I Steal, You Steal, We All Steal: The Dilemma of Asteya in the 21st Century. ~ Sarah Shapiro

Via elephant journal
on Apr 5, 2012
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Photo Credit: Flickr-The Commons/itala2007(slow)

Back in the early 90s, when I took my first Yoga Teachers Training program at the Integral Yoga Institute in New York City, there was a heavy emphasis on the Yamas and Niyamas which are the ancient  ‘dos and  don’ts’ of Yoga.

When we got to the Yama of Asteya (Non-Stealing), our main Teacher, Swami Ashokananda, asked everyone in the room if they had ever stolen in the past. I had to reach back twenty years into my childhood to the time I stole one of those foot-long 50-cent blue popsicles from our local market and perhaps a few packs of Bubble Yum gum. God only knows how I hid this popsicle and made it out onto the hot pavement with my two eleven year old friends!!

Let us fast forward back to the Yoga Teachers Training: when my teacher, Ashokananda, asked me about my ‘stealing’, I naively shared the story of the popsicles. Everyone laughed and nodded their heads and shared related funny stories.

He then soberly asked if any of us had ever come into work late or had left early. When it was my turn, I paused and answered truthfully: ‘yes’. I would regularly arrive fifteen minutes late to my job at the time and leave early if I could get the chance. He clearly stated that this was ‘stealing’ and he explained that we were ‘stealing’ time and money from our employers. “It can add up”, he explained, in his sensible and calm voice. What if everyone stole half an hour from a large company each day? How much money would be lost to that company? He posed the question, “Is it fair to steal time and money from these companies?”

Photo: Steven Depolo

My fellow students and I were dumbfounded!

We were about to throw out these mind-bending Yamas and Niyamas in favor of the ‘perks’ of modern life. When Ashokananda clarified that if you asked your supervisor or employer about coming in late or leaving early, then there was an agreement and this was no longer stealing, we heaved a big sigh of relief. We all wrestled with the various ‘levels’ of stealing and debated this fiercely throughout the training.

Further, he asked about stealing envelopes, paper clips and pens. Okay, I was guilty as charged! I have a few pens that have the names of various companies on them. But is this really ‘stealing’ if you sign a form and accidentally put the pen in your purse? And if so, do we all agree to stop? Is this a private, moral matter? Is it societal? According to the ancient Yogis, ‘yes’ to all of the above and yes, we have to stop stealing and make higher choices and observe Asteya to the best of our ability.

Let us fast forward to the 21st Century.

Like many of us, I used to download music and movies from the internet. I shamefully admit that there was not one ounce of me which felt that this was ‘stealing’ or that any harm was being done to anyone at the time. It was thrown into a ‘collective soup’ of unconsciousness in this arena and just lived under the ‘everyone is doing it’ blanket.

After the birth of iTunes and the 99-cent (now $1.29) songs, I suddenly stopped what my teacher would call ‘stealing.’ Basically, it was ‘affordable.’ I started regularly purchasing music online and paying for it. The next stop would be movies and TV shows. Of course, the $8.99 for Netflix has allowed many of us to stop ‘stealing’ movies from the internet.

Recently, after re-reading another book on the Yamas and Niyamas, it came to my attention that there is harm coming to many journalists, musicians, photographers, artists and writers with the advent of ‘free’ downloads. Many are rapidly and dramatically losing their source of income.

I have witnessed some of my friends lose over ninety percent of their income as writers and photographers because we all want it for ‘free’ and pretty much take it. The reality is that years of talent, blood, sweat and tears can be put into these books, songs, photographs and articles. It is true that we all know a writer, artist, journalist or photographer that is out of work. Entire professions are disappearing.

Yoga is all about awareness and conscious choice.

This does not mean we can never again download a movie or a song for free, but we must be aware of the overall effect that this has on many professionals and their respective livelihoods. We all enjoy great music but can these people make this music if they are waiting tables at forty five years old? What about writers? These professions take tremendous time. We have to find a way to support our writers, musicians, journalists and artists, or we will ultimately kill off the creative Spirit in our culture.

Although iTunes and Netflix are not perfect, perhaps we, as consumers, should demand more disclosure about what percentage of profit actually goes to the musicians, the actors or writers. If we are going to give up ‘stealing’ from the Internet, we should at least know that our money is going to support the artists that we love.

This is all about energy and consciousness.

You may end up paying for a movie and deciding to share this with a friend who is truly in need. Let us, as a community, attempt to be more aware and to share only with those truly in need and to help start a movement towards supporting artists and writers and ask for full transparency from iTunes and major players in this industry. Perhaps we will frequent ‘indie’ sights that give a larger portion of proceeds to the artists—we need some tech people to do this research; please share if you have this knowledge.

It all starts with one thought.

This is a subtle process and it is up to each one of us to define what is and is not stealing. It is up to each one of us to decide what we want to pay our artists and how we value them. It is both a private and a public matter. My hope is that this article helps us: observe Asteya, clear up our own energy, and give money to artists who surely deserve it. Let us work on our awakening together.

Sarah Shapiro, LCSW, is a licensed psychotherapist. She has worked with hundreds of patients over the course of twenty years. She teaches Jungian Archetypal Psychology, workshops in Chakra and Energy Medicine in the US and Canada. She is in the process of returning her pens. Check out her latest project at www.divineinterventionhealings.com.



Prepared by Soumyajeet Chattaraj/Edited by Tanya L. Markul

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14 Responses to “I Steal, You Steal, We All Steal: The Dilemma of Asteya in the 21st Century. ~ Sarah Shapiro”

  1. tatumann says:

    Thank you for this post! I've recently began studying the Yamas on my own and have pondered many of these things. In my effort to reduce my amount of "stuff" and save some money, this question occurs to me: If someone lends me a book, am I still stealing from the author and publisher by reading it, but not buying a copy? Is it acceptable then because it's a more eco-friendly choice and thus, practicing Ahimsa by not creating more harm to the environment? The more I try to study the Yamas, the more questions I have, but I guess that's kind of the point.

  2. Mamaste says:

    tatumann. What an interesting question, and it I love how you bring up another, the eco-friendly aspect…. the questions continually go 'round & 'round, such as life. ~Mamaste

  3. Anita says:

    Very interesting article – it always is about going a little deeper to figure out what is right and what it wrong. Love them yamas and niyamas to help sorting it all out!

  4. Richard says:

    Great piece. I think we need to be more aware of how much the billion dollar companies like Apple and Amazon actually pay back to the artist. Whenever possible, we should purchase directly from the artist so that more money goes directly into their pocket.

  5. yogadoc says:

    I realize in my own life , after reading this article , that it really is so important to make conscious choices . I usually avoid this , sadly , but reading the article gives me pause. working for change! namaste , yogadoc

  6. Mamaste says:

    Anita, me too. ~Mamaste

  7. Mamaste says:

    Buying local ,supporting the *little* guys. That's what it's all about. Thanks Richard. ~Mamsate

  8. Mamaste says:

    Yogadoc, it would make a huge difference if we were all a little more mindful. ~Mamaste

  9. Isabel Sand says:

    I just read this article by Sarah Shapiro and I thought it was well written, thoughtful, and intelligent. We hope to hear more from you, Ms. Shapiro.

  10. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
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    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook.

  11. Taylor says:

    While it's important that the little people be held accountable, as they struggle to afford small things in our society, we also need to make the corporate honchos, who rake in millions in yearly bonuses, follow the same. It's so easy to focus on nickel and dime theft of the underdog when the big boys are taking billions of our tax money to fund mansions and other baubles. Is Tony Hayward, the leader of BP, who destroyed the Gulf of Mexico and built himself a villa at the same time, reading this article?

  12. Tee Jay says:

    Trying to balance the areas in our own life where we fall uncomfortably shy of our personal goals or what we know to be righteous by comparing ourselves to others and their failings is a path to destruction on so many levels. What is happening in the lives of others is their business and while it's fine to hold companies accountable for their actions by making our purchases elsewhere, what we ultimately decide for ourselves about our own behavior has to come from contemplation about our inner sphere rather than external factors. It doesn't matter if Tony Hayward is loving his villa in Mexico, when I "steal" I am not excused because it's only a pen ;).

  13. Taylor says:

    I'm not denying the validity of self-policing. Yes, we are responsible for our actions and yes, stealing anything is wrong. At the same time, we can't bury our heads in the sand by claiming we only have to worry about ourselves; we have to take action, or these corporations will bleed us and the earth dry. It does matter that Tony Hayward has stolen from many people to be able to live in his villa. Yes, we must live our tiny little lives according to rules of integrity, but we must also see to it that things change for the better on a global scale too. What is happening in the lives of others, when it directly effects my own health and the environment around me is my business.