When nothing is lacking, the whole world belongs to you
The yama of asteya, or non-stealing, sows a spirit of abundance.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras provide a valuable glimpse into what happens when we are able to uphold the yamas of ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (moderation of the senses), and aparigraha (non-greed) into our daily lives. For example, when we cultivate ahimsa, we are able to generate pleasant feelings for others when we find ourselves in their presence. Likewise, remaining true to the idea of satya guides our thoughts and deeds to be truthful.
In sanskrit, steya means “to steal”, while asteya stands for the opposite – to take nothing that does not belong to us. At first glance, the idea of non-stealing seems pretty straightforward. How often do we find yogis shoplifting or robbing banks? Asteya appears to be a precept that most practitioners wouldn’t struggle too much to uphold.
However, it is an idea that goes beyond the physical act of theft. Take trust, for example. If a friend has come to you with a secret and shares her most vulnerable thoughts, it is our duty to guard this information and not proceed to broadcast it (as tempting as it might be) to others. Likewise, when someone entrusts us with a task, we must be careful not to take advantage of this person or the situation.
Here, it is worthwhile to pause for a moment and examine this impulse to steal. Why are we propelled to steal and broadcast someone’s secret? Does it feed our unhealthy habit of slipping into mindless gossip? In addition, does focusing on someone’s misfortune divert attention away from our own faults or struggles?
Conversely, if we find ourself stealing or taking credit from a colleague for a job well done, does it point towards a lack of faith in ourselves to perform at work? What fans our desire for recognition, even if the merits are not entirely accorded to us? Instead of finding ways to take credit from others, can we use that time more productively to build and enhance our skills?
As your thoughts flicker, your mind is in fact robbing you of the ability to be wholly present in the moment.
Beyond our interactions with others, the yama of asteya also calls for an examination of our inner lives. During the felt experience of a yoga pose or pranayama session, how often have you caught your mind turning to worlds of its own creation? Worlds filled with anxiety, endless tasks to complete, or worry over events that haven’t even happened? As your thoughts flicker, your mind is in fact robbing you of the ability to be wholly present in the moment. Indeed, learning to be right here, right now, is a lifelong practice for us all.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras also mention that a person who channels their efforts into cultivating asteya will receive all the jewels of this world. This is not to say that we will find our coffers filled with gold and bitcoins, but rather that we will find access to the most valuable things in life. Indeed, the more we grasp the meaning of the search for truth, of what is essential and enduring, the less we will be distracted by other things.