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

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

Etymology and meaning

In the Vedas and later sutras, the meaning of the word satya evolves into an ethical concept about truthfulness and an important virtue.[4][6] It means being true and consistent with reality in one's thought, speech, and action.[4]

Satya has 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.[7]


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:[8][9]

  1. "Absolute reality"
  2. "Fact"
  3. "Brahman" (not to be confused with Brahmin)
  4. "that which is 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, or essential; for example, sat-sastra means true doctrine, sat-van means one devoted to the truth.[10]: 329–331 [8] In ancient texts, fusion words based on Sat refer to "Universal Spirit, Universal Principle, Being, Soul of the World, Brahman".[11][12]

The negation of sat is asat, that is delusion, distorted, untrue, the fleeting impression that is incorrect, invalid, and false.[10]: 34 [8] The concepts of sat and asat are famously expressed in the Pavamana Mantra found in the Bṛhadāraṇyaka Upaniṣad (1.3.28):

Sat is one of the three characteristics of Brahman as described in sat-chit-ananda.[12] 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

Satya is a central theme in the Vedas. It is equated with and considered necessary to the concept Ṛta (ऋतं, ṛtaṃ)—that which is properly joined, order, rule, nature, balance, harmony.[1][13] Ṛta results from satya in the Vedas, as it[ambiguous] regulates and enables the operation of the universe and everything within it.[14] Satya is considered essential, and without it, the universe and reality falls apart, cannot function.[14]

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 Books 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.[clarification needed] De Nicolás[clarification needed] 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 widely discussed in various Upanishads, including the Brihadaranyaka Upanishad where satya is called the means to Brahman, as well as Brahman (Being, true self).[15][16] In hymn 1.4.14 of Brihadaranyaka Upanishad, Satya (truth) is equated to Dharma (morality, ethics, law of righteousness),[17] 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[16][17]

Taittiriya Upanishad's hymn 11.11 states, "Speak the Satya (truth), conduct yourself according to the Dharma (morality, ethics, law)".[18][17]

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,[19]

सत्यमेव जयते नानृतं[20]
Translation 1: Truth alone triumphs, not falsehood.[21]
Translation 2: Truth ultimately triumphs, not falsehood.[22]
Translation 3: The true prevails, not the untrue.[23]

— Mundaka Upanishad, 3.1.6[19]

Sandilya Upanishad of Atharvanaveda, in Chapter 1, includes ten forbearances[24] 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."[25]

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 of these ideas are explained in early Upanishads, composed before 500 BCE, 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.[26]


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."[27]

The Epic repeatedly emphasizes that satya is a basic virtue, because everything and everyone depends on and relies on satya.[28]

Yoga Sutras

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."[29] 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).[5][30] 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.[29] 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.[31]


Satya is one of the five vows prescribed in Jain Agamas. Satya was also preached by Mahavira.[32] According to Jainism, not to lie or speak what is not commendable.[sentence fragment][33]: 61  The underlying cause of falsehood is passion and therefore, it is said to cause hiṃsā (injury).[33]: 66 

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".[34]

According to the Jain text Puruşārthasiddhyupāya:[33]: 33 

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 (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[citation needed], 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, 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).[35]


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, [36]

Indian emblem motto

National Emblem of India

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

See also

  • Dharma – Key concept in Indian philosophy and Eastern religions, with multiple meanings
  • Rta – Vedic principle of universal nature order
  • Sacca – Buddhist term meaning "real" or "true"
  • Satnam – 'Satnam' was concept of Guru Nanak ji
  • Satyaloka – Abode of the Hindu god Brahma
  • Satya Yuga – First of four yugas (ages) in Hindu cosmology
  • Transcendentals – Truth, beauty, and goodness
  • Truth – Being in accord with fact or reality


  1. ^ a b c Hindery, Roderick (1996). Comparative ethics in Hindu and Buddhist traditions. Delhi: Motilal Banarsidass. pp. 51–55. ISBN 978-81-208-0866-9.
  2. ^ a b c de Nicolás, Antonio T. (2003). Meditations Through the Rig Veda. iUniverse. pp. 162–164. ISBN 978-0595269259.
  3. ^
  4. ^ a b c Tiwari, Kedar Nath (1998). "Virtues and Duties in Indian Ethics". Classical Indian Ethical Thought. Motilal Banarsidass. p. 87. ISBN 978-8120816077.
  5. ^ a b Garg, Ganga Ram, ed. (1992). Encyclopaedia of the Hindu World. Vol. 3. Concept Publishing Company. p. 733. ISBN 8170223733.
  6. ^ Dhand, A. (2002). "The dharma of ethics, the ethics of dharma: Quizzing the ideals of Hinduism". Journal of Religious Ethics. 30 (3): 347–372. doi:10.1111/1467-9795.00113.
  7. ^
    • Dept. of Classics and Ancient History, University of Auckland, ed. (1979). "Prudentia, Volumes 11–13". University of Auckland Bindery: 96. 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... {{cite journal}}: Cite journal requires |journal= (help)[verification needed]
    • Kahn, Charles H. (2009). Essays on Being. Oxford University Press. p. 23. ISBN 978-0191560064. 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). In English we have a cognate form of this old Indo-European participle of 'to be' in 'sooth', 'soothsayer'.
    • Russell, James R. (2009). "The rime of the Book of the Dove". In Allison, Christine; Joisten-Pruschke, Anke; Wendtland, Antje (eds.). From Daēnā to Dîn. Otto Harrassowitz Verlag. p. 186f105. ISBN 978-3447059176. Av. haiθya-, from the verb 'to be'—truth in the sense of 'the way things actually are'—corresponds to its cognates, Skt. satyá-, Rus. istina.
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  9. ^ Ishwaran, Karigoudar (1999). Ascetic Culture: Renunciation and Worldly Engagement. Leiden: Brill. pp. 143–144. ISBN 978-90-04-11412-8.
  10. ^ a b Macdonell, Arthur Anthony (2004). A Practical Sanskrit Dictionary with Transliteration, Accentuation, and Etymological Analysis Throughout. Motilal Banarsidass Publ. ISBN 978-81-208-2000-5.
  11. ^ Chaudhuri, H. (1954). "The Concept of Brahman in Hindu Philosophy". Philosophy East and West. 4 (1): 47–66. doi:10.2307/1396951. JSTOR 1396951.
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  14. ^ a b Holdrege, Barbara (2004). "Dharma". In Mittal, Sushil; Thursby, Gene R. (eds.). The Hindu world. New York: Routledge. p. 215. ISBN 0-415-21527-7.
  15. ^ Brihadaranyaka Upanishad. Translated by Madhavananda, Swami (third ed.). Advaita Ashrama. 1950. Section V.
  16. ^ a b Johnston, Charles (23 October 2014). The Mukhya Upanishads: Books of Hidden Wisdom. Kshetra. p. 481. ISBN 978-1495946530. For discussion on Satya and Brahman pp. 491–505, 561–575.
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  20. ^ Mundaka Upanishad (Sanskrit) Wikisource
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  24. ^ Patanjali states five restraints, rather than ten. The complete list of ten 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
  25. ^ Narayanaswami Aiyar, K. (1914). Thirty minor Upanishads. Madras: V̇asanṭā Press. pp. 173–174. OCLC 23013613.
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  27. ^ Dutt, Manmatha Nath, ed. (1903). "Mokshadharma parva". The Mahābhārata: Shanti parva. CCC.12.
  28. ^ a b "Mokshadharma Parva". The Mahabharata, Vanti Parva, Volume II. Calcutta: Pratapa Chandra Ray, Bharata Press. 1891. p. 344.
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  33. ^ a b c Jain, Vijay K. (2012). Acharya Amritchandra's Purushartha Siddhyupaya: Realization of the Pure Self, With Hindi and English Translation. Vikalp Printers. ISBN 978-8190363945. Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  34. ^ Jain, S.A. (1992) [1960], Reality (English Translation of Srimat Pujyapadacharya's Sarvarthasiddhi) (Second ed.), Jwalamalini Trust, p. 197, Public Domain This article incorporates text from this source, which is in the public domain.
  35. ^ "four noble truths". Oxford Reference. Retrieved 2024-05-28.
  36. ^ Sri Guru Granth Sahib page 23 Full Shabad
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