1. What is Niyama
The observances are (the practice of) internal and external purity, contentment, mortification, study of scriptures and worship of God or self-surrender
Niyama is the second accessory of Yoga. It is the practice of purity, contentment, mortification, study and worship. Patanjali Maharshi mentions these five observances under Niyama. According to Sandilya Rishi, Tapas, Santosha, Astikya, Dana, Isvara Pujana, Siddhanta Sravana, Hrih, Mati, Japa and Vrata come under Niyama. Through the practice of Krichara and Chandrayana Vratas, in accordance with Sastric injunctions, one purifies himself. His body gets emancipated. The sins are destroyed. The Indriyas are controlled. The passion-nature of the mind gets subdued. This is Tapas. Contentment with whatsoever one obtains of its own accord without effort is Santosha. Astikya is firm, unshakable belief in the existence of God, in the words of the Guru, in the truths inculcated in the Vedas and the merits or demerits of actions stated in the Vedas. Dana is the distribution of money, cloth, food, grains, etc., earned lawfully at the sweat of the brow, with faith, to deserving persons without expectation of fruits and without the idea of agency. Isvara Pujana is the worshipping of Lord Hari, Siva, Krishna or Rama with pure love, intense faith and single-minded devotion. Siddhanta Sravana is the enquiry into the right significance of Vedanta. It is the study and reflection of the nature of Brahman and the right significance of 'Tat Tvam Asi' Mahavakya. Hrih is the feeling of shame one experiences when he does certain actions which are not in accordance with the injunctions of the Vedas and rules of society. Mati is the faith in the paths prescribed by the Vedas for the attainment of God-consciousness or Self-realisation. Japa is the repetition of the Mantra into which one is duly initiated by the Guru or spiritual guide and which is not contrary to the rules of the Vedas. Vrata is the regular observance of or refraining from the actions prescribed or prohibited by the Vedas. The practice of Krichara, Chandrayana Vratas come under this heading. Krichara Vrata is fasting for 12 days. The observer of the Vrata drinks only some water. Many sins are destroyed by the practice of this Vrata.
2. Kriya Yoga
Mortification, study of scriptures, self-surrender are the Yoga of purificatory action.
In the previous Sutra, Saucha, Santosha, Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana are described under Niyama. Here in this Sutra, three observances of the five are taken under the heading Kriya Yoga. Every one of the item will be considered separately in the subsequent Sutras.
3. Benefits of Purification
(Kriya Yoga is practised) for acquiring Samadhi and for attenuating the afflictions.
The practice of Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvarapranidhana are intended to attenuate the afflictions and for preparing the mind for entering into Samadhi. They are for the purpose of purifying the mind of its impurities and for destroying distractions.
Purification is of two kinds. They are internal (mental) and external (physical). Mental purity is more important. Physical purity is also needed. Cleanliness is next to godliness. Physical, external purity alone is of no value. Much time must not be wasted in attending to external washing. By so doing, you forget the eternally pure Atman. The afflictions of the mind mentioned in this Sutra are described under Sutra II-3.
4. Benefits of External Purification
By the purification, comes disgust for one's own body and cessation of contact with others.
The purity referred to here is physical or external purity. When the body is impure, one purifies it. Again it gets impure. Again he purifies it. He wants to keep the body always pure but it constantly gets impure. Gradually he gets disgust over the body which is full of impurities. Since the same dust and impurity is in the body of others, he ceases contact with others. Slowly the body idea drops as he always thinks of the ever pure Atman. Moha and Mamata for the body vanish. Lust disappears. The next Sutra refers to the benefits of the internal purification.
5. Benefits of Internal Purification
On the purity of Sattva, arise cheerfulness of mind, conquest of the senses or organs, and fitness for the realisation of the Atman.
The fruits of mental purity are described here. The mind becomes Antarmukha, inward, as a result of the conquest of senses. As the distractions drop away, there is concentration of mind. By getting Antar Saucha, the mind becomes fit for the realisation of Atman. Increase in Sattva causes cheerfulness. Tamas produces gloom. If there is always cheerfulness, remember that you are progressing in Yoga. This is an important sign of spiritual growth. Many Yogic practitioners put on 'Sunday faces' or castor oil faces when they come outside to give interview to the visitors. They are under delusion that people will take them for advanced Yogis. There must be always joy and smile in the face of Yogis. Then only they can radiate joy to others. Sri Ramanuja also puts down cheerfulness as an important measure for developing Bhakti. Joy is the very essence of Purusha. In the Gita (XIV-2) you will find: When the wisdom light streameth forth from all gates of the body, then it may be known that Sattva is increasing. Prakasha on the face is Santosha. The means for getting Santosha is given in the next Sutra.
Supreme happiness is obtained through contentment.
You will find in Yoga Vasishtha that Santosha, Santi, Vichara and Satsanga are the four sentinels at the door of Moksha. If you have Santosha, the other three will come by themselves. Santosha, contentment, is one of the important virtues for an aspirant. Riches and poverty are not counted by the amount of wealth one keeps. A king, if he keeps too many desires and if he wants more, is considered to be a beggar. A beggar, if he is contented with what he has, is really a king. From contentment comes real happiness. If a man has no contentment, his mind will be always wandering. It will be impossible to do concentration and other Yogic practices. Therefore contentment should be developed by all aspirants.
Through Tapas, mortification, due to the destruction of impurities, arise psychic powers in the body and senses.
By Tapas, the mind, speech and Indriyas are purified. Fasts and all religious observances that are laid down in Dharma Sastras and the rules of Yama and Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, etc., come under Tapas. In Gita Chapter XVII, the three Slokas from 14 to 16 describe three kinds of Tapas, viz., Tapas of body, speech and mind. Psychic powers are the eight Siddhis, Anima, Mahima, etc. All these Siddhis can be acquired by the steady practice of Tapas. Manu says: He whose speech and mind are pure and ever carefully guarded, obtains all the fruits that are obtained by means of Vedanta. By the performance of Tapas, all Klesas (afflictions) and impurities can be destroyed.
By study of scriptures comes the communion with the tutelary deity.
Svadhyaya is the study of scriptures such as the Gita, the Upanishads, the Ramayana, the Bhagavata, etc. The study should be done with concentration. You should understand what you have studied and try to put in your everyday life all that you have learnt. There will be no benefit in your study, if you do not exert to live up to the teachings of the scriptures. Svadhyaya includes also Japa, the repetition of Mantras. By constant study and its practice in daily life will lead one to have communion with God.
By self-surrender comes attainment of Samadhi, superconscious state.
The self-surrender should be free, perfect, unconditioned and ungrudging. Then the Samadhi will come by itself. This Pranidhana is further dealt with in Sutra I-23.