Continuing with our little investigation into Patanjali’s “Yamas” and “Niyamas”, we come now to ASTEYA, non-stealing and non-cheating. This third yama follows on from the theme of “truthfulness” in the previous yama, Satya.
“Stealing” means to take something from somebody without permission. And unfortunately, in our current society, our views of stealing have become blurred.
Like it or not, we live within the economic system of Capitalism. (In one of my former lives, before becoming a yoga teacher, although I worked as a sociologist, my degree was in economics.) The very basis of Capitalism is the “profit motive” which – in theory at least – was intended to lead to “progress”, which would result in benefits to everyone. Whether we look at this issue on a micro or macro scale (these are words that economists like to use) we see that for many millions of people it has NOT worked out well.
But an economic system that encourages the pursuit of self-interest has fostered a culture of greed.
Our Western way of life is greed-based and greed-driven; and greed and theft go hand in hand (Feuerstein). When we grab all we can, it impinges negatively on many others – whether in our own society or in other parts of the world. “Wealth at the expense of others is a form of theft” (Feuerstein).
Teasing asteya out a bit further, we discover that it often encompasses “fairness”.
Many Australians take holidays in places like Bali and Thailand – countries in which the vast majority of the population could never afford to take a holiday, even in their own country. But tourists frequently take advantage of the custom of bartering, or haggling over the price of goods. I have been with other tourists in India when they have felt very pleased with themselves for getting a certain product at a price much lower than the vendor originally asked. However, in saving themselves perhaps $2, they may very likely have deprived the vendor of a large portion of the local person’s weekly income. Not exactly stealing, but certainly greedy and unfair.
Discussion on asteya leads to the issue of taxation – again. How much income do we conceal from the tax department? How many borderline “deductions” do we invent? Are we totally honest in all our financial dealings? Or do we tend to hide, cover, conceal inconvenient truths? Do we advance what we see as our own “good” first and then maybe think of the other person?
Asteya, non-stealing, non-cheating and complete honesty applies not only in relation to money or goods.
Asteya can look like not stealing other people’s time, whether this is by gossiping, griping, or holding people “hostage” to your conversations. It also relates to not stealing someone else’s ideas, not illegally recording or down-loading movies or music. “Subconsciously we (frequently) mislead ourselves into pursuing strategies to gain what we want, without consideration of the needs of others” (Sw. Vimalratna, p.84).
One of the ancient yogic texts explains that “’not stealing’ means being equally indifferent to straw or a gem” (in Feuerstein). With this kind of understanding and non-attachment, we wouldn’t even feel tempted to take something that rightfully belonged to somebody else.
The issue of “non-attachment” is central to the whole philosophy of yoga.
This is because attachment to things, relationships, habits and ideas causes unhappiness, for example, when we have an attachment to a person and that person does or says something that we don’t like. In relation to our discussion on asteya, if we feel an attachment to a thing, but can’t have that thing, we feel unhappy. Unfortunately, many people find ways to have that ‘thing’, which may be akin to stealing.
For me, practising asteya becomes interesting when I write these blogs! How easy would it be for me to claim all of these understandings of yogic philosophies as my own – to not acknowledge Patanjali, Swami Satyananda, Swami Niranjanananda, and Georg Feuerstein. By practising asteya I am trying to be more true to myself, and thus also living the truth of satya.
If we can feel non-attachment towards things, we will be “equally indifferent to straw or a gem”. We will also be happier*, and free of the desire to have those things at the expense of others. That is, we will be established in asteya.
* There is an excellent book I would recommend if you are interested in simplifying your life. It’s called, “Slow”, by Carl Honore
Ideas in this blog largely based on teachings by Sw. Niranjanananda and Sw. Satyananda
Feuerstein, G., “The Lost Teachings of Yoga”
Sw.Satyananda, “Four Chapters on Freedom”, Bihar School of Yoga, Bihar, India, 1976
Sw. Vimalratna, “Yoga with Attitude”, Victoria, 2006