thoughts on satya


the principle of truth

I breathe deep when I think of Satya because I truly believe in its meaning: truth and honesty in thoughts, words, and deeds. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras famously lists Sayta among the five yogic restraints (Yamas). Literally translated, Satya means “truth” or “non-lying”. Successful adherence to truth requires restraint from untruth.

I marvel that all of my life I have been surrounded by deceit and by the temptation to deceive. To adhere to Satya means fighting the conditions that lead to acts of untruth, as well as the ease with which such acts are committed. In many cases, it is easier to lie than it is to tell the truth. Living in Satya takes work and dedication.

Truth in Words

Truth in our words is perhaps the most obvious form of Satya. We learn from an early age that we are not supposed to lie to others when we speak. However, sometimes strict adherence to speaking the truth can lead to harm. For instance, what if you witness an armed robbery and see a victim escape. The robber asks you which direction the victim fled. Do you tell him? Is this an appropriate application of the principle of truth? If adhering to the principle of Satya will violate the yogic principle of Ahimsa (non-harming), then discernment and wisdom are required. Sometimes the “right” answer will be easy to come by, as in the example posed above. At other times, great deliberation may be required. 

Frequently, people struggle with whether or not to speak up about an issue when they expect that  speaking their truth will be painful to another party. In such situations, I ask myself, Which action will cause more harm in the long run? Over the years, I have found that regardless of the amount of pain caused, it is best to speak the truth. However, there may be instances when silence is the highest path. Ultimately, the truth seems to always come out. Being honest up front can quicken the process and thereby hasten the opportunity for healing.

Truth in Thoughts

Truth in our thoughts may be the most difficult form of Satya, since it can be difficult to judge the truth or untruth of our thoughts. Our thoughts are the product of our life experiences, and filtered through the lens of these experiences. As a result, it can be challenging to see our own cognitive distortions. Having loved ones around us who challenge our thoughts and beliefs is a great remedy.

Truth in Actions

Truth in actions is about engaging in the world with integrity and personal authenticity. Life can prompt us to develop different identities based on our different environments – one for at work, one for at home, and one for when we are alone. As I apply the principle of Satya to my own life, I aim to be truthful in all environments. At the end of the day, my measure of success is to be at peace within my own skin as a result of having lived true to myself.

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