Many Shades Of Truth

Nov 12, 20155 min read

Sigiri Graffiti No. 395 reads, 'Hama jene ran-vanun dut-mo yi boru kiyat". Pranavitana translation goes as "We saw the golden-coloured ones, thus everyone utters false words". Clough and also Carter translated 'boru' as 'lie', 'falsehood' and 'untruth'. Prof. Senarat Paranavitana explains the term "boru", which he translated as false wrods in his 'Sigiri Graffiti'. "The word 'boru'..may not, in the 9th century, have had so depreciatory a meaning as is attached to it in the modern language".

He believed that it would have meant 'imaginary' because when the visitors saw the paintings of golden-coloured beauties, they could have imagined they were alive. In his opinion, it is a compound of 'bo' (Sanskrit 'bahu' - many) and 'ru' ('rupa'- form/image), then it means 'manifold image' or 'multiple image'.

Prof. W. S. Karunatilleke also gives the terms 'not true' and 'falsehood', and gives the etymology as 'Bahu-rupa' many forms, and that in Tamil it is 'Purai'. But there does not appear any connection with Pali, where falsehood is 'Musa'.

He quotes from 'Natya Sastra' that the manifold image is 'Rasa', and from Dandin, that erotic sentiment is 'by being united with the multiplicity of images'. With the first contact with an object, the mind could form its own continued images, which may not be based on reality, that is what could be considered as 'imagination' and the word 'boru'. Parnavitana brings up another example, 'keppa' (derived from 'kalpa') and says it originally meant 'fiction' (i.e. mental construction).

Alberto Moravia wrote L'attenzione in 1965, which was translated as 'The Lie'. It is about a novelist watching himself writing a novel. Times Literary Supplement said, "The Lie is concerned with truth, with reality...". Moravia is not the only author who used the title 'The Lie'. Chad Kuldgen wrote The Lie in 1997, describing "the wild and amorous universe of college today". Joshua Leonard produced the film 'The Lie' (2011) about a man who tells a lie to get out of work. The most recent is Helen Dunmore's love story titled 'The Lie' (2014).

Perhaps all works of fiction could have the title 'The Lie' because it is what writers create out of their imagination. There cannot be any truth in a work of fiction, or it becomes a biography or a factual report. But then there is also the saying 'Truth is stranger than fiction". It is not possible to draw a line between truth and a lie, not only in our fiction, but even in our history. Most of the history of the world had been written centuries after the events, and we do not have any archaeological evidence to confirm many of the incidents had occurred, or if some of the historical personages had ever lived.

There are even autobiographies which are far from the truth, but which we cannot consider as lies. Then it is difficult sometimes whether to group them with a work like Moravia's Lie. An autobiographer has to be careful not to offend the people around him, and not to harm the image he has built up, so he often avoids mentioning important events, or embellish others. Then there are other autobiographies, which read like their own works of fiction, like Mark Twain's autobiography, which was published one hundred years after his death. We do not know if he is still pulling our leg.

We face the same situation with paintings and sculptures of historical characters. Most often they had been first created very much later, only from the descriptions which had come down by word of mouth. In that sense such images would be nowhere near an 'Identikit' image created by a police artist, working on details given by a witness, and using most sophisticated computer software. Yet we do not consider them as lies. We do not consider as lies or falsehoods, even the recreation of pre-historic scenes like the diorama of the two people walking away from the volcanic eruption 3.6 million years ago.

Today many of us consider Wikipedia as the absolute truth, as the omniscient organism. Yet not everything posted on Wikipedia is true. The best example is the Bicholim Conflict. Wikipedia described a war in a region called Bicholim in Maharashtra, India, in 1640 between Marathi forces and the Portuguese. It was posted in 2007, and continued to be accepted as the true happening till end of 2012. When it was realized that there never had been such a war. Today it is listed in Wikipedia under the List of Hoaxes. Based on this incident, should we accept all the wars described in history books, like the Kalinga War by Asoka.

All religions declare the importance of the truth. "And ye shall know the truth, and truth shall make you free". (John 8:32). "Truth cannot be suppressed and is the ultimate victor" (Yajur Veda). "And whenever you give your word, say the truth" (Al-An'aam 6:152) The Fourth Precept undertaken by Buddhists the world over should be a precept to be observed by all humanity. We could all follow it, irrespective of our religious beliefs and faiths, because it is a guidance that would have been given by all founders of religions - "Refrain from incorrect speech".

'Incorrect speech', covers not only the lies, falsehoods and untruths, but also half-truths and distorting or concealing the truth. It is only when we use the terms truth and lie, that we cannot draw a line between them, because people could argue that truth comes in varying shades of gray. But incorrect speech is very clear and covers what is not true, what is half true and even harsh, violent, hateful speech.

Fiction, poetry, and art should remain within "Samma Vacha" (correct speech) even while stepping outside "truth", using 'boru' to mean imaginary.

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