Practicing dharma through Asteyam


post-5By Nithin Sridhar

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 5

The Hindu philosophy which is rooted in the Vedas is very vast and diverse. The diversity is not only present with respect to philosophy but also in the practice of those philosophies. There are various darsharnas (world-views) that portray a very different perspective of the Universe; there are different kulas (cults) and paramparas (lineages) that practice different branches of spiritual knowledge; and various schools of philosophy that reveal different aspects of truth and knowledge.

But, what is common to all of these diverse, but complementing and sometimes overlapping traditions is the foundation of dharma. The concept of dharma is fundamental to the Indic traditions and Indian way of life. It is through dharma, that people can attain material success and spiritual solace. Hence, every tradition, every cult, and every school of philosophy that has its origin in India aligns itself with dharma. Therefore, dharma (along with other purusharthas) is the guiding light, the very basis from which Hinduism or as it is rightly called “Sanatana Dharma”(eternal path) derives its unity, its wholesome existence despite of having diverse traditions and practices.

In the previous articles, I took up tenets of dharma like Ahimsa and Satyam. In this article, I wish to write about another important tenet: asteya (non-stealing). Kurma Purana (Uttara-Bhaga11.17) describes asteya as-

paradravyApaharaNam chauryAdatha balena va stEyam tasya anAcharaNAdastEyam dharmasAdhanam ||
Translation: Taking away of objects belonging to others through stealing or by using force is considered as “steyam” and not practicing such stealing etc. is “asteyam” which is a means of practicing dharma.

The verse captures the gist of the practice of asteya. Steya is not just about stealing, it is about taking what does not belong to one, which may be done by stealth, by the use of force, or by employing any other means. Therefore, asteyam constitutes non-hankering for possessing things that does not belong to one. A proper practice of asteyam in action is only possible when it is accompanied by words and thoughts. Therefore, even a thought that is induced out of jealousy and lust for others’ belongings constitute steyam.

It is important to understand that steyam does not just refer to thieves stealing objects from someone’s house or dacoits looting a bank. Even apparently small actions that infringe on other’s rightful ownership of an object, or what prevents others from having what rightfully belongs to them constitutes steyam. Few examples will illustrate:

  1. A person mistakenly gives Rs 70 for an item whose cost was Rs 60. The shopkeeper noticed this, but he pocketed the extra Rs 10 as profit. This is as good as stealing and constitutes steyam. The vice-versa is equally considered to be steyam. If a person pays Rs 100 for a product of Rs 60 and the shopkeeper mistakenly returns Rs 50. If the person does not return the excess Rs 10 given to him, then it becomes steyam.
  1. Bribery is a very good example of steyam. A government servant or any other person in power is already paid salary to do his work. If he asks for a bribe to do his job, then it means he is forcing people to part with their hard earned money which truly belonged to them. Hence, he commits steyam.
  1. Similarly, an auto driver who refuses to put the meter or charges extra than what the meter says is committing steyam.
  1. A son who forgets the “will” of his father to take over his lands, a brother who murders his brother for the sake of property, a student who cheats in exams are all examples of committing steyam.

Therefore, any action, howsoever small or big, if it attempts to unrightfully possess objects that belongs to others, or if infringes the rights of others to possess what rightfully belongs to them constitutes steyam. Avoiding all such actions and being dispassionate towards other’s wealth is the essence of asteyam.

Bu steyam is not just limited to objects. In the verse, the word “dravya” though literally refers to objects; in the given context it can be understood as anything towards which a person has a sense of belonging, an attachment, a personal level of commitment.

For example, a story which a writer creates, an idea that an entrepreneur implements, or a scientific product that a scientist invents. People have sense of belongingness to their own creations and inventions. People consider their own ideas belong to them. It is for this reason that concepts like patents and copyrights have been introduced. Therefore, stealing of an idea, an invention, or a story in whatever manner it may be, constitutes steyam.

The term dravya can be further expanded to include people as well. We all share deep emotional ties with our family. The feelings of belonging, love and attachment exist between family members, be it parents and children or between spouses or friends. Therefore, even acts like kidnapping and trafficking can be considered as steyam wherein the victim is separated from his/her family and both are made to suffer.

Similarly, adultery which is nothing but cheating on one’s spouse/partner constitutes steyam.

If one were to analyze human activities from a holistic perspective, most human actions constitute steyam in one way or the other. Various human activities like mining, deforestation etc. have led to the death of many animals and birds and made many others bereft of their homes. Similarly, we have contaminated the air and water as well that has deprived access to clean air and water to many organisms.

Therefore, if people ought to practice dharma, they must embrace asteyam and integrate it into their lifestyle, into their speech, thoughts, and words. For this reason, the practice of “asteyam” is the means for practicing dharma.


Dharma: It means “that which upholds” i.e. the essence. In various contexts, it may refer to different things. With respect to human actions, it means duties and righteousness, as they alone uphold human life. Therefore, Sanatana Dharma means “Eternal Dharma” or the traditions and religions that are rooted in these eternal principles of Dharma which are always valid.

Purusharthas: It refers to the four goals of human life as propounded in Hindu scriptures. The four goals are: Dharma, Kama (desires), Artha (wealth) and Moksha (liberation).

More in this segment:

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 1

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 2

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 3

Gleanings from Hindu Scriptures- Part 4