Asteya by definition means not stealing, not taking what is not rightfully ours.
As in Yoga, these practices are for us to purify ourselves or rather, to realise our purity, we can look at when we are tempted to steal and why.
The one who steals or is tempted to steal is the one who believes he doesn’t have what he desires and feels the need to take it from another. He may want to take away our joy, because he’s unable to find his own. He wants to take away our confidence, because when he feels we have less, he feels on the same level with us. If he steals our time, our ability to think for ourselves, our ability to be at peace on our own, it is because he can’t find any of these in his own being.
We all steal at times and to my surprise as I type, I realize I do too. In our innocence we all do. We can be compassionate towards ourselves or others as we realize that this is only because at the time, we are unable to see ourselves in true light and to see that there is nothing, absolutely nothing lacking in our lives.
Asteya is about watching ourselves and through our relationships, finding out what it is we are tempted to or actually do steal from others. That would be what we need to look for in ourselves and cultivate within. The moment we notice someone has what we believe we don’t, we need to enquire into it. Is it true that we don’t have what they have? Can we find areas in our lives when we do have that? Can we find out our ability to be really at peace despite not having that? That doesn’t mean suppressing our desire for that object! That won’t work no matter how much we try. What will work though is the realisation that what we desire, or rather what we desire it for (happiness), is already ours.
Feeling a “lack of” is what drives us to take it away from someone else; to steal. There is nothing wrong with feeling a “lack of”. In fact it is an opportunity! Next time we catch ourselves longing for what the other has, we know we’re given a key to open a door inside ourselves where we can discover our own wealth. We can get excited next time that happens and start searching genuinely for what we think we’re missing. If however, we give in to the temptation of stealing, we miss the chance to discover the wealth within. Even after we’ve given in to the temptation, it’s not too late, we can still look at what drove us to do it and start the enquiry. No point feeling guilty over it, the guilt will stop us from finding our worth. How can we find our worth when we feel unworthy through the guilt of an innocent mistake?
Spirituality / yoga is not about becoming perfect, but rather realising our perfection. It is not about denying what we seek, but realising that what we seek we already have. No exception! All we need to do to realise this, is to let go of all the concepts that have been implanted in us throughout the history of humanity; the concept or belief that what we feel a lack of can be found outside.
Why do we want money or material life? Because we believe it gives us freedom, power and comfort? How many people have you seen that in the midst of freedom feel trapped, and in the midst of material comfort cannot tolerate being in their own skin?
When we remember who we truly are, we feel a sense of comfort in the most uncomfortable situations, and free despite all external restrictions and limitations. That doesn’t mean that money doesn’t bring comfort, security or freedom! Of course it does! But if we haven’t found them inside no amount of material wealth can give us that.
To sum up I’d like to share an insightful story ~
This is a story of a diamond thief who stole only the most exquisite of gems. One day he spotted a well known diamond merchant purchase the most beautiful gem and decided he’d found his next victim. He started following the merchant catching a train, and shared a compartment with him for three days. He spent his entire time, trying to find the diamond but despite all his endeavours he failed to locate it. When the train reached its destination, the thief restless in his incapacity, couldn’t contain himself and told the merchant the truth: “Sir, I’ve been following you everywhere for the last three days trying to find the rare gem you purchased but to my despair I have not been able to get my hands on it. Please tell me where you hid it and put me out of my misery!” The merchant said: “When I first saw you, I suspected you were a pickpocket and so hid the gem where I thought you’d never look: in your own pocket!” and with that he reached into the thief’s pocket and brought out the amazing gem which was in the thief’s possession all along!
Whatever we want to steal and are desperately seeking, is in our own pocket.
All we have to do is look!