top of page

The Yoga of Truthfulness

Dear Friend,


I hope you are well, coping with the waves of life events with some balance and ease. The art of living life well doesn't come naturally to most of us, there are many things that go into that but I think it's clear that it must include some level of commitment to any form of contemplative practice so that when the waves of life hit us, when we face challenges and difficulties, we have a foundation that allows us to steadily steer the boat, let go of attachments or aversions that hold us back, change course when needed, and keep at heart the realization that peace, joy, and happiness can be found at any given moment, no matter what the circumstance is.


This month I want to discuss what is traditionally considered a very important part of a complete yoga practice and doesn't get much publicity which is the practice of truthfulness, or in Sanskrit Satya.


Many people who go to yoga classes regularly are not aware that yoga is intended to be an all encompassing method intended to transform our internal state to one of peace, harmony, wisdom, and ultimately being free from all psychological suffering uninterrupted by coming and going external events.

Sounds too good to be true? maybe.. but if you study a bit the philosophy behind the practice you may get some insights into how it may be possible to attain.


Truth is different from truthfulness in this context. The question of what is objectively true and what is not is an intellectual question that can only be answered based on some good evidence that can stand some serious tests, often reality is gray and evidence can lead to two opposing conclusions, this is a very complex issue which is better left for experts to resolve. Unfortunately this is a hot topic these days, seems like human civilization can no longer agree on what is true and what is not, particularly regarding some important matters, which leads us all into very divisive times. Hoping this gets resolved soon as it may be very crucial for the future of our species, if we want societies to function we need to be able to debate freely about ideas and opinions but agree on facts, even when facts are nuanced. 


Truthfulness is an attitude, a state of mind. On the surface level it is abstaining from telling lies, avoiding any kind of deception with a harmful intent, however it is much more than simply not lying. It is defined in some yoga scriptures as "unity between mind (heart) and speech" and is essentially a practice, one that requires some commitment, effort and introspection.

Truthfulness may or may not correlate with what is objectively true and very often it involves a humble admission of uncertainty. It is simply an honest, sincere, authentic expression, without concealing or distorting, through all channels of communication, of ones persona, beliefs, views, states of mind, moods, and emotions. It is being who we are in the fullest way and allowing others access to that.

Important to mention that this practice is not meant just for external purposes (interaction with others), it is equally important to apply internally, to thoughts and other mental activities and states. The content of the mind is the source from which our speech, behavior, interactions stem from.




What is a lie and why are we not truthful?

Lying is essentially robbing of others their freedom to choose rationally, it is an intention to distort or alter what we perceive to be true in order to manipulate, gain an advantage, or achieve some goal. Very often it is as simple as believing one thing and intending to communicate another that makes a lie.

There are many reasons that lead us to telling lies, it could be to avoid embarrassment or even punishment, to exaggerate accomplishments, to disguise wrongdoings, and more. Many of us make promises we can't keep or lie to friends or family members to spare their feelings. Lies can be gross or subtle, they may involve a big scheme or small euphemisms and tactical silences. We often lie imagining that we do no harm as long as the lie is not discovered. 

Lying is ingrained in us so deeply that avoiding it is very difficult, we often do it automatically without even being aware that we are, sometimes even just to avoid uncomfortable situation or to embellish a story for entertainment sake. Very few of us are thieves or murderers but we are all liars to some extent.




What happens to us when we lie?

Lying has obvious negative effects on our relationships, it can break trust, create mistrust and prevent us from enjoying supportive, loving and nurturing relationships which are deeply needed for living a meaningful life, without them we are more likely to experience depression, anxiety, loneliness, and so on.

For those of us who are not sociopaths, lying produces stress, we worry that our lie will be exposed, that others will resent us for it, that our image or reputation will be damaged. It can also threaten our sense of self-worth preventing us from seeing ourselves as "good". We may carry a burden of guilt which usually leads to some form of  distress.

Lying usually leads to more lying, often to a pile of lies one on top of the others, each one covering for the previous ones. We then start lying to ourselves as a means of keeping an impenetrable defense against potential accusations. This can easily become a very consuming endeavor that demands much of our mental and emotional resources that could otherwise have been directed elsewhere, in more beneficial ways.

From the yoga perspective, lying is rooted in Samskaras (subliminal psychological imprints) that are deeply ingrained in us. When we act on them we reinforce them, making them more potent and their grip becomes more tight.




Truthfulness in the real world

Living truthfully does not mean that everything we say and do is the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. Engaging socially in the world requires us to keep some gap between reality and appearance. For example using cosmetics to look younger or more appealing, or pretending not to know an acquaintance passing by on the street when we're in a hurry, or being polite in certain situations to avoid conflict or unnecessary discomfort. The most obvious example is how we answer the common greeting of "how are you?", most of us answer it in a very general generic way despite the fact that our life is full of events and experiences, and explaining how we really are requires a complex and probably long answer. Being honest and truthful doesn't mean that we act like robots or that we constantly make disclaimers to everything we say or do. 

Through a process of introspection we want to make sure that we are not deliberately creating falsehood or concealing important facts to the detriment of others, that we are not intentionally misleading others when they expect honest communication. The boundary between lying and deception is often vague, it's even possible to deceive with the truth. What matters when it comes to yoga is the intent and how our actions impact others and ourselves.


Yoga philosophy emphasizes the practice of Ahimsa (non-harming) which is considered more important than Satya (truthfulness), therefore it is very important to make sure that truth doesn't harm anyone. That doesn't mean that we should start sweet talking, over-flattering and pleasing others, but rather setting our intentions to be truthful and then with wise discernment and compassion carry them out in the world.

In some cases it could appear as though we are harming someone with the truth, but we are actually keeping their best interest at heart in a caring and loving way. For example if a child is putting themselves in danger, or alternatively bullying another child, we, as parents, may have to confront them with some harsh truth. In the short term he or she may be upset or even cry, but in the long term they will be better off.


When we become more established in truthfulness we start to discover that people feel much more at ease in our presence, they feel a sense of safety that comes from trusting that we will not manipulate or try to mislead them to get something that we want. This will guarantee to improve every relationship that we have and will also bring a huge relief from the burden of carrying our past and present lies everywhere we go.




How do we practice truthfulness?

  1. Be mindful, without judgement of self-evaluation, of conscious as well as unconscious patterns of thought, speech and action, that are misleading or distorting the truth in any way.

  2. Similarly, start to become aware of the urge to present yourself to others not as you are, whether pretending, putting on some mask or show, trying to impress or blend in, looking for validation or acceptance, or whatever else that appears to lead you in that direction.

  3. And then, without psychoanalyzing yourself, become more and more familiar with these patterns and how they manifest within you on the most raw level of experience, in your body, breath, and mind, and gradually start to let them go by simply not indulging or engaging with them. Let them arise and then pass away.

  4. We may initially need to cultivate some willpower, a determination not to tell harmful lies, half truths or even to embellish and exaggerate. If we make an effort to abstain from lying for a while it will soon become second nature.




Looking forward to sharing yoga with you in March.


Wishing everyone peace and happiness,

Oren

Comments


bottom of page