The 18 ITIES of Swami Sivananda (Extracts)
Swami Sivamurti, Founder and Acharya, of Satyanandashram Hellas, Greece.
I am very honoured to be here at this World Yoga Convention, and to be a part of the Golden Jubilee celebrations.
My topic today has to do with the ‘18 ITIES’ of Swami Sivananda. These are the cardinal actions that, when practised, bring about a reprogramming of the mind and enable us to put into practice the ashtanga yoga of Swami Sivananda: Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Be Good, Do Good, Meditate, Realize. This is what Swami Sivananda called the Divine Life.
Of course, alongside practising these ITIES, which we will discuss shortly, we need to keep up with our regular yoga sadhana: asana, pranayama, mudra, bandha, yoga nidra, the concentration techniques and the meditation techniques. We just add this one ingredient, because when we work with the ITIES, we are working with a sadhana in its own right.
What are the ITIES?
Swami Sivananda was often asked by his disciples and ashram well-wishers to mention the important virtues that should be developed by a spiritual aspirant. He summed these up in his song called the ‘18 ITIES’, which I heard being sung in the ashram last night, but nevertheless I will read it to you right now. The 18 ITIES are English words that all end with the letters ‘i’, ‘t’ and ‘y’, they all end in ‘ity’, so when one sings the song, it rhymes. The song goes as follows, and I’ve taken the liberty of adjusting the last line for this particular occasion:
Serenity, Regularity, Absence of Vanity
Sincerity, Simplicity, Veracity
Equanimity, Fixity, Non-Irritability
Adaptability, Humility, Tenacity
Integrity, Nobility, Magnanimity
Charity, Generosity, Purity
Practise daily these 18 ITIES
You will soon attain immortality
Brahman is the only real entity
Mr So and So is a false non-entity
You will abide in eternity and infinity
You will behold unity in diversity
You cannot attain this in the university
But you can attain this in the ashram in Munger
These are timeless virtues. What has Swami Sivananda told us? “Develop strength and quietness of mind.” This empowers us.
When you examine them, these 18 ITIES give us an aim, a philosophy and a discipline. Swami Satyananda greatly emphasized how important it is to have a goal, aim or purpose in life, whether that be short-term, mid-term or long-term. It is also necessary to have a philosophy to enable us to live and achieve that goal. The philosophy should be such that it enables us to face the vicissitudes in life, to face the setbacks in life. As we all know, life is not always smooth-sailing; there are many ups and downs. Therefore, the philosophy we establish in life needs to be such that we are able to stand firm and steady, and not fall under when we face the problems and difficulties that arise while achieving our goal.
Working with the ITIES
Swami Sivananda advised that we take one ITY and work on it, we develop it, we eradicate in toto all the negative qualities of its opposite, we meditate on that ITY, we meditate on the benefits that the ITY will bring us, and on ways to achieve the ITY. As we progress with the ITIES, they reprogram us. They become part of the process of reprogramming our minds. They adjust the way we think, the way we talk, the way we act. They change our negative and emotional reactions to people, events and things. We cannot change people; they are as they are. We cannot change events and circumstances that come into our lives, but we can change the way that we respond to them. So the ITIES are also responsible for changing our attitudes and transforming our attitudes from negative to more positive.
One of the many practices given in Satyananda Yoga that definitely helps us in developing the ITIES is pratipaksha bhavana, cultivating the opposite emotion. This is a technique whereby we learn to superimpose a positive quality over a negative quality in a strategic position. For example, if we happen to be going through the day and we notice a negative attitude, a negative thought, or a negative emotion, then we immediately try to superimpose the positive over that. Of course, there are many stages in the technique of pratipaksha bhavana, but I’m just giving you an idea of how the technique works and how it can be used to help us work with the ITIES.
It is also a good idea to understand the different synonyms, the related qualities, and the antonyms, the opposing qualities, of each ITY. If we happen to recognize a certain negative trait within us which is not directly the opposite or antonym of one of Swami Sivananda’s 18 ITIES, we can still recognize it and connect it with the ITY. We can then replace the negative antonym that we have discovered and try to eradicate it with the ITY or its synonym.
Other techniques, of course, in developing the ITIES are antar mouna, a very important practice of Satyananda Yoga–Bihar Yoga, and yoga nidra, just to mention two.
Now I would like to run through the ITIES in their succession and give a few points, on what each ITY means.
The first ITY is ‘Serenity’. It is the foundation ITY. It is the ITY we start with, and which forms the base. It comes about through developing pratyahara, or sense withdrawal. Pratyahara is a technique where we withdraw the mind from the external objects that nourish the senses, and then the senses follow suit; they follow the mind internally and withdraw their attraction to external objects. When working with the ITIES, it is very important to work with pratyahara. Swami Niranjan has explained to us that pratyahara is not just a one-off thing, it is a process. There are five stages in pratyahara which, once learned, can be practised and applied to different ITIES as we progress.
Swami Niranjan said that the ideal way to practise the ITIES is to take one ITY each month and work on that to the best of your ability. Then the next month, take another ITY and work on that to the best of your ability. The third month, take another ITY, and so on and so forth. After eighteen months, he says, “Who knows!” We may manage to develop sanyam, restraint, of the mind. Yoga aims at developing restraint on our mental and emotional reactions. It is very important and the ITIES help us a long way in doing this.
The second ITY is ‘Regularity’, and regularity is what you see here in this Convention. Everything is running better than a Swiss clock, it is running to perfection. That kind of organization doesn’t come about in just a few days. It has taken a long time, years actually, to bring about the event we are all participating in today. We are seeing the final product. We haven’t seen the build-up and all the work that has gone into that. So, regularity, essentially, has to do with time management, with managing our time well; making a routine where possible of the activities of the day – for example, getting up or going to sleep, or mealtimes and program times as it is here – so that it leaves our mind free, we don’t need to think about it any more, we can apply our mind to other things.
Absence of vanity
The next ITY following regularity is ‘Absence of Vanity’. Absence of vanity has to do with being without pretence, trying to be the natural you, trying to be unaffected in your behaviour.
From absence of vanity we move to ‘Sincerity’. Sincerity is one of the keywords of the sankalpa of this Convention: seriousness, sincerity, commitment. Sincerity develops honesty, non-deviousness, checking to see if we are sincere with ourselves, with others, with keeping our promises.
From being sincere, we discover that we carry a lot of baggage around with us, whether material or mental, and this leads us to ‘Simplicity’. Through simplicity, which is the fifth ITY, we try to simplify our lives. We look into our wardrobes and see what we don’t require, what we don’t need, and we offload it. There is always someone in greater need than us and we can give that away. If we look into our minds, we see that we carry a lot of conditioning, a lot of mental programming that is absolutely not necessary for our stage of development now. It may have been necessary in the past, where it helped us, but now it is no longer necessary. So we need to review our minds and ask ourselves: ‘What am I carrying around inside me that is no longer necessary?’ From there, we can simplify our lives. As Sri Swamiji used to say, “Simple living and high thinking.”
The next is ‘Veracity’. Through simplicity we come closer to our true self, closer to who we are, and we develop veracity. Veracity is adherence to truth, being true to oneself. As it is said in Hamlet:
This, above all – To thine own self be true
And it must follow, as the night the day
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
From veracity, from feeling good with ourselves – because when we are true to our nature we feel calmer and more relaxed, we feel more balanced – the seventh ITY naturally arises: ‘Equanimity’. Equanimity is the ability to handle the pairs of opposites in our lives, to maintain balance in provocative and challenging situations, not to lose one’s calm in profit or loss, success or failure, praise or criticism. It is knowing how to be balanced: when to lead and when to follow; when to talk and when to listen. This all comes about through practising equanimity.
Through equanimity we develop a certain steadiness of mind and this leads us to ‘Fixity’, which is the ability to focus on one goal and ignore all the rest. One can learn this well in antar mouna: just focus your mind on the thought or the appropriate thoughts to achieve your goal.
From fixity we move to ‘Non-Irritability’. We mustn’t become too fixed, because if we become too fixed and things don’t go our way, we can easily become irritable. With non-irritability we develop patience, tolerance, knowing when to let things go; when to let them pass without making an issue of it.
Then comes ‘Adaptability’. Adaptability arises when patience and tolerance have developed through non-irritability. Here we learn to adapt, adjust and accommodate, that famous saying of Swami Sivananda, “Adapt, adjust and accommodate, bear insult, bear injury, this is the highest sadhana.” We learn to adapt to people, adapt to events, adapt to circumstances as they come; adapting to different types of personalities. As people trying to practise the 18 ITIES, we have to find a way to adapt to the person rather than expect that person to adapt to us.
‘Humility’ follows. Humility comes about when we recognize the importance of everyone and everything. We realize no one is inferior, and that comes through developing gratitude, by being grateful for everything that has been given to us, by taking time to consider first how very fortunate we are. How very fortunate we are, for example, to be here today. In time, through humility we develop the ability to recognize the underlying divinity that is within each and every one of us.
From humility we move to ‘Tenacity’, the ability to ‘hold on’, especially to all the previous ITIES that we have developed. We learn to not let them go; we hold on to the ITIES that we have already developed. We add one to the other. So tenacity is holding on to what you have got, not letting go. Being tenacious is not giving up until your goal is reached.
This is followed by ‘Integrity’. Integrity is holding on to one’s principles and values, being a person of high moral principles, a person of character. This develops through integrating the head, heart and hands, which is very much a part of our system of Satyananda Yoga. Integrity has to do with following dharma,the natural law in one’s life, doing what is righteous, what is appropriate according to the time, place and circumstances that we find ourselves in.
Integrity and abiding by dharma develops what we call ‘Nobility’, which is the fourteenth ITY. A noble person is loyal, dedicated to virtue, serious, sincere, committed; a person of character.
This is followed by ‘Magnanimity’, which is nobility in its broadest sense. Being very broad-minded, being open-hearted, and seeing the positive qualities in a person, not the defects. A magnanimous person doesn’t dwell on insignificant things. They see the larger picture.
The sixteenth ITY is ‘Charity’, which is a natural outcome of magnanimity. Understanding that one’s wealth, whether it is material, mental or spiritual, is not ours; we are only its trustees. We are there to share it, to give freely whatever we have with others.
Charity necessarily moves on to ‘Generosity’, which is the seventeenth ITY. It is being liberal in our giving, being open-handed and unselfish. It is the ‘give, give, give’ that we hear from Swami Satyananda: giving without expectation, giving without thought of receipt, giving without thought of any form of ‘thank you’ or gratitude, giving because it is your very nature to give, and never resisting a generous impulse.
There was a great Greek man named Epiclesis who had the famous saying, “Whenever a generous impulse comes, do it now. Don’t resist, don’t allow the mind to come in and prevent that generous action taking place.”
Then we come to the final ITY, which is ‘Purity’. Of course, from giving and being generous, and from the outcome of all the other ITIES, purity develops. Purity is the expression of the true self – in motive, thought, word and deed, and it is the final outcome of all the other ITIES. It is the quality of an innocent person, a childlike person. It is the innocent and childlike person that can come close to God and who has the ability to feel the guru and perhaps get a glimpse of what he really is, behind all the appearances on the surface.
— Address, 26 October 2013, Polo Ground, Munger