Truthfulness

Dāna pāramī : generosity, giving of oneself
Sīla pāramī : virtue, morality, proper conduct
Nekkhamma pāramī : renunciation
Paññā pāramī : transcendental wisdom, insight
Viriya pāramī : energy, diligence, vigor, effort
Khanti pāramī : patience, tolerance, forbearance, acceptance, endurance
**Sacca pāramī : truthfulness, honesty**
Adhiṭṭhāna pāramī : determination, resolution
Mettā pāramī : loving-kindness
Upekkhā pāramī : equanimity, serenity

Moving slowly along, we arrive at the perfection of truthfulness or sacca pāramī.

Here, someone, having abandoned false speech, abstains from false speech. If he is summoned to a council, to an assembly, to his relatives’ presence, to his guild, or to the court, and questioned as a witness thus: ‘So, good man, tell what you know’, then, not knowing, he says, ‘I do not know’, or knowing, he says, ‘I know’; not seeing, he says, ‘I do not see’, or seeing, he says, ‘I see’. Thus he does not consciously speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end.
– from AN 10.176, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

The above is a basic description of what the Buddha means by speaking truthfully. There are, of course, many situations in which difficult choices must be made involving what’s best to say. It’s our good fortune that a modern neuroscientist (and atheist), Sam Harris, has composed a long essay titled “Lying”, which dissects most of the relevant situations in which we may be tempted to avoid telling the truth, and helps us measure the consequences of lying. This article was brought to my attention by a reader of this blog – thank you Upul. If you’d like to check it out yourself (US$2.99 for pdf), you’ll find it here: http://www.samharris.org/lying

Before we consider what the article has to offer, it seems important to mention an event in the news. A couple of Australian radio announcers made a prank call to the hospital in England where the Duchess of Cambridge was a patient. One caller pretended to be the Queen of England and asked for information about her granddaughter-in-law. It was a trick the perpetrators didn’t expect to succeed in, but apparently they did – live and on the air. A day later, the nurse who had answered the call and passed it on (not to the Duchess), apparently committed suicide. There’s a lot of muddled outrage towards the radio station and the presenters. But as the abbot of our local monastery pointed out this morning, this was a tragic consequence of an intentional lie, a misrepresentation of the facts. If the presenters or their managers had considered these words, this event could not have taken place: Thus he does not consciously speak falsehood for his own ends, or for another’s ends, or for some trifling worldly end.

1 Comment

Filed under Perfections, Speech

One response to “Truthfulness

  1. Jeff Mondry

    Thank you for addressing the prank call that story is very troubling to me. I send love to your efforts. Sincerely Jeff Mondry

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