II.36 सत्यप्रतिष्ठायां क्रियाफलाश्रयत्वम

satya-pratiṣṭhāyām kriyā-phalāśrayatvam
satya-pratiṣṭhāyām kriyā-phala-āśrayatvam

“Upon the establishment of truth, assurance of the fruit of actions.”

The second yama is satya, “truth.” The Sanskrit word derives from the verb ās, “to be” and so points to the “is-ness” of truth. Truth is—in Sanskrit—what is.

In this sense, the Sanskrit idea of truth hews closely to the modern scientific idea. Through direct observation (an important principle of yoga, see I.7), with careful attention, and with willingness to remove blinders, preconceptions, the scientist strives to see more clearly, know more fully. The yoga practitioner does this as well. The field of her observation includes her own self. Beginning with the outer body and moving to the breath and more subtle sensations, the yoga practitioner turns inward, looks, listens, feels the state of herself, inside herself. Neurologist and trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk calls the ability to sense inwardly “interoception” (see II.7). B.K.S. Iyengar calls the process of turning inward “involution.”

In yoga practice, we follow the breath, we feel the body—in movement, in stillness, wide, narrow, vertical, at right angles to gravity, upside-down, folded over, knotted up, turning, spiraling. The practice awakens the senses, lights an experience of one’s being as active, dynamic. The body in motion speaks to us; the body that we allow ourselves to feel reveals the self to the self. The work that is done in āsana and prāṇāyāma can release long-held memories, unrecognized or denied emotions; it is a kind of excavation of layers long buried.

For many, yoga practice leads to a profound sense of oneness, in oneself, in the world—expressed in many traditions as the ultimate truth, as God.

In this sūtra, Patañjali says that one who is established in truth, who stands in truth, will rest in the assurance of the fruits of action (kriyā-phala-āśrayatvam). There need be no anxiety about outcomes or consequences, as though truth were its own safe space, a refuge (one meaning of āśraya is resting place, shelter).

What a beautiful idea this is: that truth is a refuge. Yet it is so human and so common for us to deny difficult truths. We don’t like the truths that go against the stories we have been taught, the values that we share. In my personal life, it has been hard for me to accept that I have harmed others. I have also struggled to acknowledge how I have been harmed.

There is perhaps no greater example of denial than our society’s refusal to acknowledge climate change. The reality of climate change and the extent of the environmental destruction we face demands that Americans let go of the story of progress, of the solutions of modern capitalism. We cannot live as we have been living. This is a difficult truth.

Gandhi founded his political movement on the principle of satyāgraha, literally, “holding on to the truth.” Satyāgraha, in its most general sense, was a principle of non-violent witness. Specifically, it was a declaration that the injustice and exploitation of the British occupation of India were to be denied no longer.

Satya as a yama is an injunction to pay attention and see what is there. Pay attention to the clues of the body and the movement of the breath; to the unfolding of nature in her cycles but also the political news of the day; to the processing of the intellect and the understanding of the heart.

The truth is in many ways elusive—so many-sided! Yet we go at it, in many different ways. One way is with silence.

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

The truth cannot be found by argument, the soul itself is truth, it is that Self praised by Yādnyawalkya which is all Selves.
–W.B. Yeats, introduction to Aphorisms of Patañjali

The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far.
— Neils Bohr, quoted by Maria Popova; see her blog Brain Pickings



“It is not our mind, but the inner voice of our cells which has the power to implement our decisions.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.36

“What is the condition of non-falsehood? Surely it is that state where one perceives what is and not what one has projected. It is our projections that create falsehood and the projections arise out of the incomplete past. Why is one not able to see what is? It is because the past seeking fulfillment creates a screen so that one is not enabled to see anything directly.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga and the Art of Integration, p. 163

“In several traditions, truth is with God–in the Gospel, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, the Life’–in Chāndogya Upaniṣad, truth is Being, that is, God. Truth is a fundamental concept. Respecting it is an exacting discipline that requires perfect fidelity and coherence among intention, speech, the action, and its results.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 120

• What true thing in your personal life–or perhaps in our national life–has it been difficult for you to see or accept? What has helped you accept it?
• Are you direct in your communications with people? Do you have a tendency to gossip?
• Does the practice of satya lead you to speak less or more? Does it guide you in political action?
• What does it mean to you to listen to the “inner voice of your cells”? What does interoception teach you?


neuter noun in compound

truth (from sat, “existing, being,” + -ya, which makes abstract noun)


feminine noun, 7th case singular

establishment, resting place, ground  (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)


feminine noun in compound

doing, action, performance, purificatory rite, practice (from kṛ, “to do”)


masculine noun in compound

fruit (from phal, “to bear fruit”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

(from ā + śri, “to depend on,” +-tva, which makes an abstract noun)


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