Thursday, July 06, 2006

Lying - Its Effect on Virtue

From the Lokavagga Worlds section of the Dhammapada:
The person who tells a lie,
who transgresses in this one thing,
transcending concern for the world beyond:
there's no evil
he might not do.

When I first read this, I thought, "That seems pretty extreme." It's only a lie, right? What's the big deal? But when I reflected on it a little longer, I noticed that being truly virtuous takes not only discernment to know what is a virtuous action and what isn't, but also great determination and resolve. Many times, I may not know the right thing to do, but as long as I make the best choice possible at that time, and pursue it with resolve, I can't really regret it. But if I know what is right, and I don't have resolve, I can easily rationalize my behavior and do what is not right. Therefore, if I can't even keep myself from lying when I know it's not right, then how will I fare when it comes to something with greater perceived "benefit" to myself?

I went back into my recent past to recall times when I had lied and, reflecting on those times, it was almost as though allowing myself to lie loosened my mental state, making other nonvirtuous actions more likely, even days later. I would find my mind giving me rational arguments for things that required extra effort on my part to refute. I also reflected on times in which I stood firm and did not allow myself to lie, even if it would have made things easier. And amazingly, that had an equivalent effect over the subsequent days—being virtuous came more "naturally," with less effort.

Has anyone else noticed anything like this? Either similar or oppposite to my experiences?

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kiosacoup said...

Are not the lies one tells oneself -- in order to make life easier -- worse and far more prevalent than the little white whatever that joe shmoe tells his mum or wife re where he spent the night?

Mike said...

Hi! Thanks for the comment. I think that when speaking of the content of the lie, you are right in most cases—the lies you tell yourself are more harmful and prevalent than white lies told to others. However, what the Buddha was talking about in the passage above was not the content of the lie but the action of lying and the mental state that brings it about. In that case, whether the lie is internal or external, small or big, directed at a loved one or a stranger, the mental state in which you reside when you lie is harmful to you, and the obvious lack of discipline you exhibit is harmful as well.

Dan said...

Yep! Similar to your experiences, Mike.