Opposite Doing: the Yamas and Non-Stealing

by M. G. Satchidananda

By practicing the yamas, one becomes increasingly aware of how unconscious habit patterns, beliefs and behaviors conceal one’s true Self, and the underlying Truth. One must therefore follow them not merely as a moral code, or an idealistic behavior, but through the integrative power of the Witness. Otherwise, they become an inner source of conflict and neurotic repression. The purpose of practicing the yamas is to reveal, and then eliminate that which keeps one out of alignment with the True, the Good, and Beautiful, that is, our eternal Self: the disturbances that come from within and from without.

In this editorial the fifth in a series of five articles, I will demonstrate how Yoga asks us to transform our human nature by observing the social restraint, or yama known as asteya, which according to the oldest sanskrit commentary on the Yoga-sutras means “the unauthorized appropriation of things belonging to another person.” As we shall see, steya or stealing harms not only others, but also the one who steals. While we commonly associate stealing with the material property of other individuals, as in robbery, not paying a personal debt, tax evasion, or fraud, it may also involve the theft of such intangibles as another’s time, identity, intellectual property, reputation, liberty, rights, and theft from future generations of an unpolluted environment and non-renewable resources because of habitual over consumption. Also the accumulation of great wealth is often the result of criminal behavior, in other words, stealing. While the accumulation of wealth has long been the goal of most persons in our modern materialistic culture, there is a growing awareness that it is not fair for most of the world’s wealth to be controlled by less than one percent of the population.

As societies have evolved into more complex forms, from tribal societies where theft was an infrequent or a minor offense, to modern society, today “stealing” has become an integral part of modern materialistic culture.  By first identifying the various ways in which “stealing” occurs in modern society, we can begin to avoid its negative individual, societal, and planetary consequences.

Stealing of material property of other individuals

Today we see theft of material property conducted by individuals, organized criminal organizations involved in armed robbery, burglary, shoplifting, tax evasion, racketeering, ponzi schemes, human trafficking, the sale and purchase of counterfeit products of all types, the trafficking of stolen possessions, the exploitation of foreign labor, and many types of fraud. In America, “the land of the free” there are more people in prisons than in universities. And they are not only gang members, petty thieves, and thugs. They include those who have committed economic crimes, the so called “white collared crimes” such as many types of investment fraud, for example, “insider trading” of stock using privileged information by company managers, accountants, stock brokers and financial advisors. Or “securitization,” the grouping together by banks of many high risk home mortgages into a package for the purpose of selling them deceptively as low risk investments. The economic crisis which began in the fall of 2008, on Wall Street, was due to the latter type of criminal behavior by bank executives, the negligence of those who were responsible for overseeing their activities, and the greed of many home buyers who exaggerated their statement income or liabilities in applying for mortgages which they really could not afford. Almost everyone on the planet today is suffering the consequences of the pervasive greed and stealing millions of home buyers, investors, and professionals in the financial industry, which led to the world wide economic crisis beginning in 2008.

While the motivation for stealing used to be survival, today, with the influence of movies and popular culture, stealing is too often seen to be the easiest way to acquiring what will make one happy. The movies and television even glorifies the behavior of thieves and gangsters. The drug culture is partly responsible. The wide spread use of recreational drugs, itself a sign that individuals are unwilling to face and clean up their own neuroses, contributes to the impulse to steal, so as to finance a drug habit, or simply to have what other’s have. The attitude to attempt to get as much as one can, with as little effort as possible, also fuels speculation in the stock market, all forms of gambling, cheating on examinations in school, and manipulation of subordinates and colleagues, in the workplace.

Non payment of debts is a huge problem today. More than ten percent of all credit card debt is never repaid. Millions of persons have walked away from their home mortgages since the economic crisis in 2008 began. Consequently, everyone has to pay more: higher interest rates, higher fees, higher taxes. Too often, the failure to repay debt is due to an attitude that debt is good, and that not repaying a debt is acceptable. But when debt exceeds one’s reasonable capacity to repay, it is not good, and it is not acceptable. When it is not repaid, it is stealing; and if the debt was incurred with the attitude that I am not going to repay the debt is fraud. Before assuming any debt, one must make an objective, careful evaluation of one’s capacity to repay it.

When stealing goes beyond an individual and encompasses a country, it takes the form known as “imperialism,” the creation of an empire for the purpose of exploiting the resources and labor of other lands and peoples. From the 16th to mid 20th centuries imperialism resulted in the creation of colonies by European nations throughout the world. Since then, while colonies have been replaced by independent nation states, economic imperialism is still exerted by the most powerful national economies against poorer countries. The former are able to use their great power unfairly to extract the wealth of the poorer nations, to protect themselves from competition with tariff and non tariff barriers, and to maintain corrupt dictatorial regimes who will maintain widespread systems of theft between and within countries.

Stealing from future generations occurs when we waste non-renewable resources by engaging in habitual over consumption, purchase products which pollute the environment, avoid recycling and conservation of the natural environment. We deprive our descendants of the resources and the environment that we have enjoyed.

The stealing of intangibles

Asteya or stealing also occurs when we plagiarize in writing an essay or an examination or a book. It occurs when we download from the internet copyrighted music, books, or software. We deprive the owners of copyright their just reward for having produced such intellectual material which we find so valuable that we are willing to steal it.

We steal time from our employers when we are frequently late for work, when we use our “time” at work for personal activities, without making up the time. We steal time from others when we oblige them to listen to our unnecessary chatter.

Stealing also occurs when we exploit workers by paying them a wage which does not fairly compensate them for their time, effort and skill. It occurs when people purchase illegal drugs, and by so doing contribute to criminal organizations who in turn cause the corruption and murder of public officials and innocent victims of crimes. It occurs when we support governments whose policies deprive the citizens of other countries of their liberty and human rights without due process of law. Governments and big businesses engage in organized criminal theft, when they conduct industrial or military espionage.

The personal consequences of stealing

Every thought, word and action has a consequence, according to the law of karma. Stealing engulfs our mind with dark thoughts including desire, fear, and guilt. It closes our heart, strengthens egoistic tendencies, and blinds us to the unity that we share with those from whom we steal. It is a manifestation of fear and weakness in the face of desire. By indulging it we give up our power of self-control and increases the hold which negative forces may have upon us. By stealing repeatedly, it becomes a habit, and as such we lose our freedom. Sooner or later, we will also have to repay the debt that we incur when we steal, and not just the principle. There will be interest charges added to the karmic debt of stealing. While the time when we must repay our debts will depend upon how much good karma we may have incurred, for example, through acts of charity or kindness, or other mitigating factors, all debts must eventually be paid. And when stealing occurs between nations, or against the environment, there are collective karmic debts which will have to be paid eventually, if not in this birth, then in a subsequent one.

How to avoid stealing, individually and collectively

By first recognizing how pervasive “stealing” has become in modern society, and by identifying the ways in which it manifests we become aware of its root cause in our human nature. As discussed in previous editorials (See many of these on our website and in Kriya Yoga Insights Along the Path) our human nature is imperfect because of three great malas or stains: anava (ignorance of one’s true identity, that is, egoism), karma (the consequences of our thoughts, words and actions; collectively, our habits) and maya delusion. Consequently, if we want to bring about the yama or death of stealing, steya, we must remove these malas or stains, which are also the root causes of our suffering.

While mankind has attempted to control stealing since the time when persons came together in tribal societies, with laws, judges, police, punishment and prison, the results of these has been very limited. In the words of Sri Aurobinodo, what is needed is “a revolution against our human nature.” Such a revolution must be waged by every individual, not merely as an effort to conform to the morals and laws of society, but as an imperative means to realize the True, the Good and the Beautiful. The successful cultivation of asteya can occur with practice of the following:

  1. remembering that the Divine loves you, and that because of this, everything that occurs in your life is designed to bring you home to the Divine embrace, to the realization of and communion with that perfect Love.
  2. because of this love, you will receive what you need, with necessary effort,, and therefore, there is no need to covet what belongs to another, let alone allow yourself to act upon the desire, and steal what does not belong to you.
  3. by returning to the source of one’s being in profound meditation every day, transcending the play of the “stains” of egoism, karma and maya.
  4. by cultivating charity, the opposite of stealing, giving without any expectation of a reward. In so doing we come to know what is love, and become its channel. As with all negative tendencies in our human nature, we can cultivate the opposite. In this case, to give, rather than to take what belongs to others by right or justice.
  5. by regularly repeating the affirmation: “I am an instrument of Divine Love. I give to others as I am able, seeing the Divine in everyone, enjoying the play which brings us to the embrace of the Divine.”
  6. by monitoring the performance of our political leaders and the corporations we support through our purchases and investments. As planetary citizens it is our duty to do whatever we can to prevent organized theft.
  7. by cultivating voluntary simplicity. This includes purchasing only what one truly needs, recycling, conservation, and focusing on the sublime purpose of life, Self-realization, through the practice of spiritual disciplines.

In concluding this series of five articles on the yamas, it is my earnest prayer that not only these five yogic social restraints, namely ahimsa, non harming, satya, truthfulness, brahmacharya, chastity, aparigrah, greedlessness, and asteya, non-stealing be adopted by everyone, as privileged means to a happy life, but that everyone make as their goal  the cultivation of allied virtues such as patience, self-discipline, purity, humility, sincerity and honor.The foundation of all lasting culture, throughout world history is virtue.

From the Kriya Yoga Journal, no. 72, Winter 2012

Copyright © 2012 by Marshall Govindan.


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