Mahabharat war was going on, with no side having a clear-cut advantage. Kauravas were bolstered by the presence of Dronacharya, who was almost invincible. Everyone knew that he could be killed only when he abandoned his weapons on his free will. It was well known that he would do give up his arms only when his son, Ashvathama, was killed in the battlefield.
Pandavas, quite aware of this fact, devised a strategy: Yudhisthir would utter a ‘lie’ to this effect. Since Yudhisthir was known to be truthful, it was assumed that Dronacharya would put down his weapons hearing his words, and Drstadyumna would kill him, which he did.
This throws a very important question: Can one lie to suit one’s convenience as Pandavas did? Why are then we taught to be truthful?
Lord Krishna, in the Bhagavad-Gita, states that being truthful is an austerity of speech (17.15). The quality of truth has originated from Him (10.4-5). Demoniac people do not practise the virtue of being truthful. (16.7). And, being truthful is a divine quality (16.2-3).
One of the commandments in the Bible says: “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour” (Exodus 20.16). An English dictionary defines lying as to say something that one knows is not true, as also to give a false impression, to mislead.
It is, therefore, clear that being truthful is desirable. Then why do we lie? If anything, some people develop the art of lying. They bend their ego, the way they perceive themselves, and make it very distant from super ego, that is what is expected of them. They feel very smart in making fools of others; though it is another matter that others, who are conversant with them, automatically take the opposite as the truth.
There are other losses in being untruthful. Trust is lost, and in some relationships, it is not very wise to lie. Since one cannot fool all the people all the time, the credibility ends. As one dislikes someone who lies, one is bound to dislike himself or herself, unless one has lost the conscience. And, one cannot lie to God, who always knows the real position.
So should one lie or not? Yes! one can lie if a higher principle is at stake, as was the case with Dronacharya fighting on the side of evil. Generally speaking, only in emergencies, one is allowed to bend the truth, if it doesn’t hurt anyone. Otherwise, one should remain truthful; it gives the lovely experience of being rich, having the luxury of being truthful.