Of the five yamas—ahimsa (non-violation), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (sexual continence), and aparigraha (non-gripping)—it is often the fifth yama, aparigraha, that seems to get left out of the spot light. It might be because it’s last on the list. Maybe it’s the seemingly difficult pronunciation (a-par-i-gra-ha). Perhaps it appears somewhat similar to asteya….”don’t steal”, could sound a little like “don’t grip”, I guess? But for those living in a capitalist economy, gripping, holding on to and self-interest motivations are so deeply rooted in our psyche of success, it’s almost impossible to intellectually consider an opposite way of thinking and living one’s life.
Aparigraha is about greed-based desires that are rooted in anger, jealousy and fear. Aparigraha is an egocentric identification system that seeks to suppress and dominate others not only through one’s own control of material wealth but an unwillingness to offer compassion and empathy to those who are in need. This cold heartedness is simply called “selfishness”.
In his best-selling book, 23 Things They Don’t Tell You About Capitalism, Ha-Joon Chang says that fee-market economies regard people as ‘tunnel-visioned self-seeking robots’, who are ‘totally selfish’ and are “amoral agents’. Chang states, ‘Free-market ideology is built of the belief that people won’t do anything “good” unless they are paid for it or punished for not doing it”. We can all recall in the 1987 movie “Wall Street,” Michael Douglas as Gordon Gekko gave an controversial speech where he said, “Greed, for lack of a better word, is good.” Gekko went on to make the point that “Greed, in all of its forms; greed for life, for money, for love, for knowledge has marked the upward surge of mankind.” Back in the late 80’s the character’s words feed the inflated egos of a “me” materialistic culture high on the concept of a trickle down economy that only flowed upward; to add insult to injury, created myths of “Welfare Queens”, that portrayed the poor as con-artists cunningly stealing from hard working tax payers.
If greed is the upward surge of humanity, they why does it bring us all down? Sill we cling to a value system that indicates success in life as consuming more and giving less. Selfishness has been raised to cult like status. Greed and grasping leave us void of true saintly virtues such as openhanded and openhearted.
There are things we can do to help us move toward the practice of aparigraha. First, consciously begin to self-assess emotions that lead to gripping; anger, jealousy and fear. First note how these emotions cause you to grip and hold onto for control of not only material wealth, but also expression of love. Second, take a holiday form consumerism. During your holiday, try to avoid, advertisement that makes you feel like you are missing out on or do not have enough. Avoid department stories, and shopping for entertainment and try not to watch make over improvement shows. Third, engage in acts of generosity. Not all generosity is about giving away money, but giving money can be generous. Give your time to an organization, or a being in need, animal or human can channel your actions away for selfishness and greed to that of compassion and empathy. Fourth, give away a possession that you enjoy, jewelry or other object, to a friend who admires it as much as you do. Releasing it for your grasp and letting go of the object. Fifth and last, just give some money away. Make some commitments to give a certain amount of money away on a regular basis to a charitable organization, spiritual organization group, or a relief agency. Find a organization that you agree with their mission and help support them financially.
The words of Aristotle are appropriate here: “For what good would their prosperity do them if it did not provide them with the opportunity for good works?” It may be difficult at first to implement aparigraha in your life, but over time doing so will not only be good for you, it will help others in need.
Austin Sanderson, Urban Sadhu