Asteya, or non-stealing, is the third Yama in Patanjali’s Ashtanga Yoga Path. Patanjali laid out an Eight-Limbed Path in the Yoga Sutras that codifies eight specific steps to take in order to reach Samadhi, or enlightenment.
The Yamas (or ethical restraints) are the first step on that path, and there are five separate Yamas.
Translating as non-stealing and non-coveting, Asteya is an essential principle of the yogic path.
What Are the Yamas?
The Yamas are the first limb of the path to enlightenment that Patanjali compiled in the Yoga Sutras.
The Eight-Limbed Path consists of:
- Yamas: Ethical Restraints
- Niyamas: Ethical Observances
- Asana: Seat of Meditation
- Pranayama: Extension of Life-Force Energy
- Pratyahara: Withdrawal of Senses
- Dharana: Single-Pointed Concentration
- Dhyana: Meditation
- Samadhi: Enlightenment
As the first limb, the Yamas are the ethical restraints that a yogi must adhere to. These are essentially the “don’ts” on the yogic path.
There are five Yamas:
- Ahimsa: Non-Violence
- Satya: Non-Falsehood
- Asteya: Non-Stealing
- Brahmacharya: Celibacy
- Aparigraha: Non-Possessiveness
Let’s explore the third Yama, Asteya, in greater detail.
What Is Asteya?
Asteya is the principle of non-stealing and non-coveting. While most of us don’t suffer from kleptomania, we can sometimes (in)advertently steal that which isn’t ours.
It’s probably fair to say that we’ve all stolen from the planet. We’ve mined her precious resources for centuries without offering much of anything in return, and now, as a society, we are all experiencing the repercussions.
And stealing isn’t always so apparent. It can be even more subtle. We’ve all likely stolen someone’s time or even someone’s happiness before as well.
But Asteya is about more than just refraining from taking what isn’t yours. Inherent in this ethical principle is also the concept of non-coveting. When we covet something, we yearn for it and often feel that we are deserving of it.
However, the yogic path teaches us that we have all that we may ever need within ourselves and we needn’t want for anything at all.
In fact, Patanjali makes no distinction between stealing and coveting at all. On the yogic path, they are one and the same and both are forbidden.
According to Patanjali’s philosophy, yogis should neither steal nor desire that which they don’t have by practicing this principle, Asteya.
How Do You Practice Asteya?
The simplest aspect of this principle can be put into practice through sheer willpower: Just don’t take what isn’t yours. Obviously, don’t mug someone on the street or pickpocket your friends.
But to truly practice Asteya in its deepest form, we also need to go much further than that. We must refrain from imposing in any way: on the planet, on our loved ones, and also, on ourselves.
Perhaps that means making a more conscious effort to shop sustainably. Maybe it means changing your diet to not exploit the innocent. Or maybe that means simply asking your sister if she has time to chat before venting on the phone for an hour.
Probably the simplest way to put this Yama into practice is to utilize the polar opposites of stealing and coveting – giving back and gratitude.
We can give back by volunteering at a local food bank, donating to a worthy cause, or simply “paying it forward.” These simple acts, when performed genuinely, are literally the opposite of stealing.
And the practice of gratitude is the opposite of coveting. When we truly practice gratitude and feel thankful for the abundance that we already have, we cease to desire anything else because we simply feel content and grateful.
When we focus on what we don’t have, we feel as if we never have enough. But when we focus on what we do have, our abundance increases exponentially.
The Takeaway on Asteya
Asteya is the third principle on this hierarchical path to enlightenment, preceded by non-violence and truthfulness. So to truly practice non-stealing and non-coveting, we need to have first mastered the practices of non-violence and truthfulness.
Once these preceding steps are genuinely practiced, Asteya seems to naturally follow. If we are really non-violent and truthful then it’s easy to not steal.
And if we genuinely practice gratitude, then it’s easy to not covet as well.
Truly practicing Asteya allows us to be grateful and to give back on our spiritual path. And this opens the door to so many other opportunities along our journey toward enlightenment.