Tales from the Gita: The Dilemma of Truth

Tales from the Gita: The Dilemma of Truth

Aarti Natarajan Sharma

There was once a hermit known as ‘Mr Truthful.’ He always spoke the truth and was reputed to be extremely honest. For this reason, everyone believed him implicitly. The community where he lived and performed his spiritual practices revered him for his honesty. 

One evening, a merchant ran into the forest just outside the village where the hermit resided. He was being chased by a robber who wanted to rob and kill him. The merchant felt safe on entering the jungle because he knew the robber would not be able to find him in the dense forest. However, the hermit had seen him and direction in which he had gone.

The robber encountered the hermit in his cottage outside the jungle and after paying his respects, asked the hermit if he had seen anyone running into the forest. The robber knew the hermit was truthful. The hermit also knew that the robber would kill the merchant if he found him. He found himself in a dilemma. If he spoke the truth, a life would be lost. If he lied, he would be incurring a sin and it would tarnish his image of being a truthful man.

Non-violence and truthfulness are the two planks on which all religions stand. He was caught in a very difficult situation; unlike anything he had ever faced before. 

However, he decided to speak the truth and told the robber that he had seen the merchant running in the particular direction. The robber caught the merchant, robbed and killed him. The hermit could have saved the merchant’s life but his habit of speaking the truth made him take a wrong decision.

In the Gita, this story was narrated by Lord Krishna to Arjun on the battlefield to show him that often in life we are caught at the crossroads when it comes to a decision. In this case, the hermit was as guilty of taking a life as the robber was. He too had committed a sin. Had the hermit taken an ethical decision above being truthful, the merchant’s life could have been saved.

Lord Krishna has said that when confronted by a choice between two ethical principles, we have to choose the higher or nobler principle. Ahimsa (non-violence) has the highest value among all principles. A truth that causes harm to another human being is of no value. In the choice between righteousness and unrighteousness, the guiding principle should be ahimsa.

Lord Krishna in the Gita has given another example. If a robber came to rob and kill villagers in a village, killing the robber would be considered to be an act of non-violence because by killing one person several lives would be saved. 

During the course of the war in the Mahabharata, Lord Krishna himself faced several moral dilemmas and difficult decisions. He stuck to the path of Dharma and did whatever was required to allow Dharma to stand supreme.