In approximately 200 AD, the Sage Patanjali codified yoga in what is called the Yoga Sutras. Contained within the Yoga Sutras are the Yamas and Niyamas, the ethical code of yoga.
There are five Yamas or restraints and Asteya, (non-stealing), is the third Yama.
“Non-Stealing” seems like a no-brainer. We don’t take what does not belong to you. Most people feel that they adhere pretty well to this. But perhaps we are kidding ourselves.
There is overt stealing, such as robbing a bank, stealing a car and shoplifting. Most of us, thank God, are not engaging in these obvious, illegal activities. And I think most of us would agree that they are wrong.
But what about the more subtle ways that people sometimes steal? Plagiarism is definitely on the rise like never before, due to the Internet. What about file sharing and recording music from the Internet without paying for it?
Here’s a partial list of some of the more “socially accepted” ways that people are stealing:
- Taking someone’s idea without giving that person credit
- Quoting someone in print without crediting the author
- Refraining from reporting a mistake on a restaurant check or on your pay check when it’s in your favor
- Engaging in sexual relations with a married person
- Taking things like office supplies or software from your place of employment
- Lying or coloring the truth to get an undeserved discount
- Lying about a child’s age to get a discount
- Noticing that the cashier forgot to charge you for an expensive item and saying nothing
- Under reporting your income for a tax break
- Ignoring a “No Trespassing” sign
- Ignoring a “Private Property” or “No Parking” sign
- Taking home towels from your hotel room
- Taking samples from the bulk bins in Whole Foods
- Arriving late to an appointment. You are stealing time from the other person or group
Well that’s just a partial list of some of the more common ways that we are stealing from one another on a regular basis. If we can easily “get away” with something, does that make it right? Have you ever received a double shipment for something and not reported it? It’s XXXXvery tempting, isn’t it?
What is our relationship with this idea of stealing or non-stealing? The basic premise is simple. If it rightfully does not belong to us, let it go, leave it alone.
As preparation for writing this blog post, I began to examine my own checkered relationship with some of the “socially acceptable” but deviant actions from the list above as well as my relationship with out and out stealing!
Some interesting memories rose to the surface. I think as humans, we are all pulled into the lure of getting something for nothing — a freebie, so to speak.
As a young girl of maybe 10 or 11, I had a friend named Holly who taught me how to shoplift. On the weekends, as kids growing up in the suburbs, we would often either walk or ride our bikes “down to the village.” This was a small town center consisting of two supermarkets, a drug store, shoe store and the like. Our favorite place to hang out was a small candy store called “Margie’s,” which was a small mom ‘n pop store that sold candy, comic books, a few toys and had a soda fountain that served everything from chocolate malteds to hamburgers and hot dogs. On weekends it was our custom to take our allowances and walk the mile or so down the hill and buy ourselves some treats.
At some point, my friend Holly (who was really a pretty nice kid otherwise) started bragging about her shoplifting expertise and telling us about all the candy and stuff that she had lifted. She seemed so fearless. She became a hero in my eyes. There was something about doing something that you knew went against everything you were taught by your parents, and getting away with it, that was so compelling to my naive, youthful mind.
Thanks to Holly, I became a compulsive shoplifter for several years. There was a certain rush of victory that one got, as soon as you were out of the door and back on the street with 2 pieces of unpaid for Bazooka Bubble Gum in your pocket. The thrill of victory! Bubble gum never tasted so good!
The sad part is, I graduated from just being a local bubblegum thief, to a full blown shoplifter who actually took the bus to a local metropolis and began taking anything I could get my hands on like wallets, paperweights and other small knickknacks. And thinking back on this period of my life, I must’ve been good ’cause I never got caught—or I should say, for a long time, I never got caught, until one fateful day when I was in my late 20’s — (and yes, sad to say, even after four years of college) I was still somehow attracted to the danger and thrill of ripping stuff off!
This all came to a head one fateful day when living in Boston. I actually got caught red handed attempting to walk out of Sears with an unpaid for shirt stuffed under my winter jacket and boom! I tripped the alarm! Literally within about 2 seconds I was surrounded by 3 big, mean looking security guards and they hauled me into a back office for interrogation. Talk about a rush—my heart was just about beating into my throat!
This had to be one of the most humiliating experiences I’ve ever had in my life. On second thought, I think it was the single most humiliating experience, I ever had in my life.
Well thankfully, they did not send me to prison and I am here to tell the story. And as you can imagine, this brought my shoplifting career to a swift halt! Well, sort of. I never tried to take anything from a retail store after this. Getting caught shoplifting in Sears was a real wake up call for me.
But there was that time when my nephew came to visit me in Boston (I think I was in my 40’s by that time) and he just loved checking out all the really posh, and ritzy hotels in downtown Boston. We both thought it was kind of funny that you could walk into these places wearing jeans and sneakers and just sort of hang out as if you belonged there and no one really questioned it.
At one point, I think we tried to sneak into one of the fitness areas and that plan got derailed, but as I recall we were able to stuff a few fresh apples in our coat pockets. And then after riding the elevator up to one of the higher floors in the hotel, we found an abandoned housekeeping cart and we helped ourselves to some free soaps, lotions and shampoos. I kid you not!
And I tell you this not to brag or try to look like a hero in your eyes. Quite the contrary. It’s all fuel for the meditative fire — that path to self-knowledge, which is the way of the yogi. There will always be those times when we stray off our intended path. But hopefully as a result of clarifying our intentions, and consciously attempting to act in accordance with our intentions, those times become fewer and farther between.