Satya in Indian traditions
Satya (Sanskrit: सत्य) literally means truth, reality. It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one's thought, speech and action. In Yoga, satya is one of five yamas, the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one's expressions and actions.
"Satya" (Sat-yá) is derived from Sat and ya. Sat means being, reality, and is the present participle of the root as "to be" (PIE *h₁es-; cognate to English is). Ya and yam means "advancing, supporting, hold up, sustain, one that moves". As a composite word, Satya and Satyam imply that "which supports, sustains and advances reality, being"; it literally means, "that which is true, actual, real, genuine, trustworthy, valid".
In Vedic literature, and later sutras, the meaning of the word Satya evolves into an ethical concept about truthfulness and is considered an important virtue. It means being true and consistent with reality in one's thought, speech and action.
A related concept Sattva, also derived from "sat", means true essence, nature, spiritual essence, character. Sattva is also a Guna, a psychology concept particularly in Sämkya-Yoga schools of Hinduism, where it means goodness, purity, clean, positive, one that advances good true nature of self.
Satya is a central theme in the Vedas, states Hindery. It is equated with and considered necessary to the concept Ṛta (Sanskrit ऋतं ṛtaṃ) – that which is properly joined, order, rule, nature, balance, harmony. Ṛta results from Satya in the Vedas, states Holdrege, as it regulates and enables the operation of the universe and everything within it. Satya (truth) is considered essential, and without it, the universe and reality falls apart, cannot function.
In Rigveda, opposed to rita and satya are anrita and asatya (falsehood). Truth and truthfulness is considered as a form of reverence for the divine, while falsehood a form of sin. Satya includes action and speech that is factual, real, true and reverent to Ṛta in Book 1, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 of Rigveda. However, Satya isn't merely about one's past that is in context in the Vedas, it has one's current and one's future contexts as well. De Nicolás states, that in Rigveda, "Satya is the modality of acting in the world of Sat, as the truth to be built, formed or established".
Satya is a widely discussed concept in various Upanishads, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where satya is called the means to Brahman, as well as Brahman (Being, true self). In hymn 1.4.14 of Brhadaranyaka Upanishad, Satya (truth) is equated to Dharma (morality, ethics, law of righteousness), as
Nothing is higher than the Law of Righteousness (Dharma). The weak overcomes the stronger by the Law of Righteousness. Truly that Law is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks Righteousness"; and if he speaks Righteousness, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.
Truth is sought, praised in the hymns of Upanishads, held as one that ultimately, always prevails. The Mundaka Upanishad, for example, states in Book 3, Chapter 1,
सत्यमेव जयते नानृतंTruth alone triumphs, not unreality.
Sandilya Upanishad of Atharvanaveda, in Chapter 1, includes ten forbearances as virtues, in its exposition of Yoga. It defines Satya as "the speaking of the truth that conduces to the well being of creatures, through the actions of one's mind, speech or body."
Deussen states that Satya is described in the major Upanishads with two layers of meanings - one as empirical truth about reality, another as abstract truth about universal principle, being and the unchanging. Both these ideas are explained in early Upanishads, composed before 500 BC, by variously breaking the word satya or satyam into two or three syllables. In later Upanishads, the ideas evolve and transcend into satya as truth (or truthfulness), and Brahman as the Being, Be-ness, real Self, the eternal.
The Epic repeatedly emphasizes that Satya is a basic virtue, because everything and everyone depends on and relies on Satya.
सत्यस्य वचनं साधु न सत्याद विद्यते परमTo speak the truth is meritorious. There is nothing higher than truth. Everything is upheld by truth, and everything rests upon truth. Even the sinful and ferocious, swear to keep the truth amongst themselves, dismiss all grounds of quarrel and uniting with one another set themselves to their (sinful) tasks, depending upon truth. If they behaved falsely towards one another, they would then be destroyed without doubt.
सत्येन विधृतं सर्वं सर्वं सत्ये परतिष्ठितम
अपि पापकृतॊ रौद्राः सत्यं कृत्वा पृथक पृथक
अद्रॊहम अविसंवादं परवर्तन्ते तदाश्रयाः
ते चेन मिथॊ ऽधृतिं कुर्युर विनश्येयुर असंशयम
In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is written, “When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him." In Yoga sutra, Satya is one of the five yamas, or virtuous restraints, along with ahimsa (restraint from violence or injury to any living being); asteya (restraint from stealing); brahmacharya (celibacy or restraint from sexually cheating on one's partner); and aparigraha (restraint from covetousness and craving). Patanjali considers satya as a restraint from falsehood in one's action (body), words (speech, writing) or feelings / thoughts (mind). In Patanjali's teachings, one may not always know the truth or the whole truth, but one knows if one is creating, sustaining or expressing falsehood, exaggeration, distortion, fabrication or deception. Satya is, in Patanjali's Yoga, the virtue of restraint from such falsehood, either through silence or through stating the truth without any form of distortion.
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The term satya (Sanskrit; in Pali: sacca) is translated in English as "reality" or "truth." In terms of the Four Noble Truths (ariya-sacca), the Pali can be written as sacca, tatha, anannatatha and dhamma.
'The Four Noble Truths' (ariya-sacca) are the briefest synthesis of the entire teaching of Buddhism, since all those manifold doctrines of the threefold Pali canon are, without any exception, included therein. They are the truth of suffering (mundane mental and physical phenomenon), of the origin of suffering (tanha 'pali' the craving), of the extinction of suffering (Nibbana or nirvana), and of the Eight Fold Path leading to the extinction of suffering (the eight supre-mundane mind factors ).
In post-canonical Theravada and Mahayana literature, sacca is seen as twofold: conventional and ultimate (sammuti sacca and paramattha sacca). The phenomenon which have their own characteristic, including those that are conditioned and Nibbana (which is unconditioned), are collectively called ultimate reality. The uncharacteristic that can found as collectively but not in the unsubstantial, in any context, comes under conventional.
"Mere suffering exists, no sufferer is found. The deed is, but no doer of the deed is there. 'Nibbana' is, but not the man that enters it. The path is, but no traveler on it is seen." (Visuddhimagga XVI)
The Buddhist practice mainly deals with ultimate reality while Buddhist teaching explicates both.
In Sikhism, Sach (ਸਚ, Satya, Truth) is the most important virtue which Sikhs try to develop during their life. God is Truth and by trying to ‘practise truth’ (i.e. live a truthful life), Sikhs believe that they can live in accordance with God’s will - hukam - which teaches that: Truth is not just about speaking the truth but also about recognizing and living in line with the true nature of reality. Acting justly towards others, honesty, treating everyone as equals and avoiding criticising others are all examples of truthful living for Sikhs.
The Gurmukhs do not like falsehood; they are imbued with Truth; they love only Truth. The shaaktas, the faithless cynics, do not like the Truth; false are the foundations of the false. Imbued with Truth, you shall meet the Guru. The true ones are absorbed into the True Lord.— Gurubani, Hymn 3, 
In addition to Satya other four qualities in the arsenal of five that a Sikh must wear are Contentment (Santokh), Compassion (Daya), Humility (Nimrata) and Love (Pyare). These five qualities are essential for Sikhs and it is their duty to meditate and recite the Gurbani so that these virtues become a part of their mind set.
Facets of truth
There are many references, properties and explanations of truth by Hindu sages that explain varied facets of truth, such as:
- "Satyam eva jayate" (Truth alone wins),
- "Satyam muktaye" (Truth liberates),
- "Satya 'Parahit'artham' va'unmanaso yatha'rthatvam' satyam" (Satya is the benevolent use of words and the mind for the welfare of others or in other words responsibilities is truth too),
- "When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him ( patanjali yogasutras, sutra number 2.36 ),
- "The face of truth is covered by a golden bowl. Unveil it, O Pusan (Sun), so that I who have truth as my duty (satyadharma) may see it!" (Brhadaranyaka V 15 1-4 and the brief IIsa Upanisad 15-18).
Combined with other words, satya acts as modifier, implying truthful. For example, Satya Loka is the "place of truth", and Satya Yuga is the "Age of Truth" - one of the four cyclical cosmic ages in Hinduism.
In connection to Sadhana, spiritual practice, the meaning of satya is "Parahit'artham' va'unmanaso yatha'rthatvam' satyam", i.e., satya is the benevolent use of words and the mind for the welfare of others. This is to say that a benevolent sage must be truthful regardless of the meaning of satya.
Indian emblem motto
- Roderick Hindery (2004), Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120808669, pages 51-55
- Antonio T. De Nicolás (2003), Meditations Through the Rig Veda, ISBN 978-0595269259, pages 162-164
- A. A. Macdonell, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 978-8120617797, page 330-331
- J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen et al (2003), Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, Thomson Gale, ISBN 0-02-865704-7, page 405
- KN Tiwari (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120816077, page 87
- GR Garg, Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World, Volume 3, ISBN 81-7022-3733, page 733
- yA Sanskrit English Dictionary
- yam Monier Williams' Sanskrit English Dictionary, Univ of Koeln, Germany
- A Dhand (2002), The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism, Journal of Religious Ethics, 30(3), pages 347-372
- Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Sattva, OCLC 492970792
- Monier Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom, Luzac & Co London, page 94-99
- Gananath Obeyesekere (1977), The theory and practice of psychological medicine in the Ayurvedic tradition, Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, Volume 1, Issue 2, pp 155-181
- Joel Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World's Religions, New World Library, ISBN 978-1577311218, pages 52-55
- Barbara Holdrege (2004), "Dharma", in: Mittal, S. & Thursby, G. (Eds.) The Hindu World, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21527-7, page 215
- Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Translator: S Madhavananda
- Charles Johnston, The Mukhya Upanishads: Books of Hidden Wisdom, Kshetra, ISBN 978-1495946530, page 481, for discussion on Satya and Brahman pages 491-505, 561-575
- Paul Horsch (Translated by Jarrod Whitaker), From Creation Myth to World Law: The early history of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol 32, pages 423–448, (2004)
- Original hymn is: सत्यं वद । धर्मं चर, satyam vada dharmam cara, ॥ तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् ॥ Sanskrit Documents
- E. Easwaran (2007), The Upanishads, ISBN 978-1586380212, page 181
- Patanjali states five restraints, rather than ten. The complete list of 10 forbearances in Sandilya Upanishad are, in the order they are listed in original Upanishad manuscript: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, daya, arjava, kshama, dhrti, mitahara and saucha
- KN Aiyar (Translator), Thirty Minor Upanishads, Madras (1914), page 173-174, OCLC 23013613
- Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, Harvard University Archives, pages 128-133
- Page 392 Mahābhārata: Shanti parva (Mokshadharma parva, ch. 174-365), By Om Nath Bimali, Ishvar Chandra, Manmatha Nath Dutt
- MN Dutt (Translator), Mokshadharma Parva The Mahabharata, page 344-345
- Patanjali, Sutra Number 2.36, Yoga Sutras 2.30-2.45; B. Ravikanth, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ISBN 978-0988251502, pages 140-150
- A Palkhivala, Teaching the Yamas in Asana Class Yoga Journal (August 28, 2007)
- Edwin Bryant, in Food for the Soul: Vegetarianism and Yoga Traditions (Editor: Steven Rosen), Praeger, ISBN 978-0313397035, pages 33-48
- Sri Guru Granth Sahib page 23 Full Shabad
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