Dear President Biden, Vice President Harris, and Members of the 117th Congress,
The Hindu tradition in which I was raised taught me from a very early age that words have power and are consequential. From my grandparents and parents, I heard, again and again, the story of the Ramayana in which Rama, the prince, went into a homeless exile for fourteen years for the sake of his father’s promised word. I memorized the famous words of the text that “one’s word must be redeemed, even at the cost of one’s life.” Fidelity to truth is one of the highest moral obligations of Hindu life, and the sacred teaching that “truth alone triumphs, not untruth,” is enshrined in the Veda.
Hindu worship services conclude with an ancient prayer for truth:
Lead us from untruth to truth
Lead us from darkness to light
Lead us from death to immortal life
The perilous disdain for truth in our public life has led me to see this prayer not only as a supplication to the divine, but as a profound statement about values that are necessary for our flourishing. In the absence of these values we languish in a death-like darkness and not prosper in the radiance of light and life. A disregard for truth is never a neutral act. To reject truth is to live in untruth. Truth and untruth are not abstract philosophical concepts, but consequential alternatives that always confront us.
“Fidelity to truth is one of the highest moral obligations of Hindu life…”
We pray to be led from untruth to truth, because untruth does not nourish goodness and wellbeing in our individual and social lives. Untruth never serves justice and the common good since there are always suffering victims, even across generations. Untruth assails us, threatening to normalize and blunt our moral sensibilities into passive resignation. Whenever truth is rejected, it is always because there are interests, personal and corporate, that take precedence over truth. Prominent among these are the greed for power and profit and the false belief that we lift ourselves by crushing others.
“Lead us from untruth to truth,” are six profound words that can unite us across our differences. Together, let us renew our commitment to the light of truth that promotes the good life for all and resists the injustice and oppression of untruth.
Professor of Religion
Saint Olaf College