I like to think of myself as an honest person who wouldn’t intentionally steal anything, but don’t we all?? The truth is, I too have stolen a lot in my life. I stole a chocolate bar from a store when I was 5, I’ve stolen other people’s time, energy and peace, I’ve hoarded many useless things, I’ve often wanted what other people had and I’ve taken many innocent lives by consuming animal products.
Asteya (non-stealing) is the third Yama of Patanjali’s 5 Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Just like the other Yamas & Niyamas though, ‘non-stealing’ means so much more than not physically taking something from someone else. By being late for a yoga class we are stealing other people’s time, by coming into class loudly we might also be stealing other students’ peace If I worked illegally, I would not be only stealing from the country and its citizens, but I would also be a disloyal competition to other yoga teachers. Sometimes it feels much harder, more complicated and more expensive to work like this, but I try to live and practice what I teach (even if it means tons of papers, permits and money to teach yoga at the beach for a few hours per week! )
Asteya can also mean not hoarding materials that we don’t need, mindlessly consuming natural resources, wanting other people’s possessions, or copying other people’s ideas.
But at the deepest level, Asteya means abandoning the very intent or desire to possess or steal anything—whether it is material, a talent, a relationship, a gift, achievement, success, time, or natural resources—that primarily does not belong to us, through force or deceit or exploitation, by deeds or words or thoughts. The urge to steal in this way arises out of greed, a sense of lack, powerlessness, and comparing ourselves to others. When these underlying seeds of Asteya are addressed and eliminated, the virtue of Asteya becomes established in us.
By practicing contentment and abundance, the sense of lack will disappear. In words of the great master Lao Tzu, “Be content with what you have; rejoice in the way things are. When you realize there is nothing lacking, the whole world belongs to you.” This is the true spirit of Asteya. Or as Patanjali puts it, “all the wealth of the world will be drawn to one who has mastered the practice and discipline of Asteya.”