by Dylan Bernstein, stillnessinaction.com
Stealing is taking things from others without their consent – to most it just seems wrong. Cultures across the world agree on property rights as an ethical and moral obligation. And, certainly, the sage Patanjali consents as he lists the third of the Yamas to be Asteya, or non-stealing.
In many ways, this Yama seems easy to abide by. Upon further consideration, we see many layers within not taking things which don't truly belong to us. Beyond the realm of physical possessions, we are often taking others' time, their awareness and their energy. In fact, as long as we have contact with other beings, we are always engaging in these dependent relationships. An important discrimination is whether or not we have the other's consent to take what seems to be theirs. That is, spending half an hour with a dear friend discussing their life can be very different than arriving half an hour late for an appointment with a work colleage. Not keeping our word, distracting others from their tasks and manipulation of the kindness offered by our friends all qualify as thievery. As we refine our practice of asteya, we must see how our actions affect others.
As we realize our interconnectedness, we recognize that everything we take is indeed affecting the greater systems of mankind and Earth at large. So overeating can be recognized as a useless theft from the world – regardless of the food source. In fact, overconsumption of any kind is robbery not just of the current inhabitants of the Earth, but of our descendents, the animal kingdom and Nature herself. We must take from the world, from our friends and even from strangers – that is not the issue. The issues become our awareness of the taking actions and our gratitude for what we receive.
From this sharpening of our perspective, we will see many grasping tendencies of our mind. Once we truly start to see how we are accustomed to taking from others, the habitual manipulation of situations for our own gain should become quite apparent. So many of our personality traits and actions serve to acquire – what to do? The path of virtue is guided by the previous Yamas, Ahimsa and Satya.
If one can be realistic about one's own grasping and minimize the harm that is caused to others, less will be stolen and more will be offered. All of the yamas require a peering into the layers of the mind. We learn where our thoughts are born and in what ways our actions affect others. From this knowledge, we are able to gradually revise our priorities and redirect our intentions and actions.
Patanjali offers that for one who practices true asteya, all jewels are presented. This dynamic works in two ways. Firstly, when not seeking to acquire, one becomes content with the current state. Secondly, as noted in many mystic traditions, the lack of desire-based activity brings about bountiful results. It may be impossible to discriminate between the two, but the genuine practitioner will be rewarded with the delight of attempting to tell the difference.