Hindu, Hinduism and Hindustan: Part L


Continued from Part XLIX

Ahimsa and Satya are two significant and unique attributes of Sanatana Dharma (Hinduism) since ancient times, and the two together encompass and influence several other divine virtues. For illustration, a person pursuing Ahimsa will necessarily be pious, kind and compassionate towards all creatures, harmless to one's self and others under all conditions, and largely free from the vices like hate, anger, envy and violence. Similarly, person pursuing Satya will necessarily be utmost honest with a strong moral character and positive and virtuous attributes like integrity, truthfulness, politeness, forthright, sincere, fair and frank, and at the same time free from the vices like lying, or being deceitful and machiavellian. In the modern age, the ideal icon of Ahimsa (non-violence) and Satya (truth) is Indian leader Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, who utilized these attributes in his personal life and the freedom struggle to pressurize British colonial power to leave country.

Satya is a Sanskrit word (root Sat) which means “truthfulness” in accordance with one's thought, words and deeds. Ahimsa and Satya are also first two components of Yama in Patanjali’s Yogsutra, which (Yama) is considered the first limb of yoga. The two attributes along with Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (chastity or sexual restraint) and Aparigraha (non-covetousness) make the foundation of the spiritual life and find a mention in the Yoga Sutra in the same order as precursors to Samadhi. Being truthful is the essence of the Self that can be achieved by speaking truth and practicing truth in spirit, word and deed. Hindu texts define thirteen forms of Satya namely truthfulness, equal vision, self-control, absence of envious emulation, forgiveness, modesty, endurance, non-jealousy, charity, thoughtfulness, disinterested philanthropy, self-possession and compassionate harmlessness. Truthfulness is like ‘walk your talk’ in practice; thought must be in consonance with the word and so be the word with the action.

Satya in Vedic Scriptures

In Hinduism, the Vedas are synonymized with the truth and Satya is considered to be a central theme in these oldest scriptures. In the Rigveda, the term 'Rta' has been has been nearly used for four hundred times implying the abstract themes like commandment, truth, order, regularity, and so on. Satya or Satyam is an old Sanskrit term which is also interpreted as “unchangeable; that which has no distortion; that which is beyond distinction of time, space and gender; and that which pervades the universe in all its constancy” – as the scriptures say the only truth in this universe is Brahman (God). In Rigveda, the opposite words of Rta and Satya are Anrta and Asatya i.e. falsehood; that Rta and Satya are considered as means of approbation for the divine, while falsehood is synonymous to incurring sin. Satya implies action and speech that is factual, real and reverent to Rta in Book 1, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 of Rigveda.

Among several Upanishads, the attribute of Satya has been discussed and glorified at length. For instance, in Brihadarankya Upanishad Satya is described as both the means of Brahman as well as Divine Truth (Brahman) itself. In hymn 1.4.14 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, the section dealing with the experience in Consciousness of birth and creation, Satya (truth) is equated to Dharma (law of righteousness).

“…He specially projected that excellent form, righteousness (Dharma). This righteousness is the controller of the Kshatriya. Therefore, there is nothing higher than that. (So) even a weak man hopes (to defeat) a stronger man through righteousness, as (one contending) with the king. That righteousness is verily truth. Therefore, they say about a person speaking of truth, 'He speaks of righteousness', or about a person speaking of righteousness, 'He speaks of truth', for both these are but righteousness.”

Satya is illustrated through a legend in Chapter IV of the Chandogya Upanishad in the context of Satyakama Jabala, who later became an accomplished Vedic sage and an Upanishad is named after him. Satyakama was a truthful Student who wanted to study under Sage Gautama. Those days, a considerable importance was attached to the family background the student to ensure good academic environment in Gurukuls which were essentially the boarding schools. Satyakama too faced the prodding queries about his parentage and family background; however, instead of giving false information at the risk of being disqualified for the entry in Gurukul, Satyakama preferred to speak truth that his mother Jabala was a devdasi, visited many people and was unaware who his father was. Impressed with his truthfulness, Sage Gautam accepted him at his Gurukul and he was named after his mother as Satyakama Jabala. The Sage declared that the boy’s honesty and truthfulness was the mark of a Brahmana i.e. the true seeker of the knowledge of Brahman; so much importance was accorded to truthfulness in Vedic age.

The Taittiriya Upanishad comprises of three chapters, namely, the Siksha Valli, the Ananda Valli and the Bhrigu Valli. The second chapter Ananda Valli, also known as Brahmananda Valli, includes nine verses; of which, the very first anuvaka (lesson) synonymizes Satya with God as follows:

Brahmviddyapnoti param;
Satyam gyanmannantam Brahma.

(One who knows Brahman, reaches the highest. Satya (truth) is Brahman, Jnana (knowledge) is Brahman, Ananta (infinite) is Brahman.) (Taittiriya Upanishad, 2.1.1)

The hymn 11.11 of the Taittiriya Upanishad teaches to speak the Satya (truth) and conduct according to the Dharma (righteous duty). Similarly, the eleventh anuvaka of the first chapter of Shiksha Valli lists out the golden rules which the Vedic era teacher imparted to the gurukul students as the ethical way of life. The teachings ask the pupils to take care of themselves and pursue Dharma to the best of their abilities.

Satyam vad; Dharmam char.
Satyanna pramaditvyam.
Dharmanna pramaditvyam.
Kushalanna pramaditvyam.
Bhutye na pramaditvyam.
Svadhyay-pravachnabhyam na pramaditvyam.

(Speak the truth. Do your duty. …Never err from Truth. Never err from Dharma. Never neglect your well-being. Never neglect your prosperity. Never neglect the study and teaching of the Vedas.) (Taittiriya Upanishad, I.11.1)

The Indian emblem motto “Satyamev Jayate” of the Republic of India has been derived from a hymn of the Mundaka Upanishad:

Satyameva jayate nanrtam satyena pantha vitato devayanah,
Yenakramantyrsayo hyaptakama yatra tat satyasya paramammnidhanam.

(Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood; by Truth was stretched out the path of the journey of the gods, by which the sages winning their desire ascend there where Truth has its supreme abode. (Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.6)

Satya (Truth) is glorified in various ways including synonymizing it with Brahman in the numerous hymns of Upanishads and Sutras holding it as the final or ultimate divine attribute that matters and prevails. In Sandilya Upanishad too, the Chapter 1 includes ten forbearances Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, Daya, Arjava, Kshama, Dhrti, Mitahara and Sauchaas as virtues; it defines Satya as "the speaking of the truth that conduces to the wellbeing of creatures, through the actions of one's mind, speech or body." Paul Jakob Deussen, a German Indologist and professor of Philosophy, suggested that Satya as described in various Upanishads have two-layered meaning; the first one as the empirical truth about “reality” and the other one as abstract truth relating to “being and the unchanging”. The two concepts have ultimately evolved and endorsed as the truth (or truthfulness) and Brahman, respectively.

Satya in Post Vedic Literature

Hindu Puranas and Epics have several legends and illustrious accounts of Satya and its distinction in human life. A classical legend in the name of Satya-Harishchandra appears in the Markandeya Purana at length and the Mahabharata as well. The story also finds a mention in the Vishnu Parana and the Devi-Bhagavata Purana with a little modified version. In Hindu religion and society, King Harishchandra is remembered as an icon of Satya, honesty and integrity. As per the Markandeya Purana, King Harishchandra was the son of Trishanku of the Ikshvaku dynasty in Ayodhya. He was a noble, honest, and just king, in whose kingdom all the subjects enjoyed peace, prosperity and equality. He had an equally kind and righteous queen named Shaivya aka Taramati and a son named Rohitashva. The illustration of King Harishchandra is an iconic legend of Satya – honesty and integrity.

The Kulguru and Sage Vasishtha had pronounced the King Harishchandra as the most truthful person on earth. Sage Vishvamitra, who had constant rivalry with Sage Vasishtha, could not bear this and vowed to disprove it. Following his subsequent spiteful machinations, the king lost his kingdom, wealth, subjects and was forced to go to Kashi (present age Varanasi). To meet Sage Vishvamitra’s more demands, the king had to sell his wife Shaivya and son Rohitashva to a rich man and he was employed by the Dom (care-taker) of a crematory where he was expected to collect a certain fee before allowing cremation of every dead. His own son died of the snake-bite; his wife wanted to cremate son but in the absence money to pay for his cremation, the righteous King refused it. In a further turn of more ugly events, the king met a nemesis where he had to behead his own beloved queen. At this juncture, gods and sages intervened, Vishvamitra had to concede defeat and King Harishchandra was restored back to his kingdom with full honours for his honesty and truth.

As already mentioned earlier, Satya is listed as one of the five principal yamas i.e. virtuous restraints in Patanjali’s Yogsutra, and at one place it is mentioned that when one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him. Patanjali’s Yogsutra establishes Satya as a restraint from falsehood in one's action, words and thoughts (mind). It is widely believed since ancient times that if a person is truthful, all other virtues naturally follow him. The simple way of remaining truthful in modern age is to remain honest in admitting own errors, failures or lapses; stay away from gossip, slander, libel and harmful acts; and by remaining kind, fair and true to other people.

The Manusmriti is an ancient and important legal text among many Dharmashastras of Hinduism. It is structured as a discourse given by Manu and Bhrigu on Dharma topics such as duties, rights, laws, conduct, virtues and others. The text broadly covers a range of subjects such as the creation of the world, source of Dharma, the Dharma of the four social classes, and laws of Karma, rebirth and liberation. The Manusmriti describes the glory of Satya in the following beautiful verse.

Satyam bruyat priyam bruyat na bruyat satyam apriyam,
Priyam ca nanrutam bruyat esha dharmah sanatanah.

(Speak the truth, speak pleasantly, do not speak the truth in an unpleasant manner; even if pleasant, do not speak untruth, this is the path of Sanatana Dharma i.e. eternal righteousness.) (Manusmriti Prakaran 4. 138)

The Bhagavata Purana, also known as Srimad Bhagavatam, is one of the eighteen great Puranas (Mahapuranas) which promotes bhakti (devotion) to Lord Krishna. The 18,000 verses of the Srimad Bhagavatam present several interconnected, interwoven, and non-linear legends, dialogues, teachings, and illustrations promoting Bhakti Yoga with simultaneous coverage of subjects from cosmology, genealogy, mythology, yoga, culture, music, dance, and so on. The following verses from the Bhagavad Purana synonymize Satya with God.

Satya-vratam satya-param tri-satyam,
Satyasya yonim nihitam cha satye;
Satyasya satyam rita-satya-netram,
Satyatmakam tvam sharanam prapannah.

(O Lord, your vow is true, for not only are you the Supreme Truth, but you are also the truth in the three phases of the cosmic manifestation—creation, maintenance, and dissolution. You are the origin of all that is true, and you are also its end. You are the essence of all truth, and you are also the eyes to see the truth. Therefore, we surrender unto you, the Sat i.e., Supreme Absolute Truth; Protect us.) (Srimad Bhagavatam 10.2.26)

The greatest epic of all times, Mahabharata too attached importance and high value to the virtue of truth. At the end of war at Kurushetra, the victorious King Yudhisthira goes to the ailing grandfather Bhishma at his death-bed as advised by Krishna to learn inter alia the “Raj-dharma” i.e. righteous duties of a king. This follows a long discourse between Bhishma and Yudhisthira during which the former educates the latter on the variety of subjects as a king is expected to know for the good governance and service of his subjects. Bhishma accords highest importance to Satya relating it to the Sanatana Dharma (eternal righteousness). At one place, he relates Satya to Dharma (religion), Tap (austerity), Yog and even Brahman (God). In essence, Satya is the main virtue as everything and everyone depends on it.

Satyasya vachanam sadhu na vidyate param.
Satyen vidhritam sarvam sarvam satye partisthitam.
Api papkritou raudrah satyam kritva prithak prithak .
Adroham avisamvadam parvartante tadashrayay.
Tec hen mithoddhritim kuryur vinashyeyur asamshayam.

(To speak the truth is meritorious. There is nothing higher than truth. Everything is upheld by truth, and everything rests upon truth. Even the sinful and ferocious, swear to keep the truth amongst themselves, dismiss all grounds of quarrel and uniting with one another set themselves to their (sinful) tasks, depending upon truth. If they behaved falsely towards one another, they would then be destroyed without doubt.) (The Mahabharata, Shanti Parva, Chapter CCLIX)

In the modern age India, Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi is considered as an iconic personality, who pursued Ahimsa and Satya with all sincerity and commitment in personal and professional life. Truthfulness formed the core value of the Gandhian philosophy as he tried to remain truthful throughout his life. The autobiographical account of Gandhi’s life “My Experiments with Truth” is a classical testimony of his love and commitment for truth. He used Ahimsa and Satyagraha as main tools (weapon) against the British Raj; so much so that when his followers violated these attributes in Chaurichaura incident, he was prompt in withdrawing the non-cooperation itself. Gandhi had firm conviction that Satya (truth) enhances the inner strength while falsehood weakens one from within. Gandhi’s Ahimsa and Satyagraha as core values have received wide recognition and acceptance world over with the passage of time among conscientious men.

What Bhagavad Gita Says

As such mentioned in the previous part while dealing with Ahimsa, the Bhagavad Gita lists out the universal qualities in two categories of divine and demoniac attributes, and Satya finds a mention at several places along with other core virtues both in empirical and abstract terms. To recapitulate again, the Srimad Bhagavad Gita is part of the Bhishma Parva of Mahabharata narrated as the dialogue between Shree Krishna and Prince Arjuna in the dharmashetra Kurushetra. Satya finds a mention in at least four places in verses 2.16, 16.2, 17.15 and 17.26-27 with emphasis that it should be practiced by thought, word and action. Like in case of Ahimsa, Shree Krishna favoured ‘unavoidable violence’ for the righteous cause, he has justified deviation from the empirical truth in certain situations in service to the Dharma.

Nasato vidyate bhavo nabhavo vidyate satah,
Ubhayorapi drishto ’nta stvanayos tattva-darshibhih.

(The unreal has no existence, and the real never ceases to be; the reality of both has thus been perceived by the seers of Truth.) (BG: Chapter 2, Verse 16)

The Vedas and Upanishads talk of three entities – Brahman (God), the Self (individual soul) and Maya, as eternal or real. The word “Sat” (real) is derived from Satya; conversely, Sat is also root of the Sanskrit terms Satya and Sattva. In the aforesaid verse, Satya is explained in abstract sense; God is eternal and everlasting; hence He is sat (eternally existing) and appropriately also known as Sat-Chit-Anand in scriptures. Similarly, soul is imperishable and an extension of the Brahman itself, and hence it is also Sat. The entity Maya from which the world is created is also eternal, or Sat. However, all material objects in the world are transitory and prone to destruction in time; hence they are Asat or unreal. This fact (Satya) about the universe is known only to wise and virtuous men having realized blissful existence.

Sad-bhave sadhu-bhave cha sad ity etat prayujyate,
Prashaste karmani tatha sach-chhabdah partha yujyate.

Yajne tapasi dane cha sthitih sad iti chochyate,
Karma chaiva tad-arthiyam sad ity evabhidhiyate.

(“Sat” connotes eternal existence and goodness. O Arjun, Sat is also used to describe an auspicious action. Steadfastness in performance of sacrifice, austerity and charity is also described by the word Sat. And so act for the sake of God Who is also verily named Sat.) (BG: Chapter 17, Verse 26-27)

In the aforesaid verses, Shree Krishna glorified the auspiciousness and dimensions of the word “Sat”. The word Sat (derived from Satya) has multiple connotations, and the two verses describe some of these attributes. It is used to mean perpetual goodness and virtue as also the auspicious performance of sacrifice, penance and charity is explained as Sat. Satya or Sat implies the eternal truth, one that always existed.

Satya (Truth) Has Multiple Connotations

In regard to applications of Satya, the scriptures firmly endorse the truth through declaration: "Truth alone triumphs, falsehood never". In this context, a globally known and circulated fable of “The Shepherd Boy” may be relevant. The shepherd boy looked after the village sheep; he used to take sheep daily to the nearby forest grassland to feed them. Just to get rid of boredom and have some fun, one day he raised a false alarm by crying “wolf - wolf”, and that it was attacking and killing the village sheep. The whole village rushed to his call, got disappointed with his trick while he enjoyed the fun and laughed. During the next few days, the repeated his lie, villagers rushed as usual, and became even angry for his lie and false alarm. Now one day, a wolf actually came and started attacking and killing sheep. The shepherd boy cried wolf-wolf full throttle but no villager came for help, supposing it was a usual lie and trick again. The moral of the story is if a person consciously adopts falsehood, no one trusts him even if he speaks the truth.

There are occasions when people should have spoken truth; they did not deliberately want to tell a lie yet they kept it quiet. They usually do it due to a sense of insecurity or fear that they might lose a position, money or other worldly possession, including even a friend or relationship. In some such cases, even a threat to life is also involved; for instance, one has witnessed a scene of crime or murder but he avoids testimony against the culprit lest the latter might cause physical harm to him. As a result, the culprit might escape unpunished or even some person falsely implicated in the case is convicted and punished. Thus, retaining silence by not speaking the truth for the mortal fear or any other reason including enticement tantamount to speaking a lie that falls in the category of adharma (unrighteous act). Conversely, if a false statement or witness is given to save another man's life, the witness shall not be treated as a liar. However, if he utters lie to save only his life and not that of another person whose life is on stake on his deposition, then the lying person would be guilty of falsehood (Mahabharata 1.82.17).

Sometimes the truth spoken is blurred due to the person’s hesitant speech and it becomes difficult to decipher true meaning or intent behind it. Such statements are categorized as half-truths which may have both good as well as harmful intent. One such instance from the Mahabharata is often quoted as half-truth. During the great war between the righteous Pandavas and unrighteous Kauravas, the former were having really difficult time to deal with Kauravas supreme commander Dronacharya, whose only known weakness was his love for son Ashvatthama. Incidentally, a legendary elephant of the same name was also part of the epic war; so at the behest of Shree Krishna, Prince Bhima killed the elephant and circulated the news about the death of man Ashvatthama. As Drona was unsure and he would only trust Yudhisthira; the latter was unwilling to tell a lie but was persuaded to say, “Ashvattahama is dead, but the elephant”. While he was speaking, Shree Krishna blew his conch when he uttered the words “but the elephant”. Unable to hear last part and convinced about his son’s death, Drona dropped his arms and was promptly eliminated by Pandavas supreme commander Dhrishtadyumna. None other than Shree Krishna Himself justified half-truth spoken for the righteous cause.

Then, while speaking the truth, the intent of the speaker is equally important. Truth could be bitter and unpleasant yet for the good of the listener; for instance, a teacher explains the shortcomings of the student to his parents, which may sound bitter or unpleasant but is with good intention of seeking improvement in the learning habits and skills of the boy. On the other hand, the truth spoken with ulterior motive or evil intent is bad as it hurts the listener. In Hindu Puranas and Epic, one may find several facets of truth commensurate with the cause. For instance, Sage Narada said that speaking the truth is a good, but even better is the speech (even if untruth) that promotes the welfare of others (Mahabharata 12.329.13). While educating Yudhisthira about the duties of the king and other associated subjects, Bhishma said that if lying under oath frees one from the captivity of evil captors, then that lie should be spoken. As much as possible, do not let wealth pass into the hands of evil people because wealth gifted to them will recoil and cause harm to the giver himself.” (Mahabharata 12.109.16-17)


Hindu scriptures emphatically endorse Satya and equate it to the God Himself; Satya is God and God is Satya (Truth) as also truth can be realized only by cultivating and speaking truth. Truthfulness brings honesty, integrity, sincerity and consistency, and a truthful person is a liberated soul free from all worldly worries and anxieties. Though many people find it difficult but the path to truthfulness is rather simple and straight to follow; a person’s thoughts must be in unison with his words, and the words in turn be in harmony with actions. This gives stability to the person’s mind and takes him close to the reality of life and universe. Conversely, people whose thought and actions are opposite are fallacious and flawed, who might temporarily score or achieve in life by falsifying things but such gain with polluted conscience is transitory and ephemeral; and ultimate cause of darkness and sorrow. Where there is Satya, there is Dharma; and what is done to restore Dharma, it’s true practice of Satya (truth).

Continued to Part LI 


More by :  Dr. Jaipal Singh

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