A Yogic Look at the 10 Commandments


Can you explain the 10 commandments in light of Master’s teachings?

Thank you.

Blessings to you all.

—Garry Jenness, USA


Dear Garry,

The 10 commandments of the Old Testament are frequently compared to the five yamas and five niyamas of Patanjali’s Eight-Fold Path from the Yoga Sutras. They are certainly NOT an exact match but both offer counsel on the basics of right attitude and/or behavior. They are close enough, however, to make comparisons. In both cases there are sometimes an outward behavioral aspect AND an inward, attitude being referred to.

The “thou shalt not” ones are very similar to the yamas which counsel against lying, coveting, sensuality and stealing. In the niyamas “Devotion to the Supreme Lord” is essentially a combination of “Thou shalt love the Lord thy God…”, “Thou shalt not have false (or other) gods,” or “thou shalt not take the Lord’s name in vain.” The proscription against graven images does not squarely fit into the yamas/niyamas except to the extent a person were to worship a statute, stone, or image on its own merits rather than seeing it merely as a symbol for an intangible reality or consciousness.

Even though “Thou shalt not kill” seems pretty specific, and even though Patanjali’s yama, ahimsa (non-violence) seems literal also, there’s lots of killing going on in the Bible and the Bhagavad Gita to suggest that a literal interpretation of the 10 commandments or ahimsa is far too simplistic.

Master certainly encouraged “the Sabbath” in his writings: meaning, taking a day for prayer, meditation and reflection. It’s not specifically in the yoga sutras except that the entire sutras is focused around prayer and meditation! Honoring father and mother is also not specific to the sutras but in Master’s life he clearly did both, whether in respect to his own parents or in guiding students and disciples.

So, these things are expressed differently and sometimes in more subtle ways when comparing the ten commandments to the yamas and niyamas, but understood on a deeper rather than only literal level, there isn’t any substantive difference.

In general, it appears, superficially, that the 10 commandments are somewhat unsophisticated and merely behavioral, but that’s only in reading the words, not intuiting the spirit or vibration behind them. They can, and should, also be seen metaphysically and symbolically so that their true message is one of consciousness and vibration. The consciousness (intention) of an act is as important, and sometimes MORE important, than the act, but the consequences of an act cannot be reversed and so must be dealt with. If I hit a pedestrian while texting while driving, it was not my intention to harm but I cannot avoid the consequences (nor can the pedestrian!) of my act and thus I must take responsibility. Both intention and action must always be considered: subjective and objective aspects, that is.

I hope this is helpful to you.

Nayaswami Hriman