Defining “Asteya” – Generosity / Non-Stealing
We all know that it is wrong to steal “stuff” – to take things that do not belong to us or to commit fraud or to plagiarise. But there are other forms of stealing that are more relevant to the average person when it comes to observing Yoga in daily life.
For example, when a Yoga class is relaxed, peaceful and quiet, it is frustrating when a phone rings or hums. It also affects the equanimity of the whole room if one person begins to shuffle around or sigh with boredom, while everyone else is lying still in savasana.
And then there are those who explode into a yoga room, sometimes late and often loud, “stealing” others’ rights to some (generally) rare “quiet” time.
The “I-Know-Everything Already, Pay Attention to Me!” Thief
A few years ago, I attended a yoga workshop in Sydney with my favourite teacher, someone I have tons of respect for. He has a vast amount of knowledge and passion for Yoga and natural health. Thanks to him, I too am passionate about these things.
I look forward to this little hiatus every year. It gives me such a buzz to be able to focus totally on Yoga in daily life without having to worry about the kids and my “normal” for a few days. I generally come back from this week away feeling refreshed, energised and inspired.
Everything I learn is useful for my Yoga practise, my life and therefore my own students.
This workshop was different though. A young bloke turned up and with a complete lack of self-awareness, continually held things up by constantly interrupting our facilitator.
It appeared he wanted to make sure we realised he was Far More Knowledgeable than all of us. This included our teacher, whom he challenged at every opportunity.
His interruptions also seemed to have been carefully planned to include a neat little segue-way into a story about something or someone that nobody else knew or cared anything about.
Because they had not paid or given up their entire weekend to listen to HIS personal anecdotes.
But despite being so enlightened and advanced in his Yoga practice, he didn’t seem to notice people in the room shuffling around, staring down at the floor, frustrated, mortified and totally embarrassed for him, as our teacher patiently listened and nodded in his usual polite fashion.
Master Yogi Swami even asked if we could regroup at a different time after our scheduled lunch break so that he could fit in a private client. Thankfully, the answer was no.
That year, I came away feeling completely ripped off and extremely disappointed as I am sure many others did. In fact, it’s pretty much the only thing I really remember about that entire yoga workshop!!
This is a perfect example of non-observance of asteya, the yama that means “non-stealing” or, more positively, “generosity”.
Not only did this bloke continually try to steal the teacher’s thunder by always trying to divert attention back to himself, he was also “stealing” from others.
In fact, in a manner of speaking, because most of the attendees were yoga and/or health teachers, he indirectly also “stole” something from their students and clients.
Many of us have experienced this kind of stealing in our lives. Perhaps a friend who always drinks too much on a fun night out and then needs looking after so they don’t end up accidentally killing themselves. Maybe an acquaintance who regularly dissolves into fits of tears if things don’t seem to be going their way, or becomes aggressive and/or argumentative.
This is the kind of stuff that regularly destroys the mood. It means that particular person has all the attention diverted back to them when (or because?) everybody else was having a great time!
Asteya on a Societal Level
We can observe lack of Asteya on a national and global level as we observe big nations take advantage of smaller ones. It’s noticeable when powerful people and big business take advantage of smaller organisations or the less shrewd. It also becomes clear when certain people – who live in a community and enjoy the benefits of community (electricity, running water, free health care, education, roads, shops, etc) – act in self-centred ways that negatively affect that whole community.
For example, littering, not picking up dog poo, vandalising public spaces and/or breaking rules that keep other people safe such as speeding, drink driving or not adhering to Covid regulations.
So How Can We Make a Difference?
On an individual level, we make a difference firstly by being aware, and secondly, by incorporating aspects of Yoga in our daily life.
Consider for a moment that other examples of not observing asteya might be betraying a person’s trust. Sharing knowledge that a person discussed with you in confidence. And what about owing money and being late to pay it back because you don’t have it right now?
Is it fair to assume the person who lent it to you or purchased something for you on their credit card doesn’t need that money as much as you do?
Let’s be honest, we’ve all been guilty of some of these things at some stage.
Yet another one is continually being late for no good reason. Everybody is late sometimes, but if we make a decision that that is WHO we are , ie, “I am always late…ha ha!” – then basically, what we are implying is that nobody else is as important as us. This means others must either wait (because their time is not worth as much as ours) or be disrupted by our late entrance.
What if we Resolve to Give More Than we Take…?
Admittedly, it does seem like a harsh analogy when the majority of the humans (I know) are kind and honest people who do not wish anybody harm. Still, it’s never a bad idea to engage the mindful witness and to consider the things we have always done innocently, without actually thinking about how these ways of being might inadvertently impact others.
By incorporating Yoga in our daily life, instead of taking, we “give” instead. We are helpful and generous with our time. We respect another person’s business, their work and/or how they feel about something we never experienced. We listen carefully rather than trying to advise or fix. We are thoughtful, considerate and complimentary when we notice something fantastic about something or someone and we let them know.
Because, seriously, who doesn’t appreciate that kind of stuff?