This article is about a ethical, moral concept in Hinduism. For deity and regent of the South quarter, see Yama.

Yamas, and its complement, Niyamas, represent a series of "right living" or ethical rules within Hinduism and Yoga. They are a form of moral imperatives, commandments, rules or goals. The Yamas are the "don't do these" list of self-restraints, typically representing commitments that affect one's relations with others and self.[1] The complementary Niyamas represent the "do these" list of observances, and together Yamas and Niyamas are personal obligations to live well.[1]

The earliest mention of the word Yamas is in the Rigveda, and over fifty texts of Hinduism, from its various traditions, discuss Yamas.[2] Patañjali lists five yamas in his Yoga Sūtras. Ten yamas are codified as "the restraints" in numerous Hindu texts including Yajnavalkya Smriti in verse 3.313,[3] the Śāṇḍilya and Vārāha Upanishads, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika by Svātmārāma,[4] and the Tirumantiram of Tirumular.[5][6]

The most often mentioned Yamas are – Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (non-falsehood, truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Mitahara (non-excess in food, moderation in food), Kșhamā (non-agitation about suffering, forgiveness), Dayā (non-prejudgment, compassion) are among the widely discussed Yamas.[2] The Yamas apply broadly and include self-restraints in one's actions, words and thoughts.[7]

Etymology and meaning

The earliest mention of Yamas is found in the Hindu scripture Rigveda, such as in verse 5.61.2.[3][8] The word in the Rigveda means a "rein, curb", the act of checking or curbing, restraining such as by a charioteer or a driver.[3] The term evolves into a moral restraint and ethical duty in the Upanishads, the Dharmasutras, the Mahabharata and numerous later texts, where it means self-control, voluntary and inner-directed forbearance.[3][9]

Yamas is the Sanskrit word for "restraint," states Stephen Sturgess, particularly "from actions, words, or thoughts that may cause harm".[10]

Five Yamas

The five yamas listed by Patañjali in Yogasūtra 2.30 are:[11]

  1. Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence, non-harming other living beings[12]
  2. Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood[12][13]
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing[12][14]
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity,[13] marital fidelity or sexual restraint[15]
  5. Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice,[12] non-possessiveness[13]

Ten Yamas

The ten yamas listed by Śāṇḍilya Upanishad,[16] as well as by Svātmārāma are:[4][17][18]

  1. Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): Nonviolence
  2. Satya (सत्य): truthfulness
  3. Asteya (अस्तेय): not stealing
  4. Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity,[13] marital fidelity or sexual restraint[15]
  5. Kṣamā (क्षमा): forgiveness[19]
  6. Dhṛti (धृति): fortitude
  7. Dayā (दया): compassion[19]
  8. Ārjava (आर्जव): non-hypocrisy, sincerity[20]
  9. Mitāhāra (मितहार): measured diet
  10. Śauca (शौच): purity, cleanliness

Other numbers of Yamas

At least sixty (60) ancient and medieval era Indian texts are known so far that discuss Yamas.[2] Most are in Sanskrit, but some are in regional Indian languages. Of the sixty, the lists in eleven of these texts are similar, but not the same, as that of Patanjali's.[2] Other texts list between 1 and 10 Yamas, however 10 is the most common.[2]

The order of listed yamas, the names and nature of each yamas, as well as the relative emphasis vary between the texts. Some texts use the reverse of Niyamas in other texts, as Yamas; for example, Vairagya (dispassion from hedonism, somewhat reverse of the niyama Tapas) is described in verse 33 of Trishikhi Brahmana Upanishad in its list for Yamas.[2] Many texts substitute one or more different concepts in their list of Yamas. For example, in the ten Yamas listed by Yatidharma Sangraha, Akrodha (non-anger) is included as a Yamas.[2] Ahirbudhnya Samhita in verse 31.19 and Darshana Upanishad in verses 1.14-15 include Dayā as a Yamas, and explain it as the ethical restraint of not jumping to conclusions, being compassionate to every being and considering suffering of others as one's own.[21] In verse 31.21, Ahirbudhnya Samhita includes Kșhamā as the virtue of forgiveness and restraint from continued agitation from wrong others have done.[2] Mahakala Samhita in verses II.11.723 through II.11.738[22] lists many of the 10 Yamas above, but explains why it is a virtue in a different way. For example, the text explains Dayā (or Dayaa) is an ethical precept and the restraint from too much and too little emotions. It suggests Dayā reflects one's inner state, is the expression of kindness towards kin, friend, stranger and even a hostile person, and that one must remain good and kind no matter what the circumstances. This view for the Yamas of Dayā is shared in Shandilya Upanishad and Jabala Darshana Upanishad.[2][23] Atri Samhita in verse 48, lists Anrshamsya (आनृशंस्य)[24] as the restraint from cruelty to any living being by one's actions, words or in thoughts. Shivayoga Dipika in verse 2.9 substitutes Sunrta for Satya, defining Sunrta as "sweet and true speech".[2]

Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Mitahara, Kșhamā, Dayā are among the widely discussed Yamas ethical concepts by majority of these texts.[2]

Yamas are related to Niyamas in ancient and medieval era Indian texts. The former are restraints (the "don'ts") of virtuous life, while the latter are observances (the "dos").

Some texts such as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika use the classification flexibly, where yamas (restraints, the "don'ts") are understood as reverse of niyamas (positive attitudes, behaviors, the "dos"). For example, Ahimsa and Mitahara are called as yama as well as niyama in verses 17 and 40 of Book 1. In verse 1.40, Hatha Yoga Pradipika calls Ahimsa (non-violence and non-injuring anyone by one's actions, words or in thoughts) as the highest virtuous habit, Mitahara (moderation in one's eating and drinking habits) as the best personal restraint, and Siddhasana as the foremost of Asanas.[25]

See also


  1. 1 2 Judith Lasater (1998), Beginning the Journey, Yoga Journal, Nov-Dec Issue, pages 42-48
  2. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 SV Bharti (2001), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: With the Exposition of Vyasa, Motilal Banarsidas, ISBN 978-8120818255, Appendix I, pages 672-680
  3. 1 2 3 4 Monier Monier-Williams, Sanskrit English Dictionary with Etymology, Oxford University Press, Entry for Yama, page 846
  4. 1 2 Svātmārāma; Pancham Sinh (1997). The Hatha Yoga Pradipika (5 ed.). Forgotten Books. p. 14. ISBN 9781605066370. अथ यम-नियमाः अहिंसा सत्यमस्तेयं बरह्यछर्यम कश्हमा धृतिः दयार्जवं मिताहारः शौछम छैव यमा दश १७
  5. Ramaswami, Sŕivatsa (2001). Yoga for the three stages of life. Inner Traditions / Bear & Company. p. 229. ISBN 9780892818204.
  6. Devanand, G. K. Teaching of Yoga. APH Publishing. p. 45. ISBN 9788131301722. Yama is a "moral restraint" or rule for living virtuously. Ten yamas are codified in numerous scriptures, including the Hatha Yoga Pradeepika compiled by Yogi Swatmarama, while Patanjali lists five yamas and five niyamas (disciplines) in the Yoga Sutra.
  7. Debra Weiss (2006), Ahimsa: Nonviolence from a Yoga Perspective, Fellowship, Vol. 72, Issue 1-2, page 25
  8. Sanskrit: क्व वोऽश्वाः क्वाभीशवः कथं शेक कथा यय । पृष्ठे सदो नसोर्यमः ॥२॥ (ऋग्वेद: सूक्तं ५.६१ Rigveda, Wikisource
  9. Michael Palmer and Stanley Burgess (2012), The Wiley-Blackwell Companion to Religion and Social Justice, John Wiley & Sons, ISBN 978-1405195478, page 114
  10. Sturgess, Stephen (2014). Yoga Meditation: Still Your Mind and Awaken Your Inner Spirit. Oxford, UK: Watkins Publishing Limited. pp. 18–19. ISBN 978-1-78028-644-0.
  11. Āgāśe, K. S. (1904). Pātañjalayogasūtrāṇi. Puṇe: Ānandāśrama. p. 102.
  12. 1 2 3 4 James Lochtefeld, "Yama (2)", The Illustrated Encyclopedia of Hinduism, Vol. 2: N–Z, Rosen Publishing. ISBN 9780823931798, page 777
  13. 1 2 3 4 Arti Dhand (2002), The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism, Journal of Religious Ethics, 30(3), pages 347-372
  14. Roger S. Gottlieb (2006). The Oxford Handbook of Religion and Ecology. Oxford University Press. p. 149. ISBN 978-0-19-972769-8.
  15. 1 2 [a] Louise Taylor (2001), A Woman's Book of Yoga, Tuttle, ISBN 978-0804818292, page 3;
    [b]Jeffrey Long (2009), Jainism: An Introduction, IB Tauris, ISBN 978-1845116262, page 109; Quote: The fourth vow - brahmacarya - means for laypersons, marital fidelity and pre-marital celibacy; for ascetics, it means absolute celibacy; John Cort explains, "Brahmacharya involves having sex only with one's spouse, as well as the avoidance of ardent gazing or lewd gestures (...) - Quoted by Long, ibid, page 101
  16. KN Aiyar (1914), Thirty Minor Upanishads, Kessinger Publishing, ISBN 978-1164026419, Chapter 22, pages 173-176
  17. Lorenzen, David (1972). The Kāpālikas and Kālāmukhas. University of California Press. pp. 186–190. ISBN 978-0520018426.
  18. Subramuniya (2003). Merging with Śiva: Hinduism's contemporary metaphysics. Himalayan Academy Publications. p. 155. ISBN 9780945497998. Retrieved 6 April 2009.
  19. 1 2 Stuart Sovatsky (1998), Words from the Soul: Time East/West Spirituality and Psychotherapeutic Narrative, State University of New York, ISBN 978-0791439494, page 21
  20. J Sinha, Indian Psychology, p. 142, at Google Books, Volume 2, Motilal Banarsidas, OCLC 1211693, page 142
  21. Jean Varenne and Coltman Derek (1977), University Of Chicago Press, ISBN 978-0226851167, pages 197-202
  22. Mahakala Samhita Government of India Archives (in Sanskrit), see pages 302 to 304 of the document
  23. K. V. Gajendragadkar (2007), Neo-upanishadic Philosophy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, University of California Archives, OCLC 1555808
  24. AnRzaMsya Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Koeln University, Germany
  25. Original:
    यमेष्व् इव मिताहारम् अहिंसा नियमेष्व् इव ।
    मुख्यं सर्वासनेष्व् एकं सिद्धाः सिद्धासनं विदुः ॥४०॥
    Note: The verse number is different in different translations, in some this verse is 1.38, in others 1.40; Sanskrit and English translation source: Hatha Yoga Pradipika Brahmananda, Adyar Library Series, Madras
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