We recently explored what Ahimsa (non-violence) and Asteya (non-stealing) vows mean in Jainism. There are three other vows we have yet to discuss: Brahmacharya (chastity), Aparigraha (non-possession), and Satya (or truth). Today, we will look at Satya. Like all the vows, the Satya principle extends far beyond the simple telling of truth. This includes the concept of lying by omission!
Jains are reputable businessmen and businessmen, and that reputation has been well-earned. After all, what better merchant is there than one whose religion demands total unadulterated honesty? A Jain merchant, for example, is not allowed to omit defections in a particular product he would like to sell.
One of the ways that Satya extends the idea of truth further than you might think is dependent on whether or not you believe someone else is lying or telling the truth — to be truthful yourself, you must always discourage dishonesty in others. That means calling someone out when they lie!
The Jain text Sarvarthasiddhi says, “That which causes pain and suffering to the living is not commendable, whether it refers to actual facts or not.”
Another text, the Purusarthasisddhyupaya, says, “All these subdivisions (injury, falsehood, stealing, unchastity, and attachment) are himsa 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.”
“The Four Noble Truths” in Jainism refer to the truth of suffering, the origin of suffering, the extinction of suffering, and the Noble Eightfold Path (which results in the extinction of suffering).
Satya is a vow taken to restrain oneself from these falsehoods. This is done through body, words, and thoughts.
One of the distinctions taught to Jains, for example, is that you might not always know the truth, but you always know when you’re lying. In this case it is better to stop speaking, rather than to express that which you do not know for certain is accurate.