Vows, commitments and modern life: Pratimoksha vows: Abandoning lying

To abandon lying

The objects of lying are mostly included within the eight:  what is seen, what is heard, what is experienced, what is known; and what is not seen, what is not heard, what is not experienced, and what is not known. The intention requires that we must know we are lying, unintentionally providing mistaken information is not lying.  We must be determined to lie, and we must be motivated by delusion.  Lies can sometimes take the form of non-verbal actions such as making physical gestures, by writing, or even by remaining silent.  The action of lying is complete when the person to whom the lie is directed has understood our meaning and believes what we have said or indicated.  If the other person does not understand, then our action is not complete.

Of all the Pratimoksha downfalls, I think this one is our most frequent.  Most of us lie all of the time, directly or indirectly, in big and in subtle ways.  A very fun way of seeing this is to rent the movie Liar Liar with Jim Carey.  In the movie, I can’t remember why, but he has to always tell the exact truth.  This helps show us the many different ways we lie throughout our day because we see how we would likely lie in those situations.  In a similar way, it is a very useful exercise to at least once a month take an entire day to focus on just this one aspect of our practice of moral discipline.  Make a concerted effort to pay attention that you never mislead people, even slightly, and like Jim Carey you have to always tell the truth no matter what the consequences.

Will this get us into trouble with others when they hear what we really think?  Yes, it will.  So we might say, “then wouldn’t it be better to not say anything to them so as to not upset them?”  In the short run, that might be true, but that is not a good enough answer.  The correct answer is we need to change what we think about others so that we can tell everyone what we really think, and instead of that making them upset it makes them feel loved and cared for.  We can always tell the truth if we only have loving kindness in our heart. 

I think it is also useful to make a distinction between lying and speaking non-truths.  The difference usually turns around whether there is delusion present in our mind or not.  Not telling your kids what you got them for Christmas, or even telling them something that is not true, is not lying.  Failing to mention that you are going to the Dharma center or to a festival to your relative who thinks you have joined some cult and you know saying something would just upset them is not lying, it is being skillful.  Ultimately, there is no objective truth, so the question arises what then is a valid basis for establishing the truth.  Geshe-la, Venerable Tharchin and Gen-la Losang all say (in one manner or another) that “what is true or not true is not the point, what matters is what is most beneficial to believe.”  For example, we might say strongly believing we are the deity or that we have taken on all of the suffering or living beings or that we have purified all of our negative karma are lies because they are not true.  This is not the point.  The point is what is most beneficial to believe.  Venerable Tharchin explains that from a Dharma point of view, what establishes what is true is “what is most beneficial to believe.”  So if it is beneficial to believe something, it is truth.  It may not be objectively true, but it is a belief that moves in the direction of ultimate truth.  In other words, believing any idea that takes us in the direction of ultimate truth can be established as “truth,” and so saying or thinking it is not lying.  Helping others believe these things is not lying, it is wise compassion. 

But if we are misleading others for selfish reasons, or out of anger, fear or attachment, then there is no doubt we are lying.  We need to know the difference.


5 thoughts on “Vows, commitments and modern life: Pratimoksha vows: Abandoning lying

  1. In Liar Liar, Jim Carrey can’t lie because his little son made a birthday wish that his dad couldn’t lie for a whole day, when his dad had let him down, again, and on his birthday. For some vague ‘film’ reason, the wish came true. It’s a great film, it does show how facilely some people lie over and over and don’t even think about the consequences, and that it becomes such a habit it’s almost impossible to stop. Also the idea that lawyers lie for a living!
    I find it extremely hard to lie, ever since I was caught out in one (actually a harmless one) when I was a kid, by my best friend, in front of all my family. I was so utterly embarrassed, I’ve been unable to do a bare faced lie ever since. But I know that I’m guilty of lying by omission, or by saying things a certain way so as to let people draw erroneous conclusions and not correcting them. I guess this is the same effect as outright lying if I do it intentionally

  2. “We might say strongly believing we are the deity… are lies because they are not true”. It is only a lie if we tell people we are a deity and then use their pure view of us for our own selfish wishes.

    If we simply hold correct imagination of being the deity, based on our Guru’s empowerment arising from emptiness, then this is not a lie. It is also not a lie if we tell people with faith, with the intention of increasing their faith in ourselves as a teacher. We can help people by growing their faith in ourselves as the teacher and the dharma. Our intention for saying such things is the most important part.

    • Hi Tim, I agree it is not a lie to think we are a deity in the context of our self-generation practice. Perhaps I am misunderstanding you, but we should never tell our students that we are a deity in an effort to get them to increase their faith in us. We don’t even do this if our motivation is perfectly selfless and pure. Geshe-la is very clear, as teachers we present ourselves as Sangha jewels, not Buddha jewels. There was a time early in the tradition where many people were making this mistake (presenting themselves as Buddha jewels), and it led to all sorts of very unhealthy behavior, both for students and for teachers. For the students, they developed wrong understandings of pure view (thinking it exists on the side of the object instead of the side of the mind). For the teachers, it led to all sorts of pretentious pride which led either to repressing of the teacher’s delusions (pretending they are not there) or it led to abusive behavior by the teacher. In terms of the relationships between teachers and students, this wrong view of the teacher led to all sorts of unhealthy relationships between them, serving as a reasonably valid basis for accusing us of being cult-like. Geshe-la put a definitive end to all of this about 7 years ago when he emphasized at a summer festival that we need to consider our teachers as Sangha jewels, treat them “exactly as normal,” and respectfully call them on behavior which seems incorrect. Of course we didn’t listen, and then later had a variety of scandals… He did say that students – from their own side if they wish – can view the teachers when they are on the throne as “temporary emanations,” like a living Je Tsongkhapa enters into the heart of the teacher and uses the teacher like a speaker connected to an enlightened stereo system, but that when they come down we view them and relate to them exactly as normal. For the teacher, we don’t consider ourselves as a deity when we teach, we consider ourselves as a conduit through which the spiritual guide teaches. Our job is to get out of the way, and we never present ourselves as anything other than a struggling practitioner just like everyone else. I know you know all of this, but I thought it might merit clarifying since somebody might misunderstand what you have written. Geshe-la never says he is a deity, so certainly we shouldn’t. Nowadays, even the Pope sees the wisdom of dropping the whole pretension of infallibility, which has been like a breath of fresh air to the Catholic world. I think getting this right is literally crucial to the long-term viability of the tradition.

  3. Looking at what is a lie is best looked at from the position of the two truths. And from here we can establish sub-sections of how a lie comes about and how to inform our actions when dealing with other practitioners especially.

    From the conventional point of view, conventional truths are non-deceptive and completely reliable but false in accordance to ultimate reality because dualistic appearances have yet to subside. So although we directly know them via perception, they are false. A lie accords to what is conventionally false, we do not perceive with mind that by which we are lying about.

    Example 1: if I am 15 years old and I say that I am 21 years old, so that i can buy alcohol, then this is conventionally false. The conventional truth is that I am 15 years old.

    Example 2: My wife asks me if her bum looks big in this dress. If I believe my wife’s bum does look big in the dress, then this is what my mind has validly perceived directly. If i say out of kindness, ‘no honey you look great’ this is, according to my minds valid, direct perception false, because clearly I have said this out of kindness. We must notice this within our mind else we fall into deception. If we can relate to others and practice seeing phenomena as a manifestation of emptiness then this in reality is not a lie. But only if we practice seeing phenomena as a manifestation of emptiness, else it is a lie, even if it is out of kindness. We could say well I’m not really motivated by delusion, again, this is incorrect. Self-grasping is still very much present but this is something we work on until we realise emptiness. Skillful means will be tested and improved.

    Buddhas and Bodhisattvas can engage in such actions because they have sufficient knowledge of the nature of reality regarding appearances of things and dealing with conceptions that come with that.

    Taking the example above: “We might say strongly believing we are the deity… are lies because they are not true”: If we are Generation Stage, then, we realise conventionally by a valid non-deceptive that we are a human being and are attempting to change the basis of our I. In contrast to that non-deceptive mind, we may also know that ordinary appearances are incorrect, false and deceptive by way of ultimate reality so how should we understand it?

    Appearances are only mistaken if they arise from ignorance and we grasp at them as truly existing as they appear. We should not say to others that I am Heruka or Vajrayogini, even to our students. This is deceptive and manipulating and open to delusion from all angles. Even if we call it good intention and are trying to inspire our students. Unless we are an actual emanation, then there would be grounds to display and admit to such things, but this is beyond my understanding at present. I would say that we should focus on our own mind and trust that the Buddhas provide enough blessings to inspire faith and so forth. Inspiration actually comes from the Spiritual Guide so there is no reason whatsoever to say, I am such and such.

  4. As Mr Tenzin Gyatso says at 39:50 he is the 14th DL and a reincarnation of Chenrezig then it must be alright to say such things… copy and paste this URL into your browser: https://donate.nationalcathedral.org/donate.php?version=DL&utm_source=SilverpopMailing&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=3832-011%20-%202014%20Dalai%20Lama%20Event%20-%20Send%20#3 (1)&utm_content=&spMailingID=8144783&spUserID=OTQ4NzE3OTI5NTMS1&spJobID=261058207&spReportId=MjYxMDU4MjA3S0

    Personally, all I can say is: I like big butts and I cannot lie!

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