Need of honesty (satya) in spiritual practice

Am I honest with myself in my thoughts, words, and actions? Do I pretend to be honest, or do I truly aspire to be honest? Who can say that as a child we were not instructed to be honest? Then why as adults, do we sometimes engage in being dishonest, deceitful, and non-truthful? These are […]

Am I honest with myself in my thoughts, words, and actions? Do I pretend to be honest, or do I truly aspire to be honest? Who can say that as a child we were not instructed to be honest? Then why as adults, do we sometimes engage in being dishonest, deceitful, and non-truthful? These are some questions that often bother us. Honesty is a spiritual virtue that is universally accepted as being the basis of integrity. It is often said that honesty is the best policy. It is well-recognized that honesty leads to happiness and contentment. Honesty needs to translate into our thoughts first, then into words, and then into our actions. Yet at times, we find it difficult to remain honest.
Personality researchers have come up with an Honesty-Humility trait. This trait comprises four dimensions. The first dimension is sincerity or the propensity to be truthful and non-manipulative. The second dimension involves fairness or the inclination to have everybody’s welfare in mind. The third dimension entails avoiding greed or having a relatively lower focus on the comforts and luxuries of life. The final dimension imbibes modesty or having relatively lower feelings of entitlement and superiority. This trait is negatively associated with a tendency to deceive or exploit others and pursue self-promoting goals. This trait exhibits greater social desirability than others. Clearly, this trait has a lot of utility in the betterment of our personality and society. This trait must be nourished in our personality.
Unfortunately, such claims lower our self-esteem even more and we start living in a life of lies and falsehood which leads to discontent and unhappiness. We must always make efforts to achieve what we do not have and aspire to have. But we must not make false claims for possessing that we have something that we do not or how good we are when we are not at that level. Even if it is for trivial matters we should try and be honest with ourselves and others. What is the point of lying even if it is a small lie? James Faust (1920-2007), an American religious leader, once said, “Honesty is more than not lying. It is truth telling, truth speaking, truth living, and truth loving.” It certainly is an ideal that we must always aspire to in our daily interactions.
Sigmund Freud (1856-1939), the father of psychoanalysis, proposed self-analysis for personal growth. He advocated that self-analysis must follow internal associations and reflections honestly. In such reflections, one should constantly check whether one is being honest. If one is not honest with oneself, then no growth can take place. However, such self-analysis is often difficult as there is constant interaction between one’s defense mechanisms and conflicting urges. So constant effort must be exercised so that these internal processes do not interfere, and one is as objective as possible. In doing self-analysis one is revisiting one’s own beliefs, attitudes, and values. So being honest with oneself can sometimes be painful and one must be prepared for that. However, such self-analysis of our truths and lies is extremely helpful in our development and must be practiced with earnestness and zeal.
Honesty is very important in relationships. Taylor Lautner (1992-present), a young contemporary American actor, has said, “Honesty and loyalty are key. If two people can be honest with each other about everything, that’s probably the biggest key to success.” Honesty is the cement that binds relationships. We see dishonesty in relationships and as a result, we find them breaking up more easily than ever before. Dishonesty breaches trust and that is often unrepairable. Dishonesty can manifest as a distortion of the truth or something that should have been shared but was not shared or plain deceit. In relationships, people are often hurt more by the cover-up of the truth rather than by the truth itself. Honesty in relationships helps one live at the level of reality and not in a world of fantasy which is crucial for the survival of any relationship. Honesty in a relationship whether is with a family member, a friend, or in a romantic context ensures security in that relationship. If one is not honest with oneself then it is likely that the person cannot be honest with the other person. The quest for honesty must begin with the self, then with the family, then with friends, and then with everyone.
Plato (428-328 BC), the ancient Greek philosopher, once said, “Honesty is for the most part less profitable than dishonesty.” This seems to be happening in present-day society at the societal level. There are several measures and institutions in our society that try to regulate honesty. Yet we find various forms of cheating rampant in our society such as tax evasion, corruption, political fraud, criminal behaviors, and so on. These forms of cheating are present in both individualistic as well as collectivist cultures and no country is completely free from these vices. Regulation of all forms of cheating and adherence to honesty ultimately boils down to internal reflection and integrity. Standards for honesty are often set up by influential people. First, the responsibility for setting standards lies with parents and teachers. Role models in our society such as leaders, politicians, and other important dignitaries have a moral obligation to set ideals for honesty. Unfortunately, such influential people do the exact opposite and set bad examples which have detrimental effects on common people. Gächter and Schulz in a study published in Nature in 2016 from 23 countries from around the world studied the prevalence of rule violations (PRVs) and their relationship to intrinsic honesty among young people. They found that intrinsic honesty was stronger among young people from those countries that had low PRVs than those from countries with high PRVs.Here are five points for introspection to inculcate honesty into our lives:
•Do I falsely claim an attribute that I do not possess?
•Have I lied about anything, even a trivial matter during the past day?
•What should have been a truthful way to conduct myself if I had lied?
•Can a remedial measure be taken by me to correct my lie now?
•What measures do I need to have in place so that I do not lie in the future?
Dr. Manoj Sharma is a Professor and Chair of the Department of Social and Behavioral Health at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, USA. He is an avid practitioner of Kundalini Yoga.