The Yoga of Truth-Telling: Satya

While studying Yoga philosophy, it’s impossible not to come across grand notions, big words heralded by capital letters, such as Time, Space, the Absolute, Liberation, Self-Realization, and perhaps most elusive of all, the Truth.

It’s easy to feel a bit helpless, and perhaps even discouraged in the face of such towering ideals.

The gap between our computer-dominated, media-saturated, hectic lifestyle and the ancient teachings of the Yogic scriptures can seem so insurmountable that one may be tempted to give up before even embarking on the journey.

I know I have felt this way more than once while wading through the Yoga classics!

This is why, in this post on satya, which is the second Yama in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, I am going to focus on the importance of finding your truth with a small “t”, before you can aspire to know the grand “Truth”.

I have read elaborate articles on the philosophical difficulties of arriving at “real”, unshakable “Truths”, but the most eloquent explanation of what satya is all about came in a Q&A session with the great living Master, Sri Sri Ravi Shankar.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

During an informal gathering, a devotee asked, “In terms of speech, what is truth and untruth?  What do we mean when we take a vow to speak only satya?”

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar answered in his typical disarming simplicity:

Be true to yourself, honest to yourself. That is what it is. If your conscience says I don’t want to do it, don’t do it. If it says you should do it, you should do it, got it?”
“If you tell a lie, your whole body loses its strength.
That is why it is said ‘speak the truth; speak pleasant truth.’ Don’t speak unpleasant truth and don’t speak sweet lies. This is the ancient Sanatana Dharma.”

This brings home an important qualification of satya, or truth-telling. It must not simply be factually true, or even an accurate expression of your honest feeling. It must also come from a place that is in alignment with the first yama, ahimsa – non-violence.

So while it may be your honest opinion that your friend is a terrible chef, and may even have the inedible dish she prepared to back up your claim, stating this straight out as a “truth” would not necessarily qualify as satya.

The practice of satya requires that we carefully consider our words and the impact they would have on their receiver, and sift our speech through the filter of discrimination.

Patanjali states that “When the Yogi is firmly established in satya, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to fruition.” (II.36)

If we accept this statement to be the result of mastering satya, then we will certainly want to apply the wisdom offered by Sri Sri, speaking only the truths that will uplift and support others, and leaving what is hurtful, provoking, or useless unsaid.

The word satya is a beautiful proof that the lofty ideals stated in the ancient tomes can very much come alive in our day-to-day life.

Sat means the eternal unchanging truth – the “is-ness” of existence. “Ya” is the activating suffix which means “do it”. So, satya literally means “actively expressing and aligning with the ultimate Truth”.

Satya teaches us that it is the daily, vigilant practice of aligning our thought, speech and actions with our pure conscience that will take us across.

Slowing down, examining what we are thinking, saying and doing, and taking responsibility for them is satya.

Truth with a capital “T” may feel out of reach, but we are each endowed with the power to articulate our personal truth in a way that is honest, and uplifting to the listener. It’s a conscious choice we must exercise each time we speak.

Used in this way, our speech becomes the bridge that takes us from the finite to the Infinite, and from truth to Truth.


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