There are facts, there are truths, and there is what we believe. And they can vary greatly.
For one thing, there are many ways to understand these concepts. Some people consider facts as verifiable pieces of information which are determined by research or some kind of logical analysis. They are real and irrefutable. Others, however, consider facts as relative knowledge, dependent upon factors of time and place. After all, a so-called scientific fact today may be disproved and replaced with a newer idea tomorrow. What is admitted as hard evidence in a court of law may later be thrown out.
Truth has varying interpretations as well. It may be a statement supported by facts and based on reality. For another person, truth reflects our beliefs, what we believe to be true, based on the criteria we select. There is also the idea of the absolute truth, one which never changes, that transcends time and place.
Today, our notions about facts and truths fluctuate greatly, according to who presents them, how many times we hear them, or if they align with our belief systems or meet some need we have. You can easily come up with many examples of conflicting opinions of what is factual or true in the areas of public health, education, economics, and politics. That is why it is so difficult to discuss and debate facts with others because they may be using an entirely different set of criteria than your own.
In spite of these difficulties in ascertaining facts and truths, what we understand or believe to be true or real is very important because we often base our lives on it. We use this information to inform decisions that may have a critical impact on our lives and the development or survival of others.
The science of yoga takes a practical approach to the challenges of facts and truths with its concept of “satya.” In Yoga, “sat” means that unchanging truth, the absolute truth which never changes according to time, place, or person. Sat represents the state of self-realization or full consciousness that lies beyond the relative world. Satya means “benevolent truthfulness”, the effort to move towards the realization of Sat through a process guided by compassion and the interest to maximize physical, mental and spiritual well-being.
While we may be uncertain about the validity of certain facts or truths that are presented to us, the practice of satya helps us to act upon this information in a way that will increase welfare for those involved. First, we use the lens of satya to understand if the information that we encounter is beneficial to our lives, to our communities, and to the entire society. This process is aided by tapping into our inner source of wisdom and consciousness. Then, in the spirit of satya, we utilize our thoughts and words to project those ideas which are benevolent and have a positive impact on our lives and of others.
In this way, satya becomes a tool for understanding the meaning and usefulness of ideas and for determining if they contribute to the welfare of society. If any so-called truths encourage discrimination or biases or divisions among social groups, then it fails to be benevolent and should be rejected. If our words cause harm or stifle the development of others, then we need to refrain from using them. In Yoga, satya is a daily practice that strengthens our minds and opens our hearts so that we are not swayed by ideas that are harmful to society. Rather, it expands our consciousness and ability to contribute in a more benevolent and conscious way to the wellbeing of all.
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