Satya and Compassion


Satya means “to speak the truth,” yet it is not always desirable to speak the truth come what may, for it could harm someone unnecessarily.  We have to consider what we say, how we say it, and in what way it could affect others.  If speaking the truth has negative consequences for another, then it is better to say nothing.  Satya should never come into conflict with our efforts to behave with ahimsa.  The Mahabharata, the great Indian epic, says:  “Speak the truth which is pleasant.  Do not speak unpleasant truths.  Do not lie, even if the lies are pleasing to the ear.  That is the eternal law, the dharma.”

From:  Desikachar, T.K.V. 1995. “The Heart of Yoga:  Developing a Personal Practice.” Inner Traditions International: Rochester, VT. 244p., p. 98-99.

I am repeating myself when I say that yoga is so much more than a physical exercise.  The whole point of yoga is to evolve as a human being, to become a better person.  Asanas (yoga poses) are an important part of this — by keeping the body healthy, it is easier to maintain a healthy mind.  Being our best selves certainly includes being in our best physical health.  That’s only a small part of the whole picture, though.  

The Yamas and Niyamas are another essential part of yoga.  Yamas are guidelines for how we interact with other people and the world around us.  Niyamas involve how we behave toward ourselves.  Satya, the yama described above, or “truthfulness” is one I sometimes struggle with and am focusing on now.  I think satya and compassion are directly related, as Desikachar’s quote illustrates.  Truthfulness is important, but one must consider the consequences of truthfulness before speaking.  

I’ve been studying yoga for quite a while now and I’m still continually reminded that I have a lot of growing to do.  At 37 years old, sometimes I’m amazed at how little I still know.  Despite my desire to be the best person I can be, despite the fact that I strive to only spread love, I sometimes become selfish and do not act or speak with compassion.

The above quote struck me as an integral lesson I need to learn if I want my life to be peaceful and if I want to maintain healthy relationships with myself and others.  I have always been a rather sensitive person.  I tend to take things personally and I tend to overreact at times.  I have been known to speak out of turn.  I sometimes let my emotions take over and say things that I should not say, even if they are my true feelings in that moment.  It can be easy to get emotional and express a thought or feeling in a way that hurts another person.  Too easy.  And once said, words cannot be taken back.  Others are hurt and I subsequently struggle not to wallow in guilt, shame, and depression.  Obviously not the way I want to live!

I’ve learned this the hard way too many times in my life (and maybe haven’t fully learned since I am still working on it)!  I hope that by sharing this quote I can help someone else to think before speaking.  

We all depend on each other and compassion is necessary.  It’s great to read about it, meditate on it, and think about it, but practicing compassion is a whole other thing.  I am humbled to acknowledge this publicly, but for me it can be difficult at times to show compassion toward the most important people in my life.  When I feel attacked and under stress, I tend to lash out and say hurtful things.  Once said, there is no way to take these things back and I’ve only hurt others and myself.  I am working with satya and compassion.  Sometimes silence is best.  Stillness and patience are key.  I intend to practice compassion in my speech, thoughts, and actions.  I’d welcome any suggestions for working with this!  Thank you for reading, and I’d love to hear your thoughts.  Have a peaceful Sunday!


  1. This is an incredibly open post 🙂

    I myself have felt the same.

    My transformation started when I started to write down how these sorts of interactions are not spiritual or in tune with the spirit of humanity. Not in a negative way. But in a way that reminded me that these sorts of behaviours are distracting and ultimately unhelpful.

    Suffering is an interesting concept. Suffering can make us feel helpless. Helplessness can cause fear. Fear creates self-doubt. Doubt creates anger and frustration. And anger destroys the self. So it is important to nip suffering in the bud as soon as possible before it develops into destruction of the self. This chain is quoted in Bhagavad-Gita, so you may be familiar with it.

    Suffering itself is a necessary evil. It is a teacher. As long as it doesn’t consume us, it will lead us to liberation (eventually). So view your pains as chances to grow. As opportunities to learn.

    If that doesn’t work, remember that you are not alone in suffering. As Buddha spoke in his first sermon “All is suffering”. To exist is to suffer. And suffering is ultimately all intrinsic (generated within the mind and body by the mind and body itself), so the only way we can liberate ourselves of suffering is not to change the external, but to change the external. To annihilate the ‘I’ sense.

    One of the most beautiful techniques I have heard is encapsulated in three statements. Continuous meditation on these three statements is known to cause jivan-mukti.

    1) I am not the non-self
    2) Nothing is mine
    3) I do not exist

    Try it!! It will really make a difference


    • Khalkinised – What a thoughtful response and excellent advice! Thank you for taking the time to think about my post and offer some helpful ideas. I like the idea of writing down – in a positive way – how various experiences have not been in line with how I intend to live. I do find it fascinating that though I spend so much time studying and thinking about compassion I’m not always practicing it in challenging times. Somehow it sometimes seems easier to show compassion to others who clearly are in need/asking for help vs. people I am very close to in everyday situations. We all deserve respect and compassion, always. I felt that by writing this post and owning up to my shortcomings I could hopefully turn onto a more loving path. And hopefully others will somehow benefit from this. It means a lot to know that others like yourself have also felt this way. Suffering is indeed a teacher and I must be learning A LOT this year! 😉 I will try meditating on those three statements. Thanks for your help!

  2. *but to change the internal (typo, sorry!!)

  3. Through what I call the “dance of opposites”, yoga teaches us how to BE while in the midst of what seems to be opposite forces; such as, experiencing strength / stability and ease / softness in a single asana. Applying this awareness of and ability to BE ok with different “truths” at the same time can possibly help with better internalizing satya.

    Take for example some anti-racism training that I used to study and then teach. The analysis and explanation of the concepts were right on! I knew and still know them to be completely true. At the exact same time, I’ve witnessed and experienced the application of some of these teachings and saw that the concepts could also be twisted and applied to produce harm. So, on the one hand, I accept the value of the “truth” of these concepts 100%. On the other hand, I know completely the “truth” about the potential harm that these same concepts can produce. BOTH truths are true and I’m OK with that.

    To me, this is just another application of learning to accept what is and being OK with it.

    Namaste 🙂

    • Yes, Lea, hopefully I can become more OK with various “truths” or what I perceive to be true. I want to be OK with the truth and also able to keep thoughts to myself when that makes the most sense (i.e., is more compassionate towards others involved). To give myself time to reflect and remember that silence is often the best response. Hopefully I can also remember that what I perceive to be true is not necessarily the truth – it is my perception, which may be skewed, especially under duress. I think some part of me believes that bringing the “truth” to light will lead to healing, and that’s often not the case. It is not my place to do that. Your point that helpful concepts can be twisted and applied to produce harm is a perfect example. I am going to try to be more accepting of the truth, whatever that may be, and not resist it. Compassion and love are more important than speaking my mind, especially when I’m struggling with strong emotions.

      • very wise… namaste

  4. 🙂

  5. yogaboca

    Jenn, I absolutely love this post. You’ve touched on a universal problem. I admire your honesty and humility. You’ve certainly practiced satya in this post!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: