In recent posts I've been sharing about the yamas, or restraints that are part of the ethical life of a yogi. I spoke about ahimsa (non-violence), and satya (truthfulness). The third yama that I'd like to explore today is asteya, which means "non-stealing."
Asteya seems pretty basic at first glance. We don't take anything from anyone that has not been freely offered or paid for. Most of us might think we've got that one covered--we don't shoplift, we don't sneak out of restaurants without paying for our food, we don't take other people's belongings without asking.
Asteya also applies to the use of ideas--writings, art, and other forms of creative expression. If we use someone's creative work, we obtain proper permission and give credit where it is due.
But there are subtler levels of "stealing" that can be quite insidious, and so in order to fully embrace asteya, deeper inquiry is asked of us.
Are there ways that we are demanding attention from others, dominating discussions, or in other ways taking up more than our fair share of space, energetically and emotionally, in social settings and relationships?
Are we demanding more than our fair share of resources from the planet? Do we have a larger than necessary ecological footprint?
Are we living in a constant state of not-enoughness, giving in to the egoic tendency toward incessant wanting and craving? Is scarcity mentality running our lives, causing us to grasp for more, more, more at others' expense?
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali says: "When we are steadfast in our abstinence from theft, all wealth comes to us." When we become free from all feelings of covetousness, we no longer experience the lack of anything; therefore we are weathy beyond measure.
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.
~Lao Tzu, Translated by Stephen Mitchell
The practice of Asteya, therefore, isn't just about not physically stealing things. On the deepest level, we cultivate a sense of contentment and abundance in our lives, through practicing gratitude. We go beyond simply not-stealing to living generously and honestly. We engage in loving service to others. We examine ways that mind states such as jealousy and possessiveness become obstacles to enjoying a sense of abundance and inner wealth.
The practice of asteya is closely related to two other ethical principles in yoga: aparigraha (non-possessiveness) and santosha (contentment). I'll be writing about these in upcoming posts.
The highest level of asteya would be a complete falling away of the idea that there is anyone other than yourself to steal from. When the heart opens so wide that there is no one but "us," when there is no "them" in your consciousness, then stealing becomes impossible. Ram Dass writes:
In order to steal, you have to see your victim as "other." That means stealing takes us deeper into the illusion of me/you, which is the illusion of identity, which is the illusion of separation. That, from a spiritual point of view, is why non-stealing is part of the practice of ashtanga yoga; it's not because of our usual ideas about morality, it's because in order to steal we have to turn the other person into "them," which rules out seeing them as "us." That takes us away form the One. It's just that straightforward.
~Ram Dass, Paths to God: Living the Bhagavad Gita
So, the reflections I've shared above are some off-the-mat inquiries that can keep you busy for a lifetime.
We can also bring the practice of asteya to our asana practice, on the mat. We can approach our sadhana with the spirit of generosity toward ourselves, and a sense of fullness and abundance. Kripalu Yoga teacher Danny Arguetty reminds us to notice ways that we may be robbing ourselves of being fully present as we move through the postures. Are we being competitive or jealous of another person's skill or expression of a posture? Do we devalue ourselves by comparing ourselves to others? He writes: "Use the practice of coordinated breath and movement to aid you in pinpointing awareness of the obvious and subtle ways in which you debase your own experience. As we become more conscious of the recurring patterns that detract from our practice, we can begin to choose a different path and honor ourselves as we are."