I would like to know what is considered a lie in Hinduism? Sometimes we speak good but we speak the same thing in a different way which appears as a lie to the listener but it's not really a lie.

In Hinduism, is speaking lie, adharma?

Some situations however force us to speak lies in order to save the good people.

For example, there is a story that i have heard in which a hunter hunting for an animal comes to a Sage and asks whether he has seen it or not.

Sage says, "what the eyes can see, the mouth can't speak and what the mouth can speak, the eyes can't see".

He didn't utter a lie because he was intelligent and he escaped from the situation.

But everyone may not exhibit such intelligence. Is speaking lie in that situation considered adharma?

Also, what about silly things like:

  1. When someone asks what's the time, saying 9:00 when it is 8:58.
  2. Showing answers to a friend (who might fail) in an exam.
  3. Pretending as speaking on phone inorder to make others believe that he is actually speaking on the phone (though he isn't lying to them explicitly, it is only a matter of perception of the one who sees). Is it adharma?

The above ones (lies) don't necessarily harm them, but still is it considered adharma?

What do Vedas and Lord Krishna say about this?

  • 1
    Yes, telling lie is adharma in hinduism. But it is also said that " The lie told for someone's virtue ,welfare or comfort, isn't lie anymore". So not always telling lie is adharma Commented Nov 30, 2014 at 9:16
  • 6
    dharma is translated as 'right conduct' or 'religion' or 'righteousness' but actually all these are only partial translations. there is no word for dharma other than dharma itself. Dharma means being True to one's nature. Adharma means acting contrary to one's nature. As for the three cases that is mentioned in the question, when in doubt, always see the intention. God loves good intentions. Did you show answers to your friend with genuine desire to help? or was it motivated by desire to show off your 'altruistic' tendency and 'disregard for society'? What was your motivation. God sees that :)
    – Sai
    Commented Dec 1, 2014 at 18:00
  • I don't want to hurt anyone knowing fully He is telling lies for his own benefits ... But still he hurts me... And even after Performing does not give my rewards .. Instead insults me....If there is God, than God has to take cars of these types of People and help his real devotees . If even we do the same ...and hurt him Back , Than what's the difference between A Good and a Bad person ??? Manmohan Singh
    – user7583
    Commented Sep 4, 2016 at 6:12
  • @JavaTechnical: Really good and relevant (w.r.t. current trend) que.
    – Jatin
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 4:38
  • What is lying for the sake of Brahmana?
    – user9554
    Commented Jul 9, 2017 at 12:35

3 Answers 3


First lying is adharma; although you may not be hurting someone else, you are hurting yourself.

One should always tell the truth, but one should never tell a harsh truth. A harsh truth is a truth that is hurtful or cause offense in some way or perhaps feeds your own ego (this is really being hurtful to your own self).

This does not mean you should lie. You can say something that can be interpreted in several ways, or an evasive answer, or reply with another question (example: 'Who am I to know about that?'), or you can be silent. This is supported in scripture.

In your 3 examples:

1) not a lie; unless you are gaining some unknown advantage by saying so.

2) Morally wrong. Completely.

3) Depends on why you are doing. If you're trying to avoid a harsh truth, then no. If you're just lying with your actions instead of words, then yes it is a lie. A lie is a lie is a lie, doesn't matter if you use words or actions.

Swami Nikhilananda in his writings on Hindu ethics says:

Besides the objective duties based on the castes and stages of life, there are laid down the common duties of men, the sadharanadharma, which are the foundation of the moral life. Manu, the lawgiver, enumerates these common duties as follows: steadfastness (dhairya), forgiveness (kshama), good conduct (dama), avoidance of theft (chauryabhava), control of the senses (indriyanigraha), wisdom (dhi), learning (vidya), truthfulness (satya) and absense of anger (akrodha)...the aim of Hindu ethics is to enable a man ultimately to conquer his lower self and attain freedom from passion, desire, and attachment.

All Hindu philosophers regardless of their conceptions of the supreme end of man, admit the empirical reality of the individual, endowed with volition, desire, will, conscience or consciousness of duty, emotion, etc. The goal of Hindu ethics is to train these faculties in such a way that they shall lead the individual to the realization of Moksha, or Liberation. Therefore all the schools of philosophy have described the virtues and their opposites in detail. It is expected of the moral agent that he should follow the former and shun the latter. We propose to discuss the virtues and their opposites according to the classification of Nyaya and of Patanjali's system.

Vatsyayana, in his commentary on the Nyaya aphorisms, classifies will as impious (papatmika) and auspicious (subha). The impious will leads to unrighteousness (adharma), and the auspicious will, to righteousness (dharma). Righteousness, it is necessary to add, is conductive to the Highest Good, whereas unrighteousness produces evil. The purpose of ethics is to subdue the impious and to manifest the righteous will.

Unrighteousness may take three forms, namely, physical, verbal, and mental, depending upon the condition of its functioning. Physical unrighteousness manifests itself asa cruelty (himsa), theft (steya), and sexual perversion (pratisiddha maithuna); verbal unrighteousness, as falsehood (mithya), rudeness (katukti), insinuation (suchana), and gossip (asambaddha); mental unrighteousness, as ill-will (paradroha), covetousness (paradravyabhipsa), and irreverance (nastikya).

The practice of continence, highly extolled by all the philosophers and mystics of India, implies, besides the literal meaning of the vow, abstention from lewdness in thought, speech, and action through any of the sense-organs. Through the practice of this virtue, one develops the capacity for subtle spiritual perception.

  • hurting yourself is also a adharm as said every human has god inside, So when you hurt yourself that will hurt to the God inside you which is consider as a adharm too.
    – Esha
    Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 6:57
  • 3
    @Esha - you can't hurt God. Adharma takes you away from God inside (pravritti). Dharma takes you towards God inside (nivritti). And yes, hurting your self is adharma. Commented Dec 2, 2014 at 7:41
  • @SwamiVishwananda If you know about the Nyaya Sutras, could you take a look at my question here: hinduism.stackexchange.com/q/6912/36 Commented Apr 25, 2015 at 0:16

Is lying adharma? What do Kṛṣṇa and others say about it?

Lying by itself is not adharma. The intent behind the lie is important in determining whether it's dharma or adharma. In a life-threatening situation to protect oneself, one can lie or just remain silent (i.e., not speak the truth).

In Karṇa Parva of the Mahābhārata, Kṛṣṇa, speaking on truth, dharma, keeping one's vows etc., narrates the following story to Arjuna.

There lived an ascetic by the name Kauśika who's taken a vow to always speak the truth (no matter what). He quickly became famous due to that fact. One day, a group of people, being chased by robbers, ran from the front of his house into the woods. When robbers inquired the whereabouts of those people, Kauśika being very truthful, points them exactly which way the people went. The robbers then proceed in that direction, search out all those people and end up robbing and killing them. Since Kauśika was partly responsible for the death of the innocent people at the hands of cruel robbers, he goes to hell.

In consequence of that great sin consisting in the words spoken, Kauśika, ignorant of the subtilities of morality, fell into a grievous hell, even as a foolish man, of little knowledge, and unacquainted with the distinctions of morality, falleth into painful hell by not having asked persons of age for the solution of his doubts.

There are other examples like Yudhiṣṭhira lying in the battlefield to deceive Droṇa who seemed invincible when he was launching an array of weapons on the Pāṇḍava army.

And in Śānti-parva, responding to Yudhiṣṭhira's query: "How should a person, who wishes to follow virtue, act?", Bhīṣma says:

यस्मिन्यथा वर्तते यो मनुष्य: स्तस्मिंस्तथा वर्तितव्यं स धर्मः ।
मायाचारो मायया वर्तितव्य; साध्वाचार साधुना प्रत्युदय ।।

yasmin yathā vartate yo manuṣyas; tasmiṃs tathā vartitavyaṃ sa dharmaḥ ।
māyācāro māyayā vartitavyaḥ; sādhvācāraḥ sādhunā pratyudeyaḥ ।।

One should treat another as the latter does to him. A deceitful person should be thwarted with deceit, while an honest man should be treated with honesty.

In Rāmāyaṇa too there's an instance where Rāma tells Daśaratha's minister Sumantra to lie should the king question him later why he'd ignored his order to stop the chariot.

Daśaratha exclaimed saying "Stop!" while Rāma called out "Go on, proceed!" (in that way) Sumantra's mind became confused, as in between two (opposing) whirl pools.

Rāma said to him: "You can say to the king that you did not hear (his call), even when scolded (later). Seeing their grief for a long time is quite unbearable."

All the above examples suggest that it's alright to lie sometimes to fulfill a bigger, dhārmic objective.

But the majority of time, one should follow dharma and satya. Manu defines the ten characteristics of dharma as follows. Truth (satya) is also one of them.

धृतिः क्षमा दमोऽस्तेयं शौचमिन्द्रियनिग्रहः ।
धीर्विद्या सत्यमक्रोधो दशकं धर्मलक्षणम् ॥ ९२ ॥

dhṛtiḥ kṣamā damo'steyaṃ śaucamindriyanigrahaḥ |
dhīrvidyā satyamakrodho daśakaṃ dharmalakṣaṇam || 92 ||

(1) Steadiness (2) Forgiveness, (3) Self-control, (4) Abstention from unrighteous appropriation, (5) Purity, (6) Control of the Sense-organs, (7) Discrimination, (8) Knowledge, (9) Truthfulness, and (10) Absence of anger,—these are the ten-fold forms of duty. — [Manu-smṛti 6.92]

Taittirīya Upaniṣad (1.11) also says:

सत्यं वद । धर्मं चर ॥ २ ॥

satyaṃ vada | dharmaṃ cara || 2 ||

2. Speak the true. Follow Dharma.

  • For completeness you may also cite this source, which were originally suggested by you only.
    – iammilind
    Commented Nov 28, 2016 at 9:14

What is exactly a lie?

In current time "Lie = wrong information". If that naive definition has to be believed, then all the computers & machines are truthful. Krishna distinguishes "truth" as utterable and "lie" as unutterable.

Is speaking lie Adharma?

Yes. Because truth is effortless & lie requires effort. But there are some special situations, where you already foresee a greater danger, the truth itself will take effort & lie will become effortless. Be aware of such situations.

Both of above are sourced in the following passage from Karna Parva, when Arjuna was about to kill Yudhishtira (as also discussed here) & Krishna avoids that situation:

I will now tell thee, O son of Pandu, this mystery connected with morality, this mystery that was declared by Bhishma, by the righteous Yudhishthira, by Vidura otherwise called Kshatri, and by Kunti, of great celebrity. I will tell thee that mystery in all its details. Listen to it, O Dhananjaya! One who speaks truth is righteous. There is nothing higher than truth. Behold, however, truth as practised is exceedingly difficult to be understood as regards its essential attributes. Truth may be unutterable, and even falsehood may be utterable where falsehood would become truth and truth would become falsehood.

Hence, one should keep above differentiation (utterable vs unutterable) in mind. e.g.:

  • A person with terminal illness is often not told about his/her illness to avoid incurring stress for that person
  • If a wife/girlfriend, after lot of make-up looks ugly, & if she asks how does she look. Then telling "You indeed look ugly" is not truthful either in most situations!

In which situation, lie becomes utterable? What do Vedas and Lord Krishna say about this?

Different times have their different classifications of when the lie is utterable. The rule of thumb is, when one foresees greater misery/calamity coming because of so called "truth" (or silence) then one should avoid it. There are many stories around it.

Bhishma & Krishna agree on these matters as suggested below:

On an occasion of marriage, or of enjoying a woman, or when life is in danger, or when one's entire property is about to be taken away, or for the sake of a BrAhmana, falsehood may be uttered. [Krishna - Karna Parva]
A falsehood spoken in jest is not sinful; nor one that is spoken to a woman. O king, nor one that is spoken on an occasion of marriage; nor one spoken for benefiting one's preceptor; nor one spoken for saving one's own life. These five kinds of falsehood in speech, it has been said, are not sinful. [Bhishma - Santi Parva]

  • What do you mean by lying for the sake of Brahmana?
    – user9554
    Commented Sep 19, 2017 at 16:32

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