Growing up in India, wastefulness was looked down upon. A bucket of tepid water for a bath, old newspaper to cover school books, soaking dirty dishes and soiled clothes before washing, resusing plastic bags were just a few habits automatically passed down through generations. Did I do them mindfully? Not always. Was I being reminded to do them? Numerous times. Was I making a difference? I did not have the maturity nor wisdom to prophesize. Only thing I do remember doing with awareness was not wasting food because I couldn’t bear to look into the eyes of child with a begging bowl the next day.
“While we might wonder whether our singular acts of conservation actually make a difference in this world, when we understand our deep connection with all other beings, it becomes difficult to let our precious and finite resources go waste simply because it might be inconvenient to turn off a light or a water faucet.” Charlotte Bell
Then, airborne over internationl waters, I got off the airplane onto the rich soil of God’s own country, the land of the stars and stripes. All was forgotten. I lived many years in a daze, impressed by the expanse, overwhelmed by the abundance and blinded by arrogance. I was oblivious to the amount of trash generated, harm I caused the environment by using styrofoam or unconcerned of those, after patiently waiting in line with anticipation, had walked back home with their water pots empty while I rehearsed a Bollywood song in the shower.
Astèya, non-stealing or acknowledging abundance, is the third Yama, restraint, which appears in the second chapter, Sādhana Pāda, of the Yoga Sūtras (2.37).
I thought it best to present commentaries of a few yogis who have shared their wisdom after years of practice. Their words have made these principles come alive, making it both a pleasure and bane to practice.
A few translations of this sūtra.
- Wealth comes to all established in non-stealing. (Govindan)
- The more you take from Nature, the more she binds you; but if you do not care (be attached to) for her, she becomes your slave. (Svāmi Vivekānanda)
- When non-stealing is established all jewels present themselves. The word रत्न, ratna, jewel implies the best of every class, animate or inanimate. (Svāmi Hariharānanda Āranya)
In the sections that follow, the first paragraph under the heading of the author briefly introduces the writer, followed by their commentary on the topic at hand. Their books and others are listed below for further study.
Dr. I.K. Taimni (1898-1978), a professor of chemistry at Allahabad University, India, made a deep study of Kashmir Shaivism and yoga. He is revered for his contribution to theosophical literature and his books have been translated into several languages.
Astèya literally means abstaining from stealing. In a more comprehensive sense it should reflect misappropriation of all kinds. The would-be yogi cannot allow himself to take anything which does not properly belong to him, not only in the way of money or goods but even such intangibles such as credit for things he has not done or privileges which do not belong to him.
It is only when a person succeeds in eliminating to a certain extent this tendency towards misappropriation in its cruder forms, that he begins to discover the subtler forms of dishonesty which are woven in our life, and of which we are hardly conscious.
The aspirant who intends to tread the path of higher yoga has to proceed systematically in the gradual elimination of these undesirable tendencies until their last traces have been removed and the mind is rendered pure and tranquil.
Svāmi Satchidananda, student of Svāmi Śivānanda of Riśikèś, characterized Integral Yoga as “a combination of specific methods to develop every aspect of the individual: physical, intellectual, and spiritual – a scientific system which integrates the various branches of yoga to bring about a complete and harmonious development of the entire person. He founded of Intergral Yoga Institute in Buckingham, VA., where he opened the Light of Truth Universal Shrine (LOTUS Temple) in 1986.
Knowingly or unknowingly we steal from Nature. Whose air do we breathe? Nature’s. Instead we should receive each breath with reverence and use it to serve others; then we are not stealing. We steal because of greed. If we accept from nature and don’t give anything in return, we are thieves.
Another way of stealing is not letting others use them. Normally, when we get something, we tend to lock it away; we imprison our possessions – money, material, people. If we know how to care and share, no poverty or hunger need exist anywhere.
If one tends to accumulate and not share with others, he is a thief. Or, what you can eat now is what you are entiltled to have. No one can eat more than a stomach-full of food. The body teaches you that the maximum space you need is the space you need to lie down, and the maximum clothes you need are what can cover the body. The rest is stolen property, accumulated by this pair of forces – hope and fear.
Whatever you have acquired comes from the earth. The body, food, buildings, cars, clothes, all metal and wood, etc., come from the earth; recognize that you did not bring anything when you were born, and all that you call ‘mine’ now, belongs to the earth.
It was only when initiated into Raja Yoga, that I got a glimpse into the consequences of my actions. The study of the first two limbs set me on the path of reflection to deliberately and patiently transform my thoughts and actions.
I had to understand that all my actions have repurcussions – some that were seen right away, many that were not, especially when parenting. I learned that respecting other’s time and energy is also a manifestation of Astèya. A few examples listed during teacher training; bigger house or car, arriving late, prolonging conversations, pocketing a few paperclips, pens from work – the list is endless – demonstrate a clear violation of this ethic.
It took me a while to realize what the yogis were implying – that ‘desire or urge’ to take from someone or to consume more than what we need is based a feeling of lack – a sense that we do not have all that we want right now or in a broader sense, greed, – desire for something that doesn’t belong to us.
Each desire feeds into the next. Without this understanding, I am unaware of how many virtues I may have compromised, how many people I have trampled over to amass credit, or how many times I have sacrificed my integrity on the pretext of feeding these desires.
The following questions (and more) that were set during my intial Rāja Yoga training to become aware of stealing from others, from myself, from the earth, from the future, continues to be at the forefront in the practice of Astèya.
- To watch my inner conversation: Do I realize I’m stealing from myself when I delve in self pity? Am I able to give without wanting something in return?
- To observe my behavior: Am I certain my behaviors are not attention seeking? Am I mindful to turn off lights, T.V., water, or carry cloth bags to the store and not use styrofoam products?
- To monitor my words: How often do I take credit for others’ work? Should I take the credit for ‘this’ one anyway because ‘they’ have multiple ideas and won’t miss ‘this’ one?
- To notice how I deal with consequences: What will happen if I stole paper clips, highlighters, pens, post-it’s from the office?
- To perceive that I am part of a whole: What is my relationship with stealing?How do I value time – your time, family time or friends’ time, store clerk’s time, librarian’s time, etc., and my own?
Each time I share this practice, it is another opportunity to study the ethic. As I prepare for the class, the choice of words selected to teach Astèya (or any other ethic or yoga topic for that matter), rightfully belongs to all the teachers who came before me. It is helpful to remember that many ideas have come from gurus, teachers, authors, role models – who serve as inspirations in our lives. (Carrera) Their message rings clear, “its better to give than to receive”, for when we give we allow the universe to give us more, and to work through us.
Mastery in this ethic leads to complete fulfillment and absence of want (Carrera) – encouraging me to cultivate trust, honesty, integrity and the secret of practicing abundance – but not to literally expect a bag of precious stones to be delivered to my doorstep as this sūtra seems to suggest. Still, it sows the idea that with the benefit of such intangible treasures, the attitude of service should be paramount.
A valid question: Does it mean that a person established in this ethic never steals?
When one is able to shift from a mindset of lack and scarcity to one of abundance and gratitude consistently in daily life, then the inclination to steal should never surface. However, if this harmful habit persists, then the tendency or the urge to steal has not been completely destroyed, requiring rigorous practices to burn the seeds of dishonesty.
Yogic texts state that by mastering the ethic Astèya you will –
- have all the luxuries automatically be at your disposal
- not have to constantly protect your belongings because it is impossible for anything to be taken away from you
- have no fear of losing anything leading to a feeling of peace and contentment
Astèya has the power to initiate us into material and spiritual prosperity beyond our greatest expectations. Swami Satchidananda assures us – “If we are completely free from stealing and greed, contented with what we have, and if we keep serene minds, all wealth comes to us. If we do not run after it, before long it runs after us. If nature knows we are not greedy, she gains confidence in us, knowing we will never hold her for ourselves.”
Ultimately, as we progress in Astèya, we will realize, like a karma yogi, that we are not the doer; we cease to take credit for things accomplished – we cease to misappropriate. (Govindan)
Christensen, Alice. 1998. Yoga of the Heart: Ten Ethical Principles for Gaining Limitless Growth, Confidence, and Achievement. American Yoga Association, Rodale Books, NY, NY.
Taimni. I.K. 1961. The Science of Yoga: Yoga Sūtras of Patanjali. The Theosophical Publishing House, Chennai, India and Wheaton IL.
Carrera, Jaganāth, Rev. 2006. Inside the Yoga Sūtras. Integral Yoga Publications, Satchitānanda Āśram-Yogāville, Buckingham VA.
Bell, Charlotte. 2007. Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life: A Guide for Everyday Practice. Rodmell Press, Berkley, CA.
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Iyengar, B.K.S. 2013. Core of Yoga Sūtras – The Definitive Guide to the Philosophy of Yoga. Harper-Collins, India.
Satchitananda, Svami. 1978.The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Integral Yoga Publications, Buckingham VA.
Yogānanda, Paramahamsa; Kriyananda, Svāmi. 2013. Demystifying Patañjali – The Yoga Sūtras. Crystal Clarity Publishers, Nevada City, CA
Govindan, Marshall. 2000. Kriya Yoga Sūtraof Patañjali and the Siddhas – Translation, Commentary and Practice. Kris Yoga Publications, Quebec, Canada