The third Yama referenced in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is Asteya, which means Non-stealing. When I hear word, “non-stealing,” my first thought is theft of an object; but non-stealing covers so many more areas than just a materialistic theft. The following is just a three of many aspects of non-stealing from a Christian Yogi’s perspective:
Stealing from Others
This one seems pretty obvious, right? Stealing from others includes possessions, time, energy, and anything else that does not belong to you. When I was in elementary school, I used to go to my friends’ houses after school quite often because I was a latchkey kid. One time, my friend was showing me a box full of jewelry that her mom had given her. I had never seen so many jewelry in one room, in my whole entire life of 10 years. As we were rummaging through all the jewelry, a pair of colorful earrings caught my eye. I kept looking at them and admiring them even after we had moved on to playing with her toy kitchen set. At some point that afternoon, I was alone in her room for about 5 minutes; by then, my admiration for those colorful earrings turned into envy. Within that 5 minutes, my envy turned into the actual act of stealing. I quickly put the earrings in my pocket and then left her house shortly afterwards. According to Exodus 20:1-17, the seventh of the Ten Commandments is “You shall not steal.” Period. No if’s, and’s or but’s. I would like to tell you that my guilty conscience forced me to do the right thing by giving the earrings back to her and apologizing for my poor choice… but to my shame, that is not what happened. I realized that I could never wear those earrings outside of my house because then she would know that I had stolen them from her. I knew I couldn’t lie and say that my parents bought them for me because they were unique and unlike any other earrings that were being sold at stores (after all, this was before the internet and online shopping). So instead of coming clean, I just sneaked them back into the drawer the next time I went to her house. She never knew they were missing, but because I knew, I felt a sense of guilt every time I saw her.
Bread gained by deceit is sweet to a man, but afterward his mouth will be full of gravel.
The problem with stealing — in addition to the fact that God commands us to not steal — is that we are taking something that does not belong to us. Stealing violates the spiritual, emotional, and mental (and sometimes physical) connection we have with others.
“Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly. I can never be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be. This is the interrelated structure of reality.”
― Martin Luther King Jr.
We also steal from others in several different ways:
1. Stealing time by showing up to appointments late or taking up more time than the mutually agreed length. (For example, as a Yoga Teacher, I do my best to start and end my classes on time so that I can respect everyone’s schedules.)
2. Stealing energy by expecting others to initiate conversations with you or just constantly being negative around others. (I’m sure you have been around a few “energy suckers” in your lifetime; These are the people that after spending time with them, you feel completely drained and wiped out emotionally and mentally.)
When we steal from others, we’re also stealing from ourselves.
Stealing from Ourselves
We live in a world that so desperately desires individuality. It’s true that we are all unique and special in our own ways, but we as a society have forgotten the importance of community and the concept of oneness.
“In nature we never see anything isolated, but everything in connection with something else which is before it, beside it, under it and over it.”
― Johann Wolfgang von Goethe
Whenever we steal from others, we lose a little bit of integrity each time. God has allowed us to be born with some wonderful talents, character, and passions. In Jeremiah 29:11, God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” It has always been God’s plan to give us hope and a future worth experiencing; but in our limited understanding, we think He should just hand over prosperity, protection, hope and future. He wants us to have these things, but we must first be ready (in our character and heart) to handle such a life. When we give into our fleshly desires and temporary pleasures that last only for a moment, we begin to tear down the excellence and beauty of who God has created us to be. We rob ourselves of the fruits of the Spirit:
“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.”
Who wouldn’t want to be more loving, joyful, peaceful, forgiving, kind, good, faithful, gentle and self-controlled? These are available to us as long as we’re willing to plant the seeds, nurture them and grow them so that they can produce these fruits of the Spirit. By taking a short cut, an easy way out or just dismissing that inner voice prompting us to do the right thing, we rob ourselves of God’s promises for our lives.
Stealing from God
This one can be a touchy subject. The scripture that talks about stealing from God is Malachi 3:8 where God says, “Will a man rob God? Yet you have robbed Me! But you say, ‘In what way have we robbed You?’ In tithes and offerings.” (Check out this article on Bible.org for more on this scripture.) But there are more ways we can be stealing from God.
1. We can be stealing from God by taking the credit for what He has done. In Judges 7, the Israelites experienced victory over the Midianites with just 300 fighting men. (The Midianites had 12,000 fighting men.) Initially, there were 32,000 Israelites, but God told Gideon, the leader of the army,
“The people who are with you are too many for Me to give Midian into their hands, for Israel would become boastful, saying, ‘My own power has delivered me.’”
We steal from God when we take credit for something that was meant for God’s glory.
2. We can be stealing from God by becoming a hindrance for others in their relationship with God. In the book Crazy Love: Overwhelmed by a Relentless God, the author Francis Chan writes, “From start to finish, this movie is obviously about God. He is the main character. How is is possible that we live as though it is about us?” The movie that he’s referring to is LIFE. When we try to be the main character of this movie, we create road blocks and distractions for others to focus on the main character, God.
Throughout the week, I invite you to pause and ask yourself, “Am I practicing Asteya in my heart, mind and actions?”