सत्यस्य वचनं श्रेयः सत्यादपि हितं भवेत्।
यद्भूतहितमत्यन्तम् एतत्सत्यं मतं मम॥१२-३१६-१३॥
—महाभारते शान्तिपर्वणि ३१६-१३
satyasya vacanaṁ śreyaḥ satyādapi hitaṁ bhavet|
yadbhūtahitamatyantam etatsatyaṁ mataṁ mama||12-316-13||
—mahābhārate śāntiparvaṇi 316-13
It is always proper to speak the truth. It is better again to speak what is beneficial than to speak what is true. I hold that that is truth which is fraught with the greatest benefit in all creatures (This is said by Devarṣi Nārada).
The saying “satyādapi hitaṁ bhavet” is frequently misunderstood. The scriptures do not say that truth should be sacrificed in view of what is beneficial, for such view will militate with the saying that there is nothing higher than truth. The saying has reference to those exceptional instances where truth becomes a source of positive harm. The story of the Rishi who spoke the truth respecting the place where certain travellers lay concealed, when questioned by certain robbers who were for killing the travellers, is an instance to the point. The goldsmith’s son who died with a falsehood on his lips for allowing his lawful prince to escape from the hands of his pursuers did a meritorious act of loyalty. Then, again, the germ of the utilitarian theory may be detected in the second line of this verse (from Reference 2).