04 Oct 5 Minute Philosophy Break: The Yamas Part 3: Asteya
Welcome to the third post in our series on the yamas. Today we’ll be looking at the third yama – Asteya (nonstealing)
Asteya obviously includes not taking things that don’t belong to us, but it’s more than that. Asteya is rooted in trust and a felt connection with our true Selves. It includes not taking credit for others work, not stealing others right to be heard, not stealing from the bounty of the earth, and importantly not stealing from your Self, sacrificing your long term happiness and spiritual growth for shiny objects that are ultimately empty and hollow.
There’s a quote by Theodore Roosevelt related to asteya that I often share with my students. “Comparison is the thief of joy”. I think our tendency to compare ourselves to others is one of the biggest reasons we often feel a sense of lack or ‘not enough’ in our lives. Or, sometimes comparison can lead to a sense of arrogance and entitlement. Both these conditions can lead us to feel justified in taking what isn’t rightfully ours. But it’s these underlying attitudes of not enough, or entitlement that we need to explore deeper. These attitudes result from feeling disconnected from the truth of who we are – which is whole and complete.
So let’s go back to the ancient text of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and see how asteya is described. Chapter 2, verse 37 tells us…
When grounded in non-stealing, the yogi becomes aware of all kinds of treasures in [her] vicinity
– translation by Georg Feuerstein
So what are these treasures? The answer lies within the deeper question of what do we as human beings identify with. Am I just this body and mind with these crazy thoughts? Or perhaps am I something more? Lucky for us, yoga philosophy is interested in answering these questions! Who am I and where did I come from? And more importantly where am I going? What will make me truly happy?
Yoga teaches that we are indeed something more than this body and mind. That the essence of who we are is pure energy – formless, eternal, and that our true nature is whole and complete. Now maybe that isn’t our experience. Maybe our experience in this body is that, we feel pretty messed up and incomplete sometimes. But that’s where our practice comes in. It’s a peeling away of learned behaviors, beliefs and stories that cloud the truth of who we already are, who we’ve always been – whole, complete, playful, peaceful, Love.
So going back to the sutra verse, when we are grounded in non-stealing, we’re not distracted by all the shiny objects and fools gold out there. And we start to see the real treasures in our vicinity. The treasures that have been here the whole time – unity with other beings, playfulness, creativity, love, joy, deep contentment. These things aren’t gained by taking or accumulating external things, they come from within. And as we cultivate a relationship with our True Selves, we gain the experience of these treasures that aren’t just going to turn to dust in a few years. We take them with us, wherever this great adventure leads next.