Throughout most, if not all, of recorded history, humankind has been faced with the challenge of one person or group wanting what another person or group has. It’s nothing new. Religions/spiritual traditions have been recognizing this reality for as long as we have records of their teachings.
Within both the Torah and the Bible, two of the Ten Commandments address this issue. Commandment 8 states (in modern American terminology): “You shall not steal”. This Commandment definitely implies someone wanting what someone else has. However, Commandment 10 gets straight to the point: “You shall not covet.”
The Koran, from what I can learn, states things a little differently. Essentially a Muslim may not steal from another Muslim. Some pretty harsh penalties are prescribed if that crime occurs. However, again from what I have been able to find, according to the Koran, the property rights of non-believers, non-Muslims, are at the discretion of their Muslim rulers. This presumes situations in which Muslims control the lives of non-believers. More on this later.
In Buddhism, at least one translation of the Second Precept reads: “I undertake the training rule to abstain from taking what is not given.” Although this Precept does not seem to be always translated exactly in that manner, the rule of not stealing seems pretty clear in the Buddhist tradition.
Hinduism takes a much more relativistic view on stealing: “Stealing is not always a bad thing to do and Hindu scriptures allow it under certain circumstances. For example, if one is starving and has not had food for 3 days in a row, and yet no one is willing to give food in a charity, then the hungry person may steal food from somewhere. Poverty, hunger and starvation etc., are mitigating circumstances…”. (Hindupedia) Yet within Hinduism there is the recognition that stealing very well may cause harm and there may be karma attached. So, again, it seems everything is relative to the situation and is subject to whatever karma may be attached. I suppose one might term it; Steal at your own risk.
I am not going to examine every religions’ viewpoint, I think most of the world’s population is covered with these five major religions. It’s enough to see that stealing is generally considered wrong, however, within Hinduism, some extreme circumstances may allow for some leeway. I think this is pretty much how things play out in “street-level” reality.
Islam seems the major exception. Islam seems to take the position that stealing from a peer, a believer, is very, very wrong. However, non-believers may be deprived of their worldly holdings without regard for their wellbeing depending upon the position of the Islamic rulers of a particular time and place.
With some changes in terminology, this last view, that of Islam, may best exemplify the reality in the world of high finance, the rich and famous. In other words, in that world it’s okay to deprive the common people, the general population, of their worldly holdings without regard to their well-being as long as you (at least visibly) stay within the laws relating to commerce and finance established by the political rulers.
This latter system is usually referred to (however inappropriately) as “capitalism” and/or “free enterprise”. If any attempt to mitigate the deleterious effect of this system upon the general population is proposed, that is, any attempt to implement a system of provision of goods or services which takes free-rein profiteering out of the picture, it is usually referred to by those in control of the system as “socialism” and/or “communism”. Ideas which fall under either of these latter terms seem to be viewed by the ruling class within the western world pretty much the same as religious heresy was viewed in the Middle Ages.
I think all this begs the question of what is stealing, really? And is it wrong? And if it is, why?
But before we look at those questions, it is only fitting that we first look at what it is to “covet”. Because even though the Commandment against stealing is number 8 while the Commandment against coveting is number 10, in reality, coveting always precedes stealing.
To covet, in the sense referred to in the Tenth Commandment, is to deeply, intensely, desire something which belongs to someone else. In Biblical times coveting was a pretty straightforward thing. A person might covet a neighbor’s house, livestock, clothing, wealth. The person doing the coveting would need to take some action directly against that person or persons in order to take what they owned. Such an action was personal and could be readily viewed as such by others in the community. People could see the wealth being physically carried from one house, or country, to another. Or they could see the new owner moving in to the house and taking over the wealth of another. It was all very personal.
Today, with our method of banking, we often are dealing with numbers in a computer or on a page, in which there often is no actual, physical money, gold or silver involved in the immediate transfer of wealth. One person, or a small group of people, by manipulating abstract devices such as interest rates or investments, can capture the wealth of vast numbers of people with nothing more than a few keystrokes on a computer. Our new economic reality makes the actions of coveting, and taking material wealth from others, often seem very abstract and impersonal. However, the effects within our lives and communities are essentially the same as they were in at any time in history.
One of the ways technology has changed our world is that it has enabled those prone to doing so to capture the hard-earned wealth of countless people without ever having to look any of them in the eye. Without ever having to really face the human consequences of their actions. And, quite often, those who have lost their homes or life savings don’t even know exactly who “captured” them. All we know for sure is someone else coveted them and someone else got them. But were they stolen?
This brings us back around to the question of what is stealing? Is it a legal term? Does whether or not something is stolen depend upon a culturally agreed upon set of rules and procedures? Or is there something deeper involved? Is there a spiritual, energetic reality involved which is the same as it has been since the beginning of the world? Since before the beginning of the world? Does it matter?
What do you think?