Art of speaking bitter truth

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Ever came across a situation when you felt a pressing need to say something but did not say fearing the other party would get offended if you did so? And did you ever lament for not saying something and wished that you did it? You are not alone.

Sriman Chanakya pandit says satyam bruyat priyam bruyat, apriyam na bruyat satyam- speak the truth palatably but refrain from speaking a truth which is unpalatable. Now, what to do when speaking an unpalatable becomes a necessity?

The example of Lord Krishna chastising Arjuna in the battlefield of Kurukshetra may be taken as a guideline. When Arjuna’s arguments for not fighting got exhausted he requested Krishna to tell him whatever is good for him. The first thing Krishna told him was:

asochyam anvasochas tvam pragya-vadams cha bhasane
gatasum agatasums cha nanusochanti panditah
(Bg 2.11).

Translation: The Supreme Personality of Godhead said: While speaking learned words, you are mourning for what is not worthy of grief. Those who are wise lament neither for the living nor for the dead.

Read it carefully. Lord Krishna did not tell Arjuna that he was a fool nor did He say that he was talking like a fool. He also did not say that he was not talking like a wise person. What He did conclusively say was, the wise do not think the way you (Arjuna) are thinking. In other words, Lord Krishna told Arjuna that he was being unwise. What a beautiful way of presenting bitter truth!

Does this mean that Lord Krishna was afraid of telling the truth and cleverly twisted His words? Not at all. He said this only after Arjuna accepted Him as his spiritual master, and requested Him to guide him. There is a lesson to learn here. One should not take a position of an adviser unless he is asked to. On the other hand, a parent, teacher and elder, are automatically  in a position to advise their subordinates or juniors, but this should be done as a well-wisher. When one takes a position, he is automatically obliged to say the truth, however bitter it may be, in a palatable way, and in the benefit of the other party. Not only that, once having said it he must ensure that his speaking bitter truth results in benefiting others. Whimsically taking something to be truth and saying it without understanding the consequences is dangerous and must be avoided.

truth2In our day-to-day life our focus should be on speaking truth rather than not speaking it for whatever so-called good reasons. Truth never actually harms. This does not mean you go around and tell so many truths to people even when you don’t need to say or when they don’t need to hear. Such tendency amounts to gossiping.

Having said this, there are instances in the scriptures when a person may be allowed to lie under certain circumstances, but they are extremely rare, almost to the extent of being nil. It is more beneficial to learn how to speak truth than spending time on researching when one is allowed to lie.

The point being made is, there are ways to speak a truth which may be bitter or even apparently harmful. Vedic scriptures have loads of examples when people spoke truth even when doing so meant losing one’s own life. This is only possible when one knows (read the difference between knowing and believing) that death is nothing but changing of one’s body, which is no more useful, and that his good karmas, including remaining truthful, will benefit him in the next life, However, again, one should be careful and wise enough to understand when, where and how to speak bitter truth.

Truth is a strength. Lying is a symptom of weakness.

In this age, Kaliyuga, truth is the only aspect of dharma (roughly translated as religion) which has survived and holds value in any civilized society. This is the reason court cases are filed and won over what is truth and what is untruth, or lie. Other aspects, like mercy, cleanliness and austerity, have all been practically finished by the acts of meat eating, illicit sex life and intoxication respectively. The best way to restore those qualities is to refrain from such activities. Hare Krishna