Tuesday, 15 June 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 1 - ahimsa

When yoga is mentioned many people think either of sitting in meditation or of practising poses that require great flexibility. However, there is a lot more to it than that. For example, in yogic philosophy the yamas (restraints to our behaviour in relation mainly to others) and niyamas (observances or inner practices) represent ethical precepts. The idea is that following these will help us be at peace with ourselves and the world.

So, as you do, I wondered which card would best suit each of these ideas.  For some I feel that they are best explained by their opposite, ie. seeing how not to do it, while for others the perfection of the idea is shown directly.

For each of the ten precepts (five yamas, five niyamas) I chose a card rationally based on what they represent.  These cards will include a mix of minors, courts and majors.  I also decided I would pull a card for each principle to look at how its energies are acting in my life right now.  Let's get started then on this strange journey of yogic philosophy combined with tarot!

Ahimsa - non-violence or compassion.  Choosing the Five of Swords to represent ahimsa, this is clearly one of the cards that shows the opposite of the precept in question.  In the Five of Swords we generally see one person smugly victorious, while others in the background are bowed down by defeat.   The Five of Swords shows us what our relationships with others can be like if we don't follow this restraint, if we are violent and uncaring rather than compassionate.  The smug victor may have won, but he certainly isn't popular, and if people do stick with him it's probably out of fear rather than love.  Swords cards are often taken to represent the realm of air, or communication.  So this suggests if we use our wit to hurt or best others, while we apparently win, we really lose.

Although the yamas are translated as restraints, and are generally seen as being the ways we should restrain our behaviour with regard to other people, this particular yama also has a strong internal element for me: that of not hurting ourself.  This would make it, in tarot terms, more Seven of Wands.  Not putting ourselves down, even in the privacy of our own mind, not lying to ourselves, hurting ourselves physically, or putting ourselves in dangerous situations are all aspects that spring to mind.

When thinking about this principle, I drew the Elder of Water from the Gaian Tarot (equivalent to the King of Cups).  In this card a mature man rows out into a bay in a skiff, with a seal swimming by his side and a mountain highlighted behind him.  The waters around him reflect the beautiful sunrise taking place.  He gazes upward, as though watching a bird in flight.

This old fisherman is in tune with the tides and seasons, and comfortable on the waters which represent deep emotions and the unconscious.  In terms of compassion, I see this card saying that this takes time to develop, and requires a deep understanding of emotions, both my own and those of others.  Therefore, I shouldn't beat myself up if I don't automatically understand these things, which are not simple.  This feels very relevant to me at the moment, when I am studying to be a counsellor.  We train to listen better, to not put our own emotions in the mix too much, to judge subtle emotions being expressed in ways that may not be our own.  So, if I don't always get it right, there's still time as I'm just at the beginning of my studies.

This card also reminds me that there's no point trying to push against the tide, and this is true with compassion too.  I must listen to the needs of those around me rather than imposing my own ideas of what they need if I am to truly be compassionate.

Which leads me to ask: what does compassion mean to you?  Do you find it easy to be compassionate towards others, but less so towards yourself?  Or do you think compassion is over-rated and we should look out for ourselves?

Image from the Gilded Tarot.


  1. Compassion is (for me) when you truly stop thinking 'I know what's best' and listen to what the other person is saying: Looking through their eyes, with their perspectives and understanding of what's going on (without your own baggage!)

    And still being able to find a way to help them :-)

    I didn't appreciate that yoga had these yamas/niyamas! I am learning from you :-)

    Ali x

    Ali x

  2. Hi Ali,
    What you say about compassion and truly listening really rings true for me and is what I was trying to get at talking about pushing against the tide. I love that your alter ego Hestia manages to show compassion not just to a son with a stick for a friend but to the plants in her garden and greenhouse, too. I easily include animals in my field of compassion, but I just don't understand plants well enough to 'hear' what they need!