satya

Satya is a Sanskrit word meaning “truthfulness.” This concept is mentioned in numerous Eastern religious texts. The one I am most familiar with is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, a codification of the Raja Yoga of his time, about 200 BC. In his sutras, Patanjali includes satya as one of the yamas (restraints) of his ethical system. I often struggle with this concept. What does real truthfulness mean, and what does it require from us? It’s very easy to speak truthfully about obvious things, like the weather or the color of the apple you are about to eat. But you may notice in your daily activities that you are many things to many people, and that you will often modify your speech or actions depending on who you are interacting with. We might be our most “truthful” when we are with our immediate family; our spouse or our children. We may continue this attitude when we are around very close friends. But when we move outward from our comfort zone, into our work environment or other public venues like stores, sporting arenas, restaurants, etc., are we still truthful? I am thinking mostly about our speech. Take work for example. There, we fall into familiar patterns. With some colleagues we may play the role of comedian, always cracking jokes and making others laugh. To other workmates, we might take on the role of advice-giver, sage, or confidant. When we are “the boss” we have to act another way, exhibiting confidence, leadership, perhaps doling out occasional discipline. I think one of the easiest and least truthful roles we can fall into at work and elsewhere is what I would call the cynical accomplice. When we are with our other co-conspirators, we band together and laugh at the rest of the world, making judgments about others, putting ourselves above them. I know I have been guilty of this many times. It’s very easy to fall into the role of cynical accomplice for the simple reason that we want to be liked by others and included in a group. We want our egos to be stroked. But in the Zen Precepts of the Mountain and Rivers Order, based in Mount Tremper, NY, it says “See the perfection…do not speak of others’ errors or faults. Realize self and other as one…do not elevate the self and blame others.” When we band together to criticize others, we are not only conspiring against them, but against ourselves as well. We are undermining our own integrity. We are not being truthful. And yet, if we don’t find ways to interact with others at work or elsewhere, if we don’t laugh at other people’s jokes once in awhile, we might be looked upon as some kind of snob or outsider, and shunned. So sometimes we might go against what our true self might believe in order to fit into a particular group. Maybe I take things too seriously. But of all the organs of our body, the tongue is the hardest to control. The only help I can find for this dilemma of mine is to look to the example of the Buddha. Because of his Enlightenment, he was able to immediately see into the hearts and minds of all the various people who came in contact with him; kings, soldiers, prostitutes, untouchables, children, servants, and his own monks. In the record of his discourses,we can see examples of the skillful ways he dispatches his wisdom. He uses very simple teaching for the unschooled, and deeper esoteric teaching for the high-minded. But no matter who he spoke to, or in what manner, his inner perfection, his truthfulness, remained pure. I don’t know. Maybe each one of us can be all things to all people, doing what each situation calls for, while always keeping our satya intact? Let’s try it for just one day and see what happens. A scarier idea to contemplate might be that we have no permanent “true” self at all, but that we are simply conditioned by our surroundings to act a certain way, and that these reactions to external stimuli become solidified over time, giving us a false sense of “I”….but that’s too much to think about tonight. Maybe I’ll save that one for another post.

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