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Lions Roar : March 2014
Why would a Buddhist have to think twice about lying? “Right speech” is codi- fied into the eightfold path, the Buddha’s teaching on the way out of suffering. Isn’t it right there in black and white: “Don’t lie”? Only it’s not black and white and it doesn’t say that. The “right” in right speech (and each element of the path) does not mean the opposite of “wrong.” It is not a dualistic comparison. Right speech is whole, perfected, wise, skillful, appropriate, necessary, and non-divisive. Those are a lot of words to describe the language that arises out of the undistracted awareness of your awak- ened mind, free of judgments about this or that, right and wrong, if and when, you and me. That’s why right speech is so often expressed by silence. The Abhaya Sutra categorizes what a buddha does not say: 1. Words known to be unfactual, un- true, unbeneficial, unendearing, and disagreeable to others. 2. Words known to be factual and true, yet unbeneficial, unendearing, and disagreeable to others. 3. Words known to be factual, true, and beneficial, yet unendearing and disagreeable to others, because it is not yet the proper time to say them. 4. Words known to be unfactual, untrue, and unbeneficial, yet en- dearing and agreeable to others. 5. Words known to be factual and true but unbeneficial, yet endearing and agreeable to others. Right speech is not only a lesson in how to speak. It is also an admonition to practice: to watch and wait until the mind opens and intuitive wisdom finds its own compassionate expression. In the real world, abstract discussion about hon- esty doesn’t go far enough, because living beings are not abstractions. That’s the most inconvenient truth of all. See the world as your self. Have faith in the way things are. Love the world as your self; Then you can care for all things. — Tao Te Ching Buddhist teachers stress that the steps of the eightfold path are not singular or serial; they are eight actualizations of one fundamental truth: no separate self. When that one domino tips, your view is irre- trievably altered and the world changes from the inside out. Harris credits a college philosophy seminar with triggering his epiphany about lying. Called “The Ethical Analyst,” it examined the practical ethics of a single question, “Is it wrong to lie?” The course opened his eyes to the suffering and embarrassment that could be avoided by simply telling the truth. “And, as though for the first time, I saw all around me the consequences of others’ failure to live by this principle,” he writes. That’s close, but not quite close enough to the right view. In other instances, his insights sound eerily akin to the Buddha’s own. “Honesty is a gift we can give to others. It is also a source of power and an engine of simplic- ity. Knowing that we will attempt to tell the truth, whatever the circumstances, leaves us with little to prepare for. Know- ing that we told the truth in the past leaves us with nothing to keep track of. We can simply be ourselves in every moment.” Harris has spoken favorably about the ethical benefits of contemplative practices. Lying makes me wish he would go a little bit further to broaden his view of truth, widen his view of the self, and deepen his connection with the world around him. But it’s not my place to say so. Perhaps one day he’ll ask even more difficult questions of himself, questions he can’t answer with simple rules or reason alone. That’s how the dharma works. Does this make me look fat? If I were you, I wouldn’t answer that. And if you were me, you wouldn’t ask in the first place. Practicing utmost honesty with ourselves, neither of us would cause the other a moment’s pain. No vanity or self-righteousness; no lies, regrets, blame, or excuses. Can you imagine liv- ing like that? Me neither. That’s okay. There’s no use imagining a different world, but we can each keep trying to live differently. ♦ For an itinerary or to register, go to DHARMA-JOURNEYS.ORG Himalayan High Treks +1 (415) 551-1005