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9 years ago  ::  Mar 20, 2009 - 11:30AM #1
Posts: 5

Through time I have learned not to tell a lie. It's one of the main rules in my life, I don't want to tell lies.

In discussion with other people I keep on running into the question what a lie actually is. Is it telling something that is not true? (and consequently, is your version of a story true or not?)

Is not telling something a lie or not? Many seem to believe it is. But I'm in doubt here. We shouldn't say everything to everybody, should we?

If the answer to that last question is 'no, we shouldn't', then not telling is not lying, is it? Or should we actually say everything (when asked or always?) to everyone, but only mind how we say it?

You can see it's something I'm struggling with at the moment. Care to share your thoughts?

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9 years ago  ::  Mar 21, 2009 - 12:40PM #2
Posts: 973

The development of morality in Buddhism is actually quite profound and quite difficult.

Whilst Buddhism is an analytical faith, it is as well to note that it is also a spiritual faith.

Confusion about the awareness of telling lies may be a symptom of too much analysis.

Vipassana insight arises from intuition and not reason.

When you are confused, take a rest and take refuge in the Buddha, the Dhamma and the Sangha.

Take the Five Precepts.

The volition to refrain from telling lies is included in the Five Precepts.

The first two verses of the Dhammapada advise one on the importance of volition, whilst the taking of the Five Precepts includes the volition to refrain from telling lies.

From this volition to refrain from telling lies will arise the ability to refrain from telling lies. And, when it does, there will be no confusion.

THE DHAMMAPADA ( Khuddaka Nikaya)


Translated by Daw Mya Tin, M.A.,


"1    All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with an evil mind, 'dukkha' *follows him just as the wheel follows the hoof-print of the ox that draws the cart.

2     All mental phenomena have mind as their forerunner; they have mind as their chief; they are mind-made. If one speaks or acts with a pure mind, happiness (sukha)** follows him like a shadow that never leaves him.

* Dukkha: In this context, dukkha means suffering, or physical or mental pain, misfortune, unsatisfactoriness, evil consequences, etc., and rebirth in the lower planes of existence or in the lower strata of human society if born in the human world.

** Sukha: in this context, happiness, satisfactoriness, fortune, etc., and rebirth in the three upper planes of happy existence."

In Buddhist practice, one is taught the skill of observing volitions. If one unwittingly tells a lie, it is not caused by misunderstanding speech. It is caused by unwholesome volition. Therefore, if one focuses on volition, one develops the ability to discriminate between wholesome volitions and unwholesome volitions. In this way, it is posible to completely eradicate the tendency to tell lies and purify one's speech.


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9 years ago  ::  Mar 22, 2009 - 10:57PM #3
Posts: 25


Sadhu on your efforts in being upright.

In my opinion, not telling something is not a lie.  Why should it be? 

In any case, if you are worried about breaking the 4th precept, here's a summary of the gist of that precept:

"I undertake to observe the precept to refrain from false speech."

This precept is broken when an untruth is spoken, or when one instigates or instructs another to do it.  The following 5 conditions must be present for the lying to be grave.

1. The untruth,

2. The mind intending to speak the untruth,

3. The effort expended through body or speech to communicate the untruth;

4. The other party believes in the lie;

5. The other party is hurt and/or harmed.

Although bluffing for fun's sake or, pulling another's legs are generally quite harmless manifestations of our sense of humour, and sometimes quite necessary ingredients of a sociable and friendly character, it is, strictly speaking, considered as breaking the precept. However, we should remind ourselves that we shouldn't be too much of a perfectionist at this stage - so a minor case like this, as long as it does not cause hurt or harm to the person concerned, may be overlooked in the beginning.

Instead we should concentrate on the grosser cases of deliberate lying e.g. lying out of envy, jealousy, ill will, or out of desire for gains, fame, or other selfish motives. The end results is whether the other party is hurt or harmed emotionally or physically; or by way of loss of property, status, etc

Special cases : To lie or Not to Lie?

Sometimes circumstances are such that if we tell the truth, it will hurt the other party and, on top of that, it is not possible to keep quiet or to evade the issue.

This is a special case where we can exercise a choice between two wholesome deeds: one rooted in compassion, and the other in virtue (or morality). Firstly, if we are compassionate enough and we do not wish the person to feel hurt by telling him the truth, then we can consciously break the precept. When we do this we should be fully conscious that we are breaking the precept through "compassion".

The second way of tackling the problem is more suited to the person who is more bent on perfecting or developing his virtue (of morality) rather than compassion. Here the person holds tightly to his precepts and tells the truth fearlessly and with equanimity. He does so with the understanding that he is telling the truth not with the intention of purposely trying to hurt the other party, but because he does not see any point in telling a lie. He does so also with the realisation that it is not the truth, nor the speaker of the truth, who causes hurt in the other person, but that it is, in reality, the person himself who allowed the truth to hurt him.

The important things to remember about holding this precept are the feelings and welfare of the other party whom we are dealing with. If we are always mindful, cautious, and considerate we can, without doubt, be more, successful in refraining from causing hurt or any kind of harm to everyone around us.

Trust the above puts u at ease.


Rgds & may u b well & happy always

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9 years ago  ::  Mar 23, 2009 - 2:47AM #4
Posts: 1,420
This is from the Abhaya Sutta:

[1] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial (or: not connected with the goal), unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[2] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, unendearing & disagreeable to others, he does not say them.

[3] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, but unendearing & disagreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them.

[4] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be unfactual, untrue, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[5] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, unbeneficial, but endearing & agreeable to others, he does not say them.

[6] In the case of words that the Tathagata knows to be factual, true, beneficial, and endearing & agreeable to others, he has a sense of the proper time for saying them. Why is that? Because the Tathagata has sympathy for living beings."

2 & 5 are catagories of statements that are true, but the Buddha chose not to say them. 4 & 6 are catagories of statements which the Buddha would have said under some circumstances, but not others.

You can read the entire sutta here:
link -> Abhaya Sutta

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9 years ago  ::  Mar 23, 2009 - 6:03AM #5
Posts: 973

n the practice and development of sila, it is not advisable to use the false idea of compassion to break the precepts. This will only lead to suffering, dukkha, and continued rebirth.

In the moral universe, one cannot say that he will practise Right Speech when he finds it convenient to do so but will hide behind the seemingly innocent volition of compassion to break the precepts when he finds the situation inconvenient.

In Daily Life, things happen in real time. Once a precept has been broken, dukkha will follow without doubt. Whilst it may seem pertinent to remain silent, or to hide an unpleasant truth, even silence arsies from volition, i.e. the volition to remain silence. Sometimes, all that it takes for evil to prevail is for a good person to remain silent and do nothing.

For this reason, it is hard to practice sila. For this reason, it may take a novice up to twenty five years to develop the Knowledge of Sila. This development is achieved by the destruction of unwholesome kamma that has been accumulated in previous lives.

Therefore, when the practice of sila becomes difficult in Daily Life, the safer course of action is to silently take refuge in the Triple Gem. In Daily Life, one Takes the Five Precepts by reciting them.

By repeating the recitation of the Five Precepts Three Times, the recitation seals the volition as (a) wholesome (volition). The Good Kamma leading to the abstention of lying will arise giving sukha without doubt.

Initially, one will be overwhelmed by previous kamma. If this includes habitual lying, then this unwholesome habit will continue. But by Taking Refuge in the Triple Gem and Taking the Five Precepts Daily, the unwholesome kamma that leads to habitual lying will be attenuated by the wholesome kamma to refrain from telling lies.

Taking refuge in the Triple Gem and developing the practice of Sila, is actually a Samatha Meditation Object for people of a faithful temperament. For such people, Faith can be deployed as an efficacious vehicle for the realisation of the Four Noble Truths.

Right Speech is an aspect of Sila. Sila is a Category of Dhamma. Investigation of Dhamma is a Factor of Enlightenment. Thus, to question lying is to investigate Dhamma.

This investigation may be carried out analytically by trying to understand all situations where lies may arise. But, over analysing leads to confusion and ignorance.

This investigation may also be carried out intuitively through the development of devotion to the Triple Gem and Faith in the Triple Gem and the Taking of the Five Precepts. In this way, knowledge of what constitutes lying will arise as a fruit of practice.

The main aim of Buddhism is the extinction of suffering and release from conditioned existence that can be achieved through mental purification. Taking refuge in the Triple Gem and Taking the Five Precepts is an efficacious method for the development of mental purity.

By using Faith as the Vehicle for Development, one will develop Insight into the Moral Complexities of telling lies. This Insight arises in the mind as Knowledge (Nana).


(Discourse to Singala)





272. Young householder, in five ways should a man of good family minister to the samanas and brahmanas as the Zenith: by deeds of loving kindness; by words of loving kindness; by thoughts of loving kindness; by keeping the house open to them; by supplying them with material needs (such as alms-food).

         Young householder, the samanas and brahmanas, ministered to in these five ways as the Zenith by a man of good family, bring benefit to him in six ways: they restrain him from evil; they exhort him to do good; they protect him with loving kindness; they teach him (the profound matters) that he has not heard before; they explain and make clear to him (the profound matters) which he has heard before; they show him the path to the realm of the devas.

         Young householder, in these five ways a man of good family ministers to the samanas and the brahmanas as the Zenith and the samanas and the brahmanas also bring benefit to him in these six ways. It is thus that the Zenith is covered and made safe and secure.

According to Professor U Kop Lay, in his commentary, the Singala sutta is the code of discipline for Theravada Buddhist Lay People.


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9 years ago  ::  Mar 27, 2009 - 11:23PM #6
Posts: 1,552

not lying is one moral duty.


it is not the only one.  If other moral duties conflict with telling a verbal truth, you have to weigh what your conscience wants you to do in a particular situation.


that is not an excuse to is the challenge we all face.  Many fail.  Many simply find not lying too difficult...give up and then just do whatever they want to do.


In each and every situation, our soul will come to us and give us some light about what the correct thing is to do.  If we practice the spiritual life with devotion and honesty, we get more in touch with that light and with the ability to obey that light.


One must go beyond an academic discussion of the issue and practice the path enough to cut through the delusions of rationalizations to find the truth.


And it the heart is wiser than the mind.  If we can open the heart it can feel the truth directly, beyond the mind's ability to rationalize everything away.



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9 years ago  ::  Mar 28, 2009 - 5:15AM #7
Posts: 973

If a person could refrain from telling lies perfectly, then she would have no need of Buddhist training in morality.


The Buddhist Path is a gradual process of mental purification. Volition is the most important consideration, the reason why we do anything.


In 19 years of practising Buddhism under qualified Teachers, I have never been taught that one can justify breaking a moral precept. This does not mean that one thinks he is practising in perfection.


The training rule is very simple. The fourth precept expresses the volition:


"May I refrain from wrong speech."


To refrain from wrong speech is Right Speech, it includes abstaining from lying.




Volition is Kamma. Lying generates evil kamma. Telling the truth generates good kamma. It is that simple.


The practice of Theravadin Buddhist meditation includes Taking the Five Precepts. Daily reciting the formula: "May I refrain from wrong speech", develops the volition to refrain from lying. Eventually, the good kamma generated from this, and the Right Effort to abide by this training rule, will attenuate the evil habit of telling lies and establish the good habit of telling the truth.


But: this does not happen quickly. Moral training in Buddhism can take up to 25 years.


Theravadin Buddhist Practice is about the extinction of Kamma. This is realised upon Arahantship. From the formula "Volition is Kamma", it can be seen that Mindfulness of Volition has to be developed.


The Singala Sutta is The Code of Discipline for Buddhist Householders. It does not teach about the need to weigh up the pros and cons of when to lie and when not to lie. It teaches how to discriminate between truth and lies. My Buddhist Teacher gave me a copy of this Sutta right at the beginning of my practice with her in 1991. She advised me that it should be considered as a Training Manual.


The Singala Sutta is profound. On the surface, it is advising one to see  the signs of moral behaviour and immoral behaviour in others. But in Theravada Buddhism, the spiritual practice is always about oneself, first. Thus, one must learn how to read the signs of moral behaviour and immoral behaviour within oneself, whilst seeing the behaviour of others in a moral context. The kind of company one keeps has a profound effect upon the determination of one's Kamma.


Telling lies for so-called good reason is 'pious fraud', or 'white lies'. The Buddha taught how to discriminate between telling lies and telling the truth. In Satipatthana Meditation, the meditator is required to develop mindfulness of 'Mind-objects'. Volition is a mind-object. Therefore, kamma is a mind-object.


Fraud arises out of ignorance. It arises from a wrong volition and develops the seeds of rebirth.

To protect oneself and one's family from all dangers, this is best done by taking refuge in the Triple Gem and Taking the Five Precepts.


The Ratana Sutta is recited as a means of protection. It is an exegesis of the Triple Gem, and may be recited for protection, including protection from telling lies. The English Version is about half way down the page, after the Pali version and the Burmese version.

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9 years ago  ::  Mar 28, 2009 - 3:58PM #8
Posts: 973


This website gives a definition of Sila (Morality):

Accordingly, this article notes that there are Five Goals for the Theravada Buddhist:

1. Pakatisavaka

2. Mahasavaka

3. Aggasavaka

4. Pacceka Buddha

5. Buddha

These are defined in the introduction to the article. Essentially, the Five Goals lead to Five Different Kinds of Arahantship, including the Buddha.

The development of Sila is common to all Five Goals. Without this development, it is not possible to realise any of these Five Goals. This reality is not just a theoretical abstraction, it is a reality.

This article states that there are four kinds of kusala, wholesome courses of action. Sila is defined as the control of the body and mouth to refrain from doing what is sinful.

Lying is defined as one of four verbal sins. Therefore, the volition to refrain from lying is a very important practice in the development of sila.

This article mentions two kinds of Sila, for the monks and for the layman. what this article does not state is that one adopts an equivocal approach to speech, i.e. telling lies under the delusion that this is compassionate; only telling the truth when it appears to be safe to do so.

There is no circumstance where it is possible to protect someone by telling lies. In fact, the simple truth itself can be asseverated as a protective energy.

The Angulimala Sutta deals with the deployment of Truth as a Power to Protect in Theravada Buddhism:

In the Sutta, Angulimala utters an Oath of Truth to save and protect an unborn foetus. But, Truth can be used to protect and save people in any situation. Theravada Buddhism is founded upon Truth, aka as the Four Noble Truths. The Buddha did not teach people to wilfully break the Precepts of the Dhamma. Nor did he Teach a Path grounded in Four White Lies.

It is an unwise folly for a Buddhist to think that compassion may be best practised by telling a lie.

Speech generates Kamma. Kamma is beyond the range of thought. Whilst it may seem like a neat idea to protect someone with a white lie, the lie could generate unwholesome kamma for many aeons to come, resulting in evil rebirths in evil worlds.



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9 years ago  ::  Mar 29, 2009 - 11:26AM #9
Posts: 1

I am relatively new to Buddhism, and far from an expert in the Dharma. I would ask a question, and even though it is extreme in nature, it could be scaled down to fit the circumstances of the average person in daily life.

Q: If you are harboring innocent victims of persecution in your house, and a soldier comes to the door and asks "Do you have anyone hidden in your house?", what should be my answer, knowing that to tell the truth will result in their torture and possibly death?

It occurs to me that the three jewels - Buddha, Dharma, Sangha, all enter into this, as they should in all the decisions of our lives. Buddha taught us to question everything, including his words, the Dharma, everything.

"The finger pointing at the moon is not the moon." While clinging to precepts as a way to a virtuous life and eventual enlightenment is good, I believe there are times when we can become so focused on the "finger pointing at the moon", that we lose the meaning and intent of the instruction.

Just as refraining from violence is a good thing, there are times when an overriding concern might dictate violent actions. Remembering that kamma follows, we let our conscience dictate what precepts we feel compelled to violate, knowing that atonement will be necessary. That is a sacrifice which is sometimes required to safeguard all three jewels.

In a more familiar vein, my wife asks me: "Does this dress make my butt look big?", or "Am I getting fat?" Suppose the truthful answers to the questions are "Yes." While telling the truth fulfills the instruction of the Dharma, the outcome is most probably hurtful, perhaps in a much larger sense than we expect.

I apologize for getting away from the pure Dharma-related debate, I just thought I'd venture a beginner's opinion.


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9 years ago  ::  Mar 29, 2009 - 11:33AM #10
DJ Arnoldo
Posts: 4

Selectively withholding certain inconvenient facts is the liar's most powerful skill in manipulating people and situations. What determines lying, IMHO, is the intent to deceive or manipulate for one's personal gain. Therefore, this type of manipulation of the facts is as much a lie as fabrication of untruths.

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