0

It's obvious what stealing is when engaged-in often. You take the stuff of others while under a certain mental state, that mental state being marked and noticeable by an understanding that something isn't under your possession (but under another's), and physical effort to appropriate it regardless of the other person's wishes.

So if someone is happy with you 'stealing' something, is that stealing? In general, no, as this would be a gift.

On the other hand, we have situations such as copyright law, or other ideas where the line of 'possession' is inappropriately drawn.

So here is the problem. What is the meter by which we can say something is stolen or not? It can't be the sweeping idea, 'this is my property', as that idea can be faked, as in the case of intellectual property. It can be a case where there is appropriate and inappropriate mental possession of items, and stealing only being the violation of the appropriate lines.

Is it fully intent? Kamma = Intent, so if you do not engage in the intent of stealing, you will not experience the results. However, what if you are someone who considers smelling the flowers of another individual stealing? Surely that would not be considered stealing, yet to that person smelling the flowers would trigger the intent. Even though that coarse mental intent would arise, as far as I know that is not actual stealing, so the 'non-intent stealing' would not have an object. At which point can you say you are actually stealing, and at which you are not?

It is really simple with coarse events but hard with complex contexts. Taking an apple from someone without asking is stealing, but what about abusing sales at a market? - what about when those sales are glitches, unintended, in the system? - what about liberally charging a corporate card?

For our modern, daily situations a really subtle understanding of the precepts is required. So where is the subtle line of stealing?

  • 1
    There are many long answers, and quite a bit of discussion, in Does illegal downloading or viewing of copyright material violate the second precept? I'm not sure that this will be a new topic. – ChrisW Aug 25 '17 at 17:52
  • That's a great topic, but it doesn't really talk about the mental factors that make stealing, stealing, aside from intention. – Anton A. Zabirko Aug 25 '17 at 17:55
  • 2
    See my answer to that question about copyright, it does talk about mental factors. – Andrei Volkov Aug 25 '17 at 20:05
  • 1
    Hi Andrei. Really love your perspective on the issue as it's Dharmicaly progressive. Your question does address my issues in that if one were to avoid your 3 points they would probably not be stealing in any way. That being said, it does not show the line that you follow to totally avoid theft. Knowing where this line is allows you to be dependent with regards to knowing what is virtuous and not. It's still a wonderful answer. I disagree that getting something for nothing is parasitic and that upsetting the minds of others is inherently bad. Your first point is correct, however. – Anton A. Zabirko Aug 25 '17 at 20:37
2

‘If a monk, intending to steal, takes from a village or from the wilderness what has not been given to him— the sort of theft for which kings, having caught a thief, would beat, imprison, or banish him, saying, “You’re a bandit, you’re a fool, you’ve gone astray, you’re a thief”— he too is expelled and not in communion.’ Second Parajika rule

This is for monks, but it's pretty clear - or at least it leaves the subjectivity to individual jurisdictions! (so in Italy, if you are starving and steal food, it's ok. If it's less than the value of a good shield (1/4 dinar), then in Sharia countries you are not in trouble)

With regards to possession, who possesses and to what extent, are probably useful measures. Who possesses is usually well defined (if not, then theft becomes a gray area). To what extent - how long should patents and copyright last, whether you can even effectively charge for something like streetlighting - are all likely subject to a social consensus.

Overall, if you perceive the object of your desire to be in the possession of someone else, or that someone else directly tells you so (asking is always a nice way to establish possession), then any intentional act to take such a thing, against the wishes of the owner would be theft, regardless of social consensus.

Piracy and claims as to the injustice of any and all economic systems are ancient claims, modernity only offers a novel spin on them.

If you think/believe/know that within a jurisdiction, a thing is claimed by someone and they don't have any desire to relinquish it, intentional taking of it is theft. Whether that possession is rightfully in their hands or not, is for their kamma, not yours.

  • That's a good guideline. I've also read about the 5 aspects which make stealing an item actually stealing, but they don't address modern-day situations like the examples I wrote in the OP. – Anton A. Zabirko Aug 25 '17 at 18:20
  • 1
    Sorry but I think the last sentence has two mistakes: i.e. it's not "cool", and I think it's "dinar" not "diram". – ChrisW Aug 25 '17 at 19:21
  • "you are not in trouble" There's still trouble: "If any of these preconditions are not met the hand should not be cut but still the thief has other punishments" (reference) – ChrisW Aug 26 '17 at 8:57
0

Taking any thing not lawfully given is stealing. An Aboriginal leader was sued in Australia for picking up a ten cents coin from a public building for stealing.

  • Did this happen recently? Do you have more details on this story? – Simon H Aug 26 '17 at 4:19
  • No about ten years back. – SarathW Aug 26 '17 at 6:30
0

Personal morality is personal morality. In the world, lawmakers make laws for jurisdictions. Ideally laws should be made thoughtfully and skilfully. Of course, this is proving challenging in the rapidly changing world we live in but is the issue specifically Buddhist?

As far as Buddhism is concerned, the dharma is clear: if it's not yours, don't take it.

If something is legal to take, it's not theft. If a system fault robs a customer, he/she should be reimbursed/compensated. If you think something should be legally theft, you can change the law or influence lawmakers to change it.

To be fair, the liberality of the modern world encourages a lot of behaviours that are legally grey but not compatible with Buddhism. Listening to an artist's music on YouTube without paying for it is theft. I do this and it's incompatible with Buddhism. On the other hand, so is music itself (strictly speaking), certainly the music most of us listen to.

What to do?

My own non-Buddhist take is that if I take from the world, I should give back more to the world. The key principle is not to be a parasite on balance. I judge my own actions. The dharma judges me. And if I break the law of a king or queen, they send one of their goons to bash me.

0

Buddhism is about non-harming & respect. A rationale for non-stealing is as follows:

Again [Furthermore], householders, a noble disciple reflects thus: 'If someone were to take from me what I have not given, that is, to commit theft, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to me. Now if I were to take from another what he has not given, that is, to commit theft, that would not be pleasing and agreeable to the other either. What is displeasing and disagreeable to me is displeasing and disagreeable to the other too. How can I inflict upon another what is displeasing and disagreeable to me?' Having reflected thus, he himself abstains from taking what is not given, exhorts others to abstain from taking what is not given, and speaks in praise of abstinence from taking what is not given. Thus this bodily conduct of his is purified in three respects. SN 55.7

-1

Stealing is just a concept ... an idea ... a mere illusion ... not truth ... a fabrication.

Thus, the feeling "something is stolen" arises when you fabricate it with a decision, a volitional activity.

Thus, stealing arises when the decision arises that "something was stolen".

Decision that "something was stolen" arises depending on ignorance. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: Decision that "something was stolen" arises depending on knowledge.)

Ignorance is kamma. Ignorance arises from kamma. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: Knowledge is kamma. Knowledge arises from kamma.)

Thus, the meter by which we can say something is stolen or not is kamma.

Thus, to answer your questions:

"What is the meter by which we can say something is stolen or not?"

Kamma/Ignorance is the meter. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: Knowledge is the meter.)

"At which point can you say you are actually stealing, and at which you are not?"

There is no universal answer to this question. Every being will have a definition for stealing depending on their kamma/ignorance. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: Every being will have a definition for stealing depending on their knowledge.)

"So where is the subtle line of stealing?"

The subtle line is defined by kamma/ignorance. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: The subtle line is defined by knowledge.)

Knowing that the subtle line of stealing (or any other action) is defined by kamma/ignorance/knowledge, how can you know when an action is virtuous and when it is not?

By knowing the kamma/ignorance of beings. (An equivalent to the previous statement for not yet liberated beings is: By knowing the knowledge of beings.)

Thus, The One, who knows the kamma/ignorance/knowledge of beings, proclaims thus the following:

Taking what is not yours is not virtuous. It does not lead to the end of suffering. It creates suffering. It is not the right path towards the end of suffering. Thus, do not take what is not yours nor aspire others to take what is not theirs. The aspirant who is following the dhamma, searching for an end to suffering, should refrain from such wrong doings.

EDIT:

"You give an example that stealing arises when the decision to steal occurs."

I didn't say: stealing arises when the decision to steal occurs.

I said: stealing arises when the decision arises that "something was stolen".

Suppose there is a business-man and a business-woman. Suppose the woman lands to the man a large sum of money. Suppose the man keeps track of the money he owns to the woman on a piece of paper in his office. Suppose the woman, having a good memory, decides to keep track of the money the man owns in her mind. Suppose a few years later, the man successfully returns to the woman all the borrowed sum of money. He makes a note on his paper that he returned the sum to the woman. After a week he sees that his notes about the loan are not needed any more, thus he trows the paper in the trash. Now suppose after a month the woman, having an imperfect memory, mistakenly thinks that the man still owes her money. She comes in his office requesting money to be paid. The man refuses and claims that he has repaid the loan in its entirety. The woman, not knowing the man repaid the loan in its entirety, truly thinks that he has not. She starts storming in and out of his office exclaiming: "You are scamming me! You are a thief!". then the woman sues him in court, 100 % sure that she was scammed/robbed by the man, claiming he is a thief and he should perish in prison for his deeds. Here, even though stealing has not occurred, it has occurred and unwholesome kamma is being generated for the woman due to her bad temper because she was scammed/robbed. Even though no stealing has occurred, in her reality she is truly and genuinely being the victim of stealing.

Now suppose the man is a meek person, very naive, weak in character and without firm grounds on where he stands. This naive man, listening to the blaming of the woman, would start to believe the woman that he has not repaid the entire loan. He would be so weak in character, that he would really start to believe that he has stolen her money. Thus, he would feel that he has stolen the money and he would feel guilt, even though he hasn't stole any money. Again, even though stealing has not occurred, it has occurred and unwholesome kamma is being generated for the man due to him scamming/robbing the woman. Even though no stealing has occurred, in his reality he believes he has truly scammed/robbed the woman.

Thus, no stealing occurs, until a decision is made that "something was stolen".

Same story, same man, same woman. But none of them keep track of the loan. Suppose the man returns to the woman half the loan, genuinely thinking that he has returned the entire loan. Suppose the woman, not keeping track of the loan, genuinely thinks the loan was repaid in its entirety. Here, even though stealing has occurred, stealing has not occurred and neutral or wholesome kamma is being generated for both the man and the woman (a potential exists for unwholesome kamma in the future due to the fact the woman can find out and make her mind that she was scammed/robbed).

Thus, stealing occurs, when a decision is made that "something was stolen".

Let me put it this way:

Suppose there was a very modest and compassionate person. Suppose this modest and compassionate person was hungry. He goes to the store and buys himself a sandwich. Suppose a beggar comes by who is very hungry and steals the sandwich of this very modest and compassionate person. That modest and compassionate person then exclaims: "That beggar did not steal my sandwich. He is not a thief. He should not be punished for his deed.".

Now, suppose the same story, but instead of the beggar stealing, a rich thief comes, full of greed and selfishness ... with golden necklaces around his neck ... with diamond rings on his fingers ... with abundant richness ... extremely infatuated with sensual desires ... this thief being hungry steals the sandwich of that very modest and compassionate person. That modest and compassionate person then exclaims: "That thief stole my sandwich! He is a thief! He should be punished for his deed!".

Now suppose there was a hungry person, very outgoing and rational, who has a hungry family and is in need to feed his family. Suppose this hungry, outgoing and rational person goes by a large container containing food that will be thrown away. He thinks to himself: this food is not mine, but it will be thrown away, thus it has no owner, thus if I take it I am not stealing it. Why don't I take some and feed my family with it? Thus he takes some.

Now suppose there was a hungry person, very modest and compassionate ... very sensitive to blame ... who has a hungry family and is in need to feed his family. This hungry, modest, compassionate and sensitive person goes by that same large container containing food that will be thrown away. He thinks to himself: this food is not mine, but it will be thrown away, but it is not mine. I will not steal it. I will not take some. Thus he does no take some.

Thus, stealing occurs, when a decision is made that "something was stolen".

"But we have the precepts for ignorant people and discerning people."

Yes. Whoever is born comes with such and such past kamma of unwholesome actions which determine where is the line drawn with stealing.

The One, who knows the kamma of human beings, knows when a decision that something was stolen arises in a human being. He knows that humans steal because of ignorance and where does the motivation for stealing come from. Because he knows that, he knows the right path for the liberation of human beings: not stealing.

The precepts are written in such a way to resolve any past unwholesome kamma beings have. That's why the precepts say that stealing is an unwholesome action.

"Some people know they are stealing and some don't."

People who know they are stealing are accumulating unwholesome kamma which bears bad fruits in the present and a high potential to bear bad fruits in the future.

People who don't know they are stealing and truly think that they are not stealing, are accumulating neutral or wholesome kamma, but have potential to accumulate unwholesome kamma in the future. The more in the future, the less potential it has for unwholesome kamma.

That's why an unwholesome act, truly thinking that is wholesome, creates no unwholesome kamma in the present, but a potential for the creation of unwholesome kamma in the future.

The laws of kamma are very subtle and hard to explain.

Even if somebody is truly not stealing, it doesn't mean he is accumulating wholesome or neutral kamma by abstaining from stealing.

For example, somebody would decide not to steal out of fear for repercussion. Here the intention to steal exists, but does not come to realization out of fear for one's self. This is unwholesome kamma, even though no stealing has occurred.

On the other hand, somebody would decide to steal out of compassion for hungry beings. Here the intention to steal exists, but it is not done for one's self. This is unwholesome kamma, but even though stealing is occuring, it creates less unwholesome kamma than in the example above, where no stealing is taking place.

Again, the laws of kamma are very subtle and hard to explain.

Suppose somebody would decide to steal out of compassion for hungry beings, but instead of stealing from beings who have accumulated large quantities of food, he steals from beings who have accumulated very low quantities of food. This creates more unwholesome kamma than in the first example above.

Suppose somebody would decide not to steal out of belief in the Buddha's words that stealing is an unwholesome action. This would create neutral kamma or very little unwholesome kamma, depending on the subtle intentions of the being.

Suppose somebody would decide not to steal because he doesn't want the beings to suffer because of him stealing from them. This would create wholesome kamma.

Suppose somebody would decide not to steal because he wants to show beings the right path towards the end of suffering. This would create large quantities of wholesome kamma.

Suppose somebody lives in a cave and hadn't even thought about stealing. This would create neutral kamma.

As you can see, whenever stealing is occurring there is unwholesome kamma being generated. Thus, beings must not steal.

"Are you saying that I can steal as long as I personally change my understanding, or coarse intention, of stealing into not stealing?"

No, not in this realm.

You have such and such kamma which does not allow you to change your understanding, or coarse intention, of stealing into not stealing.

Knowing you're a human, and based on the questions you're asking and the discussion I'm having with you, I know that you, including all other humans, due to their kamma, cannot change their understanding, or coarse intention, of stealing into not stealing.

Any human being who claims "I changed my understanding, or coarse intention, of stealing into not stealing" is lying. If this same human being then really starts to steal from others, it just enforces his lie.

Thus I understand, thus I know ...

Such a human being, who is lying in the way described, is deluded and ignorant. His ignorance is stemming out of greed and/or selfishness.

And where does this selfishness and greed come from in such a person?

They come from the idea "I am" or the idea "I exist".

Both are not truths, illusions, not the real nature of things, coming from ignorance.

Knowing this and knowing that this human being is lying, I know that this being clings on the idea "I am" or the idea "I exist". Knowing then, that this human being is stealing, I know that this being clings on the idea "I am" or "I exist" very much.

The clinging on this very same idea and the actions of stealing, feeding the clinging on that very same idea, is what will propel this human into the lower realms of existence.

Thus, out of compassion for all beings, I tell them not to steal as it does not lead to the cessation of suffering. There is a way to the cessation of suffering and that is not to steal.

To summarize:

Every being draws his own line with stealing. Where will a being draw his line will be defined by his kamma at the time he draws the line. This is the truth.

2nd EDIT:

"when a person steals they are not under the power of illusion but, instead, really believe the object they are stealing is solid & something they need"

When a person steals he is under the power of illusion. The illusion I'm talking about comes from ignorance.

Really believing the object is solid is ignorance. Really believing the object is something they need is ignorance. It's because of this ignorance that the fabrication/decision of "stealing" arises. This ignorance comes from absolutist thinking: "I am", "I exist", "This universe exists" and thus creates kamma with more potential for stealing.

On the other hand, really believing the object is not solid is ignorance. Really believing the object is something they don't need is ignorance. It's because of this ignorance that the fabrication/decision of "avoiding stealing" arises. This ignorance comes from nihilistic thinking: "I am not", "I do not exist", "This universe does not exist" and thus creates kamma with less potential for stealing.

On the other hand, seeing the solidity of the object as it really is and seeing the need for the object as it really is, comes from knowing what ignorance is. It's because of knowing what ignorance is that the fabrication/decision of "stealing" does not arise. This knowledge of what ignorance is comes from seeing reality as it really is. Only then, one can really speak from compassion: "Beings are ignorant about the solidity of the object and beings are ignorant about the need for the object. Beings suffer because of this ignorance. How can I show them the truth?" and thus creates kamma with no potential for stealing.

"If stealing was illusion, stealing would not occur because it would be viewed as an illusion."

I'm not saying that stealing is not real. I'm saying that stealing is not reality. I'm saying that stealing is not what the majority of beings think it is. I'm challenging your reality.

The act of seeing stealing as reality is ignorance.

It's because of ignorance that beings don't see stealing as illusion, but think it is real. It's because of ignorance that beings don't see stealing as real, but think it is illusion.

That's why I claim: stealing is just a concept ... an idea ... a mere illusion ... not truth ... a fabrication ...

But beings, because of their ignorance, see stealing as a fact ... a substance ... a reality ... a truth. Because of their ignorance, they see just one side of the coin, not even bothering to examine the other side.

Because of their ignorance, they are drawing a line with stealing. Their actions in the present define where they will draw a line with stealing in the future. This "drawing of a line with stealing" is ignorance. This "taking of a view" is ignorance. This taking of views "this is real" or "this is not real" is ignorance. This ignorance is the cause of their suffering. Seeing how this ignorance arises, how it works, what it really is, what it really does, leads to the end of this ignorance and consequently to the extinction of suffering.

"If stealing was illusion, stealing would not occur because it would be viewed as an illusion."

Even if a being would view stealing as an illusion, stealing could still occur because of left ignorance in that being.

What left ignorance?

Ignorance of the fact that his self exists. Ignorant of the fact his self exist, he has the view that his self does not exist, so he thinks his self could not be hurt, so he decides to steal and steps on a path with a greater potential for future suffering.

Ignorance of the fact that self of other beings does not exist. Ignorant of the fact that the self of other beings does not exist, he has the view that self of other beings exists, he sees that these beings see stealing as reality, not an illusion, thus he changes his view according to their view (self exists, thus stealing is real) thinking it is right view, and decides to steal and steps on a path with a greater potential for future suffering.

It's this ignorance of not knowing reality as it really is that is creating potential for stealing to occur and all kinds of suffering:

  1. If a being decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", he is ignorant of the facts that "his self exist" and "self of others does not exist", thus creating kamma with potential for stealing to occur in the future.

Explanation:

Can a being, who decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", not be ignorant of the fact that "his self exists"?

No, that being in that very moment of taking his decision is ignorant of the fact that "his self exists". Why is that so? If he knew that "his self exists", then he would also knew that "stealing is real". Why is that so? Because he would know that a self "owns things". Whenever something is "owned", it can be stolen. Thus, if he knew that "his self exists", then he would also know that "stealing is real". Thus, knowing that "stealing is real", he would never take decisions upon the view "stealing is an illusion".

Can a being, who decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", not be ignorant of the fact that "self of others does not exist"?

No, that being in that very moment of taking his decision is ignorant of the fact that "self of others does not exist". Why is that so? If he knew that "self of others does not exist", then he would also know that nothing can be stolen from others. Why is that so? Because he would know that with the non existence of the self of others, things owned by others don't exist. Why is that so? Because for a "thing" to be "owned", self must exist who owns that thing. Whenever "things owned by others" loose their owner, they can't be stolen. Thus, if he knew that "self of others does not exist", then he would also know that "things" are not owned by others due to them not having an owner, thus, he would know that "stealing is an illusion for others". Thus, if he knew that "stealing is an illusion for others", he would knew that nothing can be stolen from others. Thus, he would never take a decision "not to steal" knowing that "stealing is an illusion for others", because knowing that "stealing is an illusion for others" and knowing that "things don't have an owner", how possibly he could claim "I decided not to steal" if no stealing could ever take place as there is nothing that can be taken from others? Him taking the decision not to steal, even though he has the view "stealing is an illusion", means that he also has the view "stealing is real for others". For stealing to be real for others, they must have an existent self, that's why he is taking the view "self of others exists" but is ignorant of the fact "self of others does not exist".

Can a being, who decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", not be ignorant of the fact that "self of others exists"?

Yes, that being in that very moment of taking his decision is not ignorant of the fact that "self of others exists". Why is that so? Because he decided not to steal from others, he knows that self of others exists, thus he knows that others own things and he doesn't want to take these things from others. Thus, he is not ignorant of the fact "self of others exists".

Can a being, who decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", not be ignorant of the fact that "his self does not exist"?

Yes, that being in that very moment of taking his decision is not ignorant of the fact that "his self does not exist". Why is that so? He has the view "stealing is an illusion", but he is deciding not to steal, even though he knows that "stealing is an illusion". Why is this so? Because he is not ignorant of the fact that "self of others exists" (read above), he knows that stealing is not an illusion for others, thus he has a view "stealing is real for others". Nonetheless having the view "stealing is real for others", he has the view "stealing is an illusion", thus the only conclusion is that his view "stealing is an illusion" comes from the view "his self does not exist", because with the absence of his self, nothing can be stolen from his self, and thus he forms the view "stealing is an illusion".


  1. If a being decides to steal because of the view "stealing is an illusion", he is ignorant of the fact that "his self does not exist" and "self of others exist", thus creating kamma with potential for stealing to occur again in the future.

  2. If a being decides not to steal because of the view "stealing is real", he is ignorant of the fact that "his self does not exist" and "self of others does not exist", thus creating kamma with potential for stealing to occur in the future.

  3. If a being decides to steal because of the view "stealing is real", he is ignorant of the fact that "his self does not exist" and "self of others exists", thus creating kamma with potential for stealing to occur again in the future.

  4. If a being decides not to steal because of the view "beings are ignorant", he is speaking the truth, thus he is not creating any kamma with potential for stealing to occur in the future.

  5. If a being decides to steal because of the view "beings are ignorant", he is either ignorant of the fact that "self of others exists" or "self of others does not exist" or "his self exists" or "his self does not exist" or any combination of the previous, thus creating kamma with potential for stealing to occur again in the future.

Whenever a being defines a line with stealing, claiming "this is stealing", believing it is fact, reality, truth, substance, not letting go of it, clinging onto it, not seeing it as it really is, that being is acting out of ignorance. The core of it coming from views: "I exist" or "I don't exist" or "Others exist" or "Others don't exist" or "The universe exist" or "The universe does not exist" or any combination of these.

I'm challenging you to see reality as it really is.

  • Can you give sutta sources for any of these ideas? – Anton A. Zabirko Sep 1 '17 at 18:50
  • I teach what I was thought directly by my teachers whose teachings are in the suttas. To get to the ideas in my answer you have to see how everything is ... the truth. You have to see with your own experience. To see it, meditation must happen. This can guide you in the right direction accesstoinsight.org/lib/study/… – beginner Sep 2 '17 at 9:33
  • Ok. You give an example that stealing arises when the decision to steal occurs. But we have the precepts for ignorant people and discerning people. Some people know they are stealing and some don't. Are you saying that I can steal as long as I personally change my understanding, or coarse intention, of stealing into not stealing? – Anton A. Zabirko Sep 2 '17 at 13:54
  • I didn't read your entire long answer but i market it down because when a person steals they are not under the power of illusion but, instead, really believe the object they are stealing is solid & something they need. If stealing was illusion, stealing would not occur because it would be viewed as an illusion. – Dhammadhatu Sep 2 '17 at 21:34
  • Thank you for commenting. I answered in my 2nd edit. Thanks – beginner Sep 3 '17 at 17:35

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.