Truth. This term is subjected to considerable interpretation in today’s world. Some say that there is no such thing as ‘truth’ and that ‘truth is relative’. Some hold that what one person understands as ‘truth’, seen from a different perspective, is falsehood. Some indicate that ‘today’s truth becomes tomorrow’s falsehood’ as we gain a new understanding of things. Determining what is meant by truth, and how to adhere to truth, therefore, takes a certain amount of insight and discrimination.
The standard set in the scriptures for spiritual seekers required them to “speak truth”. This is not a matter of opinion or mental gymnastics, but a simple adherence to facts, as one sees and knows them. One should avoid the hypocrisy of knowing something to be untrue, yet disseminating it as if it were true. The inward knowledge and the expressed speech must agree with one another.
The Old Testament of the Bible held that one of the 10 Commandments was to not bear false witness. When one chooses to speak, one should adhere to a true recitation without coloring the facts with opinion, desire, self-dealing or animosity of any kind.
When we add interpretation to the mix, it is possible for us to believe something to be true even when it is not. Therefore, it is best to stick to factual circumstances in speech. Factual circumstances may include inner spiritual experiences which, however, are not within the purview of those who live almost entirely in the external consciousness. The truth of these experiences, while certainly real and factual inwardly, may lead to issues or distortions when presented externally, and thus, we find that the Rishis and sages frequently maintained silence or secrecy about certain occult truths of consciousness that would be confused, misused or misconstrued by those without the proper basis of development and experience. This secrecy did not function through the use of falsehood. In certain provinces of knowledge it involved either esoteric symbols or even a dual sense, an outward reality and an inner reality for the same term, as we find in the Vedic scriptures.
When we move into a deeper understanding of science, philosophy and human evolution of consciousness, it becomes clear, looking through the lens of history, that many things once known to be ‘truth’ are in fact illusions, such as the earth being the center of the universe and the sun rising in the East and setting in the West. Countless generations of humanity trusted their observation on this point and expressed this concept. To them, it was clearly however true, and they did not hold an inward knowledge that the facts were otherwise. As humanity gained additional knowledge and insight, we find that our interpretation of the facts of our observation changes. With this in mind, if we know the facts, but claim instead that the sun revolves around the earth, then we are speaking falsehood.
Speech is not confined to verbal expression. It includes all manner of communication and may include sign language, gestures and body language, written language, social media, etc. The essential point is the conformity of the inner knowledge to the outer expression. As inner knowledge grows, the understanding of what is ‘truth’ also should grow with it. Speaking truth is more of a practical expression than an ultimate philosophical concept in an evolutionary process. Speaking what one knows to be false creates internal conflict which disrupts the ‘mind stuff’ and thus, is inimical to spiritual progress.
Sri Aurobindo notes: “If you want to be an instrument of the Truth, you must always speak the truth and not falsehood. But this does not mean that you must tell everything to everybody. To conceal the truth by silence or refusal to speak is permissible, because the truth may be misunderstood or misused by those who are not prepared for it or who are opposed to it — it may even be made a starting-point for distortion or sheer falsehood. But to speak falsehood is another matter. Even in jest it should be avoided, because it tends to lower the consciousness.”
Sri Aurobindo, Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo’s Teaching and Method of Practice, Chapter 11, Human Relationships in Yoga, Talking with Others, pp. 335-338