Last updated: December 21, 2023

What Does Satyagraha Mean?

Satyagraha is a Sanskrit word that comes from the roots satya, meaning “truth,” and agraha, meaning “insistence.” It can be loosely translated to mean “insistence on truth” or “holding onto truth.”

The concept of satyagraha was developed and introduced by Mahatma Gandhi who used it in the Indian independence movement and earlier in his struggles for Indian rights as a determined but nonviolent resistance to evil.

Mahatma Gandhi founded an ashram to teach satyagraha, where he asked his practitioners to follow the principles described as yamas in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The first two yamas — ahimsa (nonviolence) and satya most closely fit the philosophy of satyagraha.

Gandhi considered satyagraha not only as a tactic to be used in a political struggle, but also as a solution for interpersonal conflicts. He believed that it should be taught to everyone. A person who practices satyagraha is a satyagrahi.


Yogapedia Explains Satyagraha

In developing the practice of satyagraha, Gandhi was influenced by the concept of nonviolence. He believed that one could not find truth without practicing nonviolence.

Gandhi rejected the idea that unjustice should be fought by “any means necessary,” because the philosophy of satyagraha does not separate the means from the ends. Gandhi believed that nonviolence is infinitely superior to violence and forgiveness is greater than punishment.

The principles Gandhi asked his satyagrahis to follow are very similar to those explained in “The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali,” and applicable in some degree to yoga practice as well. Unless a practitioner’s thoughts, speech and actions are firmly rooted in satyagraha, a truly spiritual yoga practice cannot begin.

For Gandhi, Karma yoga, Jnana yoga and Bhakti yoga were not simply a way to reach Self-realization, but they could also lead society to a greater awareness. Satyagraha was a way of exemplifying the Karma yoga path, which epitomizes selfless action to achieve spiritual liberation.

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