It would be very easy to get all philosophical with this next exposition. I am going to try and not do that. I am going to try really, really hard.

I was sent away from sanzen last week having been told to think on why lying is bad. Well, that's not entirely correct. Damn it! I already failed. The honest truth is, I don't actually remember exactly what I was supposed to work on, but it was about lying and the precepts. So, I just paraphrased and assembled what I thought was the gist of what I was told to do out of the information I did remember, knowing (hoping) that logic would most likely steer me right.

But is that a lie?

Interesting little tidbit before we slog on. That word above--"gist"--as in "to get the gist of something"? The etymology of that word is French, from the word gesir, and means "to lie"1. How very interesting that a word in common English meaning "to get to the kernel of something" is based on a word in another language for lying. We Englishers and our wacky language. We always break our toys, don't we? Anyway, back to the lie at hand.

The question "what is truth" has been a pop-hit in philosophy for a few thousand years. The Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy puts it out this way:

A preliminary issue, although somewhat subsidiary, is to decide what sorts of things can be true. Is truth a property of sentences (which are linguistic entities in some language or other), or is truth a property of propositions (nonlinguistic, abstract and timeless entities)? The principal issue is: What is truth? It is the problem of being clear about what you are saying when you say some claim or other is true. The most important theories of truth are the Correspondence Theory, the Semantic Theory, the Deflationary Theory, the Coherence Theory, and the Pragmatic Theory. They are explained and compared here. Whichever theory of truth is advanced to settle the principal issue, there are a number of additional issues to be addressed:
  1. Can claims about the future be true now?
  2. Can there be some algorithm for finding truth – some recipe or procedure for deciding, for any claim in the system of, say, arithmetic, whether the claim is true?
  3. Can the predicate "is true" be completely defined in other terms so that it can be eliminated, without loss of meaning, from any context in which it occurs?
  4. To what extent do theories of truth avoid paradox?
  5. Is the goal of scientific research to achieve truth?
...and blah, and more blah, etc. Philosophy is great like that. The big question can really be distilled down to this very simple question: can we ever know the truth?

In his Metaphysics, Aristotle stated “To say of what is that it is not, or of what is not that it is, is false, while to say of what is that it is, and of what is not that it is not, is true”. So, essentially, to say something false of the truth is to lie, while to say something true of the truth is to state a truth. I would so have been busted in Phi-101 for that. But this is the trouble with philosophy down at the macro-scale. You often trip yourself up by defining your terms with the terms you're trying to define. Socrates', Plato's and Aristotle's arguments about truth generally all boil down to this sort-of sticky distillation, in philosophy referred to as correspondence theory, and while pretty snazzy back in 380BCE, now notsomuch. It's still one of the foundation pilliars of Epistemology, but it's no real answer by itself.

And that's the trouble/point/gist: philosophy (any school or sect of it that you wish to hook your cart to) really still doesn't have a handle on this whole "truth" business. I mean, we have a few decent working theories, and people that came later, like Kant, Hegel, Sartre, et al, tried their best to wrestle this beast to the ground and put a cute break-away collar on it, but in the end, all failed (which is good, because that's what keeps philosophers in business: the failure of previous philosophers!) For me, a few got closer than others. Søren Kierkegaard, through his Johannes Climacus character, famously stated "Truth is Subjectivity". Now, this is often mistaken as meaning "It's true because I believe it to be so," but that is very not the case. Kierkegaard was hitting upon something much more subtle (and frankly, profound) than that. He was saying that an objective approach to personal truth can never actually get to the important bit of it--the gist, if you will--for the person investigating a given question. Essentially, he is saying that dumbing down things to simple objects, mere 1's and 0's, is just as full of fail as saying "It is too a flying purple people eater, because I believe it is, and you can't prove me wrong!" Kierkegaard allows that at times, and in certain pursuits (science, math, history, gin rummy) it is useful to call a spade a spade. However, if you do, you do so with the understanding and acceptance that the result obtained, while practical and generally representative of the truth, cannot ever be a full and total representation of the truth; it can only be a concensus opinion, and that's not all that damn helpful when it comes to figuring out your life. It would seem that the truth is relative, and not only relative, but dependent upon the senses and intellects of others. Danger, Will Robinson!

So using philosophy is fraught with gopher-holes when figuring out this truth -vs- lying issue.

Ahhh... philosophy. Remember when I said that I promsed not to go there?

Here's my problem. Well, in my opinion, it's not just my problem, it's all of ours, especially when it comes down to this issue. We, as smrt monkeys, tend to go to philosophy a lot when it comes to issues like this. And, as is rather predictable of me, I fell for it really quickly. We hear a philosophical-ish question, and immediately the intellect kicks in and says "Wait! I have this one! Stand back!" I have now prattled on for a goodly number of keystrokes with regards to "what is truth", when, in fact, that wasn't even the question. The question is "why is not lying important with regards to the Five Precepts?" I find it very interesting that while the two seem to hold hands rather nicely, they are very different, and are actually not even related.

The Precepts tend to be looked at as Buddhist "commandments" although they are very far from that in the Judeo-Christian sense. Vowing to abstain from taking life, stealing, misusing sexual energy, speaking falsely or consuming things to purpously cloud the mind, while seemingly obvious, are a bit more nuanced than merely being "good rules to live by". The Precepts all lead the person taking them towards a single, unified idea that can be looked at as being the core, the kernel, of not only a Buddhist life, but of all lives. They all are vows that will lead to a skillful life. Now, one could argue that other religions have commandments or precepts that do the same, and while that may be true in places, for the most part, none are as stream-lined as these ideas that the Buddha laid down. And since I'm a buddhist, and this is a question from a buddhist to a buddhist about buddhism, we'll play with that ball and bat.

Reaching back up to Kierkegaard, we see and take as read that objectifying things cannot get us to the truth, and fully subjectifying everything just leaves us in a state of self-delusion. If that is the case, then what is the harm in lying? What is the harm in, say, telling her those pants make her ass look big, or that his father wasn't the milk-man? What difference does it make? That really is the question. It's not "why is lying wrong". It's not "why is telling the truth right". The question is really "what the hell does it matter?"

When examining existence, when inquiring into the nature of reality, we must presuppose something, and that is the validity of our experience inside that very phenomena we refer to as "existence". We must assume "our self" in order to inquire. However, if one does not inquire, but simply experiences, there is no assumption that need be made. And in order to experience, one must be willing to cast off all unskillful habits and actions, because nothing true ever comes from that which is unskillful.

You'll often hear "No good ever comes from lying" but that, too, is a wrong view. Whoever said that certainly wasn't answering the door while Anne Frank and family were hiding in the attic. Seems pretty skillful to me. So, take the external effect of lying out of the picture for a minute. Why? Well, the external really isn't a very useful way (as the Frank illustration shows) of measuring things, is it? This lying thing must be about something greater than just this observable external phenomenal world and our interactions with it. We use our senses to take in that world, but our senses are often wrong, so we can't really use them as a basis for any kind of sure measure of reality. All we really have that we can know is that which we can experience.

Unlike the truth (or The Truth, whichever you prefer) which appears to be an external thing, standing upon high, glowing with some ethereal majesty, lying is an action. Lying is a choice we make. To lie is to chose illusion over reality. To lie is to want that which is unreal. To lie is to take a step away from what we really, truly are, because we are, by nature, full of the right stuff. That stuff is the stuff of skillful action. That stuff is the want of peace and non-suffering. That stuff is reality. And unskillful action is never about reality. Unskillful action is never about the Truth. Unskillful action is always rooted in ignorance of the truth, and attachment to the ego. Therefore, to lie, to willfuly choose unreality over reality, is simply unskillful means, and will never, ever result in a closer, more genuine experience of the Dharma.

Kierkegaard was getting close. You can never have a theory of the truth, just the experience of it. But as he was getting the objective and subjective to do an interesting two-step, he was still in a dualistic dance. In the end, though, the Nazis were still a-knockin'.

The short-form to all this nonsense above is this:
  • Not all "not-truths" are lies.
  • Not all truths are Truths.
  • All lies are not the True Dharma.
  • To lie is to not be out of touch with our true selves.
  • We ARE the truth.

Simply put, your mama was right: when you lie, you only hurt yourself. However, when you understand that "yourself" actually equals "all of us", it's a bigger fail than you may have anticipated. We either all develop mad skillfulness, or nobody gets to the other side of the river. It's all or nothing. No lie...

I'm gonna have to get back to this post, because to me it's still scattered, and frankly, like my understanding, needs fine-tuning.

“When we discover that the truth is already in us, we are all at once our original selves.”