Deceit vs. integrity

On our list of imperfections (or defilements), we now come to deceit and fraud. These are not feelings but actions, so they rely on our intentions. If we intentionally misrepresent ourselves or anything else to others, regardless of our motives, we are participating in fraud or deceit.

The most common way we indulge in these vices is to exaggerate our accomplishments, skills or other attributes. Some of us lie about our age, or our children’s virtues; we might exaggerate our troubles to garner sympathy; we might under-report our income on our tax returns.

Deceit and fraud may sometimes be motivated by avarice, or envy, or revenge. The imperfections can be related to each other in circular ways.

The Buddha defined fraud or deceit in this way:
[A person in training] abstains from false weights, false metals, and false measures. He abstains from cheating, deceiving, defrauding, and trickery.
– from MN51.14, translated by Bhikkhu Bodhi

If everyone undertook the training described above, it would be very different world. There would be no hidden dumping of toxic waste, no accounting misrepresentation, no manipulation of markets, no lies about financial or other products, and people wouldn’t be vulnerable to cons of all sorts. The whole advertising industry might just collapse, because it seems to be based on promising results that the products advertised can never deliver.

But not everyone has undertaken the Buddha’s training, and sometimes we justify to ourselves things like an over-polished CV (resume) or the pretense that we are not living beyond our means. We all want to present our best face to the world, and sometimes what we’ve got just doesn’t seem good enough.

Truthfulness and integrity, in our actions and speech, are opposite principles to these imperfections. They cannot be improved upon – they are perfections.

How would it feel to value our own truthfulness and integrity more than what other people thought? What if we were staunch in our determination never to allow anyone else to suffer unnecessarily because of our actions? The rewards of deceit are fleeting; the comfort we can take in our own integrity has more substance.

Imperfections that defile the mind:
(1) covetousness and unrighteous greed
(2) ill will
(3) anger
(4) revenge
(5) contempt
(6) a domineering attitude
(7) envy
(8) avarice
(9) deceit
(10) fraud

(11) obstinacy
(12) presumption
(13) conceit (mana)
(14) arrogance
(15) vanity
(16) negligence

from MN7, translated by Bhikkhu Nanamoli and Bhikkhu Bodhi

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