November Focus Week 3: Asteya (non-stealing) & Aparigraha (non-accumulation)
This week we will explore 2 of the yamas (ethical rules) that are mentioned in Patanjali’s yoga sutras.
Asteya which translates into “non-stealing”, and aparigraha, “non-accumulation”, “non-greediness”, “non-avarice”. And even though these two principles are different, at the same time they are interconnected, since one leads to the other.
Asteya (non-stealing) may be the most important principle for a society’s well-being. If we were able to staunchly abide by it, there would be no poverty, no war and no misery in the world, and in the contrary, we would live in peace and harmony.
«Asteya-pratishthaayaam sarva–ratnopasthaanam». Yoga Sutras 2.37
According to this sutra, “When the yogi settles in the principle of non-stealing, all material goods flow freely towards the yogi” – which means that if we adhere to asteya consistently and under all circumstances, our whole life is transformed, as we achieve a deep mental balance, in which never again do we need to worry about our material needs, as they are freely fulfilled by the Universe. This might sound magical or occult, but it is nothing more than trusting and being in tune with the cosmic flow and abundance of the Universe.
When we refer to stealing, we usually think about money, clothes, jewelry and all kinds of material goods. But, as is the case with most of the yamas and niyamas, stealing also has various layers, like an onion, which when pealed, deeper and deeper layers are revealed, until we reach the heart, the root of stealing, which is in the mind.
The reason we steal is the false perception that there is a lack of abundance in the Universe or that there is not enough for everyone or that we cannot create abundance for ourselves.
Let’s examine though the different kinds of stealing in order to understand the importance of this specific yama:
The most obvious one is to take something which is not ours. Like removing money, material goods from a store, fruit from orchards without asking first, steal someone else’s time by being late to an appointment or take more of their time than necessary, steal energy, happiness, blackmail someone’s feelings, steal another’s romantic partner, work position, intellectual property. It is amazing how many yogis present through the media ideas, quotes and articles that are not theirs, without mentioning the author.
Another form of stealing is mental stealing. In that case, out mind is flooded by the desire to steal something, but we don’t do it out of fear of punishment or shame if we get caught. But the desire to steal is in our mind.
A third form of stealing is taking something without giving back what we owe. We don’t pay for a subway ticket, we park at a regulated parking spot without paying the fee, we don’t pay our bills, we do not return borrowed goods, like money or a book we borrowed from the local library. We go to events that have a suggested donation without offering something back. We might save some euro, but the imbalance we create in our mind and society is huge. To lead a parasitical way of life, drawing as much as we can without offering anything or a minimum is a kind of stealing.
And lastly, when we try various tricks in order to receive as many services as possible by paying less than we owe. For example, an employer can abuse the working hours of a worker by paying the minimum salary allowed. Big companies become rich by manufacturing their extremely expensive products in countries where people work very long hours for very little money.
If we want to access the abundance of the Universe, then there must be a balance between “taking and giving” and even give a bit more. If we have an income, it is good to offer 5-10% to charity and humanitarian acts, so that we give something back to the Universe.
That which we do not realise is that abundance is not related to the accumulation of commodities or to usurping things, but to keeping the channel of flow open by offering and receiving. In reality, the more we offer (services, knowledge, time, goods) the more we receive.
So, we arrive to the next yama, aparigraha, which is translated as non-accumulation, non-greediness, non-avarice or non-possessiveness.
Aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathamtaa-sambodhah. Yoga Sutras 2.39
This sutra tells us that “When the yogi settles in non-greediness, they know the purpose of being born”, and if we think about it a little bit, that’s the exact opposite of what is presented by the consumerist society. Greediness keeps us constantly occupied and disoriented from life’s true meaning.
Modern society teaches us that accumulating wealth and commodities is the purpose of life. That the more money, property, and goods we acquire the more we deserve to be respected, appreciated and noticed in society. Advertisements sell us happiness, satisfaction, allure, respect and self-esteem through the possession of their commodities. We consume huge amounts of energy, time, even our whole life in order to accumulate stuff, because we have erroneously believed that they will offer us peace and happiness. Some people work two or three jobs in order to obtain the commodities they dream of.
Truth is though, that the happiness they offer is ephemeral and the more we chase after acquiring commodities, the more we distance ourselves from peace and happiness. On the contrary, stress and fear take over, stealing our energy and time. Of course, the fault is not in the commodities but in the erroneous perception that peace, happiness and self-worth depend on factors outside of us.
Aparigraha suggests that we do not accumulate more than we need, that we do not buy out of envy or greediness. The more we consume, the more we increase out dependency on material goods. Think that once there were no computers or smartphones and that we were just fine. Now, if our computers break down or if we lose our cell phone, we become upset, because we are so depended on these things. Open your drawers, your closets and your storage rooms and ask: “do I really need all of this stuff, the clothes, the shoes?” Next time you will be ready to buy something, think, “do I really need this?”, “will I be happier if I have it and for how long?” If the answer is no, then do not add one more object to your collection.
Greediness and accumulation also grow out of fear. Fear of not being safe if I do not have enough commodities, or that I am not worthy of love and acceptance. Yoga practice teaches us that safety, value and happiness are mainly an internal state that emanates from the connection to our spiritual nature, and gradually helps to rid ourselves from the patterns of greed and all kinds of stealing.
By Maria Stylianaki,
οf the Neda Yoga Shala Team