Virtues in Sikhi | 2. Truthfulness
Veracity is another virtue which is accorded a very high value.
Truthfulness, however, ought to be distinguished from ‘Truth’ in the metaphysical sense since the term sach is used in the Ādi Granth both in the ethical sense of truthfulness as well as for the Absolute ‘Dynamic-existent’, or Reality.
Some scholars of Sikhism, who overlook the above dual usage, are invariably led to interpret the ethical virtue of truthfulness with the broader metaphysical meanings:
Texts such as “they who know the Truth, contemplate the True One and themselves become True,” and many similar ones, may cause the above confusion in case one is not careful about this distinction.
We may, however, add here that Truth in the metaphysical sense, when used for the Absolute, becomes the Supreme Ideal of the Sikh ethics.
It is in this sense of “agreement of one’s word with one’s thought, or conviction,” to which we may also add, “the agreement with one’s acts” that we are going to examine here the moral virtue of truthfulness.
We find Guru Nānak holding that “everything is below the Truth, but truthful conduct is above it.” The stress on the conduct is a vital feature of Sikhism and this stress is visible, even in the case of truth.
Guru Rāmdās declares,
“We, the false and unfortunate ones, have one thing on the tongue and another in the mind. In appearance we stick to God while from within we are the most vicious of beings.”
This passage clearly brings out the two requisites of conformity of the thought with the word, and then, the agreement of the word with the act, as the essentials of veracity.
In the Zafarnāma of Guru Gobind Singh, the main weight of the argument and admonition administered by him, to Aurangzeb, the then emperor of India, rests on the desirability,
in the first instance, of not making promises while knowing that these are not to be kept and, in the second instance, of keeping the word in case the promise has been made.
The Guru stresses that in such cases, the trust in the person making such promises is lost and this harms the self of the person making the promise.
The danger of promise breaking, if universalised, would also defeat the intention of the person making such a false promise as nobody would believe him.
The Guru says, “If I would have also broken my pledge, I would not have left the fortress,” which would have thwarted the purpose of the opposing forces who had then not kept their word.
The Guru emphasizes the moral desirability of keeping one’s word, even if one may have to suffer for it, and he does so by quoting his own case. He refers to morality in Islam, which also enjoins truthfulness.
The Guru then declares that if a pledge is made in the name of the scripture (the Quran in this case) and it is broken by the person who made it, the spiritual force comes to the aid of the aggrieved person.
This indeed appears to be a strong case for keeping one’s word and shows also the sanctity which the spiritual force attaches to such a need of keeping the word. Practically, too, this enables the person to keep one’s word even if one has to endure material suffering.
Guru Arjan Dev also advises us to renounce falsehood, wrath and pride, clarifying further that “there is not any other evil so serious as falsehood” and “none derives any real gain by it.” Thus falsehood is rejected on practical grounds as well.
Bhai Gurdas contends that truthfulness helps a person to acquire peace and poise:
He means here that veracity, by promoting mutual trust and reliability, leads to the realization of equipoise and peace of mind. A prevaricator is always feeling insecure and restless as he is afraid lest he should be detected. This would disturb the unity of the self and its equipoise.
According to Bhai Gurdas falsehood is indicative of slavery. He says, in addition, that truthfulness generates truthfulness and falsehood infects other people and thus starts a vicious circle of falsehood.
We may also observe another important aspect of this virtue:
Guru Nānak declares that “a person speaks truth because love inspires him to it.”
This brings to our attention the fact that a person who loves others does not want to deceive them or lead them astray. The truthfulness thus is charged with a person’s love for his fellow beings.
A lie has an element of selfishness in it. It is an attempt to claim exception for one’s self. In truthfulness, there is transcendence of this ego.