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8Limbs Series: Yama – Satya

Satya: Truthfulness

Sorry that this post has been delayed so much.  I was hoping to make this a weekly series, but suddenly two and a half weeks have passed without me hitting the ‘Publish’ button for this post!  Perhaps it was fate, rather than time, that made me pause, because the concept of Satya has been at the forefront of my mind the last few weeks.

Satya is the second of the Yamas, which is the first limb in Ashtanga yoga.  See my post on Ahimsa or my post on the Eight Limbs if you want a recap.

The Obvious

I like to think of the Yama limb as being things you should refrain from doing, but Satya, directly translated as ‘truthfulness’ seems a bit of a contradiction in that respect!  Should we refrain from being truthful? I somehow doubt that!  After doing some reading on Satya, I have come to the conclusion that we should practice restraint in our speech, but pausing simply to consider what you are about to say.  Would your words convey anything negative? Be it dishonesty, hurt, anger etc – is it really worth saying? I really admire those in my life who do pause before they speak – you can almost see them formulate their words internally, and really pay attention to what they are about to say.  I have found that those people provide the most rational answers, and don’t sacrifice their honesty for any emotion.  We should never stray from the first yama (Ahimsa) as it is so closely linked with Satya.

The Subtle

When I speak of honesty, I do not mean that you should say “yes honey, you do look horrible in that outfit”! That is not practicing  Satya.  Your words are a biased judgement – subject to your opinion and your view of the situation.  What you say may sound like the truth, but it is just an opinion – a dynamic, transient thought which can change depending on your mood, the day etc.  Awareness that your thoughts, whether verbalised or not, are neither always correct or truthful is a key part of Satya, and can promote Ahimsa (non-violence).  Truthfulness does not have to be spoken – it can be an internal process, where you realise that your thoughts may be negative and harmful to yourself.  That negative voice in the back of your head stating that you aren’t capable of  succeeding in that new job/venture/yoga pose(!) is not practicising Satya, that’s for sure!

Judgement can also be seen in the yoga shala, where, when dishearted from being unable to get into one particular asana, you may begin to judge the pose (“it’s not useful anyway!”) or yourself (“I’ll never be able to do this – what’s wrong with me?”).  This limits us and objectifies this pose or our abilities as “bad”.  If nothing was “good” or “bad” and those labels were simply a judgement or interpretation cast based on your experiences, then we would never be limited.

Sri Swami Satchidananda translated Chapter 2, verse 36 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as:

To one established in truthfulness, actions and their results become subservient”
(“satya pratisthayam kriya phalasrayatvam”).  

I really like this verse, and interpret it as meaning if you practice truthfulness and immerses yourself in it, you will act accordingly and always promote Satya.

My Interpretation

This is very close to home for me currently. Although I’m a big believer in honesty being “the best policy”, recently I’ve found myself panicking on occasion when confronted, and speaking dishonestly.  If I took a moment to consider the situation and realise that nobody is attacking me or my character, then I would definitely not even hesitate in practicing truthfulness. I know I’m very good at speaking before thinking, and I really do want to slow down that reaction and start pausing and considering what I want to say.   On a deeper level, I also want work on judgement, and to see things in a neutral light – as being capable of being positive or negative (or neither!).  Everything has the ability to become anything, and sometimes the only limiting factor is how it is viewed!

How do you see Satya, or truthfulness?

Tali xxx