Satya means being truthful in one’s thoughts speech and actions. The word is derived from ‘sat’, the direct translation is ‘true essence’.
I have been a searcher of satya long before being a yogi. I was the kind of kid that kept asking why, with parents who kept telling me not to believe everything that was written down (given that the only founts of truth back then were my parents, and books and papers, their view felt kind of biased, and a little bit deceitful). Which makes me direct, and sometimes a little rude in other people’s eyes. Ask my parents.
What is truth?
Your child (or someone else’s) will ask you at some point that philosophical question – why tell the truth? You and your friends may even have a few late night conversations full of red wine philosophy on this very topic. You will have a conversation, at least 10 times today (so say the truth psychologists) that will involve you deciding whether to tell the truth. Or not.
“Have you thought about what you mean when you say to someone, tell me the truth?”
I spent part of my university time, studying philosophy (economics, which will make other philosophers squeal, but there you go). There are three major ways you confirm truth for your self and judge others by it:
1 – truth is a ‘fact’ confirmed by ‘objective evidence’. If something is a fact, it is real and therefore the truth. The sun rises and sets is a truth, based on this concept. But some truths can change – what is once a fact becomes a falsehood. Telling someone not to smoke dope because it is illegal for example, is no longer a truth in many places in the USA. But is a truth in Australia. What we know now about world markets is far different from what we know about them even 20 years ago. Basing your truth on facts may be shaky ground, if the other person has different but also verifiable facts to back their ideas up. And not everything in the world is able to be objectively proven. Like feelings and ideas, for example.
2 – a truth is a truth, if it is part of a coherent system of beliefs. Truth maintains its integrity because it is supported by a host of other beliefs that reinforce and validate it.
For example, if you believe shooting animals is your human right, then you probably believe owning guns is OK. Truth here is coherent, and logically linked. Rarely based on facts (although facts are sometimes used to support the view – just remember, lies, lies and damned statistics). These truths invariably have chinks in their armour, for example, if owning a gun is OK, and shooting animals is OK, when is not owning a gun OK? (none, even if there is evidence to the contrary, this is the essential position of the NRA in the USA). Basing your truth only this, creates frame blindness, an inability to see another person’s point of view.
3 – truth is more likely to be a truth, if it can be maintained with integrity over long periods of time. They can be based on facts or a system of beliefs, or both. This is the heart of spiritual practice. 1 and 2 above are just fluctuations of the mind, says the Buddhist yogis. How to care for yourself, and others, be mindful of you and what is around you, are such truths.
“This is the basis of satya. If truth crumbles under scrutiny, then it is not a real ‘truth’.”
What I see happening today is the introduction of smellier versions of truth and a reduction of satya. Truth has been devalued. My concern about the low currency of truth has many global examples. One of them is the US Presidential election and its consequences.
Donald Trump, America’s current presidential elect, has made telling the truth out of date, irrelevant and even ‘too intellectual’.
He kicked off his campaign accusing Mexico of sending rapists and criminals to America, commenting pregnancy was an inconvenience to employers, equal rights have gone too far, the list was daily and endless. When the facts used by him to back up his view, were found to be wrong, his response was usually “my bad – I thought it was the truth when I said it”. His campaign was a series of one liners intended to deliver ‘truth’ as other people saw it – a set of beliefs that reinforced and supported a particular view.
Hilary Clinton stuck to policy facts and truths, had a long history of service to community, most of it very successful. Hoisted by her own petard of openness and track record, as my great-grandmother would say, her years of political work was seen by many as an example of just how self-serving the US political system was. Use of a private email server for work became a criminal offence (don’t know what planet people are on, but in the private sector, people do this to deal with emails they would rather their boss not see and unless it involves taking large sums of money off your boss is not a sackable offence). Still, I am also a little suspicious, so the mud has stuck.
Trump’s trustworthiness to voters was higher than his opposition, Hilary Clinton (63% vs 60%).
When did being hateful towards others, deceitful, and a liar become trustworthy?
We face interesting times. Every generation has had complex social issues to face (destruction of social fabric post war, the introduction of equality for all, economic depression). We are no different now except…..
For many people, satya appears to be something they are no longer interested in.
Truth myopia has shifted from “does my butt look big in this?” to more life changing – “how come I can’t seem to get a job? Who can I blame?” We look outward to confirm our worst fears, and we find what we are looking for.
Fear is making us deaf to truth.
And yet when someone close tells us a lie, we lose our faith in them, our self-esteem is affected, we hurt. When they keep telling us lies, we stop trusting them. And move on to find others who care and respect for us more.
When you tell the truth to someone (including yourself), you show them respect. We are authentic when we tell the truth. And authentic means connection.
When we stop wanting to hear the truth, connections between us disintegrate, society fragments, and fear grows, people listen less and less, they turn inwards and listen to the craziness of their own minds.
“The miracle of your mind isn’t that you can see the world as it is – it’s that you see the world as it is NOT.”
Kathryn Schulz, On Being Wrong.
When we don’t give ourselves the respect we deserve, when we blind ourselves to truth, we become very, very unhappy. Buddhists believe that being open to truth is more likely to occur when you are happy (meaning present, at peace with ‘that bum in the mirror’).
Bombarded by conveniently supporting messages for our truths (thanks to Facebook and Google algorithms), the dilemma for this generation is the ability to challenge and reframe our thoughts. Perhaps even acknowledge we might have it wrong.
We have to question our long-held thought patterns, and take personal accountability for all that happens in our life. Sure, globalization has taken jobs away from millions, turned some countries into nothing better than labour ghettos. Go to China or Korea if you still want to make a car.
“I can’t find a job because all the immigrants have taken them” becomes “what could I learn from them about finding and keeping a job?”.
“Ninety percent of your long-term happiness is predicted not by the external world, but by the way your brain processes the world.” Shawn Achor, Author, The Happiness Advantage.
It is not easy practicing satya. Being direct and a little rude helps. But when we ask for – demand the truth, however inconvenient, we open the door to happier, connected way of being in this world. Surely that’s what it is all about, right?
Sonnet 138: When My Love Swears That She Is Made Of Truth – by William Shakespeare
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies,
That she might think me some untutored youth,
Unlearned in the world’s false subtleties.
Thus vainly thinking that she thinks me young,
Although she knows my days are past the best,
Simply I credit her false-speaking tongue;
On both sides thus is simple truth suppressed.
But wherefore says she not she is unjust?
And wherefore say not I that I am old?
O, love’s best habit is in seeming trust,
And age in love, loves not to have years told.
Therefore I lie with her, and she with me,
And in our faults by lies we flattered be.