Who Me, Stealing?

Constance Habash

Reading by Liz Helgesen (Download file)

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When I’m teaching the five (ethical principles of Yoga), I often feel a little stumped with conveying the practical application of (one of the principles) Asteya (pronounced “uh-stay-uh”), known as “non-stealing”.  Most of us think we have that one nailed.  Of course, I know not to steal!  But the subtle and less obvious applications of Asteya show up in all areas of our life, on and off the mat.

Stealing, according to Webster’s dictionary, means “to take or appropriate without permission, dishonestly, especially in a secret or surreptitious manner”.  We steal when we don’t have the means to purchase, the capability to produce (as in ideas or copywritten materials), or when we have the belief that we could not otherwise gain or possess what is desired by honest means.  We steal when we feel a lack or a void and are desperate to fill it, be it in our stomach, our closet, or our pride.  Stealing encompasses everything from the simple swiping of a loaf of bread to distracting attention away from the one who merited it.

Although few of us, fortunately, have stolen a loaf of bread, we may have, consciously or unconsciously, participated in stealing many times in the past.  It’s common to come home from work and end up with pens from the office store room in our drawers, or even from the local gift shop that you automatically put in your purse after signing the credit slip. Some of us in college photocopied material that we did not have permission to, or included information from a source without quoting it while writing an essay. Although these actions do indeed constitute stealing, these are relatively easy behaviors to change, and should be changed to truly embody Asteya.

However, the more subtle and less obvious aspects of Non-Stealing are challenging, and often we have to learn how to see these patterns in order to change them.  Usually, stealing in any form emerges from a deep-seated fear.  Whether it’s a fear of not finding our next meal or of being inadequate, the roots of fear need to be found and pulled out before the garden of Asteya can flourish.

Greed, a form of stealing, is rampant in the world today and we are seeing the results as our forests dwindle, the poor starve, the skies pollute, and our waters clog with waste and toxins.  We may not even be aware of being greedy because its seeds are subtly planted everyday through the media, enticing us to constantly desire and take more and more. From the air we breathe to the cars we drive, most of us consume more than we nurture the earth.  Swami Satchidananda says that buying more than we need is actually stealing things “by not letting others use them.” 

As we explore Asteya deeper, we realise that it’s not enough to not-steal. Generosity is the heart of Asteya. We give because of the joy of giving, not just in order to receive what we want. When we feel full-filled with what we have and who we are, we find that we have much to offer others.  Whether we choose to pass on material things we no longer need or to offer our time, energy, and love, becoming generous and thoughtful beings is at the core of the practice of non-stealing.

Fully embodied in Asteya, non-stealing, we become content and peaceful. A peaceful mind is our greatest wealth.

Connie L. Habash is a yoga teacher, and seeker.  The excerpt above is adapted from this blog.

Seed questions for reflection: What does non-stealing mean to you? Can you share a personal story of a time you were able to arrive at a subtler awareness of non-stealing? What helps you acknowledge your adequacy?

Add Your Reflection:

11 Previous Reflections:

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    On Jul 29, 2021 Debra Myers wrote:
    After attending the Circle last night and listening toNipun's reflection,I awoke this morning recalling an experience I had three years ago. After attending a summit for the Euphrates Institute where Nipun spoke, I returned to San Francisco for a couple of days before flying home. The first stop was to park at Chrissy Field to walk up the path for a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge. After my walk I returned to my car to discover that someone had broken the window and stolen mybackpack with my computer in it along with several notebooks and other things accumulated on my trip thus far. The first moment was disbelief, the second I felt my thoughts fall into a dread and fear about the loss, and then something else happened. I had a question in my mind...what choice do I have in this moment? Curiosity appeared. I am certain Nipun's explanation of the Service Space model opened my thought to another possibility. What if I recognized that the computer and other things were never m... [View Full Comment] After attending the Circle last night and listening toNipun's reflection,I awoke this morning recalling an experience I had three years ago. After attending a summit for the Euphrates Institute where Nipun spoke, I returned to San Francisco for a couple of days before flying home. The first stop was to park at Chrissy Field to walk up the path for a good view of the Golden Gate Bridge. After my walk I returned to my car to discover that someone had broken the window and stolen mybackpack with my computer in it along with several notebooks and other things accumulated on my trip thus far. The first moment was disbelief, the second I felt my thoughts fall into a dread and fear about the loss, and then something else happened. I had a question in my mind...what choice do I have in this moment? Curiosity appeared. I am certain Nipun's explanation of the Service Space model opened my thought to another possibility. What if I recognized that the computer and other things were never mine to begin with. Then there was no theft. I recalled first hearing this concept from Byron Katie years before in her book A Thousand Names for Joy which I read many times. And with that thought, it was as though a beam of light entered my heart. I get light, joyful, certain that this experience was brought to me as a way of bringing home to me the ideas I had been hearing about all week at the summit. The following day my backpack was returned to me without the laptop or one of my sketchbooks which contained many drawings of hearts (biologically accurate not the symbol) along with beings whose hearts were allconnected. It was a little harder to let that go but I let it go as well realizing that this heart message that was so close to mine needed to travel out into the world and bless. I like to say I lost my heart to San Francisco. But thr truth is that in many ways I found it. I can say my life needed a profound shift and that trip was a turning point for me. And continues to bless.[Hide Full Comment]

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    On Jul 27, 2021 Helen wrote:
    I believe the ultimate goal on our planet is for us to convert taking into giving.

    2 replies: Helen, Aj | Post Your Reply
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    On Jul 27, 2021 Patrick wrote:
    Even more subtle is the form of stealing (asteya) called appropriating or co-opting. While we should indeed learn and apply what others have to teach us, we must first acknowledge the giver, then apply the knowledge so gifted in new ways. }:- a.m.

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    On Jul 27, 2021 annie willerton wrote:
    I have enjoyed thinking about the ramifications of this concept. Thank you. It would seem to me that stealing has many greedy tentacles driven by unfulfilled needs. Competitivediscourse, not pausing to hear what peopleare sharing but charging ahead with a story about the self, is tome a form of stealing. In fact I would say that all foes of attention seeking are stealing as they demand something from someoneelse with an assumption they have it to give.

    1 reply: Jo | Post Your Reply
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    On Jul 26, 2021 deepti mirani wrote:
    my take away - if I take/use more than I need, it's stealing coz I am not letting others use it.

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    On Jul 23, 2021 David Doane wrote:
    My understanding is that non-stealing means not taking without permission what is considered to belong to another. It means not taking anything material or immaterial, not money or a car or a paper clip or an idea. Not taking the clean from waters, earth, and air is a subtler awareness of non-stealing that I became aware of as an adult. Someone can try to steal time, energy, attention, knowledge, and love, but really those can only be given, not stolen. Connie Habash says "generosity is the heart of asteya" or of not-stealing. I think generosity is way beyond not-stealing. Generosity is freely giving whatever, be it material or immaterial, be it time, energy, attention, love. What helps me acknowledge my adequacy is knowing that wanting what I don't have, which may result in stealing, generates unhappiness and grief, and giving freely and abundantly what I think of as mine is generosity and generates happiness and satisfaction.

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    On Jul 23, 2021 Navin sata wrote:
    RAM NAAMKI LOOT HAI LOOT SAKE TAO LOOT???.1.PEOPLE WHO HAS MORE THEN THEY NEED(GREEDPEOPLE2. WHO HAVE SOME THING BUT WANTS MORE 3.people who have nothing.wants 2 and 1.this is cycle of ignorance
    know the truth and darkness of maya will disappear and truth shines for ever ✨💛❤💖

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    On Jul 23, 2021 Jagdish P Dave wrote:
    As I understand, desire or greed of stealingor non-stealing is born in our mind. When I am aware of what is happening in my mind, my desire or greed for getting something that does not belong to me, I consciously refrain from that selfish grip and move into the non-stealing zone. Non-stealing means being open, honest, free, and truthful with myself and following the inner voice of wisdom. My self-awareness and non-selfish actions keep me rooted in non-stealing state of my consciousness. This process of self-awareness, knowing Asteya, and followingTruth,is an ongoing spiritual journey to me. Non-judgementalself-awareness, thoughtfulness and humbleness help me walk on this spiritual path. I take time to learn from wisdom traditions, discuss spiritual teachings with like-minded people andembodythe knowingin my life. I have cultivated the attitudeof being patient and persistent in my journey of life. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation helps my mind to be quiet and clear. These pra... [View Full Comment] As I understand, desire or greed of stealingor non-stealing is born in our mind. When I am aware of what is happening in my mind, my desire or greed for getting something that does not belong to me, I consciously refrain from that selfish grip and move into the non-stealing zone. Non-stealing means being open, honest, free, and truthful with myself and following the inner voice of wisdom. My self-awareness and non-selfish actions keep me rooted in non-stealing state of my consciousness. This process of self-awareness, knowing Asteya, and followingTruth,is an ongoing spiritual journey to me.

    Non-judgementalself-awareness, thoughtfulness and humbleness help me walk on this spiritual path. I take time to learn from wisdom traditions, discuss spiritual teachings with like-minded people andembodythe knowingin my life. I have cultivated the attitudeof being patient and persistent in my journey of life. Regular practice of mindfulness meditation helps my mind to be quiet and clear. These practices have been interwoven in my daily life. We call it Sadhana, a spiritual way of living in the world..

    May we stay on this path of inner freedom, enlightenment for realizing the Truth, Fulfillment, and Peace!
    Namaste!
    Jagdish P Dave[Hide Full Comment]

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