Truth – something our ancestors have been communicating over the generations.

Truth – something our ancestors have been communicating over the generations.  —-  From: Kannabhiran

Following is an essay on “Truth” sent to me by one of my good friends. Hope you like the reading.  — Sipractce

The English word “truth” does not precisely translate Sanskrit words like “Sathyam” or words like “Vaimai“, “Mai” in the Tamil language. Our ancestors say that truth is an attribute or quality. It is not an entity or object with precise definition. When a student is cheating in the exam he is not conforming to the rules laid out for that action. When he is not telling truth, again he is not conforming to the rules laid out for that action. The “sathyam” or “truth” is that the student or teacher or observer of the action exists. The action is either writing the exam or answering the question. Both exist as well. The rules are laid out for the action. When non conformity to the rule occurs, it is the change in the attribute or quality of that action, which we refer to that as lie or untrue. As a result of looking at it is stated that an untrue action (deceit) has been committed. Eastern philosophy will consider it as an aberration to the attributes or quality of action. It is a deterioration or unacceptable change in the quality of the action.

There is an ancient Tamil literature called Thirumular Thirumanthiram, where it is mentioned:

  • Maraththil marainthathu mamatha yanai (The mammoth elephant is hidden in the tree). Here we are talking about a wooden elephant that can be carved out of the tree.
  • Marathai maraithathu mamatha yanai (The mammoth elephant is hiding the tree). Here we are talking about the mammoth elephant, which is large enough to hide the tree.

Elephant is seen inside the tree by someone and outside of the tree by somebody else. This analogy is used to illustrate that “truth” is the quality of understanding of the object and the point of reference of the observer.

When I took an executive course, we were all working independently and came up with different answers. At the end of the day, the instructor asked us why we are not getting better results. We said that it is because we do not have the information that others had and we did not want to cheat by discussing with others. Instructor laughed and said that you are all conditioned by schools and exams but in real life no one is telling you that. Also, in the beginning of the course, he never laid out that rule. It was our assumption that sharing information is not allowed. It was our perceived standard that such information sharing would amount to cheating. So, the point is this: truth or lie is a function of the observation with respect to the subject and the rules laid out at that time.

Humans lie or twist the so called facts because their attribute (quality of action) is an ever evolving phenomenon both individually and collectively.  In the banana example, tasters are the truth and the taste of banana is a function of the attributes of the tasters which is ever changing with time and space.

Even the scientific laws or laws of nature that we rely on for our everyday life is also understood through our own attributes. Imagine someone who is sitting beyond the sun and looking down, will not be seeing a night and day or waxing/waning of moon but few bodies floating in the space casting their long shadows. The sages, who graduated from doing material research, try to understand this phenomenon and they give out the pathways for day to day living.

When Thiruvalluvar says that Vaimai or “truth” is that which brings benefits to the world even if it looks like a lie for someone, the emphasis is on the attribute of action.

Upanishad gives a simple solution by stating:

  • Follow the scriptures when you don’t know what to do in a situation.
  • If you cannot do that, follow what scholars/elders have done in the past.
  • If it is not possible, look at or consult scholars/elders living in your time.
  • If none of this is working, do what you think is right and that is the truth (Sathyam)
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5 Responses to Truth – something our ancestors have been communicating over the generations.

  1. jayanthi says:

    Wonderful catalyst for the discussion on truth and a befitting continuation.


  2. Jay says:

    Nice essay on relative and absolute truth! I liked the use of the English word ‘mammoth’ which sounds almost as a transliteration of Thirumoolar’s use of the Tamil word ‘mamatha’. The Tamil language also has subtle differences among similar meaning words as does the English language.
    Thanks for highlighting these nuances.


  3. Ranganathan says:

    The article is nice.Truth alone Triumphs(some times)


  4. Abi says:

    Nice!! I like this blog!
    I had learned ‘Marathai Maraithathu’ poem from my father, however in a slightly different context and interpretation:
    Consider a life size elephant statue carved out of wood – one such statue exists near Guruvayur temple in Kerala. From a distance one would think that there is a real elephant standing there , you dont realize that is only a statue – so
    “marathai maraithathu mamatha yaanai’
    However when you are much closer you would realize that it is a statue and one made of wood –
    So you dont ‘fear’ or experience a real elephant anymore
    “marathil marainthathu mamatha yaanai’

    – The poem explains the highest truth or ultimate reality expounded by Indian Spirituality. ‘Esawasyam Idham Sarvam’
    Once you realize that all that there is God, then you no more perceive this world as before,
    However until you realize that truth , you live an ignorant person attached to the world and your actions.


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