All About Satya: Yoga, Honesty, and You

Beth Bradford

Nov 4, 2022

The search for satya, or truth, is a lifelong journey. Many people believe that honesty is the best policy, but what does that really mean?

You've probably heard the term "satya" before, but what does it really mean? 


Satya is a Sanskrit word that is translated to mean "truth" or "honesty." It is one of the yamas, or ethical principles, in yoga. 


When we live our lives in accordance with satya, we are truthful and honest with ourselves and others. We live authentically, from our hearts. 


What Is Satya?

Satya is a Sanskrit word that is often translated as "truth." But it's so much more than that. Satya is about living your life with honesty and integrity. It's about being truthful with yourself and with others.


It means being honest with yourself about your motivations and your intentions. It means being truthful in your words and in your actions. And it means living from a place of integrity, which is something that is built over time, through consistent effort.


But being honest isn't always easy. It can be tough to be truthful about our feelings, our thoughts, and our actions. We might not want to face the consequences of being honest. But the truth always comes out in the end. And when it does, it's always better to have faced it head-on.


How We Pervert Truth

I see bumper stickers that say, “Don’t believe the lying media.” As a former media professional myself, I can confidently say none of the reporters I have worked with have ever lied in a report. Really. They do the best they can to present this information, and sometimes the source of their information didn’t present this information clearly. 


When we see claims about the “liberal media,” it’s liberal in the sense that it seeks to uncover the truth. In some cases, reporters will have video, pictures, or documents that uncover the truth. In others, they talk to people who have witnessed something. The truth is neither liberal nor conservative. The truth is objective—it is our own perceptions that color it.


Indeed, it assumes an objective reality. When I hear people say, “This is my truth,” it is a variation on truth itself. It ultimately should be corrected to say, “This is my experience,” which is less about truth and more about perception.


In his book Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander, Thomas Merton writes that we don’t necessarily “search” for truth. Instead, we look for whatever information that makes us “right,” even if it’s not the truth.


Merton doesn’t sugarcoat his criticism when he writes, “What we seek is not the pure truth, but the partial truth that justifies our prejudices, our limitations, our selfishness.” Once we find a shred of “truth,” we plug our eyes and ears and say, “I’m right.”


Let’s face it—we love it when others are wrong, particularly when a reporter’s source gives misinformation. We hold that up high and say, “See, SEE!” Being “right” gives us comfort because we can go about living our lives without having to change anything. Pride feels really good, doesn’t it? 


Merton, who wrote Conjectures in the 1960s, criticizes our perversion of the truth:


We can rest secure in the fiction we have determined to embrace as “truth.” What we desire is not the truth, but rather that our lie should be proved “right,” and our iniquity be vindicated as “just.” This is what we have done to pervert our natural, instinctive appetite for truth.

Yet when we are wrong, it stings. We don’t want to admit it. Sometimes we double down in our lie. We justify it somehow by wasting a lot of time, energy, and words. Admitting we are wrong means we have to modify something—our attitudes, behaviors, or relationships. We might even have to acknowledge that Joe Biden won the 2020 Election. Truth hurts, which is why satya is one of the yamas.


Gandhi and Satyagraha

Although we know Gandhi more for his nonviolent activism, he believed that truth is a powerful force. He called it satyagraha, or “soul force.” Martin Luther King, Jr., who was inspired by Gandhi, also believed that truth is a powerful force for good. Gandhi believed satyagraha was part of ahimsa, and there was also an element of bramacharya as well. This shows how interlinked the yamas are. 


Gandhi believed that truth was not only a powerful weapon, but also a sovereign remedy. It can be inconvenient, especially in the face of rulers who want to keep their power over others. For Gandhi, it meant going to prison for truth. However, his belief in the force of truth that would liberate India from British rule. 

How to Live a Life of Satya Through Yoga

If we want to live a life of Satya, we need to start by looking at our own lives with honesty and integrity. We need to be truthful with ourselves about what we want and what we're capable of. And then we need to act on that truth, in every aspect of our lives.


When we live with Satya, we create a life of honesty and authenticity. We connect with the world from a place of truth and sincerity, and we find true peace and happiness.


It's not easy to be honest with yourself, but it's a critical part of living a life of satya. Here are a few steps to take to make it happen:


1. Be mindful of your thoughts and emotions.

2. Be truthful with yourself—about your thoughts, feelings, and actions.

3. Be honest in your relationships with others.

4. Take responsibility for your own happiness and well-being.


When you can be honest with yourself, you create a foundation of truth that can support you through anything life throws your way.


Living in Truth

One of my favorite books is The Four Agreements by Don Miguel Ruiz. The first agreement is “Be impeccable with your word.” This calls for absolute integrity of thought, word, and action. Those little white lies you tell to make someone feel good? They count, too. It’s not to say that you should tell someone they look fat in that dress–that goes back to ahimsa. You can have your opinion about something, and that’s much different.


Instead, it’s about being completely authentic. You say exactly what you mean, and you are always opening up to learning something new. Your words seek truth, and your ears are always open to it. Living in truth, being impeccable with your word, means that you’re continually stripping away at the illusions of the world. 


This impeccability is a daily–even moment-to-moment–practice. Are you wearing something that you can’t afford because you want others to believe you have more money than you do? Do you say one thing to one group of people then say the opposite before others?


Conclusion

Satya is an ethical principle in yoga that encourages us to live with honesty and truth. It can be hard to live a life of satya, but it's worth it. 


When we're honest with ourselves, we're more likely to make better decisions and live more authentic lives. Yoga can help us learn to be truthful with ourselves, and the yamas provide a guide for how to live ethically and honestly. 


But it's up to you to put these teachings into practice. Start by being honest with yourself, and then work on being truthful with others. The more you practice satya, the more authentic your life will become.