Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Integrity before asana

Asteya comes after truthfulness on the list of yamas, the series of ethical rules anyone with a serious yoga practice will be hoping to observe. To me, the translation of asteya appears slightly confused as a number of options can be seen in the writings, such as not stealing, not coveting, not acquiring things other than by totally honest means and even not engaging in anything private or clandestine. A few of my yoga teachers have told me that in a good many cases it is impossible to adequately translate Sanskrit words into modern English and we can only approximate an interpretation. With asteya, however, there is a definite theme of misappropriation.

My favourite translation is integrity. This word encompasses all the ideas given above and many more. Integrity, for many of us, contains the essence of what we desire to be in life. For sure we expect it of everyone else we deal with. We expect honesty and transparency in business. We do not expect to be robbed or ripped-off. And we do not expect our best friend to flirt with our partner.

We say of a person, “he/she is full of integrity”, when we know we can 100% trust him or her and this is not limited to being sure that the truth is being told.

So how to explain integrity?

Let’s start with the idea of theft. You may not steal objects. You may have never stolen an object from anyone in your life, maybe. But perhaps you consistently impose yourself and your ‘needs’ on the people around with little regard for them. Perhaps you are the only person in the universe in your own mind, and this means that everyone must attend to you, and you don’t have to attend to anyone else. In this case, you are stealing the goodwill a person has for you, or manipulating their pathological politeness or tendency towards people-pleasing. This always leaves a bad feeling with the other person and you may find that anyone you treat in this manner finds ways to avoid you. It is not cool. Don’t do it.

On the other hand, and more subtly, if you allow yourself to be robbed in this manner you are also breaking integrity because on some level you know what is going on, you are surely aware that a simple statement of truth will deal with the problem and yet you allow yourself to actively obstruct this person’s right to enjoy honest communication with another human being.

The person that imposes himself has no integrity. The person that allows herself to be imposed upon has no integrity. We all recognise these patterns of behaviour because we do them ourselves. We tell someone a secret expecting them to keep it. We hear a secret and immediately tell another person. We ask someone to lie for us, to support us in some dishonest business. Someone asks us to do the same and we feel immediately uncomfortable. We don’t pay our debts, yet when someone does the same to us we’re infuriated.

The alert to the breaking of integrity is the feeling in the gut. If you are following the principle then you will not feel any churning or discomfort in your stomach when you make the decision to act.

Recently I had a dispute with the bank. They were in the wrong and they accepted that. To recompense they offered me money. And I would have had to sign something to the effect that the matter was closed and I was satisfied; except no solution to the matter had been offered. I would have broken asteya had I accepted and when I considered taking the fifty quid I felt a churning in my stomach and knew I shouldn’t do it.

It goes so deep. Who or what is stealing your thoughts, your desires, your hopes and expectations, your experiences, your time, your goodwill, your good name, your stories, your honour or integrity? Is it the ad-man? Perhaps it’s the soap operas you’re addicted to? Is it the editor of the men’s magazine you believe in? Or is it the man who is having an affair with your wife without you knowing it? Is it your husband? The neighbours? Your children perhaps when you allow them to persuade you again to give them food that you know is no good for them? Are you self-sabotaging? Is the problem you?

Steal “not even a glance – a thought”.(1)

More urgently, as a species we are all failing miserably at asteya, as Hilary Buckwalter quite rightly points out, because we are stealing from the land, from our mother. We take more than we need, without permission and with no concern for the consequences. And even when we are aware of it, no matter how much we do to avoid it - going green, going vegan, going organic, etc - it is simply impossible to not be complicit in some way to the ongoing rape of our Mother, the Earth, the feminine principle of nurture, of nature; the single provider of our nourishment and warmth. We cannot avoid being part of it. It is endemic to our world and thus it must also exist as an idea, deep within us all, because as I mentioned before, we are all the same.

And on the subject of violation, as well as the clear theft of the right to decide in the case of forcible rape, there is a much more subtle and common theft of the right to choose freely within personal relationships in the form of emotional manipulation or blackmail and the misuse of status.

What is underneath all this plunder then? The idea is that we lack something. We see this lack in other people having more than us, more money, more things, more love, more beauty, more innocence, more freedom. And this always causes us to suffer. I see this very well with people who have a great deal of material wealth. They suffer. Indeed they may suffer far more as there is so much more, apparently, to defend from the looming threat of ‘lack’. So the solution is to ensure, insure, to make sure that lack is avoided at all costs. Actions towards the replenishment of this mysterious lack are taken and these actions always include someone else having less. As long as there is someone with less, we temporarily feel a bit better. And here is the foundation stone of the pursuit of profit above all else. And if the 99% think that they are not complicit in this belief system, they are wrong. We are all complicit. It may not be to the extent of banking system abuses. But if we were the bank, it would be. We all do it. We all fear the lack. And we all do what we can to remedy the lack, breaking the principle of integrity in our lives.

The only difference there is between our separate experiences of life is the degree of intensity and the form they take.

We are clearly mad. All of us. There is no integrity in this world.

So what of on the mat? What should we be thinking about here? A few things I can think of are: outside of committed, loving relationships, don’t have sex with your students if you’re a teacher and don’t have sex with your teacher if you’re a student. Turn up on time for class. Don’t hog the floor if questions are allowed, which doesn’t allow others a chance to speak and may extend the class time. Don’t overrun if you are a teacher, thus eating into the next teacher’s time. If you’re a teacher be sure that a small amount of personal opinion will be acceptable but ranting for half the class on what you think about the state of the world is not acceptable and is tantamount to stealing the retreat fees. This list is not exhaustive and your thoughts are welcomed.

Most importantly, be kind to yourself at all times.

References

1. Alberto Villoldo : Yoga, Power & Spirit, Patanjali the Shaman.

3 comments:

  1. Yes, I understand integrity the same way, although you say it much more articulately than I had. It is such a HUGE concept, also encompassing wholeness and honesty, and keeping one's word about what one has said one would do.

    I wonder what you think about another slippery thief of integrity, victimhood. It seems to me that active victim behaviour (i.e. not when a person is the object of, say, of a straight accident, but when someone repeatedly gives in to others) the gain sought is pity, sympathy, a perverse "better than" (those awful people who did THAT to me), martyrdom, money, need-love, and so on.

    just a thought ...

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  2. I agree with you. I think victimhood also breaks integrity. In my view, at its root, there is little difference between the aggressor/victim, it is all the attempt to resolve a perceived lack. And we see that often enough the victim becomes the aggressor, the bully becomes the victim. It is cyclical, perhaps karmic too.

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  3. I was just late for yoga class :$

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