Practising Asteya in a social media era

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, asteya is listed as one of the five yamas. Yamas essentially govern our external relationships – i.e. relationships with others and the world. Asteya is most commonly understood as non-stealing, or not taking what does not belong to you.

However, there is a deeper meaning behind asteya. Asteya also refers to non-covetousness, and being free of jealous instincts. By freeing ourselves from envying what others possess, as opposed to appreciating what we already have, we will not seek to possess things that we are not entitled to, much less take them from others.

Asteya is an important yogic principle that we can use to guide our lives in the modern era – an era of social media. In today’s Instagram/Facebook-obsessed world, everyone with a social media account can easily flaunt their seemingly perfect lifestyles and possessions. Social media feeds greed and covetousness – have you ever found yourself yearning to be as popular or as charismatic as some social media influencers? Well, I certainly have! Being constantly exposed to social media may manifest in an unhealthy dose of covetousness, where we find ourselves coveting what others possess – even if it may be entirely out of our means.

How, then, can we practise asteya? First, recognise that everyone has their own flaws and struggles, and that what is portrayed on social media is not always the full picture. By recognising this fact, we are less likely to associate expensive possessions or lavish lifestyles with a perfect or desirable lifestyle, or even happiness. This helps to steer us away from coveting such possessions.

Second, learn to appreciate what you have. Go beyond tangible or material possessions, and learn to appreciate the intangible. There are many things that we can be appreciative of – be it a harmonious family, a loving partner, or supportive friends. When we start to appreciate what we have, we will realise that what we have is special and unique to us. We stop comparing ourselves to others and desiring what they have.

Finally, go on a social media detox from time to time. Deactivate your social media accounts, or uninstall your social media applications temporarily. Replace social media with other hobbies or leisure activities. When you detach yourself from social media, you no longer face the constant pressure of aspiring towards that ideal or perfect lifestyle that is portrayed on social media. Instead, you get to immerse yourself completely in reality, and to appreciate what you have.

When we free ourself from covetousness, we are practising asteya. As the saying goes, “it is not the accumulation of things that ultimately give us satisfaction, but the accumulation of values and competency. The jewel of non stealing, asks us to build our competency with life itself.

Tan Tian Hui (August 2017, 200 Hr YTT)