william blake

Yama & Niyama of Thelema: What is the “ideal Thelemite”?

The Yama and Niyama of Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

What is the “ideal Thelemite”? In short: There is no such thing as an “ideal Thelemite.” The Law of Thelema is “Do what thou wilt,” which means that every individual is sovereign. Every man and every woman has their own individual Law, their own unique Will. As William Blake said, “One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression.”

The fact that “There is no law beyond Do what thou wilt” (Liber AL, III:60) is precisely why there are no standard or universal ideals. Each individual has their own Will, and each Law must have its own, unique “ideal.” Regarding the fact that there are no standards or universal ideals, Crowley writes: 

“What is necessary is not to seek after some fantastic ideal, utterly unsuited to our real needs, but to discover the true nature of those needs, to fulfill them, and rejoice therein.” —Magick Without Tears, chapter 8

“Know then, o my Son, that all Laws, all Systems, all Customs, all Ideals and Standards which tend to produce Uniformity, being in direct Opposition to Nature’s Will to change and to develop through Variety, are accursèd.”  —Liber Aleph, chapter 31: ‘De Lege Motus’

“Each child must develop its own Individuality, and Will, disregarding alien Ideals. … Let children educate themselves to be themselves. Those who train them to standards cripple and deform them. Alien ideals impose parasitic perversions. … Standards of education, ideals of Right-and-Wrong, conventions, creeds, codes, stagnate Mankind.” —On the Education of Children

One might argue that Thelema is itself a “universal ideal.” Thelema is a universal Law insofar as “Do what thou wilt” states that each individual must find their own unique Will, their own particular Law. The universal ideal is therefore that there are no universal ideals: each must “discover the true nature of [one’s real] needs, to fulfill them, and rejoice therein.” The only absolute is that there are no absolutes; the only constant is change. 

In a way, then, we can say that the “ideal Thelemite” is one who does their own Will and lets others do their Wills. This “ideal Thelemite” follows their own Law and others follow their own, different Laws; there are no universal ideals of “what is best” or “what is absolutely Right and Wrong” beyond this. This is what is sometimes called the “Yama and Niyama of Thelema.”

We borrow the terms “Yama” and “Niyama” from the Hindu system of raja yoga as explained, among other places, in Patanjali’s classic treatise called the Yogasutras. Yama and Niyama are words that mean opposite things, similar to “Thou shalt not” (Yama) and “Thou shalt” (Niyama). Unfortunately, translating them  into English is not easy, but their real meaning in the context of Thelema becomes clear with just a little explication.

The Yama of Thelema is to have the self-discipline to find one’s own Will and to do that Will. As it is said, “Thou hast no right but to do thy will” (Liber AL, I:42). The Niyama of Thelema is to mind your own business or, in other words, to allow others to find and do their Wills. The Niyama is to extend the same absolute liberty to do your own Will that you rightfully claim to all other individuals. In short:

  • The Yama of Thelema: Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. Thou hast no right but to do thy will.
  • The Niyama of Thelema: Mind your own business.

Yama: Crowley mentions that Yama means something similar to “control” or “the  word ‘inhibition’ as used by biologists.” Basically, Yama means the self-discipline to remain on the “track” or “path” of one’s True Will and not swerving from it. “Thou hast no right but to do thy will,” (Liber AL, I:42) which shows that you are by definition outside of your sole right when you deviate from your Path. This requires the self-discipline to remain true to one’s own Law. As Crowley writes, “What is true for every School is equally true for every individual. Success in life, on the basis of the Law of Thelema, implies severe self-discipline.” Crowley gives a succinct summary of the Yama of Thelema when he writes:

“I wish to thunder forth once more that no questions of right or wrong enter into our problems. But in the stratosphere it is ‘right’ for a man to be shut up in a pressure-resisting suit electrically heated, with an oxygen supply, whereas it would be ‘wrong’ for him to wear it if he were running the three miles in the summer sports in the Tanezrouft. This is the pit into which all the great religious teachers have hitherto fallen, and I am sure you are all looking hungrily at me in the hope of seeing me do likewise. But no! There is one principle which carries us through all conflicts concerning conduct, because it is perfectly rigid and perfectly elastic: — ‘Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.’ That is Yama.” —Eight Lectures on Yoga, “Yama”

Niyama: There is no “opposite term” of Yama, or self-discipline, to adequately translate “Niyama.” We might say that the complementary term of “self-discipline” is, in this case, something like “other-discipline.” If Yama is the discipline we have toward ourselves in remaining true to our own Law, Niyama is the discipline we have toward others in allowing them to remain true to their own Laws. This “other-discipline” can be summarized as “Mind your own business.” Crowley says as much in several places:

“Mind your own business! is the sole sufficient rule.” —Magick Without Tears, chapter 15

“I will have thee to know, moreover, my dear Son, the right Art of Conduct with them whom I shall give thee for Initiation. And the Rule thereof is one Rule: Do that thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law. See thou constantly to it that this be not broken; especially in the Section thereof (if I dare say so) which readeth Mind thine own Business. This is of Application equally to all, and the most dangerous Man (or Woman, as has occurred, or I err) is the Busy-body. Oh how ashamed are we, and moved to Indignation, seeing the Sins and Follies of our Neighbours!” —Liber Aleph, chapter 96: ‘De Discipulis Regendis’

“Every Star has its own Nature, which is ‘Right’ for it. We are not to be missionaries, with ideal standards of dress and morals, and such hard-ideas. We are to do what we will, and leave others to do what they will. We are infinitely tolerant, save of intolerance”. —New Comment to Liber AL, II:57

“It is necessary that we stop, once for all, this ignorant meddling with other people’s business. Each individual must be left free to follow his own path.” —New Comment to Liber AL, I:31

The name Crowley gives for someone who fails to uphold the Niyama of Thelema is a “busy-body.” A busy-body is someone who is concerned about what other people are doing, how other people are doing things, and why other people are doing things. A busy-body is concerned about someone else’s True Will rather than being concerned with their own. They are indignant about the “sins and follies” of their neighbors rather than focusing on themselves, and generally meddle in others’ affairs. A busy-body, in short, does not mind their own business.

We are all busy-bodies to some degree or another whenever we impose our standards, expectations, or ideals on others, whenever we think that “we know best” for anyone other than ourselves. This can be anything from the most mundane and concrete such as criticizing another’s choice in clothing to the more subtle such as expecting others to perform the same spiritual practices as oneself or insisting that people who believe something different from oneself must be “corrected.” 

When put into practice, we quickly see that the Niyama of Thelema – that of minding one’s own business and allowing others to do their Wills – is not simply a limp passivity. It is not “grinning and bearing it,” which implies that – deep down – you actually don’t want them to do their Wills (let alone that you obviously aren’t rejoicing in it!). The Niyama of Thelema is an active, positive thing: we actively affirm the right of each individual to know and do their True Will. When we greet one another, we look fearlessly into each others’ eyes and say, “Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.” This is to say to everyone you meet, as Crowley writes, “Look, brother, we are free! Rejoice with me, sister, there is no law beyond Do what thou wilt!” 

Some might say that it takes strength to control everything, but it is a much greater strength to not need to control everything and everyone. It is a symptom of being unsure and anxious to feel the need to control people by insisting that it’s your way or the highway. That is: Being a busy-body is a symptom of weakness and fear, although it will inevitably mask itself in the “virtue” that essentially comes down to “knowing what is best” for someone else (let alone “all other Thelemites”!). That is where “compassion” and “altruism” and even “teaching” teeters into the realm of folly.

We will all inevitably hear (or probably have already heard) some self-avowed Thelemite question why others are not doing this or that, insisting they are complaining about others because they “really care” about Thelema. Many of us have fallen prey to this ourselves (“Oh no! Definitely not me!” … Yes, you especially!). This “care” – this “noble cause” of ours – is nothing but the demands of a busy-body cloaking itself in guise of “virtue.” We all should remember to “veil not your vices in virtuous words” (Liber AL, II:52). This “care” basically comes down to insisting that everyone else must have the same values as yourself, which is exactly opposite to affirming “Do what thou wilt.” If you ever find yourself asking, or hear someone else asking, something that amounts to “Why doesn’t this other person/these other people think that this is important?” The answer is most likely “Because it isn’t important to them, nor does it need to be”… or, more pointedly, “Mind your own business.” This is why there is no “ideal Thelemite.” This is why “One Law for the Lion and the Ox is Oppression.” Any insistence otherwise will quickly fall into the same trap that characterized the Old Aeon, the tyranny of a single standard or ideal for all people, rather than a multiplicity of Laws, each uniquely suited to the individual. 

Again: The Niyama of Thelema is not a limp, passive, “grin and bear it” quality. On the contrary: It takes an active, almost virile quality to say to every individual, “I don’t know what your Will is, I don’t know what your ‘good’ or ‘bad’ are, I don’t even know how your Will may interact with and effect mine, but I grant you the absolute right to do your Will and I claim the equally absolute right to do my Will.”  This is far from a passive “letting things happen”; the Niyama of Thelema is an active affirmation, an enthusiastic encouragement, a joyous battle-cry for each and every man and woman to discover their real needs, to fulfill them, and to rejoice therein. To believe otherwise is the essence of tyranny; to act otherwise is the essence of oppression. This requires the strength to stand in the midst of uncertainty and ambiguity, of accepting variety and difference of style and opinion, of not knowing “how everything should be” for everyone or anyone else. Any concern arising about others “not doing it the right way” should be a reminder to us all to re-focus on our own Will: this should be a reminder of the Yama of staying true to our own Path and the Niyama of affirming the right of others to be true to their Paths.

 This is the simplicity and the beauty of the Law of Thelema: There are no absolute standards or universal ideals. Fresh Fever From the Skies: The Collected Writings of IAO131Every man and every woman has the indefeasible right and duty to know and do his or her True Will. Each has their own standard, their own Law. Any occurrence of someone imposing their Law on another, or anyone accepting a Law imposed on them by another, is a distortion and deforming of a star’s true nature. It is our Yama to adhere to this Law of our own True Will, and it is our Niyama to affirm the right of every other individual to adhere to the Law of his or her own True Will. This is real Freedom, the perfect order on Earth as the stars move seamlessly in the perfect order in the Heavens; this why our Law of “Do what thou wilt” is the Law of Liberty itself.

Love is the law, love under will.

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Psychology of Liber AL – pt.4: Curse against Reason

Psychology of Liber AL

Curse against Reason

Aside from the Will being beyond rest, purpose, attachment to results, and morality, it also transcends reason and the mind in general in an important sense. In the normal functioning of daily life, the mind and reason often play integral parts: Thelema does not deny the usefulness of the mind and reason but seeks to put it in its right place. In the West, reason has held a central position in philosophy at least since Socrates. Reason was thought to be the only way to ascertain truth, and at times reason was often equated with God himself.1 The first major check to the dominance of reason in the Western mind came from Kant when he published his Critique of Pure Reason and demonstrated its various limits. This sort of check to the dominance of reason over one’s actions is echoed in Liber AL vel Legis. Essentially, the dominance and control of the mind, especially the reason, over the individual’s Will is brought into question. Liber AL vel Legis itself says,

“There is great danger in me; for who doth not understand these runes shall make a great miss. He shall fall down into the pit called Because, and there he shall perish with the dogs of Reason. Now a curse upon Because and his kin! May Because be accursed for ever! If Will stops and cries Why, invoking Because, then Will stops & does nought. If Power asks why, then is Power weakness. Also reason is a lie; for there is a factor infinite & unknown; & all their words are skew-wise.”2

Once again we must emphasize that Thelema is not denying the practical necessity of reason, but it attempts to delineate reason’s boundaries for the most effective functioning of the Will. On this Crowley writes, “We must not suppose for an instant that the Book of the Law is opposed to reason. On the contrary, its own claim to authority rests upon reason, and nothing else. It disdains the arts of the orator. It makes reason the autocrat of the mind. But that very fact emphasizes that the mind should attend to its own business. It should not transgress its limits. It should be a perfect machine, an apparatus for representing the universe accurately and impartially to its master. The Self, its Will, and its Apprehension, should be utterly beyond it.”3

First, “Because,” “Reason,” and “Why,” are all attacked under the form of a cursing by the speaker of the Book. If one asks “why” one should will something or if it is because of something, it cripples the Will and makes “Power weakness.” It was seen in an earlier segment of this essay that, if Will is considered to be “perfect in every way,” it must continue going or working without regard to purpose. In this way, the Will will be “unassuaged.” Crowley writes, “There is no ‘reason’ why a Star should continue in its orbit. Let her rip!”4 and also, “It is ridiculous to ask a dog why it barks. One must fulfill one’s true Nature, one must do one’s Will. To question this is to destroy confidence, and so to create an inhibition.”5 These considerations of purpose are understood now to cause the “Will to stop & do nought,” essentially making it impotent. Therefore, the very nature of our actions is not decided by conscious reason but is to be decided by the Will. “Reason is a lie” because of a “factor infinite & unknown,” which Crowley clearly states “is the subconscious Will.”6 The subconscious naturally cannot be completely understood by the conscious mind, the sphere of reason, so therefore reason’s “words are skew-wise.” It can never delineate the true Will in words because of the subconscious Will, a factor that is by definition “unknown” or below the conscious level of perception. The Will therefore can certainly not be coterminous with “will power” or “volition,” for the Will must encompass the subconscious aspect of one’s self as well as the conscious.

Crowley affirms this doctrine when he writes, “every time the conscious acts, it interferes with the Subconscious… It is the voice of Man, and not of a God. Any man who ‘listens to reason’ ceases to be a revolutionary.”7 Here Crowley makes the subconscious analogous to “the voice of… a God,” for the depths of the unconscious contents contain latent potencies that seem God-like when awakened and assimilated. Crowley explains Liber AL’s position on reason succinctly:

We now come to a challenge which is in some ways even more daring than any yet made. Before, the moral sense of men was outraged. He now turns to attack the Reason itself. He looks on reason as a soulless machine. Its proper function is to express the Will in terms of conscious thought, the will being the need of the inmost self to express itself by causing some Event.”8

This is the summary of Liber AL vel Legis’ point-of-view of the correct use of reason. Here we see that reason is “a soulless machine” in that the actual self or soul is not in reason, but the Will merely utilizes reason and the mind in general as a machine for expression. Essentially, the proper function of reason is to express the Will in terms of conscious thought but not dictate its actions, for that would cause the Will to “stop & do nought.” The idea behind this is that reason cannot fully comprehend and execute the demands of the Will because “This will (as such) is not conscious. We can only become aware of it, and thus enjoy and learn from the Event, by making an Image of it. Reason is the machine whose function it is to do this. When reason usurps the higher functions of the mind, when it presumes to dictate to the Will what its desires ought to be, it wrecks the entire structure of the star. The Self should set the Will in motion, that is, the Will should only take its orders from within and above.”9 Jung echoes this exact sentiment when he says, “The intellect does indeed do harm to the soul when it dares to possess itself of the heritage of the spirit. It is in no way fitted to do this, for spirit is something higher than intellect since it embraces the latter and includes the feelings as well.”10 The Self that Jung equates with “spirit” in this quotation includes both conscious and unconscious contents and therefore its actions should not be delineated by reason, a construct of merely the conscious aspect of his being.

The overuse of reason has caused a split in modern man’s psyche, detaching him/her from the subconscious sphere of the psyche. Carl Jung defines nervous disorders as “consist[ing] primarily in an alienation from one’s instincts, a splitting off of consciousness from certain basic facts of the psyche.” This over-extension of reason’s boundaries in our Western society has caused “a splitting off of consciousness” from the basic facts of the subconscious. Jung continues, “Rationalistic opinions come unexpectedly close to neurotic symptoms. Like these, they consist of distorted thinking, which takes the place of psychologically correct thinking. The latter kind of thinking always retains its connection with the heart, with the depths of the psyche, the tap-root.”11 Here he identifies “psychologically correct thinking” as that “kind of thinking [which] always retains its connection… with the depths of the psyche, tap-root.” This “psychologically correct thinking” is exactly the same notion that is implied in Liber AL’s curses against the intellect and reason. The thinking which takes its directives from the Will is “psychologically correct” whereas reason delineating boundaries itself will cause the Will to “fall into the pit called Because” and become impotent.

While commenting on one of Jung’s works, Stephan Hoeller writes, “Thinking, the function of reason, has many commendable uses and cannot be eliminated, but it also builds barriers between the personality and its unconscious matrix. In order to reach the necessary transformative self-knowledge, one needs to keep the thinking function subservient to the inspiration proceeding from the Self.”12 Once again the same doctrine is expounded. “The inspiration proceeding from the Self,” which contains both the conscious and unconscious, is the Will of the individual and therefore to this the thinking function must remain subservient. If it does not, it will “build barriers between the personality [conscious self] and its unconscious matrix,” to do so would create a conflict in the Will and it will “perish with the dogs of Reason.”

“If the Sun and Moon should ever doubt, they’d immediately go out.”
William Blake

>>PART 5>>

1 The logos of the Gospel of John ch.1 refers to the Word of God but is sometimes translated as “Reason.”

2 Crowley, Aleister. Liber AL vel Legis, II:27-32.

3 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:28.

4 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:30.

5 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:31.

6 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:30.

7 Crowley, Aleister. The Law is For All, II:30.

8 Crowley, Aleister. “Djeridensis Working,” II:28-31.

9 Crowley, Aleister. “Djeridensis Working,” II:28-31.

10 Jung, Carl. “Psychological Commentary on The Secret of the Golden Flower” par.7.

11 Jung, Carl. “The Soul and Death” from Collected Works of C.G. Jung, volume 8: The Struture and Dynamics of the Psyche, par. 808.

12 Hoeller, Stephan. The Gnostic Jung, p.76.

>>PART 5>>

The Path of Excess in Thelema

Do what thou wilt shall be the whole of the Law.

sun_over_pyramid

The notion of the Middle Path is a view passed down to us most notably by Buddha and Aristotle. Buddha emphasized the Middle Way in the context of attainment, saying that the path of moderation lies between the extremes of austerity and indulgence. Aristotle emphasized what he called the Doctrine of the Mean, where ‘virtue’ lies precisely in the middle between the two extremes of any moral action: virtue is the ‘mean’ between two vices.

Thelema, on the other hand, is the Path of Excess. In this New Aeon, we venture to encounter both extremes in whatever case: indulgence & austerity, pride & humility, good & evil, heights & depths. The Book of the Law gives this formula clearly: “But exceed! exceed! Strive ever to more! and if thou art truly mine — and doubt it not, an if thou art ever joyous! — death is the crown of all” (II:71-72). The formula is given in even more detail in our Holy Book “Liber Tzaddi vel Hamus Hermeticus:”

33. I reveal unto you a great mystery. Ye stand between the abyss of height and the abyss of depth.
34. In either awaits you a Companion; and that Companion is Yourself.
35. Ye can have no other Companion.
36. Many have arisen, being wise. They have said “Seek out the glittering Image in the place ever golden, and unite yourselves with It.”
37. Many have arisen, being foolish. They have said, “Stoop down unto the darkly splendid world, and be wedded to that Blind Creature of the Slime.”
38. I who am beyond Wisdom and Folly, arise and say unto you: achieve both weddings! Unite yourselves with both!
39. Beware, beware, I say, lest ye seek after the one and lose the other!
40. My adepts stand upright; their head above the heavens, their feet below the hells.

Only in climbing towards the heights and plunging into the depths do we come to understand these Companions – that is, we come to know our own heights and depths instead of merely our average or middle-ground.

One could imagine the Middle Way or the Doctrine of the Mean as a tower or stick with a small base, easily blown over by the winds. The Path of Excess is opposite to this: we make our base as wide as possible so as to build the sturdiest foundations for our Pyramid. For every growth our plant makes upwards, we drive our roots deeper into the ground.

We now pass to Satyr-Saint Nietzsche who uncovered the insidious psychology behind these paths of the Middle and Mean… that what they call ‘moderation’ is actually ‘mediocrity:’

I pass through this people and keep mine eyes open; they have become smaller, and ever become smaller: the reason thereof is their doctrine of happiness and virtue.

For they are moderate also in virtue, because they want comfort. With comfort, however, moderate virtue only is compatible…

Some of them will, but most of them are willed. Some of them are genuine, but most of them are bad actors…

Virtue for them is what maketh modest and tame: therewith have they made the wolf a dog, and man himself man’s best domestic animal.

“We set our chair in the midst” – so saith their smirking unto me – “and as far from dying gladiators as from satisfied swine.” That, however, is mediocrity, though it be called moderation. (Thus Spake Zarathustra, “The Bedwarfing Virtue”)

This is the fact: the ‘moderate’ man is the ‘average’ man and therefore the mediocre man. He is nothing special, nothing important, nothing overly radiant or unique. These doctrines don’t breed lions & wolves but domesticated animals. At the back of of these virtues are the desire for tameness, comfort, and security. Not only do these people fear the extremes in themselves, setting up a division and therefore a restriction of their very Being, but they consequently fear the Extreme and Excessive being expressed in others. Fear and the desire for secure comfort are antithetical to the strong spirit of Will that is self-asserted, love-driven, strong, beautiful, and leaps with laughter. Our Prophet explains in his commentary to The Book of the Law this exact idea:

“Progress, as its very etymology declares, means A Step Ahead. It is the Genius, the Eccentric, the Man Who Goes One Better than his fellows, that is the Saviour of the Race. And while it is unwise possibly (in some senses) to exceed in certain respects, we may be sure that he who exceeds in no respect is a mediocrity.

And therefore we close with a line from William Blake that To Mega Therion himself quoted as commentary to “Exceed! Exceed!” from Liber AL:

“The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom.”

Love is the law, love under will.

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