Reading the yamas and niyamas this month, I was reminded of one of my favorite literary passages. Gilgamesh is an ancient epic poem, chronicling the adventures of a long-ago king. Badly shaken and grieving after the death of his best friend, Gilgamesh sets out on a journey in search of the secret to eternal life, but what he learns is that we can’t control life or the future. What he learns is to live the life he has as best he can. Here’s my favorite quote:
“Humans are born, they live, then they die,
this is the order that the gods have decreed.
But until the end comes, enjoy your life,
spend it in happiness, not despair.
Savor your food, make each of your days
a delight, bathe and anoint yourself,
wear bright clothes that are sparkling clean,
let music and dancing fill your house,
love the child who holds you by the hand,
and give your wife pleasure in your embrace.
That is the best way for a man to live.”
– Shiduri the tavern keeper, to Gilgamesh
I see the yamas and niyamas in every line here. If Gilgamesh follows Shiduri’s instructions, he’ll also be following the yamas and niyamas, and he’ll be a better man with a simpler, more joyful, more spiritual life. I love that this wisdom isn’t just in spiritual books like the Yoga Sutras but also in one of the earliest stories known in human culture. I love that this epic isn’t just about adventure and ass-kickery, but about coming home and finding the best way to live.