Satya in Indian traditions

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Satya is an important concept and virtue in Indian religions. Rigveda, dated to be from the 2nd millennium BC, offers the earliest discussion of Satya.[1][2] It can be seen, for example, in the fifth and sixth lines, in above Rigveda manuscript image.

Satya (Sanskrit: सत्य) literally means truth, reality.[3][4] It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one's thought, speech and action.[5] In Yoga, satya is one of five yamas, the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one's expressions and actions.[6]

It is a Sanskrit word that is also interpreted as "absolute truth".Template:Citation needed


"Satya" (Sat-yá)[3] is derived from Sat and ya. Sat means being, reality, and is the present participle of the root as "to be" (PIE Template:PIE; cognate to English is).[3] Ya and yam means "advancing, supporting, hold up, sustain, one that moves".[7][8] 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".[3]

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.[5][9] It means being true and consistent with reality in one's thought, speech and action.[5]

A related concept Sattva, also derived from "sat", means true essence, nature, spiritual essence, character.[10] 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.[11][12]



Vedic literature

Satya is a central theme in the Vedas, states Hindery.[1] It is equated with and considered necessary to the concept Ṛta (Sanskrit ऋतं ṛtaṃ) – that which is properly joined, order, rule, nature, balance, harmony.[1][13] Ṛta results from Satya in the Vedas, states Holdrege,[14] 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.[14]

In Rigveda, opposed to rita and satya are anrita and asatya (falsehood).[1] 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.[2] 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".[2]


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).[15][16] In hymn 1.4.14 of Brhad􏰎aranyaka Upanishad, Satya (truth) is equated to Dharma (morality, ethics, law of righteousness),[17] as


Taittiriya Upanishad's hymn 11.11 states,[18] "Speak the Satya (truth), conduct yourself according to the Dharma (morality, ethics, law)".[17]

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,[19]


Sandilya Upanishad of Atharvanaveda, in Chapter 1, includes ten[20] 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."[21]

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.[22]


The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata states, "The righteous hold that forgiveness, truth, sincerity and compassion are the foremost (of all virtues). Truth is the essence of the Vedas."[23]

The Epic repeatedly emphasizes that Satya is a basic virtue, because everything and everyone depends on and relies on Satya.[24]



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."[25] 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).[6][26] 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.[25] 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.[27]


Template:Jainism Jainism considers satya to be one of its five core principles and all sadhus must take a vow to adhere to it.Template:Citation needed


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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 (Template:Large, Satya, Truth) is the most important virtue which Sikhs try to develop during their life.Template:Citation needed 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.Template:Citation needed


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.Template:Citation needed


Facets of truth

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There are many references, properties and explanations of truth by Hindu sages that explain varied facets of truth, such as:Template:Citation needed

  • "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.Template:Citation needed

Indian emblem motto

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The motto of the republic of India's emblem is Satyameva Jayate which is literally translated as 'Truth alone triumphs'.

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 Roderick Hindery (2004), Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120808669, pages 51-55
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Antonio T. De Nicolás (2003), Meditations Through the Rig Veda, ISBN 978-0595269259, pages 162-164
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 A. A. Macdonell, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 978-8120617797, page 330-331
  4. J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen et al (2003), Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, Thomson Gale, ISBN 0-02-865704-7, page 405
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 KN Tiwari (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120816077, page 87
  6. 6.0 6.1 GR Garg, Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World, Volume 3, ISBN 81-7022-3733, page 733
  7. yA Sanskrit English Dictionary
  8. yam Monier Williams' Sanskrit English Dictionary, Univ of Koeln, Germany
  9. 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
  10. Monier-Williams' Sanskrit-English Dictionary, Sattva, Template:Oclc
  11. Monier Monier-Williams, Indian Wisdom, Luzac & Co London, page 94-99
  12. 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
  13. Joel Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World's Religions, New World Library, ISBN 978-1577311218, pages 52-55
  14. 14.0 14.1 Barbara Holdrege (2004), "Dharma", in: Mittal, S. & Thursby, G. (Eds.) The Hindu World, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21527-7, page 215
  15. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Translator: S Madhavananda
  16. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named chjo
  17. 17.0 17.1 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named paulh
  18. Original hymn is: सत्यं वद । धर्मं चर, satyam vada dharmam cara, ॥ तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् ॥ Sanskrit Documents
  19. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named eeas
  20. 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
  21. KN Aiyar (Translator), Thirty Minor Upanishads, Madras (1914), page 173-174, Template:Oclc
  22. Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, Harvard University Archives, pages 128-133
  23. Page 392 Mahābhārata: Shanti parva (Mokshadharma parva, ch. 174-365), By Om Nath Bimali, Ishvar Chandra, Manmatha Nath Dutt
  24. Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named mnd344
  25. 25.0 25.1 Patanjali, Sutra Number 2.36, Yoga Sutras 2.30-2.45; B. Ravikanth, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ISBN 978-0988251502, pages 140-150
  26. A Palkhivala, Teaching the Yamas in Asana Class Yoga Journal (August 28, 2007)
  27. Edwin Bryant, in Food for the Soul: Vegetarianism and Yoga Traditions (Editor: Steven Rosen), Praeger, ISBN 978-0313397035, pages 33-48

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