A seraphic saint, who lived in a forest, often sat in the shade of a huge tree, immersed in deep contemplation. One morning, when the saint was musing on the joys of meditation, he heard the sound of fast approaching footsteps. The saint was so calm that he did not even look around. However, in a few moments, a man, his face distorted by fear, halted in front of him.
In an imploring voice he said: “Honored saint, supreme lover of truth, please do not reveal to my pursuing enemies my hiding place in the tree above you, or they will kill me.” Saying this, the terrified man raced to the top of the tree and hid.
The saint remained silent, saying neither yea nor nay to the frightened man’s request. So the man naturally thought that silence meant consent, and that the saint would not betray him.
However, as the man lay hidden atop the tree, the saint began to struggle within himself as to what he should do. He followed the scriptures strictly and literally. He thought: “The scriptures say not to speak an untruth, so if questioned by this man’s enemies, I could not say that I do not know where he is. No, I would rather cut off my tongue than indulge in lies.”
Then he thought of the pursued man’s request and his likely murder if he spoke the truth. The saint at last decided what to do: “If the bandits question me about seeing this man, I shall say: ‘I know where he is but I will not tell you. Do what you like.’”
Thus the saint sat prepared to meet the difficult predicament. At last the bandit leader arrived with his retinue. Looking around and seeing only the saint, he said gruffly: “Hey angel, I will not molest you if you will tell us if you know where the man we seek is hiding.”
The saint thought that by remaining silent the bandit leader would leave. Instead, the bandit leader began to beat him. When severe beatings did no good, the bandit leader brandished his sword, saying: “If you don’t answer in five minutes, your body will be headless!”
The saint struggled inwardly as to what to do. After five minutes he replied: “I know where your man is hiding but I won’t tell you.”
“Well,” the bandit leader replied jeeringly. “Flashing the sword has made you break your silence, and now you will tell me the truth.” With that, he cut off one of the saint’s hands. Tauntingly he said: “Tell the truth within five minutes or you will also lose your head!”
Searching for scriptural passages to guide him, the saint remembered one: “Protect your own self above all things. Above all you must achieve your highest ambition of finding God. If you die for not telling the truth you are a fool.”
So, at the end of five minutes, when the bandit leader was about to chop off his head, the saint pointed to where the doomed man was hiding. Immediately one of the bandits clambered up the tree, dragged the unfortunate man down, and hacked him to pieces. Before the man died, he shouted at the saint: “You will see Hades for this!”
But the saint thought he had done his duty in saving his own greater, more serviceable soul. He rejected the dying man’s curse as foolish.
Years later, when the saint consciously left his body in the ecstasy of cosmic consciousness, his astral body arrived in the Kingdom of Heaven. Jama, the keeper of Hell, visited him in Heaven and told him that before he could live in Heaven, he must witness the loathsome Hades.
The saint replied: “Honored Jama, this is outrageous. I have lived a moral life. With mathematical accuracy, I have weighed each action from the standpoint of truth. I have always followed truth, and performed truthful and just actions. I know I don’t deserve the punishment of visiting Hades, even for a short time.”
The great Jama replied: “Honored sir, you are right about yourself in everything except for one act. “Why is it that you were foolish enough to get your hand cut off, and a man murdered, for stating a fact? I am afraid that you are confused about the difference between a statement of truth and the pronouncement of a fact.”
Jama went on: “A just and truthful action always results in good, whereas your statement of a fact, which resulted in great harm to yourself and to that man, was far from ultimate truth. Why didn’t you point in the wrong direction in the forest and save yourself from harm, and also save the man’s life?
“Even if you had committed the sin of uttering a falsehood, that would have been less sinful than the horrible sin of being an instrument in the murder of an innocent man. By your silence, you let him think you would protect him and deprived him of the opportunity of seeking another hiding place unknown to you. Then, to save yourself, you betrayed him.”
Jama continued: “Honored saint, know that a truthful action always brings good results and is different from a statement of a fact which may produce good or evil. Always give preference to an action that results in good. To say, ‘Hey, Mr. Lame Man,’ or, ‘Hey, Mr. Blind Man,’ to a lame man or a blind man may be a statement of a fact, but it would be untruthful because not conducive to any good.
“To say: ‘Hello, Perfect One,’ or ‘Hello Strong Man,’ or ‘Hello, Man of Spiritual Vision’ may not be statements of fact, but they are wholesome in their effect. Therefore, they are the truth.
“At the same time, remember that it is not good to indulge in cheap lies. Suppose I secretly saw you meditating in your room and knocked on your door and inquired: ‘Mr. Saint, what were you doing?’ If you replied: ‘I was eating bananas,’ you would have sacrificed my trust by lying to be modest. If you had answered my question with: ‘Well, I was just a little busy,’ I couldn’t accuse you of lying nor could I blame you for that evasion.
“Honored saint, one should avoid cheap prevarication for by this habit you lose the trust of everyone. One may distort facts only when it is a question of life and death, and an unjustly accused person can be saved.
“One should develop the habit of speaking the truth without unnecessarily advertising all one’s secrets. For if you tell your weaknesses to false friends, they will poke fun at you whenever the occasion arises.”
Concluding, the great Jama said: “Avoid repeating unpleasant facts. Always speak and act in a way that will bring lasting happiness to yourself and others.”