Namaste, What does it mean to be true to oneself? My vague understanding of the phrase is that one should always stand by what one believes in. But then, what if we are believing in something that is not right, to begin with? How can one be true to oneself in the right way?
Dear Vidya, Namaste!
A marvelous question! How to be true to ourselves, when, and when not?
Yes, we need to be true to our Self, but no, not to our little self, which is usually driven by our desires, by ignorance, by ego tendencies. The question is always: what does my soul, my true Self, want? To that we want to be unshakably true, like a rock. No matter what society says, what parents say, what friends say: if you hear the call of your soul, go on alone if necessary, even if they should call you a fool, crazy, mislead. Be true to yourself!
On the other hand, being true to one’s foolishness, to one’s lower self, would be... well, foolish. That lower self needs to be transformed, not defended. Only a spiritually ignorant person proclaims, "It’s okay to be angry, and who are you to tell me it isn’t – it’s a matter of being true to myself." Or: "This is the way I am, and I am true to that!" Not wise!
So we have a tricky task at hand: to distinguish what in ourselves we need to be true to, with all our might, and what we do not want to be true to. How to distinguish? The teachings of the ages are clear: everything that takes us onto the upward path comes from our higher Self, and we should stick to it, be true to it.
But the teachings go further. "Be true to yourself": Swami Kriyananda teaches us to be nobody’s copy, but to be fully ourselves, on a high level. He writes: "Be true to yourself, to your own tastes, your own views of right and wrong." He told me personally: "Think for yourself! Ananda doesn’t want yes-men!" He also encourages people of Ananda to be original, if that word "original" is understood in the right way: coming from our origin, from deep within, instead of from our ego. He even writes: "Ananda encourages eccentricity." This is a pretty strong statement to contemplate! He means: if your true Self makes you be different from others, even from others at Ananda, or from your friends, then definitively be different, yes, be true to yourself. "Dare to be different! Dare to be free." (This is a song of his.) This applies not only to Ananda, but to you too, Vidya.
On another level "being true to oneself" means to accept our shortcomings honestly, without needing to deny them, being ashamed of them, feeling bad about them, or hiding them from God. If we hide them we can’t transform them. Yogananda writes for example: "Above all, be true to yourself. You see, the old orthodox way is to deny temptation. When you are boiling with temptation, that doesn’t mean that you are evil, but you must control that temptation." A good way is to say: "Ok, let me be truthful with myself: I have this tendency, now let me see what I can do about it."
Being true to oneself also means to be true to one’s personal high ideals and convictions. Our world needs people who stand up to be counted, defending their high ideals. This requires inner strength.
Swami Kriyananda also gives a lot of emphasis to being true to one’s word, and to the promises we make. That too is a part of being true to oneself.
To finish, here are two wonderful quotes from Yogananda: "Be true to yourself. If you are true to yourself, God will be true to you." "By being true to yourself and a true friend to others, you gain the friendship of God."
In divine friendship, I hope you will be true to your Self, jayadev