Yama 2 - Satya, Truthfulness

Bodhinatha speaks on satya, the second yama. Truthfulness relates to what we say and honesty to what we do. People lie when they are fearful. People also lie to make others suffer. At the worst level, we have calculated deception. Let us not be too quick to judge truthfulness in someone else, for they may have been raised in a culture where customs differ.

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Questions? Bodhinatha is the successor of "Gurudeva," Satguru Sivaya Subramuniyaswami. If you have questions on subjects about spiritual life you will find answers in Gurudeva's books and teachings. Learn about ways to study these teachings by visiting The Master Course site or writing to mastercourse@hindu.org.

Unedited Transcript:

We have a few more of the yamas and niyamas to record. This one is on yama number two, Truthfulness - Satya.

Today's lesson on 'Good Conduct' is on the second Yama of Satya, which is to adhere to truthfulness, refraining from lying and betraying promises. Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. Knowing that deception creates distance, don't keep secrets from family or loved ones. Be fair, accurate and frank in discussions, a stranger to deceit. Admit your failings. Do not engage in slander, gossip or back biting. Do not bear false witness against another.

Let us look at some common examples of not following this Yama.

First example. At home, we are playing and knock a lamp over and it breaks. When our parents ask we deny knowing anything about it, as we fear how they would punish us.

Second example. In school, to get good grades rather than simply studying hard, we put our efforts into cleverly acquiring the test answers and if asked, of course, will tell a lie to cover up the dishonest act.

Third example. We are upset with our brother and to get back at him, make up a story. We tell our parents that our brother stole some tools from a neighbor.

Fourth example. We are salesmen and deliberately exaggerate the abilities of the products we sell, to increase our sales.

As our examples clearly show, Truthfulness and Honesty are quite interrelated. Satya - Truthfulness, together with the yama, Arjava - Honesty, are both focusing on harnessing the instinctive tendency to acquire more, to be more successful by not following the rules. The distinction between them is that Truthfulness relates to what we say, whereas Honesty relates to what we do. Clearly, to practice Truthfulness we also have to practice the yama, Honesty. For, if we are dishonest in our actions then this leads to being untruthful in our words. As we know, one lie usually requires another lie to cover it up and another one to cover up that one and before you know it, an intricate cover-up is in place that adds a layer of darkness to the subconscious mind, further distancing us from our soul nature.

Gurudeva describes three levels of non-truthfulness. The first level is when someone is in a state of fear and does not tell the truth to protect himself. Of course, a threatening environment where one fears physical punishment or even excessive non-physical punishment encourages someone to lie. You can't really blame a child for lying if he fears getting hit as a result of telling the truth. Therefore, the importance of a non-threatening environment is apparent for raising children who readily tell the truth.

The second level of non-truthfulness is deliberately lying about another, making up stories for the delight of getting that person in trouble. This relates to the Niyama of Santosha. If we are discontent, why not delight in making others suffer as well? However, if we are content then there is no motivation to get others in trouble.

A third and worst level of non-truthfulness is calculated deception and breaking of promises. Calculated deception can lead to dishonesty. We are trying to sell something to someone and we purposely misrepresent its value. Breaking of promises is when we tell someone we will definitely do something but we are not really committed to doing it. Someone shares a secret with us and asks us not to tell anyone else. We say yes but are not really committed to keeping it confidential.

There are two subtleties to the Yama of Truthfulness both nicely expressed in the Tirukural's chapter 30, 'Truthfulness'.

Verse one reads, "What is truthfulness? It is speaking words which are totally free from harmful effects."

The subtle point here is that Truthfulness should never cause unnecessary hurt. For example, telling someone he is really fat is the truth but will probably hurt the person's feelings unnecessarily. If we need to say anything at all, it should be gentle, such as, "You might benefit from losing some weight."

The second verse in the Kural's chapter on 'Truthfulness' voices the second subtle point. "Even falsehood is of the nature of truth, if it renders good results free from fault."

This subtlety comes up in such professional capacities as an astrologer or doctor. An astrologer is not supposed to speak out every negative aspect of a chart, as it would be too discouraging. So he would leave out or lessen some parts. Likewise, a doctor would not automatically tell every problem to a patient, as it could discourage the patient too much and lead to severe depression.

Another aspect of Truthfulness is that there are significant differences between the worlds' cultures and how they look at truthfulness. We need to refrain from projecting our own cultural upbringing on others.

For example. In one culture, "Yes" will definitely mean "Yes", while in another it will be a polite form of "No." In one culture, a business contract once made is never re-negotiated, while in another it is constantly re-negotiated.

So don't be too quick to judge others as being untruthful, as it may just be they were raised up with a different cultural concept of what truthfulness is, than you were.

In conclusion: Adhere to Truthfulness, refraining from lying and betraying promises. Speak only that which is true, kind, helpful and necessary. Knowing that deception creates distance, don't keep secrets from family or loved ones. Be fair, accurate and frank in discussion. A stranger to deceit, admit your failings. Do not engage in slander, gossip or backbiting. Do not bear false witness against another.

Aum Namah Sivaya.