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Satya is an important concept and virtue in Indian religions. Rigveda, dated to be from the 2nd millennium BC, offers the earliest discussion of Satya.[1][2] It can be seen, for example, in the fifth and sixth lines, in above Rigveda manuscript image.

Satya (Sanskrit: सत्य; IAST: satya) is a Sanskrit word loosely translated as truth, essence.[3][4] It also refers to a virtue in Indian religions, referring to being truthful in one's thought, speech and action.[5] In Yoga, satya is one of five yamas, the virtuous restraint from falsehood and distortion of reality in one's expressions and actions.[6]

Etymology and meaning[edit]

In the Vedas and later sutras, the meaning of the word satya (सत्य) evolves into an ethical concept about truthfulness and is considered an important virtue.[5][7] It means being true and consistent with reality in one's thought, speech, and action.[5]

Satya is said to have cognates in a number of diverse Indo-European languages, including the word "sooth" and "sin" in English, "istina" ("истина") in Russian, "sand" - truthful in Danish/"sann" in Swedish, and "haithya" in Avestan, the liturgical language of Zoroastrianism.[8][9][10]


Sat (Sanskrit: सत्) is the root of many Sanskrit words and concepts such as sattva, "pure, truthful", and satya, "truth". The Sanskrit root sat has several meanings or translations:.[11] [12]

  1. "absolute truth"
  2. "reality"
  3. "Brahman" (not to be confused with Brahmin)
  4. "unchangeable"
  5. "that which has no distortion"
  6. "that which is beyond distinctions of time, space, and person"
  7. "that which pervades the universe in all its constancy"

Sat is a common prefix in ancient Indian literature and variously implies that which is good, true, genuine, virtuous, being, happening, real, existing, enduring, lasting, essential; for example, sat-sastra means true doctrine, sat-van means one devoted to the true.[13][14] In ancient texts, fusion words based on Sat, refer to "Universal Spirit, Universal Principle, Being, Soul of the World, Brahman".[15][16]

The negation of sat is asat, a combination word of a and sat. Asat refers to the opposite of sat, that is delusion, distorted, untrue, fleeting impression that is incorrect, invalid and false.[17][18] The concepts of sat and asat are famously expressed in the Pavamana Mantra found in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (1.3.28),

Asato mā sad gamaya / tamaso mā jyotir gamaya / mṛtyor mā amṛtam gamaya
"lead me from delusion to truth; from darkness to light; from mortality to immortality"

Sat is one of the three characteristics of Brahman as described in sat-chit-ananda.[16] This association between sat, 'truth', and Brahman, ultimate reality, is also expressed in Hindu cosmology, wherein Satyaloka, the highest heaven of Hindu cosmology, is the abode of Brahman.


Vedic literature[edit]

Satya is a central theme in the Vedas. It is equated with and considered necessary to the concept Ṛta (Sanskrit ऋतं ṛtaṃ) – that which is properly joined, order, rule, nature, balance, harmony.[1][19] Ṛta results from Satya in the Vedas, states Holdrege,[20] as it regulates and enables the operation of the universe and everything within it. Satya (truth) is considered essential, and without it, the universe and reality falls apart, cannot function.[20]

In Rigveda, opposed to rita and satya are anrita and asatya (falsehood).[1] Truth and truthfulness is considered as a form of reverence for the divine, while falsehood a form of sin. Satya includes action and speech that is factual, real, true and reverent to Ṛta in Book 1, 4, 6, 7, 9 and 10 of Rigveda.[2] However, Satya isn't merely about one's past that is in context in the Vedas, it has one's current and one's future contexts as well. De Nicolás states, that in Rigveda, "Satya is the modality of acting in the world of Sat, as the truth to be built, formed or established".[2]


Satya is a widely discussed concept in various Upanishads, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where satya is called the means to Brahman, as well as Brahman (Being, true self).[21][22] In hymn 1.4.14 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Satya (truth) is equated to Dharma (morality, ethics, law of righteousness),[23] as

Nothing is higher than the Law of Righteousness (Dharma). The weak overcomes the stronger by the Law of Righteousness. Truly that Law is the Truth (Satya); Therefore, when a man speaks the Truth, they say, "He speaks Righteousness"; and if he speaks Righteousness, they say, "He speaks the Truth!" For both are one.

— Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, I.4.xiv [22][23]

Taittiriya Upanishad's hymn 11.11 states,[24] "Speak the Satya (truth), conduct yourself according to the Dharma (morality, ethics, law)".[23]

Truth is sought, praised in the hymns of Upanishads, held as one that ultimately, always prevails. The Mundaka Upanishad, for example, states in Book 3, Chapter 1,[25]

सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं[26]
Translation 1: Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood.[27]
Translation 2: Truth ultimately triumphs, not falsehood.[28]
Translation 3: The true prevails, not the untrue.[29]

Sandilya Upanishad of Atharvanaveda, in Chapter 1, includes ten[30] forbearances as virtues, in its exposition of Yoga. It defines Satya as "the speaking of the truth that conduces to the well being of creatures, through the actions of one's mind, speech or body."[31]

Deussen states that Satya is described in the major Upanishads with two layers of meanings - one as empirical truth about reality, another as abstract truth about universal principle, being and the unchanging. Both these ideas are explained in early Upanishads, composed before 500 BC, by variously breaking the word satya or satyam into two or three syllables. In later Upanishads, the ideas evolve and transcend into satya as truth (or truthfulness), and Brahman as the Being, Be-ness, real Self, the eternal.[32]


The Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata states, "The righteous hold that forgiveness, truth, sincerity and compassion are the foremost (of all virtues). Truth is the essence of the Vedas."[33]

The Epic repeatedly emphasizes that Satya is a basic virtue, because everything and everyone depends on and relies on Satya.[34]

सत्यस्य वचनं साधु न सत्याद विद्यते परम
सत्येन विधृतं सर्वं सर्वं सत्ये परतिष्ठितम
अपि पापकृतॊ रौद्राः सत्यं कृत्वा पृथक पृथक
अद्रॊहम अविसंवादं परवर्तन्ते तदाश्रयाः
ते चेन मिथॊ ऽधृतिं कुर्युर विनश्येयुर असंशयम

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, Chapter CCLIX, Shanti Parva[34]

Yoga Sutras[edit]

In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, it is written, “When one is firmly established in speaking truth, the fruits of action become subservient to him."[35] In Yoga sutra, Satya is one of the five yamas, or virtuous restraints, along with ahimsa (restraint from violence or injury to any living being); asteya (restraint from stealing); brahmacharya (celibacy or restraint from sexually cheating on one's partner); and aparigraha (restraint from covetousness and craving). Patanjali considers satya as a restraint from falsehood in one's action (body), words (speech, writing), or feelings / thoughts (mind).[6][36] In Patanjali's teachings, one may not always know the truth or the whole truth, but one knows if one is creating, sustaining or expressing falsehood, exaggeration, distortion, fabrication or deception.[35] Satya is, in Patanjali's Yoga, the virtue of restraint from such falsehood, either through silence or through stating the truth without any form of distortion.[37]


Satya is one of the five vows prescribed in Jain Agamas. Satya was also preached by Mahavira.[38][39] According to Jainism, not to lie or speak what is not commendable.[40] The underlying cause of falsehood is passion and therefore, it is said to cause hiṃsā (injury).[41]

According to the Jain text Sarvārthasiddhi: "that which causes pain and suffering to the living is not commendable, whether it refers to actual facts or not".[42]

According to Jain text, Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:[43]

All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are hiṃsā as indulgence in these sullies the pure nature of the soul. Falsehood etc. have been mentioned separately only to make the disciple understand through illustrations.

— Puruşārthasiddhyupāya (42)


The term satya (Sanskrit; in Pali: sacca) is translated in English as "reality" or "truth." In terms of the Four Noble Truths (ariyasacca), the Pali can be written as sacca, tatha, anannatatha and dhamma.

'The Four Noble Truths' (ariya-sacca) are the briefest synthesis of the entire teaching of Buddhism, since all those manifold doctrines of the threefold Pali canon are, without any exception, included therein. They are the truth of suffering (mundane mental and physical phenomenon), of the origin of suffering (tanha 'pali' the craving), of the extinction of suffering (Nibbana or nirvana), and of the Noble Eightfold Path leading to the extinction of suffering (the eight supra-mundane mind factors ).


ਜਿਨਾ ਰਾਸਿ ਨ ਸਚੁ ਹੈ ਕਿਉ ਤਿਨਾ ਸੁਖੁ ਹੋਇ ॥
Those who do not have the Assets of Truth-how can they find peace?
ਖੋਟੈ ਵਣਜਿ ਵਣੰਜਿਐ ਮਨੁ ਤਨੁ ਖੋਟਾ ਹੋਇ ॥
By dealing their deals of falsehood, their minds and bodies become false.
ਫਾਹੀ ਫਾਥੇ ਮਿਰਗ ਜਿਉ ਦੂਖੁ ਘਣੋ ਨਿਤ ਰੋਇ ॥੨॥
Like the deer caught in the trap, they suffer in terrible agony; they continually cry out in pain.
ਖੋਟੇ ਪੋਤੈ ਨਾ ਪਵਹਿ ਤਿਨ ਹਰਿ ਗੁਰ ਦਰਸੁ ਨ ਹੋਇ ॥
The counterfeit coins are not put into the Treasury; they do not obtain the Blessed Vision of the Lord-Guru.
ਖੋਟੇ ਜਾਤਿ ਨ ਪਤਿ ਹੈ ਖੋਟਿ ਨ ਸੀਝਸਿ ਕੋਇ ॥ खोटे जाति न पति है खोटि न सीझसि कोइ ॥
The false ones have no social status or honor. No one succeeds through falsehood.
ਖੋਟੇ ਖੋਟੁ ਕਮਾਵਣਾ ਆਇ ਗਇਆ ਪਤਿ ਖੋਇ ॥੩॥
Practicing falsehood again and again, people come and go in reincarnation, and forfeit their honor.
ਨਾਨਕ ਮਨੁ ਸਮਝਾਈਐ ਗੁਰ ਕੈ ਸਬਦਿ ਸਾਲਾਹ ॥
O Nanak, instruct your mind through the Word of the Guru's Shabad, and praise the Lord.
ਰਾਮ ਨਾਮ ਰੰਗਿ ਰਤਿਆ ਭਾਰੁ ਨ ਭਰਮੁ ਤਿਨਾਹ ॥
Those who are imbued with the love of the Name of the Lord are not loaded down by doubt.
ਹਰਿ ਜਪਿ ਲਾਹਾ ਅਗਲਾ ਨਿਰਭਉ ਹਰਿ ਮਨ ਮਾਹ ॥੪॥੨੩॥
Those who chant the Name of the Lord earn great profits; the Fearless Lord abides within their minds.
— Guru Granth Sahib, 4.23

The Gurmukhs do not like falsehood; they are imbued with Truth; they love only Truth. The shaaktas, the faithless cynics, do not like the Truth; false are the foundations of the false. Imbued with Truth, you shall meet the Guru. The true ones are absorbed into the True Lord.

— Gurubani, Hymn 3, [44]

Indian emblem motto[edit]

The motto of the republic of India's emblem is Satyameva Jayate which is literally translated as 'Truth alone triumphs'.

See also[edit]



  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 Roderick Hindery (2004), Comparative Ethics in Hindu and Buddhist Traditions, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120808669, pages 51-55
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 Antonio T. de Nicolás (2003), Meditations Through the Rig Veda, ISBN 978-0595269259, pages 162-164
  3. A. A. Macdonell, Sanskrit English Dictionary, Asian Educational Services, ISBN 978-8120617797, page 330-331
  4. J. Wentzel Vrede van Huyssteen et al (2003), Encyclopedia of Science and Religion, Thomson Gale, ISBN 0-02-865704-7, page 405
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 KN Tiwari (1998), Classical Indian Ethical Thought, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120816077, page 87
  6. 6.0 6.1 GR Garg, Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World, Volume 3, ISBN 81-7022-3733, page 733
  7. A Dhand (2002), The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism, Journal of Religious Ethics, 30(3), pages 347-372
  8. Dept. of Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland (1979), Prudentia, Volumes 11-13, University of Auckland Bindery, 1979, ... The semantic connection may therefore be compared with the Sanskrit term for the 'moral law', dharma (cognate with Latin firmus) and 'truth' satya (cognate with English 'sooth' and Greek with its well known significance in Plato's thought ...
  9. Charles H. Kahn (19 February 2009), Essays on Being, Oxford University Press, 2009, ISBN 9780191560064, ... A derivative of this participle still serves as the normal word for 'true' and 'truth' in languages so far apart as Danish sand and sandhed) and Hindi (sac, satya).4 In English we have a cognate form of this old Indo-European participle of 'to be' in 'sooth', 'soothsayer' ...
  10. (Editors) Christine Allison, Anke Joisten-Pruschke, Antje Wendtland, Kianoosh Rezania (2009), From Daēnā to Dîn, Otto Harrassowitz Verlag, 2009, ISBN 9783447059176, ... From PIE *snt-ya-, a collective form from *es-ont- "becoming," present participle of root *es- "to be.</Etymolonline>. Av. haiθya-, from the verb "to be" - truth in the sense of "the way things actually are" - corresponds to its cognates, Skt. satya-, Rus. istina ... {{citation}}: |author= has generic name (help)CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  11. Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120831056, pages 1134-1139
  12. K. Ishwaran, Ascetic Culture: Renunciation and Worldly Engagement, Brill, ISBN 978-9004114128, pages 143-144
  13. Arthur Anthony Macdonell, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120820005, pages 329-331
  14. Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120831056, pages 1134-1139
  15. Chaudhuri, H. (1954), The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy, Philosophy East and West, 4(1), 47-66
  16. 16.0 16.1 Aurobindo & Basu (2002), The Sadhana of Plotinus, Neoplatonism and Indian Philosophy, State University of New York Press, ISBN 978-0791452745, pages 153-156
  17. Arthur Anthony Macdonell, A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120820005, pages 34
  18. Sir Monier Monier-Williams, A Sanskrit-English Dictionary: Etymologically and Philologically Arranged with Special Reference to Cognate Indo-European Languages, Motilal Banarsidass, ISBN 978-8120831056, pages 1134-1139
  19. Joel Beversluis, Sourcebook of the World's Religions, New World Library, ISBN 978-1577311218, pages 52-55
  20. 20.0 20.1 Barbara Holdrege (2004), "Dharma", in: Mittal, S. & Thursby, G. (Eds.) The Hindu World, Routledge. ISBN 0-415-21527-7, page 215
  21. Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Translator: S Madhavananda
  22. 22.0 22.1 Charles Johnston, The Mukhya Upanishads: Books of Hidden Wisdom, Kshetra, ISBN 978-1495946530, page 481, for discussion on Satya and Brahman pages 491-505, 561-575
  23. 23.0 23.1 23.2 Paul Horsch (Translated by Jarrod Whitaker), From Creation Myth to World Law: The early history of Dharma, Journal of Indian Philosophy, Vol 32, pages 423–448, (2004)
  24. Original hymn is: सत्यं वद । धर्मं चर, satyam vada dharmam cara, ॥ तैत्तिरीयोपनिषत् ॥ Sanskrit Documents
  25. 25.0 25.1 E. Easwaran (2007), The Upanishads, ISBN 978-1586380212, page 181
  26. Mundaka Upanishad (Sanskrit) Wikisource
  27. Ananthamurthy, et al (2008), Compassionate Space, India International Centre Quarterly, Vol. 35, No. 2, pages 18-23
  28. Brij Lal, A Vision for Change: Speeches and Writings of AD Patel 1929-1969, Australian National University Press, ISBN 978-1921862328, page xxi
  29. Max Muller, The Upanishads, Part 2, Mundaka Upanishad, Oxford University Press, page 38-40
  30. Patanjali states five restraints, rather than ten. The complete list of 10 forbearances in Sandilya Upanishad are, in the order they are listed in original Upanishad manuscript: ahimsa, satya, asteya, brahmacharya, daya, arjava, kshama, dhrti, mitahara and saucha
  31. KN Aiyar (Translator), Thirty Minor Upanishads, Madras (1914), page 173-174, OCLC 23013613
  32. Paul Deussen, The Philosophy of the Upanishads, T&T Clark, Edinburgh, Harvard University Archives, pages 128-133
  33. Page 392 Mahābhārata: Shanti parva (Mokshadharma parva, ch. 174-365), By Om Nath Bimali, Ishvar Chandra, Manmatha Nath Dutt
  34. 34.0 34.1 MN Dutt (Translator), Mokshadharma Parva The Mahabharata, page 344-345
  35. 35.0 35.1 Patanjali, Sutra Number 2.36, Yoga Sutras 2.30-2.45; B. Ravikanth, Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, ISBN 978-0988251502, pages 140-150
  36. A Palkhivala, Teaching the Yamas in Asana Class Yoga Journal (August 28, 2007)
  37. Edwin Bryant, in Food for the Soul: Vegetarianism and Yoga Traditions (Editor: Steven Rosen), Praeger, ISBN 978-0313397035, pages 33-48
  38. Sangave 2006, p. 67.
  39. Shah, Umakant Premanand, Mahavira Jaina teacher, Encyclopædia Britannica
  40. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 61.
  41. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 66.
  42. S.A. Jain 1992, p. 197.
  43. Vijay K. Jain 2012, p. 33.
  44. Template:SGGS page

External links[edit]

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