The Meaning and Concept of Sat in Hinduism

Vedas, Sruti

by Jayaram V

Aum Tat Sat! Thus, was specified three ways of recollecting Brahman mentally - The Bhagavadgita

What is Sat or Sath (सत्)? The word Sat has several meanings, but they are all derived from the central meaning: the all-pervading, absolute, universal, indestructible, indefinable, fixed and eternal reality or truth. Sat is uncreated, indivisible and indistinguishable. It is the essential nature of the universal, supreme reality, the ultimate and the highest state, which is described in the Vedas as Brahman. Brahman is not a deity or a being in the ordinary sense. He is the highest state, the ultimate goal (Parandhama) of all seekers of truth which is referred to in the Vedas as That (tat) in contrast to this (iha), the world or creation.

The verses 26 and 27 in the chapter 17 of the Bhagavadgita describe Sat in these words, “The word Sat is used to denote the state of reality, the state of righteousness. So also, O Partha, it is used to denote praiseworthy actions and truthful words. The virtue in sacrifice, austerity and charity is also referred to as Sat, and even the work done for their sake is described as Sat.” The opposite of Sat is Asat, the unreal, false, nonexistence, which is used to refer to the creation which arises from Sat as a projection or superimposition. If the sky is Sat, the clouds and all the celestial objects in it are Asat.

The other meanings of Sat are, that which is existing, noble, worthy, auspicious, godliness, holiness, excellent, pure, perfect, firm, self-existent, independent, virtuous, good, and so on. As you can see, they are considered the qualities or attributes of Brahman only, or the highest God or lord (Isvara) of the whole existence. These qualities manifest in the highest aspects of Brahman and become gradually concealed by maya’s impurities as creation descends deeper into the materiality of the universe. They are completely clouded or concealed in the lower worlds and lower organisms.

The supreme reality of Brahman or Sat is one (ekam Sat) and indivisible but it is variously described (bahuda vadanti) by the scriptures, seers and scholars. That One becomes reflected in many truths (sathyam) in the field of Nature, resulting in the diversity of creation, whereby the one Truth appears as many truths that are relative to place, time, knowledge, perception and perspective just as the rays of the sun. Hence, we have divergent theories and schools of philosophy about the nature of existence, reality, truth and knowledge. The knowledge of the Sat is the true knowledge (vidya) which arises in us from self-knowing, beyond the mind and the senses, through oneness. Everything else which arises from perception, cognition, feeling, intuition, emotion and objectification is inferior knowledge or ignorance (avidya). Vidya leads to Sat, and avidya to Asat.

Avidya is responsible for the prevalence of the unreal (asat), which is characterized as untruth, ignorance (tamas), death (mrtyu), delusion and suffering (dukkha). In the natural order of things, the progression of beings upon earth is from the unreal to the real (asatoma sadgamaya), from the darkness of ignorance to the light of knowledge and wisdom (tamasoma jyotirgamaya), and from death to immortality (mrtyorma amrtangamaya). Sat is the essential and eternal self in all of us, which is enveloped in each by a physical mind and body. It is Asat (the untruth) or the not-self, which keeps the beings bound to the world. Vidya is the means by which we give up our attachment to the not-self and overcome avidya (ignorance) to cross the ocean of samsara (births and deaths) and merge into the universal, supreme reality of the self or Sat.

Characteristics of Sat

Although Sat cannot be objectified and described in relative terms, for our convenience and understanding, we may identify a few distinguishing features of it, which are described below.

1. Sat is one, without a second. Sat is indivisible, nondual, complete in itself, immutable and imperishable. The all-pervading highest absolute truth can be one and only. If there are more than one truth, then they will need an external support, truth or reality to coexist. Therefore, many (relative and derivative) truths may coexist in Sat, but Sat is one and only.

2. Sat is infinite. If it is finite, it has to coexist with other finite realities, in which case it cannot be considered the highest, absolute, eternal and all-pervading reality. However, many finite realities, worlds, planes and realms can coexist in the absolute, supreme reality of Sat.

3. Sat is indescribable and indefinable. If it can be described, then it cannot be construed as a transcendental reality which is beyond the mind and body. If it can be defined, it means it is limited and finite which Sat is not. Only objectified truths can be perceived, described and defined. Sat cannot be objectified since it is ungraspable and incomprehensible to the mind and senses.

4. Sat pervades all but is not in them. Sat pervades the whole creation, but is not in the creation. This is affirmed by Krishna in the Bhagavadgita also. Brahman is Sat, but his creation is not Sat. If it is, then it would have been permanent, eternal and indestructible. Then our bodies too would have been indestructible and eternal. Since they are not, creation or all objectified reality is not Sat.

5. The knowledge of the Sat is not Sat. We may objectify Sat and speak about it, as I have done. However, it is a description of Sat, not Sat itself. The supreme eternal Sat cannot be perceived or known through the mind and senses or by any external knowledge. Sat can be known by Sat only in the state of Sat, through self-knowing, beyond all the mind and senses and all dualities and mental faculties.

6. Sat is eternally constant. It is independent of time and place. Our truths are relative to time, place and perspective. What is true today may prove to be false from another perspective or a different set of circumstances. It is not the case with Sat. It is eternally true and real everywhere and at all times. It has always been true and will always be true, whether we exist or not and whether we know it or not. Sat is permanently fixed. If it is not, then it cannot be Sat.

7. Sat is bliss and consciousness. The supreme reality of Brahman is said to be absolute truth, pure consciousness and infinite bliss (satchidananda). It can only be experienced by mortals in the pure state of self-knowing (sahaja vidya) when they overcome the impurities of maya namely egoism, attachments and delusion. Those who experience it are permanently liberated from samsara and become dissolved in Sat.

8, Sat is the best and the brightest of all things in creation. Sat is the fragrance in the flowers, the divinity in the gods, the truth in the Vedas, the life force in the body, the melody in the songs, the devotion in worship and prayers, the righteousness in the Dharma, the virtue, character and nobility in the humans, the power of the mantras and yantras, the wisdom of the seers and sages, the innocence and beauty of the newly born, the selflessness and sacrifice of the plants and trees, the majesty of the mountains, the firmness and support of the earth, the light in all the shining objects and the peace and silence of the vast spaces of the universe as well as the depths of our own being. All the manifestations (Vibhutis) which are described in the Chapter 10 of the Bhagavadgita are but manifestations of Sat only. So also, the qualities which are described in the verses four and five of the same chapter

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