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lying Buddha
“Geez Buddha, don’t get up on my account.”

Before Siddhartha Gautama attained enlightenment at age 35 he was a
confused twenty and thirty-something looking to learn how to live a
spiritual life. He had an overbearing dad, expectations for what he was
supposed to do
with his life, drinks were flowing, lutes were playing, and the
women were all about him. Some called him L.L. Cool S. I imagine
close friends just referred to him as Sid.

Many people look to Siddhartha as an example of someone who attained nirvana, a buddha. But here we look at a younger Sid
as a confused guy struggling with his daily life. What would he do as a
young person trying to find love, cheap drinks, and fun in a city like
New York? We all make mistakes on our spiritual journey; here is where
they’re discussed.

Each week I’ll take on a new question and
give some advice based on what I think Sid, a confused guy working on
his spiritual life in a world of major distraction, would do. Because
let’s face it, you and I are Sid.

Have a question for this weekly column? E-mail it here and I’ll probably get to it!

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Q: Is it okay to lie? – Anonymous


When Sid became a buddha he laid out some basic ground rules for his monastic community, one of which included no false speech. The most straight-forward interpretation of that is no lying but the precept often is expanded to include no slandering others, no gossip, and no abusive speech.

As I discussed in the somewhat controversial Buddhism and Drugs post we each need to figure out what these precepts mean to us lay folk 2500 years later. On an absolute level, no, it’s not cool to lie. But then on the mundane level remember that time when your friend was totally awkward with that guy/girl and they were like “He/she’s into me right?” and you were like, “Oh yeah. Totally. You’re in girl/bro”? Yeah, welcome to the prestigious ranks of everyone who has lied.

So what would confused-working-on-his-spiritual-path Sid say about lies, big and small? I imagine he’d have a couple of key points of advice to share:

1) Look at your motivation to lie. Is it to keep things easy and simple for yourself or are you trying to be compassionate in the midst of a difficult situation? If you are only trying to protect yourself from harm lying may not even work too well for you. So many lies get discovered over time so another thing to think about is:

2) Is it ever going to be okay to tell the truth? Is this something you are going to keep to yourself fo eva eva or at some point do you think you might be able to come clean?

3) Another thing: we don’t always have to say something. There’s a certain level of discipline required of us if we want our speech to be helpful to others. Sometimes holding back or saying “I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to talk about that” can save us from lying. We might be tempted to over-share all of our secrets and our friends’ secrets but we really don’t have to. So reign it in.

Overall I’d say the key point is to be genuine with yourself. Don’t lie to yourself and ideally your speech will flow from that point of view. Also, we need to remember that we are on a spiritual path and it’s important not to beat ourselves up if we do catch ourselves lying. In fact, gently catching ourselves is the first step to breaking whatever habits we’ve gotten into with our speech.

To summarize, lying’s not awesome. Being genuine is. But when we stray from perfection let’s at least try to keep our speech uplifted and not harmful. Good luck being awesome.

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