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Wednesday, April 24, 2002

Asteya: Non-Stealing

This third Yama seeks to overcome lobha (Greed). The Yoga Bhashya explains theft as the unauthorized appropriation of things from another. The Buddha taught this as his second precept and said we should not take what is not offered.

In the tradition of Thich Nhat Hanh, this precept has been reframed as the Second of the Five Mindfulness Trainings:

"Aware of the suffering caused by exploitation, social injustice, stealing, and oppression, I am committed to cultivating loving kindness and learning ways to work for the well-being of people, animals, plants, and minerals. I will practice generosity by sharing my time, energy, and material resources with those who are in real need. I am determined not to steal and not to possess anything that should belong to others. I will respect the property of others, but I will prevent others from profiting from human suffering or the suffering of other species on Earth."

We can see here that it is not enough to merely refrain from stealing. We see that through insight into the suffering caused by exploitation, we are led to the practice of generosity which the Buddha saw as so important he made it the first of the Six Paramitas or "moral perfections."

As Thich Nhat Hanh has pointed out, it takes time to practice generosity. And it takes understanding. We need to stop and look deeply at a situation in order to understand what is truly needed, and then we need to respond from that place of understanding. One need not be rich to practice this. A smile, a kind word, a piece of food are all wonderful acts of generosity.

The Buddha taught that there are three kinds of "gifts" we can offer. The first is the gift of material resources: money, food, medicine, shelter etc. The second kind of gift is the gift that helps people rely on themselves. This includes giving them the gift of the Dharma so that they can transform their suffering. And the third form of generosity is to offer the gift of non-fear. This is the gift Bodhisattva Avalokitsheshvara offers in The Heart Sutra.

Sometimes misappropriation is subtle. Have you ever accepted credit for someone else's idea or work? Have you perhaps, through an unkind word, taken someone's spirit? Or perhaps invalidated their feelings or experience? At this stage we can begin to see the "interbeing" quality of the trainings/precepts/yamas. "Stealing" the spirit from some child through unkind speech breaks the spirit of the first, second and third Yama (Non-Harm, Truth, Non-Stealing).

The social engaged aspect of this training is also quite challenging. Many of us who invest must ask ourselves what the companies we are investing are doing to the earth, to humans and to other species. A good friend has written extensively about coffee and chocolate production on her web site. Some companies notoriously exploit their workers. Indeed, some chocolate companies buy their cocoa from companies in Africa that use child slaves! How do we respond to this once we know that this is happening?

Perhaps we can all begin by undertaking for the next week or so to act on every single thought of generosity that arises spontaneously in our heart. What would that look like? Why not let's see?

.: posted by Poep Sa Frank Jude 10:27 AM


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