The subtleties of truth

The Old Man, as we affectionately called the oldest monk of the Order, was tending to the garden in the internal yard of the monastery when a man, who was seeking solace for his afflictions came by. He felt tormented by a series of actions he had taken in the past and that were now corroding his consciousness. The Old Man gave me a signal indicating that I should attend to the man, seated on a bench at the shade of the rosebush. The man told me a sad story about having caused pain and suffering to other people. Outraged, I was harsh in my words, displaying how disgusted I was with what I had just heard. Visibly embarrassed, he thanked me out of politeness, not actually feeling thankful, and left. The monk saw it all, and said: “The wisdom of the ages teaches us that ‘no’ means ‘no’, and ‘yes’ means ‘yes’, but we can coat the truth with honey or gall.” I retorted by saying that we cannot fumble with the truth. Hard or bitter, it must be said. “In this case, he knew precisely the mistakes of the past, and he needed compassion rather than reproval”, the monk said to present his point of view.

The Old Man put the pliers in his pocket, gave a kind smile and said: “Truth is, and will always be, a valuable medicine. As it happens with each medicine, the inappropriate dosage is poisonous. Truth is an essential healing therapy. It is impossible to journey through the path without having it as an ally. Only truth lightens the wounds that are quite bothersome but are yet to be diagnosed. However, the choice of words, the way of saying it and the timing are dosages of this valuable medicine. We cannot talk to everyone in the same way or at the same time. Some people can take higher dosages; for other people, we have to start by titrating with small-drop increments, so that there is no rejection, cases in which brute, unprepared souls collapse and refuse to continue the healing treatment.” He paused briefly and said: “Bear in mind that the absolute truth awaits us in a faraway station. It reveals itself to everyone, no exceptions made, step by step, according to the length of the step and pace of each one on the Path. It is no different for me or you.”

Annoyed, I provoked him by saying that in some cases perhaps it would be best to lie. He arched his lips in a mild smile when he realized my intention, and spoke without losing his temper: “I think we should never lie. A lie is always an element of darkness as it overcasts reality, tricks the walker and delays the journey. Telling a lie displays a profound lack of respect for both, the author and the interlocutor. However, you should know the precise dimension of the feeling that prompts you to lie or to tell the truth before uttering a word. Are you using the truth to heal or to wound? Oftentimes truth is used to cause suffering, with no educational purpose. In these cases, silence is better. Do not forget, a good tool can be used to do good or evil. A hammer is used in both, construction and demolition.”

At that moment, I felt confused, and told him I did not know how to act in some quite sensitive situations. The skin of the monk had the wrinkles of time, marks of numberless struggles that framed his shining eyes, filled with compassion. He said with the typical soft tone of his voice: “Just like we cannot teach all the existing knowledge to a child who was just admitted to school, as he needs maturity and learning about more basic subjects in order to understand more complex ones, many of us are still in the childhood of the soul. It is pointless to teach how to calculate a square root to someone who does not know the four basic operations. The teaching in a university is different than teaching an elementary school class. For each one the precise lesson lies in the exact amount and manner to unveil the truth according to the capacity of perception of the apprentice.”

The Old Man held me by the arm and took me to walk with him around the garden while he continued to speak: “Like a powerful flashlight, truth has the power to lighten the shadows that dominate us. They are the wounds that require medication and healing. Not always they are pleasant to see. One must have courage and, above all, one must be ready to face a shrewd enemy: ourselves, in a delusional attempt to justify our own mistakes. Our shadows deceive our consciousness, as in order to survive they pretend to be protective while manipulating our ego, which, as a defense, will reject the truth. Truth is an instrument that should be well used, so important it is. Because it is subtle, it should be tuned by the fork of the heart, and strummed with the sensitivity of wisdom, bearing in mind that a symphony is not written in a day. Patience, Yoskhaz, is a fine, indispensable virtue, the inseparable companion of truth.”

Still trying to set things straight in my mind, I mentioned a popular expression: “ignorance is bliss”. The Old Man laughed heartily, and said: “Ignorance never protects you, it only deceives and makes you prisoner with a false sense of security. It is like keeping a bird in a cage to protect it from the hazards of the world; like not knowing about a problem would make it disappear; like hiding a disease from a patient would heal him. Baloney!” He paused briefly and added: “Truth is the necessary bridge to reach the immensity of freedom and the grandness of justice. Without the former we will not have the latter. This bridge is there for each and every one, but it is not easy to cross it. Tall and long, one must be brave enough to cross it over the huge abyss of attractive shadows; delicate and subtle, one must be wise enough to give up much of the tangible things that are quite heavy in favor of the invisible beauty that is light; finally, because it is in the open, subjected to the bad weather of life, it makes love indispensable, with the subtle understanding that oftentimes one crosses it alone, as, at that moment, not everyone has the necessary balance to keep going to the other side.”

Kindly translated by Carlos André Oighenstein.

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