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Not Stealing In Hinduism – Asteya

In Hinduism, Asteya, the antonym of steya, means refraining from or abstaining from the tendence to steal. This is a part of the five abstinences of Yoga called the yamas. They form the very first part of the eightfold yoga. They are abstaining from violence, abstaining from falsehood, abstaining from theft (asteya), abstaining from incontinence and abstaining from greed. These five yamas when followed rigorously and without any break are called mahavrata (great vow). They are said to give rise to great benefits.

Asteya is the eschewal of the tendency to take things which rightfully belong to others. It connotes completely overcoming the natural inclination to exploit others, to take undue advantage of the helplessness of others for one’s own benefit. Taking more than what one needs and wasting it, is a form of stealing from the rest of mankind. This virtue is a necessity for one who wants to make progress on the path of Yoga.

But it may be pointed out that asteya is not only a virtue useful only to an aspirant of Yoga, but it is necessary for every person in society. Exploitation of those who are weak and helpless is a vice, a sin which is rampant in all human societies. If this base tendency could be overcome, avoided and brought under control, then there would certainly be much more happiness and peace in human life. Hence the great importance of asteya.

Patanjali has said (II.37) that when the virtue of asteya is firmly established in one’s nature, one gains satisfaction of sarvaratnopasthanam (having all the gems).