Asteya is the Sanskrit term for “non-stealing” and the third Yama of Patanjali’s 5 Yamas of the Yoga Sutras. Most people who practice yoga and follow a spiritual path are pretty sure they never steal. However, this yoga principle means so much more than not physically taking something from someone else. In this article, I want to share with you profound knowledge of what asteya really means and how we can be stealing without even knowing it. Also, I’ll give you some tips on how you can practice Asteya in your daily life.
What Is Asteya?
The word “asteya” is a compound derived from the Sanskrit language, where “a” refers to “non-” and “steya” refers to “practice of stealing” or “something that can be stolen”. Thus, asteya means “non-stealing”.
Asteya is an ethical principle that means not taking what is not ours and not striving to possess what is not ours, as well as honesty and decency.
Asteya is the third Yama of Patanjali’s Five Yamas.
Patanjali’s Yamas include 5 ethical and moral principles:
- Ahiṃsā (अहिंसा): nonviolence, non-harming other living beings.
- Satya (सत्य): truthfulness, non-falsehood.
- Asteya (अस्तेय): non-stealing.
- Aparigraha (अपरिग्रहः): non-avarice, non-possessiveness.
- Brahmacharya (ब्रह्मचर्य): chastity, marital fidelity, or sexual restraint.
All of them impose certain moral restrictions on the actions that we make in our desire to possess the goods that we believe we should have. Most of us, always desire more than what we already have. However, according to yogic philosophy, we always get exactly what we need and what we deserve. And if we think that we deserve or need more than what we already have it means that our ego is overactive and our mind is in disharmony with our spirit.
It is essential to understand that the availability of benefits, both material and non-material, depends on the amount of energy we have accumulated. When we are possessed by our desires, we lose our energy. And what is more important is that we deprive ourselves of the opportunity to self-actualize on the spiritual path, because any desire to gain material possessions leads to the waste of internal spiritual potential.
As long as a person does not realize that the only source of true happiness is not outside but inside of him, in his spirit, he will not be able to give up external goods that bring him only the illusion of happiness, since it is material, and therefore temporary and transient.
The ego “steals” the spirit of a person, pushing him to such thoughts and actions that, according to egoistic needs, lead to wasting time and effort on something that the person does not really need. For all that he needs, he already has.
We all need to realize that ego can never be satisfied. It will be pushing you for desiring more and promising absolute happiness when you satisfy your desires. Your ego will demand more and more from you and eventually you will start feeling more and more unhappy because you are never satisfied no matter how many material possessions you receive.
It is essential to realize and accept the fact that nothing in the external material world really belongs to us. All the material things that we have are only temporarily our own. The only thing we really have is the spirit. We have come to this planetary incarnation to gain spiritual experience, and this is the only thing we should strive for in our life.
And therefore, we should always remind ourselves to be satisfied with the number of material goods that we have since their true purpose is to help our spiritual development. All the necessary goods that we need for the exact moment we already have. Even if you feel it’s too little, remind yourself that you need to experience this exact “little amount” for your spiritual development, that you need to learn to be satisfied with that “little” that God gives you.
To keep the soul in the body there is no need to get money and material goods dishonestly. We must resolutely get rid of the desire to possess unnecessary material things, realizing that these surpluses only burden the person.
The main focus on the Spiritual Path should not be to receive unnecessary benefits from external objects but to be able to have as much as necessary to advance along the Path.
The Four Types Of Stealing
According to Shrii Shrii Anandamurti teaching, there are four types of stealing:
#1: Physical theft of any material object
Ordinarily, those persons who steal material objects are called thieves. But thieves are not only those persons who flee with stolen objects after committing armed robbery. Whatever is taken in possession by the use of brute physical force, of arms or of the strength of intellect, whether it is money or goods, amounts to theft, because behind such actions there is the intention of taking others’ property deceitfully. However, acceptance of anything like money, crops, gold, etc., in exchange for money in a proper way is not theft.
#2: Psychic theft
Here you did not take material possession of anything, but you planned it in your mind. This also called “theft”, because you have mentally stolen. Only the fear of law or of adverse criticism prevented you from doing the action physically.
#3: Depriving others of their due physically
Even if you do not take possession of what belongs to others, but you deprive others of what is their due, you become responsible for their loss. This is also stealing.
#4: Depriving others of their due mentally
If you do not actually deprive anybody of what is justifiably their due, but you plan in your mind to do so, that too amounts to theft.
Siddhi is a Sanskrit noun which can be translated as “perfection”, “accomplishment”, “attainment”, or “success”.
The one who follows this virtue perfectly in his life gets everything he needs in the very near future. But these are not necessarily material things. It can also be health, knowledge, or, for example, favorable circumstances — everything that appears in an intangible form and, as a rule, what you really need at the moment.
To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient.Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Chapter II, Sutra 37)
When we don’t follow the Asteya principle, we will have to pay back whether we like it or not. If we take or desire something that does not belong to us, sooner or later we will have to pay a karmic debt. It’s not necessarily going to be something material taken away from us, it can be a loss of health, a loss love, a loss of a job, a loss of happiness, a loss of loved ones, etc.
Suprising Ways You Could Be Stealing Without Knowing
Now let me share with you some surprising ways you could be stealing without knowing that go far beyond material possessions.
#1: Desiring something that belongs to somebody else
Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar says that “(Even) sitting and wishing ‘I wish I had those looks’; ‘I wish I had that voice’; ‘I wish I had that car’; ‘I wish I had that power’; ‘I wish I had that money’, you have stolen.”
These kinds of thoughts can be very destructive to you and to the person who owns whatever you desire to have. You are mentally vamping that person and “stealing” his energy. These thoughts lead to jealousy and anger.
Instead of wanting what other people have, switch your attention to what you already have. Focus on gratitude and notice every little gift God gives to you. If you start practicing gratitude instead of “wishing” and “wanting”, very soon you will notice that you have enough and moreover you will feel happy with whatever you have at the moment.
#2: Desiring abilities, talents, qualities, gifts, skills that other people have
It may seem like you get inspired by the way some people express themselves, their talents, creative abilities, etc. You may think: “I wish I was as charismatic as him”, or “as confident as her”, or “as professional and focused as him”, etc. It may seem like an admiration of somebody’s talent, however, it’s not what you think it is.
The feeling of lack of something sounds in your head like “I don’t have this, but I want it!”. First, you start following this person’s Instagram page for daily inspiration. Then you do more research on him/her, start watching his/her videos, reading his/her blog. And the more you do it, the worse you feel about yourself. Slowly and gradually your inspiration gets replaced with envy and jealousy for what they have and what you don’t.
Every time you think: “I wish I had her/his …”, you mentally steal.
Moreover, by thinking these thoughts you may also be causing self-harm by not allowing your own unique gifts to flourish. You see, you steal your own light when you cannot acknowledge and honor the unique gifts that you bring in the world.
Simply recognize all the virtues that you appreciate in others and realize that they are present in you in seed form. You only have to nurture them.– Gurudev Sri Sri Ravi Shankar
Instead of wishing somebody else’s gifts start noticing your own talents and unique qualities! If we are grateful and appreciate your own unique gifts, the expression in the same instance could be something like, “I truly admire blessings that the Divine has showered upon you, and I feel so blessed and happy that I have a friend with such wonderful gifts. Shine on!” In this case, you are looking at others’ blessings as your own blessings too. Thus, you become capable of an enthusiastic and heartfelt expression of appreciation!
#3: Worrying about the future or brooding over the past
When we worry about the future or brood over the past we steal energy from the present moment and the opportunity of dwelling in the pure bliss of our being, of living in this very moment.
Think about how many times during the day you’re thinking about planning for the future or worrying about something that may happen? How many times during the day indulge in the memories of your past? All these thoughts distract you from the joy of the present moment. Even when you’re making plans or sharing memories, make sure you are mindful and present in the now.
Asteya principle teaches us not to steal the pure joy of the now of our lives.
#4: Staying in your comfort zone
When you remain in your comfort zone, you steal away your own possibilities to enjoy the best things in life. You restrict your own potential, progress, and growth into the world of limitless opportunities.
Moreover, when you don’t open up your potential, you restrict the world from enjoying the benefits your inner Light can bring! You have your own unique mission that brought you to this planet. This mission is somehow connected to the collective evolution of human beings. And by staying in your comfort zone, you are suppressing your Light, thus you’re stealing the part of your contribution into collective evolution.
#5: Stealing time
People have a tendency to steal time not only from themselves, but also from others.
Asteya teaches us to watch how we use our time. We can invest our time in searching for truth, reconnecting with our Higher Self, and fulfilling our mission on Earth. Or we can use our time to pursue illusory things that feed our ego.
There is nothing stable in the outside world. We live inside a huge game of God – “Maya”. Inside this game, everything changes, nothing is permanent. It’s like sandcastles: you can build a castle on the sand but you can’t expect that it will be permanent. One wave can destroy it. And if you are too attached to the castle, its destruction can cause you suffering.
On the contrary, your spirit does not change, it is something that will never leave you. And the better connection you have with your spirit, the more secure you will feel in life.
Therefore, Asteya teaches us that time is precious. And if we spend it on chasing temporary things, instead of investing it into spiritual development, then we violate Asteya.
If we “steal” time from another person, especially from a spiritual practitioner, guru, teacher, master, or yogi, then we also strongly violate Asteya. You see, if you steal time from people who are already wasting it, it is not a big deal. But if you steal time from a person who is focused on spiritual practice, then there is a very strong penalty for this. Hence, there are a lot of legends (for example, the Mahabharata is literally full of such legends), when yogis meditate, and someone disturbs them from this state, then a powerful flow of energy burns the offenders.
A person who practices Asteya does not steal either their own or someone else’s time. Such a person tries not to attract the attention of other people and respects their time. When a person begins to sink into Asteya, he mostly speaks to the point. His words and questions are very constructive.
People who violate the principle of Asteya always try to draw attention to themselves. Such people may ask lots of questions, send you lots of text messages/emails, but they are not really interested in your answers. All they care about is to get your emotional attention. These situations need to be monitored! Value your time by not letting people steal it from you.
How to Practice Asteya?
As you can see, Asteya practice includes not just taking away something material from other people but also removing such qualities as greed, jealousy, envy, desire for someone else’s property, etc.
Here are helpful tips on how you can make Asteya a part of your daily life.
#1: Practice non-attachment
Start with removing all attachments to existing material things and non-material objects, whether they are fame, success, titles, or any achievements in this world. One who is not attached to anything, is free from possessive claims and does not want anything for himself personally, and accordingly does not consider himself the owner of anything.
#2: Be satisfied with what you have
Every time you start thinking: “I wish I had this or that”, switch your focus to gratitude. Start counting your blessings instead of daydreaming. Bring your attention to the present moment and find at least 10 things you are grateful for.
#3: Value your time
Don’t let others steal your time. If you see that a person asks for help but never follows your advice, asks questions but doesn’t care about your answers if you feel energetically exhausted every time you talk to this person, you’re dealing with energy vampires who are stealing your time and energy. In situations like this, you need to remember about Asteya. Do not let other people steal your time!
#4: Pay your debts
According to Asteya principle, it is not good to take credits. We should strive to live according to our financial possibilities. However, for most of us, credits became a common thing and we can’t imagine life without them. If you already have debts and credits but you still want to practice Asteya, try to pay your debts in time. Do not delay!
#5: Don’t buy lottery tickets
A lottery is a disregard of Asteya. The initial intention is based on the desire of having more than you already have. Greed makes people buy lottery tickets. And the lottery itself is receiving something that isn’t yours.
The Bottom Line
Do not seek to enrich yourself or improve your financial situation at the expense of others. Do not desire more than you have. And most importantly, always remember that all the things that we have been given to us only for temporary use. Focus on your spirit and your soul. Remember that true happiness is always internal. If your happiness and satisfaction depend on external things, you will eventually lose it and it will lead to suffering.