Asteya (not stealing) (yama – Patanjali II.30 and II.37)
“For those who have no inclination to steal the truly precious is at hand.” (Hartranft)
“When one abjures stealing, jewels shower down.” (Stoler Miller)
“All the jewels appear for one who is firmly set in honesty.” (Bouanchard)
Asteya seems to be another one of the yamas that by its negative phrasing seems to present a spectrum of action from proscription through to encouragement.
Perhaps the following words illustrate the range :
Non-stealing Honesty Generosity
At its simplest, non-stealing might be considered simply in relation to property. However, this seems overly materialistic and it might be better to include the appropriation of time, ideas, even good will. All might be grouped together under a general sense of ‘taking advantage of someone’.
Somewhere between this ‘personal theft’ and and the middle ground of honesty comes a group of actions that might be considered ‘theft by neglect’. In this area we might find fraud, the purchase of goods produced under conditions of exploitation or environmental degradation. Perhaps even pollution in general could be included here, for in a sense it is the theft of the wellbeing of others or ‘planetary health’.
Somewhere further along the spectrum we tip over into positive action. This is similar to considering the full expression of Ahimsa (non-violence) to be compassion or empathy. In the case of Asteya, the positive end of the spectrum might include cultivation, creativity, generosity and so on. As with the negative end of the spectrum, all these ‘encouragements’ may be applied to more than material goods, including the sharing of such things as our time, knowledge, good humour and kindness.
One further area comes up for me in considering this yama. I wonder whether it might include ways in which we steal from ourselves. When I subject myself to bad diet, overwork, a lack of fresh air and exercise, I might be considered to be stealing my own health and wellbeing.
Similarly, if I wrap myself up in ‘to-do’ lists, social climbing, political debate, gossip, or any number of other strategies to fill up my life, I steal my potential to deeply listen to my feelings, desires and creative nature. The development of such potential requires space and a nurturing presence. In my life, I see how often I squeeze out that space and stifle that blooming of potential by my busy-ness. If I look closely, most of my busy-ness seems to be linked to an identity building strategy linked to feelings of self worth. “I am busy therefore I am worthy!”
Not that there’s anything wrong with being busy of course. It is simply that keeping myself compulsively busy ‘steals’ precious time and energy so that opportunities for creativity, ‘self’ expression and even quiet appreciatiation pass me by.
So out of all of this, I have come to an interpretation of Asteya that seems better translated as ‘respect’ than ‘non-stealing’ :
- Respect for other beings and the world of we are part
- Respect for my body-mind and its basic needs
- Respect for my potential for growth, expression and contentment
Perhaps this last category in particular, points to the jewels which Patanjali suggests will shower down on one established in Asteya!
This is part 7 of a 10-part invitation to inquiry centred on the yamas and niyamas described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The full series is available at bodybeing.co.uk/blog-yoga-circle/