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.