Understanding the fourth precept

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
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jcsuperstar
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by jcsuperstar » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:20 pm

the Buddha taught us to do what is skillful and not what is unskillful. if one uses skillful speech one never has to lie.

Q. does my butt look fat in these?
A. you know, i like the black dress better, really turns me on

or whatever

you never really have to lie if you can use a little mindfulness and know who you're talking to

resorting to lying (in these types of situations), even white lies is a sign of a lack of skill more than it is a moral dilemma.

the Nazi thing may be a bit different but i'm sure there is a skillful way out of this situation as well, fortunately for me I've never had to be in such a situation so i am not well equipped to give advice about hiding Jews from Nazis.
สัพเพ สัตตา สุขีตา โหนตุ

the mountain may be heavy in and of itself, but if you're not trying to carry it it's not heavy to you- Ajaan Suwat

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SDC
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by SDC » Wed Jul 14, 2010 9:50 pm

jcsuperstar wrote:you never really have to lie if you can use a little mindfulness and know who you're talking to

resorting to lying (in these types of situations), even white lies is a sign of a lack of skill more than it is a moral dilemma.
Well said, jc.

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Wind
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Wind » Thu Jul 15, 2010 12:24 am

For the Jews and Nazi case: If they come knocking at my door, and ask me if I am hiding any Jews. My reply would be "You may search if you want. But be careful not to wake the dog, he might bite"

This way i am being honest and the reverse psychology might be more effective, plus the idea of getting biting by my dog will make him think twice of coming in. If you lie about it and they detect a sense of nervousness, they will come in regardless of what you say. So the best thing is not to raise suspicion.

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JeffR
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by JeffR » Thu Jul 15, 2010 2:33 am

If you lie about it and they detect a sense of nervousness, they will come in regardless of what you say.
I believe this is exactly how the Frank family was discovered by the Nazi's.

To answer the original OP question: No.
Therein what are 'six (types of) disrespect'? One dwells without respect, without deference for the Teacher; one dwells without respect, without deference for the Teaching; one dwells without respect, without deference for the Order; one dwells without respect, without deference for the precepts; one dwells without respect, without deference for heedfulness; one dwells without respect, without deference for hospitality. These are six (types of) disrespect.
:Vibh 945

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kc2dpt
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Jul 15, 2010 4:07 am

Stefan wrote:
Peter wrote:
Stefan wrote:Are white lies acceptable?
Are you meaning to ask a dhamma question? If so, do you mean "Are white lies ever wholesome? Or is any kind of lie unwholesome?"
Exactly.
I have never read any scripture in which the Buddha calls lying wholesome; it is only ever called unwholesome. I have never read of a case where the Buddha says "in this case lying is good".

Keep in mind that the hypothetical actions in this thread are really multiple actions bundled together. So there is the intention to protect someone from harm or the intention to protect someone's feelings - these are wholesome and will therefore produce good fruits. Then there is also the intention to deceive - this is unwholesome and will therefore produce bad fruits.

This is likely what the scriptures refer to as mixed kamma.
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Stiphan » Thu Jul 15, 2010 10:11 am

Thank you Peter.

But is it possible to avoid the unwholesome completely in these situations?
You can call me "Stiphan" (correct spelling: Sṭīphan) or Stephen. May you be well and happy. :heart:

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by PeterB » Thu Jul 15, 2010 10:38 am

The centipede was happy quite
until a toad in fun said
"pray which leg goes after which ?
Which worked his mind to such a pitch
he lay distracted in a ditch, considering how to run .

I think we can overthink things Stefan. We should not act thoughtlessly.
But neither should we attempt to have a strategy for all of life's possibilities.
The guidelines that Anna quoted "The Five Keys To Right Speech" will serve us for most situations.
Its a matter of reflecting on them and seeing how they best apply to any given situation.

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Zom » Thu Jul 15, 2010 6:21 pm

Telling truth is the option -)

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by kc2dpt » Thu Jul 15, 2010 6:58 pm

Stefan wrote:But is it possible to avoid the unwholesome completely in these situations?
I already answered this to the best of my ability.

I have never read any scripture in which the Buddha calls lying wholesome; it is only ever called unwholesome. I have never read of a case where the Buddha says "in this case lying is good".
- Peter

Be heedful and you will accomplish your goal.

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Goedert » Fri Jul 16, 2010 2:43 am

No. Silence is acceptable.

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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Annapurna » Fri Jul 16, 2010 5:47 am

Stefan wrote:Thank you Peter.

But is it possible to avoid the unwholesome completely in these situations?
Hi, Stefan,

I would say so, if one is very skillful, and I think that comes with practice.

Just think about the 5 factors, and then carefully weigh your words, as PeterB said. You don't need to rush them.
"It is spoken at the right time. It is spoken in truth. It is spoken affectionately. It is spoken beneficially. It is spoken with a mind of good-will."
Many truths, blurted out without reflection are not beneficial or spoken at the right time.

As Goedert days, you don't have an obligation to reply.

In tips for skillful conversation the Buddha explains:
"Monks, it's through his way of participating in a discussion that a person can be known as fit to talk with or unfit to talk with. If a person, when asked a question, puts down [the questioner], crushes him, ridicules him, grasps at his little mistakes, then — that being the case — he is a person unfit to talk with. But if a person, when asked a question, doesn't put down [the questioner], doesn't crush him, doesn't ridicule him, doesn't grasp at his little mistakes, then — that being the case — he is a person fit to talk with.
So, if a wife asks, before a party, if her butt isn't a bit too pompous in that white dress, ....telling her: "Yes", will crush her, will be grasping at a 'little mistake'.

If however the wise husband says:

"Hey, I think the black dress is flattering your curves a lot more than this one"

then he has

spoken at the right time (when she asks for reassurance)
in truth,
beneficially, (because she will look better + go to the party in good spirits)
affectionately, (knowing his compliment will help her overcome her insecurity)
and with good will (he doesn't want to burden her with her own inadequacies before a party, but also wants to help her find something more flattering)

This is just an example, of course, and others may be more difficult to answer, like trying to avert misfortune from someone.

In the case of a Nazi officer, asking if you are hiding a Jewish person, this could apply:
"Monks, it's through his way of participating in a discussion that a person can be known as fit to talk with or unfit to talk with. If a person, when asked a question, doesn't give a categorical answer to a question deserving a categorical answer, doesn't give an analytical (qualified) answer to a question deserving an analytical answer, doesn't give a counter-question to a question deserving a counter-question, doesn't put aside a question deserving to be put aside, then — that being the case — he is a person unfit to talk with.
Hope my reply was useful....

Anna :anjali:

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Goedert
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Goedert » Fri Jul 16, 2010 12:51 pm

Maybe it a misunderstanding.

The last reply mean, that in a case that you have to tell a lie to protect something, or enever the case that truth is not plesant, the silence is acceptable, silence say many things.

Did not want to produce wrog speech. Maybe it was toopor, not typing in the keyboard the whole statement.

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Annapurna
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Re: Are white lies acceptable?

Post by Annapurna » Fri Jul 16, 2010 12:56 pm

I understood you and I agree with you, Goedert, silence is acceptable. :smile:

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Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by torqz » Tue May 03, 2011 11:06 pm

Deleted post.
Last edited by torqz on Mon Dec 08, 2014 10:38 pm, edited 1 time in total.
May the triple gem bless bless you, may you quickly realize the 4 noble truths in this Gautama Buddhas dispensation... Sādhu! Sādhu! Sādhu!

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by retrofuturist » Tue May 03, 2011 11:48 pm

Greetings Pedro,

I'm a little confused by your explanation... was there any intent to speak/write a falsehood? Any attempt to deceive?

If not, I would not regard this is a breach of the precepts.

Metta,
Retro. :)
"Do not force others, including children, by any means whatsoever, to adopt your views, whether by authority, threat, money, propaganda, or even education." - Ven. Thich Nhat Hanh

"The uprooting of identity is seen by the noble ones as pleasurable; but this contradicts what the whole world sees." (Snp 3.12)

"To argue with a person who has renounced the use of reason is like administering medicine to the dead" - Thomas Paine

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by daverupa » Tue May 03, 2011 11:51 pm

The Gestapo hypothetical I'm going to set aside as it's been discussed elsewhere at great depth.

As to your personal scenario, there appears to have been no intention to lie; your intent was to be as precise as possible. Being inaccurate due to lack of information is not the same as intending to prevaricate or misdirect.
  • "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting oneself one protects others? By the pursuit, development, and cultivation of the four establishments of mindfulness. It is in such a way that by protecting oneself one protects others.

    "And how is it, bhikkhus, that by protecting others one protects oneself? By patience, harmlessness, goodwill, and sympathy. It is in such a way that by protecting others one protects oneself.

- Sedaka Sutta [SN 47.19]

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by Jason » Wed May 04, 2011 12:40 am

PeDr0 wrote:I understand the Buddha said that under no circumstances was it ever skillful to tell a lie.

But what if the Gestapo come knocking on your door and you have a family of Jews living in your basement?

I have just had an interesting end to my day at work. I work as a care worker with people with (Supposed) learning difficulties. (To coin a phrase).

I Just took a phone-call from the residents adopted mother (at least I think she is adopted, that is what I seem to remember) I said to the resident, "Your Mum called" or words to that effect. I also wrote a note in the communication book that said "A****'s Mum phoned, and she said she will call back in the morning" or words to that effect.

After pondering on it for some time next to where I had written Mum I wrote ('Mrs F**** I think if my memory serves me correctly) or similar. But seeing as she is adopted (or at least I think she is) I have broken one of the precepts right? I guess legally speaking she is her mother, but then again the law is an ass on many occasions is it not? Perhaps I should just call her by her first name in future...

But if you have told a lie is it necessary to un-tell it? If it is then I am going to be pretty busy. :-)
Interesting questions. I don't know if it's ever OK to lie, but I do think it can be easier to deal with certain situations by lying than not. The question is, how much effort do we want to put into observing the fourth precept? At times, I've put forth a lot, but others, not so much. Looking back, though, I don't think I've ever really had a good reason to lie when I did as much as I simply found it to be more expedient. And since becoming interested in Buddhism, I've found myself lying less and immediately correcting myself when I do catch myself telling a fib or exaggerating the truth.

That said, the Buddha seems to take the position that lying is never really 'OK.' Thanissaro Bhikkhu, for example, notes that throughout the 550 birth stories contained in the Jakata, the precept against lying is the only precept the Buddha doesn't break. Moreover, the Buddha appears to hold truthfulness in pretty high regard (see examples of his words on truthfulness here).

Personally, I tend to agree with Aristotle that lying isn't legitimate unless overridden by some higher virtue, such as the lying to save someone's life (which is probably a position more in line with Mahayana than Theravada). In most circumstances, if I'm forced into a position where I have to either lie or watch someone die because I tell the truth, I'm going to lie my ass off. The only issue I have with the Gestapo scenario, however, is that it (like most hypotheticals of this nature) seems to be based on the assumption that lying is the only way to protect a family of Jews hiding in your basement.

For example, one could preemptively befriend local Nazis, having a few drinks with them or whatnot, so that they wouldn't even be suspected of harbouring Jews in the first place. Or, if confronted unexpectedly, one could simply invite them in (assuming the people were fairly well hidden), offer them a drink and say, "Have a look if you want." It'd be the equivalent of saying "I've got nothing to hide" without actually having to lie.

Either way, there's not much one could do to prevent them from searching one's home if that's what they had in mind to do; although they probably wouldn't look as hard if they didn't feel suspicious. And having an open and friendly attitude would probably help. But, like I said, I'd have no qualms about lying in this situation if I had to or couldn't think of anything better.

As for rest, I agree with daverupa that, "As to your personal scenario, there appears to have been no intention to lie; your intent was to be as precise as possible. Being inaccurate due to lack of information is not the same as intending to prevaricate or misdirect." Mistakes and misunderstandings ≠ lies. Furthermore, there's nothing wrong with trying to correct your past indiscretions, but it's my opinion that you don't need to correct every lie you've ever told as long as you make a serious effort to renounce lying and do your best to cultivate the truth in the future, e.g., in AN 10.176, the Buddha says:
  • And how is one made pure in four ways by verbal action? There is the case where a certain person, abandoning false speech, abstains from false speech. When he has been called to a town meeting, a group meeting, a gathering of his relatives, his guild, or of the royalty, if he is asked as a witness, 'Come & tell, good man, what you know': If he doesn't know, he says, 'I don't know.' If he does know, he says, 'I know.' If he hasn't seen, he says, 'I haven't seen.' If he has seen, he says, 'I have seen.' Thus he doesn't consciously tell a lie for his own sake, for the sake of another, or for the sake of any reward. Abandoning false speech, he abstains from false speech. He speaks the truth, holds to the truth, is firm, reliable, no deceiver of the world.
Note that he doesn't say you have to go back and "un-tell" each and every lie you told in the past.
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by rowyourboat » Wed May 04, 2011 2:23 am

I agree with the above posts- but it is important to note that if you do lie intentionally (say, for a higher cause) then you are hopefully doing so and accepting the karmic repercussions of that act as well (which seems likely to be mitigated, in such a circumstance. There are no prohibitions in Buddhism. There are however wise choices when it comes to your thought, speech and actions, with particular consequences as a result, that you must be prepared to live with.
:namaste:

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Karuna
Mudita
& Upekkha

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by ground » Wed May 04, 2011 2:34 am

PeDr0 wrote:I understand the Buddha said that under no circumstances was it ever skillful to tell a lie.

But what if the Gestapo come knocking on your door and you have a family of Jews living in your basement?
Such kinds of questions touch ethics/silas in general, not only lying but e.g. also killing.
I would not recommend to even start questioning any of the silas.

Generally breaking one of the silas depends on the intention to do so.

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Re: Is it ever O.K. to lie?

Post by alan » Wed May 04, 2011 3:17 am

Depends on who is asking the questions.
Responding to a leading question with an honest answer that might hurt people is fundamentally different from the outright deception we associate with "lying."
It's all about intention.

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