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Chapter 26:


Truth and Good Character - The Very Breath of Life


Krishna said, "Wherever there is exemplary behavior, wherever there is righteousness and sacredness, wherever duty and truth are adhered to, there will be victory. When you conduct yourself in an honorable way, when you live by the principles of right conduct, those very principles will protect you. Arjuna! Always live a sacred and honorable life. Then you will be leading a life that is truly worthwhile."


Embodiments of Love,


There are seven facets to living a sacred life, which are like the seven colors contained in the rays of the sun. They make up the standards of virtuous behavior and moral excellence which are the very fabric of spiritual life. The first facet is truth. The second facet is good character. The third is right conduct. The fourth is sense-control. The fifth is conscious living with emphasis on restraining one's desires. The sixth is renunciation or detachment, and the seventh is nonviolence. All of these principles of right living have been laid down for the protection of the individual and for the well-being of society. Collectively they are referred to as dharma or righteousness.


Truth and Dharma


Truth is the very basis of righteousness. Just as burning is the nature of fire, coolness is the nature of ice, fragrance is the nature of a blossom and sweetness is the nature of sugar, so also, truthfulness is the nature of a human being. Truth and good character are your very life breath. When you recognize the innate truth which is your essential nature, then you understand your own reality.


To achieve success in the field of spirituality, good character is essential. Good character can be spoken as having three aspects. The first aspect is best conveyed by the words sacredness, holiness and goodness. The second aspect is best described by the words tolerance, compassion and forbearance. And the third aspect is given by the words resolve, determination and commitment.


Whatever education you have, however wealthy you may be, whatever position you may occupy, whether you are a great scholar or a statesman, if you do not have these three aspects of character, you are as good as dead. Whatever else you may have earned, without these three aspects of character, all your attainments and achievements will be worthless. People pay attention to external human beauty, but God recognizes only the inner beauty. Truly speaking, for human beings it is their sterling character which makes up their real beauty. A person devoid of good character is nothing but a stone. You have to follow these seven facets of dharma and let each one of them shine within you, for each one of them is completely natural to you.


The foundation step is truth. Truth does not simply mean abstaining from lying. You have to take truth as your very essence, as the foundation of your life. You should be prepared to renounce everything for the sake of truth. The world conducts itself in the fear of truth and is always subservient to truth. When there is no truth, man develops fear and becomes too frightened even to live. On the other hand, truth confers fearlessness on man. It is truth which protects the entire world and makes it function. Truth drives away all fear. It is such an important quality that only when it is being faultlessly observed will you be able to attain divinity. Character is the breath of truth. Important for character is virtue and good behavior. Humanity will not shine without good behavior. Virtues, good qualities, good behavior, all these lend splendor to humanity.


Truth Needs to Be Established From the Earliest Age


In order to serve humanity and realize your innate divinity, you have to take truth, character and good behavior as your basis. Right from childhood make the necessary efforts to establish yourself in these noble virtues. Early in life, children are likely to make a number of small mistakes, either knowingly or unknowingly. Fearing that these errors will become known to the elders and that there might be some punishment or criticism, children will try to hide their mistakes.


In this way, from an early age, there is a tendency for the child to develop the habit of straying from truth, to avoid blame. Eventually, this habit will destroy the very foundation of life. Untruth will destroy one's humanness. Therefore, children should be strongly encouraged to always tell the truth no matter what, without fearing the consequences, be these consequences joyful and profitable to the child, or should they result in chastisement and punishment. Just as a foundation is very important for a mansion, just as roots are the very basis of a tree, so, truth is the very basis of life as a human being.


If you are wavering in truth, there will be no safety and no protection for your life. An example of strict adherence to truth can be seen in the life of a great king in ancient times. Because of his uncompromising stance on truth, he was forced by circumstances to give up his wife, his son and his kingdom. He considered truth as his penance. Even in the most difficult situations that assailed him, he was not prepared to tell an untruth or deviate from dharma. Eventually, he lost his kingdom. Banished and alone, he took up work in a cremation ground. When his son died, his wife brought the body to the cremation ground. Although he knew that it was his wife, and the body was that of his son, still he felt bound to discharge his duty as the person in charge of the cremation ground. Under the most trying tests, this king never gave up either telling the truth or following dharma. He considered truth and dharma like two eyes or like two wheels of a chariot or like two wings of a bird, each indispensable to the other.


Even a Little Fib can Lead to Unhappiness Later


Right from the very beginning, it is incumbent upon elders to teach youngsters the importance of telling the truth. Here is a small example to show how making up stories to playfully befuddle a younger sibling, can produce unhappy consequences for a child. Once upon a time, a father wanted to give a special gift to his son on the son's birthday. Because of the love he felt for his son, this father gave the boy a gold coin, asking him to go to his mother and get a ring made out of the coin. The next day the son had his examinations; he kept the gold coin on the table where he was studying.


Now this boy had a younger sister who was very curious and mischievous. She entered the room and saw the gold coin. She took it in her hand and asked, "Brother, what is this?" He told her, "It is a gold coin." She asked, "Where did you get this?" Jokingly, he said, "Well, it grew on a tree." "How could this gold coin come from a tree?" his little sister asked. He then made up a story and proceeded to tell her a number of fibs. He said, "If you treat this as a seed and sow it by putting it in the ground, then pour water on it and tend it and protect it, a tree will soon come forth. Then from this tree you will be able to get many more gold coins."


She started asking some more questions, but he said, "Listen, I don't have time to talk to you now. I have to study. Ask me later." Seeing that he was busy, she took the opportunity to pocket the gold coin and left. From there she went into the yard and dug a small pit. She put the gold coin into the hole and covered it with soil. She poured water on the mound. All the while, she was thinking of what her brother had told her, how a tree would grow out of the gold coin, if it was planted.


A maid-servant, who was watching this little girl from a window, saw her put the gold coin in the hole. When this little girl went inside the house, the maid dug up the hole and took the coin. After some time, the mother came and asked the son to get ready to go to school. He wanted to give the coin to his mother so that she would have a ring made out of it for him, as his father had suggested. But the boy could not find the gold coin anywhere. He went to his younger sister and asked her whether she had seen it. She said, "Brother, I thought if we could grow a tree out of it, we could get lots of coins like that; so I've planted the coin in a hole I made in the garden." They went to the place and dug around, but the coin was not to be found.


Now the boy was very distressed. On his birthday, when he should have been very cheerful, he was crying. He told all this to his mother. His mother asked him, "But, tell me, son, why did your little sister take the gold coin and bury it in the garden?" The boy did not know, so the little girl was sent for and asked why she had done what she did. She said, "Brother explained to me how this would turn into a gold-coin tree; so I did as he said." His mother told the boy, "Because you made up this story and knowingly told an untruth to your little sister, the consequence is that instead of being happy and enjoying your birthday, you are weeping. And not merely that, you have also lost the gold coin that your father gave you."


If children are permitted to tell lies and harbor untruths at their tender age, this habit will grow and grow with the years. On the other hand, if you teach them from the earliest years to take truth as the basis of their lives, they will grow in character and be able to achieve many great things.


When One Bad Quality Goes the Rest Cannot Long Remain


There once was a great teacher who helped many people develop in spirituality. Whenever anyone came to him to be initiated by him, he used to inquire into their behavior and their character to determine the type of qualities they had. Appropriate to their qualities and stage of evolution, he would then give them a sacred incantation, a mantra. A thief, after recognizing this teacher as a great man, went to him and asked him for a mantra. The guru said to him, "Well, child, what are your qualities? What are your defects?" The thief said, "My bad qualities are going from house to house in the middle of the night, breaking in and stealing things. Since I spend the night in stealing articles, during the day I drink myself to sleep. Drinking is my second bad habit. If the police were to catch me, then to save my skin I would make up lies and tell them a lot of false information to put them off. That is my third bad quality."


The spiritual teacher asked him, "Well child, you say that you steal, you drink and you tell falsehoods. Can you give up one of these three bad qualities?" The thief thought for a while to himself, 'If I don't steal, how can I take care of my family, my children and my wife? No, I cannot give this up. Only when the body is healthy and strong will I be able to escape when I'm caught. So I have to get lots of sleep, and drink helps me get to sleep in the daytime. But it is unlikely that the police will catch me very often. So, I shall give up telling lies.' Then the great man asked him, "Do you promise that you will always tell the truth from tomorrow onward?" The thief replied, "Most certainly. Even from today I will only tell the truth." This is what the thief firmly resolved to do. And indeed, from that day onward he made it a habit to tell the truth wherever he went.


One hot summer night the thief was out prowling in a nearby town looking for a good place to break into. The mayor of this town, a very wealthy man, was taking rest on the terrace of his house. In those days, there were no air conditioners or even fans. Because of the heat and the still, sultry night air, he was not able to sleep. The thief managed to climb up to this terrace. As soon as the thief scrambled onto the terrace, the rich man spotted him, realizing that he was a thief. The rich man accosted him, saying, "Hey there, who are you?" Because the thief told only the truth, he replied, "I am a thief." In order to find out what this man's plans were, the rich man said, "Is it so? Well, I'm also a thief."


They decided to work together and planned to steal certain valuable things that were kept in that house. The rich man told the thief, "There will be quite a few valuables locked up in the safe inside the house of this rich man, but it will be very difficult for us to get into the safe unless we get hold of the keys. Let me break into the house and see if I can manage to steal the keys." The rich man continued, "I have been waiting for someone who can keep a watch for me. Now that I have been able to get a friend like you, I will go inside."


He left the thief and pretending that he was breaking into the house, he went inside; busying himself here and there, he delayed coming back for some minutes. Then he took the keys and stealthily came out. Now he told the thief, "I have the keys, but I looked everywhere for the safe. I couldn't find it. Let me keep watch and you go inside. See if you can locate the safe and get the valuables that will be kept in it by the rich man." As it turned out, this rich man had three big diamonds inside the safe. This thief went inside and soon found the safe. He opened it and took out the three valuable diamonds.


Immediately a problem arose in his mind. How to distribute the three diamonds between the two of them? As this thief followed the path of truth, a certain amount of righteousness had also automatically entered into him. He brought all three diamonds out but he told the rich man, "Brother, one diamond you can keep. The other diamond I will keep. The third diamond cannot be broken into pieces. I will put it back in the safe for the owner of this house. Let him keep it for himself." Deciding on this, the thief went back into the house to put one of the three diamonds back in the safe. Then he returned to the terrace.


After settling this transaction, the thief was about to leave when the rich man said to him, "Well, brother, perhaps we can have this kind of partnership now and again in the future. Please give me your address where I can contact you." As he was bound to tell the truth, the thief gave his correct address. The next morning, this rich man who was also the highest public official in that area, took the address and sent orders that a police complaint be lodged regarding the loss of some diamonds out of his safe. He told the police to go to the village mentioned in the address and arrest the thief who was living there.


In that particular village the thief was well-known. The police went there and had no trouble finding him. They caught hold of him and brought him to the mayor. The thief did not recognize the robed official in front of him as his partner of the night before. The mayor then questioned the thief, "Well, how did you enter the house? How did you get hold of this diamond?"


The thief narrated meticulously all the details of his adventure. He told how he had climbed onto the roof, had gotten into partnership with another person, entered the house, opened the safe, took out three diamonds, gave one to his partner, kept one for himself and again went into the house, again opened up the safe and put back one diamond. The mayor called in his head official and said, "Go and find out if there is a diamond remaining in the safe." The officer took the keys to the safe. To himself he thought, 'Can there be any thief who will put one diamond back?' Thinking this way, he opened the safe, saw the diamond that had been returned there by the thief, pocketed it, and went back to the mayor, reporting that there was no diamond in the safe. But then, the mayor searched the pockets of the officer and recovered the diamond. Immediately, he dismissed the officer from his service.


The mayor now addressed the thief. He said, "I know that in everything you have related, you have told the truth to me. Therefore, from today onward, I appoint you as my head administrative officer. Only a person who is truthful should be a public official. Unfortunately, you have become a thief; but your nature is not like that." This person now gave up thieving and became a high official; he continued to practice telling the truth and automatically, in the natural course of events, he gave up drinking as well as his thieving and became an honest and upright human being.


In the beginning, by adhering to truth, you may be put to a lot of trouble. In spite of the trouble you encounter, if you pursue the path of only telling the truth, eventually this truthful nature will fill you with joy and happiness and give you success in all your endeavors. Therefore, it was to promote the happiness and welfare of mankind that in the Gita, Krishna taught that one should always be truthful. He proclaimed that truth was life's royal road and that the path of truth was the only way to foster right conduct in society.


Dharma is Changeless But its Practice Changes in Each Age


Sometimes it has been said that righteousness has declined and that the dharma has diminished. But that is not correct. Dharma is based on truth. Truth is absolute; it can never undergo change or be diminished. However, in any particular age, the practice of dharma may undergo change. God incarnated as Krishna, not to re-establish dharma, but to re establish the practice of dharma. Dharma never left, nor did it ever change; but it was out of use.


The seven facets of dharma have been present in all the past ages;. However, each age has had practices most appropriate to that age. For instance, in ancient times when spiritual awareness was very high, the appropriate spiritual practice was meditation. In the age in which Rama incarnated, the most appropriate practice was penance and sacrifice. In the Krishna era, the practice was ritual and ceremonial worship. And in the past five thousand years of this present materialistic age, in which spiritual consciousness is at a low ebb around the world, the chanting of the holy name is the most appropriate practice. But, just as in the earlier ages there were also many believers who practiced the repetition of mantra, evoking the name of God, so also, in this age there are people who take to meditation, there are people who take to doing penance and there are people who take to ritual worship. But the principal practices depend upon the general character and mood of the times.


Different practices give different forms, so to speak, to dharma. But the inner flow of dharma is always the same. Truth will never change. Truth is always one, never two. In all the three times, past, present and future, in all the three worlds, earth, heaven and the nether world, in all the three states, waking, dream and deep sleep, and in all the three worldly qualities, passivity, activity and equilibrium, truth is always one. Since truth is one and the very basis of dharma, dharma cannot change. It never wavers or undergoes any modifications. But duty and practice will undergo intermittent change.


For example, take a person who is doing a job. How long will this job be his duty? Until he retires from that particular job. Until then, he goes to the office every day. Once he retires, his duty changes. After retirement, he might get involved in doing business. Then he says that pursuing his business is his duty. In doing business, he may be tempted to gain some extra profit by taking to under-handed methods; he may try to earn money through lying and cheating. Even though he may have now taken to lying and cheating in order to earn money, he will still consider the work he is doing as his occupation and his duty. When so many changes can come about in duty, how can it be described as dharma ? These changing activities that occupy your time in the interest of providing for your living needs, cannot automatically be described as dharma. Duty becomes dharma when it shines with the virtues that make up the facets of dharma.


Not Harming Others is Dharma


There is a simple meaning to the word dharma. All those actions which do not come in the way of others, which do not impinge on the freedom of others, can be described as dharma. Here is a small example for this.


You are holding a long stick and playing with it, moving it this way and that, and at the same time you are walking down a main street. This street is a busy public thoroughfare. You may feel, "I have every right to move wherever I want." Well, if this is your right, then the person who is coming in the opposite direction has every right to save himself from being hit by your stick. You are indulging in an activity which is likely to put other people walking on the street in danger. However, correct conduct expects you to act so that you do not interfere with the freedom of other people walking on the same road.


If you can conduct yourself in a way that is not detrimental to others or that does not impinge on their freedom, then you are behaving according to dharma. Later, we will take up Krishna's teachings in which he points out that merely refraining from doing harm is not enough. You should also be friendly and compassionate to all beings. But if, at the very least, everyone were to consider it their duty to conduct themselves without causing any harm to others, then there would be peace, prosperity and joy aplenty in the world. Acting in this way is your real duty, a duty which has to be performed for the sake of setting an example to others and for upholding the essential ideals of dharma.


Social Duty, Obligatory Duty and Family Duty


In your daily life in the family, there are three types of duties which may be considered to be three aspects of dharma. There is social duty, there is obligatory duty, and there is family duty. These duties express themselves in different ways. First consider an example of social duty. Assume that tomorrow is Sunday, which is a holiday for you. You may want to invite some people to come to your house for tea. Suddenly in the night, you develop a fever. While you are sick, you realize that if you were to invite your friends to visit the next day, you would not be able to receive them properly, and so, it would not make you or them happy. Therefore, in consideration of your obligations to your friends, which you would not be able to perform while sick, you decide to postpone the tea party. On the basis of the change in circumstances and your consideration for your friends, you change the tea party to the following Sunday. You are free to make the arrangements that fulfill both your wishes and your social obligations.


Next, consider an example of obligatory duty. Let us say you are a lecturer in the university. In connection with the upcoming examinations, the department head has directed that the whole teaching staff of the department assemble for a meeting. As this is an important department meeting, you will have to attend. Even if you are suffering from fever, you take some aspirin pills and go to the meeting. This is an obligatory duty and you have no right to cancel this. The scheduling of this meeting was not in your hands, and once it has been called, you are expected to attend.


Now, consider an example of family duty. You are in your own house. There is a small family quarrel between husband and wife. Inside the room, the husband and wife are having a tiff. She is very angry. Suddenly, the door bell rings and he goes out to answer it. He finds that a co-worker had dropped by for a casual visit. As soon as the husband sees the visitor, he greets him with a smile and a fond hello. He asks the visitor to be seated. With the visitor he is quite cordial. When he enters the bedroom and tells his wife of the visitor and finds that she is still very angry with him, he may resume his stern tone. But as soon as he goes into the other room to meet the colleague who has come by, he carries on with his friendly conversation. It is his duty to protect the good name of his family by conducting himself in such a way that an outsider would not know that he had quarreled with his wife.


If a person who is angry with his wife inside the bedroom comes out into the living room and irritatedly asks the visitor to leave the house, then the guest will be appalled. It is important to see to it that the secrets and confidences of the family are not thrown out into the street. This is an important duty of a family man. He must be ever vigilant to protect the honor of his family. If by his indiscretion the family honor is destroyed, then there will be no happiness for him or his family throughout their lives.


Sense-Control is the Key to Doing your Duty Properly


To protect the good name of your family you must remain alert and aware of others' needs; this requires sense-control. If you do not have sense control, as was explained in a previous chapter, you become arrogant. One who is arrogant and devoid of sense-control is nothing but a demon. If you want to practice and protect dharma, you have to develop sense-control. For everything worthwhile in life, sense-control is very important. Krishna said to Arjuna, "Arjuna, be a wise man, and have complete control over your senses. Do not obey the fickle cravings of your senses. The senses must be under your control. You should not become a slave of your senses. Make them your slave. Be their master. It is only when you have mastered the senses that you will have earned the right to be close to the one who is the one who is the originator of all the senses and has complete dominion over them."


In the second chapter of the Gita all the qualities of a wise man have been explained. Of all these qualities, sense-control is one of the most important. In this chapter we have been exploring some different aspects of dharma, which can be seen, like the rays of the sun, to have seven colors or facets. As has been pointed out at the beginning, this sunlight of dharma contains the rays of truth, character, righteous behavior, sense control, penance, renunciation and nonviolence. You must make all of these your own.


Try to understand the meaning of these Gita teachings and practice them in your daily life. It is Swami's wish that when you have taken so much interest in studying these teachings that you should also evince the same degree of interest in practicing their meaning, and thereby acquire all the good qualities that are conveyed by them.


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