The teaching of the Buddha is named as the Dhamma. The essence of the Dhamma is the Four Noble Truths. These are Dukkha or the unsatisfactory nature of all phenomenal existence, the cause of Dukkha, the cessation of Dukkha and the Noble Eight Fold Path leading to the cessation of Dukkkha. The first three Noble Truths explain the Budddhist view of life, while the practice of Buddhism is in the Noble Path of virtue, concentration and wisdom.In this path under virtue there is right speech along with right action and right livelihood. Right speech has four items from which a good Buddhist should abstain while cultivating and developing their positive qualities. They are,
- Abstain from falsehood
- Tale bearing
- Harsh language
- Idle talk
The first one was especially emphasized by the Buddha. He declared, as reported in the Karaniya Metta Sutta, that one who always speaks the truth is transparently straight. He is sincere, upright and dependable. In order to gain goodwill or promote his own interest he will not deviate from the truth. He may appear to be rigid and inflexible but the truth is indivisible. The Buddha always spoke the truth and for this reason he was called Sucanama, he whose name is truth.
The five precepts prescribed by the Buddha for constant observation by his disciples includes the abstention from falsehood. The other precepts are the refraining from killing, stealing, sexual misconduct and intoxicants. in here, the inclusion of abstinence from falsehood among the five precepts indicate its importance.
The main reason behind the violation of this noble virtue is the intention to deceive. If one says something false in the firm belief that it is true, there is no breach of this principle as the intention of deception is absent. A deceptive intention is present in false speech.
Buddha Advice to Prince Rahula
On several occasions the value of speaking the truth was highlighted by the Buddha. His first lesson to son Rahula, a seven years old novice at that time, was on the worthlessness of falsehood. The Buddha said to Prince Rahula,
Rahula you should train yourself,
I will purify my bodily acts by repeated reflection,
I will purify my verbal acts by repeated reflection,
I will purify my mental acts by repeated reflection,
Ambalattika Rahulovada Sutta– Majjhima Nikaya
He told Rahula that anyone who is not ashamed to lie is capable of doing any evil. Rahula was advised to train himself not utter a falsehood even for fun. Having shown Rahula a water-vessel that was totally empty, the Buddha pointed out that the recluse-ship of one who was not ashamed to lie was as empty as that vessel.
Don’t be like this
Refraining from falsehood alone is inadequate. Often encourage our friends, servants and even kids to utter untruths on our behalf for our advantages. Such conduct is perhaps even more reprehensible than direct falsehood since it encourages others to develop an evil practice.
As a mundane level it may appear that one could materially gain by falsehood. However, on reflection it becomes apparent that most of the time those to whom untruths are addressed are aware that they are not being told the truth. As a matter of courtesy or as respect for an elder or a person in a high position, a falsehood may not be directly challenged. If one is attempting to take another for a ride on the back of an effective falsehood, it is most likely that with time the falsehood would become apparent to whose ever it may be told.
For Buddhists the commitment to truth has an added significance well outside the realm of morality. A Buddhist is seeking the truth or a correct vision of reality to be grasped by wisdom and knowledge. Thus, the seeker of the truth should be truthful himself. So the adoption of truthful speech more than being a loyalty to an ethical principle is a firm stand in favour of reality as opposed to illusion.
Further, the Buddha strongly censured falsehood also for the reason that people could live in society in an atmosphere of mutual trust when they have reason to believe that others speak the truth. Widespread falsehood would destroy the foundation for trust leading to a degeneration from social solidarity to chaos. Falsehood also tends to generate further lies to defend one’s credibility and paint a consistent picture of events.
Falsehood leads you to evil. Falsehood in speech could arise from different motivations namely, greed hatred or delusion, which are the principle reasons for the unsatisfactory nature of all life and our continuation in the rough waters of Samsara, the re-birth cycle and deaths whose beginning is inconceivable.
When the objective of a lie is for the personal advantages for oneself or those dear to oneself, be it material wealth, social position or honor. It is motivated by greed. When a falsehood is stated with the intention to hurt or damage others, the motivation is hatred. Similarly, false speech for the sake of colorful humor or exaggeration or under statement to stimulate effect and absorbing interest would have delusion as its main motive. The latter is a less pernicious kind of falsehood where the motive is neither greed nor hatred.
It may be possible at times to convey a falsehood without actually engaging in speech. A false indication could be given by total silence or a nod of the head or the wave of the hand. Such conduct would also be a violation of the mind of this noble virtue.
And there is no special time for the practice of this important virtue. One has to practice it in the course of one’s normal activities. Thus, the excuse given by many that there is no time to engage in meditation will not hold water with regard to the practice of truthfulness.
Like this, it is imperatives that a Buddhist ensures that he does not resort to falsehood either in speech or in conduct. Substantial exaggeration and under-statement should also be avoided. While refraining from falsehood every effort should be made to develop and establish the positive virtue of being truthful at all times. So let us resolve to be always truthful to ourselves as well as others.
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“Follow not the tawdry path. Live not in thoughtless. Hold not untrue views. Stay not long in worldly existence”