Monday, 5 July 2010

Tarot journey into yogic philosophy 3 - asteya

The third of the yamas, or restraints, described in Patanjali's yoga sutras is asteya, commonly described as not stealing.  To illustrate this principle I picked the Seven of Swords - another case where the card I've chosen shows what not to do.

In the traditional Seven of Swords we see a thief stealing away with a number of swords.  Swords, representing the element of air, are often taken to represent ideas, or things that people say.  Donna Farhi, author of "Bringing Yoga to Life", says of this yama that not stealing includes not taking anything not freely offered.  This would, therefore, include not asking for extra time from a teacher at the end of a class, nor hogging a seat in a restaurant.  The Seven of Swords can also represent deception, libel or slander, and this fits the concept of asteya, too.  In this sense it would be not trying to take somebody's reputation, their ideas, nor their trust.

As a child, I recall the thrill of stealing a penny sweet from Woolworths (perhaps part of the reason why, thirty years on, they went bankrupt?  After all, it was almost an English institution to pinch something from there.)  On the card, the thief looks sneaky and rather cool; scaling walls, blending into the scenery, he's like something from a spy film or from sci-fi.  Is there, then, a degree to which we've come to see deception and stealing as impressive - the ability to fool others and get away with things shows a certain superiority in some way.  When I think of all the films about con-artists and heists, there is definitely a sense of this having been romanticised.  But the background to this is that these people lie and cheat and steal, and in reality the majority of theft and deception just hurts people who may already be vulnerable: the elderly, the young, the poor.  Even stealing from a large corporation, what many consider a victimless crime, leads those corporations to charge the general public more.

To bring this out of the general and into the personal, I once again drew a card at random from the Gaian Tarot to represent the energy of asteya in my life right now.  The card I drew was the Eight of Air.  In traditional decks this would be the Eight of Swords, but the Gaian Tarot is far from traditional.

Here we see a group gathered around, sharing and talking.  For the moment, one man holds the talking stick, and the others listen.  In terms of not stealing, then, I think the message is about not taking away from others the time they need in order to express themselves and feel truly heard.  I sometimes jump ahead, or am in a hurry, but need to respect that different people go at different rates.  To honour the other is to listen with my whole self, for as long as it takes.  This in turn will benefit me, in that I will be showing respect to others and therefore also earning it for myself.  Also, I may well learn a lot along the way if I take the time to listen and appreciate the other's point of view.

This card also makes me think about group dynamics, the way that we are sometimes different people when with a particular group or other.  As I grow older (no, I won't say just how old), I appreciate more the idea of just being myself, no matter who I am with.  And likewise, allowing others to just be themselves.  Not trying to take away from their sense of themselves, nor from their way of being.  If I do that, I steal not just from them, but also from myself, as I lose the possibility to truly know them.

Hmm, think I may have been reading too much existential philosophy, especially Buber.

Well, dear readers, what do you think?  Is asteya relevant to you in anyway, or is it an out-dated philosophical concept?  Is it easy to accept in thinking about teens jacking cars, but harder to apply to yourself?  Or are you a saint already?

Seven of Swords image is from the Tarot of Dreams.  Eight of Air from the Gaian Tarot.

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