Satya – Lead Me from the Unreal to the Real  

by Olga Oskorbina |
April, 2023
Satya-pratiṣṭḥāyām kriyā-phalāśhrayatvam  

When the Yogi is established in satya, honesty, the yogi attains the fruit of his actions without effort.

In order to develop unwavering discriminating knowledge (vivekakhyāte) between the seer and the object of seeing or Purua and Prakti, master Patañjali states that it is essential to purify the mind. It is by practicing the eight limbs of Yoga that the impurities of mind (kleśā) are burnt away.  

Satya, or truthfulness, is defined by Vyāsa as speech and mind conforming to reality, and it falls under the first limb called yamas (yamāḥ) or ‘restraints’, – abstaining from what one shouldn’t do from a moral and spiritual view point.  

What happens when we deliberately speak untruth? We are trying to manipulate other minds so reality is hidden or distorted from them in order to have some kind of personal gain. We trick others into believing a different story, a story that suits my agenda, often times forgetting how one small lie can ruin the trust built over years in a relationship. A yogi is striving to know what is real, the ultimate truth with which comes ultimate freedom. That desire to know what’s real is so strong that there is total respect and love for truth and therefore manipulating it for personal gain is to go against the very thing he/she is seeking.  

Truthfulness, just like other yamas following it, is practiced by yogis to spotlessly refine and make non-harming (ahisā) immaculate. Therefore, one’s speech should be undertaken for the benefit of all beings. As Vyāsa says, speech that causes harm to others would not be truth, but a simulation of virtue and will only lead one to gain darkness. For example, one ascetic whose austerities were centered upon truth, when asked by the robbers where the caravan of the rich people went, he told them the direction where it had gone. That, according to Patañjali, would not be considered truth due to its harmful effect. When in doubt about what you are going to say, ask yourself: Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? In meditation retreats often times noble silence is practiced. One reason for it is not to break the precept or vow of Saya that the practitioner agrees to at the start of the course. When we speak, it’s easy to exaggerate things or add something to make it more colorful. We all have done it, but if you want to be firmly grounded in truth, even exaggeration is a distortion of reality.  

Patañjali states in the sutra II.36 that actions of a person firmly grounded in truth bear immediate results or are successful. Such a person sees things as they truly are, there is thorough understanding of reality and therefore actions of such a person are more realistic. Such a person is trustworthy and reliable.  

Now the question arises: how can I be sure that what I am saying is true? Vyāsa explains that our speech should be in accordance with the three sources of valid knowledge stated in Y.S. I.7 – direct perception (through our sense organs), inference (use of logic) and verbal testimony of a competent person or scripture. Therefore, it’s our responsibility to make sure that the information is examined and validated to be true. In our modern world, where most of the information we receive is neither coming from direct perception, nor from inference, nor from competent authority, but rather from social media and news channels, we are confronted with a situation where our beliefs and opinions are formed and shared based on trust in those sources, many of which are contradictory and biased by a certain ideology or designed to manipulate behaviour of masses in a certain way that will enrich or benefit some and not others. The image of a grazing cow in a green field on a bottle of milk misleads us into believing that this is how milking cows live. In our present times it has become difficult to know what it true and what is not. The yogic mind is the mind of an investigator who is questioning the status quo and untying knots of cultural memes and wrong beliefs.  

Truth is objective and it is the same for everyone, it exists. Belief is subjective in nature, it is formed and it can change. Knowing that, it’s best to be tolerant when dealing with differences in beliefs. Our own or someone’s current belief may not be based in truth, and compassionate and kind dialogue for the purpose of a deeper investigation into the subject can be the best course of action. It may be humbling to keep in mind that any relative truth is only a partial truth.

Ramana Maharshi said: “The world is illusory, only Brahman is real. The world is Brahman.” And he described silence as the most eloquent speech.  Such concepts as time and space are only relatively true and considered to be the tools of māyā, illusion. “All separation, every kind of estrangement and alienation is false. Your being a person is due to the illusion of space and time. The mind creates time and space and takes its own creation for reality.” – Nisargadatta Maharaj. What is Real? That is the question we are here to find the answer to.  

Teaching Tips

  • Suggest that students practice a day or a few hours of silence per week/day. It can be a revelation on how much energy we expend on talking and how much of what we say is not necessary. It can also lead to being at ease in silence and appreciate it. In silence we are more aware of the nature of our thoughts.
  • Read from yogic scriptures and the words of sages and saints. In your talks rely on them for transmitting the Truth.  
  • Spend longer time chanting mantras, sutras and verses from yogic texts. Provide their word for word translation and then interpretation, if available. Know the difference between translation and interpretation and relay it to students. Students put a lot of trust in their teachers. Be responsible for what you say.  
  • In evening classes you can have people reflect on their interactions with others during the day and whether their speech was truthful, non-harming and pure. Invite them to further investigate the reasons for not being aligned with truth which may lead to further areas of introspection and understanding.  
  • Teach sālamba sarvāgāsana, halāsana, matsyāsana and other asanas that address viśuddha chakra, the energy center related to our speech. Teach people how to use blankets for shoulderstand and halāsana so they are more comfortable to hold them.  
  • Share with students the hidden truth behind advertisement and social media information. Be careful to do your research first.  
  • Teach by example. Be mindful and avoid any gossiping, complaining, exaggerations and unnecessary small talks. Study the Truth, live the Truth, transmit the Truth, be the Truth.