Truth Will Set You Free
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Recently our nation witnessed the nationally televised funeral of Congressman John Lewis who has been a civil rights hero for the last fifty years. He was a big proponent of Satyagraha which literally means truth and firmness and apparently you can bring these two together to create much needed positive change in our society and in hearts in a non-violent manner and at the funeral it was really nice to hear President Obama and house speaker Nancy Pelosi talk about Satyagraha in a public address. I feel that this might be a good time as any other to talk about Satyagraha, as a way of life and as a method for social change.
This was first propounded by Gandhi, who was experimenting with the possibilities of taking his truth, what he experienced to be true for himself and the planet and converting it into a truth force. That’s why he proposed ‘Satya’ which means truth, combined with ‘agraha’ which means a firm holding, to create a social tool and Satyagraha is based upon, not harming others so whenever there is truth, there is always non-violence because according to the Vedas, the truth is the truth of the spirit, of the common self and whenever we talk about self there is no question of violence or hatred or hurting another.
Therefore Satyagraha came to be associated with Gandhi because he brought non-violent ways of resisting the British colonial empire in India and he influenced Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King and more recently he also influenced public figures like Albert Einstein and John Lennon.
The way it all began was that Gandhi was born in India in 1869, went to Great Britain to get his degree as a practicing attorney, where after his degree once he had that he decided to move to South Africa to practice, but there he had to deal with painful discrimination based on his colour and once he was even beaten cruelly by a stage coach driver because Gandhi refused to get up and give up his seat for a European and this galvanized Gandhi’s resolve to fight injustice, through principles of Satyagraha, truth and firmness because he had seen that role modeled by his mother.
She always spoke the truth, she was firm about it or it was a non-violent firmness. There was certain quietness to her firmness but it had way more power than the kind of firmness that’s accompanied by screaming, shouting, pouting, threatening, banging of doors, flinging of slurs.
Truth and firmness is Satyagraha and Gandhi compared it to the opposite known as ‘Duragraha’ which means where we hold on to dark ways, disturbed ways of insisting upon what we believe in and in Satyagraha we non-violently hold on to what we believe in .We never let go off the truth, we stay firm on it but we do it peacefully, quietly, pleasantly.
My interest is in talking about Satyagraha, not only as a social, political movement and many credit Gandhi for helping the Indian independence movement tremendously with creating Satyagraha movements across India, where millions of Indians came together to peacefully demonstrate, what they believed in, which was a sovereign nation and even if they were treated violently by the colonial British empire keepers, they did not respond with violence but also I am interested in talking about Satyagraha as a tool in personal relationships.
Can we take something which is so disgusting in the world, as a tool of peaceful non-violent social activism and bring it into our bedroom, into our intimate relationships and can we use it to instrument change, so that we become better partners, not shadow partners but truly soulful partners.
So I will just go there, but briefly, I just want to say that Satyagraha and its power arises when we act with soul kindness, soul respect, soul patience, soul generosity and a certain selflessness or big heartedness that comes with a soul perception. Therefore, definitely Satyagraha is a tool in the hands and minds of the evolved ones amongst us but it’s definitely worth exploring and kudos to Gandhi for taking a personal conviction and converting it into a tool, for the benefit of the whole society and then gradually that tool spread all over the world and has influenced Martin Luther Junior and so many others, right up to John Lewis, who we just buried but with all the dignity and love that his soul deserves, because as a teacher of Satyagraha, he lived with truth and firmness and he taught that message to Americans, who were fortunate to share the planet with him.
In our culture, habits of violence are so deeply ingrained, we somehow believe that unless we raise our voice, make our hand into a fist, have an altercation for things that where we feel we are not heard, we won’t be able to make a change but Satyagraha is able to bring about change but it does require a few things such as this path requires more face to face interaction and dialogue so that the dignity and the potential of every human being are preserved and nurtured in a direct contact with each other and of course any deep sustainable change requires sometime some patience, some experimentation, so we shouldn’t just try it for a day or half an hour and give up on it. It really could be a whole journey, from shadow to self and that’s why I am choosing to talk about this topic, not only because it’s timely, but because it is timeless.
So let’s look at some Satyagraha principles that we could bring into our relationship with our significant others, especially if you are in an intimate relationship with someone or even with your parents or children. I think the first principle that you may want to consider bringing into light is, what Gandhi has always said that “be the change you want to see in the world.” So if you want to change your partner, such as you don’t want them to speak very loudly or raise their voice to the point that it distresses you and your heartbeat goes up, then you want to role model that change, it’s very easy to point fingers but pointing fingers will just inflame the problem but when we ourselves look at what can we change within ourselves, when we take actions to represent that beautiful ideal in our relationship, we speak softly with consideration, with non-humiliating words, with long enough pauses so that the other person doesn’t feel like there is no room for them to even think, for they are being listened to. We then are inviting the other person into a non-violent, truth based, Satyagraha inspired relationship with ourselves.
The other point I wanted to talk about was that Satyagraha was based on even looking at your oppressor, with the eyes of soulfulness, considering the others as equal and their right to be on this planet as legitimate as yours, even if they have a different opinion, even if they are not acting in the manner you would like them to act but still in that moment, in that spiritual now, no matter what their beliefs be, their gender, their colour, their race, their age, their educational background, their cultural beliefs, everybody has an equal and a deserving right to be and to hold beliefs and Satyagraha is based on a core acceptance of the quality and legitimacy of everyone on this planet. So when you bring that into your bedroom or into your intimate relationship or even with your friends and family members and you feel like they represent things you don’t necessarily approve of, yet, you will give them respect due to them. You will not act smug or assume that somehow you are superior, you will play fair, you will not simply ask another person to shut up because you think you know better or just culturally or racially your voice is more entitled. So Satyagraha in the ultimate analysis then, is about our common humanity and not only owning your own humanity but allowing the other to embody their humanity. So there is no phoniness or arrogance or smugness or entitled behavior or habitual assumptions of superiority that we bring into our relationship or communication that isn’t inspired by Satyagraha.
Once we bring even our oppressor on an equal plane, at least we don’t respond from a dark place, we act, respond, talk from a more enlightened place and ultimately enlightenment becomes a role model to end all entitlement. This is the belief that Gandhi had and this is worth exploring in your relationships, at least I have noticed that if I have to negotiate something with anyone not just in an intimate relationships, but with anyone whether I am an adviser on professional boards, whether I am trying to resolve something with someone, it really helps to see the other not just as a person with the opinion that I don’t like, or a person with a behavior that i don’t like but as equals as humans on this planet, it just makes a difference.
Though, if you don’t want to be delegitimized, don’t delegitimize another that’s all I would say. The third encouragement that I would say in this podcast, if you really are committed to a journey of shadow to self, is if you want to use Satyagraha as a tool then I would say to make a commitment to speak up and, in fact, if both partners are willing to be inspired by Satyagraha, truth and firmness, then let us be firm in bringing up the truth, rather than sweeping it under the rug and when we say we have a commitment to protest what we don’t like, that doesn’t mean we have a passport to lament and suffer from a persecution complex and constantly complain and whine, I am just talking about this commitment. As Gandhi said, we have a commitment to not cooperate with ignorance or evil as much as we have a duty to cooperate with what is good and worthy.
This is especially true if you are in the habit of rescuing behavior, you tend to overlook abuse, you let people walk over your boundaries, then it’s important that you non-violently protest the wrong and you don’t have to wait until you explode nor do you have to permanently keep your peace, but simmer with resentment and fill your stomach with acid but you can bring up peacefully, respectfully but with strength, what is the root of the problem here and therefore if you are in a relationship and if you want to bring Satyagraha go ahead and foster a climate where you both can speak and you can both be heard. I think that would be just wonderful. Clearly, what do we do? We don’t bring up something or we bring it up and we blame the other person, and then we shame the other person, then we badger them with all our bitterness and anger that’s been built up, but if you really want to firmly speak your truth, then you don’t have to do any of that.
Without losing your temper, without scaring another person or spooking your own self, you can simply mention, that by the way, when you come late and you don’t call me, I get worried and I also feel like you know hurt, so please don’t do that, just say it in a discharged manner, that would be speaking from a Satyagraha perspective but because your are committed, because you have a firm commitment to truth you won’t simply smile and say hey honey, and not bring up what’s bothering you, you would bring it up, okay!
To continue to love, to continue to value someone and to continue to love yourself and value yourself, which is part of being in Satyagraha, the truth, you have to accept that relationships are like a journey and there is constant change and what makes this eventful journey safe and positive and supportive of both partners is this willingness, to talk about what is not okay with you and not pushing it away and not medicating yourself, but even mediating away, till you bypass the issue, till you say, I am so evolved, that none of this matters. Both should know that they can speak and both should know they will be heard. This is the climate we want to cultivate. You can say oh but Shunya my partner this and my mother this and my father that, I know, but really what I am sharing here in the podcast, is an ideal, some Dharma and Dharma is like an ideal and when we even don’t know what is our ideal, we don’t even know what we want, what should we compare our life to? So it’s good to have these ideals and as in that will help us slowly, make that change non-violently, firm in the truth that our spirit deserves, to protest what is not acceptable.
Another thing, that we should pay attention to is that we want to bring about a change in our relationship or in our agreements or the way our partner talks to us or the way our significant other communicates with us not by anger, not by violent pushing and pulling, not by shaming, badgering but by influence of love. Many people have compared Satyagraha to love. I can tell you this that every time i wanted a change, in the way my husband folds his clothes or my son puts his plate away or any such small thing, it was when I spoke softly, kindly and the love was a part of it, not a begging, not a placating but my communication did not allow the other person’s esteem to drop, to the point where they had to be defensive or offensive, if i could just say something with kindness and kind heartedness, I have found that my voice can move mountains.
Yes, I have spoken on the same podcast about the rare times when you have to be very strong and very powerful and maybe even show your angry voice, but those are exceptions. In our day to day life, there is a big reason why we are all experiencing our heart all the time, because this is where we have to be stable, make a difference, so loving requests will create change that will last. You can push someone and coerce them, into following a rule or calling you when they are out of the house too long and you can have screaming matches, yelling and throwing of things and you can put the fear of god or goddess in somebody and they follow your rules, but it’s not gonna last, and the way i influence another from love and not from fear and not from hatred and not from control but sheer love is where i am all the time feeling, that life is only about love, isn’t it? I try to clear my head until I can come to a loving place and from a love of my own self I ask, hey! Can I trust in you to do this? And can I depend on you? Will you make sure and do that? Somehow when I am really in this place of self love, self honoring by extension, my voice carries that love and it’s beautiful. Isn’t it wonderful but Gandhi used to say that an eye for an eye will only make both partners blind.
Violence creates more problems than it solves. Violence is allowed in exceptions, teachers when it comes to the protection of Dharma. For example the war of Mahabharata in ancient India was raged by Arjuna supported by Lord Krishna only because it protected Dharma and not because it was taking care of the petty ego of a hero Arjuna. Violence is indispensable. We really have to think it through. When we talk about violence between intimately connected people, between family members, I really don't see, where is the need for violence? It bruises bodies, it bruises emotions, it bruises hope, it poisons life, it destroys the health of the person who is experiencing the violence and it destroys the health of the person who is violent. Violence is not natural to souls, that is why I would say that, we have to do our best to be non-violent in fact non-violence is known as Ahimsa, ‘Ahimsa Parmodharma’ this is the cardinal teaching of the Vedas that it is the Param the most important Dharma and we must remember it all the time and no matter what I feel I keep it, as an important guidance in my life. In fact, when we talk about non-violent communication, then in the Vedas, the Bhagavad Gita itself, we come across four recommendations for mindful speech, but the first pillar of mindful speech is non-violence. If you are feeling violent towards another being whom you want to talk to emotionally violent, physically violent, sexual violent, it’s all over, you already see that the other person as an object, which you can hurt and you have numbed yourself, from having any experience, you have desensitized yourself, so you are already separated from the soul, you are just seeing that person as a thing, that you can be violent with. That’s why non-violence is the first principle of mindful Vedic non-violent Satyagraha inspired communication.
The second one is Satyam or Satya which again means truth. When we are violent we even say false thing, we hurl all kinds of mean things on the other which is not even true, they might be just projections of our mind, fantasies but, when we are nonviolent like I said non-violence and truth have an inherent connection and you go ahead and speak non-violently and you speak the truth. No matter what be the consequence, speak the truth.
Thirdly, the Vedas say that this nonviolent truthful speech should be spoken or delivered pleasantly, sometimes we become so proud that we are speaking our truth, that we become sassy about it, but this is not the time to speak sassily. Non-violent truth comes like you have been offered flowers, somebody could be saying I am leaving you and yet it’s a flower, the flower, the lotus of consciousness that comes to you, when it is spoken with an intention, intentional pleasantness not artificial pleasantness, intentional pleasantness, the tone of your voice, the pitch of the voice, how sharp its edges are, your communication or the tone softly landing, you know it. Sometimes we speak like we are putting daggers in someone. When you are speaking your truth non-violently, it will come out pleasantly and finally Bhagavad Gita explains that this kind of communication is not spoken just so that your ego can vent, communication is not simply a put it flush, it’s not an exhaust that you just turn on and it goes ahaaa and all these sounds are coming out of you so that you can be relieved of everything that was pent up in you so that you can just go talk talk talk.
No, when it’s truly non-violent then it’s tearful and is pleasant and ultimately you speak so that it has some benefit for the listener, it’s not just for you. You are not the only one in a communication, so every word that comes out of you, there is some consideration and how it will fall on the other? Are they vulnerable right now? Can they handle it? Do they need something else?
Sometimes I have my son getting very waxed and anxious, you know, when he was a teenager now he is a grown person, but how can I change what I say to him? I might have to give him a curfew, which he doesn’t like to hear about, but what can I say, that it is beneficial to him? So can I say that, it may not feel like yet, right now when I am putting the curfew at 10pm but, I want to tell you that I love you? Wait, wait, take a deep breath, I am done, I love you. Hey! What I said, may feel strange but I want to you to know I honor you, I really hope my words will go very far even beyond my body with you and you will know one day, that I spoke the truth, Satyagraha, insistence upon truth, spoken pleasantly, held by non-violence and ultimately a gift for the other, a benefit for the one who listens to you. I hope that my discussions on Satyagraha that really began with Gandhi and Mandela and Martin Luther junior King and what it has done for so many more inspired souls, including congressman John Lewis, to whom we bid farewell and come home to us in our hearts and when Satyagraha inspires us, we stop being afraid, we know our truth, we don’t tell lies to ourselves, we speak our truth, we live and die for our truth and somehow this truth renders us peaceful, it makes us kind, it makes us compassionate.
So on this quiet and deliberative note, I just want to say I am excited that my book The Sovereign Self is coming out and I speak a lot about mindful communication, I don’t speak specifically about Satyagraha. It just came to my mind to talk about it right now, because even our politicians are talking about it, but I definitely talk about non-violence and how to bring it into your life, about Satyam or truth and so many more things.
These beautiful Vedic teachings, have so long been either ignored or misinterpreted or misrepresented as a system of miracles and just some quick immediate benefits, here chant a mantra and everything will be fine. But the reality is that we have to choose to be fine and one way to choose to be fine is what are you holding on to, Satyagraha, hold on to truth firmly, Dugraha hold on to falsehood firmly. Why don’t you hold on to truth!
This is Acharya Shunya, I hope you have been enjoying my podcast. Thank you so much for all the lovely reviews you are sharing with me and my team. I thank you, I bless you and I encourage you to spread the word, invite your friends and family, to this podcast and invite your special friends and especially your intimate others, significant others rather who would want to go on this journey with you from shadow to self. I am trying to bring this journey from confusion to light, from violence to non violence, falsehood to truth and just being a shadow to being a true amazing being,the self, into our daily conversation. Thank you for joining my conversation, bye.
Acharya Shunya is a globally-recognized spiritual teacher and Vedic lineage-holder who awakens health and consciousness through the Vedic sciences of Ayurveda, Vedanta and Yoga. She is the driving force behind an online wisdom school and worldwide spiritual community, and the author of best-selling book on the Vedic art of mind + body + soul well-being and health, Ayurveda Lifestyle Wisdom (Sounds True, 2017) and forthcoming second book with Sounds True to be released in 2020, Sovereign Self. Acharya Shunya is a keynote speaker at national and international conferences, and serves as an advisor to the Indian Government in matters pertaining to global integration and cultivation of Ayurveda and Yoga. Receive her free online teachings and browse her current eCourse offerings here or see more about her on Facebook and follow her on Instagram. Subscribe to her YouTube Channel where she holds live Global Satsangs once per month. Study Ayurveda with Acharya Shunya in her online course, Alchemy through Ayurveda.