other scriptures which conform with the beginningless religion—penance, simplicity, nonviolence, truth, endurance, forgiveness, and abstaining from I-assertion, possessiveness, attachment, enmity, envy, greed, sensuality, anger, agitation, etc.

Food restrictions which avoid all elements that breed intoxication, anger and other passions are essential to the maintenance of purity. Friendship and kindness are a great help to inner purity.

(1) Note: The Varaha Upanishad, Gheranda Samhita, Laya Yoga, etc. name ten observances which are: "Austerity, Contentment, Faith, Charity, divine worship, Listening to metaphysical teachings (Vedanta), Modesty, Intelligence, Recitation of Hermetic formulae (japa) and Observance of facts."

(2) "Whether he be pure or impure, in any circumstances he whose thoughts are intently set on the Lotus-Eyed (Vishnu) is purified inwardly and outwardly."

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