Satya is the second yama in Patanjali’s 8 limbs. If you missed my post about Ahimsa, the first yama, you can read it here. Now let’s talk a bit about satya. Satya translates to truthfulness or honesty. As always I would like to preface that these are my opinions. Yoga philosophy is always up for interpretation. This is how I’ve been taught about the 8 limbs and Patanjali’s yoga sutras. This is what I’ve studied. As always you don’t have to agree with everything I say. Take what resonates with you and leave the rest.
Now, let’s unpack this second yama a little bit, shall we?
Indian scriptures say that a person obtains everything by honesty. Basically, if you want to get things done you must be honest and speak the truth and be accountable. If you don’t speak the truth, nobody can count on you.
If I tell you I will be teaching a yoga class at 7 AM, you expect me to be there at 7 AM. You don’t expect me to be hanging out by the pool or sitting at home drinking coffee. The same goes for my clients. If I tell them I will deliver an article by Friday at noon, they expect that I will deliver the article on the agreed time. If we cannot count on each other, nothing will ever get done and no one can count on you.
But let’s back it up a bit. With Ahimsa we agreed that we aren’t going to kill each other. Now we are going to make a second pact to be truthful. We can now trust each other. We do what we say we will do. Otherwise nothing will ever get done and there will be no progress.
Usually, when we don’t keep our words or do as we say we will do or we simply aren’t being truthful and honest, it’s usually because there is an inclination to say something we don’t think or believe in an attempt to get something we want.
Let me give you an example. If I want a job and I know in order to get the job it’s important that I am on time every morning. However, I know I am always 10 minutes late, yet I still say that I’m on time because I know otherwise I won’t get the job. See what I mean?
Basically, there is something I want but if I tell the truth I might not get it. It is my desire that is running the show, and desire is the root of all evil. When we have desire, there will be anger because we won’t always get what we want, which will lead to anger. What happens when we are angry? We lose cognitive abilities which is basically madness. So where there is desire there is madness. According to yoga we must eradicate greed and desire.
When Satya becomes hard
However, satya can also bring us a in bit of a pickle. What happens if my friend asks me if I like her new haircut and I really don’t like it at all? Do I tell her that? In order to answer that question we must look at what comes before satya which is Ahimsa. So, if someone asks you if their baby looks cute, say yes, and try to find kind and skillful ways to be truthful and kind at the same time.
But remember that Ahimsa comes first. Try not to be hurtful.
However, of course we also cannot shy away from the truth just because it’s uncomfortable and difficult. Say a friend told you something hurtful, then please tell your friend that they hurt your feelings, but say it in a nice, calm way. We cannot not be truthful just because it’s uncomfortable. There is a fine balance, and there will be times where we harm others when we are truthful.
For instance, you will hurt someone’s feelings if you break up with someone. However, you would be inflicting more pain on yourself by staying in the relationship so you need to inflict som “harm” on the other person by being truthful and not cause yourself harm.
So, at the end of the day nothing is black and white when it comes to Satya (or any of the other yamas), and navigating the yamas and niyamas is not always easy. However, I believe that we can try our best to practice these limbs, knowing and accepting that it will be hard at times and that we will fail.
I hope this post has given you a better understanding of Satya.