Asteya is a Sanskrit word; it means non-stealing, non-coveting, and not entering into debt. Asteya is a yama, meaning it is a traditional Yama, as well as a part of the 8 limbs of the Ashtanga philosophical tradition.
But Asteya means more than non-stealing money, possessions, or ideas; it is about the flow of energy in your life. Putting more in that you get out. Giving rather than taking. Being of service, rather than taking advantage to further your self.
I think that the idea of selflessness is important to this concept, the idea that the world does not revolve around you. You are a part of something larger than yourself merely by the fact that you exist. So having awareness of your effects on the environment and outside world is probably the most important aspect of Asteya. Once you have awareness of your environment, you can start to understand how you interact with it.
So intrinsically, Asteya requires awareness and as the awareness elevates, so does the need for giving back to the world around you. Joy is said to be greatest when help others, so living your life in service to the health and prosperity of others is really what Asteya is trying to get at. Stop thinking of your self and start thinking about everything that is intertwined with your self; the sun, the cycles of the moon, the plants and animals that are living around you, etc. These things have far more of an effect on us than I think we truly realize, so living in harmony with the world will lead to harmony inside of you.
I think that the general concept of Asteya has been completely lost; it is not so different from Dharma in that you allow for life to occur while you enjoy it, rather than trying to determine outcomes. Knowing how the energy in your world is flowing is intrinsic to understand what you are giving back and taking from the world.
The easiest example to understand is food, especially animal products. Humans can only eat as much meat as there are animals in the world. Therefore, in order for the system to be sustainable, you must give back more than you take, or at least have the equation be balanced. Ideally, you give extra so that there is abundance.
Our world is full of takers, people taking and using more than they need. It isn’t our fault; we want to live life the easiest and most convenient way possible, as any animal should, but we are slowly learning that convenience is actually not fulfilling. It is empty. This is how taking things that you didn’t earn is; they are empty, full of lacking. But the lacking is inside of you; it is the lacking of integrity that makes you feel empty.
Try to give back more than you take. This is something our ancestors have really sucked at. We have been taking from the planet since the birth of our race; we just continue to get more efficient at it. One day, we will either understand that the Earth exists for us to nourish and feed as much as it exists to feed and nourish us. It’s a relationship, a two-way street.
Not taking more than you need is difficult. It’s like asking someone who has had one cookie in a jar to stop eating them. But understanding the importance of that first cookie is what is truly important; it is important to appreciate every aspect of the first cookie so that you don’t have to look for more. You understood how awesome the cookie was when you first ate it.
This is especially prevalent in the United States, where we do things simply because we can. Consumerism is teaching us that life is not about the amount that you consume, but it’s about the way that you interact with the things that you consume. Appreciation is probably the most important aspect of this.
The final piece to the puzzle is knowing that you don’t need more. You could probably survive for two weeks without food. Try fasting for a day; it will really help you to appreciate how much you eat!
There are Buddhist monks that don’t eat unless they are given food. This is the ultimate form of Asteya; only taking what the universe offers to you. I don’t know if such extreme measures are needed to understand the concept (they are possibly necessary to completely appreciate it), but it helps to understand that you should be content with where you are in the universe. It’s no better or worse than anywhere else, all of that judgement only exists in your thoughts. Allowing yourself to receive what the universe provides is a practice and a balance; don’t expect the universe to put grains of rice into your mouth from the sky!
Try to integrate this concept of giving as much as you take into your life; driving is huge for this, we expend such massive amounts of energy for no reason! Try to drive less, remember you are taking from inside of the Earth so you can travel its surface.