Sacca : Honesty

The seventh subject of contemplation in our Ten Perfections series is the Pali term Sacca, which can be translated as honesty or truth (as in ariya-sacca; “noble truth”) and seems to have a fairly basic, mundane quality in practice as well as a higher, more subtle quality.

The most obvious sort of truth (or honesty) is that which we encounter in conversation on a daily basis. I’m sure there could be literally millions of  examples. Simple honesty to others is akin to faithfulness in relationships and is the foundation of trust between oneself and others, and the intent to deceive, however slight, should deeply contemplated. I have come to see any such intent as being connected with attachment, but I will not say absolutely that it is so with everyone and in every case.

The subject of truth is an important one whereby I think I diverge fairly strongly from the Mahayana schools of Buddhism (particularly as expounded in the Lotus Sutra), as I perceive any form of intentional spoken (or written) untruth as a breach of one’s integrity (not to mention precepts) while some interpret certain texts to suggest that the speaking of untruth, if it helps to bring safety or liberation to other beings, is a sort of skillful means. Perhaps I’m just not sufficiently skillful…

I have heard that on one occasion the Blessed One was staying near Rajagaha, at the Bamboo Grove, the Squirrels’ Feeding Ground.

At that time Ven. Rahula was staying at the Mango Stone. Then the Blessed One, arising from his seclusion in the late afternoon, went to where Ven. Rahula was staying at the Mango Stone. Ven. Rahula saw him coming from afar and, on seeing him, set out a seat & water for washing the feet. The Blessed One sat down on the seat set out and, having sat down, washed his feet. Ven. Rahula, bowing down to the Blessed One, sat to one side.

Then the Blessed One, having left a little bit of the remaining water in the water dipper, said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see this little bit of remaining water left in the water dipper?”

“Yes sir.”

“That’s how little of a contemplative there is in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie.”

Having tossed away the little bit of remaining water, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how this little bit of remaining water is tossed away?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is tossed away just like that.”

Having turned the water dipper upside down, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how this water dipper is turned upside down?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is turned upside down just like that.”

Having turned the water dipper right-side up, the Blessed One said to Ven. Rahula, “Rahula, do you see how empty & hollow this water dipper is?”

“Yes, sir.”

“Rahula, whatever there is of a contemplative in anyone who feels no shame at telling a deliberate lie is empty & hollow just like that.

“Rahula, it’s like a royal elephant: immense, pedigreed, accustomed to battles, its tusks like chariot poles. Having gone into battle, it uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail, but will simply hold back its trunk. The elephant trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has not given up its life to the king.’ But when the royal elephant… having gone into battle, uses its forefeet & hindfeet, its forequarters & hindquarters, its head & ears & tusks & tail & his trunk, the trainer notices that and thinks, ‘This royal elephant has given up its life to the king. There is nothing it will not do.’

“In the same way, Rahula, when anyone feels no shame in telling a deliberate lie, there is no evil, I tell you, he will not do. Thus, Rahula, you should train yourself, ‘I will not tell a deliberate lie even in jest.'”

Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta, Majjima Nikaya 61

The less obvious, but certainly more encompassing, truth would be right knowledge and understanding of the Four Noble Truths. My understanding is that this would signify one’s entering upon the supra-mundane path, effectively attaining at least the minimum level of awakening, Stream-Entry, so called because one has entered the stream that flows inevitably to Nibbana. Thanissaro Bhikkhu has published a comprehensive study guide on this matter here that I suggest you read if you find the concept interesting.

Put succinctly, Stream-Entry is the point where one really “knows” by direct knowledge and attains to wisdom particular to the noble ones — more than just an intellectual knowledge — of the Four Noble Truths, which I see as a sort of climax in the practice of Sacca.

One must clearly practice truth in order to find truth. May you always be honest and find happiness in so being. Please be well, friends.

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