Yamas & Niyamas: Truth-telling

[excerpted from a book project, as yet untitled]

Truthfulness, or truth-telling, is more than just “not lying”. It is an active rather than a passive virtue which entails portraying things as they are. Most importantly,

Truthfulness, or truth-telling, is more than just “not lying”. It is an active rather than a passive virtue which entails portraying things as they are. Most importantly, truth must be portrayed both to others and to oneself. There is an old Hermetic axiom that Hermes — as God of magicians, tricksters, and thieves alike — teaches truth through falsehood. Think about that for a moment. It means that sometimes deceptive means can be used to bring oneself or another around to the reality of a situation. While this shouldn’t generally be our first recourse, the fact that it can be done at all shows that truthfulness is more complicated than the Kindergarten version might have us think.

I prefer the translation of “truthfulness” over that of “truth-telling” because it isn’t just about an outward action but about a shift in one’s inner life. To be truthful is, of course, to be “full of truth”. It speaks to our perception of phenomena at least as much as how we communicate the facts. If we are not full of truth, what real purpose is there in communication in the first place? What are we communicating, and is it even worth the time and effort of others to listen? Sri Ramana Maharshi, among other great Masters, allowed no mistaking that the greatest truth and the clearest communication is silence — inner and outer silence, for the latter expresses the former and is inauthentic without it. Yet, for most of us, our ability to understand such silence, just like our ability to consistently abide in it ourselves, is far enough off that words and other symbols are necessary. All such abstractions are ultimately a form of falsehood even if they are pointing toward the truth. So, we talk about teaching truth through falsehood, for any outward expression at all is already a sort of lie.

I will say more on this later, but for now at least ponder the thought that truthfulness relies on our ability not only to communicate honestly but, more importantly, on our ability to see into the nature of things at various levels. In day to day small talk, simple honesty is sufficient. In business or academia, honesty must be further supported by the acumen necessary to understand the subtleties of the subject at hand and the various layers of interaction it requires. In spiritual matters, nothing less than seeing straight through to the absolute open space beyond phenomenal forms is required for genuine truthfulness. Like all of the yamas and niyamas, then, truthfulness is a progressive exercise rather than a clearly defined goal.

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