Pari means around and graha means to grasp. Parigraha means to: amass, crave, seek, seize, and receive or accept. The word has roots in the Atharva Veda, referring to fencing an altar, enclosing something, assuming or putting on a dress or receiving something. Parigraha can be translated as to ‘make your own’ or ‘possess.’ Adding the suffix ‘a’ negates it, leaving us with ‘to not grasp’ or not ‘seek’ or ‘own.’
A perennial virtue in Hinduism and Jainism, aparigraha is loosely applied to householders and strictly applied to renunciates. It blends with non-attachment (Vairagya) and in Buddhism alobha (absence of attachment or desire toward worldly things or worldly existence) and merges into the vast volume of renunciate teachings arising at the time of the Vedas and continuing into current literature.
An old Vedanta text, the Ashtavaka Gita, speaks strongly of aparigraha as to ‘not even not grasp ideas’ or ‘allow wanting or desire.’ The Bhagavad Gita, in contrast to many ancient yoga texts, teaches an internal practice of vairagya over an external one. Here, non-grasping is presented as the very definition of yoga, and as an inner practice superior to external renunciation.
Fixed in yoga, perform actions, having abandoned attachment,
Arjuna, and having become indifferent to success or failure.
It is said that evenness of mind is yoga.
Bhagavad Gita 2.48
Using vairagya for non-attachment, Patanjali tells us that non-attachment is essential to his yoga.
These vrittis are mastered (nirodhah- quieted) through practice (abhyasa) and non-attachment (vairagya). Yoga Sutra 1.12
This non-attachment is usually interpreted as both external to the practice (don’t be attached to things of the world) and internal to the practice (don’t be disappointed if progress in your yoga is slower than you expect). Swami Kripalu presented aparigraha as a devotional practice of letting go of (renouncing) the world and holding on to ‘the lord.’
The yogi’s aparigraha is to hold on to the feet of the Lord, with great firmness, and with the same firmness, he lets go of the grip of the maya, means illusion.
He added to this a concept from the Bhagavad Gita called lokasamgraha, to hold the world together.
While those who are unwise act
From attachment to action, 0 Arjuna,
So the wise should act without attachment,
Intending to maintain the welfare
of the world.
Bhagavad Gita 3.25
So we substitute concern for the welfare of the world for selfish purpose.
That which they call renunciation,
Know that to be yoga, Arjuna.
Without renouncing selfish purpose,
no one becomes a yogin.
Bhagavad Gita 6.2
By service to others, we grow in non-attachment. Rather than try to be selfless as an act of discipline, engage in the discipline of serving others and non-attachment will grow.
Each person decides, consciously or unconsciously, what and how much we need to be safe and happy. Some possessions provide a base for good work; with them we can accomplish more than without them. Other possessions provide us a false security or insulation from the truth of life. Aparigraha for us can be to consciously assess what we have and what we want and challenge ourselves to live life more fully by facing our fears.
Swami Kripalu encouraged his students to experiment – to adopt a practice or renounce a possession or activity to see what the effect was. As renunciation, some practices of aparigraha could be considered irresponsible. Traditionally a monk would make no plans for the future, depending on god to provide what was needed. Most modern students would consider health insurance and retirement planning important. There are, however, still many things we could experiment with giving up in healthy ways