As we have seen in our discussion of truthfulness and honesty, the mind has the ability to mold itself into the shape of that which it beholds. Especially in our many moments of lack of self-awareness, human consciousness has the tendency to turn its aspect outwards towards the material world. On an animalistic level, this makes complete sense. How could we survive as a species if we went around being unconcerned with the world around us? Many of the fundamental drives hard-wired into our genes that enable us to live on as humans keep us tied to our pre-sentient past and prevent us from transcending that side of our nature and becoming truly free. Attraction to pleasure and aversion to pain, a sense of identity and self-preservation, all these are absolutely essential on the material level, but Patañjali sees each of these as the root causes of our afflictions.
More fundamental to each of these causes of affliction is a basic misapprehension of our own true nature:
Misapprehension of one’s true nature is the seeing of the eternal, the pure, the joyful and the true self in that which is impermanent, impure, sorrowful and not the true self.
Under this misapprehension, we forget—assuming we ever knew in the first place—that we are not our impermanent bodies, nor are we the things we achieve or the things we own. This is a fairly basic understanding than many of us have on some cognitive level, though few of us truly embody it. We allow ourselves to be defined by our jobs and our achievements, and sometimes those achievements include the amount of money we make and the possessions and lifestyle we acquire.
This relationship with the material world has given us some very restricting notions about possession and ownership. Here at the beginning of the twenty-first century, it seems that notions of property and theft are as much in the forefront of people’s minds as ever. In the digital world distribution of materials is effortless. Anything that is digital can be copied and, as a result, the act of copying has become an act of theft. The modern debate over ownership of ideas and the public domain is an excellent example of the qualities that Patañjali’s observance of non-stealing seeks to moderate, as large corporations influence legislation to maintain control of their assets. When theft involves taking food or some other vital necessity from another, the moral imperative seems clear. When the definition of property becomes so abstract it is hard to imagine how taking that which the law has said does not belong to you can cause harm.
With the observance of non-coveting—or non-stealing as it is also known—Patañjali is requiring us to go beyond notions of ownership and possession and give up our sense of entitlement to anything that is not eternal, pure, joyful and of the true self. When we achieve this, our concepts of scarcity and abundance change radically in ways that we cannot conceive when we are obsessed with grasping, owning and controlling. If this should seem scary to you, Patañjali offers us reassurance:
All abundance appears for one who is grounded in non-coveting.