Satyam Vs Ṛtam

Finding Truth Through Rhythm
By Claudia Welch, Satsangam Team Member

ऋ॒तं च॑ स॒त्यं चा॒भी॑द्धा॒त्तप॒सोऽध्य॑जायत
ṛtaṃ ca satyaṃ cābhīddhāt tapaso ‘dhy ajāyata
Truth was born and the order of truth from the kindled fire of energy of consciousness. Ṛg Veda: 10.190.1

I’ve been reflecting on the relationship between the Sanskrit words, “satyam” and, “ṛta” or, “ṛtam.”

Satyam: The Chāndogya Upaniṣad tells us that satya—Truth—is another name for Brahman (the Ultimate Reality). (CU 8.3.4)

Sa, , and yam—these are the three syllables that comprise satyam: Sa represents that which is immortal, which is mortal, and yam–which controls both the mortal and the immortal. As both are controlled by it, it is called yam. The person who knows the significance of these three syllables enjoys divine bliss every day in dreamless sleep. (CU 8.3.5)

Ṛta or ṛtam is an important Vedic concept, as we read it shows up in the Rig Veda as many as 390 times and, “has been characterized as the one concept which pervades the whole of Ṛgvedic thought”. Like satyam, it can be translated as, “truth” but the difference seems to be that satyam is the underlying truth and ṛtam is the natural order of that manifested truth.

The English word, “rhythm” comes from the word ṛtam. We can witness this natural order or rhythm in a myriad of ways:

  • The progression of the planets along their orbits
  • The seeming rising and setting of the sun and moon
  • The seasons—or ṛtu – another word closely related to ṛta
  • The ocean tides
  • The natural order of birth, infancy, youth, middle age, old age and death
  • The beating of our hearts. Indeed the Sanskrit word for heart—hṛdayam—is also related to the word ṛtam.

Some specific dramatic examples of ṛtam:

  • During the last ice age, about 15,000 years ago, a glacier gouged out the 399 meter/1310 feet/about a quarter mile-deep Lake Wakatipu—in the southern part of the South Island of New Zealand. Lake Wakatipu covers about 290 square km and…it breathes: It rises and falls 12 cm (5 inches) every five minutes. Why? Scientists hypothesize about atmospheric pressure. The Maori say it is the beating of a giant’s heart. Whatever the cause, it is witnessable (let’s pretend that’s a word) ṛtam to the keen observer.
  • The tide differentials in Abel Tasman–also in New Zealand–can be up to 5-6 meters/18 feet (depending on the source of information). It is quite a sight to see boats scattered across the sand at low tide. Not generally considered a good idea to have boats sitting on dry land, but there’s not much choice. To avoid it, boats would be docked too far out to sea to be easily reached. The not easily avoidable consequence of ṛtam.
  • A final example from New Zealand: Fox Glacier. Glaciers constantly advance and retreat, depending on accumulation of snow in the upper parts and ice melting in the lower parts. An increase in snowfall will often result in the glacier advancing. Correspondingly, faster melting will result in a retreat. According to NZ’s Department of Conservation, Fox Glacier is moving at rates of up to seven meters (about 21 feet) PER DAY. This is extremely fast compared to most glaciers worldwide.

Whether dramatic external examples like this or the often almost totally ignored internal rhythms like respiration, heart beats or the pulsations of cerebrospinal fluid, or photosynthesis in plants, there is nowhere the rhythms of life cannot be accessed.

Maybe this is one of the reasons we respond so deeply to music—its auditory representation of natural rhythms.

Maybe it is one of the reasons so many of us find peace in natural settings, where we contemplate and experience more directly some of the natural rhythms of life and light.

Maybe when we are not sure what truth is—what Brahman is—when that seems vague, far away, intellectual, unreachable, questionable or intangible, it can be helpful to quietly reflect on the tangible reflection, rhythm or natural order of that truth—in music; in the seasons, waves, heartbeats, tides and times of day and night and bring or find ourselves in a more tangible, solid, grounded, trusting relationship with truth.

Thank you for being here, in the natural order,

ps. We talk about concepts like this in Vedic Threads, a membership-based course.