Śrī Kapila Deva gives a wonderful summary of the most important rules (yama) and regulations (niyama) in Śrī Bhāgavata Mahā-purāṇa (3.28.2~5). These are exactly compatible, by the way, with Patāñjalī’s presentation of the same.
Fulfill your responsibilities to the best of your ability, and don’t try to adopt someone else’s lifestyle.
Everyone in the world seems to have something we don’t, some opportunity we wish we had, some asset we can only dream of. Learn to say, “So what? They deserve it. Let them have it. I have what I deserve, and I have what I need.” If we can’t learn to feel this way, we will (a) never be satisfied with anything we have, any situation, and (b) we will neglect to tend to the things, people, and situations we are responsible for tending to. “A” causes material desires to multiple, and “B” does the same by nourishing self-centeredness and ignorance of our duties.
Be satisfied with what comes by natural destiny, and tolerate dissatisfaction.
This principle supports the previous. It is by destiny that we have what we have and don’t have the opportunities that we don’t have. Be satisfied with it, tolerate your dissatisfaction with it. If you don’t you will get sucked into never-ending work trying to adjust and readjust your situation, and sucked into the hopeless, resource devouring war against the universe (destiny).
Be very respectful towards those who understand spirituality, and do not harm anyone at all.
This describes the proper attitude towards living beings. We have to be respectful, all the time. If we are not, we nourish our self-absorption. We express the respect differently towards different people. We can express it most fully towards beings who are the least selfish. So towards those who have realized their true selves, and who are therefore humble and spiritually aware, we can fully express our respect. We can express respect in different ways to other people, being helpful. At the very least, even towards poisonous snakes and insects, we should make all efforts not to harm them. (Though if such creatures attack those it is our responsibility to protect, that principle takes precedence).
Develop attraction for the path of enlightenment, and don’t nourish your attraction for the ways of mundane life.
This could mean many things. In essence it means not “hanging out” with people who are totally into mundane sense-gratification. Hanging out (means “recreation”) with them will only cause us to also begin to value mundane sense-gratification. That’s the niyama. The yama is to try to hang out with spiritually minded people. This sort of recreation means enjoying the glorification of Krishna, and discussion of spiritual philosophy and the service of saintly people.
Eat pure things, and don’t overeat.
Vegetarianism is implied, and healthy, simple food is implied.
Be truthful, and don’t cheat.
Hardly needs a comment.
Be simple, and don’t take more than you really need.
This goes along the lines of “eat pure, and not too much.” Minimizing our needs and simplifying our life, and getting rid of unnecessary things gets tons and tons of mental and emotional baggage out of our minds, make it much, much easier to meditate effectively.
Live in a secluded, peaceful place.
Sorry folks, this is important. Hate to say it since I am blogging right now, but the internet is not a “secluded, peaceful place.” We could move to the top of a mountain, but with the internet on our iPhone it would still not be a secluded, peaceful place. In contrast living in Manhattan without the internet, television, radio, or newspaper would be far, far, far more secluded and peaceful.
Study attentively, aided by cleanliness and celibacy.
It’s not just “service, service, service.” Service is one of the important principles. Another important principle is to study. Aid the study by being clean and organized, especially when and where you study. Aid the study also by keeping your mind sharp. Celibacy sharpens the mind when done intelligently. “Unintelligent celibacy” means trying to stretch it longer than is reasonable for you as an individual. Bhāgavatam is clear (3.12.42-43) that each of the four personality types takes to each of the four spiritual lifestyles in their own capacity. For most people vows of celibacy should be quite short and reasonable, otherwise it becomes more of a distraction than an aid to ones focus on study. Short periods of celibacy can be repeated, this is more effective for the common man in kali-yuga. Those who are actually qualified self-motivated entrepreneurs (vaiṣya) can take this principle for a longer period (like a year). Those who are qualified leaders (kṣatriya) can take it for as long as it takes to finish the study. Those who are qualified intellectuals (brahmana) can take it forever.
This reveals something important. If the brahmana takes brahmacarya (celibacy) forever, how would there ever be any brahmana children? Therefore it is obvious that the brahmacarya principle does not need to mean absolute celibacy. Procreation certainly does not violate brahmacarya. It can be argued that sex as a part of fulfilling ones responsibilities as a partner, husband, or wife also does not violate brahmacarya. But sex which is initiated by ones own desire, for the sake of ones own pleasure certainly violates any concept of brahmacarya. The brahmana should never participate in such. The kṣatriya should not participate in such while he or she is in the course of study (this means during the few years one is studying something to master it). The vaiṣya should discipline himself/herself so that at least it is limited within a year. The śudra should also disciple as far as possible, though even to go as long as a year is an unrealistic expectation. These principles do not refer to birth caste, but primarily to the emotional nature.
This means doing daily rituals that involve one in worshipping god. It doesn’t mean śravaṇa, kīrtana, smaraṇa bhakti. That is part of a higer principle, here we are simply discussing yama, niyama. Bhakti sādhana proper begins with dhyāna (focusing on Hari’s līlā by hearing, chanting and remembering)… see 3.28.11
Again, its a little embarrassing to write about this on an internet blog.
Especially after just having written something that is sure to make waves (among ISKCON readers who stumble on this page without the context of brahmacarya as a niyama of aṣṭāṅga-yoga.)
But this illustrates why its good to be silent. If you’re not, you get pulled into arguments, debates and discussions that only fill your mind will emotional and intellectual refuse which make it hard to cultivate any real meditations.