In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Yoga is described as consisting of 8 limbs, or parts. One of the 8 limbs are the yamas, or guidelines on how to life an ethically balanced life. The yamas consist of five parts, one of which is satya–translated into English as “truth,” or “honesty.”
The root of the word satya is sat. Sat means “to be.” Satya is most often translated as “truthfulness,” however, Michael Stone translates the word as “honesty.” And although the words “truth” and “honesty” are very similar, I believe that “honesty” is a better description of satya. There can be so many different versions of the subjective “truth” but only one way for a person to be honest.
I have been noticing lately how difficult satya can be to truly embody. This does not mean that I am a dishonest person, and this is not my confession of any deep, dark secrets or lies. Perhaps it is because satya is the easiest yama to comprehend, or because I grew up south of the Mason-Dixon line, but I have been finding that true honesty can be difficult to uncover.
For me, living honestly means much more than being a “good person.” In fact, one of the greatest hindrances to upholding satya is the fear of not being or not doing what others might expect or desire from you. But there is a reason why satya comes after ahimsā, or non-violence. If one is already practicing non-violence, honest behavior will not harm others.
Upholding satya means above all, being honest with yourself; being honest with yourself about what you truly need, how your actions truly affect others, and how others’ actions affect yourself. This involves being honest about what will truly make you happy–is it shopping for new clothes or saving the money so that you can take an extra day off next month? Satya means being honest with yourself about how your actions make you feel and how your actions make others feel. This can be difficult and humbling. But practicing satya can also lead us closer to true happiness. Practicing satya allows us to shed the layers of ourselves that we use to hide the truth. Once we shed those layers we are able to find the present moment and can allow ourselves “to be.”