Satya is the second Yama (observance) cited by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. We saw in the first article of this series that Ahimsa – non-violence and compassion – is the foundation, the basis and the most important Yama, the following being only complements or conjugations. It is important to keep this in mind when approaching Satya.
The word Satya has several meanings in Sanskrit, including “truth” or “veracity”. The Yama is for the Yogi to remain faithful to the principle of truth and thus avoid lying. It is about not telling a lie but also of disguising the truth, exaggerating or lying by omission or ambiguity. Silence itself can be a form of lie.
This posture of honesty towards others can be scary: fear of not being or no longer being loved, of hurting, of not being received. Yet choosing to be real rather than pleasant simplifies our relationships. The truth can annoy but does not leave scars, while the lie can mark for life. It also brings a great saving of energy because any lie necessarily entails an additional expense to repair the fact that wasn’t said or done in the appropriate manner. It also avoids spending time regretting our lack of courage and feeling guilty. But this posture does not have to be rigid: Satya must absolutely be balanced with Ahimsa. It is about finding the right posture between integrity and non-violence, between love and respect for oneself and for others. We must neither deceive ourselves nor deceive others. So non-violence prevents integrity from becoming a weapon capable of harming another. This means, for example, prioritizing the appropriate time and manner to express your truth to others, heart-to-heart.
Being honest may not get you a lot of friends but it’ll always get you the right onesJohn lennon
Satya also implies being sincere with oneself, not lying to oneself about situations, not seeking to embellish or ugly make reality. It requires to be honest with our thoughts, our emotions and even our intuitions at the risk of otherwise disconnecting from ourself, from the Self. The lack of inner integrity deprives us of the opportunity to work on ourselves, on our ego. It takes courage not to run away from reality as it is. But it is key to self-knowledge, which allows us to discover the subtle and deep aspects of our emotions, our mental constructions and the afflictions coming from our previous lives. Accepting and observing our imperfections are the first steps in their transformation. We are then at the heart of Yoga according to Patanjali:
Yoga chitta vritti nirodhaYoga Sutras – I.2
Which means that Yoga is the end of mind disturbances (automatic thoughts, fluctuations and vortices of thoughts and emotions).
Applied to other disciplines of Yoga, Satya involves being honest in our practice, accepting our limitations, whether they are revealed in postures, breathing exercises or meditation. There is no point in compensating or skipping steps to escape them. It is again a waste of energy in the long term because it leads to bad habits and injuries. We should rather leave the ego aside and take advantage of each situation to observe, study and gradually transform. This is the meaning of Niyama Svadhyaya that we will detail in a future article in this series.
When right and left are integrated, one finds oneself in the presence of truth, which is the second principle of yama. No need to observe the principle of truth, you are already in the truth because you are not evading it by not working the weak side enough.BKS Iyengar – The Yoga Tree
This work of inner alchemy requires staying honest with ourselves and our feelings because the transformation has impacts on our life and relationships. So while remaining true to Ahimsa and in bringing fluidity and compassion to our relationship with others, we sometimes have to choose transformation over belonging to a group, a philosophy or a system of thought. Grow rather than belong. This does not mean isolation but a harmonization of our relationships so they vibrate more precisely with our inner truth. This is the meaning of the rites of passage in traditional societies, which mark transitions from one reality to another. Just because we transform doesn’t mean that others have to change too, remember Ahimsa : everybody has his own truth, his own tempo and his own way. In the end they will all lead to the divine Self!
Another translation of Satya is “reality”. The word derives from the Sanskrit root “sat” which means pure, unalterable, divine essence. In the Vedas, Satya is related to Ritam, the cosmic order or cosmic harmony. This allows a more subtle and deeper approach of the Yama: after relating with others, then with oneself, it is now a matter of relationship with the cosmos and the divine. The posture of Satya becomes a way to connect to the spiritual reality, to live the truth of the present without superimposition or partial view of the events. We then tend to harmonize with the cosmic forces around us, to deify and transmute our reality. Ahimsa and Satya combined form the path to the Divine, of resorption into the Reality which is essentially Love and Truth. This sheds light on the verse of Patanjali:
Satya pratisthayam kriya phala ashrayatvamYoga Sutras – II.36
It can be translated as follows: “when the state of Truth is completed, the fruits or actions result naturally according to the will of the yogi“. The reality of the Yogi becomes divine. The unfolding of events is in harmony with the cosmic order Ritam. The Yogi is no longer under the influence of lies and delusion. Saying the truth no longer has any meaning in itself since the Truth becomes an inner experience, a state of being.
Satya can be practiced in everyday life or on the mat, similarly to what we presented in the previous article about Ahimsa: identify, observe and tame the thoughts, words and acts which are not in accordance with our intrinsic truth and which are in disharmony with Reality, practice honesty towards oneself and towards others in all situations, always with kindness, without judgment and without mental constructions. It is not about morality but about a real spiritual path of transformation from the self to the Self.