2. Yama - Truthfulness | Satya
Summary of the Second Restraint
Adhere to truthfulness, refraining from lying and betraying promises.
Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary.
Knowing that deception creates distance, don’t keep secrets from family or loved ones.
Be fair, accurate and frank in discussions, a stranger to deceit.
Admit your failings.
Do not engage in slander, gossip or backbiting.
Do not bear false witness against another.
The Second Restraint
Satya / सत्य
Satya, truthfulness, is the Second Yama.
It seems that little children are naturally truthful, open and honest. Their lives are Uncomplicated, and they have no secrets.
National studies show that children, even at an early age, learn to lie from their parents:
They are taught to keep family secrets, whom to like, whom to dislike, whom to hate and whom to love, right within the home itself.
Their minds become complicated and their judgments of what to say and what not to say are often influenced by the possibility of a punishment, perhaps a beating.
Therefore, to fully encompass satya and incorporate it in one’s life as a teenager or an adult, it is quite necessary to dredge the subconscious mind and in some cases reject much of what mother or father, relatives and elders had placed into it at an early age.
Only by rejecting the apparent opposites, likes and dislikes, hates and loves, can true truthfulness, which is a quality of the soul, burst forth again and be there in full force as it is within an innocent child.
A child practices truthfulness without wisdom.
Wisdom, which is the timely application of knowledge, guides truthfulness for the adult. To attain wisdom, the adult must be conversant with the soul’s nature.
What is it that keeps us from practicing truthfulness?
Fear, mainly. Fear of discovery, fear of punishment or loss of status. This is the most honest untruthfulness.
The next layer of untruthfulness would be the mischievous person willing to take a chance of not being caught and deliberately inventing stories about another, deliberately lying when the truth would do just as well.
The third and worst layer is calculated deception and breaking of promises.
Satya is a restraint, and as one of the ten restraints it ranks in importance as number two.
When we restrain our tendencies to deceive, to lie and break promises, our external life is uncomplicated, as is our subconscious mind.
Honesty is the foundation of truth. It is ecologically, psychologically purifying. However, many people are not truthful with themselves, to themselves, let alone to others.
And the calculated, subconscious built-in program of these clever, cunning, two- faced individuals keeps them in the inner worlds of darkness.
To emerge from those worlds, the practice of truthfulness, satya, is in itself a healing and purifying sādhana.
What is breaking a promise?
Breaking a promise is, for example, when someone confides in you, asks you to keep it to yourself and not to tell anyone, and then you tell. You have betrayed your promise. Confidences must be kept at all costs in the practice of satya.
There are certainly times when withholding the truth is permitted:
The Thirukural, Weaver’s Wisdom, explains that “Even falsehood is of the nature of truth if it renders good results, free from fault” (292).
An astrologer, for instance, while reviewing a chart would refrain from telling of a heart- break that might come to a person at a certain time in his life. This is wisdom.
In fact, astrologers are admonished by their gurus to hold back information that might be harmful or deeply discouraging.
A doctor might not tell his patient that he will die in three days when he sees the vital signs weakening:
Instead, he may encourage positive thinking, give hope, knowing that life is eternal and that to invoke fear might create depression and hopelessness in the mind of the ill person.
When pure truthfulness would injure or cause harm, then the first yama, Ahiṁsā, would come into effect. You would not want to harm that person, even with the truth.
But we must not look at this verse from the Thirukural as giving permission for deception:
The spirit of the verse is wisdom, good judgment, not the subterfuge of telling someone you are going to Mumbai when your actual destination is Kalikot. That is not truthful.
It would be much better to avoid answering the question at all in some way if one wanted to conceal the destination of his journey. This would be wisdom.
You would not complicate your own sub- conscious mind by telling an untruth, nor be labelled deceptive in the mind of the informed person when he eventually discovers the actual truth.
Honesty with Your Guru
Some people use the excuse of truthfulness to nag their spouse about what they don’t like about him or her, or to gossip about other people’s flaws. This is not the spirit of satya:
We do not want to expose others’ faults. Such confrontations could become argumentative and combative. No one knows one’s faults better than oneself.
But fear and weakness often prevail, while motivation and a clear plan to correct the situation are absent.
Therefore, to give a clear plan, a positive outlook, a new way of thinking, diverts the attention of the individual and allows internal healing to take place. This is wisdom. This is Ahiṁsā, non-injury. This is satya, truthfulness.
The wise devotee is careful to never insult or humiliate others, even under the pretext of telling the truth, which is an excuse that people sometimes use to tell others what they don’t like about them.
Wise devotees realize that there is good and bad in everyone. There are emotional ups and downs, mental elations and depressions, encouragements and discouragements. Let’s focus on the positive. This is Ahiṁsā and satya working together.
The brahmachārī and the sannyāsin must be absolutely truthful with their satguru:
They must be absolutely diplomatic, wise and always accentuate the good qualities within the sannyāsin and brahmachārī communities.
The guru has the right to discuss, rebuke or discipline the uncomely qualities in raising up the brahmachārī and sannyāsin. Only he has this right, because it was given to him by the brahmachārīs and sannyasins when they took him as their satguru.
This means that brahmachārīs and sannyāsins cannot discipline one another, psychoanalyze and correct in the name of truthfulness, without violation of the number one yama—Ahiṁsā, non-injury.
Mothers and fathers have rights with their own children, as do gurus with their śiṣyas. These rights are limited according to wisdom. They are not all-inclusive and should not inhibit free will and well-rounded growth within an individual.
This is why a guru is looked upon as the mother and father by the mother and father and by the disciple who is sent to the guru’s āśrama to study and learn.
It is the guru’s responsibility to mould the aspirant into a solid member of the monastic community, just as it is the mother’s and father’s duty to mould the youth to be a responsible, looked- up-to member of the family community. This is how society progresses.
The practice, niyama, to strengthen one’s satya qualities is tapas, austerity—performing sādhana, penance, tapas and sacrifice. If you find you have not been truthful, if you have betrayed promises, then put yourself under the tapas sādhana:
Perform a lengthy penance. Atone, repent and perform austerities. You will soon find that being truthful is much easier than what tapas and austerities will make you go through if you fail to restrain yourself.
Truthfulness is the fullness of truth. Truth itself is fullness.
May fullness prevail, truth prevail, and the spirit of satya and Ahiṁsā permeate humanity.