Thursday, February 21, 2013

Satya - harmony with fact and motives

सत्यप्रतिष्थायं क्रियाफलाश्रयत्वम् ॥३६॥
satya-pratiṣthāyaṁ kriyā-phala-āśrayatvam ||36||
Once a state of truth (satya) has been established, each statement will form the basis for a truthful result.

Satya is the second yama and generally translated and summarised as 'non-lying' or 'benevolent truth'. Truthfulness is central to the concept of satya (सत्य), a term derived from the Sanskrit root 'sat' - truth; being. In yoga tradition, satya is more than a commandment along the lines of "thou shall not lie". First of all, it describes the mindful exploration of facts, followed by an honest investigation of our motives to either hide or communicate them.

A lie is not just the act of telling something untrue. More often then not, lying involves the art of either concealing embarrassing facts, or the exaggeration of facts to make ourselves look better in the eyes of others, or even ourselves. Lying can also involve long and contrived accounts with the aim to justify our mistakes and blame others. Sometimes, lying can be as simple as the use of habitual phrases, such as "I love you", in order to avoid further engagement or a confrontation.

Satya can be seen as an exercise in transparency, and it starts with questioning our motives. Try and understand how and when you lie, to yourself, and to others. Only self analysis of our motives to communicate in given circumstances in a particular way will allow us to be truthful.

Satya demands more then the simple adherences to facts. It is also important to question our motives in telling the truth. When taken together with the other four yamas, is clear that it is not always ethically right to speak truth. Compulsive truth telling, as simple and perhaps compelling as such fundamental concept is, can have harmful consequences. Speaking truth can be an act of aggression, for example by exposing private secrets and thereby harming relationships. Finally, even the right speech can be inappropriate under the wrong circumstances, and make you look self righteous, or simply not trustworthy.

Siddhartha Gautama perhaps best qualified satya by emphasizing that truthfulness means not telling lies, not talking about others in a way that can result in disharmony among people, and not speaking harshly or carelessly for the sake of making an impression on others. Along these lines, the application of satya has been summarised in the "the four gates of speech", which follow four simple questions:
1) Is what I want to say the truth?
2) Is it necessary to say, i.e, is it benevolent?
3) Is this the right moment and place to say it?
4) Can it be said in a positive and kind way?
If not, it is best to remain in silence.

Truthfulness requires a high degree of self-understanding, attentiveness to present circumstances, and emotional intelligence. Arguably, satya can be said to be less about speaking than about cultivating silence. Instead of speaking, we should exercise the art of listening, of looking beyond the concepts we try to express in words and the images that we mistake as reality.

Satya is harmony with fact and motives applied to speech

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