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Niyama (Sanskrit: ?) literally means positive duties or observances.[1] In Indian traditions, particularly Yoga, niyamas and its complement, Yamas, are recommended activities and habits for healthy living, spiritual enlightenment and liberated state of existence.[2] It has multiple meanings depending on context in Hinduism. In Buddhism, the term extends to the determinations of nature, as in the Buddhist niyama dhammas.


Virtues are extensively discussed in various ancient and medieval era texts of Hinduism. In its Yoga school, they are described in first two of eight limbs (steps, branches, components). The first limb is called yamas, which include virtuous self-restraints (the "don'ts"). The second limb is called niyamas which include virtuous habits, behaviors and observances (the "dos").[3][4] These virtues and ethical premises are considered in Hinduism as necessary for an individual to achieve a self-realized, enlightened, liberated state of existence (moksha).[5]

Five Niyamas

In Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, the Niyamas are the second limb of the eight limbs of Yoga. Sadhana Pada Verse 32 lists the niyamas as:[6]

  1. ?auca (): purity, clearness of mind, speech and body[7]
  2. Santo?a (): contentment, acceptance of others and of one's circumstances as they are, optimism for self[2]
  3. Tapas (): austerity, self-discipline,[8] persistent meditation, perseverance[9][10]
  4. Sv?dhy?ya (): study of self, self-reflection, introspection of self's thoughts, speeches and actions[10][11]
  5. varapra?idh?na (?): contemplation of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality),[2][12] attunement to the supreme consciousness[13]

Ten Niyamas

In the diverse traditions and historical debate within Hinduism, some texts suggest a different and expanded list of niyamas. For example, the Shandilya and Varuha Upanishads,[14] the Hatha Yoga Pradipika,[15] verses 552 to 557 in Book 3 of the Tirumandhiram of Tirumular suggest ten niyamas,[16] in the sense of positive duties, desirable behaviors and discipline. The Hatha Yoga Pradipika lists the ten niyamas in the following order, in verse 1.18,[15][17]

  1. Tapas(? ): persistence, perseverance in one's purpose, austerity[18][10]
  2. Santo?a(): contentment, acceptance of others and of one's circumstances as they are, optimism for self[2]
  3. ?stikya(): faith in Real Self (jnana yoga, raja yoga), belief in God (bhakti yoga), conviction in Vedas/Upanishads (orthodox school)
  4. D?na(): generosity, charity, sharing with others[19]
  5. varap?jana(?): worship of the Ishvara (God/Supreme Being, Brahman, True Self, Unchanging Reality)[20]
  6. Siddh?nta vakya ?r?va?a ( ? ) or Siddh?nta ?r?va?a ( ): Listening to the ancient scriptures
  7. Hr?(?): remorse and acceptance of one's past, modesty, humility[15][21]
  8. Mati(): think and reflect to understand, reconcile conflicting ideas[22]
  9. Japa(): mantra repetition, reciting prayers or knowledge[23]
  10. Huta() or Vrata (?):
    1. Huta (): rituals, ceremonies such as yajna sacrifice.
    2. Vrata(?): Fulfilling religious vows, rules and observances faithfully.[24]

Some texts replace the last niyama of Huta with Vrata. The niyama of Vrata means making and keeping one's vows (resolutions), which may be pious observances.[25] For example, a promise to fast and visit a pilgrimage site is a form of Vrata. The education process in ancient India, where Vedas and Upanishads were memorized and transmitted across generations without ever being written down, required a series of Vrata niyamas over a number of years.[26]

Other numbers of Niyamas

At least sixty five (65) ancient and medieval era Indian texts are known so far that discuss Niyamas and Yamas.[14] Most are in Sanskrit, but some are in regional Indian languages of Hindus. The number of Niyamas mentioned in these texts range from just one to eleven, however 5 and 10 are the most common.[14] The order of listed niyamas, the names and nature of each niyama, as well as the relative emphasis vary between the texts. For example, Sriprashna Samhita discusses only one Niyama in verse 3.22, and that Niyama being Ahimsa.[14] Shivayoga Dipika, Sharada Tilaka, Vasishtha Samhita, Yoga Kalpalatika, Yajnavalkya Smriti and many others, each discuss ten Niyamas.[14][27] Bhagavata Purana discusses eleven Niyamas, with kind hospitality of guests, to one's best ability, as an additional virtuous behavior. Other texts substitute one or more different concepts in their list of Niyamas. For example, in the five Niyamas listed by Markandeya Purana in verse 36.17, Matanga Parameshvaram in verse 17.31 and Pashupata Sutra in verse 1.9, each suggest Akrodha (non-anger) as a Niyama.[14][28]

Many of the texts match Patanjali's five Niyamas. Ahimsa is the most widely discussed ethical theory, and highlighted as the highest virtue by majority of these texts.[14]

Overlap between Yamas and Niyamas

Some yamas (restraints, the "don'ts") are understood as reverse of niyamas (attitudes, behaviors, the "dos") in Hatha Yoga Pradipika. For example, Ahimsa and Mitahara are called as yama as well as niyama in verse 1.17 and 1.40. The text calls Ahimsa (nonviolence and non-injuring anyone by one's actions, words or in thoughts) as the highest virtuous habit, Mitahara (moderation in one's eating and drinking habits) as the best personal restraint, and Siddhasana as the foremost of Asanas in verse 1.40.[29]


In Buddhist commentary (from the 5th to 13th centuries CE) we find the pañcavidha niyama, fivefold niyama which occurs in the following texts:

  • In the Ahas?lin? (272-274), the commentary attributed to Buddhaghosa on the Dhammasanga?i, the first book of the Therav?da Abhidhamma Pi?aka;[30]
  • In the Suma?gala-Vil?sin? (DA 2.431), Buddhaghosa's commentary on the D?gha Nik?ya;[31]
  • In the Abhidhamm?vat?ra (PTS p.54), a verse summary of Abhidhamma by Buddhaghosa's contemporary, Buddhadatta.[32]
  • Abhidhammam?tika Internal Commentary. (p. 58) The Abhidhamma-m?tika is a matrix of abstracts for the Abhidhamma, with lists of pairs and triplets of terms from which the whole of the text can theoretically be reconstructed. The passage on the niyamas is from an internal commentary on the m?tika associated with the Dhammasa?ga (the niy?mas don't appear to be mentioned in the m?trix itself, but only in this appendix.); and was composed in South India by Co?araha Kassapa (12th-13th century).
  • Abhidhamm?vat?ra-purat?k? (p.1.68). Composed by in Sri Lanka by V?cissara Mah?s?mi c. 13th century or S?riputta c. 12th century. This text is a commentary on the text of the Abhidhamm?vat?ra N?mar?pa-parichedo (ka) so is technically a sub-sub-commentary. This commentary is an incomplete word by word commentary.
  1. utu-niy?ma "the constraint of the seasons", i.e. in certain regions of the earth at certain periods the flowering and fruiting of trees all at one time (ekappah?reneva), the blowing or ceasing of wind, the degree of the heat of the sun, the amount of rain-fall, some flowers like the lotuses opening during the day and closing at night and so on;
  2. b?ja-niy?ma "the constraint of seeds or germs", i.e. a seed producing its own kind as barley seed produces barley;
  3. kammaniy?ma "the constraint of kamma", i.e. good actions produce good results and bad actions produce bad results. This constraint is said to be epitomised by [Dhammapada] verse 127 which explains that the consequences of actions are inescapable;
  4. citta-niy?ma "the constraint of mind", i.e. the order of the process of mind-activities as the preceding thought-moment causing and conditioning the succeeding one in a cause and effect relation;
  5. dhamma-niy?ma "the constraint of dhammas", i.e. such events like the quaking of the ten thousand world-systems at the Bodhisatta's conception in his mother's womb and at his birth. At the end of the discussion Suma?galavil?sin? passage the Commentary says that dhammaniy?ma explains the term dhammat? in the text of the Mah?pad?na Sutta (D ii.12) (Cf. S 12.20 for a discussion of the use of the word dhammaniyamat? in the suttas)

In these texts the fivefold niyama was introduced into commentarial discussions not to illustrate that the universe was intrinsically ethical but as a list that demonstrated the universal scope of pa?icca-samupp?da. The original purpose of expounding fivefold niyama was, according to Ledi Sayadaw, neither to promote or to demote the law of karma, but to show the scope of natural law as an alternative to the claims of theism.[33]

C.A.F. Rhys Davids was the first western scholar to draw attention to the list of pañcavidha niyama, in her little book of 1912 entitled simply Buddhism. Her reason for mentioning it was to emphasise how for Buddhism we exist in a "moral universe" in which actions lead to just consequences according to a natural moral order, a situation she calls a "cosmodicy" in contrast with the Christian theodicy.:[34][35]

In Mrs Rhys Davids scheme the niyamas become:

  • kamma niyama: ("action") consequences of one's actions
  • utu niyama: ("time, season") seasonal changes and climate, law of non-living matter
  • b?ja niyama: ("seed") laws of heredity
  • citta niyama:("mind") will of mind
  • dhamma niyama: ("law") nature's tendency to perfect

This is similar to the scheme proposed by Ledi Sayadaw.[36] Western Buddhist Sangharakshita has taken up Mrs Rhys Davids conception of the niyamas and made it an important aspect of his own teachings on Buddhism. [37]


In P?li the word is spelled both niyama and niy?ma, and the Pali Text Society Dictionary says that the two forms have become confused.[38] It is likely that niy?ma is from a causative form of the verb ni?i.

See also: Karma in Buddhism


  1. ^ Donald Moyer, Asana, Yoga Journal, Volume 84, January/February 1989, page 36
  2. ^ a b c d N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 16-17
  3. ^ N Tummers (2009), Teaching Yoga for Life, ISBN 978-0736070164, page 13-16
  4. ^ Y Sawai (1987), The Nature of Faith in the ?a?karan Ved?nta Tradition, Numen, Vol. 34, Fasc. 1 (Jun., 1987), pages 18-44
  5. ^ KH Potter (1958), Dharma and Mok?a from a Conversational Point of View, Philosophy East and West, 8(1/2): 49-63
  6. ^ ?ge, K. S. (1904). P?tañjalayogas?tri. Pu?enandrama. p. 102. 
  7. ^ Sharma and Sharma, Indian Political Thought, Atlantic Publishers, ISBN 978-8171566785, page 19
  8. ^ Gregory P. Fields (2014). Religious Therapeutics: Body and Health in Yoga, Ayurveda, and Tantra. State University of New York Press. p. 111. ISBN 978-0-7914-9086-0. 
  9. ^ Kaelber, W. O. (1976). "Tapas", Birth, and Spiritual Rebirth in the Veda, History of Religions, 15(4), 343-386
  10. ^ a b c SA Bhagwat (2008), Yoga and Sustainability. Journal of Yoga, Fall/Winter 2008, 7(1): 1-14
  11. ^ Polishing the mirror Yoga Journal, GARY KRAFTSOW, FEB 25, 2008
  12. ^ vara + pra?idh?na, vara and pra?idh?na
  13. ^ Sturgess, Stephen (2014). Yoga Meditation. Oxford, Uk: Watkins Publishing Limited. p. 21. ISBN 978-1-78028-644-0. 
  14. ^ a b c d e f g SV Bharti (2001), Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: With the Exposition of Vyasa, Motilal Banarsidas, ISBN 978-8120818255, Appendix I, pages 680-691
  15. ^ a b c Mikel Burley (2000), Ha?ha-Yoga: Its Context, Theory, and Practice, Motilal Banarsidas, ISBN 978-8120817067, pages 190-191
  16. ^ Fountainhead of Saiva Siddhanta Tirumular, The Himalayan Academy, Hawaii
  17. ^ Original:
    ? ? ?
    See: Hatha Yoga Pradipika; Note: this free on-line source author lists Tapas twice in the list of niyamas; others list the second last word of second line in the above as , or Japa
  18. ^ Kaelber, W. O. (1976). "Tapas", Birth, and Spiritual Rebirth in the Veda, History of Religions, 15(4), 343-386
  19. ^ William Owen Cole (1991), Moral Issues in Six Religions, Heinemann, ISBN 978-0435302993, pages 104-105
  20. ^ vara Koeln University, Germany
  21. ^ Hri Monier Williams Sanskrit English Dictionary
  22. ^ Monier Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and philologically arranged, p. 740, at Google Books, Mati, , pages 740-741
  23. ^ HS Nasr, Knowledge and the Sacred, SUNY Press, ISBN 978-0791401774, page 321-322
  24. ^ "Siddha Community: The Saivite Hindu Religion". Retrieved . 
  25. ^ ? Vrata, Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Koeln University, Germany
  26. ^ Hartmut Scharfe, Handbook of Oriental Studies - Education in Ancient India, Brill, ISBN 978-9004125568, pages 217-222
  27. ^ K. V. Gajendragadkar (2007), Neo-upanishadic Philosophy, Bharatiya Vidya Bhavan, University of California Archives, OCLC 1555808, pages 96-97
  28. ^ S. Dasgupta (2012), A History of Indian Philosophy, Volume 5, Motilal Banarsidas, ISBN 978-8120804166, pages 134-136
  29. ^ Original:
    ? ?
    ? ?
    Note 1: The verse number is different in different translations, in some this is 1.38; Sanskrit and English translation source: Hatha Yoga Pradipika Brahmananda, Adyar Library Series, Madras
  30. ^ Ahas?lin?: Buddhaghosa's Commentary on the Dhammasa?gani. ed. E. Muller, PTS 1979 (orig. 1897) p.272, para. 562; trans. Pe Maung Tin as The Expositor PTS London 1921 vol.II p.360.
  31. ^ Suma?gala-Vil?sin?, Buddhaghosa's Commentary on the D?gha Nik?ya. ed. W. Stede PTS 1931 p.432.
  32. ^ Abhidhamm?vat?ra in Buddhadatta's Manuals. ed. AP Buddhadatta PTS 1980 (orig. 1915) p.54.
  33. ^ Manuals of Buddhism. Bangkok: Mahamakut Press 1978. Niyama-Dipani was trans. (from P?li) by Beni M. Barua, rev. and ed. C.A.F. Rhys Davids, n.d.
  34. ^ Buddhism: a study of the Buddhist norm London: Williams and Norgate 1912, pp.118-9.. Reprint by Read Books, 2007,
  35. ^ Padmasiri De Silva, Environmental philosophy and ethics in Buddhism. Macmillan, 1998, page 41.
  36. ^ Niyama-Dipani (online see below)
  37. ^ The Three Jewels Windhorse 1977 (originally published 1967) Windhorse pp.69-70; and in the lecture 'Karma and Rebirth', in edited form in Who is the Buddha? Windhorse 1994, pp.105-8.
  38. ^ Pali Text Society. "The Pali Text Society's Pali-English dictionary". Digital South Asia Library. p. 368. Retrieved 2014. 

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