Satya, truthfulness, would seem like something that is very easy to define. Naturally, Satya means to be honest, not to lie, not to deceive and to always be truthful in all of your actions. Satya also means that you should not tell white lies, exaggerate, make pretenses and do other more subtle forms of untruthful actions.
But, there is a far deeper meaning to this Yama than just being honest - it actually lies at the very core of some of the deepest concepts of Yoga. Let us begin with exploring the meaning of truth.
What is Truth?
What exactly is the “truth”? In the dictionary, “truth” is defined as:
“the true or actual state of a matter” or “conformity with fact or reality”
To see the problem that you can have with this definition, let us look at person who has the type of color blindness where they see red as brown and purple as blue. If you were to show a person with this type of color blindness a picture with a red circle on a brown background, or a purple circle on a blue background, and ask them what objects are on the card they would tell you there are no objects on the card. They would only see a card with brown on it and card with blue on it, the circles would be invisible to them. Because they cannot see the circles on the cards they are not lying when they say there are no objects on the card, but they are still not telling the truth because their statements do not represent the true state of matter. Their statements do not conform with reality as it really is, it conforms with reality as they perceive it.
The problem with truthfulness is to be able to be truthful you must perceive the world in its true and actual state.
Thus, Satya does not simply mean to not lie and not to tell untruths, but it also means that you must seek out the truth, to find a way to see the world as it really is, not just the way it is perceived in your mind. This is why Satya is closely linked to the following sutra:
Patanjali Sutras Sutra II 6. Asmita is the identity or blending together, as it were, of the power of consciousness (Purusa) with the power of cognition (Buddhi)
In the article on the Purusa we discussed briefly what the Purusa and Buddhi are. In addition there is the Manas. Through the Manas we have awareness of the world around us as it is perceived through our five senses. The Manas regulates the information coming in from the five senses and determines what information is useful and will be kept and what will be filtered out. There are many sounds, sights and smells that you have no awareness of because the Manas has determined they are not important and has filtered them out.
Through a combination of the information from Manas (perception through the five senses), Smrti (memory) and our Ahamkara (our sense of “I-ness”) the Buddhi creates an interpretation of the physical world around us, a picture of the world as it is seen through the faculties of the physical body and physical mind.
As we have seen in the example above with a person who is color blind, the perception of the world that the Manas is providing is not necessarily an accurate perception of reality. It is important to understand that inaccurate perception is not just true for a person who is color blind, but actually true for all of us. Before we can explain Sutra II 6 and its connection to Satya, we must first gain a better understanding of the world as it is normally perceived through the Buddhi and the information it is using to interpret the world. Let us first begin with a comparison of the information coming from the five senses as it is interpreted by the Manas and the information that is coming from our memory to try to gain a better understanding of the nature of the information that we are perceiving.
What is the Difference between Images from Memory and Images from the five senses as percieved in the Manas?
What is the difference between images in your mind that come from the perception of objects around you and the images in your mind from your memory? Only the source of the information, i.e. one image is from your five senses and one image is from your memory. Both are images of past information: the information from the five senses comes from a fraction of a second ago and the information from your memory is from a few seconds ago to a few years ago (to read more about the perceived present and how information from the five senses is really in the past, see the article on The Present).
Because the source is different the appearance of the images in your mind differs slightly – the image from your senses is based in the senses with a strong visual component while the image from your memory is more information based with more of a verbal component (this was there, this looked like this…). It is because the source of the information is different that the two images feel different, but they are both projections of objects within the mind.
You might want to argue that memory is nothing more than the information that was perceived by the Buddhi and is just a reflection of the Buddhi, while the information from the senses is not a reflection and is real. But this would be incorrect.
Think of it this way. If you set up two mirrors so that an object placed in front of one mirror is reflected in the second mirror, is the reflection in the second mirror different than the reflection in the first mirror? Of course not, they are both reflections, they are both not the actual object placed in front of the first mirror. This is how your mind works. Your mind contains two reflections of the world around you: one is the reflection in the perceived present from our five senses and a second that is a reflection of the first which is stored in your memory. But both are reflections.
We tend to think of the images from our memory as having inaccuracies, easily corrupted in contrast to the images from our five senses that we view as very concrete, accurate representations of the real world. But, they are both projections, and both are altered by the mind assembling information into what it thinks should be correct. In one case the Manas assembles information from your senses to create a view of the world and in the other it assembles information from Smrti, your memory. Both are than interpreted and manipulated by the Buddhi to give you your perception of the physical world.
The Perception of Reality in the Physical Mind
The perception of the world in the physical mind is shaped by the physical limitations of our five senses and by the way the mind alters those perceptions. An interesting experiment done in the 1950s showed how the mind can alter your perception of images in your mind:
“In another perception experiment Ivo Kohler had subjects wear special prism glasses that distorted vision such that a straight line would appear curved.1 After a time the subjects' perception adjusted so that the curved lines appeared straight. Later when the glasses were removed straight lines now appeared to be curved in the opposite direction for a period of time until the subjects were able to readjust to normal vision. Similarly Stratton2 and later Snyder and Pronko3 had subjects wear inverting lens glasses that made the world appear upside down. After a period of adjustment the world began to appear normal to them. In the Snyder and Pronko study a man wore the inverting glasses for an incredible 30 days. When the glasses were finally removed the subject had to endure an uncomfortable period of adjustment back to normal vision in the same way he had earlier experienced in adjusting to the upside-down world of the special glasses.”
Psychology as a Science
Paul D. Ackerman
What you see is not only manipulated by your brain, it is also affected by your five senses. For example, your eyes determine the way you see the world. Objects in the distance appear smaller because your eyes use a lens to see the world. The size of an object in a lens depends on how much of the field of view of the lens is taken up by the object. The closer you are to the lens, the narrower is the field of view. This can be seen in the picture below:
Place an object close to the lens and it takes up the entire field of view of the lens and looks very big:
Place the identical object very far from the lens and now it takes up a much smaller field of view and seems smaller:
Objects in the distance do not really get smaller; they just seem that way because we see the world through a lens and our brain interprets size by how much of the field of view of the eye an object uses. If something fills the field of view it is big, if it takes up only a tiny bit of the field of view, it is small. This does not tell you brain whether something is small because it really is small and very close or it is small because it is very big and far away. The brain adds in information such as what objects are in front of others, shadow, known sizes of objects, differences in images from the two eyes created by objects that are close, and from all of this the brain figures out how far away objects are. Combining distance and size information the brain than creates depth perception and gives us a visual image that is rich in information. Is this really what the world looks like?
Well, to us humans, yes. But to a deer that has its eyes on the side of its head the world must look like a completely different place. Personally, it hurts my head to even try to imagine what a deer sees. Imagine two images going off into the distance going in opposite directions and not being able to see what is in front of you - very weird!
The perception of the world created by our five senses is no more “real” than the image created by our memory. They are different interpretations of the real world as it existed at some moment in the past projected onto our consciousness. One is a reflection of reality and one is a reflection of this reflection.
Do We all Perceive the World in the Same Way?
Does the world look the same projected into my mind as it does projected into yours? If both of us are not color blind, we will both identify the sky as being blue and the grass as being green. But, does the color green look the same in my mind as it does your? Just because we both identify things that are green as being green does not mean we see them the same way in our mind. The truth is, there is simply no possible way of ever knowing if the way colors are perceived in my mind is the same as the way you perceive colors in your mind.
How the world projects onto our consciousness from the information that comes into our five senses is something that exists within each of our own minds. Perhaps in many ways the images are identical, but maybe they are actually quite different. We will really never know. All we can know is that however an object is projected in each of our minds, we have all learned to associate the same names for objects, regardless of how those objects may look in each of our minds.
Thus, when we all see a tree, we all know it is a tree and know what a tree is. We all have learned how to describe a tree, and we have associated that description with the image in our minds. To me, it is a rather interesting thought that how I perceive the world in my mind may be very different that someone else. But, what is projected in our minds is just that, a projection, not the real object.
The image that we perceive in the Buddhi, the combination of images created by memory and the five senses, is not an accurate, real portrayal of the world around us. These images are molded and shaped by our physical bodies – our eyes, ears, skin, nose, tongue and by the mind itself. It is difficult to imagine that the world could look different than what we know, that there could be things right in front of us that we simply do not see because our physical minds have not been trained to see them or they are not visible to our five senses.
Once you understand that the world you are experiencing in your physical mind is nothing but an illusion, an approximation of the world around you, than you must realize also that everything you believe is also illusion because all of your knowledge and memories are based on the experiences of your physical mind. While our physical mind is not capable of truly comprehending what might exist beyond its capabilities, and we cannot describe what the world really is, we can know that what we think is reality is really just our own version of reality.
Can You See the World as it Really is?
We can conclude from the discussion above that either you are forced to rely on the perception created by the physical mind and always live your life in an illusion, to never know the true nature of the world around you, or there is a path available for you that will allow you to see the world around as it truly is. In the philosophy of Yoga they do believe there is the way to see your own true nature, your higher spiritual consciousness, your Purusa, and through this, the reflection of the world around you will be pure, the true one without distortion and illusion. It will be different than what you experience with your five senses, it will not be sight based, and it will be different from your memories, it will not be language based.
What does the world look like in your higher consciousness? My words come from the world of the physical mind, so they cannot describe this beyond saying that you feel the connection between yourself and the rest of the world, you will feel how actions create harmony or disharmony in the universe, you will feel the harmony and disharmony in others, in the world, and all that is around you. You will see what a person is now, and yesterday, and what their likely path is in the future. Time and space are of the physical mind, the spiritual mind moves beyond these things. That is the best I can describe it based on my experiences, which are very limited and only touch upon this world.
Returning to Patanjali Sutra II 6
This finally brings us back to Sutra II 6. In the sutra it tells us that Asmita is believing that the Buddhi, the perception of the world based on the physical body, is the Purusa, our true consciousness. Consciousness consists of our thoughts, our feelings and our will. Buddhi creates an awareness of the physical world through the images created by the Manas using the information from the five senses, which is interpreted with the help of Smrti, memory, and Ahamkara, our identification of separate identity. The Bhuddi creates a view of the physical world, it involves interpretation, analysis, but it is not our true consciousness.
From this, we can see that Sutra II 6 tells us that Asmita occurs when you do not realize that you have a higher consciousness, a Purusa, a soul, and think that awareness created by your physical mind is actually your true, higher consciousness, your Purusa, In simpler terms, Asmita is the belief that you are only your physical body and everything you are, including your consciousness, is the result of your physical body. This is the view that we often see in modern science today, that all functions of the human mind can be explained by impulses within the brain, there is no higher consciousness, no soul.
What happens when you believe that you are nothing more than what exists in the physical world? You begin to identify yourself with the physical world. You think thoughts like “I am a doctor”, “I am teacher”, “I am rich”, “I am important because I have money, a big house, and an expensive car”, “I am not important because I do not have money, a big house and an expensive car”, etc. This is the meaning of Asmita, it is identifying yourself with the physical world, it is ego.
When you have no awareness of the Purusa (your higher consciousness) must operate through the annamaya kosha, through the physical body. When the Purusa operates in the physical body it can only work with what is available in the physical body, i.e. the information as it is perceived by the Buddhi. This makes it seem that the Buddhi and the Purusha are the same thing. The connection between the physical and spiritual is clouded, distorted and blocked.
The Purusa, which provides the connection between the physical body and the Atman, the higher soul, can evolve to provide a better connection between the spiritual and physical. Once this happens, consciousness can operate at the higher Kosha giving you the real view of the world.
When you no longer have Asmita, you no longer identify yourself by the physical world. Instead, you think “I am Atman”, you identify your real true nature with the spiritual part of yourself. Your job is something you do, what you own are tools you use to accomplish tasks, but what you truly are is not of the physical world.
The Connection between Sutra II 6 and Satya
We can now connect Satya to the above discussion. As long as you have Asmita, you identify yourself with the physical world and you cannot see the world as it really is. Your words can only speak the truth as it is perceived in your physical mind. When you rely on the physical mind, this perception is just an illusion created by your senses and your memory. When you begin to realize your connection to your spiritual nature, when the Purusa evolves so that it is no longer locked into the Annamaya kosha and it is capable of operating within you at the higher koshas, than you can see the world as it really is. When this happens, your actions and words are based on truth, not illusion.
Thus, Satya means more than usual definition of truth that we should simply not lie or deceive people. Satya also means that we need to see the world as it really is by moving beyond the illusion of Asmita, moving beyond identifying ourselves with the physical world, and learning how to connect to our spiritual self, the Atman, as this will enable us to perceive the world as it really is and be capable of really being truthful. Satya tells us that we must search for our true spiritual nature, to take actions that will allow the Purusa to evolve. Most of what Yoga teaches is how to accomplish this.
With this understanding, we now can see the underlying unifying theme in all of the Yamas.
All of the Yamas help us move our awareness and attention away from the external physical world and inwards towards our true higher consciousness, the Purusa. Thus, all the Yamas are about a spiritual journey inwards towards our higher consciousness.
This is very obvious with Aparigraha, Non-Hoarding, as hoarding is by its very nature is focusing on material objects. It is also obvious for Asteya, Non-Stealing, as stealing, unless if is for survival, is about the gathering of physical objects and focusing on the external physical world.
For you to be able to practice Ahimsa, Non-Violence, you must first turn your awareness inward to your memories and learn where the samskara (patterns) that lead you to act violently came from, and than you must learn to change those samskara. Eventually, you must learn to base your actions on the affect your actions have on the universe -to sense and feel whether your actions create positive or negative effects on others and the world. It is only by turning your attention inward, to connect to your higher consciousness, can you feel the effects of your actions.
Brahmacharya, Control of your Sexual Energy, also is about an inward journey. Sexual attraction is one of the most powerful forces for human beings. When you allow your sexual desire to control your actions you can become find yourself involved with someone who you have no spiritual connection to and lead you to a poor relationship, you can cheat on your partner, etc. Sexual attraction is based on the physical characteristics of a person, a focus on the external. Another person’s physical characteristics, actions and sexuality can create one of the most powerful forces that can pull your awareness outwards to the physical world and physical pleasures, and so its control is essential to keep your awareness rooted in your higher consciousness. The Niyamas can be seen as giving the path, the tools, you need to take this journey inward.
How does the physical Mind Know What the World Should Look Like
Finally, I would like to return the question asked above, how does the physical mind decide what the world should look like? Scientists would argue that it is based on a coordination of your five senses with what you have learned. Thus, if you put on the glasses that turned the world upside down, your brain would be able to figure out things were wrong because when you reached your hand downward, it appeared that your hand was moving upward. But, how does your brain actually know that the sensation of moving downward goes with the visual movement of going upward?
Because the Purusa is connected to the physical mind, and as there is a reflection of the Purusa on the physical mind, some of the Universal knowledge that can be accessed through the Purusa is available to the physical mind. Thus, even to a person who has no awareness of the Atman, who is completely enveloped in Asmita, the Bhuddi still has some knowledge of the true nature of the universe and uses this to determine what is the correct view of the universe. Unfortunately, if your mind is clouded with Asmita, your perceptions from the physical world, what you have experienced in the physical world, and what is stored in your memory also influence the Buddhi and lead it to ignoring the view reflected from the universal.
As the mind becomes clear, as the connection to the Purusa becomes stronger, the image projected onto the Buddhi becomes more powerful than images projected from the physical world. As this happens, the Buddhi can rely more on creating a perception of the world based on the universal knowledge through a connection to the higher soul, the Atman. As that connection becomes stronger, the perception of the world becomes more accurate, clearer, and your actions and words become more truthful. Most would call such a person as having good intuition, but in truth, all they are doing is allowing the reflection of the Purusa to shine brightly onto their physical mind and open up their connection to their Atman and through the Atman, to Universal Knowledge.
1 Kohler, I. Experiment with goggles. Scientific American, 1962,206,62-72.