Asteya is the yogic practice of avoiding taking what does not belong to you and is not freely offered to you. It includes greedy desires expressed in our thoughts, words, and our deeds. There are many reasons we may covet what we do not have and be jealous, feeling someone else has more than we do. Maybe they have success, money, popularity, health, power, a good job, a partner we wish we had, or even spiritual experiences we want to have. Whatever it is we feel another has and we wish was ours instead of theirs, it comes from a since of lack within ourselves, a feeling that we are not enough as we are.
The desire to take from others is inherently rooted in our own sense of inadequacy and discontent with ourselves and what life has given us. We feel dis-empowered and unable to manifest what we feel we need in life. From this since of personal dis-empowerment comes the need to somehow acquire what ever it is we feel we need from outside of ourselves. We begin to resent people who have things we do not have and to begin to feel justified in taking them. This can lead to actual theft, not only of property but of ideas, relationships and even identity. If not actual theft, it leads to jealousy and avarice. And this leads to more unhappiness and discontent with ourselves and with our lives in general.
So goes the downward spiral of low self worth, discontent, dis-empowerment, resentment, anger, jealousy, greed. This leads to more since of lack and finally bitterness, resentment and despair. It is not the yogic way, nor is it how to have a since of well-being. Even the rich may wish for what they do not have and live in miserable discontent as a result. Those who are successful thieves may be glory in their success for a time, but as they continue to take from others they begin to feel very afraid of others taking from them. They build walls of distrust with all and barrier themselves behind their own growing fears and ruthless attitudes. They do not walk a path towards happiness or psychological health.
So the yogis of ancient times warned against following this self-destructive path, encouraging us to be honest, do no harm and not covet what others have. This is the way to belief in ourselves, contentment and enjoyment of our lives, however simple they may be. It is the path to self-empowerment, realization that we can make our own lives beautiful on our own.
By developing positive attitudes, generosity of heart and mind, and seeing what is good about our own lives rather than living in the shadow of thoughts that lead to feeling we are somehow less than someone else who has something we don’t, we move toward well being and wholeness. This is part of Dharma, the way towards the one eternal Self.
Maetreyii Ma is former director of the Spiritual Emergence Network, a founding member of the Kundalini Research Network, founder and past president of Ananda Seva Mission, and former co-director of the Ananda Seva Yoga Teacher Training's and Yoga Therapy Training's with an ERYT 500 certification.
Dr. Nolan is currently the president of Ananda Guru Kula, a non-profit dedicated to spreading the wisdom teachings of Yoga and a transpersonal psychologist in private practice. She is a wife and mother and currently lives with her husband in their ashram community in the Northern San Francisco Bay area.