January 13, 2015

On Satya Versus Satire: Which Should Prevail?

Satya vs Satire

While the world is pouring out onto the streets, standing up for freedom of speech, I sit in the peaceful garden of my rented room in Bali.

The butterflies flutter from flower to flower, all trees and plants refreshed after a tropical rainfall that lasted all night. Immersed in daily yoga classes and other spiritual and subtle energy practices, my head is full of mantras and yogic wisdoms.

While the world is hashtagging and drawing cartoons to defend one of our most fundamental universal rights—freedom of speech—the word Satya has been echoing through my head for days.

Satya is one of the five Yamas, or restraints—the ethical guidelines of yoga.

Sat meaning “being or reality” and ya meaning “advancing, supporting or sustaining,” the word Satya literally means “supporting or sustaining reality” and is often translated as truthfulness or non-falsehood.

Patanjali, author of one of the most ancient and important works on yoga, states that “When the Yogi is firmly established in satya, his words become so potent that whatever he says comes to fruition.” (Yoga Sutras II.36)

So yoga tells us we should practice speaking the truth. Always.


In most commentaries and articles about the Yamas and Satya in particular, two critical elements are emphasized.

First of all, Satya is preceded by Ahimsa.

Ahimsa, the first of the Yamas, which literally means non-harming, is mostly translated as non-violence towards all living beings, including oneself. Ahimsa, as should Satya, must be applied in thoughts, words and deeds.

So before Satya, we have Ahimsa. Although the one may not be more essential than the other, they, at the very least, go hand in hand. Non-violence and truth, in everything we think, say and do.

Another crucial point is that the Yamas are considered restraints.

For Ahimsa, which clearly implies the withholding of a specific kind of behaviour, this is easy to understand.

Satya, if interpreted as only and always speaking the truth, suggests an action rather than a restraint. However, speaking the truth as such is not the objective. The higher aim is to speak Satya from Ahimsa—from a desire of harmony, love and respect.

The practice of Satya, then, is concerned with controlling one’s thought, filtering one’s words and carefully choosing what we say in order not to harm whilst speaking the truth.

Many believe that no words can reflect truth unless they flow from the spirit of non-violence.

“Truth can hardly arise unless there is pure motive behind all actions. The word of the Yogi must be a blessing to others.” ~ Swami Sivananda

Simply put: factual accuracy that harms or brutal honesty that hurts is not Satya.

Which brings me to satire.

By definition and according to Wikipedia, satire uses “humor, irony, exaggeration, or ridicule to expose and criticize people’s stupidity or vices, particularly in the context of contemporary politics and other topical issues.”

The whole purpose of satire is to shake things up, to sting, possibly in order to set things right. Perhaps the objective of the satire is for the good and for sure it is a form of art that is appreciated by many.

However, even when there is truth in the matter, there is no Satya to be found in satire. When the purpose is to shock and to mock, there is no Ahimsa. Thus Satya and satire cannot co-exist.

I do like a good joke and deeply admire people with an intelligent sense of humour.

I want freedom of speech for all—but as with any right, it comes with the responsibility to use it wisely.

So in the battle between Satya and satire, I pray Satya prevails, for all and for always.

lokah samastah sukhino bhavantu

(May the whole of all the worlds be happy)

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Author: Yaisa Nio

Editor: Renee Picard

Photo: Author’s Own

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