Aparigrah is the opposite of parigrah, and refers to keeping the desire for possessions to what is necessary or important, depending on one's life stage and context. The precept of aparigraha is a self-restraint (temperance) from the type of greed and avarice where one's own material gain or happiness comes by hurting, killing or destroying other human beings, life forms or nature.
Aparigraha is a compound in Sanskrit, made of "a-" and "parigrah". The prefix "a-" means "non-", so "aparigrah" is the opposite of "parigrah", so aparigraha is speech and actions that oppose and negate parigraha.
The word parigrah means ‘to amass’, ‘to crave’, ‘to seek’, ‘to seize’, and ‘to receive or accept’ material possessions or gifts from others. The word also includes the idea of doing good with the expectation of benefit or reward, not just for the sake of merely doing good. Parigraha includes the results as well as the intent; in other words, it means the attitudes of craving, possessiveness, and hoarding, but also the things that have been acquired because of those attitudes.
Monier-Williams states that the word "parigraha" has roots in the Vedic texts, referring to fencing an altar, enclosing something, assuming or putting on a dress or receiving something. In the Brahmanas and later texts, the term contextually means accepting or taking a gift, acquiring, possessing, claiming, controlling something such a property, or assistance, or constraining force on others. In some texts, the root reflects the state of marriage or having a family.
The virtue of aparigraha means taking what is truly necessary and no more. In Yoga school of Hinduism, this concept of virtue has also been translated as "abstaining from accepting gifts", "not expecting, asking, or accepting inappropriate gifts from any person", and "not applying for gifts which are not to be accepted". The concept includes in its scope non-covetousness, and non-possessiveness. Taylor states, aparigraha includes the psychological state of "letting go and the releasing of control, transgressions, fears" and living a content life unfettered by anxieties.
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In the Yoga Sūtras (II.30), aparigraha is listed as the fifth Yamas or code of self-restraint, after with Ahimsa (nonviolence), Satya (non-falsehoods, truthfulness), Asteya (not stealing), and Brahmacharya (sexual chastity in one's feelings and actions).
अहिंसासत्यास्तेय ब्रह्मचर्यापरिग्रहाः यमाः ॥३०॥
Non-violence, Non-falsehood, Non-stealing, Non-cheating (celibacy, chastity), and Non-possessiveness are the five Yamas. (30)— Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 2.30
Aparigraha is thus one of the five essential restraints (yamas, "the don'ts") in Hinduism, that with five essential practices (niyamas, "the dos") are suggested for right, virtuous, enlightened living. While Yoga Sutras distills the ten yamas and niyamas, these virtues appear, in various discussions, in Vedic texts. It is part of ethical theory in Hinduism.
James Wood states, aparigraha is the virtue of abstaining from appropriating objects because one understands the disadvantages in "acquiring them, keeping them, losing them, being attached to them, or in harming them". Patanjali suggests that greed and coveting material wealth increases greed and possessiveness, a cycle that distracts from good reasons for activity that should motivate a person, and ultimately to a state where a person seeks material wealth without effort and by harming, hurting or impoverishing someone else, or some living creature. Yoga Sutra's sutra 2.39 states,
अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंतासंबोधः ॥३९॥
With constancy of aparigraha, a spiritual illumination of the how and why of motives and birth emerges. (39)— Patanjali, Yoga Sutra 2.39
Restraint from possessiveness and greed, or aparigraha, leads one away from harmful and injurious greed, refraining from harming others, and towards the spiritual state of good activity and understanding one's motives and origins. The virtue of non-coveting, non-possessing is a means of Sādhanā, path of spiritual existence. In outer world, aparigraha manifests as non-possessiveness with simple living; while in psychological terms, it is a state of non-attachment, non-craving and one that envelops the sense of contentment.
The virtue of aparigraha is sometimes referred by other terms such as alobha (अलोभ) or agradhnu (अगृध्नु) – which all mean "refrain from avarice", "avoid accepting and craving for gifts", and "restrain from excessive greed". For example, Max Müller translates the first hymn of Isha Upanishad as the precept, "Do not covet the wealth of any man!" The "do not covet" and "do not accept" virtue precept also appears in verse 8.1.10 of Srimad-Bhagavatam. In Shanti Parva and other books of the Epic Mahabharata, "non-covetousness" is described as virtue,
That person who, always practicing truth and self-restraint and sincerity and compassion and patience and renunciation, becomes devoted to the study of the Vedas, does not covet what belongs to others, and pursues what is good with a singleness of purpose, succeeds in gaining moksha (self-realization, liberation). One should devote oneself to the practice of all these virtues.
Similarly, in Book 3 Chapter 2 verse 71 of the Mahabharata, the virtue of alobha (aparigraha) is discussed. Book 9, Shalya Parva of the Mahabharata, clarifies that self earned and proper pursuit of artha (wealth, profit, means of livelihood) is good till it is achieved without sacrificing either dharma (righteousness, morality, ethics) or kama (love, pleasure, emotional contentment),
धर्मः सुचरितः सद्भिः सह दवाभ्यां नियच्छतिMorality (Dharma) is well practiced by the good. Morality, however, is always afflicted by two things, the desire of Profit (Artha) entertained by those that covet it, and the desire for Pleasure (Kama) cherished by those that are wedded to it. Whoever without afflicting Morality and Profit, or Morality and Pleasure, or Pleasure and Profit, followeth all three – Morality, Profit and Pleasure – always succeeds in obtaining great happiness.
अर्थश चात्यर्थ लुब्धस्य कामश चातिप्रसङ्गिनः
धर्मार्थौ धर्मकामौ च कामार्थौ चाप्य अपीडयन
धर्मार्थकामान यॊ भयेति सॊ तयन्तं सुखम अश्नुते
In Vaishnava Dharmaśāstra, in the concluding chapters of a dialogue between Vishnu and Lakshmi, the concept of non-covetousness is extended to "not coveting someone's spouse". The dharmasastra includes aparigraha among virtues such as, "being friendly towards all creatures" (ahimsa), "being free from wrath" (akrodha), forbearance, being driven by excellence in one's own business, being skilled in related businesses and learning new abilities, "being humble before everyone", "being positive", "being driven by one's duty", among others.
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Aparigraha is one of the virtues in Jainism. It is also one of the five vows that both householders (Śrāvaka) and ascetics must observe. This Jain vow is the principle of limiting one’s possessions (parimita-parigraha) and limiting one’s desires (iccha-parimana).
In Jainism, worldly wealth accumulation is considered as a potential source of rising greed, jealousy, selfishness and desires. Giving up emotional attachments, sensual pleasures and material possession is a means of liberation, in Jain philosophy. Eating enough to survive is considered more noble than eating for indulgence. Similarly, all consumption is more appropriate if it is essential to one's survival, and inappropriate if it is a form of hoarding, show off or for ego. Non-possession and non-attachment are a form of virtue, and these are recommended particularly in later stages of one's life. After ahiṃsā, Aparigraha is the second most important virtue in Jainism.
Scholars suggest aparigraha allies with ideas that inspire environmental and ecological sustainability. Aparigraha suggests the reduction of waste and adds a spiritual dimension to preventing destructive consumption of ecosystems and nature.
Asteya is the virtue of non-stealing and not wanting to appropriate, or take by force or deceit or exploitation, by deeds or words or thoughts, what is owned by and belongs to someone else. Aparigraha, in contrast, is the virtue of non-possessiveness and non-clinging to one's own property, non-accepting any gifts or particularly improper gifts offered by others, and of non-avarice, non-craving in the motivation of one's deeds, words and thoughts.