Different Yoga scriptures list a different number of precepts of Yama. Yoga Sutra of Patanjali prescribes five precepts: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha. In other words, Non-violence, Truthfulness, Non-stealing, Continence, and Non-receiving are the five-fold Yama. Satya is the second precept of five-fold Yama.
In Rig Veda, we come across the triple term: Satyam Rtam Brhat. It is one of the most important religious conceptions of Rig Veda. The three terms are explained by Sri Aurobindo in his book: The Secrets of the Veda.
He explains “This psychological conception is that of a truth which is the truth of divine essence, not truth of mortal sensation and appearance. It is Satyam, the truth of being; it is in its action Rtam, right, — the truth of divine being regulating right activity both of mind and body; it is Brhat, the universal truth proceeding direct and undeformed out of the Infinite.”
In other words, Satyam is the reality of divine essence; Rtam is the reality in action or the manifestation of the divine essence; Brhat is the reality of existence in its entirety or vastness. Internally, Satyam indicates the truth of being; Rtam indicates the truth of knowledge and action; Brhat indicates the illuminated consciousness the nature of which is wide and large.
Rig Veda declares “Ekam Sat Vipra Bahuta Vadanti” which means “the existential reality is one; whereas the learned ones call them by different names.” It should not be interpreted as truth is one, as it is normally being done. It denotes something more than the word truth denotes and evidently different from truthfulness. It definitely means the ultimate reality of existence.
It seems that the word Satya had been used to mean existential reality before its meaning had evolved to be an ethical concept of truthfulness that applies to the mind and body.
It was originally used interchangeably with the word Sat. Later, the word Sat has been used to mean the absolute truth and Satya has been used to mean the relative truth or worldly truth the nature of which is changing from time to time; where absolute truth is permanent.
In Gayatri Mantra mentions seven worlds of Hindu cosmology: Bhur, Bhuva, Suva, Maha, Jana, Tapa and Sathyam. The world of Satyam or truth is the supreme world. It is a symbolic representation. But in Vedanta, the seven worlds correspond to seven psychological planes of consciousness: Anna, Prana, Manas, Vijnana, Ananda, Chit, and Sat.
Sada Eka Rasa, Sada Eka Rupa. The nature of Sat is one essence and one form.
Sat-Chit-Ananda is Existence-consciousness-Bliss. Only Atman has triple aspects of Sat-Chit-Ananda. Sat is the eternal truth. Chit is the supra-mental consciousness that transcends all. Ananda is the eternal bliss. It has no beginning and no end. It exists forever. It is the quality of Atman. Hence Sat is the quality of Atman only.
Satya and Yoga
In Yoga, Satya is one of the Dharma to be observed. Dharma means the observances of righteous thoughts and behavior. It is one of the five Yamas or Self-restraints prescribed in Ashtanga Yoga.
Patanjali defined Satya as “Satya-pratiṣthāyaṁ kriyā-Phala-āśrayatvam”. It means “by the establishment of truthfulness, the Yogi gets the power of attaining the fruits of works without doing work, for him and other”.
Swami Vivekananda explains “When the power of truth is established with you, then even in a dream you never tell an untruth, in thought, word, or deed; whatever you say will be the truth. You may say a man ‘Be blessed’ and that man will be blessed. If a man is diseased, you say to him ‘Be thou cured,’ he will be cured immediately”.
Being untruthful is being self-deceptive. Self-deception always makes one guilty. As a result, the mind gets modifications that are detrimental to Yoga. For successful Yoga, one should cultivate truthfulness in thought, speech, and deeds. One should practice Satya not because it is one of the moral dharma or restraints but because it is detrimental to yoga.
Asatya or non-truthfulness makes one’s mind impure. If you tell a lie, you have to go for more lies to maintain that lie. It makes pressure on your mind and results in a chain of modifications.
Bhagavad Gita 17.23 states that Brahman is also called by the names Om, Tat, and Sat. Om is Brahman; Tat is Brahman; Sat is Brahman.
Verse 17.26 states that Sat is used in the sense of Truth as well as in the sense of Supreme. The word Sat is used in all auspicious rites and ceremonies.
Verse 17.27 states that Sat reposes in all yajnas, penances, and charities. It reposes in all the activities meant for Brahman.
Satya and Ahimsa
What if the act of cultivating Truthfulness goes against the precept of non-violence? For example, when the truthfulness of one person harms the other, then what should one do? He should stick on to Ahimsa. His truthfulness should not harm others. In this sense only, the scriptures say “Ahimsa Paramo Dharma” which means “Non-violence is the supreme Virtue”.
Satya and Vedas
Verse 1.1.5 and 1.1.6 reads
Agnir-Hotaa Kavikratuh Satyash-Citrashravastamah |
Devo Devebhir-Aa Gamat ||5||
Yad-Angga Daashusse Tvam-Agne Bhadram Karissyasi |
The above verses may be translated as
“May Agni, the priest of the offering whose will towards action is that of the seer, who is the existential truth, most rich in varied inspiration, come, a god with the gods.”
“The good that thou will create for the giver, that is that reality of thee, O Angiras.”
Here the Satya means the reality or truth of being. Beingness is the only truth that is permanent. Simply put, it is the absolute truth which is the truth forever.
Satya and Upanishads
Satyam eva jayate nānṛtaṃ satyena panthā vitato devayānaḥ । yenā''kramantyṛṣayo hyāptakāmā yatra tat satyasya paramaṃ nidhānam ॥3.6॥
Satya and Advaita Vedanta
Brahman is the supreme or absolute truth. There is no duality of Jiva. Brahma Satyam Jagan Mithya, Jiva Brahmaiva Na Para. It means Brahman is the reality, Jiva is a delusion. Nothing supersedes the truth of the oneness of Jiva and Brahman.
Satya and Buddhism
Samviritti Satya is based on the knowledge of the external world and can be grasped with the verbal designation; whereas Paramartika Satya is beyond the words and thoughts and can be grasped by means of intuition only. It is the truth that of universal emptiness or sunyata which is the true nature of the empirical world that has no independent substantiality.
Some argue that Sri Adi Sankara of Advaita sub-school of Vedanta philosophy borrowed this doctrine of Paramartika Satya from the Madhyamika school of Buddhism. But one should understand the difference between the basic philosophical concepts.
Satya and Jainism
According to Jainism, the fundamental principle of truthfulness states to choose the right between the right and wrong and to choose the eternal between eternal and temporary in whatever stage of life one is.
Satya and Sikhism
- Sri Aurobindo, The Secrets of Veda with selected Hymns, Sri Aurobindo Ashram, 1998.
- Maurice Bloomfield, A Vedic Concordance, Harward University, 1906.
- T.Paramasiva Iyer, The Riks, The primeval Glimpse of Light and Life, Mysore Government Press, 1911.
- Suredernath Dasgupta, A History of Indian Philosophy, Cambridge University Press, 1922.
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