The Path To Bodhichitta

You start where you are, the practice will meet you there.

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Location: Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia

Sunday, October 29, 2006

When The Truth Hurts

I have been practicing the niyama satya (truthfulness) for the past month. It hasn’t been easy. Lying (which includes white lies, omissions and exaggerations) is such a huge part of human nature, that we often do it unconsciously and unintentionally. At first, the truth stuck like a gob of peanut butter in my throat. I had to make a conscious effort to admit that I was just leaving my home and not ‘on the way’, that I would be 15 minutes and not ‘just a couple of minutes’ late and say ‘no’ instead of ‘maybe’ when I knew for sure I didn’t want an extra class. Over time, it got easier and I noticed people’s surprise and appreciation for the unexpected honesty. Then just when I thought I was getting the hang of it, life threw me a double whammy. I was faced with a situation that required me to practice both satya and ahimsa (non-violence).

Now, practicing satya and ahimsa individually is challenging enough. The prospect of practicing them simultaneously was overwhelming. How does one tell the truth when the truth will hurt another? I agonized over this. It wasn’t enough to chalk it down to intention. As Scottish author J.M. Barrie said, we tend to judge others based on their behaviour and ourselves based on our intent. It’s too easy to excuse our hurtful actions by saying we never intended to cause any hurt. Similarly, it’s also easy to use ahimsa as an excuse to be dishonest. But sometimes, we must speak out even when we dread the consequences. How do we recognise such circumstances? By asking ourselves if the truth is kind and if it is necessary.

Kindness is not always immediately apparent in most truths. For instance, you wonder where the kindness is in telling your partner that you’re not in love with him/her any longer. The kindness lies in the way you tell him/her. However, even if kindness is present, you still have to ask yourself if it is necessary for that truth to be told. In the above case, it is. In other cases, it may not. For instance, if you are privy to a secret relationship and others ask you if the rumours are true.

A friend, who has also dealt with similar situations, said, “Be honest, be fair and leave the other person with his/her dignity. I have always played by those rules and I have never gone wrong.”

So I did. I told the truth in the kindest way possible. Yes, I was apprehensive and yes, the result was what I had feared; nonetheless I went to bed that night with a clear conscience because I believed I had done the right thing. In the truth-telling process, we make decisions based on the best criteria we have. The consequences, whether intended or not, are not always in our hands.

Last night, as I sat outside drinking in the twilight beauty, I realised something else. I had been so anxious about being honest and non-violent to others that I had forgotten to check if I was practicing those same values on myself. Looking back, I concluded with relief that I had. Knowing this settled me into a deeper sense of peace and bliss.

What I learnt is that honesty isn’t always the best policy, but when it is, the truth will set you free.


Blogger Rafleesia said...

Thank you for ths post Stephanie. I had actually fogotten about honesty. You are right, white lies and convenient answers are so much a part of our daily lives that it has become an effort to speak the truth. I also like the bit about allowing the other person keep his/her dignity because in so doing, you not only sleep better at night, you keep yours too.

7:24 PM  
Blogger starlight said...

'By allowing the other person to keep his/her dignity, you keep yours too.'

So that's the other reason why I sleep better at nights. Thank you for the insight!

8:34 PM  

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