Many facets of Honesty

1.  One of the primary requirements for the real progress in spiritual endeavours is brutal honesty. Honesty is a funny concept. People can genuinely believe of being honest when they are not. I remember an example. One of my friends met me after a long time and we went out for a good lunch to celebrate. Thereafter my friend lit a cigarette. When I asked him how much does he smoke everyday, he said `I have given up smoking!’ He was so pleased with his feat that it showed on his face. I kept quiet but he saw me  looking at the lit cigarette in his hand and he said `this is not called smoking. Once in a while, smoking on a special occasion in not called smoking. Being a smoker means smoking at least four cigarettes a day.’ So he called himself a nonsmoker even while he was smoking a cigarette. You see, he was completely honest with himself when declared himself so. It is just that his definition of smoking was not the one that I had in mind. So being honest is not such a simple thing. Brutal honesty comes when you do not define anything yourself but accept the dictionary meaning of the word. There are no compromises, so to speak, in being brutally honest. This kind of honesty is essential if one has to progress in spiritual path.

2.  Having defined what is honesty for us, we should also separate it from its consequences. A very standard question everyone asks is `OK, then what should I do next?’ For example if honestly I feel that I did wrong, what next? Am I suppose to right the wrong? It is not always possible to atone for your mistakes. And, if I do not do anything then what is point of being honest? You see, the basis of this question is with respect to others. If I am honest, it should show in my behaviour. This consequence of honesty is not honesty but `dhairya’ which is the strength of the mind to face the consequences. One may be honest without having this characteristic in their character. This does not make them any less honest than the ones who have this extra feature in their personality. The point being honest does not entail any outward action. It is an act happening within ourselves and it cleanses us of false notions about ourself. It is somewhat akin to spring-time cleaning of the attic of the house. No one but you is going to see it clean!

3.  There is nothing in this world that is purely good. This is a fact of life. We cannot change it even if we want to. Indian philosophy has explained this fact with help of the triad of basic properties everything in this world has. They are Satvik (The Good!), Rajasik (The Bad!) and Tamasik (The Ugly!). Of course, one should understand that this classification is from the point of view of our attempts to understand reality, God or the ultimate truth. For the person bent of causing trouble to all (including himself), being Tamasik is good and being satvik is ugly. For the one who only wants to see himself/herself prosper even at the possible cost to the rest of the world being Rajasik is the best property! So being honest is thing of this world and it comes with its own plus points and drawbacks. We should be able to accept all of them if we have to develop brutal honesty in us.

4.  The good thing of being honest is that we do not get carried away by what the rest of the world is saying about us. Since we are constantly checking our actions against the meaning given in dictionary, not what people around you have in their mind, we develop immunity from their interpretations of our actions. For example, a newly wed housewife has accidentally drop some cutlery while washing and broken it. Now the expensive set in incomplete. She anxiously awaits the return of her husband from office to tell the bad news. The husband laughs off the incidence saying that the cutlery is a breakable object and so what it is broken. The wife had become so tense because she had not known what the husband would say that this simple act has permanently etched in her mind. But the husband is not swayed by her emotional response to his small act of understanding.  He is honest and sees that this act does not amount to much. Or the husband forgets to pay the electricity bill in time and the wife has to stand in a defaulters queue for a long time to get the electricity connection restored to their house and then forgives her husband of his mistake. All of us have dome something like this in our lives and received compliments that are far more that what our acts were worth. Keeping our head balanced in such circumstances is a good effect of honesty.

5.  The bad effect of honesty is that one can start to feel proud of being an honest person. It is not the property that everyone possess. So being different in a good way can lead us to assume an exalted position with respect to others. Succumbing to this can stop your spiritual progress but in day-to-day life, you will be thought of an upright person. The person one can depend upon for the correct advice. This is NOT what we want. Do we?

6.  The ugly effect of honesty is that when our own faults come in front of us due to our honest way of looking at ourselves, we can loose selfrespect. Because of the good effect of honesty, we have transcended beyond what the world has to say about us and focussed our attention on truth of the matter. The triad of Gunas are applicable to all our actions. Hence our most noble actions also have an ugly part to it. Being honest means we have to come to face this part of our actions too. It may result in having very low opinion about our worth. Since our conclusion about our character is beased on honestly felt truth, it is very difficult to get rid of this low sense of worth from an honest person’s mind. When this diffidence sets in, the person not only stops his spiritual progress but also becomes a loser in day-today life. He loses his confidence and is always dependent on continual approval of his actions from his colleagues.

7.  Now having seen all aspects of being honest, the question is how to develop the good aspect of honesty after developing the habit of being honest. You see, being honest is essential in spiritual progress but having the good property of honesty is equally important. That is why you see many a honest people lagging behind in receiving God’s grace which is the ultimate aim of any spiritual practice.

8.  Having the satvik honesty or good honesty is something more than being just an honest person. Hence for this, we need something more than honesty in our character. The property which can give us the good honesty is FAITH. In Sanskrit language, the word for this property of mind is Shradhda.

More on this next time.

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