The Yoga Tutor

The Roots of Stealing

[ Excerpt from The Science of Yoga, page 262 ]

The desire to possess and enjoy somebody else's goods has always led human beings toward deeply negative acts. From this selfish desire comes envy and, if left unchecked, the impulse to steal. So at the mental level, asteya means the absence of unhealthy desire, or greediness.

Understood in a wider context, it implies that one should not covet what another has. The primary desire to possess what another has is the cause that leads to the appropriation of things that belong to others, or rather, things which do not belong to one’s self.

But even the simple thought of coveting what another has can disturb one's emotional and mental balance. This creates dissatisfaction and envy. The performance of a theft then, is only a direct result of these initial thoughts.

This is another malignant cancer of our society today. With relentless exposure to images of affluence and luxury, the undisciplined mind falls prey to the forces of desire. We find ourselves coveting, first in our minds, the illusion of happiness that comes with the possession of things, the status of positions, and the glamour of the

Ultimately, many fall victim to these influences and begin to proceed in life with the goal of acquiring what they do not need and what will not, in fact, lead to the happiness that they had originally envisioned.

The yogi, therefore, pre-empts this insidious process by understanding the true nature of himself and the genuine and true sources of happiness in life, which lay far beyond the realm of material goods, status and image. He reduces his physical needs to those goods that he can use and only those that he truly needs. He is able to see through the illusion, and thereby remain unaffected by these relentless external influences.

In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the wise Vyasa states:

"Asteya is observed when, freed by any desire, the yogin refuses the appropriation of the goods that belong to others."

Therefore, if someone wishes to have a thing that belongs to another, and he takes it, then he is a thief. If someone wishes to have a thing that belongs to another, but refrains from taking it, he is not technically a thief, but neither does he practice asteya.

So, as Vyasa suggests, only when one neither takes nor wishes to have another's possessions, does he truly observe asteya. Only when desire has been abolished can one truly emulate the essence of asteya. As long as one wishes for what another has, they perform a theft in the mind, at the level of intention. The key to asteya is the liberation of desires from within...


NOTE: This yoga article is an excerpt from The Science of Yoga, an online yoga training program with streaming yoga videos and 600 pages of step-by-step yoga instruction.

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