Understanding the fourth precept

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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Lazy_eye
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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Lazy_eye » Sat Apr 27, 2013 4:31 pm

Unless you were deliberately setting out to deceive, I don't think it's a breach of the precept. Informal/conversational language tends to be loose and flexible, like a pair of baggy jeans.

Still, I think it's a good idea to try and use more precise language, as imprecision can create misunderstandings.

A therapist named David Burns has suggested that habitual use of "always" and "never" can fuel psychological afflictions, as these terms lend themselves to unhealthy self-talk ("I'll NEVER get this right," "I ALWAYS screw this up", etc).

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Modus.Ponens » Sat Apr 27, 2013 5:25 pm

I think we must not be fundamentalists. When the Buddha says something like "There are 1000 other world systems", do you think it's actualy exactly 1000? Don't you think it's like rounding up the time in your clock saying "It's 5:15" when it's actualy 5:14?
He turns his mind away from those phenomena, and having done so, inclines his mind to the property of deathlessness: 'This is peace, this is exquisite — the resolution of all fabrications; the relinquishment of all acquisitions; the ending of craving; dispassion; cessation; Unbinding.'
(Jhana Sutta - Thanissaro Bhikkhu translation)

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Dennenappelmoes » Sat Apr 27, 2013 11:25 pm

I am very much a fan of Ajahn Brahm when it comes to this. In all of his talks that listened to (and there were many) he never mentioned "honesty" (in the sense of speaking factual correctness). He always talks about skillful speech. Also, he stresses that to him, the definition of truth is that which brings peace and harmony. If something leads to argument, to disagreement, to division, how can it be true? Following this argument, saying "you don't look fat in that at all" can be 'true'/skilfull even when it isn't a factual truth.

To me, I tend to focus on what the speech causes. If someone was nervous about doing something and then asks "did I do ok?" when they didn't, I may well say "yes" because this conveys that I have confidence in them, which is the truth, whereas saying "no" would convey that I did not have confidence in them, which would be false. However, this is a slippery slope and the way I see it, it needs to be balanced with humble, honest personal reflection to ensure the intention wasn't to deceive, just as the others have mentioned.

But the best advice is to just always eat pasta with sauce, you avoid the problem and it's much healthier and less gross as well! :namaste:
Last edited by Dennenappelmoes on Sun Apr 28, 2013 9:00 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Tom » Sun Apr 28, 2013 9:08 am

Buckwheat wrote:
ccharles wrote:If you say to someone "I never eat pasta without sauce", meaning you hardly eat pasta without sauce, not literally never, would this be a breach of the fourth precept?
Did the listener understand what you really meant?
I didn't actually say these exact words, I'm using "I never eat pasta without sauce" as an example. But if the person saying these words didn't have the intention to suggest that he/she literally never eats pasta without sauce, what significance does the listener's own understanding of what the speaker said have?

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Tom » Sun Apr 28, 2013 10:22 pm

daverupa wrote:
Buckwheat wrote:
ccharles wrote:If you say to someone "I never eat pasta without sauce", meaning you hardly eat pasta without sauce, not literally never, would this be a breach of the fourth precept?
Did the listener understand what you really meant?
Was there an intention to mislead (false speech), or is the idiom frivolous (idle speech)?
If there isn't an intention to mislead, would this be considered idle chatter?
daverupa wrote:Does the fourth precept make reference to the four speech acts referred to in kammapatha, or is it to be understood as only one of those four?
I'd like to know this as well

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by seeker242 » Wed May 01, 2013 12:22 am

"While you are performing a verbal act, you should reflect on it: 'This verbal act I am doing — is it leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both? Is it an unskillful verbal act, with painful consequences, painful results?' If, on reflection, you know that it is leading to self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both... you should give it up. But if on reflection you know that it is not... you may continue with it. MN 61 http://www.accesstoinsight.org/tipitaka ... .than.html
Does speaking non-literally about your pasta sauce eating habits lead to "self-affliction, to the affliction of others, or to both"? Does it have " painful consequences, painful results"? I am going to venture a guess and say probably not. :)

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by D1W1 » Sat Nov 21, 2015 11:12 am

Ben wrote:Unless you were intentionally attempting to deceive someone, you might be guilty of not being very mindful of your communication style.
Its always good to be as precise as possible when using language, but sometimes we fall into habitual modes of expression.
The fourth precept has four factors:
atatham-vatthu — a falsehood.
visam-vadana-cittam — the intention to speak a falsehood.
tajjo vayamo — the effort is made.
parassa ta-dattha-vijananam — others understand what was said.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ha.html#qa" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
All four factors need to be present for a breach of the fourth precept to occur.
kind regards,

Ben
Hi Ben,

Just came across this thread.
Can you please elaborate what does it mean by "parassa ta-dattha-vijananam — others understand what was said"?


Does it mean others deceived by our words? If others understand what was said that means they're not deceived, right?
Thanks.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Ben » Sat Nov 21, 2015 11:29 am

Hi D1W1,
It means that for the precept is broken if all four factors are present including that the message we conveyed was understood.
Note that the commentary provided does not stipulate that deception has to occur for there to be a break of the precept, only that words were communicated and understood. So, attempted deception would break the precept.
Kind regards,
Ben
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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by D1W1 » Sat Nov 21, 2015 11:50 am

Ben wrote:Hi D1W1,
It means that for the precept is broken if all four factors are present including that the message we conveyed was understood.
Note that the commentary provided does not stipulate that deception has to occur for there to be a break of the precept, only that words were communicated and understood. So, attempted deception would break the precept.
Kind regards,
Ben
If someone receives food as a gift and say "Thank you, the food is delicious", although the food is not eaten yet. The giver understands it as an expression of thank you but the giver is not deceived by the words, because he knows the food is not eaten yet.
Is this "what others understand what was said" mean?

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subaru
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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by subaru » Sat Nov 21, 2015 12:11 pm

I hope not.. because I would be breaking alot of precepts without knowing it..
because my grammar is not perfect, English is not my first language, <-- weak excuse I know
more importantly, I have no ulterior motive and tried my utmost best to articulate my true intention.
but we never know , do we ?
:candle:

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by dennis » Tue Nov 24, 2015 6:37 pm

From Wikipedia:

"A lie is a statement that is known or intended by its source to be misleading, inaccurate, or false. The practice of communicating lies is called lying, and a person who communicates a lie may be termed a liar. Lies may be employed to serve a variety of instrumental, interpersonal, or psychological functions for the individuals who use them. Generally, the term "lie" carries a negative connotation, and depending on the context a person who communicates a lie may be subject to social, legal, religious, or criminal sanctions. In certain situations, however, lying is permitted, expected, or even encouraged. Because believing and acting on false information can have serious consequences, scientists and others have attempted to develop reliable methods for distinguishing lies from true statements."

"Because believing and acting on false information can have serious consequences..."

Without two parties a lie can not be told. The harm you do another is the root problem, whether the lie is intentional, or not. It can easily become part of your everyday life, if it is not already.

Lying and it's approval or rejection have become such an ingrained part of our societies that we make up reasons why lying is good in both business and personal life.

Mindfulness will lead you away from lying, if you are diligent. Just remember humans are analog, so don't expect instantaneous digital results.

:namaste:

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by dennis » Thu Nov 26, 2015 6:18 pm

But, oh what a world this would be.

Can you imagine it? :woohoo:

Peace on you my brothers and sisters.

:namaste:

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Digity » Fri Nov 27, 2015 8:48 pm

I've been guilty of being hyper-neurotic in the past about breaking the precepts, etc. However, I think it's the wrong attitude to have and I've loosened up since then. I mean, if someone asks what time it is and it's 5:58 and you say it's 6:00....is that breaking the precepts? I mean...once you start worrying about small stuff like that i think you're just getting neurotic about the whole thing.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by SarathW » Fri Nov 27, 2015 9:07 pm

Intention is Kamma.
Even a thirty seconds of time difference can be critical in some cases.
“As the lamp consumes oil, the path realises Nibbana”

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by subaru » Fri Nov 27, 2015 11:49 pm

Digity wrote:if someone asks what time it is and it's 5:58 and you say it's 6:00....is that breaking the precepts?
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who become a monk. He mentioned that he was obsessed with minute details about keeping precepts. he described it as being obsessed and paranoid about it, he is a fairly intelligent fella, and he could not figure out why he fall into such predicament

many years later.. I suspect I know why.. Bhantes and friends, lets discuss about this and correct me if I am wrong.. am just trying to learn
1) When the mind is idle, it will try to find things to cling on.. being obsessed about precepts is not ideal, but it's better than engaging in relatively unwholesome mental proliferation
2) One should always check if the mind is playing tricks on one into breaking precepts... when one realized the harm an untrained mind can do to one's spiritual progress... it is very difficult to avoid being paranoid

For those who are able to do it, let's take this opportunity to watch this Tanha as it manifest itself right in front of us
:candle:

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Digity » Sat Nov 28, 2015 3:12 am

subaru wrote:
Digity wrote:if someone asks what time it is and it's 5:58 and you say it's 6:00....is that breaking the precepts?
This reminds me of a conversation I had with a friend who become a monk. He mentioned that he was obsessed with minute details about keeping precepts. he described it as being obsessed and paranoid about it, he is a fairly intelligent fella, and he could not figure out why he fall into such predicament

many years later.. I suspect I know why.. Bhantes and friends, lets discuss about this and correct me if I am wrong.. am just trying to learn
1) When the mind is idle, it will try to find things to cling on.. being obsessed about precepts is not ideal, but it's better than engaging in relatively unwholesome mental proliferation
2) One should always check if the mind is playing tricks on one into breaking precepts... when one realized the harm an untrained mind can do to one's spiritual progress... it is very difficult to avoid being paranoid

For those who are able to do it, let's take this opportunity to watch this Tanha as it manifest itself right in front of us
From my experience, it has to do with the person. This is how neurotic people are. They just look for things to worry about and they'll even invent stuff to worry about. Worriers and neurotic folks have that pattern ingrained in their mind. It took me a while, but I eventually started to see how my worrying was just a pervasive pattern in my mind. Over time, through mindfulness, I was able to let go more and loosen up. I'm a far less neurotic person than I was in the past...but there's always more to let go of.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by Expedient Means » Sat Nov 28, 2015 7:52 pm

Hi Everyone,

I would just like to give some input on this matter. I think everyone is thinking a little too much into this and most are forgetting that the catch here is the intention. In the same way one does not intend to step on and ant and kill it (which still results in the death of a being), one can round up time or use generalised statements as there is absolutely no malicious or false intent here. I guess why sometimes this can feel unwholesome is the way we reflect on the event, for example one may say its 6:00 instead of 5:58, with no unwholesome intentions, yet afterwards one frets about what was said, creating the unwholesome mind-state of worry. While it's still useful to avoid these round ups and generalised statements to avoid reflective unwholesome states, I don't see it as an official violation of the fourth precept. Nevertheless, I do agree that we should still strive to be sharp when choosing our language as it is helpful in many ways.
Ben wrote:Unless you were intentionally attempting to deceive someone, you might be guilty of not being very mindful of your communication style.
Its always good to be as precise as possible when using language, but sometimes we fall into habitual modes of expression.
The fourth precept has four factors:
atatham-vatthu — a falsehood.
visam-vadana-cittam — the intention to speak a falsehood.
tajjo vayamo — the effort is made.
parassa ta-dattha-vijananam — others understand what was said.

http://www.accesstoinsight.org/lib/auth ... ha.html#qa" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;
All four factors need to be present for a breach of the fourth precept to occur.
kind regards,

Ben
Hi Ben, thanks for the link, I'm surprised as I have never come across this before. You/the source says that "All four factors need to be present for a breach of the fourth precept to occur", however I see the last factor (parassa ta-dattha-vijananam — others understand what was said), as external, therefore I don't fully understand how this is needed to break a precept that is purely the individual's responsibility? By observing the fourth factor, I derive that one can intend to speak falsely, make the effort to do so but if the other person/people don't understand or hear what was said it is not breaking the fourth precept despite there being clear intention and effort to speak falsehood. As the precepts help shape our actions and therefore our karma, this doesn't make sense as karma is intention of body, speech and mind, so how is it that all four need to be present?

Maybe I'm missing something?

:anjali:

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by D1W1 » Sun Nov 29, 2015 10:07 am

Expedient Means wrote:Hi Everyone,

I would just like to give some input on this matter. I think everyone is thinking a little too much into this and most are forgetting that the catch here is the intention. In the same way one does not intend to step on and ant and kill it (which still results in the death of a being), one can round up time or use generalised statements as there is absolutely no malicious or false intent here. I guess why sometimes this can feel unwholesome is the way we reflect on the event, for example one may say its 6:00 instead of 5:58, with no unwholesome intentions, yet afterwards one frets about what was said, creating the unwholesome mind-state of worry. While it's still useful to avoid these round ups and generalised statements to avoid reflective unwholesome states, I don't see it as an official violation of the fourth precept. Nevertheless, I do agree that we should still strive to be sharp when choosing our language as it is helpful in many ways.
In reality, there are different views on how one should keep this precept, even for monastic.
One sees others as justifying lying. Another person sees others as being too neurotic.

As with the intention, I would say it's not always as grossly noticeable as we might think. We talk everyday with different people, it's common for us to follow what society does. Speech is not as gruesome as murder or rape, etc., people (including me) are not really pay a close attention to speech, not in the sense of Buddhist precept. It is not impossible if our speech or communication style has become part of our habit.
Say for example, there is a company which requires its employee to say "I'm happy" as a greetings or whatever. For the first few days or few weeks of working in the company, one will feel awkward to say such thing when one doesn't really mean it. But if you keep doing that, I think most people will become accustomed to it. It's just a job, right?

Deceptive intention is common to all cases of false speech (http://www.vipassana.com/resources/8fp4.php" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;" onclick="window.open(this.href);return false;). What would be the reason of false speech if there is no intention to deceive? Sure, there are other reasons but that doesn't mean there is no intention to deceive unless you believe it to be true or you speak too fast for example. Ant is totally a different example, you don't see the object and you normally are not aware when you step on an ant.
As with 7:00 and 7:59, that is a little bit too much. You can say almost six o'clock or approximately xxx.

You can't find any more detail of "Right speech" such as in the example above in the Sutta.
I think it goes together with our practice such as meditation so that we know what is the intention behind such and such speech. If we just understand it as a theory, it will become like a dogma of other religion and if we loosen up a bit, we might not following the precept because we do not know exactly where is the fine line.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by samseva » Tue Dec 01, 2015 5:17 pm

It's common sense. You do the best you can and don't worry too much about it.

Language isn't that precise to communicate something to another person. For one, because it has its own limitations, and two, because the listener also has to understand what you say with his own way of thinking.

There are also conventions of speech and cultural conventions. If it's 5:58PM and you say it's 6:00PM, the listener will understand, from an unverbalized convention so to speak, that you rounded up the time. Saying it's 5:58PM could even sound a bit weird.

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Re: Would this break the fourth precept?

Post by dennis » Tue Dec 08, 2015 7:35 pm

I sometimes wonder what "truth" and "lies" and such actually "meant" in the society of ancient India. We can read the words but we can't "read" the person speaking them.

It's said our society has taken such words and put different meanings to them (glorifying lying as a societal lubricant, for example) which allows lies to even be admired, no doubt mostly by the accomplished liar (who certainly has a MUCH easier job than the accomplished truth teller).

I wonder if this was the "norm" in the Grove, or if instead people were less casual about lying in the Buddha's "day?" I imagine the latter.

If the precepts were spoken according to a more rigid standard is it right for us to just say "our society is more relaxed" or do we examine our society and object when we see convenience, personal comfort and commonality rise above truth? This might be very difficult or impossible for the lay person, or even perhaps, for anyone in today's society/world.

So do we try to lift/drive ourselves to a higher standard? Or do we just try to "fit in?"

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