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The Eight Limbs Series: Asteya (Non-coveting)

This is the third in a series of writings on the yamas of Patanjali.  Yamas are wise characteristics we can cultivate in relation to ourselves and others. On our yogic path of personal transformation, the practice of yama supports us in resting into a state of yoga, or union, with all of life. This week, we will look at the third yama, asteya, which means non-stealing or non-coveting.

On the most basic level, practicing asteya is practicing not taking things which don’t belong to us. The Buddhists take it a step further in asking us to not take anything which is not freely given.  For the most part, we are probably free from overtly stealing, but there are deeper layers to asteya. For example, consider your use of natural resources. Suppose you are willing to pay the city for the water you consume daily, yet, you habitually use more water than you need.  Is this a form or stealing?  Do we have a responsibility to the planet and others on it to live with respect for our shared (limited) resources? What about stealing our body’s energy by sleeping too little or by overworking? Or the way we might take another person’s time or energy without first asking.

In looking at non-coveting, it is useful to see how we relate to envy. How often do we see something another has: a nice house, loose hamstrings, a warm personality, and appreciate what we see, and how often do we fixate on wanting those things for ourselves? Perhaps in envy we come to see that there is something that we truly want, and so we are moved towards working for it. This might be a healthy response to envy. Can we simply appreciate the gifts and resources of another without feeling that we too need to have them?

Mukunda Stiles’ offers this translation of Patanjali’s sutra on asteya: ll,37

By abiding in freedom from the desire for other’s possessions, that which is precious is revealed, and all that is beneficial is freely given.

Practicing asteya, like practicing all of the yamas, is all about bringing more wakefulness into our lives more of the time. Practicing self-awareness and seeing our greediness when it arises is what allows it to be transformed. We don’t change by repressing our feelings or trying to get rid of them, but by seeing clearly these parts of ourselves without judgement and then making choices around where we put our attention and how we act in relationship to others and to the world as a whole.

Much Love, Shannon


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