This week we will explore Satya, the practice of truthfulness and the second tenant of the Yamas. This is the practice of not deceiving oneself or others. Being truthful with others and with ones self is extremely important on the spiritual path, as the goal of yoga is to know the ultimate truth.
Satya is not simply literal truth. It is compassionate truthfulness - truth given with a sense of benevolence. This benevolent truthfulness imbues truth with the quality of Ahimsa, or the intent of not doing harm. This is truth used to heal and to bring people towards their own deep love within, not to hurt them or scar them.
For example if the father of someone you know has passed away and you need to tell the daughter, you would not want to email the information to her, or just say it casually while in passing. Though that would be truthful, it would probably also be hurtful. So instead to follow Satya would be to share the information with kindness and consideration for her feelings, taking time to sit with her and gently tell her in a supportive atmosphere. Satya requires kindness in your words and in your deeds as well as honesty.
Now the razors edge of the practice of Satya is distinguishing between what is compassionate truthfulness and the little white lies we tell ourselves and others that are self serving and deceitful. I once knew some orange robed swamis in India I was spending time with. I thought, now these guys are yogis. They have dedicated their lives to yogic practices and service to humanity. But then I noticed one day they were putting out a newsletter and in it they wrote about an event that occurred in which they completely distorted the description of the event and basically lied. When I commented on this and said it was against Satya, they said it was for peoples own good. They were so dedicated to their mission that they perceived the lie as a practice of Satya, bending the truth for what they felt was people’s own good.
I found this experience very disturbing because from my view they were actually lying to people and not giving people accurate information so they could make up their own minds. I felt they were justifying lying for self-serving purposes, but they saw it differently. You see the same in political campaigns and on some news stations where the truth is intentionally distorted in order to influence people towards a particular viewpoint or action. To me this is not what is meant by benevolent truthfulness.
To practice truthfulness with compassion does not mean to lie to people to serve a purpose you believe in. It means to practice being truthful with deep love for the person you are speaking to.
It also means being deeply honest with yourself about your strengths and your weaknesses without tearing yourself down and diminishing your own being. To know yourself, both what you are good at and your faults and failings is an important part of self-honesty. But it is also important to recognize the beauty and love that is essential to your deeper nature, to acknowledge your divine essential core. This is real self-honesty.
Loving yourself and all beings unconditionally is the result of deep and perceptive self-honesty. We are all flawed and in our deepest core we are all divine. This world is a place of pain but it is also a place of great beauty and joy. The edict “Know thy Self” is the true essence of the practice of Satya.
Maetreyii Ma: a teacher of yogic wisdom & practices