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White lie a la Balinese  

by on Monday, 9 July 2007No Comment | 1,073 views

To shed a better light on the topic of ‘white lie’, let us check first what Oxford Advance Learners Dictionary has to say on ‘lie’ and ‘white lie.’ In the context of untruthfulness, as a noun, the word ‘lie’ can be defined as ‘a statement made by somebody knowing that it is not true’ and as a verb, it is defined as ‘to say or write something that you know is not true. For the word ‘white lie,’ this dictionary defines it as ‘a harmless or small lie, especially one that you tell to avoid hurting somebody.’

Now, we can proceed to the Balinese concept of ‘white lie.’ There are five types of lies that are justified by the Hindu, known as Panca Nrta. Panca Nrta stated that you can tell a lie for five purposes or circumstances which are to save our own, or other’s life, property or belonging; to persuade sick person to take medicine, to defeat the enemy, to joke with somebody, joking, and to praise your lover.

The application of this five ‘justified’ lies can be found in the great epic of Mahabharata, especially during the war between Pandava and Kurava. In this war the great Dronacharya, the teacher of both Pandava and Kurava, was on the Kurava side, and Pandava could not defeat him. At the most desperate moment, Sri Krishna persuaded Pandava to tell a lie to Dronacharya in order to diminish his fighting spirit by telling him that his only son Aswatthama, was killed by Bhima. The main justification offered by Sri Krishna was ‘it is allowed to tell a lie to the enemy, it is justified by Veda.’ At the end, Pandava told the lie to Dronacharya, he believed the lie and lied down his weapon and meditated, when he was deep in his meditation, Dristadyumna, the general of Pandava’s army killed him.

An old Balinese saying says that ‘musuh wenang lenyokin,’ which means ‘enemies deserve to be deceived.’ It is not considered as a sin to tell a lie that is based on the frame of Panca Nrta (five justified lies).

The western version of white lie is done for benefit of others, while the Balinese white lie is done for benefit of the liar and others. To the Balinese, it is alright to tell a lie as long as it is confined in the area of good causes of Panca Nrta.

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