Although often ignored by many modern-day practitioners, mastering the yamas—five practices to perfect harmlessness—which together form the first limb of the eight-limbed (ashtanga) yoga, is an essential step in the journey toward the ultimate goal of Yoga, Self-realization.
In this brief article, we'll take a look at the second of the yamas, satya. Generally translated as “truth”, satya means more than just speaking the truth. Because the paramount yama is ahimsa, non-harming, when practicing satya, not only do we seek to speak the truth, but that truth must be one that doesn't harm.
So what is this truth that one seeks to speak? It is a harmony between speech and mind, where our words match our thoughts. The goal is to transmit one's understanding to another. Such a communication would not be satya if it were deceptive, confused or easily misunderstood by others. But simply transferring our belief or observation to another is not sufficient.
In addition, before conveying our understanding to another, we must undertake a thorough examination of our thoughts to be conveyed to be sure they are actually true. So if we mistakenly believe something and convey our mistaken understanding to someone else, that is not satya. Swami Rama said that speaking the truth is very difficult, because often we don't know the full truth. He suggested, instead, to seek to not lie. That is more within reach, and is still a challenging practice.
These days it has become fashionable to confront others with the truth. But if this truth would result in harm to the listener, it's not satya. So how do we express the truth that does not harm? Swami Veda Bharati often suggested "saying the unpleasant in a pleasant way."