In Hinduism, Asteya, often translated as “non-stealing,” is a yam — a tenet for yogis. It refers to not accepting what does not belong to you. While stealing can downgrade anyone’s karma, spiritual aspirants and students may be more seriously wounded by it. Why? Because it may nullify the sole purpose of their actions.
If you are a “devotee” who offers money earned through questionable means, say bribery, in a temple, feeling that God will be pleased and offer you incentives in terms of spiritual advancement, you may need to think again. Can you steal and still surrender to a form of Brahman? Can you enjoy breaking a principal yam and still practice Bhakti Yoga? If you say “yes,” something is seriously wrong with your assumptions. At a lower level of offense, if you copy-paste a paragraph from someone’s website to your own religious website and feel that you are aiding in the promotion of your favorite path to God, you need to hold back and think for a while.
For students, cheating in an examination definitely disagrees with asteya. Getting your essays written by a professional writing service and submitting them for a grade at school may not be too different. But what if no one at school finds out? What if you regularly steal information and still get a high-paying job from the degree you “earn”? Because your self always sees everything, stealing blocks the absorption of knowledge from your self to your mind. What you miss by not following this yam is your own educational and spiritual growth, not transitory success.