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Satya (P. sacca; T. bden pa བདེན་པ་; C. di; J. tai; K. che 諦) is translated as "real," "true," "truth," etc. Satya is identified within the Buddhist teachings in the following contexts:

Arya satya (Noble truths)

In the context of the Four Noble Truths (four arya satya), the term satya is typically translated as "truth"; but it also means "that which is in accord with reality", or "reality". Rupert Gethin states:[1]

The word satya (Pali sacca) can certainly mean truth, but it might equally be rendered as ‘real’ or ‘actual thing’. That is, we are not dealing here with propositional truths with which we must either agree or disagree, but with four ‘true things’ or ‘realities’ whose nature, we are told, the Buddha finally understood on the night of his awakening.

Perfection of truth (sacca-pāramī)

In the Pali tradition, the perfection of truth (sacca-pāramī) is one of the ten paramis on the path of the bodhisattva.

The 14th Dalai Lama descibes the perfetion of truth as follows:

Truthfulness is speaking without deception. Through speaking truthfully and acting according to our promises, we remain true to our word to benefit sentient beings and do not abandon them. Through this, they will come to trust us, which opens the door to our benefiting them.
Bodhisattas speak the truth, whether others react by helping or harming them. They teach the Dhamma skillfully, according to the inclination of the audience, but do not alter the Buddha’s word so that others will give them respect or offerings. Thus sentient beings can trust that bodhisattas’ teachings are the actual Dhamma, not something adjusted or made up to indulge their afflictions.
With truthfulness bodhisattas accept the empty nature of beings. Not being deceived about the true nature of phenomena, they complete all collections for awakening and accomplish the bodhisatta path.[2]

Truthfulness as an ethical practice

In terms of the daily practice of Buddhist laity, a lay devotee daily recites the Five Precepts which include:

I undertake the precept to refrain from incorrect speech.[3]

"Incorrect speech", at its most basic, reflects speaking truthfully. Regarding this, contemporary Theravada monk Bhikkhu Bodhi has written:

It is said that in the course of his long training for enlightenment over many lives, a bodhisatta can break all the moral precepts except the pledge to speak the truth. The reason for this is very profound, and reveals that the commitment to truth has a significance transcending the domain of ethics and even mental purification, taking us to the domains of knowledge and being. Truthful speech provides, in the sphere of interpersonal communication, a parallel to wisdom in the sphere of private understanding. The two are respectively the outward and inward modalities of the same commitment to what is real. Wisdom consists in the realization of truth, and truth (sacca) is not just a verbal proposition but the nature of things as they are. To realize truth our whole being has to be brought into accord with actuality, with things as they are, which requires that in communications with others we respect things as they are by speaking the truth. Truthful speech establishes a correspondence between our own inner being and the real nature of phenomena, allowing wisdom to rise up and fathom their real nature. Thus, much more than an ethical principle, devotion to truthful speech is a matter of taking our stand on reality rather than illusion, on the truth grasped by wisdom rather than the fantasies woven by desire.[4]


  1. Gethin 1998, p. 60.
  2. Dalai Lama & Thubten Chodron 2014, s.v. Chapter 11:The Four Immeasurables.
  3. Bullitt (2005).
  4. Bodhi (1999), ch. 4.


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