“Truth has the power to right wrongs and end sorrows. It is fierce in its demands and magnanimous in its offerings.” -Deborah Adele, The Yamas and Niyamas
“Each time a man utters a word he puts into operation one of the three qualities of Aum [creation, preservation and destruction]. This is the lawful reason behind the injunction of all scriptures that man should speak the truth.” -Paramahansa Yogananda, Autobiography of a Yogi
Our primary means of communication is language. We talk. We text. We write. We use words to communicate thoughts, ideas, feelings and emotions. With words we tell each other our dreams and wants and needs, our opinions, viewpoints and beliefs. We spend time developing vocabulary because we value big words, fancy words, esoteric words (like the word esoteric, for example). We tell stories about our experiences. We create narratives about the things our parents did to us, what the school kids did and how it all made us into who we think we are. We talk about our relationships, jobs and families. We go for brunch and talk about the food, the wait staff, the weather, religion, politics and so on. We get pedantic about semantics, we argue over what we did or didn’t say and what we did or didn’t mean when we did or didn’t say it. We read and listen to words in the media telling stories about current events around the world.
Is anyone feeling exhausted and confused?
Therein lies the problem with words; they drain prana (lifeforce energy) and create maya (illusion). In this constant deluge of words, how often do we employ the buddhi (discerning mind) to consider whether the words we hear and speak are communicating anything of value to the Dharma – which is to end suffering? How often do we consider whether the words we are speaking and believing are true?
Have you ever become aware of yourself telling a story you’ve told over and over again, and then you suddenly wonder if that’s really the way it went down? Or is that just the way your mind recorded and remembered the event? Is it possible the story you’ve been telling all this time is an illusion you perpetuate through the repeated unconscious speaking of the narrative? Next time you notice yourself feeling anxious, overwhelmed or bewildered by a situation, look and see how much the situation has been juiced up with words; see how the narrative has invested the whole drama with meaning. Consider, in the context of the greater world, the implications of the addiction to creating and telling stories and the ways in which those stories are transmitted over and over again. Consider the scale of illusion.
Satya is the Sanskrit word for truth. In Patajali’s Eight Limbs of Yoga, satya is one component of the first limb, the Yamas, which are the ethical codes of conduct for engaging in the world. Satya is the practice of truthfulness in speech. The yogi is called to choose words discriminatively to minimize harm and maximize good for all beings. When used consciously, discerningly and with the fulfilment of the Dharma as the guiding light, truthful words can inspire mobilization towards the awakening of consciousness, which increases Love and compassion for all beings. When words are not truthful, and when they arise from selfish desire, they increase the illusion of separateness, thereby creating fear and paranoia and inciting violence, war and genocide. These are just the ends of the spectrum; consider the implications on all points in between.
Language offers a powerful tool. Because of that power, as a practicing yogi I must be vigilant how I utilize words. Satya teaches me to get quiet. Truth can be found only within my own intuitive spiritual heart; and, some truths are fluid, ever-changing as my consciousness awakens. If I am to hear how to fulfill my role in the Dharma to end suffering – and the ways in which any given moment might call for that role to change form – I must not only untangle myself from illusion, I must also cease the perpetuation of it. My satya practice includes regular periods of silence. When I do speak, I practice satya by speaking only the truth – as I know it in that moment. As I dive deeper into satya, I ask whether what I’m considering saying is not only truthful but also both necessary and kind. When I realize something that came out of my mouth wasn’t wholly true or could possibly cause harm to another human being, I rectify as soon as possible. When I become aware of myself repeating a particular narrative, I inquire into its value to the Dharma. If the story is not serving the awakening of consciousness, I have to give it up. To the extent I practice, what I notice in my universe is a great deal more peace, joy and Love.
Anything that can be reduced to words is not Absolute; therefore, each time we put words into the universe, we risk creating illusion. We are wise to be silent as much as we can. When we feel we must speak, the duty of loyalty must be steadfast to Truth.
Carmen Caserta is located in Del Mar, CA. She practices primarily Bhakti and Karma yoga. Learn more about Carmen’s yoga offerings on her website, www.deeplyyouyoga.com, and connect on Instagram @carmencaserta.