Non-stealing, Non-greediness, Not coveting that which does not belong to us

“When not-taking-things is devotedly practiced, the greatest of treasures appear”
Yoga Sutras 2.37 (translation by Kofi Busia)

Way back in kindergarten and grade school we learned not to take things from others. A toy or treat belonging to someone else was recognized as not being ours to have at will. Early on, we learn to control the impulse to take without payment or permission, and most of us do not have a recurring impulse to steal. Some people take a few pens from work, or aren’t entirely forthcoming on their tax forms (both of which are indeed forms of stealing), but wouldn’t consider shoplifting from retailers or friends.

However, most of us still feel an occasional impulse to have something that belongs to another person, or something that is financially out of reach, and we are a bit less skilled at controlling these thoughts. To long after something activates a sense of “not-having-enough”. When we foster this sense, we divert our awareness from the abundance of what we already have. We might find ourselves coveting someone’s material possessions: their car, home, gadgets, and so on. In this instance, it is helpful to pause and reflect: would you really have made that purchase, even if you did have the money? Would that object really make you happier in a meaningful way? Remember the old tell-it-like-it-is adage: “You can’t take it with you.” Each of us has limited resources and we all make choices about how to use these resources. Focusing on our own greediness steals from ourselves the ability to be happy for others as well as the ability to enjoy the moment at hand. Instead, we can cultivate in ourselves a sense of plentitude, abundance, and appreciation.

If, in fact, something seems like it really would fill an important hole in your life, perhaps it is a worthwhile goal to work toward. There is a difference between wanting and working for something that we know is important for ourselves, and desperately wanting something that is attached to an image of grandeur or status. In a way, it is like the difference between lust and love.

We might also find ourselves coveting more intangible things: someone’s job, relationship, money, time, strength, looks, abilities, emotions… Here, it seems helpful to remember that we are attracted to qualities that we want to foster in ourselves. If I long after a friend’s loving relationship with their children, it only means that I also have a tremendous capacity to love – just waiting to express itself. Rather than spending energy on greed or envy, recognize the ability to foster and possess these qualities yourself.

“The mind becomes purified by cultivating friendships with contented people, by being kind and compassionate to the sad and fearful, be being indifferent to the ill-intentioned, and by being accommodating to the well-meaning.” Yoga Sutras 1.33 (translation by Kofi Busia)

While reflecting on incorporating asteya into one’s life, it is also worthwhile to remember some of the intangible ways in which we take from others. Being knowingly tardy to an appointment with a friend presumes that our time is more valuable than theirs. Speaking on behalf of another takes away their opportunity to express themselves. Doing homework for, or stifling curiosity in children robs them of learning on their own. Presupposing the outcome of a disagreement with a loved one steals both parties from the chance to carve out a new path to a familiar worry. Taking credit for ideas which are not rightly yours, or accepting praise which is undue are also examples of taking something which is not yours to take.

Likewise, when we focus on our inabilities during a yoga class, or when we focus on our own inadequacies at work or home… we rob from ourselves the opportunity to shine in all our glory. When we cultivate a true sense of gratitude and contentment for all that we have and who we are, that is indeed the greatest of treasures.

Many thanks to the influence of Judith Lasater’s book “Living Your Yoga” in helping to formulate this flyer, as well as the teachings and inspiration of my teachers: Kofi Busia, Sharon Gannon & David Life.

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Updated January 10, 2005