Satya (Truthfulness) – The Second Yama: Meaning and Practice Guide

satya (truthfulness) - second limb
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If you tell the truth you don’t have to remember anything.

Mark Twain

The principles of yoga can be applied practically, even off the mat, in all aspects of our life with the practice of Satya.

What is Satya?

Satya is the second of 5 Yamas or “social ethics” explained in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

The literal meaning of the word “satya” is true essence or true nature. It generally refers to something that is eternally pure and cannot be changed. Alternatively the word “sat” can have many different interpretations, like, the state of being in sattva that cannot be distorted. Or a permanent state of being that is beyond time, space and person. Thus literal English translation of the word “Satya” is true, truth or truthfulness.

From this definition, it can be derived that there is a quality of satya to everything in existence. You have your own truth, which is the natural state of being of your mind and body. If you feel sad at a moment, then for that moment sadness is your truth. In another instance when you feel fatigued, for that moment tiredness is your truth. 

Alternatively, you also have a continuous truth about yourself. Your real social identity, your health status, your past experiences and incidents, and your lifestyle practices and beliefs, are all your personal, continuous truth.

Journey of Ahimsa to Satya

ahimsa nonviolence
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Ahimsa, the quality of non-violence gives birth to Satya. And it’s reason in 5 Yamas the earlier step of Satya is Ahimsa – the first Yama.

Ahimsa is the nature of non-violence in words, actions, and thoughts. This very nature of non-violence is at the very core of Satya. This is because anything that is not true is misleading, and hence, potentially dangerous. A lie can not only corrupt the surroundings but the source as well. A person who is compassionate for all beings and all creation will naturally understand the importance of truth and its potential to avoid harm.

Even the Yoga Sutras specifically mentions that Satya should be observed only in compliance with Ahimsa. Truth for the sake of truth, which causes more harm than good, must not be encouraged. For example, when someone is learning something new, at the initial stages of learning mistakes would be common. However, on such occasions brutal honesty will prove demotivating. On such occasions do not lie, but choose to tell the truth that will prove counterproductive.

For example, tell how more practice is needed, and with more practice, the goal will be achieved. In the pursuit of truth, we must remain vigilant to not cross the line between constructive criticism and destructive criticism; whilst the former will ornament creation the later will corrupt it.

Different Forms of Satya

When someone speaks kind words, kindness is the truth of his/her speech. In another instance when someone narrates an incident, that has a real-life existence, then his/her words are true.

Once again when our environment ignorant actions destroy the environment; destruction is the truth of our actions. In another scenario when we do, what we say, our actions are considered true to our words. It signifies that our actions have an existence in our words.

Thus anything that exists with a physical, intellectual, emotional, abstract, or any other form of manifestation known or unknown to men, irrespective of the acknowledgment given to its existence by any being, is the truth. 

Even in a lie, lies a truth

How can a lie be a truth? Well to understand that, rethink the definition of truth. Everything that exists is a truth of a sort. Thus even for a lie, the lie is real. The lie itself, in its content, maybe untruthful, however, the lie itself tells a truth about the source. For example, when a person lies, it tells the truth about that person. It tells the truth that the person has guilt, insecurities, and lacks trust.

Speaking the truth Vs. Seeking the truth

speaking vs. seeking truth
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Speaking the truth stands for the form of truth that is focused on making our words, thoughts, and actions, righteous. This is the form of truth that we all practice and has many implementations in our regular life

Seeking the truth, however, has a heavy spiritual connotation to it. Seeking the truth is more of an existential journey. It refers to analyzing the many implications of the reality that branch out from the source of all existence.

Rabindranath Tagore beautifully described both the truths in his quote,

“The water in a vessel is sparkling; the water in the sea is dark. The small truth has words which are clear; The great truth has great silence.”

Truth in life, for the truth of life

Being truthful means being in conformity with reality. And being in conformity with reality, opens your mind to things around you, just the way they are, without any distortion caused by yourself or others.

Truth in life, for the truth of life, implies that to be enlightened on the bigger philosophical and existential realities of life, you must start confronting your personal realities. Firstly you must start practice being truthful to yourself and then to others.

Once you practice being truthful to yourself and to others, you will be exposed to many timeless realities of life. Which we can perceive as benefits of being truthful:

  • Materialistic possessions and obsessions mean nothing.
  • Fear of losing and dying are both pointless.
  • An endless competition and rivalry are harmful.
  • Contribution is greater than success.
  • All creation and the entire universe are a part of a single union.
  • The mass spread of political, financial, and nationalistic conflicts is of little importance.
  • And nature is above all of us.

Now these are just a few examples of universal realities you will confront, once you are truthful inside and out. The stronger the power of truth within you gets, more enlightened you will be of such realities.

Truth and Happiness

Another personal take on the phrase, “truth in life, for the truth of life,” could be its relation to happiness. Implying that being truthful in life is vital to achieving happiness, which is the ultimate truth of life. Or at the least, it is the truth behind human desire.  

The journey of a man/woman in life is nothing but the search for happiness. Which is the truth of life. However, lies come in the way. Every time you lie, it starts an extensive process of manufacturing new lies to support the initial lie.

This repeated process of lying eats away at your inner integrity, which can start corrupting your consciousness and crippling your ability to judge yourself honestly. Naturally, over time you stray far away from the path that leads to happiness.

The truth you know Vs. the truth that is

The truth you know is the truth your kind knows to the best of its knowledge. And the truth that is a universal truth, remains unchangeable irrespective of your knowledge. There are many such scenarios where these two truths differ from each other. 

For a significant period in history, people believed that the earth was flat and not round. Similarly, for a time, people also believed that the sun revolves around the earth. In terms of existential truth, these facts were untrue. But at that time this was what mankind knew to the best of its knowledge. And thus people spreading these facts couldn’t be considered liars. As they had neither the knowledge of its misleading nature nor did the intention to mislead. In such scenarios, the truth spoken by people and the existential truth differ, yet both remain true on their own account.

Scriptural reference of Satya

scriptural reference of satya
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Satya as an ethical value is at the heart of almost every religious scripture. In scriptures like Rig Veda, Satya is all about existential reality. The Rig Veda states, Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuta Vadanti.”  Meaning, “the existential reality is one; whereas the learned ones call them by different names.” The word Sat is also used in Bhagavad-Gita to refer to something Supreme. 

Upanishad has used the term Sat both in terms of existential truth and moral quality. Upanishad refers that speaking truth resonates with speaking dharma or righteousness. In Tattriya Upanishads it is mentioned that Satyam Vada, Dharmam Chara, refers to the fact that speaking the truth leads you to the path of righteousness. And then the popular phrase from Upanishads, Satyam eva jayate, meaning truth alone triumphs.

Sat, Satyam, or Satya is also found in scriptures of other religions like Buddhism, Jainism, and Sikhism. In Sikhism, the Satnam Mantra is one of the most revered mantras. Satnam, meaning the All-Pervading Supreme Reality. 

The Upanishads also have a beautiful mantra dedicated to the journey of truth, 

Asato Maa Sad-Gamaya
Tamaso Maa Jyotir-Gamaya
Mrityor-Maa Amritam Gamaya
Om Shanti! Shanti! Shantihi!

Let my journey be
From the unreal to the real
From darkness to light
From mortality to immortality
Peace, peace, peace! 

Why are we not truthful?

“If you are out to describe the truth, leave elegance to the tailor.”
– Albert Einstein

Truth is bitter. This tiny phrase is probably the best way to summarize why many fail to be truthful. Truth in its core essence is not delicate, but harsh. But the person who can bear the initial bitterness of the truth will be rewarded with the sweetness of liberation.

Unfortunately, most people are scared of the initial bitterness. And in panic, they shun away acceptance and chose the seemingly easy path of denial. Thus to accept truth one must be brave and have an open mind. 

Ways to Practice Satya

ways to practice satya
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Implementing Satya is definitely not an easy task. But the fact that you are considering it is a commendable thing and in itself is a step towards truthfulness. Yes, the very first step in culturing any ethical value is awareness and willingness. Further, there are few actionable ways that will eventually make you truthful.

  • Confront your insecurities, they are the primary elements that make way for lies.
  • Share your deepest secrets and insecurities with someone you truly love. Or a really close friend, cousin, or sibling.
  • Be consciously accountable for your lies. That is, at the end of every day reflect back and note down all the lies you have said in a day.
  • If possible confront the people you have lied to and apologize.
  • Play a game of truth and dare from time to time, but replace the dare with the truth.
  • Interact with nature to develop a love for all beings. Love is the synonym of practicing Ahimsa and Ahimsa leads to Satya.
  • Culture an artistic Hobby to create a medium of emotional outlet. Negative emotions that are not vented out, often build up creating frustrations and insecurities.
  • Meditate regularly, it will help you stay aware and conscious of righteousness.
  • Stay fit in mind-body. A healthy mind and body will always make more logical, reasonable, and ethical decisions.
  • Stay away from distractions that corrupt your inner integrity.
  • Stay away from bad company.
  • Bring Satya on the Mat. When you are unable to perform an Asana properly, don’t be in denial of it. When you are being lazy and slacking during a practice session, or hurriedly moving past a pose to save time, accept it. 

Being on the receiving end of Satya

In pursuit of truth, there is one aspect that often gets neglected. Normally we are more concerned about being truthful, but what is equally important is to be mindful of how we behave towards a truth. You will often come across people who preach long and hard on how and why to be truthful. But the moment they are faced with a bitter truth, they crawl back into denial. Or even worse frown upon who is being truthful.

Most people think they prefer the truth, but in reality, what they want is to be reassured that what they believe is the truth. Naturally, when they encounter reality they quickly discard it. Now you must understand, that every time a person discards truth or frowns upon it, truthfulness is demotivated. Thus when on the receiving end of the truth, do not be judgmental towards it, but accepting. Creating an environment for truth is as important as being truthful.

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