Where the observance of Non-Coveting deals with the many things we see outside ourselves that we may want, Non-Hoarding deals with the things we already have. Patañjali has this to say about someone who is free of the need to hoard:

Knowledge of the subtle causes of one’s birth becomes available to one grounded in non-hoarding.

How can it be that hoarding possessions can obscure our awareness of the subtleties of our own incarnation? If Non-Coveting is about necessity and abundance, then Non-Hoarding is about identity. Modern Western culture is often condemned for being excessively materialistic, and we tend to hold up the East as being a place of deep wisdom and embodiment of spiritual values. I find it encouraging to see that materialism was enough of a problem in the Indian sub-continent 1800 years ago that Patañjali felt the need to decry it as one of the underlying obstacles to the practice of his yoga.

The inherent misapprehension as to who and what we really are causes us to equate the possessions that we have amassed with our essential identity. The clothes we wear, the technology we use, the car we drive, we allow all these things in some way to say something about who we are. In the reactionary state of mind that we live in for most of our lives, this shorthand expression of selfhood that we have fashioned in our material shell becomes the totality of our identity. What should be merely a tool we use to present ourselves to the world and to others becomes our de facto essential self. Consumerist media depends on this tendency. Successful brands find ways of associating themselves with a particular perspective, a style that places them very specifically within the cultural and economic spectrum. Buying their products allows the individual to assume those associations, whether they are valid or not. This art has become so refined in the top global brands that these manufactured images can cut across local cultural boundaries to become universal in appeal. At our most passive level, we allow the marketplace to define us rather than to seek out the hard-won truths of who we really are.

Many of us also hoard on a metaphorical level. We can build our identity not on what we possess, but on what we achieve. We build ourselves up financially from nothing, we campaign and crusade for a cause, we fight our way back to sobriety from an addiction, we train our bodies and minds to perform feats of endurance and athleticism. These are all noble and laudable pursuits but, from a yoga perspective, they are potentially just as fraught as mindless consumerism if we allow them to define us at a fundamental level. You see this often in the context of the yoga class. Students will strive to achieve poses that they are not ready for and they injure themselves in the process. Even the most flexible and strong students can fall into an acquisitive mindset, attempting new and more difficult poses just so that they can say they have.

If the fundamental goal of yoga is to purify the body and mind so that we can discover who we truly are—eternal, pure and joyful—then we must discard this tendency to define ourselves by anything material or effortful. We must be minutely vigilant in order to seek out the many subtle ways in which we use the world around us to tell a story, which is essentially a lie, about who we are and what our role is in the world. If we can do this, then we have the chance to understand the subtle causes of our birth, causes which continually tie us to the finite material world. Then and only then will we be able to neutralize those causes and free ourselves from the eternal wheel of anguish and uncertainty, of death and rebirth.

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