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The Five Yamas (Part 3 – Asteya)

31 January 2013

This article is the third of a five part series based on this post: The Eight Limbs of Yoga (Part 1 – Yama)

The Five Yamas (Part 3 – Asteya)The third of the five Yamas is Asteya – a Sanskrit term that translates into English as “avoidance of stealing” or “non-stealing”. But in principle Asteya means more than that, referring also to not coveting, nor hoarding, as well as not obstructing other people’s desires in life.

Asteya guides students and practitioners of Patanjali’s “classical” Yoga (Raja Yoga) in the practice of cultivating an awareness of what is theirs and what isn’t. Patanjali says of Asteya: “When Asteya (non-stealing) is established, all jewels, or treasures present themselves, or are available to the Yogi.” (Yoga Sutras 2.37 – Asteya pratisthayam sarva ratna upasthanam). In other words, when the heart is pure, all means will come.

Additionally, Asteya includes the concept that you should learn to be content with what comes to you naturally and by honest means. If you find yourself dwelling on things that other people have and comparing that to what you don’t have, eventually the thought of taking something that isn’t yours becomes more acceptable, and subsequently this thinking can lead to actual theft. You may even be able to convince yourself that someone else has so much they won’t miss this or that if you take it, in other words you’re giving yourself the permission to steal. This approach might reduce your feelings of guilt, but only temporarily and for a short time, for in the long run this still a violation of Asteya.

Although many people aren’t aware of it, the idea of “hoarding” is another aspect of Asteya. Suppose you are keeping more than what you need for yourself rather than sharing or giving away things that you no longer want or require. Excessive accumulation of money and possessions are good examples or signs of hoarding, as well as other things, including eating too much food. Naturally you should keep what is necessary and reasonable in order to provide for yourself and your family, but a thoughtful analysis should be made, and diligence exercised as to what is actually necessary, compared to what you may be clinging to because of various mental, physical or emotional attachments.

Yoga teaches us that when we relinquish our desire for something it will come to us by itself if and when we really need it. This holds true for Asteya as presented by Patanjali in his Yoga Sutras. After all, desire is the root cause of taking what doesn’t belong to us, and when we give up our desire for things, all sorts of “treasures” will come to us naturally, and by themselves. To master Asteya we should begin curbing our desires little by little and one by one; through regular Yoga practice, gradually our thoughts and deeds will come under our conscious control.

To summarize: Not hoarding implies taking only what you need and nothing more. If the world offered us a limitless supply of resources, then it might be acceptable to take as much as you want. But of course the world does not have limitless resources, and if we take more than we need, then we leave others lacking, essentially stealing from them by depriving them of their rightful share of the resources. The idea of Asteya, especially when combined with the other Yamas, has a very deep meaning and the more you think about it, the more you begin to realize all the subtle ways that you can steal. Eventually, with regular practice, you’ll be able to recognize any action that might create disharmony and see that Asteya and Ahimsa (like the other Yamas) are closely tied together.

The Five Yamas (Part 3 – Asteya)

Stay tuned, coming up next: The Five Yamas (Part 4 – Brahmacharya)

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