Understanding the fourth precept

Buddhist ethical conduct including the Five Precepts (Pañcasikkhāpada), and Eightfold Ethical Conduct (Aṭṭhasīla).
Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Wed Jul 20, 2011 1:03 am

If there's nothing in the Pali about it, then it must be a Mahayana thing. So, if the Nazis were after your Jewish friend, whom you'd hidden behind the wall in your home, and they came and asked you if you were harboring Jews, as a Buddhist, would you reply truthfully? I'm just trying to clarify the common understanding here. To tell you the truth, this is the first I've heard that the precepts were hard-and-fast rules.

alan
Posts: 2814
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

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

Post by alan » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:05 am

Hi bodom,
Remember the Buddha was speaking to monks. These sort of hypothetical questions would never have come up and therefore would not have been recorded in the suttas. I'll stand by my position--if your intentions are good, you should rest happily knowing you've made the right decision to deflect, avoid, or ignore answering the question directly, if it saves lives. If forced? Lie. What is a lie to those who would kill?

User avatar
Ben
Posts: 18442
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: kanamaluka

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

Post by Ben » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:24 am

Hi Alan

I think the vast majority of us are faced with complex ethical dilemmas from time to time. And while I have a deep and abiding interest in ethics and how people integrate the Dhamma, and Dhamma-informed ethics in daily life, I have to be honest and tell you that I'm totally disinterested in hypothetical situations. Life is far more complex and nuanced than the mono-dimensionality and unreality of hypothetical situations.
What Bodom was communicating was a statement of fact. The Buddha never said that it was ok to lie. What the Buddha did do, time and again, was to enumerate the ethical import of all of our actions (of body, speech and mind) and that we were heirs to our kamma. That is, regardless of what our actions are and what our intentions are, we need to take responsibility for them.
Sometimes we act in ways that are counter to the precepts and sometimes we break the precepts knowing that it is the least unethical, evil, unwholesome (or insert descriptor of your choice) that we have at the time. If anyone has had to put a beloved pet to sleep or assent to a loved one being taken off life support or having had to destroy a poisonous insect or snake to save another, will know what I am talking about.
Having an acute understanding of the kammic implication of our actions and the foundational value of sila, we navigate the ethical minefield of life the best we can.
kind regards

Ben
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Wed Jul 20, 2011 4:49 am

Thanks for your reply, Ben. I would put it this way: the Dhamma is to be taken as a whole: compassion, intent, the precepts, are all interdependent. If compassion moves us to euthanize a severely ailing pet near the end of its years, or rescue girls who were trafficked to a brothel (taking what wasn't given us), our pure intent is the key. I think this is what people mean when they say the precepts are a guide, not commandments. They are one guide among many: compassion, right view, intent, etc. being others. All these guiding principles need to be weighed when we are met with challenging situations.

Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:09 am

santa100 wrote:
bodom wrote:
Unfortunately one cannot hide from kamma in a basement.
Knowing this truth fully well, the compassionate being don't give up but still try their best for the sake of others..
Yes, good point, santa. This reminds me: the Bodhisattva vows (oops--Mahayana) addresses this scenario precisely. One vows to do whatever is necessary to reduce or eliminate others' suffering, and if that means breaking a vow, then one accepts the karmic consequences on behalf of others. As others here have pointed out, the karmic consequences of letting someone die would be much greater than those for breaking a vow. But I don't think one needs a vow or other form of guideline to help one make the best choice. Staying focussed on compassion and right intent, and on the best interests of those in need of help, are effective guides.

alan
Posts: 2814
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

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

Post by alan » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:24 am

Love your passion, Ben!
But if you look at the beginning of this discussion the question was about a hypothetical situation. I was responding to that, and other questions and ideas that arose in this thread.

User avatar
Ben
Posts: 18442
Joined: Wed Dec 31, 2008 12:49 am
Location: kanamaluka

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

Post by Ben » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:27 am

alan wrote:Love your passion, Ben!
But if you look at the beginning of this discussion the question was about a hypothetical situation.
Ohh dear! Sorry about that!
“No lists of things to be done. The day providential to itself. The hour. There is no later. This is later. All things of grace and beauty such that one holds them to one's heart have a common provenance in pain. Their birth in grief and ashes.”
- Cormac McCarthy, The Road

Learn this from the waters:
in mountain clefts and chasms,
loud gush the streamlets,
but great rivers flow silently.
- Sutta Nipata 3.725

Compassionate Hands Foundation (Buddhist aid in Myanmar) • Buddhist Global ReliefUNHCR

e: ben.dhammawheel@gmail.com..

whynotme
Posts: 479
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:52 am

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

Post by whynotme » Wed Jul 20, 2011 10:19 am

This hypothetical dilemmas is bad in general. They sometimes are unrealistic. I remember dilemmas like if you see two people drawing, and only could save one, which one you choose?

The Buddha said what leads to bad actions should be considered bad. Then this hypothetical situation leads you to accept lying, then it is a bad imagination, don't think about it, it is just an illusion. That is the teaching, keep thinking about situation lead to good things.

While the Buddha taught about wisdom in real life, people like tricks for the mind. The simplified situations sometimes bring hate, emotion, fear, acceptance.. many bad things to the mind.

If you have a hard situation, why don't you evade it from the beginning? If you think you could lie to Nazi, why don't you find other safer place for them from the beginning? Then people will answer can't find other place. No, real life is not that simple, there are always solutions. If you limit your mind to theoretical situations, it will stops your creativity, stop your ability to resolve real problems.

That why at some levels, I don't like theoretical situations, they are basically all illusions.

If you don't want to lie, then you must invest enough effort to solve the problem before it happens. You must find a safer place, you could arrest the Gestapo, etc..
Did you ever try your best to find a safer place to hide them? You can't answer this question until you meet the real situations, so every answer is just talk only, it is far from reality.

Why live in a fantasy world, find solution for fantasy problems why you have real problems in your life? Why use your imagination to bring bad things to your mind, is this the teaching of the Buddha?

Regards.
Please stop following me

Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Wed Jul 20, 2011 5:58 pm

bodom wrote: The Buddha made it clear that there is no flexibilty here. If one chooses to lie one must accept his kamma but the Buddha NEVER said that it was ok to lie or that there is flexibility.
Herein someone avoids false speech and abstains from it. He speaks the truth, is devoted to truth, reliable, worthy of confidence, not a deceiver of people. Being at a meeting, or amongst people, or in the midst of his relatives, or in a society, or in the king's court, and called upon and asked as witness to tell what he knows, he answers, if he knows nothing: "I know nothing," and if he knows, he answers: "I know"; if he has seen nothing, he answers: "I have seen nothing," and if he has seen, he answers: "I have seen." Thus he never knowingly speaks a lie, either for the sake of his own advantage, or for the sake of another person's advantage, or for the sake of any advantage whatsoever. - AN 10:176
When a disciple told the Buddha he had freed a pig from a trap, thereby technically committing theft, the Buddha responded that there would be no negative consequences karmically, because his actions had been guided by compassion. (Karunnena, Vin.III, 62) The key is our intent if we break a precept. Surely the Buddha wouldn't want us to send people to their death, or prolong a sentient being's suffering just to refrain from breaking a vow.

This illustrates why it's so important to take the teachings as a whole, rather than focussing on individual passages. A fragmented approach can skew our perception of the Buddha's intent.

I think the precepts are just one of many principles present to guide us in our actions. We have compassion, right view, right intent,the best interests of others, and so forth. All of these are interdependent, more or less equal parts of a whole. All are to be weighed together when making a difficult decision. The Middle Way in deciding a course of action, I think, is to balance the potential rigidity of the precepts with the kind heart of compassion. Where the logical mind might cling to a clear-cut rule, the compassionate heart would help us discern the best course.

whynotme
Posts: 479
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:52 am

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

Post by whynotme » Thu Jul 21, 2011 3:08 am

Lhamo wrote: When a disciple told the Buddha he had freed a pig from a trap, thereby technically committing theft, the Buddha responded that there would be no negative consequences karmically, because his actions had been guided by compassion. (Karunnena, Vin.III, 62) The key is our intent if we break a precept. Surely the Buddha wouldn't want us to send people to their death, or prolong a sentient being's suffering just to refrain from breaking a vow.

This illustrates why it's so important to take the teachings as a whole, rather than focussing on individual passages. A fragmented approach can skew our perception of the Buddha's intent.

I think the precepts are just one of many principles present to guide us in our actions. We have compassion, right view, right intent,the best interests of others, and so forth. All of these are interdependent, more or less equal parts of a whole. All are to be weighed together when making a difficult decision. The Middle Way in deciding a course of action, I think, is to balance the potential rigidity of the precepts with the kind heart of compassion. Where the logical mind might cling to a clear-cut rule, the compassionate heart would help us discern the best course.
You should research patimokha,

You can release a pig without theft intention, but how could you say untrue things without lying intention?

Regards.
Please stop following me

alan
Posts: 2814
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

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

Post by alan » Thu Jul 21, 2011 4:41 am

whynotme,
Do you even know the meaning of hypothetical?

whynotme
Posts: 479
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:52 am

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

Post by whynotme » Thu Jul 21, 2011 9:14 am

Yes, I know what it means. What do you want to say?

Regards.
Please stop following me

Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Thu Jul 21, 2011 6:03 pm

whynotme wrote:You should research patimokha,
You can release a pig without theft intention, but how could you say untrue things without lying intention?
Regards.
Thank you for the suggestion, I'll do that research. But to answer your question, I'd say that one would willingly accept the minor karmic consequences for intentionally lying for the sake of saving lives, or whatever the extenuating circumstances may be. And the karmic burden surely would be light, because one was motivated by compassion, and (if following the example given in the OP) saved several lives. The thing is, the karmic consequences of not lying, and by one's holding to the precept, causing great suffering to others, or death, would be far greater. So, take your pick.

User avatar
Bhikkhu Pesala
Posts: 3681
Joined: Thu Jan 29, 2009 8:17 pm

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

Post by Bhikkhu Pesala » Thu Jul 21, 2011 7:34 pm

There is no need to lie, but sometimes one must be economical with the truth. Focus on the positive, and overlook the negative to show people the way to heaven.

At once time, Venerable Sāriputta was walking for alms when Tambadāthika saw him. He had faith on seeing the elder and wished to offer alms. He gave the elder his own breakfast that he was about to start eating.

While the elder was teaching the Dhamma to him, Tambadāthika's mind was troubled by all of the evil deeds he had done as a robber and then public executioner. Seeing that he was unable to concentrate on his discourse, the elder asked him, "Did you want to kill all of those victims?" Tambadāthika replied that he felt he had no choice. By this skilful means, the elder eased Tambadāthika's conscience and made him think that he was not to blame for those actions. (Of course, he was still guilty of intentionally killing others, but the kamma is less if one does it under duress, fearing for the loss of one's own life).

Thereafter, Tambadāthika was able to concentrate, gained Anuloma ñāna, and dying shortly afterwards was reborn in the Tusita heaven.
AIM ForumsPāli FontsIn This Very LifeBuddhist ChroniclesSoftware (Upasampadā: 24th June, 1979)

whynotme
Posts: 479
Joined: Sat Jun 11, 2011 5:52 am

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

Post by whynotme » Fri Jul 22, 2011 3:12 am

Dear bhikkhu Pesala,

Are you a monk? Greetings, sadhu, well said

@ everyone think lying could be acceptable:

I don't judge people by their actions, because that is not my job. But lying is not good, you should not imagine at situations that could lead to bad actions.

If you think you save others' lives by lying, and accept the bad kamma of that actions, well, I think the kamma of lying is not very bad, as in the patimokka the lying actions is not a big deal, except lying about noble things. But the thoughts that one accepts lying is clinging, that's all I want to say. Why do you need to cling to that thoughts?

If you think you could save others' lives in a hypothetical situation, then I have a situation for you:
A mass murderer is going to kill hundreds of victims by press a button of a bomb, there is a gun and you are the only one could stop him by killing him instantly by a shot, there is no other way to stop him, if he is wounded, he still could trigger the bomb. What is your choice? Remember that you could save hundreds lives, do you kill him? Or do you let hundreds people die?

Here is my choice: I don't kill him, but is there any hero here?

Welcome to life, here are politics, warfare, military actions, economical management, many situations that it would be very hard to not lying for the sake of some people, maybe including yourself. I think, for the sake of the others, are big and impressed words, but luckily the Buddha didn't do anything like that, for the sake of the others.

Regards.
Please stop following me

alan
Posts: 2814
Joined: Wed Sep 30, 2009 12:14 am
Location: Miramar beach, Fl.

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

Post by alan » Fri Jul 22, 2011 4:10 am

Kill him.

santa100
Posts: 2725
Joined: Fri Jun 10, 2011 10:55 pm

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

Post by santa100 » Fri Jul 22, 2011 4:57 am

Whynotme wrote:
A mass murderer is going to kill hundreds of victims by press a button of a bomb, there is a gun and you are the only one could stop him by killing him instantly by a shot, there is no other way to stop him, if he is wounded, he still could trigger the bomb. What is your choice? Remember that you could save hundreds lives, do you kill him? Or do you let hundreds people die?
Need more info. for appropriate action: type of rifle (automatic, semi-automatic, with or without sniper optic scope?), number of rounds available, distance from the mass murderer (point blank, 100-200m, beyond 300m?). If your weapon is automatic, there're plenty of rounds, and distance within 200m, you can aim at the arm and spray it; if it's a sniper rifle, aim at the arm with the optic scope; no automatic weapon, only a few rounds, and within 100m? go for the lower belly, being hit in this area won't kill but cause enough pain to immobilize; beyond 300m? good luck, it's a hit or miss, aim for the trunk since it's a bigger target than the head. Bottom line, try your best to save as many lives as you can (including the mass murderer too, if possible)...

User avatar
Jason
Posts: 474
Joined: Sun Jan 04, 2009 1:09 am
Location: Earth
Contact:

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

Post by Jason » Fri Jul 22, 2011 4:26 pm

I have to agree with Richard Gombrich's opinion, who writes in What the Buddha Thought, "The Buddha does not often propound absolute moral values without reference to context — though Chapter 6 above deals with a major exception. Truth, for example, is a very important value; but in the standard dilemma whether a mother should tell the truth when her son is hiding from murderous enemy soldiers and they come and ask her where he is hiding, one cannot imagine the Buddha saying that she must tell the truth: he would say he is a vibhajja-vado [i.e., one who 'distinguishes the different implications of a question']" (pp. 170-71).
"Sabbe dhamma nalam abhinivesaya" (AN 7.58).

leaves in the hand (Buddhist-related blog)
leaves in the forest (non-Buddhist related blog)

User avatar
Mama
Posts: 16
Joined: Sat Jul 16, 2011 6:53 pm
Location: Lincoln, United Kingdom

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

Post by Mama » Fri Jul 22, 2011 7:26 pm

So do I tell my young children the truth about Father Christmas?

Lhamo
Posts: 15
Joined: Tue Jul 19, 2011 8:20 pm

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

Post by Lhamo » Fri Jul 22, 2011 8:03 pm

Whynotme, why do I get the feeling this topic upsets you? No one is throwing caution (or precepts) to the wind, and saying we don't need to take the precepts seriously, or we can lie whenever we feel it convenient. The discussion is about the rare and extraordinary situations that may arise in life (or may not, for the fortunate) in which one may be faced with the difficult decision of either hewing to the precepts, or helping others. This is a worthwhile topic to discuss on a Buddhist forum, this is what forums like these are for. "What would we do IF..." some unthinkable predicament arose? And over the course of a lifetime, one or two may. If we discuss such difficult questions in advance among like-minded people, our "virtuous friends" of the sangha, we will be better prepared to face the unexpected and to take the right course.

Post Reply

Who is online

Users browsing this forum: No registered users and 10 guests