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Thread: Always tell the Truth

  1. #1
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    Always tell the Truth

    Vannakkam all:

    I'm starting this thread as a response to what someone said in another thread. I'm sure we've all encountered this saying at one time or another, whether from parents, teachers, etc.

    I find it to be a vast oversimplification of life that has its origins in black/white or good/bad western thinking. There is a childrens' book titled 'Number the Stars' by Lois Lowry that provides a great starter for a discussion on this. In the book, the Danes are smuggling Jews out of Denmark over to Sweden during the time of Nazi Germany's occupation of Denmark. The Danes chronically lie or distort the truth to the Germans to save their Jewish friend's lives. Good book with lots of lessons, for those of us here with children.

    The other thread got me to thinking (not always a good thing) about the Hindu take on this. What do our scriptures say? Do they parrot the western simplicity, or do they express it in a more complex way, as I have said? From my experience, its always more complicated. Take the example of a person who is going into dementia. What value is it to tell them the truth a mistake they may have made in counting money, etc. The better plan, born out of kindness, would be to just cover for them, no?

    Thoughts, anyone?

    Aum Namasivaya

  2. #2

    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Namaste,

    I believe that first comes ahimsa & only then truthfulness... So in case truth might really hurt person or people - then it's better avoid it. But in no way person should be two-faced. He or she shouldn't pretend that they like other person & later just back-stab, so I believe person should always think for consequences in long & short term, if person lies & tells truth that shouldn't be told.

    Saving person's life with lying is good example while lying to get away from something is the, obvious, bad one...


    Have a wonderful day,
    ~Alice
    Siva Yogaswami used to say, "It takes courage to be happy all the time."

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    In general I think we'd all agree that telling the truth is the best policy. There's the story of the Sadhu who falsely told Lord Narayana (in the guise of an ascetic) that his boat was filled with worthless vessels, only to be cursed by his lie coming true. However, we should recall that during the Kurukshetra war, Bhima killed Duryodhana by an unfair tactic; literally he hit him below the belt. Sri Krishna fully approved of this, and reminded Duryodhana that because he had never upheld Dharma in his life, Dharma would not be his salvation now. Indeed, my understanding of Gita is that we're taught not to waste our scruples on those who care nothing for honor or Dharma.

    I've always found this to be an interesting teaching. It prevents dishonorable and evil men from holding good people hostage with the rules of just conduct.

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Namaste,

    I agree with SweetAlisija in saying that ahimsa should take precedence over satya in practice. Satya without ahimsa is hard for me to swallow. Isn't there a similar story in Hindu tradition to that children's book you mentioned, EM? I cannot remember the full details but it goes something like this:

    There once lived a very pious and upright man. He was at home one day when he happened to see another man running away in terror. The pursued man stops at his door and begs him to give him refuge and not disclose where he is for fear that these bandits will rob and kill him. The man of the house agrees, but when the bandits arrive and demand to know where their intended victim is, the houseowner tells them the truth and the bandits drag the helpless man away and kill him. Later when this pious man's life ends, his jiva finds that he will have to undergo rebirth. He demands from the Lord why this must be. He insists he has only spoken truth his whole life, worshipped and honoured the devas, etc. What wrong has he committed that he must undergo rebirth? God's answer is that the merit the man gained from telling the truth that day to the bandits is negligible compared to the harm he did in not following ahimsa first. In effect, he failed to do his duty that day and protect the innocent man from the adharmic actions of his killers.

    Bottom line, I don't think truth can be practiced fully without the right mindset of avoiding harm to another being. Such virtue seems almost empty and without compassion. I think Sanjaya has a point about those who continually engage in evil and unjust actions at the expense of others. And yet, I'm not sure I agree on wasting scruples (although I can understand that it's tempting to feel like this), as I believe no good or kind action is ever really wasted.

    Om namah Shivaya
    Last edited by sunyata07; 03 February 2011 at 02:41 PM.
    "Watch your thoughts, they become words.
    Watch your words, they become actions.
    Watch your actions, they become habits.
    Watch your habits, they become your character.
    Watch your character, it becomes your destiny."

    ॐ गं गणपतये नमः
    Om Gam Ganapataye namah

    लोकाः समस्ताः सुखिनो भवन्तु ।
    Lokaah SamastaaH Sukhino Bhavantu

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    I was meditating on EXACTLY what this post was about for the last few days and here's my conclusion. First, I believe it causes the mind great trouble to put oneself into hypothetical situations like when people ask "Would you kill a random person to save humanity" I find things like that absurd because I know such a situation has less than .0000000000000000000001% chance of happening. That said, let me continue with response to ta very real and valid question.

    In regards to whether one would lie to protect others from death. Than yes, I would lie because not only is there less bad karma being generated from lieing than allowing someone to be killed. BUT there is good karma being generated because you are risking YOUR life as well, because you know that if they find out you lied you would be killed too.

    I will summarize the conclusion in "mathematical" terms.

    Lieing = - 1 Karma
    Leading someone to be killed = - 10 Karma
    Risking your life for others = +100 Karma

    I heard from some Swami's that it's NOT the action that produces the negative karma but our minds intent with the action. We ourselves reap the karma we sow. Just like the person who donates to get limelight as opposed to the anonymous pious donor. Which one will have the favorable Karma?

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    I've been thinking about this some more today...

    If I may contradict both myself and everyone else here, there is another side to this issue. We may consider the story of King Harishchandra, who was known for holding to his word and never telling a lie. The rishi Visvamitra put him to the test, going so far as to take his kingdom and family, and the King obliged him rather than go back on his word. In the end the gods intervened, and the King was granted a place in heaven along with his wife, children, and all of his subjects.

    Maybe there's something to this idea of always telling the truth after all...

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Quote Originally Posted by sanjaya View Post
    Indeed, my understanding of Gita is that we're taught not to waste our scruples on those who care nothing for honor or Dharma.

    I've always found this to be an interesting teaching. It prevents dishonorable and evil men from holding good people hostage with the rules of just conduct.
    When we do that, we are charged with the sin of lowering ourselves down to the level of the adharmis that we are trying to eliminate - how to deal with that charge?
    -

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Another instance of this in the Mahabharata is when Drona proves to be too strong to be overcome, the Pandavas decide to trick him into thinking that his son Ashwathama was killed, and having Yudhisthira tell him that since he's the one who took the vow to always tell the truth, and therefore would certainly be believed. To protect Yudhisthira's vow and reputation, they kill an elephant named Ashwathama in their own army and then Yudhisthira tells Drona the half-truth that Ashwathama has been killed. When Drona is stunned with shock due to this news, one of the warriors takes the opportunity to decapitate him.

    While it wasn't exactly fair play, it's seen that it was necessary to uphold Dharma. The battle was unevenly matched because Drona's powers greatly exceeded that of the Pandava warriors. Similarly, the duel between Duryodhana and Bhima was unfair in the first place because Duryodhana was invincible in every part of his body except the thighs. So what the Pandavas did in this situation was to "cancel" out the unfair advantages by using some tactics of their own. While they were illegal moves, it was necessary in order to protect Dharma.

    I think that nothing is inherently good or evil, it all depends on the way it is used - whether for or against Dharma. It's agreed that killing someone is a terrible sin in 99% of all the cases, but there could still be a narrow, 1% area where it's justified - like shooting an armed terrorist to prevent them from killing an innocent child. Similarly, telling the truth is the Dharma 99% of the time, but there are still those exceptional 1% of situations where lying is necessary to uphold Dharma, like the case of protecting an innocent from pursuing criminals mentioned above. That's what I feel.

  9. #9

    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Namaste,

    In Hinduism there definitely is an emphasis and importance on keeping your word. In the Ramayana we see King Dasharata send his beloved son Lord Rama into exile just so he could keep his word to Queen Kaikeyi.

    But I believe there is a distinction between keeping one's word and telling a lie like in the examples that Eastern Mindji laid out. In the Nazi example, I think it would be dharmic to lie to the Nazis. Pretty much from what I understand, if you say you are going to do something or if you promise somebody something then you should keep your word and do it. But that is different from lying in the Nazi situation, where in my view it would be acceptable to lie.

    So it's definitely not a black and white thing, and there are distinctions and exceptions.

    Jai Sri Ram

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    Re: Always tell the Truth

    Quote Originally Posted by Ramakrishna View Post

    So it's definitely not a black and white thing, and there are distinctions and exceptions.

    Jai Sri Ram
    Vannakkam Ramakrishna: Yes, that was pretty much my original point. Other exceptions are there too.

    Children, for example, when left alone in a house, while parents are out, may answer the phone with, "My parents are busy right now. May I take a message." Out of fear of someone (a bad guy) coming over, kids lie. Similarly, on the internet, we do not disclose too much private information.

    Yet another is the fibbing for fun. Tall tales, exaggeration, just for humour. Mark Twain often referred to himself or his characters as liars. Anyone with a sense of humour at all gets this exception, although I admit I've met a few people who wouldn't. I remember a conversation between my wife and a swami. We were walking through some tall grass in the tropics. My wife said, "You must have to cut the grass here a lot." The swami replied dryly, "Yes, Ganga, we just cut this grass yesterday."

    I'm not sure about in India, but in the west, this type of lie is distinguished by calling them 'white lies'.

    But what I take exception to is the western black/white notion of 'A lie is a lie'. In the Christian and Islamic attempt to put out a world view on life, they make things just far too simple for reality. Perhaps it relates to their basic intelligence. But I think it harms global efforts at peace and discussion, so we need to counter it when we can. For the fundamentalist (of any religion) there are only two ways of life: my way, and the wrong way. By pointing out the grey, we can battle this simplistic and harmful mindset.

    Aum Namasivaya

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