3. Yama - Non-Stealing | Asteya

Summary of the Third Restraint

Uphold the virtue of non-stealing, neither thieving nor coveting nor failing to repay debt.

Control your desires and live within your means.

Do not use borrowed resources for unintended purposes or keep them past due.

Do not gamble or defraud others. Do not renege on promises.

Do not use others’ names, words, resources or rights without permission and acknowledgement.

The Third Restraint


Asteya / अस्तेय

Asteya is the third Yama, neither stealing, nor coveting nor entering into debt.

We all know what stealing is.

But now let’s define covetousness:

It could well be defined as owning something mentally and emotionally but not actually owning it physically.

This is not good. It puts a hidden psychological strain on all parties concerned and brings up the lower emotions from the tala chakras. It must be avoided at all cost.

Coveting is desiring things that are not your own. Coveting leads to jealousy, and it leads to stealing. The first impulse toward stealing is coveting, wanting. If you can control the impulse to covet, then you will not steal. Coveting is mental stealing.

Of course, stealing must never ever happen. Even a penny, a peso, a rupee, a lira or a yen should not be misappropriated or stolen.

Defaulting on debts is also a form of stealing:

But avoiding debt in principle does not mean that one cannot buy things on credit or through other contractual arrangements.

It does mean that payments must be made at the expected time, that credit be given in trust and be eliminated when the time has expired, that contracts be honoured to the satisfaction of all parties concerned.

Running one’s affairs on other peoples’ money must be restrained. To control this is the sādhana of asteya:

Brahmachārīs and Sannyāsins, of course, must scrupulously obey these restraints relating to debt, stealing and covetousness. These are certainly not in their code of living.

To perfect asteya, we must practice dāna, charity, the third niyama;

we must take the dāśama bhāga vrata, promising to tithe, pay dāśamāṁśa, to our favourite religious organization and, on top of that, give creatively, without thought of reward:

Stealing is selfishness. Giving is unselfishness. Any lapse of asteya is corrected by dāna.

It is important to realize that one cannot simply obey the yamas without actively practicing the niyamas. To restrain one’s current tendencies successfully, each must be replaced by a positive observance:

For each of the yamas, there is a positive replacement of doing something else. The niyamas must totally overshadow the qualities controlled by the yamas for the perfect person to emerge.

It is also important to remember that doing what should not be done—and not doing what should be done—does have its consequences:

These can be many, depending upon the evolution of the soul of each individual; but all such acts bring about the lowering of consciousness into the instinctive nature, and inevitable suffering is the result.

Each Hindu guru has his own ways of mitigating the negative karmas that result as a consequence of not living up to the high ideals of these precepts.

But the world is also a guru, in a sense, and its devotees learn by their own mistakes, often repeating the same lessons many, many times.

Debt, Gambling and Grief

I was asked, “Is borrowing money to finance one’s business in accord with the yama of non-stealing? When can you use other peoples’ money and when should you not?”

When the creditors start calling you for their money back, sending demand notices indicating that they only extended you thirty days’, sixty days’ or ninety days’ credit,

then if you fail to pay, or pay only a quarter or half of it just to keep them at arm’s length because you still need their money to keep doing what you are doing, this is a violation of this yama.

There are several kinds of debt that are disallowed by this yama:

One is spending beyond your means and accumulating bills you can’t pay.

We are reminded of Thirukural verse 478 which says that the way to avoid poverty is to spend within your means: “A small income is no cause for failure, provided expenditures do not exceed it.”

We can see that false wealth, or the mere appearance of wealth, is using other peoples’ money, either against their will or by paying a premium price for it.

Many people today are addicted to abusing credit. It’s like being addicted to the drug opium. People addicted to O.P.M.—other people’s money—compulsively spend beyond their means:

They don’t even think twice about handing over their last credit card to pay for that $500 sārī after all the other credit cards have been “maxed out.” When the bill arrives, it gets added to the stack of other bills that can’t possibly be paid.

Another kind of debt is contracting resources beyond your ability to pay back the loan:

This is depending on a frail, uncertain future. Opportunities may occur to pay the debt, but then again they may not. The desire was so great for the commodity which caused the debt that a chance was taken. Essentially, this is gambling with someone else’s money; and it is no way to run one’s life.

Gambling and speculation are also forms of entering into debt:

Speculation could be a proper form of acquiring wealth if one has the wealth to maintain the same standard of living he is accustomed to even if the speculation failed.

Much of business is speculation; and high-risk speculations do come along occasionally; but one should never risk more than one can afford to lose.

Gambling is different, because the games are fun, a means of entertainment and releasing stress; though even in the casinos one should not gamble more than he could afford to lose:

However, unlike speculation, when one is in the excitement of gambling and begins to lose, the greed and desire to win it all back arises, and the flustered gambler may risk his and his family’s wealth and well-being. Stress builds.

 The disastrous consequences of gambling were admonished in the oldest scripture, the Ṛig Veda, in the famous fourteen-verse “Gambler’s Lament” (10.34. ve, p. 501). Verse ten summarizes:

“Abandoned, the wife of the gambler grieves. Grieved, too, is his mother, as he wanders vaguely. Afraid and in debt, ever greedy for money, he steals in the night to the home of another.”

This is not fun; nor is it entertainment.

These are the grave concerns behind our sūtra in Living with Śiva that prohibits gambling for my śiṣyas:

“Śiva’s devotees are forbidden to indulge in gambling or games of chance with payment or risk, even through others or for employment. Gambling erodes society, assuring the loss of many for the gain of a few.” (sūtra 76).

Everyone really knows that the secret to winning at gambling is to own a casino:

Compulsive gambling and reckless, unfounded speculation are like stealing from your own family, risking the family wealth.

More than that, it is stealing from yourself, because the remorse felt when an inevitable loss comes could cause a loss of faith in your abilities and your judgment.

And if the loss affects the other members of the family, their estimation and respect and confidence in your good judgment goes way down.

Many people justify stealing by saying that life is unfair and therefore it’s OK to take from the rich. They feel it’s OK to steal from a rich corporation, for example: “They will never miss it, and we need it more.”

Financial speculation can easily slide into unfair manoeuvring, where a person is actually stealing from a small or large company, thereby making it fail.

The credibility of the person will go down, and businesses will beware of this speculative investor who would bring a company to ruin to fatten his own pockets.

Entering into debt is a modern convenience and a modern temptation. But this convenience must be honoured within the time allotted. If you are paying a higher interest rate because of late or partial payments, you have abused your credit and your creditors.

At the Global Forum for Human Survival in 1990 in Moscow, the participants began worrying about the kids, the next generation:

“What are they going to think of us?” they asked. Is it fair to fulfil a need now, spoil the environment and hand the bill over to the next generation? No, it is not.

This is another form of stealing. We can’t say, “We have to have chlorofluorocarbons now, and the next generation has to face the consequences.”

The yamas and niyamas are thus not just a personal matter but also a national, communal and global matter. Yes, this takes asteya and all the restraints and observances to another dimension.