The question of following one’s bounden duty to the Hindu is paramount however Vedic dharma realises that beyond the basic boundaries of moral and ethical values there are times when one may be forced unwillingly to carry out an action prohibited by both their consciousness and Vedic lore. One of these acts is speaking untruth, lying.
In ancient purāṇic and itihāsic texts we have many tales of deception where one party has been deceived through the medium of an untruth leading to major consequences and in some cases full fledged war. One notable and yet subtle scenario portrayed in the Śrī Rāmacaritamānasa authored by Goswami Tulsidas was that of surpanakhā, the sister of Rāvana, who when gazed on Lord Rāma lied that she was a single unmarried women, conveniently brushing her actual status as a widow. Though this untruth was minute in detail it was this action which led the consequences of the Rāmāyana we know today.
Though the intention of the ideal is always admired by the scriptures there are times where they understand the plight of the individual and give leniency for the greater moral and ethical code. One such direction from the scriptures is summarised within the śrīmad bhāgavata purāṇa:
स्त्रीषु नर्मविवाहे च वृत्त्यर्थे प्राणसङ्कटे।
गोब्राह्मणार्थे हिंसायां नानृतं स्याज्जुगुप्सितम्॥ ८-१९-४३
strīṣu narma vivāhe ca vṛttyarthe prāṇasaṅkaṭe |
gobrāhmaṇārthe hiṁsāyāṁ nānṛtaṁ syājjugupsitam || 8-19-43
strīṣu narma – when one is joking with his wife, vivāhe – wedding, ca – and, vṛttyarthe – in one’s business dealings, prāṇasaṅkaṭe – when one’s life is in danger, go – cows brāhmaṇārthe – for brahmans, hiṁsāyāṁ – violences, nānṛtaṁ – untruth, syājjugupsitam – does not incur sin
Translation: One does not incur sin when one is joking with his wife, nor at weddings, in one’s business dealings, when one’s life is in danger, for the protection of cows and brahmanas and where violence may occur
Interpretated: One does not incur sin, when one is [playfully] joking with his wife, not at weddings [or there auspicious occasions], in one’s business dealings, when one’s life is in danger, for the protection of cows and brahmanas and where violence [can be avoided]
Bhaktivedanta Swami Translation : In flattering a woman to bring her under control, in joking, in a marriage ceremony, in earning one’s livelihood, when one’s life is in danger, in protecting cows and brahminical culture, or in protecting a person from an enemy’s hand, falsity is never condemned.
Let us now elaborate on a few clauses which are given in the bhāgavatam. The first that it gives is the joyfully lying whilst one is with their beloved where compliments though can be totally false can be used in the sense of flattery. e.g. A husband may say ‘O darling, you are the most beautiful women in the world’ though him knowing that it may/may not be farther from the truth! 🙂
The second is auspicious occasions, here we can take for example the Hindu Vedic wedding ceremony, though the stealing of the grooms shoes by the brides side is cultural, if however (you being in possessions of the shoes) were asked by the grooms side to point them in the direction of where the shoes are and you dismissed them in the wrong direction, the scriptures see no wrong as it is part and parcel of the joys of auspicious and blessed occasions.
The third is “in one’s business dealings”, though there are ethical values that must be followed at all times, if however you could benefit with extra profit without compromising on the fundamental values of Vedic dharma, it is permissible.
gobrāhmaṇārthe – Though there is a wide corpus of Vedic literature they all declare that cows and brahmanas integrity and respect should be maintained at all costs, as its through these two personalities that one has the education and the sight to follow and progress in the path of spirituality. Though the brahmana term has been interpreted in various ways, we use the term here to mean learned personalities in Vedic lore.
The final clause is ‘where violence [can be avoided]’, for this there is a great illustration which has been used by many religious personalities after which I will leave a small poll for you to answer. If for instance Mr Patel witnessed two cows running for their lives and then ran into the right gully and 30 seconds later you saw two butchers running after them knowing you would be the best person to know where the cows had gone and they asked Mr Patel ‘where did the cows run too?’ What answer would you give?
In summary Hinduism accepts nothing but the truth from it’s adherents but it also recognises there is a higher truth where our moral and ethical values should not be compromised.
Sometimes a lie is a greater truth than truth itself.
satyameva jayate nānṛtaṁ
Truth only prevails, not untruth
strIShu narmavivAhe cha vR^ittyarthe prANasa~NkaTe .
gobrAhmaNArthe hiMsAyAM nAnR^itaM syAjjugupsitam .. 8-19-43