Printer Friendly

Navigating "truthfulness" as a standard for ethical speech: revisiting speech in Ancient India.

After what seemed a promising beginning with Oliver's (1971) work on communication in ancient China and India, only a few scholars picked up the gauntlet of discovering and furthering analyses of Indian contributions to the understanding of human communication. China has fared well (Chang 1997, 2001; Chang & Holt, 1991a, 1991b, 1994; Chen 1993, 2002; Chen & Chung, 1994; Cheng 1983, 1987; Crawford 1997; Gao 2000; Garrett 1993a, 1993b, 1994, 1997; Kirkwood 1992; Lu 1994, 1998a, 1998b; Lu & Frank 1993; Ma 1993; Ng 1998/1999; Nordstrom 1979; Tu 1981, 1999; Weatherley 2002) but from the vast body of texts that constitute the Indian contribution to philosophy, grammar, religion, rhetoric, politics, drama, and poetics, we find that very little has been mined by communication scholars. Kirkwood is one of the rare exceptions, whose programmatic work of discovering communication tenets, rules, and consequences in Indian texts can provide scholars a start and some new directions (1987, 1989, 1990, 1997).

A 1989 essay on "truthfulness as a standard of speech in ancient India" (Kirkwood, 1989) describes Indian ideas about the consequences of speaking the truth or lying for the speaker himself/herself. Kirkwood reveals the link between truthfulness and spiritual liberation in Indian philosophy, and argues that truthfulness was the foremost standard for speech in ancient India. In contrast to earlier studies of the social functions of Indian rhetoric, Kirkwood emphasizes ideas about the consequences of truthfulness and deceit for speakers, and how those ideas influenced the construction of rules/ideas for rhetorical practice.

The present article focuses on the influence of the truthfulness standard on rhetorical practice in ancient India --seeking to identify when and in what circumstances, and by whom, that standard was expected to be adhered to, and when and in what (rare) circumstances individuals were allowed to breach the standard.

According to Kirkwood, the truthfulness standard was applicable both to public discourse and to interpersonal communication. Speaking truthfully was necessary to cultivate modesty and humility in the speaker, and to assure social harmony and consensus (p. 226) in society. This belief in speaking the truth was what influenced Gandhi's choice, in the twentieth century, of pursuing satyagraha ("holding to truth"), Kirkwood argues.

Giving examples of the influence of holding to truthfulness as a standard, Kirkwood mentions the highly repetitive style of discourse in ancient Indian texts, and in which repetition played the part of stressing the claim to truth on listeners of such discourse. We observe that repetition is part of the universal force with the earth revolving round and round the sun, the moon around the earth, and seasons appearing in the same sequence over and over again. The concepts of reincarnation and time as cyclical are also a powerful shaper of the Indian worldview (see Klostermaier, 1989, pp. 415-417).

In India, one of the oldest civilizations on earth, the act of repeating (japa) a mantra (a holy syllable or hymn) and its calming and transforming effects (Klostermaier, 1989, p. 51) has been known for a long time, and it is no surprise therefore that ancient Indian texts incorporate careful and stylistic repetition. Repetition is also an act of affirmation and of the confidence the speaker has in what s/he is conveying. The metaphor of truth telling having magical physical effects is used in Indian epics like the Mahabharata, Kirkwood points out (p. 227).

Finally, truth telling is described as a "performance of reality" rather than just a description of reality. By chanting the Vedas (sacred scripture, four in number Rig Veda, Yajur Veda, Sama Veda, Atharva Veda) accurately, with the right intonation, at the right speed, and at the appropriate time, the student came to "realize" the full meaning of particular sacred sounds. The act of uttering the truth was considered as liberating though it was not, however, just speaking any ordinary truth that liberated a human being: it was uttering the sacred truths contained in esoteric mantras requiring long years of study and discipline that gave power to the person to "endorse" transcendent truth.

Kirkwood, however, provides only a small glimpse into the truth telling contexts in the life of the Hindu as a brahmachari (student), as a grihasta (householder), as a vaanaprasta (retiree/forest hermit), and as a sannyasi (renunciate/wandering ascetic)--in the fourfold scheme of life in which during the life of the student, he pursues dharma (acquiring knowledge, practicing self-discipline and celibacy, and right action; as a householder pursues artha (carrying out his duties to family and society, serving the ancestors and saints, and engaged in gainful labor); as a retiree (gradually withdrawing from the world, sharing wisdom with others, and preparing for the renunciation of domestic life); and as a renunciate (withdrawing from the world, and completely dedicating to spiritual pursuits, and the seeking of liberation from the cycle of birth and death moksha). Kirkwood also refers to the power of truth telling not just in a "religious circumstance" but the possible "therapeutic effects" of speaking truthfully in every context of life. But can the truth be told unequivocally in all situations by all kinds of people? Also, what other standards of speech, other than truthfulness, were offered by Indian philosophers, and how do those standards support or undermine truth telling? We can answer these questions through an understanding of the classification of human beings according to their worth and merit because in the Hindu system of chaturvarnashrama a person can be classified as a Brahmana, a Kshyatriya, a Vysya, and as a Shudra based on religious hierarchy (see Klostermaier, 1989, pp. 317-322).

Nature of Reality and the Classification of Souls

One advises action based on the belief that there is good and evil, and that one should pursue the right path and eschew the wrong. Is there a concept of good and evil in Hindu philosophy, then, and if so, where do we find it?

According to Advaita (monistic) philosophy, there is nothing absolutely evil or good. Adi Shankara (788-820 CE), who consolidated the principles of Hindu monistic philosophy, argued that the world is illusory, and that there is ultimately no difference between Brahman (the cosmic or transcendental soul) and Atman (individual self). As Klostermaier (1989) points out, from this particular Vedantist standpoint there is nothing like absolute evil and good, and that they are two sides of the same reality. Truth, from the Advaitin viewpoint, is not singular but can be categorized on three levels: the supreme or transcendental level, where only Brahman is true; the pragmatic or mundane level where both the individual self and Ishvara (God) are true; and the "apparent" level where even the material world is illusory.

The Dvaita (dualist) school of Hindu philosophy claims that there is an "eternal distinction" between the individual soul and the Absolute. The dualist school is based on the idea of bheda (difference), and Madhvacharya (1238-1317 CE) the chief proponent of the Dvaita school argues that individual souls and nature is dependent on Brahman, and that the universe created by Vishnu (God) is real. As opposed to the Semitic belief system where "individual souls" are created ex nihilo by God, Madhvacharya argued that souls were eternal, and the relationship between God and individual souls was similar to the source and its reflection--that the atman was a mirror image of God (Klostermaier, p. 383).

In opposition to the Advaita philosophers, Madhva and the dualist scholars proposed that souls can be classified into three classes--one that qualifies for liberation (saatvik), one that is subject to eternal rebirth and transmigration (rajasik), and one that is condemned to eternal hell (tamasik). In the Bhagavad Gita, (Chapter 17, verse 2) Lord Krishna proclaims, "Listen as I explain the threefold nature of faith inherent in the embodied self--lucid, passionate, and darkly inert" (Miller, 1986, p. 137). Lucid is "saatvik," passionate is "rajasik," and darkly inert is "tamasik". The root cause of evil therefore is the nature of the soul, and good and evil stem from the actions (karma) of the soul.

It is argued that this three-fold classification of the soul mirrors the Rig Vedic (10.90) assertion that the brahmana (priest) emerged from the mouth of the "Cosmic Man," the kshatriya (warrior) from the shoulders, the vysya (trader) from the thighs, and the shudra (laborer) from the feet. 1 The Purusha Sukta hymn contains 16 verses, which seem to contradict the monistic philosophy of the Rig Veda. Madhvacharya argues that the individual is not defined by birth in a particular "caste," but by the nature of his soul. For example a soul having the nature of a priest could have been born in a shudra (laborer) family or a kshatriya (warrior) family.

The tenets of Dvaita philosophy therefore pose challenges to the proposal for truth telling as an ideal standard because a priest, a warrior, a trader, and a laborer work in different contexts to achieve different purposes but they might also, by the quality of their "souls", may or may not be able to speak truthfully in all contexts, and consistently.

Dvaita philosophy is more compatible with the body of Hindu religious literature called smritis as dualism can provide the ontological explanation for why the mundane world is conflict ridden and in which we see both good and evil. The smritis are considered secondary to shruti texts, which include the Vedas and the Upanishads. Smriti literature includes the Dharmasutras, Itihasa (histories, including the epics Mahabharata and the Ramayana), Purana (18 books that focus on Shiva or Vishnu as the preferred supreme deity), Vedanga (six auxiliary disciplines for the understanding and tradition of the Vedas), Agama (the Vaishnava, Shaiva, and Shakta doctrines), and Darshana (philosophies--six in number, including the Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Sankhya, Yoga, Purva Mimamsa and Uttara Mimamsa) texts.

We will focus on the Dharmasutras (part of the larger body of texts known as the Dharmashastras) in this essay to understand how and in what context the standard of truthfulness was sought to be upheld, and where/if they were or could be transgressed. According to one authority there are 47 ancient sages who have given laws to the Hindus. Yagnavalkya, himself a sage and a law-giver mentions twenty: Manu, Yagnavalkya, Atri, Vishu, Harita, Usanas, Angirasa, Apastambha, Yama, Brihaspati, Parasara, Samvarta, Katyayana, Daksha, Vyasa, Likhita, Sankha, Gautama, Shatatapa, and Vashishta.

The dharmashastras deal with both religious as well as legal duty. They contain rules of conduct and rites, and dharma (law or duty) was meant to govern the life of people in the region we now call India. The laws of the land derive their authority from the Vedas. The Dharmasutras are a product of the brahmin tradition which included an "elaborate scholastic system," in which brahmin teachers trained young brahmin students to read and understand the scriptures and in performing necessary rituals sacred to the Hindu tradition. Dharma allowed the organization of people into social classes each governed by specific duties and rights. As Klostermaier notes, "... dharma is right conduct not in a general sense but specified for each caste and for each situation in life." and thus, "dharma presupposes a social order in which all functions and duties are assigned to separate classes whose smooth interaction guarantees the well-being of society as a whole and, beyond this, maintains the harmony of the whole universe" (p. 48).

Dharma (righteous conduct) and adharma (unrighteousness) are spelled out in the Dharmashastras, and as noted above, right and wrong conduct are guided by one's station in life and by the social class one belongs to. Kirkwood's (1989) identification of "truthfulness as a standard," can be traced to the Dharmashastras. A fourth century logician by the name of Vatsyayana analyzed righteous and unrighteous conduct that can be associated with one's body, mind, and speech (Klostermaier, p. 49). Righteous conduct connected with the body included daana (charity), paritraana (helping the distressed), and paricharana (rendering service). Unrighteous conduct associated with the body included himsa (violence), steya (theft), and pratisiddha maithuna (unlawful sex).

Unrighteous conduct associated with the mind included para droha (ill will), para dravyaa bheepsha (covetousness), and naastikya (irreligiosity). Righteous conduct associated with the mind included daya (compassion), ashpriha (disinterestedness), and sradhha (faith, piety or discipline).

Vices connected with speech included mithya (uttering falsehood), parusha (caustic talk), soochanaa (calumny), and asambaddha (absurd talk). Virtues connected with speech included satya (veracity or truthfulness), hita vaachana (talking with good intention), priya vaachana (gentle talk), and svaadhyaaya (recitation of scriptures). As we can see, there were other standards, beyond truthfulness, that the commentators identified as right and wrong conduct. The standards connected to speech are of course our primary interest here.

Truthfulness and other speech injunctions in the Dharmasutras and the Manusmriti

The exhortation to speak the truth is contained in a variety of Indian texts, and such exhortations are not just for speaking transcendent truth contained in esoteric texts. It is the dharma of individuals to speak the truth, to avoid caustic talk, etc. Dharma (duty or socio-ethical laws and obligations), demanded that individuals follow the rules laid out for the social class that s/he belonged to. In this section, we will sift through the Manusmriti (the law code of Manu), and the Dharmasutras (the law codes of ancient India). The principal among the Dharmasutras include the four texts by Aapastamba, Gautama (not to be confused with Gautama Buddha), Baudhaayana, and Vashishta (all from around the third century BCE to the first century BCE). In this essay we will mine these four plus the Manusmriti--which makes hoary claims dating back to the beginning of humankind, but which is attributed to a single author, whose name is not known, but who scholars believe composed it sometime between second century BCE to second century CE (Olivelle, 2004a, p. xxiii).

We will begin with the Dharmasutras because they predate Manu by two to three centuries (Olivelle, 2004a, p. xiii). The Dharmasutras themselves refer to other legal authorities, and therefore we can surmise that the intellectual tradition of adumbrating the need for and prescription of laws indeed go back much farther in time. All the law books derive their authority from the Vedas, and much of the content of the Dharmasutras can indeed be linked to the Vedas. The tradition of law, according to Olivelle (2004a), centered on the term dharma and the moral dimension of dharma therefore was the crux of these law books. The Dharmasutras, however, did not fully develop the section on laws that dealt with the king, statecraft, and judicial procedure, which we see developed in the Manusmriti. The Dharmasutras primarily dealt with the "life and activities of individuals belonging to the three upper classes"--the Brahmins, the Kshatriyas, and the Vaishyas--but much more closely with that of the Brahmins.

Speech and truth in the Dharmasutras

The Dharmasutras are a fascinating compendium of rules of conduct concerning all aspects of an individual's life, and while we can make connections to speech and truth under many headings, we will focus on those sutras (aphorisms) that are directly related to speech and truth. Aphorisms under the following headings will be analyzed to understand the rules guiding speech: anger, harsh speech, slander/calumny, speech, and truth2.

Anger: An initiated student shall not be given to anger (A1, 3.23); faults that torment a man include anger ... refraining from anger ... a man attains all (A1, 23.5.6); having sinned ... the student should make an offering to. anger. or recite softly. "anger did it" (A1, 26.13); he should avoid giving in to anger and other such faults that bring suffering to creatures (A1, 31.23); he should abstain from. lying, anger, and whatever would provoke someone to anger (A2, 18.3); he should abstain from ... anger, perplexity, and squabbling ... (G2.13); untrue statements made by people who are angry ... are not sins causing loss of caste (G5.24); speaking the truth, refraining from anger. apply to him (of the shudra caste) also (G10.51); death impurity affects people belonging to the same ancestry. and should be observed in those cases where people are killed due to the king's anger (G1 4.10); cultured people are those who are free from. anger (B1, 1.5); a man who has been consecrated for a sacrifice ... should not ... become angry (B1, 15.30); rules of eating. include getting rid of anger (B2, 5.21); ancestral offerings are. snatched by demons. if the man offering it is overcome by anger (B2, 15.4); one of the secondary vows by renunciate. include not giving way to anger (B2, 18.3); while performing rites to obtain wishes. he should guard himself from anger and untruth (B4, 5.5); speaking the truth. refraining from anger ... these are common to all classes (Va 4.4); after bringing his anger and excitement under control. he should select for his wife a woman who does not belong to a lineage with the same ancestral seer (Va 8.1); virtues common to all orders (student, householder, forest hermit, wandering ascetic) include refraining from. anger (Va 10.30); three things purify an ancestral offering ... not being angry (Va 11.35).

Harsh speech: If someone uses harsh words against a person against whom one is not permitted to use such words. he should eat food without milk, spices, or salt for three days (A1, 26.3); a bath-graduate should refrain from speaking harshly about either the gods or the king (A1, 31.5); if a shudra hurls abusive words at a virtuous arya, his tongue shall be cut out (A2, 27.14); an initiated student shall refrain from speaking harsh words (G2.19); if someone uses abusive words ... he shall practice austerities for a maximum of three days (G23.27).

Slander/calumny: An innocent person rubs his sin off. on the man who slanders him (A1, 19.15); the faults that torment men include. calumny. and refraining from. calumny. a man attains all (A1, 23.5, 6); when someone engages in slander. he should bathe reciting the Ablinga or Vaarunee formulas, or other purificatory texts in proportion to the frequency with which he has committed these offences (A1, 26.7); an initiated student refrains from. calumny (G2.13); giving false evidence, slanderous statements that will reach the king's ear, and false accusations against an elder are equal to sins causing loss of caste (G21.10); bearing long grudges, envy, mendacity, reviling Brahmins, slander, and ruthlessness--these should be recognized as the characteristics of a shudra (Va 6.24); virtues common to all orders include refraining from slander. (Va 10.30).

Speech: Rules for a teacher include shunning sensual objects with his mind, speech, breath, sight ... (A2, 5.19); the bath-graduate should not let his. speech. get out of control (G9.50); a man should control his breath several times in accordance with rules given in authoritative texts for sins committed through his. speech. (B4, 1.3); he should not be fickle in anything he does, whether it is with. speech or body. (Va6.42); a student should be restrained in his speech (Va7.7).

Truth: A student shall keep. his speech true (A1, 7.11); knowledge of self ... includes speaking the truth (A1, 23.6); a wandering ascetic. abandoning truth and falsehood, pleasure and pain ... seek the Self ... (A2, 21.13); the bath-graduate. shall speak the truth (G9.68); speaking the truth ... is applicable to the shudra too ... (G10.51); a witness ... speaking the truth ... will go to heaven (G13.7); of all the laws, speaking the truth before the judge is the most important (G13.31); general penances ... include ... speaking the truth (G19.15); a person who wants the penance to act quickly. should speak the truth. (G26.7); a student shall speak the truth. and remain modest (B1, 3.20); a renunciate. vows to. speak the truth (B2, 18.2); the expiations for such a man (seeking penance). include. speaking the truth (B3, 10.13); a man who distributes food, speaks the truth, and is full of compassion to creatures is far better than any man. (B4, 5.32); the body is purified by water, the mind by truth, the spirit by knowledge and austerity, and the intellect by knowledge (Va 3.60); speaking the truth, refraining from anger ... are common to all classes (Va 4.4); Vedic scholars ... and people who speak the truth. can serve as witnesses in court (Va 16.28); excellence of the Brahmin ... speak the truth, not an untruth. (Va 30.1).

Let us now turn to the Law Code of Manu, and see what he advocates regarding matters of speech and truth.

Anger: An alluring young woman is capable of leading astray not only the ignorant but even learned men under the sway of anger and lust (2.214); they call these highest of twice-born men the ancient gods of the ancestral offering, free from anger, totally serene, and devoted to invigorating the world (3.213); a man serving a Brahmin ... must never become angry ... (3.229); at an ancestral offering, three things are commended. absence of anger. (3.235); the bath-graduate should eschew ... anger ... (4.163); he must not raise a stick against another person or bring it down on anyone in anger, except a son or a pupil ... (4.164); if a twice-born strikes a Brahmin deliberately in anger with even a blade of grass, he will be reborn in evil wombs for twenty-one births (4.166); twice-born men belonging to all four orders must always observe the ten-point Law diligently. one being suppressing anger. (6.92); testimony given through. anger. is considered false (8.118); for giving false testimony. through anger. the punishment is three times the highest fine. (8.121); the ruler should lay aside his likes and dislikes and follow Yama's pattern of behavior, suppressing his anger and mastering his organs (8.173); when a lowest born man. strikes (a superior person) with his foot in anger, his foot ought to be cut off (8.280); ... refraining from anger. Manu has declared, is the gist of the Law for the four classes (10.63); the penitent. shall abstain from anger. (11.223); when a man has laid down these rods with respect to all creatures and brought lust and anger under control, he thereby secures success (12.11).

Slander: ... a student should avoid. gossiping, slander, lies ... (2.179); a householder should not invite into his house ... a slanderer ... (3.161); for the king, one of eight vices arising from wrath is slander. (7.48); some evil men become disfigured because of bad deeds committed in this world, and some because of deeds done in a previous life. one of the deeds is slandering (11.50); one of the categories of sin include a slander that reaches the king's ear (11.56); actions produce good and bad results. harshness, falsehood, slander of every sort, and idle chatter are the four kinds of verbal action that lead to bad results (12.6).

Speech: Only a man whose mind and speech have been purified and are always well-guarded acquires the entire fruit of reaching the end of the Veda (2.160); conduct towards the teacher includes ... bringing his speech. under control (2.192); he should comport himself. in such a way that his attire, speech, and mind are in harmony with his age ... (4.18); the bath-graduate must never conduct himself in a fickle manner with his hands, feet, eyes, or speech ... (4.177); all things are founded on speech. speech is their root ... and from speech they proceed ... a man who steals speech is guilty of stealing everything (4.256); virtuous people call a woman who controls her mind, speech, and body. a good woman (5.165); a man who perpetrates violence should be considered far more evil than someone who is offensive in speech. (8.345); clearly, speech is the Brahmin's weapon. with than a twice-born should strike down his enemies (11.33); ... for the speech of the learned is a means of purification (11.86); a man experiences the good and bad results. of verbal actions in his speech. (12.8); the rod of speech, the rod of mind, and the rod of action--a man in whose intellect these are kept under control is said to be triple-rodded (12.10).

Truth: ... and truth is better than ascetic silence (2.83); the bath-graduate should say what is true, and he should say what is pleasant ... he should not say what is true but unpleasant, and he should not say what is pleasant but untrue--that is the eternal Law (4.138); the body is cleansed with water, the mind by truth. (5.109); the wandering ascetic should speak words purified by truth ... (6.46); one of the ten points of Law includes truthfulness. (6.92); the proper administrator of punishment, they say, is a king who speaks the truth. (7.26); when justice is struck by injustice, and truth by untruth, while the court officials remain idle onlookers, then they are themselves struck down. (8.14); when a king is conducting a judicial proceeding, he should pay close attention to the truth. (8.45); when a witness speaks truthfully ... he does not suffer any loss of merit or wealth (8.74); by truth, the witness is purified. by truth, merit is increased. witnesses of all social classes therefore should speak only the truth (8.83); when a man, even though he knows the truth, gives evidence in lawsuits contrary to the facts for a reason relating to the Law, he does not fall from the heavenly world ... that, they say, is divine speech (8.103); when telling the truth will result in the execution of a shudra, vaishya, kshatriya, or a Brahmin, a man may tell a lie. for that is far better than the truth (8.104); the king should make the Brahmin swear by the truth. (8.113); a wise man should entrust a deposit to a man ... who speaks the truth ... (8.179); abstention from injuring, truthfulness, refraining from anger, purification, and mastering the organs ... this is the gist of the Law for the four classes (10.63).

We have extracted from the Dharmasutras and the Law code of Manu those sutras that speak of truthfulness and speech. Now, let us look at those instances where exceptions are made to speaking the truth (marked in italics above). They are few in number, but we now know that there were indeed exceptions to the rule. We believe that more exceptions to the rule will be found through a more careful exploration of the codes of Manu and the larger group of Dharmashastra texts. This essay does not explore the historicity of these texts, the latter commentaries on the Manusmriti, or the rightness or wrongness of the many rules and injunctions laid down in these texts. (3) What is interesting, however, is to understand how the "good speech" standards were applied or sought to be applied in ancient India, and for what reasons.

Thus, "untrue statements made by people who are angry. are not sins causing loss of caste (G5.24)". Gautama points out that it is possible that people get angry, and that when they are angry they might say something untrue. He considers being angry and telling lies is sinful, but they are not so sinful that it would lead to the loss of the person's caste status. Aapasthambha says that "if someone uses harsh words against a person against whom one is not permitted to use such words. he should eat food without milk, spices, or salt for three days (A1, 26.3). One can read this to mean that it is permitted to use harsh words against certain categories of people. Similarly, he advises that "a bath-graduate should refrain from speaking harshly about either the gods or the king (A1, 31.5). Does it mean, that he is allowing the bath-graduate to speak harshly about others? If yes, whom, and in what contexts? Vashishta claims that "bearing long grudges, envy, mendacity, reviling Brahmins, slander, and ruthlessness--these should be recognized as the characteristics of a shudra (Va 6.24)", and one can therefore read this to mean that he expects shudras to use slander and be mendacious. Most probably this statement is an indication of the prevailing caste tensions at that time, and is a reflection of the prejudice that Vashishta has against the shudra caste.

The Manusmriti has been criticized by some as a sexist and caste-prejudiced treatise compiled by Brahmin priests (see Doniger, 1991). Of the 2,685 verses in the book, some experts believe up to 1,471 verses are later interpolations. Thus, we cannot argue with assurance that all the excerpts below are "authentic" to the original compiler of the laws. But let us take a look at the exceptions that Manu makes for breaking the "good speech" rules: He says, "a man serving a Brahmin. must never become angry (3.229). Does it mean then that the man serving non-Brahmins can become angry? Manu allows a teacher/house-holder to get angry and to beat someone in anger--"he must not raise a stick against another person or bring it down on anyone in anger, except a son or a pupil (4.164)". Importantly, he says that "the bath-graduate should say what is true, and he should say what is pleasant. he should not say what is true but unpleasant, and he should not say what is pleasant but untrue--that is the eternal Law (4.138)". An exception is made about avoiding telling truths when the truth is unpleasant. That provides leeway and a lot of ambiguity in how one interprets "unpleasantness".

Even more surprisingly, Manu says that "when a man, even though he knows the truth, gives evidence in lawsuits contrary to the facts for a reason relating to the Law, he does not fall from the heavenly world ... that, they say, is divine speech (8.103)". What is the "Law" that he is referring to? It seems to imply the Vedas or Vedic injunctions when he says the "Law," but it is unclear what he is conveying in this particular aphorism. Doniger (1991) translates this aphorism thus: "A man who testifies in a concern for justice even though he knows that (the facts) in the case are other than what he says does not fall from the world of heaven; they call that the speech of the gods". It seems to mean that in the pursuit of justice one can testify falsely. More careful analysis of the aphorism is needed to clearly understand the import of it. The following aphorism might somewhat clear our doubt about what he means by justice: "when telling the truth will result in the execution of a shudra, vaishya, kshatriya, or a Brahmin, a man may tell a lie. for that is far better than the truth (8.104)," he urges, and therefore arguing for carefully considering the context in which one might either blurt out or tell the truth leading to immediate violence.


We began by noting that very little analyses of ancient Indian texts have been done after the publication of Oliver's (1971) seminal book on communication in ancient India and China. Kirkwood (1987, 1989, 1990, 1997) has proved an exception, and provides a small body of work that enables students interested in the Indian tradition to mine the vast body of texts for an enumeration and adumbration of the Indian approaches to rhetoric, speech, and communication.

The essay on truthfulness (1989) by Kirkwood in which truthfulness is presented as the "foremost goal" in ancient Indian rhetoric, has enabled us to look more closely at that standard and to identify possible exceptions to upholding that standard. By sifting through the Dharmasutra texts and the Manusmriti, we have found some exceptions that are context-dependent. A perusal of the other Dharmashastra texts might reveal more such exceptions that make the general case for truth-telling and how ennobling truth telling is, as well as to argue for a "common sense" approach to truthtelling when truth-telling might lead to immediate harm for oneself or others.

* A version of this article was presented at the Southern States Communication Association's 79th annual convention, April 1-5, 2009, Norfolk, VA


Chang, H. C. (1997). Language and words: Communication in the Analects of Confucius. Journal of Language and Social Psychology, 16 (2), 107-131.

Chang, H. C. (2001). Learning speaking skills from our ancient philosophers: Transformation of Taiwanese culture as observed from popular books. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 11 (2), 109-133.

Chang, H. C., & Hold, G. R. (1991a). More than relationship: Chinese and the principle of kuan-hsi. Communication Quarterly, 39 (3), 251-271.

Chang, H. C., & Holt, G. R. (1991b). The concept of yuan and Chinese interpersonal relationships. In S. Ting-Toomey & F. Korzenny (Eds.), Cross-cultural interpersonal communication (pp. 28-57). Newbury Park, CA: Sage.

Chang, H. C., & Holt, G. R. (1994). Debt-repaying mechanism in Chinese relationships: An exploration of the folk concepts of pao and human emotional debt. Research on Language and Social Interaction, 27 (4), 351-387.

Chen, G. M. (1993, November). Communication competence: A Chinese perspective. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Speech Communication Association, Miami, FL.

Chen, G. M. & Chung, J (1994). The impact of Confucianism on organizational communication. Communication Quarterly, 42 (2), 93-105.

Chen, G. M. (2002). The impact of harmony on Chinese conflict resolution. In G. M. Chen & R. Ma (Eds.), Chinese conflict management and resolution (p.p. 3-17). Westport, CT: Ablex.

Cheng, C. Y. (1987). Chinese philosophy and contemporary human communication theory. In D. L. Kincaid (Ed.), Communication theory: Eastern and Western perspectives (pp. 23-43). New York: Academic.

Crawford, L. (1997). Conflict and Tao. Howard Journal of Communication, 8 (4), 357-370.

Doniger, W. (1991). The laws of Manu. New York: Penguin Books.

Gao, G. (2000). "Don't take my word for it": Understanding Chinese speaking practices. International Journal of Intercultural Relations, 22 (2), 163-185.

Garrett, M. M. (1993a). Pathos reconsidered from the perspective of classical Chinese rhetorical theories. Quarterly Journal of Speech, 79, 19-39.

Garrett, M. M. (1993b). Classical Chinese conceptions of argumentation and persuasion. Argumentation and Advocacy, 29 (3), 105-115.

Garrett, M. M. (1994). The "Three Doctrines Debates" of Tang China: Competitive religious debate as a rhetorical strategy. Argumentation and Advocacy, 30 (3), 150-161.

Garrett, M. M. (1997). Chinese Buddhist religious disputation. Argumentation, 11 (2), 195-209.

Griffith, R. T. H. (2007). The hymns of the Rigveda. Kessinger Publishing.

Kirkwood, W. G. (1987). The turtle spoke, the donkey brayed: Fables about speech and silence in the Panchatantra. Journal of Communication and Religion, 10 (2), 1-11.

Kirkwood, W. G. (1989). Truthfulness as a standard for speech in ancient India. Southern Communication Journal, 54 (3), 213-234.

Kirkwood, W. G. (1990). Shiva's dance at sundown: Implications of Indian aesthetics for poetics and rhetoric. Text and Performance Quarterly, 10 (2), 93-110.

Kirkwood, W. G. (1992). Revealing the mind of the sage: The narrative rhetoric of the Chuang Tzu. Rhetoric Society Quarterly, 22 (3), 6-19.

Kirkwood, W. G. (1997). Indian thought and the intrapersonal consequences of speaking: Implications for ethics in communication. In J. E. Aitken & L. J. Shedletsky (Eds.), Intrapersonal communication processes (pp. 220-226). Annandale, VA/Plymouth, MI: Speech Communication Association/Hayden-McNeil.

Klostermaier, K. K. (1989). A survey of Hinduism. Albany, NY: State University of New York Press.

Lu, X. (1994). The theory of persuasion in Han Fei Tzu and its impact on Chinese communication behaviors. Howard Journal of Communication, 5 (1/2), 108-122.

Lu, X. (1998a). An interface between individualistic and collectivistic orientations in Chinese cultural values and social relations. Howard Journal of Communication, 9 (2), 91-107.

Lu, X. (1998b). Rhetoric in ancient China, fifth to third century B.C.E.: A comparison of classical Greek rhetoric. Columbia, SC: University of South Carolina Press.

Lu, X., & Frank, D. A. (1993). On the study of ancient Chinese rhetoric/bian. Western Journal of Communication, 57 (4), 445-463.

Ma, R. (1993, February). Taoist thinking pattern as reflected in communication. Paper presented at the annual meeting of the Western States Communication Association, Albuquerque, NM.

Miller, B. S. (1986). The Bhagavad Gita: Krishna's counsel in time of war. New York, NY: Bantam Books.

Ng, R. M. C. (1998/1999). The influence of Confucianism on Chinese persuasion: The past, the present, and the future. Human Communication: A Journal of the Pacific and Asian Communication Association, 2 (1), 75-86.

Nordstrom, L. (1979). Zen and the non-duality of communication: The sound of one hand clapping. Communication, 4 (1), 15-27.

Olivelle, P. (1999a). Dharmasutras: The law codes of Apastamba, Gautama, Baudhayana, and Vasistha. New York: Oxford University Press.

Olivelle, P. (1999b). The law code of Manu. New York: Oxford University Press.

Oliver, R. T. (1971). Communication and culture in Ancient India and China. Syracuse, NY: Syracuse University Press.

Tu, W. M. (1981). The "moral universal" from the perspective of East Asian thought. Philosophy East and West, 31 (3), 259-267.

Tu, W. M. (1999). Confucius: The embodiment of faith in humanity. The World and I, 14 (1), 292-305.

Weatherley, R. (2002). Harmony, hierarchy and duty based on morality: The Confucian antipathy toward rights. Journal of Asian Pacific Communication, 12 (2), 245-267.

(1) The Brahman was his mouth, of both his arms was the Rajanya made. His thighs became the Vaisya, from his feet the Sudra was produced (Griffith, 2007).

(2) The excerpts from aphorisms (sutras) quoted are from Olivelle's (2004a, 2004b) translations of the Dharmasutras and the Law code of Manu. The excerpts include both direct quotes and paraphrases. "A" stands for Apasthamba, "G" for Gautama, "B" for Baudhaayana, and "Va" for Vaashista.

(3) For a critical introduction to the Manusmriti, see Doniger (1991).

Correspondence to:

Ramesh N. Rao, Ph.D., Professor

Department of Communication Studies and Theatre

Longwood University

201 High Street, Farmville, VA 23909

Email: raorn@longwood. edu

Phone: 434-395-2901

Fax: 434-395-2680
COPYRIGHT 2013 Edmondson Intercultural Enterprises
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2013 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Rao, Ramesh N.
Publication:China Media Research
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Jan 1, 2013
Previous Article:Personhood, agency, and communication: a Buddhist viewpoint.
Next Article:Components of news media credibility among professional administrative staff in Malaysia.

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2019 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters