When Gandhi was a little boy he stole money from a woman worker in his home to buy, of all things, cigarettes! Later on, one key vow of Gandhi’s ashrams was aparigraha, non-stealing. It is a practice that points directly to simplicity of living, because the more extravagant our lives, the more we “steal” from others in order to have more than them. This is why Gandhi said that “there is enough for everyone’s need, not everyone’s greed.” But he also drew out the concept as it related to actual thieving in the ashram. Thieves, he said, have just visited the ashram, but some lived there. His policy was not to punish them. “We do not call the police; we put up with the losses as best we may.” He recounts the story of a thief being caught red-handed at the ashram, and one ashramite bound him up. Gandhi when he learned of this, went directly to the man and set him free. In his words, “ahimsa demands more of us than this.” He is in no way condoning stealing. He want on to say, “we must find out and apply methods which would put a stop to thieving all together.” That’s Gandhi, always going for the long-term solution. His plan had several layers to it. The first step was to reduce the amount of possessions one has so as not to tempt others with them. Secondly, to work with the surrounding villages for economic uplift and reform; and finally, the ashram should work harder to ensure that everyone sees the ashram as a place they felt that they belonged. We must be careful of how we act with our possessions, he said. We must see ourselves as their trustees, holding them for the benefit of all, and not as their owners. The minute we become owners of things, we must find ways of protecting it and keeping it from others who may need it. He goes so far as to say that the person with “possessions” will find it near to impossible to practice ahimsa. Nothing is ours. It sounds extreme and difficult, but it’s a powerful step into fulfilling the vision of a world that works for everyone.
What are your thoughts about thieving in your home? How can you develop yourself so that you can address thieving in a nonviolent way?
The Metta Center for Nonviolence, PO Box 98, Petaluma, California 94953 707-774-6299 firstname.lastname@example.org