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The Karma of Lying

February 1, 2011 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the Samadittha Sutta, the Buddha taught that lying, abusive and divisive speech were unskillful behavior, while abstaining from lying, abusive and divisive speech is skillful.  He goes on to say in the Ambalatthika-rahulovada Sutta, while giving instruction to his son, Rahula, that, “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.’”  The Abhidhamma lists Right Speech as abstinence from lying, slandering, abusive language, and idle talk.

Bhakha Tulku, in a teaching given at Kunzang Palyul Chöling some twenty years ago, explained the results of negative karma in that first there are the main result, a similar result, a reaction result, and a place or condition result.  If one examines the cause, then there is a direct result of that cause.  Jetsunma Ahkön Lhamo explained in a later teaching, The Antidotes to Negative Karma, what these results might be.  In the case of lying, the direct result would most likely involve someone lying to you or about you or blaming you unjustly.  There would also be a similar result, meaning that the direct result would occur in conditions similar to the original cause.  Then there would a reaction effect, meaning that there would be the development of a habitual tendency to lying.  In other words the effect would not just pop out of nowhere but develop as a result of certain habitual behaviors.  The effect of place and habitual tendency associated with lying could include people failing to believe anything you told them or being wrongfully jailed without guilt.

The antidote to the negative karma of lying is to be very truthful in all matters, practicing Right Speech even to your detriment.  By applying the antidote, we are able to change our habitual tendency of lying and stop creating negative causes which produce suffering for ourselves.  It takes a lot of hard work to purify negative habitual tendencies, but the results are worth it as it will not only reduce our own suffering, but the suffering we cause in others we lie to or about whom we lie.

Lying, divisive speech, abusive speech and gossip all help create the environment in which all other negative behavior can take place.  For instance, the first reaction that many people had to the shooting of Congresswoman Giffords in Tucson was that hateful speech by ultraconservative talk show hosts and commentators was the root cause.  While the talk show hosts and commentators downplayed the claims, it actually was an accurate assessment in that it appears that the alleged shooter, Jared Loughner, had engaged in spreading hateful speech on the Internet and had connections to the hate group American Renaissance.

Lying has often laid the groundwork for horrendous crimes in the past.  Lies about the Jewish people in Europe helped create the environment where bloody pogroms and the horrors of Nazi Germany could take place.  Lies became the truth in many people’s minds, and the same holds true today.  Just look at the lies told about President Obama – that he wasn’t born in the US, that he’s a muslim, that he’s a socialist, and on and on – and how many people believe them to be true.  This is the ground which produces the fruit of hatred and death.  This is why the Buddha spoke out so strongly against negative speech and for virtuous, honest speech.  How can we ever hope to change our minds if we cannot control what comes out of our mouths?



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