Bodhinatha discusses how to harness desire and conquering the tendency to steal or covet by doing its opposite, giving, which is the niyama of dana. Giving brings true happiness, as opposed to the emptiness of hoarding. Giving can be taken even further by spiritualizing our household finances. Bodhinatha gives several examples of how to do this and finishes with some thoughts on the environment and what we could be stealing from future generations by passing on an unclean Earth without solutions or funds to clean it up.
As we have said, the tendency to acquire and hoard possessions for ourselves, as well as, the willingness to steal to accomplish this in subtle or gross ways, is part of our instinctive nature. We want to gather up everything we can and keep it for ourselves to feel secure. Then we have enough to eat and so forth. It is just part of the instinctive nature we see in animals. Animals don't go around sharing their food with one another. You put out the food and watch the animals fight over it, right? It is just part of the instinctive nature. Harnessing it, of course, is the challenge.
As we talked about, harnessing desire or the tendency to covet is a good step toward restraining this tendency. If we don't want things so much in the first place, we won't abuse credit. We won't get into envy or jealousy regarding them. But, that is not enough. We can go even further and fully conquer this instinctive aspect of our nature through practicing charity, giving, Dana. Why is that? Because it is the opposite. If we are giving things away, that is the opposite tendency of hoarding everything for ourselves. Obviously, we can't be in both states of mind at the same time. If we are generous, giving and thoughtful of others, that is taking this tendency to be selfish, hoard things, even steal them and really minimizing it in a very nice way.
The Kural has a whole chapter on charity as well. One verse, "Is it because they are unaware of the joys of giving that hard-hearted men waste their wealth by hoarding it?" That hits the point quite accurately. The one extreme is, there we are gathering all this in and what are we doing with it? We are hoarding it. Does it make us feel happy, joyful? Not really. We can go the other direction and also be generous toward others, give, think about others beyond selfish. It brings a lot more happiness than just keeping it all for ourselves. The Tirukural calls it the "joys of giving versus the emptiness of hoarding."
Gurudeva has a nice commentary on this principle. "To restrain one's instinctive tendencies successfully, each must be replaced by a positive observance. For each of the yamas, there is a positive replacement for doing something else."
In this case, the tendency is to hoard everything for ourselves, be selfish, steal, want what other people have, take it. The opposite quality is to be generous, give away part of what we have, keep enough for our family but be generous, give, think about the needs of others.
The first yama of course was non-injury. The tendency was hurting others and a simple replacement for that one of course is helping others, being helpful toward other people. Try to help them do well and succeed, help meet their needs.
We can find an opposite quality for each of these tendencies we are talking about.
We can even take the principle of charity one step further. Charity is excellent but we can take it further by following certain practices to spiritualize our household finances, to bring religion into the financial world. In other words, it is one of the important qualities of Hinduism. We don't separate the religious from the secular. There is not one part of our life called secular life and another part of our life called religious life. This part happens this part of the day and that part happens during the other part of the day. No, it does not work like that. The religion permeates life twenty-four hours a day, even in our dreams. We are practicing our religion by what we do and what we don't do.
So, we can bring in spiritual influences into our finances, household finances and move us even further away from the tendency to covet. How can we do that? Well, this is the description that we sometimes send out on e-mail when devotees write in asking for advise in this area. So I will just read what the e-mail says. It starts out in a very general way. "Many Hindus go to the temple the first day of the year, attend puja, archana and write the first check of the year to the temple as a donation." Sometimes, we have Hindus coming here. We have two New Years, so sometimes that happens January 1st and sometimes that happens April 14th. But, usually each year, we have a few devotees coming here and writing their first check on one of those two days. "The idea behind this custom is that one's financial life for the coming year is receiving the Gods blessings of siddhi and buddhi, meaning success and wisdom. When applied to our livelihood, the blessing of siddhi can increase prosperity, ensuring our income will be more abundant and buddhi can give us the knowledge and discrimination to prudently handle all the income received. We can apply this same principle effectively to spiritualize our family's monthly income, by ceremoniously setting aside the first portion for God. Each time you receive a paycheck, take it into your shrine room, perform a Ganesha arati invoking His blessing of siddhi and buddhi and write a check for a religious donation, a tithe or lesser amount. Then thank Lord Ganesha for His blessings of abundance and tell Him that you will spend the income according to your monthly household budget."
That is a way of getting into a habit, shall we say, a simple way of forming a habit, so that we don't get our paycheck, run out and spend it wildly on our wish list without thought. But we first dedicate it to God, make a religious contribution and then take a look at our budget. Say, "Okay, how does this fit into my budget? How can I wisely spend this money, not covetously spend it?"
One last thought, Gurudeva brings up one last area in asteya. It is an interesting area, it is applying it in a broader sense. We can apply the concept of stealing to community, national and global issues. The example that Gurudeva chose was, "Major pollution of the environment is also a form of stealing." Why is that? Who is stealing from whom here? Well, the current generation is stealing from future generations. We are taking away something and giving a big problem. We are taking away a clean earth and we are passing on the obligation to fix this to a future generation. We are not giving them any money to fix it or any solutions. We are just doing it, polluting the environment and passing on this problem to the future. So, it is like we are stealing from the children and the children's children in a serious way, giving them a big problem.
That same concept applies to community, as well as, national issues. In a community, a current generation can be causing problems for future generations and not properly thinking about it, not taking on the obligation to not cause these kinds of problems and pass them on with no solutions and no funds to solve them.
So again, we don't have any shoplifters or bank robbers here this morning. But we can see that there is a lot of subtlety in this concept of non-stealing that we might not have thought about, without Gurudeva's wonderful insights into it. Certainly, it is worth reflecting upon to see if we can harness even further, this instinctive tendency to acquire, hoard, stow away just for ourselves, even if it requires stealing and replace it with generosity and a religious sense of giving.