Sunday, November 6, 2011

Ask Parvati 35: The Gift in Gossip - Part 1: Honesty and Truthfulness



Dear Parvati,

I used to practice ashtanga yoga, which is supposed to emphasize correct behaviour (yamas and niyamas) as well as asana. I found myself very disillusioned with my teachers when they did and said things that were not in line with satya, one of the five yamas. That may be part of why I no longer practice that style. What is satya to you? Is there a way to know when someone is truly practicing satya or they just talk a good game? How do we practice satya when we encounter gossip - particularly if the gossip is taking place among people we respect, or even among people who claim to be practicing yogis?





Thank you for this week's question. For those who do not know, "satya" is a Sanskrit word that means "truth", "honesty", "correct" or "righteous". In Buddhism, the term "satya" means "right" in terms of the Noble Eight-Fold Path, such as Satya Vishwas (right belief) or Satya Karma (right action). The Buddha's Four Noble Truths are also known as "Arya satya". In Hinduism, satya is part of the Yamas, one of the eight stages along the yogic path, as described in the great sage Patanjali's Yoga Sutras.


Chapter 2, verse 36 in Patanjali's classic text says, “When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him." When we are honest, we release our ego, which can only try to make things the way it wants them to be, rather than open to the way they are. When we align ourselves with that which is true, we let go of excess, we flow with the energy of life with greater ease, we return to the One. When we are absolutely honest with ourselves, our lives flower into the fullness of who we are. When we are honest with others, our lives flow in righteous action, in support of divine will. The fruits of action becomes subservient to him.


Being honest and living a truthful life are interconnected. Honesty applies to speech, thoughts and actions. When we live in a disconnected state, we may do things that are not in alignment with what we say we will do or what we know in our heart and soul is correct. Closing that gap so that we say what we do, we live in harmony with our heart and soul is to live in stay.


Living a truthful life is a choice. When we do so, we move consciousness towards the divine. Our human, ego-driven tendency is to say and do things that embellish, diminish, eliminate or omit, for the sake of our sense of divided self. But the divine sees all, regardless of our ego's creative antics. A life based on satya, is a righteous life, directed towards and in service to the divine.


Honesty is something we must cultivate, which is why it is a stage upon the spiritual path. Have you ever tried to be completely honest all the time? It is no easy feat.


Now think of your teacher (or someone else) who you say is not living in satya because he or she gossips. Though that person may be a spiritual aspirant, it is unlikely that he or she has mastered satya. Likely, her or she is in process with this profound spiritual quality.


Think back to how hard it is for you to live a life rooted in satya. It is a very big thing. So practice patience as you cultivate your own life of satya. Make the resolve to be honest all the time, even for one day. See how that goes.




Satya is part of the eight stages of spiritual development as described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. First, one practices the yamas, codes of conduct such as non-violence, truthfulness, not taking that which is not yours, faithfulness, patience, steadfastness, compassion, honesty, moderate consumption and purity in body, mind and speech. What follows are the niyamas, religious observances including remorse, contentment, charity, faith, worship, scriptural study, vows, recitation and chanting.

The yamas and niyamas form the foundation of a spiritual life. Upon this, an aspiring yogi practices asana to purify the body/mind through physical exercises, commonly known in the West as Hatha Yoga. Pranayama, breathing exercises geared to integrate the body/mind, is also practiced as a means of purification.

Ashtanga Yoga ("Asht" meaning eight in Sanskrti and "anga" meaning limb) is built upon the eight stages of spiritual development:

1. Yamas (moral codes)

2. Niyama (self-purification and study)

3. Asana (posture)

4. Pranayama (breath control)

5. Pratyahara (sense control)

6. Dharana (intention)

7. Dhyana (meditation)

8. Samadhi (absorbtion)


The Yamas and Niyamas are the foundation upon which we practice yoga. The first are the Yamas, codes of restraint. We learn to say "no" to make room for us to say "yes". The Yamas are ways we learn to self-regulate, purifying our relationship with the outer world. They are:


  • 1. Ahimsa: non-violence
  • 2. Satya: truthfulness
  • 3. Asteya: non-stealing
  • 4. Brahmacharya: non-excess
  • 5. Aparigraha: non-possessiveness


The five Niyamas are observances that deal with our inner world. They are:


  • 1. Shaucha: purity
  • 2. Santosha: contentment
  • 3. Tapah: self-discipline
  • 4. Svadhyaya: self-study
  • 5. Ishvara pranidhana: surrender


These ten points that make up the Yamas and Niyamas are the first two stages along the path of Ashtanga practice. Imagine… quite the commitment! Do they seem like a lot? Well, they kinda are! Could you fulfill them? Likely not. That is likely why your teacher is not "there" yet either. We may aspire to these, but it likely will take lifetimes to master them.


We will look more at the power of honesty and gossip tomorrow in Cultivating Compassion. See you then.



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