„Are you honest?“ This question was raised in a presentation that I gave this week.1 Most of us consider ourselves honest. I dare to claim that this is not true - all of us lie, at least sometimes! We only lie or cheat in ways we think is not so important. We may call it an emergency lie or white lie. There are so many situations in life, where it seems to be more beneficial be not straightforward but to tell the truth in a way that is more appreciated by others.
An interesting question may be raised here: „What makes lying so attractive that we all do it, even if it only minor ways, so commonly?“
In a very thoughtful article I came across entitled `Why be honest` 2 the following analysis is given: In general, we lie to obtain the advantage of protection! We lie to protect ourselves from shame, embarrassment or conflicts. We lie to protect our own interests, like money or getting attention. We lie to protect our image so that people see us in a way we like to be seen. We often also lie to protect our resources, like time and energy for example if we don`t want to go out with a friend we don`t like so much etc. And sometimes we may lie to protect the feelings of others.
If our lying is honestly meant to protect others (from being killed for example) that might be the only good reason to lie. But how often that's really happening? And usually, we are also not personally told by Krishna to speak a lie to protect religion, like in the case of Yuddhistira Maharaja. 3 For us, in other words, is honesty always the best policy.
Krishna mentions honesty as one of the natural qualities by which a brahmana works. 4 Srila Prabhupada tells the story of Satyakama in this regard. A boy who wanted to study Vedas, which was only possible for those born in a brahmana family, was asked by Gautama Muni: "Who is your father?" So he said that "I do not know." "Then go to your mother. Ask her." The mother could not say (..) So he came back to Gautama Muni, "Sir, my mother also does not know." She said that she had many connections, 'I do not who is particularly your father.' " But Gautama Muni immediately accepted him, "Yes, you are a brahmana, because you are truthful. Nobody dares to say like that, that 'I do not know my father's name. My mother said that she had many connections.' " Because he was truthful, satyaṁ samo damas titiksa, so by the quality, he was accepted immediately, and he was initiated, that "You have the qualities of a brahmana." A brahmana will speak the truth, even to his enemy. 5
How true honesty is actually only possible by becoming Krishna consciousness is very powerfully pointed out by Srila Prabhupada in this conversation with Bob Cohen:
Srila Prabhupada: (..) suppose you are drinking a glass of water from the river. Is the river your property?
Srila Prabhupada: Then? It is stealing. You have not created the river. You do not know who is the proprietor. Therefore it is not your property. So, even if you drink a glass of water without knowing to whom it belongs, you are a thief. So you may think, "I am honest," but actually you are a thief. You must remember Krishna. "Oh, Krishna, it is Your creation, so kindly allow me to drink." This is honesty. Therefore a devotee always thinks of Krishna. In all activities: "Oh, it is Krishna's." This is honesty. So without Krishna consciousness, everyone is a rascal, is a thief, is a rogue, is a robber. These qualifications. Therefore our conclusion is that anyone who does not understand Krishna has no good qualifications. Neither is he honest nor has he knowledge. Therefore he is a third-classman. 6
Amazing how Srila Prabhupada always establishes the Absolute Truth, that Krishna is the Supreme Lord and we are His eternal servants. From an absolute point of view only does who fully understood this fact can be truly called honest!
1 - Besides our daily studies, we have twice a week a morning program at the Vrindavana Institute for Higher Education for all the Students. That includes a lecture, at the moment with a focus on Vaishnava Qualities. This week was my turn and the topic was Honesty. This Blog includes some thoughts from that presentation.
2 - see the full blog by Alex Lickerman M.D. :
3 - Yuddhistira Maharaja, was requested by Krishna on the battlefield of Kurukshetra to announce that „Asvattama is Dead!“ in order to discourage the great warrior Dronacarya, who then thought his son died, although it was just an elephant with the name Ashvattama who was killed.
4 - Bhagavad Gita 18.42
5 - Lecture on SB 1.5.22 in Vrindavana, August 3, 1974
6 - From „Perfect Questions & Perfect Answers“