What Does “Asteya” Mean In Jainism?

The five basic vows of Jainism include ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), brahmacharya (chastity), aparigraha (non-attachment), and asteya (non-stealing). In order to achieve spiritual liberation at the end of life (or multiple lives, depending on karma), these five vows must be honored and maintained constantly and without interruption. Asteya is also sometimes replaced with the word “Achourya.” Both are Sanskrit words that mean “non-stealing.”

Asteya goes far beyond the physical act of stealing. Once this vow is taken, a Jain cannot steal, intend to steal — or even think about stealing. The five vows are as much about controlling one’s deepest, darkest thoughts as they are about controlling one’s physical actions.

Asteya is a vow in Hinduism as well, and also a form of temperance or self-restraint practiced by many Indian citizens. 

The Jain text Sarvathasiddhi describes asteya: “Prompting a person to steal, or prompting him through another or approving of the theft, is the first transgression. The second is receiving stolen goods from a person, whose action has neither been prompted nor approved by the recipient. Receiving or buying goods otherwise than by lawful and just means is an irregularity or a transgression. An attempt to buy precious things very cheaply in a disordered state is the third transgression.”

One can clearly see that “theft” of any kind is counted as disobeying the vow of asteya, and there is very little room for interpretation.

The text continues: “Cheating others by the use of false weights and measures in order to obtain more from others and give less to others, is the fourth transgression. Deceiving others with artificial gold, synthetic diamonds and so on, is the fifth transgression. These five are the transgressions of the vow of non-stealing.”

These transgressions can be committed by any practicing Jain, including both monks/nuns and/or householders. Committing these transgressions will prevent spiritual liberation.