The third of the Yamas is ASTEYA, non-stealing. ‘Thou shalt not steal’ is very familiar in our culture coming from the Christian tradition and being another very obvious part of the moral code shared by many traditions and cultures.
We have laws which make theft of any kind... mugging, robbery, shoplifting etc... not forgetting copyright laws and patents... illegal. There are also laws regarding slander and libel which help protect people’s reputations. The legal system quite rightly punishes those who break the law.
But what else do we take which does not belong to us and which is often within the law? How often have we taken part in a conversation about someone which is damaging to that person’s reputation? Have we ever been party to stealing someone else’s power, integrity, or good name by our own ‘bad mouthing’ of that person? Our motivations for doing so may be due to anger, disgust, or perhaps just due to the desire to shock or even amuse friends!
Have we ever stolen someone else’s ideas and claimed them as our own?
So it is possible to steal material possessions, reputations and ideas. And the reason why people do these things is due to DESIRE. We desire things that don’t belong to us because we believe that once we have that thing... whatever it is... we will be happier, more satisfied, more complete.
“If only I could have... and then everything will be ok”
“When I get... I will feel much better
“I really want... because it is just right and will make my life complete”
We have all had these thoughts and we all know what happens next! We enjoy our moment of happiness, it may last a week, a fortnight, a year... and then what? Oh, we are not complete after all, along comes the next desire!
So if we can actually quell these desires we will truly not be stealing anything at all. And then we will be free from those feelings of frustration, anger, discontentment and so on when our desires are either not met or are met but only temporarily.
But we are human and our natural condition is that of the grasping mind, always wanting, always desiring... certain food, to be in a certain location, a new relationship, the latest gadget etc, etc.
Desire has certainly tormented all of us... to a greater or lesser extent... during the lockdown of 2020. And actually lockdown has taught us that we ‘can’t always get what we want!’ I have heard many people express a similar opinion to this, ‘I’m really not bothered about going shopping any more.’ Conversely some people have allowed their desires to aggravate them to such an extent that they have totally disregarded all guidelines put in place in a bid to satisfy those desires.
How on earth do we overcome this? As far as material items are concerned we can simply ask ourselves “Do I NEED this?” and if the answer is ‘NO’ the desire stops there. Simply being aware of our desires as they pop up may be enough to help quell them. Practising gratitude helps here too, when we notice a desire replace it with true thankfulness for something we already have. It works!
Ultimately though if we are to truly abstain from thoughts which prompt us to steal something which does not belong to us, whatever that may be, we must train ourselves to be content, steady, balanced and at peace with ourselves and the world around us. How? Why, regular meditation, of course...
Whilst these are all my own words, I acknowledge with deep gratitude that some of the ideas came from the following sources:
- Points of Balance, by Patel and Barrington
- The Heart of Yoga, by Desikachar
- Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by Iyengar