ASTEYA - Honesty

Asteya is most commonly translated as "non-stealing", potentially bringing to mind masked burglars wearing stripy tops and hauling away a bag marked "swag" over their shoulder! But this Yama can also be translated as "honesty", and can go beyond taking what's not ours in the physical sense.

The translation of the sutra on Asteya in Patanajli's Yoga Sutras, which is chapter 2 sutra 37, carries a slightly different slant dependant on which translation we're reading, as with all of the sutras. I particularly like the translation from T.K.V Desikachar in his book "The Heart of Yoga", which says:

"One who is trustworthy, because he does not covet what belongs to others, naturally has everyone's confidence and everything is shared with him, however precious it may be."

In other words, if we are honest and generous towards others, we will automatically receive abundance and sharing in return - although the yogis would add the caveat that the expectation of receiving something in return is not a valid motivation for doing it in the first place, for that would be being dishonest! We have to want to be honest for selfless reasons, for the lightness of spirit and the pleasure of helping others that brings.

So how can we practice this Yama on the mat and off it?

On the mat, we can give our practice full attention, being generous in our postures, pranayamas and meditation so that we are not stealing from ourselves the opportunity to feel the full benefits of what we are doing. Going mindlessly through the motions does not help us or others in any circumstance. Feel it, mean it, are both excellent rules of thumb when practicing. In classes, I often see people rushing into a pose rather than taking time to prepare well for it by including all of the stages I offer to bring them to that pose; this is "end gaming", or aiming only for the goal (pose) as quickly as possible, so that we can move onto the next thing, rather than experiencing the full, rich journey to the pose which culminates in a far more satisfactory end result (revolved triangle anyone?!).

Also we can concentrate on what WE are doing in our practice during our time on the mat, rather than "stealing energy" from others by being jealous of their perceived greater ability. For example, if we're envying someone in the "perfect" headstand, whilst being nowhere near achieving the pose for ourselves, we are not giving that person the credit for the hard work they have put into getting into the pose - which may have taken years of practice to achieve - effectively stealing their achievement and positive energy. Someone else's journey is not our own, the teachings tell us. Similarly, we should not steal ideas, or identities or adopt trendy attitudes on a whim - indeed we should not take anything that is not truly ours and which steals our authenticity from ourselves and from others.

To take this Yama off the mat, we might consider the wise words of the Buddha, in the quote at the head of this post: "Walk softly upon this earth, giving what you can and taking only what you need." One thing I'm learning in life, and particularly in lockdown, is that I need much less to live well than I used to think I did. My priorities have shifted, and continue to shift, towards valuing more ephemeral, experiential (might I even say spiritual?) rather than material things. Most of us have had to find new ways to live in these unusual times, which focus much less on mass consumerism and far more on mindful appreciation of who and what we have around us.

So in conclusion, we can respect our fellow men, women, children and all other types of being on the planet, treating them with honesty and integrity, not taking from them what is not ours to take. I'll end this post with a satisfyingly succinct translation of sutra 2:37 to repeat the point, from Chip Hartranft:

"For those who have no inclination to steal, the truly precious is at hand."


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