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The Third Yama: Asteya (Non Stealing)

To refresh from last month, the five yamas (codes of conduct) of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path are:

  1. Ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Last month, we looked at the second yama – Satyam (truthfulness).  This month, let’s explore the third yama – asteya in more detail.

 This month’s focus: ASTEYA

Asteya means non-stealing and it is not simply about abstaining from theft; but in addition it is about not coveting more than your minimum needs.  One must remember that nothing in this world is a personal possession; we merely borrow what we need.  Taking more than what we need and wasting it, is seen as a form of stealing from humankind.

If you are always dwelling on your desire to want and what you would like to possess, these thoughts become more familiar to the mind and in turn can lead to selfish actions.  Consider for example the idea of ‘hoarding’; although it is not stealing as such, but it is a form of non-sharing or an inability to give away possessions to others.  Our desire can be our root cause for asteya.  The regular practice of yoga can settle one’s desire for hoarding where the mind and actions are better unified.

 For an interesting take on asteya, read this short article: click here.

“Desire or want is the root cause for stealing.”
 Swami Sivananda

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The First limb of Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path: YAMA

Last month, we looked generally at Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  The Eight limbs are:

  1. Yama (restraint)
  2. Niyama (observances)
  3. Asana (posture)
  4. Pranayama (breath control)
  5. Pratyahara (controlling the senses)
  6. Dharana (concentration)
  7. Dhyana (meditation)
  8. Samadhi (absolute consciousness)

Each month, we will take a close look at each ‘limb’ and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

This month’s focus: YAMA

Patanjali stipulates yama as the universal social discipline, the great commandment that transcends all ages, creeds, country and time. The term yama can have different interpretations; rein, curb, bridle, discipline or restraint.  In today’s context, yama would mean self-control or forbearance which would then describe one’s particular attitudes (disciplines) which then influences their behaviour.  The Yamas are the behaviour patterns or relationships between the individual and the outside world.  Patanjali mentions five different yamas:

  1. ahimsa (non-aggression or non-violence)
  2. Satyam (truthfulness)
  3. Asteya (non-stealing)
  4. Brahmacharya (continence)
  5. Aparigraha (non-coveting).

Let us look at Ahimsa, the first yama in more detail.

Ahimsa is non-violence or non-aggression not only in action but also in speech and thought.  One must observe ahimsa in the way they speak to others and even in their body language, cultivating love for all. One must see themselves as a servant to others, and be willing to put themselves at the service of others (when of course the purposes are good, not evil).  A truly helpful person is described as a public bus; it travels along a fixed route to a destination but available to all who care to use it.

Ahimsa requires more than simply an attitude of patience, control and endurance; it is a true open heart of love and forgiveness towards others.

Ahimsa means kindness and non-violence towards all living things including animals.  This is one reason why you would often find many dedicated yogis who are committed to a vegetarian diet.  It is deeply connected to this notion of non-violence towards all living things.  Ahimsa calls us to reduce the suffering of others and helps us recognise the preciousness of all life.  Ahimsa is core to the spiritual and ethical practice of yoga.

Some reflection questions to consider on the role of ahimsa in your life:

  • Love can transform us… how has love in your life (through giving and receiving) transformed you in any way?
  • In what ways have you observed ahimsa in your life?
  • Are there times in your life where you have not observed ahimsa in the best way?
  • What is one thing you can give more attention to in your life that contributes to ahimsa?(Remember ahimsa encompasses thoughts, speech and actions … small acts are truly significant!)

Next month, we’ll look at the second Yama in Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path…. Satyam (truthfulness).

 Loka Samastha Sukhino Bhavantu (Sanskrit mantra)
May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts, words, actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and to that freedom for all.


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Patanjali’s Eight Fold Path

At the end of last year, we looked at the true meaning and purpose of yoga: a spiritual practice that invites us to still the mind in order to connect ultimately with the divine.  In order to achieve Samadhi (pure consciousness), Patanjali, who is often described as the founder of yoga, explains an eight fold path that assists the yogi on this ultimate realisation of consciousness.

 Patanjali presents a system called Ashtanga Yoga (ashto meaning “eight”, anga meaning “limb”), the Eight-Limbed Yoga, also known as the Eight Fold Path, where the practice of yoga as a spiritual discipline is organised into eight limbs or parts.  This practical guide to living presented by Patanjali is what distinguishes yoga as a spiritual practice, not simply another form of exercise.  The limbs, according to Patanjali are the various areas which one should observe in order to clear the mind of impurities so that the Atman (the Self) can be revealed which leads to samadhi, the realisation of pure consciousness.

 The first two limbs that Patanjali begins with are the fundamental ethical precepts called yama and the niyama.  These first two limbs apply to one’s behaviour towards others and to one’s personal development respectively.  The third limb is asana, which is the physical discipline of yoga, which is often called posturePranayama is the fourth limb and refers to breath control followed by pratyahara which is the practice of controlling the senses from external distraction.  Dharana is the process of concentration and cultivating inner perceptual awareness followed by dhyana which is the devotion and mediation on the divine.  Finally, the ultimate goal is the eighth limb – samadhi which is absolute consciousness and can only be arrived at as the result of a dedicated practice of all other seven limbs.

In the next GRACE-MAIL we will take a close look at each of these limbs and highlight the emphasis and expressions provided by them.

 “It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed” ~ Patanjali, Yoga Sutras

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Yoga: A Spiritual Practice – Part III

The practice of yoga over time assists the practitioner to quiet the mind from its tendency to grasp at distractions and self-absorbed obsessions.  Once the mind is quiet it can be directed towards the universal and away from the obsession with “self.”  Yoga is thus a state of being which is extraordinary yet with discipline and dedication, within the reach of every human being.  Therefore, rather than a physical sport or means of obtaining health, yoga’s ultimate goal and true end is to prepare one to realise and experience the divine through repose of the spirit.  It is the harmony between oneself, others and God and the overall purpose of yoga is to grow in consciousness or awareness and contemplation.

Great masters of yoga assert that yoga practices are accessible to all and are independent of religion. Yoga is an unchanging core of tradition that is accessible to people of all cultures and religions, not exclusively to those of Indian heritage.  Although it is deeply linked to Indian culture, it still can be expressed in different cultural backgrounds and is of relevance and value in any life situation.  It is important to emphasise that although yoga theory and practice originated in India and forms an integral part of Indian religious traditions, it is not a religion in itself.   Instead yoga is sadhana, a spiritual practice that invites one to commit to a particular way of life based around self enquiry and non attachment to things other than the divine.  This way of life is explicitly described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras which I will look at closely in the next GRACE-MAIL.

 Yogachittavrittinirodaha. (Patanjali)
“Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind”

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Yoga: A Spiritual Practice – Part II

There are many different schools of yoga, and the schools have a different emphasis on certain disciplines, practices, devotions or theories. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are essentially statements of facts that are seen to have existential authenticity on the philosophy of yoga and are the common source and authority for all schools of yoga.  Little is known about Patanjali as well as the date of his writings (scholars estimate anywhere between the fourth century BCE and fifth century CE) and it is agreed among historians that Patanjali systematised the concepts and practices of yoga that were present in those early times.  The term sutras literally means “stitches” in the sense that these ideas on yoga philosophy are stitched together to create the fabric of knowledge.  The format of the Yoga Sutras, like much of Indian knowledge, was verbally passed down from teacher to student as a chant in order to etch the concepts into the student’s memory for life.  The Sutras are now in written format and have become the universal authoritative text on yoga philosophy.

The term yoga is the English ancestor of the term “yoke” and it basically means “union.” Hence, yoga is a method of spiritual union whereby one may unite their transitory self with the divine, which for many is referred to as, God.  The Hindu concept of God would be the infinite Brahman, a spiritual substance that is one with nature and the cosmos.  In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali uses the term Isvara (literally interpreted ‘Lord’) in reference to the divine, or God. Isvara is not a conventional or specific deity or God, but rather Patanjali speaks more to a universal, attributeless Brahman, an impersonal, unknowable, infinite force that is omnipotent and transcends all.  To achieve union with Isvara, the divine, which underlies this apparent, ephemeral universe, according to Patanjali, one must reach a state of perfect yoga, or union.

 He who is rooted in oneness
realizes that I am
in every being, wherever
he goes, he remains in me.

When he sees all beings as equal
in suffering or in joy
because they are like himself,
that man has grown perfect in yoga.
(BG 6.29-32)