Aparigraha is traditionally translated as “greedlessness”, a word traditionally always spell-checked in word processing programs. It is the yama that has the greatest variety of alternative translations, with the greatest amount of nuanced differences between them. Ahimsa, for example, is traditionally “nonharming”, and sometimes “causing the least harm”, but very rarely is it contemplated to err that much from the “harm” vocabulary. While I do not know for certain the reason why aparigraha has such variety, I think those spell-checkers are on to something when they question leaving it as “greedlessness”. Here, for consideration, are five different definitions:
While television has brought the idea of hoarding into our reality TV vernacular, it is not a predicament that many yogis find themselves in. However, just as with Asteya, broadening the scope of what is included in nonhoarding can really open up the practice. It’s possible to hoard someone’s attention, their affection, someone’s time or skills, you could hoard space on public transportation, or ideas. You could hoard habitually, when the situation arises, or only once in awhile. To take a moment, with closed eyes, to ask yourself “What do I hoard?”, can be a surprising and enlightening practice. I know it was for me. Follow up questions could be “When do I hold back?” “What do I hold back?” – these are other subtle forms of hoarding.
Nonhoarding opens up aparigraha to something more than greed and money – to a practice of investigation, of letting go, but most importantly of opening up. Yoga is not meant to make us into someone different than we are – it’s meant to bring us into honest investigation into who we already are, and to help us in living it as fully as possible.
In your next asana class, consider having as your intention the commitment not to hold back. Not to approach triangle like just one more in a long succession of triangles, or hold back from your first chaturanga because many more will follow. This intention is not one of those “do this as if it were your LAST TRIANGLE EVER!” dramatic ideas, but because every moment, every triangle, matters as much as every other, so why would you hold back for this one?
This one comes from Michael Stone.
Think about the last time that you planned what you would do on a free day – what activity or relaxation you would pursue, the ease of flow throughout the day, the fullness of it – and then had something come up at the last minute where you couldn’t do it. Maybe it was a family obligation, maybe work, or maybe a storm. If you’ve ever gotten frustrated because someone ruined YOUR day – there is where we can work on aparigraha.
I recently took a trip to New Orleans – where I used to live. Within hours of my first day, I noticed something from speaking with different people there. I had a tremendous amount of walls built up when talking with someone, especially a stranger, from living in NYC. The walls went something like this | What do they want? | How can I make sure not to inadvertently give it to them before I decide if I want to or not? | I most likely don’t want to give it to them, how do I ensure that? |. Upon reflection, I realized that this was unnecessary in New Orleans, and I could relax. I also realized that the reason those walls exist is because, at least in my experience, people in NYC want something from you, all the time. Money, a smile, your attention, money, sex, time, religious conversion, money, etc. As a result of this, I had become very tight around anything that was mine – everything from the above list, and more. Even in the face of people I loved, and truly wanted to give everything to, I had these barriers going on the whole time, without knowing it. The only way I could realize it was in the complete absence of it from the other side. Without strangers in New Orleans wanting anything from me, my walls had no ground to stand on, and were so superfluous I laughed at myself in the moment of realization.
In the Bhagavad Gita (XIV.12) an imbalanced person is one where “greed, constant activity, excessive projects, cravings, and restlessness” are ruling or predominant.
Perhaps in looking at how we’re choosing to live our lives, where we’re allowing “our” time to be dispersed, we wouldn’t be so tight around them?
This one is pretty simple: time, money, talent, skills, love, etc: be generous, give often
In asana class, we’re always talking about being present. Could you contemplate giving this to someone? Michael Stone often speaks of “giving your face”. In this age, it’s so easy to barely look in anyone’s eyes, or to shy away from sharing yourself with others. You could bring more awareness to how you quite literally share your face with others?
In what ways might you be unintentionally stingy? Again, contemplate broadening the scope to not only include money, but much more.
4) Not giving or receiving gifts
This one is from Ram Dass.
Initially upon hearing this translation, I was a little surprised. Especially having previously considered giving as a way to embody aparigraha, now Ram Dass was saying the opposite!
Then I thought about it a bit more deeply, and I thought about Japanese custom (at least in Hawaii, where I also used to live). If person A gives a gift to person B, then B MUST give a gift back to A. But now A has received a gift, and MUST give one back to B, creating an endless -cycle of enforced giving.
And while such strict rules on giving may or may not exist in the culture you were raised in, we all have some kind of motive behind giving. It could be to get a gift of some kind in return or something as simple as a smile, appreciation, or thank you.
I’m not saying to boycott the upcoming holidays and birthdays of your loved ones. But perhaps consider your intention when you go shopping and purchase a gift. Could it be equally wonderful to give a gift whether or not the recipient even smiles?
In the Bhagavad Gita, giving is one of the best practices recommended. It specifically says it doesn’t matter what you give (even a leaf would be a wonderful gift!), as long as the intention is to give without thought of getting something in return.
Could we perhaps practicing giving more often, throughout the year, so that it doesn’t become such a huge deal at other times? Could it even lead to our own well-being? How to Buy Happiness
Andrea Gibson has a line in her spoken word poetry: The hardest part of having nothing, is having nothing to give. I used to feel that so acutely when I first moved to NYC, and had so very very little. Now, I’m not so sure I agree. Now, I think that we need to reimagine giving.
And still, after all this time, the Sun has never said to the Earth,
“You owe me.”
Look what happens with love like that.
It lights up the sky.”
5) Not taking more than you need
This is perhaps the most timely of the definitions, considering the recent encounter NY had with Hurricane/Tropical Storm Sandy. How many people might have taken a few extra candles, gallons of gas, loaves of bread, or containers of oat milk than they needed? And in doing so, left less or none for others, or for restocking after the storm passed?
At a recent Jivamukti Yoga Tribe Gathering in NYC, the makers of China Gel were giving away free travel-sized samples. As a Jivamukti Yoga teacher, I use quite a lot of China Gel, and the large tub often weighs down my already heavy yoga teacher backpack I take out for the day. How wonderful to have travel sized ones! So on the way to the bathroom I took one. On the way back from the bathroom I took another. On some trek or another, I wound up with 5 or so free samples, because I needed them as a teacher, and I needed them to help lighten my load. This, of course, was not a very aparigraha moment for me.
This definition asks us to work on that part of us that “needs”, when we actually mean “really really wants”. China Gel was not a need.
Needs are unbidden, basic, elemental – like affection, housing, food and water. But when we put coffee, new yoga pants, China Gel, or that fifth loaf of bread in the same category, we’re in trouble. This is because we can’t control needs, and therefore we have this unconscious Green Light from within to get whatever falls in that category whenever we can. Wants get the Caution Light, and give us the opportunity to bring our decisions into a more conscious place.
Whether it’s in yoga class, the grocery store, or a family gathering see if you can set as your intention to be aware of what you’re setting up as a “need”, and if it might not actually be “really really want”.
The Plutocrat – Kahlil Gibran
In my wanderings I once saw upon an island a man-headed, iron-hoofed monster who ate of the earth and drank of the sea incessantly. And for a long while I watched him.
Then I approached him and said, “Have you never enough; is your hunger never satisfied and your thirst never quenched?”
And he answered saying, “Yes, I am satisfied, nay, I am weary of eating and drinking, but I am afraid that tomorrow there will be no more earth to eat and no more sea to drink.”