Thursday, May 7, 2015

Navigating Asteya in modern life

Asteya, it's the third yama, the five constraints or external ethical practices recommended by Patanjali as the first of the eight limbs of yoga.

"Steya" is to take something that doesn't belong to you, that is to steal. "Asteya" is the opposite, not stealing, avoiding anything that could remove from someone else what is rightfully theirs.

First reaction - oh that's easy, I'm not a thief. Meaning, I don't break into houses, steal cars, shoplift, or create email scams to do people out of their money. OK, so how do you do on these questions?

Do you only ever pay for music that you like to listen to, or do you think its OK to take a friend's CD and download it to your device?

Are you one of those downloading Game of Thrones?

Would your default position be to try to get concession tickets you are not entitled to instead of paying full price? Would you get your six year old into the show as an under five year old for free?

Or even trickier .....

Do you turn up to events on time, or is it OK to you to be late and thus steal the time of others?

Perhaps you never even thought of it that way. But as we begin to really consider the depths of this undertaking of Asteya, we discover that there are many ways that we may be prone to "steya" that are not crimes, like turning up late.

This third yama, so easy to commit to at first sight, actually leads us into deep self-examination. For example, do the products I purchase result in damage to the planet and the stealing of habitat of other creatures, or were they produced with slave labour, stealing the right for a free and healthy life from other people? It is really complex and a life-long undertaking, if we truly try to practise Asteya, but isn't all of yoga deeper and life-long when we really start to embrace it?

Our modern life certainly makes it difficult. For a start, desire is the root cause of stealing. Therefore if we can overcome desire, Asteya follows.  With desire comes a sense of entitlement and we convince ourselves that the world owes us in some way. If others have more than me, then they will not miss what I am taking.

Our economy is based upon creating desire in us so that we consume more. The sophisticated marketplace that is enticing us everywhere we go is persuading us to want more. And the ways in which products may be stealing (habitat, lifestyle, income and so on) can be quite masked behind seductive gleam. Furthermore we live in a world in which technology makes it so easy to download and copy that which is not ours.

Yet we can all make a start, make a commitment to try, and begin to examine what we do in the light of Asteya.

Discussing ethical issues is helpful in developing our ethical sensibilities. Would you like to discuss this? Use Comments to share your thoughts on practising Asteya in daily life.


  1. It's an incredibly tough concept to follow when we live in Australia and so many items are manufactured overseas under dubious circumstances. Barely any clothing, shoes, kitchenware, car parts, food, technology or books are made ethically when made dirt cheap overseas. I've seen photos of wastelands of technology pollution because our global love / need for iphones and ipads.

    I think this concept is also worth thinking about as to how it applies to Australian farmers. Often times well-meaning food donation charities collect from farmers who can't sell produce for various reasons (produce is considered too big, too small, not quite the right shape etc). The food charities don't quite realise the farmers donate because they can't get a decent price from the merchants and supermarket giants. Just the transport costs (which farmers have to pay) makes it too expensive to sell their own produce. This in turn means the charities keep taking the produce to 'donate' and likely think it's great karma ~ but is it ? Because it's really the farmers who then need to stand in line for food handouts. Farmers around Australia live on a knife-edge of poverty and ruin while the food charities twinkle and hand out the farm losses. This keeps supermarket giants extremely happy too - there is no incentive to pay farmers what the produce is worth. So when we join in with the charitable notions of giving away what others seemingly don't want ~ what's really going on and what kind of energy does this create ?

  2. It is extremely complex isn't it. Our heartfelt intent is important. If we always act with mindfulness and awareness, thinking about the impacts of what we do, and trying as far as we can to make choices that "steal" less, we are making progress. Remember also, we cannot change other people's behaviour but we can change our own, and perhaps raise awareness in others. Thank you Spiritsorbet for raising awareness of another aspect.