The final of the five yamas, or the first of the eight limbs of yoga is aparigraha, or non-attachment. This isn’t a new idea in Hindu and Buddhist spirituality, though many in the west see non-attachment as living an austere life. They think it means having nothing, wanting nothing and that’s not really true. The Buddha taught the middle way, that there is a path which could be walked between utter poverty and too much excess. And this is the path of aparigraha.
This belief can also be defined as not being greedy or being possessive toward anyone or anything. It means focusing on the journey, not the destination. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krisha said, “Let your concern be with the action alone, and never the fruits of the action. Do not let the fruits of the action be your motive, and do not be attached to inaction.” What’s he saying here?
He’s saying focus on your work as you’re doing it. Don’t get attached to the outcome, and do not do nothing because you can’t get attached to the outcome. A good example is writing this blog. I’m focused only on writing this blog, conveying this concept in the best way I can. I’m not thinking of how many hits I may receive to my website or how it may build my following and boost my visibility. My duty, my dharma, is to convey this information. Nothing more. Nothing less.
The concept of aparigraha also means taking what you need, nothing more, nothing less. If you’ve worked in an office for any length of time, you’ve encountered the office pizza party. Most people take one or two slices. However someone might take four or five slices, perhaps until a member of management reminds them to leave food for others. Now we don’t judge here. We don’t know what’s happening and perhaps this individual faces food insecurity at home and this is the only meal they’ll eat for the day. There may be other issues at play. But here, the concept of aparigraha says that if we’re satisfied with two pieces of pizza then we should be satisfied and not want more.
This goes toward resources as well. In the west, we use an inordinate amount of resources per capita compared to the rest of the world. It’s good to contemplate where we’re wanting MORE in our lives, rather than being content with what we have. Do we really need a fancy new television, for example, when our current one has a perfectly good picture and suits our needs for watching television or gaming? Do we really need to buy that new car when our current one gets us where we want to go? Where can we step off the ever faster merry-go-round of MORE MORE MORE that Western Capitalism thrives on? And how can we look at turning away from these principles to live a more balanced, healthier life?
Non-attachment can be difficult when juxtaposed against the demands of capitalism. We may need that promotion so we can better care for our families, and so we work late on a project or take the offer of overtime in the hopes it will impress our boss. Instead of doing those things for the promotion, aparigraha tells us we should do them for the sake of doing them, for the enjoyment in using our talents and the satisfaction which comes from a job well done–not any outcome which may or may not happen.
It probably seems easier not to steal, not to be violent, and to tell the truth. Moderating our senses, not living to excess is a bit more difficult. But for most, especially within the western paradigm in which we live, non-attachment can be the most difficult. And so we focus not on the outcome, but rather on the journey, being mindful of each moment and how we can better release expectations and just enjoy the process.