The Pandavas went to the Gurukul of Dronacharya for education. All the disciples were hard working and used to remember their lessons well. Yudhisthir also was a good student but he somehow could not proceed further for several days from one particular lesson. When questioned by the Guru, he explained, “I am stuck in the first sentence itself — Satyamvad (speak the truth). Until I inculcate this lesson in my character, in my life, it won’t be true learning and I won’t be able to proceed to the next lesson”.
Truthfulness is the ninth of the ten attributes of dharma. Normally, speaking the truth is linked with the faculty of speech, to strictly say what one has seen, heard or understood. However, if the objective is noble then circumstances may warrant deliberate deviation from the liberal definition. For example, if a person is struggling against an apparently incurable ailment, words of encouragement and hope strengthening his willpower and thereby increasing his chances of survival would better serve the spirit of truth than heartlessly repeating the medical verdict.
Similarly, if there is alienation between two closely related parties or persons, each feeling uncompromisingly righteous, the ends of truth will be better served by acting as a bridge through highlighting even in an exaggerated way the brighter side of both sides and work towards healing rather than widening the gap through plain speaking. There was time was when open confession of one’s faults and demerits was not looked down upon; rather one’s innocence and simplicity invited indulgence and forgiveness.
But now things are different. Revelation of private secrets has become a matter of ridicule by those who take sadistic pleasure in tarnishing the one who is truthful . A bride was led to confide in her spouse about her past mistakes and then, instead of promised love and forgiveness, a highly revengeful attitude was adopted thereby making her life a living hell. The right thing is to keep silent about incidents of the past whose revelation is likely to create problems, misery and confusion. Truthfulness is considered a sign of nobility.
A match between word and deed is indeed a virtue and such qualities should be routinely practiced in daily activities. However, it is not falsehood to keep quiet about matters of the past the uncovering of which is likely to raise a storm. Very often silence amounts to truthfulness in such circumstances. Honesty and truthfulness are indeed the basic moral and ethical values to be practiced in our lives. We must not indulge in adulteration or profiteering or hoarding, must use correct weights and measures and have clean book keeping.
But by the same token, it is not at all necessary to play Harishchandra before a thief or a ‘thug’, reveal to him details of one’s money or valuables and thus facilitate and encourage theft or robbery. Needless publicity of facts that lead to harmful consequences should be avoided. There are many occasions in life when silence is golden; it saves one from mental pollution and tension. It is wise to speak less, speak sweet and speak for the good. This is the essence of practical truthfulness. Needless revealing of facts to all and sundry invariably harms the interests of many who tend to become foes.
~ L R Sabharwal