In India I once met a wealthy
man who boasted of being a true renunciate. “I have willed all my
property,” he told me proudly, “to my children. Personally, I own
nothing. I am free!”
Yet his self-definition exuded
wealth and the pride that accompanies wealth. His “renunciation”
was a pure sham (if a sham may be called “pure”). He was still surrounded
by the trappings of wealth. He lived in his own large mansion, had many
servants, and drove everywhere in an expensive car. I had no doubt that
he could easily have reclaimed everything he’d handed over to others.
As nearly as I could tell, all he’d renounced was the civic duty to
For those who would renounce
truly, firm truthfulness is a necessity: especially self-truthfulness.
It is a tendency of human nature to seek constant self-justification.
A person will say, “Well, it’s true I cheat a little when playing
bridge — but I did put twenty dollars in the collection plate last Sunday
at church!” Or, “I certainly have my faults, as everyone does, but
I’m not guilty of that particular one!” Or, “… but I only did
that to help him (or her).” Or “… that wasn’t really wrong of
me, because everybody does it.”
One might protest, “Yes,
I know I smoke a little now and then, but at least I don’t drink!”
And another might say, “Yes, it’s true I take a little sip now and
then, but at least I don’t smoke!”
If people are accused of
wrong behavior, they usually try to justify it. A car thief will say,
“That will teach people not to leave their cars unlocked!” A person
who enjoys slandering others will protest, “I’m really only trying
to help everyone to be better.” Someone who practices fraud will say,
“Well, everyone does something. It’s a dog-eat-dog world,
and anyone who doesn’t think first for himself will get eaten up.”
One day, someone came into
my home to do some work, and tracked heavy mud onto the living room
carpet. When I protested, he replied, “That’s only mud from my boots!” — as
if to say, “What do you have against Mother Nature?”
The renunciate should be
especially careful not to justify his mistakes. He may, out of moral
weakness, succumb to a temptation. If he does so, he should never pretend
to himself, or to anyone else, that his indulgence was in some way not
wrong. It was wrong, simply and completely. Only by utter self-honesty
can one hope eventually to come out of delusion.
When Jesus Christ passed
through Samaria and met the woman by the well, he recognized her, Yogananda
said, as a fallen disciple from past incarnations, and wanted to test
her readiness to be re-accepted. He therefore said to her, “Go, call
thy husband, and come hither.” To that, she answered, “I have no
husband.” He replied, “Thou hast well said, I have no husband, for
thou hast had five husbands; and he whom thou now hast is not thy husband:
in that saidst thou truly.” (John 4:16–18) Only after she’d spoken
the truth did he consent to take her on as a disciple once again.
This is not to say that you
should blurt out your defects openly before the world. Be circumspect.
Those who are themselves steeped in delusion will attack you like a
pack of hungry wolves. Keep your own counsel. Never try, however, to
persuade anyone that your wrong desires are anything but delusions.
I faulted those two yogis
(whom I mentioned above) for what looked to me like a deficiency of
truthfulness. I don’t know all the facts, and don’t pretend to judge
those men. But certainly, if they made a promise on which they
didn’t deliver, they were being untruthful. And it is probably on
the basis of that untruth, more even than on those actions, that karmic
law will judge them, if in fact it does.
The main purpose of renunciation
is to gain the ability to separate truth from error, and thereby to
see delusion for what it is: a lie — not pure, certainly, but (once
you’ve seen through it) quite simple!
Be truthful, therefore, even
in minor matters. If, for example, you’ve told someone, “I’ll
buy a newspaper and read that news,” be sure you obtain a newspaper
at least somehow, and read that article.
If you tell someone, “I’ll
be there without fail,” be very sure you don’t fail.
Many years ago, in Los Angeles,
I went to an Indian friend to borrow a dhoti (an Indian garment for
men) for the performance of a play I’d written. A friend of his was
there, another Indian. As I was leaving he said, “I will definitely
be there.” He hadn’t asked me where the performance would be. He
didn’t ask me when. He didn’t ask me what it would be about. I knew
he wouldn’t be there, and of course he wasn’t. Why, then, did he
tell me he’d “definitely” come?
There is a lamentable tendency
in many countries of the East to tell people what a person thinks they
want to hear. In Japan, I once asked a salesman if I could buy something
for shipment to America. Anxious not to disappoint me, he started affirmatively
to nod his head, then stopped and softly muttered, “No.”
This tendency is, to my mind,
a weakness. In India, some years after Mahatma Gandhi’s bold example
of truthfulness, I encountered many who tried to follow it by spouting
insulting truths. Gandhi never did that! He always showed respect for
others’ realities. What we should speak is the helpful, kindly truth. If a person is stupid, will it help him to tell him so? Of course
not! Offer a truth respectfully, and with kindly concern for the person’s
ability to accept it usefully.
With oneself, however, one
should be — if not ruthlessly honest, at least impartially so. (Isn’t
it interesting, how many people consider truthfulness and honesty to
be, virtually, synonyms? It’s as though they understood that untruthfulness
is truly, in some way, dishonest — as though cheating others of what
was rightly theirs.)
By strict truthfulness you
will align yourself with the Reality behind manifested existence. The
completely truthful person develops — so Patanjali declared — the power
to bring into manifestation his mere word.
This, by the way, is another
reason why you should always tell the truth: Anything you say may — unexpectedly
and perhaps undesirably — manifest as reality. Even if your spiritual
power is still only slight, you may inadvertently hit a calm moment
in the swirl of what Yogananda called “the thwarting crosscurrents
of ego,” and find your lightest statements become outwardly a reality.
Chapter 11: The Sex Issue Revisited