In this column, Dale Ann Gray offers reflections on the yamas and niyamas of the Yoga Sutras, incorporating insights from classical Nondual Yoga.
With the yama of asteya, we arrive at Patanjali’s second use of a negative prefix in the yamas. The definition indicates that “a” (not) added to “steya” (stealing), which derives from the verbal root “stai” (to steal), yields asteya (not stealing).
There’s hardly any disagreement here. The commentators primarily sing a unison melody via negativa about not stealing, avoiding theft, “not taking things belonging to others and not even harboring the desire to do so.” Deborah Adele (The Yamas and Niyamas: Exploring Yoga’s Ethical Practice) includes theft from others, the earth, the future and ourselves rooted in comparison and lack of gratitude.
There are so many ways and things to steal! We steal time, intellectual property, glances, photographs. Remember when “alienation of affections” was grounds for divorce? But, why do we steal in the first place? It’s because we have forgotten, don’t know, believe in or experience who we truly are. We feel incomplete. Oh, if I only had … then I would be happy, then people would respect me, then I would be accepted.
Donna Farhi’s discussion in Teaching Yoga: Exploring the Teacher-Student Relationship, of asteya leads with generosity and open-heartedness. “When we feel connected to the vastness of life and are confident of life’s abundance, we are naturally generous and are able to practice . . . asteya.” She begins to hum the tune I hear in a nondual rendering of asteya.
If all we do is stop doing something, what is the point? Simply to stop the harm? Asteya must be more than not doing something, although stopping a harmful action might give us space to reflect. It’s not about trying hard to do something either. Again, as we did with ahimsa, let’s imagine a continuum from stealing to its polar opposite. You might consider antonyms for “theft” such as: bestowal, contribution, donation, gift, legacy, oblation, benefaction. Like Farhi, the word that comes to me is generosity. What I landed on as a mantra was “I am generosity.” If that doesn’t work for you, choose a word that sings your song.
Maybe actions don’t come from thoughts. Maybe they come from remembering—even though that is a type of “thinking.” Remembering our Oneness with all that is. Remembering that when we steal, we steal from ourselves, because there is no “other.” Remembering that being generosity soothes our Spirit-song and points to the wholeness we are.
What if we saw ourselves as whole, not lacking anything, possessing all the knowledge we need, having all the energy required? What if we heard ourselves as unlimited by time and space? What if we began to sing that song? Hear that. Feel that. I am complete. I know all I need to know. I have all the power required. I am timeless. I am spacious. Then take it even further.
No matter how silly it seems, say it out loud. Not as adjectives this time but as proper nouns, as names for yourself. Repeat these phrases as many times as you need until you begin to feel into them. And, it’s okay if there is no feeling. Neurologically, it begins to program your subconscious: I am energy. I am knowledge. I am perfection. I am eternity. I am space.
Anybody want to steal now?
About the Author:
Rev. Dale Ann Gray, PhD is a Yoga, pranayama and meditation, and Level 2 iRest teacher. She leads workshops, offering private classes and teaching in studios, churches, and online. She is also an ordained minister in the United Church of Christ and holds a Ph.D. in Theology.