II.37 अस्तेयप्रतिष्ठायां सर्वरत्नोपस्थानम

asteya-pratiṣṭhāyām sarva-ratnopasthānam
asteya-pratiṣṭhāyām sarva-ratna-upasthānam

“Upon the establishment of non-stealing, the presence of real wealth.”

The third yama is asteya, non-stealing (from a-, “not,” + stā, “to steal”). In the past, I have drawn a blank when it comes to non-stealing. It seems so obvious, a rule I have followed since childhood. In more recent years, I have come to see its larger, political implications.

I am inspired by the comments of Georg Feuerstein describing how he has come to look at the global effects of his lifestyle (see The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga, p. 210). I now contemplate asteya a good deal, and I consider it my responsibility to understand the history of my country, its current actions, and my participation in them. This country built its wealth on land stolen from indigenous peoples and the forced labor of enslaved African men and women. Economic inequality continues to affect Native Americans and African Americans disproportionately. The most affluent U.S. citizens–and I am one of them–use more than our share of the world’s resources, and we suffer less than our share of the environmental wreckage that we cause.

What has led us, as a society, despite our affluence, to insist on more and more? What stops us, as individuals, from caring about justice?

I recognize in myself that I am shaped by having grown up in a capitalist  culture. I have been raised with a sense that the acquisition of things is a good, that the economy must expand, and that I must earn money (or at least have money) to be a respectable person. In Montana, where I now live, there are many who do not believe health care is a right—our legislature just added a work requirement to the state Medicaid program. That is, to receive health care, a person must prove that she or he is willing to work.

We see ourselves through the lens of work and how we earn money. In some sense, we experience ourselves as products. We must prove ourselves to have value on the market.

One of the most moving spiritual teachings I ever heard came from Matthew Sanford, a man who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 13, who came to be a practitioner and lover of yoga and who has been a pioneer in sharing yoga with the disabled. It was at a workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota. He said, “What you are is enough.”

What you are is enough.

The great fifteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote that “The soul grows by subtraction not addition.” By emptying, we find the fullness within. By committing ourselves to people, to the common good—to caring—we find plenty. Matthew Fox considers the relevance of Meister Eckhart today. For Eckhart, he says, economic and ecological justice were matters of the spirit. Fox writes,

Avarice is not good for the soul, for children, for society, or for the planet. It makes madmen of adults. Avarice is the ultimate addiction. Yet we honor it! We rationalize our economic system and justify its abuses. We glorify as heroes those who can make the most money, even when those riches have been gathered at the expense of the greater good, or at the expense of our own welfare. Our only choice, even though the deck is stacked against us, seems to be to try to play the game everyone’s playing and get what we can for ourselves. —Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times, pp. 232

In this sūtra, Patañjali tells us that when we are established in non-stealing, we will come into the presence of real wealth, sarva-ratna-upasthānam (literally, “standing nearby all jewels”). We will come to be in the presence of that bounty that is beyond understanding, not based on acquisition, not based on more.

“We need time and space for emptying, for being, for living and working without a why,” says Matthew Fox. A significant aspect of yoga practice is the gift of time and space. Even there, I am often afflicted by a sense of deficiency. Am I getting it right? Am I getting it wrong? Shouldn’t this pose be better? Shouldn’t I be able to teach better? Have a better yoga business? A powerful contemplation: What you are is enough.

The ancient Vedic hymn Purṇam Adaḥ says, “Fullness is there, fullness is here. Fullness arises out of fullness. Take away fullness from fullness, fullness remains.”

pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate

—–

“’Fair trade’ is a timely broadening of asteya (commonly, ‘non-stealing’), to account for the complexities of global economy, in which laying claim to property itself might be considered a form of stealing, and in which wage and resource disparities constitute gross violations of human rights. The letter of current law is insufficient when it comes to the ethics of economy. We must go farther, and ask: What are my relationships to food, shelter, labor, and information worth to my life? Does money accurately reflect and compensate effort and relationship? What am I really giving of myself to live in the developed world? Is my time and lifeblood worth as much as the time and lifeblood of the man who picked my vegetables?” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 109

“What are the psychological possessions which one feels one is in danger of losing? Surely that which is acquired can be lost, whereas that which is inherent can never be lost. One need not cling to them as if someone is going to take them away. One seeks to acquire because one feels a psychological incompleteness with oneself.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 166

Questions:
• Do you look to things outside yourself for completion? Do you envy others?
• Have you ever had an acquisitive attitude about practice itself?
• Do you consider your place in the global economy when you consider asteya?
• Does your practice bring you a sense of fullness?

 

asteya-

neuter noun in compound

non-stealing (from a-, prefix that negates, + stā, “to steal”)

pratiṣṭhāyām

feminine noun, 7th case singular

establishment, resting place, ground (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)

sarva-

adjective

all

ratna-

neuter noun in compound

jewel, gem, gift, riches (from , “to give”)

upasthānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

presence, nearness, obtaining (from upa-, “near, + sthā, “to stand”; upasthā, “to stand near”)

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